Blogs > Liberty and Power > Bill O'Reilly Makes a Good Point

Aug 16, 2009 11:16 am

Bill O'Reilly Makes a Good Point

Those who oppose torture but support bombing civilian centers that will inevitably kill innocent children are in a bind. O'Reilly's conclusion is that it must mean both torture and bombings are okay. And this is a consistent position.

But I believe the correct position is that of course torture is uncivilized, and even worse is killing innocent civilians. All wars in the modern era are" criminal." Practically all bombings are war crimes. They are acts of mass murder, and if one has a conditional defense of knowingly killing non-aggressors, then surely there must be an equally valid conditional defense for abusing captive criminals.

O'Reilly is accused of finding a defense of torture. He responds that those who favor war (including him) have found a defense of killing innocent women and children. I contend that once you can find a way to defend war crimes like the nuking of Hiroshima or even lesser acts of mass killing of civilians, you can find a way to defend anything using identical logic.

Here are my earlier thoughts on Stewart's shameful flip-flop on Truman, and see the insightful Justin Raimondo and this article by Dennis Perrin at the Huffington Post.

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Ross Levatter - 5/9/2009

The conflict between Professor Skoble and Mr. Riggenbach is a conflict between two disciplines, philosophy and history. Professor Skoble states a broad and no doubt correct philosophical principle, and seeks to instantiate it with a simple bromide about Nazis and the Good war. But Mr. Riggenbach, who has just completed a book on historical revisionism, recognizes the bromide is more complex and misleading than many realize. Similar conflicts occur with, for example, writers at the Ayn Rand Institute attempting to justify dropping atomic weapons on the middle east using a philosophical theory and little historical knowledge.

In the practical syllogisms we face in life, philosophy is often the major premise and history the minor premise. Both need to be correct to achieve a sound conclusion.

Jeff Riggenbach - 5/8/2009

And clearly, no discussion can take place if anyone involved insists on calling a spade a spade. Those who prefer that their ideas not be clearly identified as what they in fact are might become offended, in which case it would be evident that the individual who offended them is not "civil."

Have I understood your ridiculously mislabeled "minimal standards of civil discourse" correctly?

If not, wherein have I erred?


Jonathan Dresner - 5/8/2009

True, but it makes some difference whether you're basing the argument on the law of war or on the fundamental illegality of war, at least in terms of policy.

Aeon J. Skoble - 5/8/2009

You are a guest here, so please observe minimal standards of civil discourse. The purpose of the comments thread is to have a discussion about the post.

Jeff Riggenbach - 5/7/2009

Or does the supposed "irony" here lie in the "fact" that calling a spade a spade (or an apologist for mass murder an apologist for mass murder) is even worse than destroying the property of innocent people and maiming and killing them?


Anthony Gregory - 5/7/2009

Well, here I'm simply saying that bombings are at least as criminal as torture. But you don't have to agree with that to believe Truman was a war criminal. He went way, way beyond mere "collateral damage."

Jeff Riggenbach - 5/7/2009

Aeon Skoble writes:

"It's less that you [owe] _me_ an apology than that you should apologize to the L&P readership for refusing to engage in civil discussion. It's ironic that in your zeal to discredit perpetrators of war crimes that you forget the basic standards of civil discourse."

Dullard that I am, the "irony" here is lost on me. Is it the case that critics of mass murder are ordinarily "civil" (as you seem to mean that conceptually empty term)?

I rather doubt it. Most opponents of mass murder tend to call spades spades, rather than wasting their time pussyfooting around the real issue in an effort to be "civil."


Aeon J. Skoble - 5/7/2009

It's less that you _me_ an apology than that you should apologize to the L&P readership for refusing to engage in civil discussion. It's ironic that in your zeal to discredit perpetrators of war crimes that you forget the basic standards of civil discourse.

Jonathan Dresner - 5/7/2009

I understand the fundamental point you're making -- and it's not at all surprising from L&P -- but aren't you shifting the goalposts by a few miles when you go from a discussion of "war crimes" to a full condemnation of war as criminal under a rubric of Tilly-esque anti-statism?

Anthony Gregory - 5/7/2009

The reason to bring up the Nazis and England is because we all agree the Nazis were war aggressors and the British were, at least in defending their island against German aggression, in the right.

But it is interesting that even in the most common example of a just war, given the evil of the enemy, World War II, just war principles were not respected by the Allies almost at all.

The Polish certainly had a right to resist aggressors. But that doesn't mean the Polish state had the right to wage war, conscript armies, tax citizens, or bomb foreign territory. An actual defensive war where the state does not act incredibly criminally is almost impossible to find. I consider the Union to be the aggressor in the Civil War, for example, but surely nothing justified everything the Confederate government did in waging the "defensive" war. We can easily defend the actions of Southerners defending their property, lives, families and communities. But this does not mean we have to defend "war." The war part of it was indefensible. Fighting back against an invading army is not really engaging in modern "war," any more than resisting arrest is generally referred to as "law enforcement."

RickC - 5/6/2009

Maybe if Dr. Skoble has stuck with a general statement about aggressive/defensive action? I didn't take his use of the Nazis and English as making a statement about the innocence of the Brits. It was just a handy example. What about the Nazis and France or Poland?

The case for the Soviets may not be so clear either. Former Soviet General Viktor Suvorov has a new book out titled, "Chief Culprit: Stalin's Grand Design To Start World War II." I saw him on BookTV a couple of weeks ago. He argued that Stalin helped create Hitler's military; built a great deal of his arms, trained most of his pilots etc.

Stalin then let Hitler and the German army do all the heavy lifting in Western Europe to wear down the Allies (and Germany) so that the Soviet army could then sweep in and capture all of Europe.

Suvorov argued that Hitler's intelligence figured out a double-cross was coming because the Soviets had mobilized on the Polish border (new Soviet-German border) not with defensive weapon systems, but with weapon systems used for assaults. Hitler just beat Stalin to the punch.

I've probably done a poor job of relating Suvorov's thesis as I haven't had the opportunity to read his book yet.

Anthony Gregory - 5/6/2009

Another problem with bringing up Britain and the Nazis: Aeon seems to imply that avoiding civilian casualties might in fact be important in rendering the defensive side truly non-criminal. But the British did not avoid civilian casualties. So why is this a good example at all? Because Britain _might_ have fought back in a non-criminal way? Well, perhaps. But this is not an example of an _actual_ modern war that _actually_ avoids criminality.

Anthony Gregory - 5/6/2009

It is fine to fight back against the Nazis, although I think the British government didn't help in protecting the British people from Nazi aggression when it decided to declare war over a country it had no possibility of actually defending, and never did defend throughout the war.

The Soviets also fought back against the Nazis, in an arguably even more clear-cut defensive act with even fewer provocations coming from the defender. Yet Stalin did act criminally in the way he responded to that invasion, just as the British government did when it killed German civilians.

It's possible for both sides to be criminal, even if one side is much more criminal than the other. I agree that both sides in a conflict are not morally equal. The aggressor state is worse, which is in many cases the US government in its own wars. But defending against such aggression does not allow for modern war methods that kill innocent people. Otherwise, we would have to find anti-American terrorism somewhat defensible, when in fact it is not defensible at all.

RickC - 5/6/2009

I'm sure Mr. Skoble can defend himself but I want to point out to Mr. Riggenbach that Mr. Skoble wrote no such thing.

I believe his point was that if an aggressive enemy attacks your country, and despite what I often come across in some libertarian writings, history is replete with them, you have three basic choices; you can fight the war on your own soil thereby insuring the safety of "those" civilians while leaving your civilians in mortal danger, you can move the battles to "their" soil as soon as possible so as to protect your own population but also insuring there will be deaths and suffering amongst "their" civilians, or you can surrender and endure whatever the conquerors have in store for you.

You notice I never wrote anything about fire bombing or nuking civilian centers in retaliation for evils perpetrated by the aggressors.

I'm sure if you had been able to ask the peoples of China, Southeast Asia and Korea about it, they would have much preferred to have moved the war onto Japanese soil way sooner than it happened during WWII. Ditto with the South during Lincoln's war, etc.,ad infinitum.

Finally, you owe Mr. Skoble an apology. Pleas ease up on the self-righteous indignation too.

Jeff Riggenbach - 5/6/2009

Let me try explaining this another way, Anthony. We have to find some way to get this through your thick head.

As Mr. Skoble has pointed out, with magnificent philosophical subtlety, your intemperate statement that "all wars in the modern era are 'criminal' is extremely problematical. As Skoble writes, "The problem with a blanket statement like this is that [it] presupposes no distinction between aggression and defense."

You see, if the Nazis bomb British population centers, this is "aggression." If the British bomb German population centers, this is "defense." There! Does that help? Surely you can see that murdering a bunch of innocent civilians trying to enjoy their sauerbraten and sauerkraut and beer is direct retaliation against those who bombed the British population centers and will do wonders toward insuring that no such bombings of British population centers will ever take place again?

I hope the issue is clear now.



Jeff Riggenbach - 5/6/2009

"On your view, England cannot morally resist the Nazis . . . on your view, they cannot resist the Nazis _at all_."

Yes, Anthony, I'm surprised at you! Don't you understand that the *only* way to resist the Nazis in this case is to bomb civilian population centers? Don't you realize that all those German civilians sitting in their apartments eating sauerbraten and sauerkraut and drinking beer are the problem and have to be wiped out? Don't you realize that it is they - not Hitler or Goering - who constitute the enemy? How dense can you be?

Look, let me help you with this. You see, once you *define* "resistance against the Nazis" as "bombing civilian population centers," everything else falls into place. Since the only action that constitutes resistance against the Nazis is now clearly understood to be bombing civilian population centers, it is clear that anyone who objects to bombing civilian population centers is a pacifist.



Aeon J. Skoble - 5/6/2009

>All wars in the modern era >are "criminal."

The problem with a blanket statement like this is that presupposes no distinction between aggression and defense. Imagine an aggressor state, we'll call it "Nazi Germany," which decides to conquer all its neighbors using tanks, bombs, shock troops, sceret police, the whole nine yards. Now imagine one of these neighbors, call it "England," prefers to retain its autonomy and wants to repel the invasion. On your view, England cannot morally resist the Nazis, since any feasible means of doing so might harm civilians. That's not to say that England ought not to attempt to minimize civilian deaths, or that England ought not to follow certain rules of military conflict. But on your view, they cannot resist the Nazis _at all_. That seems to be its own reductio ad absurdum.