what is the issue? values and ethics in warfare
"War is all hell!” That was the declaration of General William Tecumseh Sherman in early 1865 as he surveyed the devastation brought by his sixty thousand Union troops to the people of Georgia during the closing months of the Civil War. Like leaders in other times and places, President Abraham Lincoln had approved the policy of waging war on civilians in order to hasten the end of a long and bloody struggle. Sherman’s Union troops devastated the towns in the their path. Unlike previous campaigns in which civilian losses were unintentional, Sherman specifically targeted the property of the local people. Although Lincoln was deeply troubled by Sherman’s campaign against the South, he believed he had to break the fighting spirit of the Confederacy.
What factors and questions do democracies have to consider during war?
War raises agonizing moral questions. In a democracy, the decisions faced by policymakers and the public are particularly complex. To understand the implications of war, we must begin with values. Values are the beliefs, customs, and relationships that individuals or societies believe are central to their identity, security, and survival. They provide the foundation for the goals and standards that shape our daily lives and guide us in making important decisions. Values also inspire individuals to risk their well-being, even their lives, for a common purpose. During wartime, values serve to unite a society to take up arms to uphold its highest ideals and interests. When a democratic society goes to war, the decisions made and actions taken are not just the responsibility of those in authority; they are the collective responsibility of the people. Democracies at war thus have a special obligation to confront the “ends-means dilemma.” Once war has begun, few Americans would deny that bringing the conflict to a speedy and victorious conclusion is a justifiable goal, or end. The moral difficulty comes in deciding which military actions, or means, should be employed to attain a worthy end. Where does a democracy draw the line in the use of violence? How does the end being pursued determine which means are justifiable?
What is the focus of this reading?
In this reading, you will consider one of the most difficult and controversial decisions ever made by a democratic society in wartime: the dropping of two atomic bombs on Japan at the end of World War II. You will travel back to the 1940s and review the events leading up to the bombing. Developments will unfold for you just as they did for U.S. policymakers. Using letters, memoranda, reports, speeches, and other documents, you will follow both the scientific race to harness the power of the atom and the military course of the most destructive war in history. With your peers, you will reconstruct the debate about the atomic bomb that took place within the administration of President Harry Truman in late July 1945. The background reading has been designed to help you assess the policy choices considered by the Truman administration. Beginning with examples from ancient history, this reading uses selected examples to trace the evolution of warfare from “total war” involving civilians, through “just war” theory which sought to limit the boundaries of war in the Middle Ages, and finally to the use of aerial bombardment and the return to total war in World War I. Part II traces military developments in World War II and the simultaneous scientific path that led to the construction of the atomic bomb. Together, the readings will help you to understand the complexity of warfare and the role of technology in war.
The road to the nuclear age: a chronology.