Supporting our troops

Last week’s youtube interview with the inventor of the neutron bomb was quite an eye-opener for me. I got the impression that Vietnam could have been won had the U.S. used neutron bombs. I am told that the U.S. did not use neutron bombs because of agreements signed with other nations. I learned Ronald Reagan was so impressed with the neutron bomb that he had many constructed. European nations refused to allow the neutron bombs to be stored on the continent so they were stored in the USA until they were finally dismantled. I fully understand why the troops feel upset when the public expresses disapproval of the war itself because this implies that full support of weapons will not be given to the troops.

The message I see in this video clip is one that I neither approve or disapprove of, namely that it is a patriotic duty to fully support the troops in any manner of conflict. I feel that war must be an amoral activity in the sense that once armed conflict commences it is a nations duty to use sufficient force to permanently solve the problem and a nation is at fault if it provides only half-hearted support because lives on BOTH sides are wasted in a conflict which is never permanently resolved through victory of one side and defeat of the other side. I sometimes wonder if America would have been wiser to simply do nothing after the WTC 9/11 attack. It does not seem that the military efforts we have undertaken in Iran and Afghanistan have really provided a permanent solution to the problem.

The message of the video above reminds me of “my country right or wrong, my mother drunk or sober.” In other words, if one argues that it is the duty of all citizens to fully support any war effort but one says nothing of the moral/ethical implications of such military action then there is ambiguity.


‎”I got the impression that Vietnam could have been won had the U.S. used neutron bombs.”

Yeah, that’s what Cohen said. I don’t think that that was necessary. If congress had voted sufficient funds for us to have supported the ARVN in April 1975, then there would likely have been a South Vietnam right up to today… one that was at least as wealthy and free as South Korea. Likewise, Cambodia would still be thought of as a gentle south Asian paradise, rather than the home of the “killing fields.”

So, in my view, we didn’t need better bombs. We needed a better political will.

Let’s hope that we learned our lesson.

“[…] that it is a patriotic duty to fully support the troops in any manner of conflict.”

Speaking solely for myself, I do not agree with such a sentiment. If, in fact, our troops really were doing little more than “personally rap[ing], cut[ing] off ears, cut[ing] off heads, tap[ing] wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut[ing] off limbs, blown[ing] up bodies, randomly sho[oting] at civilians, raz[ing] villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, sho[oting] cattle and dogs for fun, poison[ing] food stocks, and generally ravag[ing] the countryside,” then, by God, I’d hope that I’d have the courage to stand in the forefront of any protest against the actions of those troops.

On the other hand, if they were generally acting according to the rules of war while in the service of our nation, then, by God, I’d hope I’d have the wisdom to thank them for that service, and to support them in any way that was proper.
I respect your point of view but in my mind there is no point to develop weapons of mass destruction if it is utterly impossible that a tactical situation could arise where the use of widespread mass destruction would be the lesser of evils. I know you are going to say that such weapons developed solely as a result of a defensive cold war arms race.

I can understand the “morality” of a Jesus or a Gandhi or the Jains who would prefer slavery or death to using lethal force, BUT once you say yes to lethal force then in my mind whether you kill 1 or 10 or 100 or 1000 or 1000000 it is no more or less moral. What is immoral if anything is immoral is to not use sufficient force to end the possibility of any future conflict or retaliation. But then I do not believe that we live in a moral world. We live in a world where the powerful find arguments to justify the means to the ends that they seek. But then, perhaps I am mistaken.


‎”[…] there is no point to develop weapons of mass destruction if it is utterly impossible that a tactical situation could arise where the use of widespread mass destruction would be the lesser of evils”

Who could disagree with that?

But, who ever said that it was “utterly impossible that a tactical situation could arise where the use” neutron bombs or other tactical nukes? Their purpose was not as a MAD thread, but a real world threat. The problem was that the Soviets had 50,000 tanks (mainly in Eastern Europe) and we had 10,000 (spread around the world). We probably could not have stopped their tank columns from entering Paris the use of unconventional weapons, at least not until the deployment of the M1 Abrams, and both sides knew it.
But, I didn’t say that such a tactical scenario was “impossible.”

There was also another obvious purpose. My grandfather, for example, commanded a chemical warfare unit in WW II. Though he saw a lot of action firing conventional weapons, the real purpose of his unit was to serve as a tangible threat to the enemy; that is, if they use theirs, we will use ours. Right then and there.

“I know you are going to say that such weapons developed solely as a result of a defensive cold war arms race”

Well, yes. But, as I said elsewhere, the Soviets made an agreement with us to ‘get rid of all bioweapon stockpiles, and to not develop more advanced weapons.’ Not only did they break that promise, but they fooled us while they were doing it. In fact, we know now that the Soviets were not only stockpiling known agents like anthrax smallpox, and tularemia, but they were working on Ebola and other newer agents.

If you ask me, small pox was the worst. The kill rate for Ebola was just too, high, so it would have naturally contained itself. The weaponized small pox, on the other hand, would have killed somewhere between 50% to 90% of the unimmunized population. And, as you no doubt know, Americans are no longer routinely immunized for small pox, not after its wildtype was eliminated.

So, no, there is a very good reason to develop WMDs nowadays: To test them. We need to be in possession of every weapon, so that we can find defenses against them. For example, we even need to protect ourselves from ourselves. We need to develop and test nukes, so that the old ones don’t just blow themselves up in their silos.

“[…] once you say yes to lethal force then in my mind whether you kill 1 or 10 or 100 or 1000 or 1000000 it is no more or less moral”

I doubt whether you will find many ethicist who would agree with that position. I do not make any pretenses about being a deep-thinking philosopher, but I will say that there is a hole in that proposition which is big enough to walk through. To wit, human decisions such as ‘to kill’ are inherently complex; it is axiomatic that magnitude affects complexity in an exponential way. Thus, the decision to kill 2 people might not be all that different from that to kill 1, but could very well be vastly different than the decision to kill 10 or more. In fact, history teaches that thusly.


It’s that basic ethical dilemma faced by all good, peaceful people. If everyone was that way, none of this would be necessary. But they’re not. Now what? Do we die or do we face doing unpleasant things? The Moriori chose death and slavery; most of the rest of us prefer to get our hands dirty, or at least to select members of our tribe that don’t mind dirty hands quite as much, and let them do it. Praise them and thank them, but never lose sight that it would be a blessing if they could stop. Only they can’t.

It’s just a philosophical point about mankind. Do you believe there is a chronic, stable “human nature” that churns up some violent people in every generation? Or do you believe that if we laid down our guns, they’d lay down theirs because “they” are really just “us” in mirror image, both defending against smoke and mirrors, all so tragically needless? It all unfolds from the answer you give, and any other argument is sophistry.


Thanks to all for your input. I have given this thread much thought.

It would be an unfortunate but by no means inconceivable turn of events that fanatic minded non-Muslims (the American Christian extremist right) might turn to such suicide tactics. I have no idea whether American extremist Christians can also develop the determination necessary for suicidal kamikazi retaliation. I understand what Erik is saying about no ethicist ever condoning the notion of ethnocide as a legitimate solution to the world’s problems but I doubt that ethicists are on call at the Pentagon to advise the nation regarding water boarding or blanket bombing or Dresden fire bombing… what will happen if in 100 years the terrorist attacks have not stopped and in fact prove UNSTOPPABLE simply because the underlying culture survives which feeds the terrorist mentality from generation to generation. The standard notion of ethical warfare is that there are identifiable combatants in a field of combat and that civilians are “off limits.” But what happens if the day comes that major world forces decide that it is precisely the women and children who are the enemy or rather the source of generation after generation of terrorist enemies? I neither advocate nor denounce such military actions but simply explore the possibility or likelihood that they will one day come to pass. I am sure I will not live to see what the worldwide outcome of all this is. Either side of this ideological conflict may decide at some point to play the WMD card on a grand scale with the notion of restructuring or repopulating what is left to become a stable and unified ideological/political/religious system. And perhaps even such an extreme measure as “cultural restructuring” will never succeed in forging a worldwide peace lasting for centuries IF the tendency towards sectarian dispute is indeed a permanent part of essential human nature. I suspect that if the entire world embraced Islam tomorrow in the hope of world peace there would continue to be sectarian violence.

The other possibility is that genetic engineering will become bold enough to literally create a “designer species” of human which lacks the destructive instincts which keep our world in constant conflict. The past century of our sci-fi literature and movies has explored numerable scenarios where a “superior” alien species or genetic mutation or human created artificial intelligence has come to perceive the ‘classic human’ as an infestation to be eliminated.

I do not think that Hitler had ethicists at his side advising him. I do not think that Spain consulted ethicists during the Inquisition. BUT I do have one book on introductory Ethics (Ethics 101) from Barnes and Noble which points out that during the time of the Inquisition people LITERALLY believed that unless one renounced heresy and confessed the truth faith then they would face an entire eternity of torment in hell a la Dante. In the face of such a conviction they see a few days of torture which elicits a true confession of faith to be a totally humane act. Then the heretic, now cleansed by confession and baptism, is executed so that their soul may proceed to heaven and thus avoid an eternity of torment in hell.

In our own times there are those who hold the conviction that Democracy and freedom is so precious that it is not unethical to resort to forms of torture such as water-boarding and imprisonment with no trial so that information may be extracted which will prevent future terrorist attacks. So, you see, a form of ethics is always at work on each side. For the Communists it is obvious that religion in any form is a poison which harms society and so it is ethical from their point of view to oppress religion. From an Islamic fundamentalist’s point of view, the kafir or infidel is the camp of Satan and it is the duty of the believer to either reduce the infidel to djimmi who pay the jizziah tax or else to fight them to the death. Certainly it is not true that ALL Muslims hold such belief and certainly it is true that the character of Islam differs widely from country to country (eg Pakistan, Indonesia, Morocco, Senegal, etc) but it is not NECESSARY that all Muslims hold such a view for such extreme tactics to take place century after century. It is only necessary that 5 or 10 per cent of Muslims world wide continue to hold extremist views and the WTC 9/11 attack plus the Mumbai attack are undeniable examples of these obvious truths.


Erik, you know perfectly well that we will all NEVER “just get along” and you know that the past 5000 or 10000 years of recorded history bears witness to that fact.

Erik, you are a decent and educated person who has obviously convinced himself that waterboarding is “ok” and is not torture. You do not mention your stand on indefinite imprisonment or suspension of due process. You have perhaps convinced yourself that Reagan could not possibly have been guilty of high treason and that it is foolishness to suggest that Bush and Cheney are war criminals. So in the next hundred years it is very likely that people who are just as educated and decent as you will arrive at the conclusion that ethnocide is a necessary evil and that the long term benefits will outweigh any reservations or moral revulsion. We cannot say that such tactics are “unspeakable” or “unthinkable” because they are being spoke of and thought about right now. Even our Republican congressman Tom Tancredo spoke publically about “nuking the Kaaba at Mecca.”’nuke_Mecca’_comments

Technically China committed an act of “ethnocide” in Tibet NOT by killing every Tibetan but by destroying the existing culture. Such actions make perfect sense to Communist China because the superstitions of religious people, from their viewpoint, harm the interests of citizens and the State.

I hope Erik that you will consider these words of mine are spoken “with all due respect” because I do respect you and in many ways, in almost EVERY way, see you as superior to me in education and judgment. But I think that we each have blindspots. Perhaps we could not all do our “jobs” if we did not have blindspots because there are some things that we can never bear to look at in their naked reality.

When I was a teenager I asked one WWII vet whether he thought that the bombing of Hiroshima was wrong and he patiently explained to me that MORE Japanese lives were SAVED by the nuclear bombings since Japan had already lost the war from a tactical supplies point of view but the Japanese were determined to continue the war even at the all costs.

So, Erik, in 50 or 100 years when some powerful entity or organization uses technology perhaps yet to be invented to culturally restructure and harmonize the world and eliminate what THEY consider pathological ideologies then they will be led by decent and educated men just like yourself who will patiently explain that in the long run the end justifies the means.

And, until well have the courage to openly admit and discuss such a turn of events (and I suspect that most of us are in some serious denial and are afraid to look at the truth) then we will “explore” such scenarios in our science fiction and 3D animation. Even things which are considered unspeakable in seminars and editorials will be fair game in fiction. One person on my FB list is a well established author of such fiction and I would not be surprised if he reads this thread and weaves it into one of his next novels. Future generations will grow up seeing such scenarios explored in cinema and comic book form and will gradually become accustomed to such strategies as an unpleasant but unavoidable fact of life.

I neither advocate nor condemn anything. I simply interpret “the handwriting on the wall” in terms of what I have experienced in my life and others may see things in a totally different fashion.


Going back just a few short years people would be shocked at the thought of water boarding or Guantanamo. Going back a century perhaps people would be shocked at the suggestion of an Hiroshima bombing. Obviously the person of 2010 who in this thread voices his objections to what is described, but he is no doubt comfortable with the morality of Reagan’s conduct and Bush’s conduct and Vietnam and Guantanamo. No one is accusing the person of 2010 of being in favor of what we see as monstrous or unspeakable, but there will be some Erik of 2110 who may very well see the patriotic necessity of the things which now we can only allow ourselves to consider in science fiction.

President McKinley was totally comfortable with his reasoning for the invasion of the Philippines (to bring savages to the light of Christianity.) I am told that even George Washington had a small group of unruly soldiers in New Jersey liquidated, although the huge number of unruly in Pennsylvania could not be conveniently eliminated but had to be bargained with.

Every century is filled with decent men and women who approve of what society condones.


It’s war, William, and they were enemy _________…..They were planning to … _______ and ________ was the right decision.

(fill in the blanks in 100 years)

Erik, I am not in any way disagreeing with you. I see you and Ruth and others as the decent people of the early 21st century who abhor what we assume has always been abhorrent and tolerate what we find distasteful but unavoidable.

I am merely suggesting the possibility that in 100 years the decent people of the time will expand their definition of what is regrettable but unavoidable.

I neither condemn nor applaud congressman Tancredo for his suggestions about nuking Mecca. I am simply suggesting the possibility that with the passage of sufficient decades more extreme measures will seem less and less unspeakable or unreasonable. In the 1920s divorce was a shocking event and was censored from certain plays and theatrical productions. No one even THOUGHT about the possibility of same sex unions or people who openly live together without the benefit of matrimony. Times change. Morality changes. What does not appall Achilles and Odysseus perhaps now appalls us. And perhaps things that we condone would have appalled Achilles and Odysseus.

I don’t understand what is so upsetting to anyone other than the fact that we do not see things in the same way. I hope that no one will result to condemning me as unfair or cruel simply because I do not agree to see things the way you do for such a condemnation would be childish, like saying “I am taking my bat and my ball and going home” and then sticking one’s head in the sand like an ostrich.

Erik, if I have said something that you feel personally offends you then please point it out and I will apologize and retract the offending statement. I am typing this 80wpm and so perhaps I have poorly expressed myself. I certainly feel that I am conversing and expressing my viewpoint in a fair, civil and impersonal manner.


I fully realize that the person I argue with and that we know will never in his lifetime condone ethnocide. If Erik had that sort of capacity in him then we would be in agreement. My argument is that the technology for mass destruction on a national scale exists and will be enhanced in ways that we cannot image and norms of ethics and morality may change to the point that future generations will reluctantly resort measures which we see as extreme. Stop and consider that in every age decent people like Ruth and Eric have lobbied for what they consider to be right and spoke out against what they feel to be wrong. We had Carrie A. Nation chopping up saloons in a temperance movement which I suppose resulted in the Prohibition amendment to criminalize alcohol consumption and we all know that this amendment was ultimately repealed because it created more problems than it solved. Abortion was criminalized prior to Rowe vs. Wade, and then decriminalized, and now we are attempting to re-criminalize it. Switzerland allows heroin addicts to report to a government office twice each day for an injection of pure heroin. America throws heroin addicts into prison. The European union abhors capital punishment but allows abortion. America abhors abortion but applauds capital punishment. In the 1960s at St. John’s both students and faculty smoked in the classrooms. The only place one could not smoke was in the lecture auditorium (I assume because of fire department regulations.) Now it is forbidden to smoke in classrooms or buildings. Perhaps one day tobacco will be criminalized and I would see that as a good and desirable thing.

Given the ever-changing and vacillating how can you be so certain that ethnocide will never be approved of as a strategy in centuries to come? In fact, assuming that our world does not change in the next hundred years, then where will the resources come from to support the war efforts against the terrorism that we have seen in the past 10 years. It seems to me that the world cannot support such efforts indefinitely.

I am not trying to be UNFAIR to him. I respect his position and understand his arguments but I see things differently.

Do YOU feel that I am doing you some personal injustice?


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