Friday, November 16, 2007

Strategic Bombing of Innocents
Obviously, we countenance the killing of innocents as a last resort in fending off a bellicose aggressor. So, we are considering the case of bombing a city as a last resort, in order to weaken the will of the aggressor to fight on. Is it justified? Leave aside the question of the degree of efficacy of the strategic bombing of innocents. Sometimes it works and sometimes it does not. It has been known to steel the will of a beleaguered country, and it has been known to crush its will. Suppose that in the case at hand we may be justified in believing that the enemy will fold or will fold with probability 50% or more.

I imagine that I am entering waters already plumbed deeply by others, but the following consideration seems an important obstacle to the view that it is always wrong to conduct strategic bombing of innocents.

We assume that it is permissible to bomb enemy military targets with collateral deaths of innocents. In such cases the diminution of the enemy military and the innocent deaths have a common cause: the bombing. But the innocent deaths are not the cause of the diminution of the enemy military. In the case of strategic bombing of innocents, the bombing is also the common cause of the same two effects. The difference is that the innocent deaths cause the diminution of the enemy military. (In this case it is a psychological diminution, whereas in the latter case it is a physical one, but that is not relevant.) So, the only difference is in the organization of the causal chain of events. In the one case, the innocent deaths are a means. In the other, they are not.

Therefore, there can be no other plausible argument in favor of the position that the strategic bombing of innocents is wrong besides the following: It is wrong to treat people merely as a means and not as ends in themselves. This is the Kantian view of the matter.

It's a plausible enough case. Note, however, that it seems that we sometimes permissibly use people who serve us as means alone. Take luggage handlers at an airport for example. In my experience, Kantians rule the use of service personnel permissible by explicating “treating as a means alone” as "treating in a way that one would not accept as a universal principle." No one could accept that strategic bombing of innocents be universal law, but we can all accept that there be a service industry such as baggage handling. You're not really treating service personnel as means alone if you wouldn't object to ending up as service personnel yourself. This is supposed to show the crucial moral distinction between using baggage handlers as means and bombing enemy cities as a strategy in war.

In fact, it does no such thing. As I suggested in the last post, consider your country attacking an innocent and peace-loving neighbor for no reason other than desire for power and wealth. Suppose your country kills some of the neighboring country’s citizens and oppresses the others. Suppose the other country cannot stop your country’s military without unacceptable losses to itself except by a strategy of bombing your city, the place where you and your family live.

I would have no objection to being bombed. I accept that as a universal principle, one may conduct strategic bombing of innocents in such cases. I don’t see how I could reasonably object to my family’s being wiped out. Moreover, it seems arbitrary to object to being bombed as a means while nevertheless allowing that one would have no objection to ending up as a collateral casualty when one's country's military is bombed. In short, there is no morally relevant difference.

The case for a moral distinction between collateral innocent deaths and strategic bombing of innocents is therefore unsound.