A Clash about Morality in Wartime
Two of the leading British moral philosophers in the years after the end of World War II clashed about America’s dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and their clash has much to teach us about the principles that should govern a free society. The two thinkers are R.M. Hare and Elizabeth Anscombe. I’ll start with Hare because his way of looking at moral decisions is one many people will find reasonable, even if they don’t agree with his conclusions in this particular case. But it is Anscombe’s position that will teach us the most.
In an article, “Was Hiroshima Necessary?,” that was published in the New York Review of Books in May 1971, Hare strongly suggests that the answer is yes. But what I want to concentrate on first is not his argument that it was, but the way he arrives at his conclusion. He says that when you are faced with a decision, you should draw up a list of the good and bad consequences of the courses of action open to you and then pick the one that is best.
He thinks that this is how President Truman, who ordered the bombs dropped, reasoned. If Truman was correct in his assessment of the consequences, he was justified in what he did, and otherwise not.
If he is to be condemned, it will have to be because he did not do the best he could in the circumstance
Article from Mises Wire