Friday, August 8, 2008

Power Over Life, Power Over Death

I thought this discussion of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was interesting, in part because of the various knots utilitarians tie themselves in, and in part because of the observation that not all violence counts as violence in the same way--violence at a distance, for example, is "less violent" than face-to-face violence.

Having taught some Mao last term, I a genuinely curious how a utilitarian would judge his leadership of China. On the one hand, some estimate that 30 million died of famine during the Great Leap Forward. On the other hand, life expectancy went from 40 years in 1950 to 70 years by the time Mao stepped down--even the Cultural revolution didn't make a dent in decreasing mortality rates--and the population of China increased from a relatively stable 400-500 million between 1851-1949 to 1.2 billion by 2000. In other words, Mao's leadership seems to have made much more life than death. If you're going to blame him for one, shouldn't you credit him for the other?

My own position on the question of criminality is probably closest to that expressed in JSG's comment:
One thing I need to add- if a military leader DOES think a war crime is necessary, then shouldn't they have the strength of convictions to stand by that decision?

In situations like this one always hears the saying "no jury would convict them". But it's amazing how few juries are ever given the opportunity to not convict people. IMO, that's a true shame, and one of the many reasons our legal system seems to be breaking down. The little people are told to trust the system and let it work... but it seems the big fish do everything possible to avoid explaining themselves in court.

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