by Gary North
In response to my August 6 essay on Harry Truman's twin decisions to drop atom bombs on two defenseless cities, I received the following outraged response:
I think you had better watch your mouth as it is running away from your mind. It is easy for you to sit back and play president in 1945 from the luxury of the future. I gather you never fought in WWII or your father did not fight in WWII? Nor were you living through it as I did as a youngster. I gather further that you never had an uncle who did fight in the marines, won a battlefield commision, received a promotion and got another battlefield commision as a captain, won the navy cross, received silver and bronze stars and numerous other medals which he gave me to play with after the end of the war. I asked him what it was like although I had already seen movies, real life movies including documentaries, and not John Whaneie the whenie movies. He only told me that at the end of the war when he saw the reports of those who were being shipped out with his name on the list, he fainted dead away. That was all he ever said. Or would say about it, then or ever. When you fight, you throw the goddam Kitchen sink at the enemy, you don't say, gee, I haven't gone shopping for a long time, now I think I'll stop fighting for a day. And you really don't give a good god damn how many of the enemy's women and children you kill. So shut up about it.
It was signed. Beneath the name was the word "Libertarian."
There used to be a rule: "Don't get into a debate with someone who orders ink by the barrel." In today's world of digital publishing, the rule needs modification: "Don't get into an argument with someone who publishes on a Website with the reach of LRC."
"SAVE MY BUTT: FRY THE KIDS"
This is the heart of my critic's ethics. It is the ethics of the cannibal.
The cannibal has adopted an ethical position that places his own children at risk, and the children of every man who lives among the cannibals. "Tit for tat" rules in the world of cannibalism. What I do this week, my enemy may do next week. If I may lawfully eat his children, he may lawfully eat mine.
Of course, cannibals might tell an anthropologist that they do it for nutrition's sake. But it is more than this. It is a religious practice. It is a religion of child sacrifice, what the Israelites were told not to do: pass their children through a sacrificial fire (Deuteronomy 18:10). The prophet Jeremiah told Judah that judgment was coming because the people had violated this law (Jeremiah 32:35).
Moses told the people that at some time in the future, if they broke God's laws, once-delicate women would eat their own children (Deuteronomy 28:57). This grisly prophecy was fulfilled centuries later during a siege of Israel (II Kings 6:28-30).
Because of the influence of the Bible, the West for centuries opposed cannibalism, abortion, and military violence against civilians. People understood that the lives of the innocent are supposed to be spared, even during wartime. There were repeated violations of this principle, but there was always repugnance and official apologies after the fact. Society returned to the ethics of non-violence regarding the innocent.
Warriors kill warriors. They do not deliberately kill or torture non-combatants.
But the twentieth century saw the end of this tradition. That century became the bloodiest in man's recorded history. What enemy combatants did not do to civilian populations, messianic leaders did to their own populations. Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot were only the more famous examples.
MONSTERS FROM THE ID
I am not a big fan of Sigmund Freud, but I am a big fan of Forbidden Planet (1956). When Warren Stevens tells Leslie Nielson — in his pre-Airplane career — that the civilization of the Krel had been destroyed by monsters from the id, he accurately conveyed the ethical problem. The Krel had destroyed themselves by harnessing powerful technology that was controlled directly by their minds. They had ignored what the Apostle James warned his readers: "From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?" (James 4:1). They had wiped themselves out in one nightmare-filled night of terror.
It is a commonplace to say that modern man has advanced technologically far beyond what he has advanced ethically. It is also true. In fact, modern man has retrogressed ethically with every advance in technology. There is no wonder-working tool that someone cannot put to evil purposes. If some team of geneticists ever creates a race-discriminating biological weapon, it will be Krel time for all.
If that day ever comes, we can be sure of this: some self-styled libertarian will recommend launching the bug before the enemy launches his variant.
My friend Ernst Winter, the son-in-law of Col. von Trapp, told me of a remarkable event in his father-in-law's military career. His father-in-law had been a U-boat commander in World War I. He came upon a French military ship. He surfaced, told the captain that he was going to sink the ship, and told him to tell his crew to abandon ship. He was met with explosive resistance.
He took the U-boat beneath the enemy vessel, re-surfaced on the other side, and gave the warning again. More shots. He submerged, fired his torpedoes, and sank the ship. Hundreds of French sailors drowned.
After the War, the French awarded von Trapp a medal.
On the day Truman dropped the bomb, Ernst went to his commanding officer — he was in the U.S. Army — and tried to resign his commission. He was appalled. His request was refused. He had accompanied Patton's forces into Austria. His father had been the anti-Nazi Vice Mayor of Vienna, 1934—38, who fled the day the Nazis marched in. The family came to the United States.
This was the military tradition of the West for a thousand years. Von Trapp lived to see it die.
THE ESCALATION OF TERROR
In every war, there are those who call for unconditional surrender. Lincoln did. Franklin Roosevelt did. Harry Truman did. Then, to match their announced military policy, they adopted cannibal tactics. Their tactics reflected their policy. Their tactics were an extension of their policy.
There is no wartime cannibal tactic so horrendous that someone will not defend it in the name of high principle. There will be men of all persuasions and political parties who will rush to applaud the Cannibal-in-Chief for his splendid decision to pass those children through the fire. If the enemy is powerless to resist, as the women and children were in the Shenandoah Valley and Georgia in 1864 and 1865, well so much the better. If Japan was unable to fight much longer, then it's "Bomb away!" We can fry their children. They cannot fry ours. It was the best of all worlds . . . on one side of the conflict.
We now live in an age where capitalism is lowering the price of weapons of mass destruction, where a suitcase nuke or a van filled with anthrax can take out a million Americans. And we still have fools — I select my word carefully — like the one who sent me his letter who comes to the defense of the decision to drop the bomb.
Jeremiah knew better.
August 11, 2004
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