Sunday, May 29, 2016

Situation Ethics America

It does take a fair amount of courage (or hubris, if you like) to say that America should not have done x, or y, specifically, drop the nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As patriotic Americans, we're used to thinking in a strict binary: America and Americans, good, America's enemies, bad.

If you claim Christ as Savior and Lord, though, there is in consequence a higher piety and loyalty, and the application of those principles may be challenging in some respects. I think it is here.

In fact, because the argument is so embedded in the American consciousness that "we did what we had to do," and, "A land invasion would have cost more lives, etc." the consequentialist argument must be confronted. Ethically, it's very simple: we are never permitted to do evil, that good may result. Here's the Catechism on conduct in war. If we understand the principle, then the entire argument that dropping the bombs was more "merciful" dies on the vine.

The area of theology that deals with the analysis of moral acts is called moral theology. Every act has 3 aspects: object, intent, and circumstances. When we say that an act is intrinsically evil, what we are saying is that the object or purpose of the act is evil, so that a good intention or extenuating circumstances won't change the bad act into a good act. It may lessen the culpability of the person, that is, their responsibility, but it won't change the nature of the act. There are of course bad acts which are bad, but not intrinsically so, and of course acts which might appear to be good (or bad) but intention or even circumstances could change them. Practically, though, intrinsically evil acts by definition are always wrong. It is always wrong to commit murder, for example. That is defined as the deliberate taking of innocent human life. There could be killing that is not murder, of course. But if we define our terms, we're able to apply it widely, without much trouble. Whether we find ourselves living up to our principles, that's another matter.

I'm confident that I don't love my country any less in saying that she and her soldiers made a grave mistake, perhaps one of the worst ever, on those days. Of course, others did indefensible things, also. And I'm glad the Allies won. None of those things has any bearing on the question at hand. And rather than simply say, "it happened," we endeavor to apply our principles, so that we will not do it again.

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