The Right Coast

August 08, 2005
By Mike Rappaport

Although I don't work in this field, I think issues of military ethics are fascinating: What actions are permissible and can we expect the two sides in a war to follow.

During the Civil War, the Confederacy at one point refused to confer prisoner of war status on black soldiers, killing them instead. In retaliation, Abraham Lincoln hung some Confederate officers and the South relented. Lincoln's action seems obviously correct. But how many theories out there would allow it?

The legitimacy of bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki are also fascinating questions. But if one allows, as some critics of the decision do not, that lives were saved by the bombings, that is a very strong argument in favor of the decision. (Note: I am not saying that is the only consideration: just the most important.)

For a powerful defense of the bombings, take a look at Victor Davis Hansen's piece, which concludes:

"The truth, as we are reminded so often in this present conflict, is that usually in war there are no good alternatives, and leaders must select between a very bad and even worse choice. Hiroshima was the most awful option imaginable, but the other scenarios would have probably turned out even worse."