Friday, May 14, 2010

Yes, per logical consistency, and in denial of self-righteous fiction

"The conditions of combat place human beings under unbearable and extraordinary circumstances of stress that can and have provoked decent and good men to perform terrible acts. Is it just for those judging these acts to place standards on combat behavior that they cannot say with any confidence that they could meet themselves, if placed under the same conditions?

"The United States walked right into this one when it launched the first international war crimes trial at Nuremberg after World War II. Nobody doubted that what the Nazis had done to Jews and others during the war was monstrous, but subjecting it to official and legal condemnation under the category of 'war crimes' was, and remains, problematical. The tribunal at Nuremberg would not accept 'following orders' as a defense, but neither does the US military permit soldiers to pass their own moral judgements on which orders they will obey.

"Ultimately, the importance of officially condemning the atrocities of the Holocaust was determined to be more important than consistency. What the Nazis did could not stand unpunished, even though, in truth, there were bound to be actions by American soldiers in future wars that could be called war crimes under the Nuremberg definition. There were such actions during W.W. II: should the crew of the Enola Gay have refused to drop the atom bomb?"

--Ethics Scoreboard, "The Housewife and the Marine," 2004 November 22

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