At some point over the past century, a profound shift occurred in the West’s popular mood regarding the morality of violence. As Objective Standard editor Craig Biddle reminds us in an outstanding piece tackling “Hamas and The Left’s Pretense About the Deaths of Innocents in Gaza,” the United States ended its conflict with Japan in World War II by dropping two atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Over 200,000 people died as a result. Surely, the vast majority of those killed were innocent individuals who did not conscientiously participate in the bombing of Pearl Harbor or any other aggression against the Allies. But our nation killed them anyway.
Would we do the same today? Do we have the stomach? Perhaps the better question is: do we retain the moral sense to place blame for such deaths where it belongs?
It’s true, dropping those bombs and killing 200,000 people saved millions more. Yet, it’s not a utilitarian weighing of this many lives versus that many lives which justifies the bombings. The United States was correct to drop the bombs as an act of retaliatory force, neutralizing a threat against its citizens. As Biddle articulates in his piece, which you should read in its entirely, proper moral blame for the 200,000 dead lay with the empire of Japan. Biddle concludes:
The principle is: He who initiates physical force is morally responsible for the destructive consequences of the retaliatory force he thereby necessitates. So says the law of causality.
This principle is as clear in a warzone in the Middle East as it is on the streets of Miami. If a thug grabs a woman and tries to shove her into a van, and the woman pulls a gun from her purse and shoots at the thug, thereby killing an innocent bystander behind him, who is morally responsible for the bystander’s death? Every thinking adult knows the answer.
Of course, the kind and extent of retaliatory force warranted in a given situation depends on the full context and can be a complex matter. But the matter of who is morally responsible for the harm caused by retaliatory force necessitated by an aggressor is simple: The aggressor is.
As a culture, we in the West seem to have forgotten that. Perhaps later generations never learned it to begin with. Instead, we uphold notions of “restraint” and “proportional response” as if civilian causalities among an enemy state should haunt us.
The death of innocents is always a tragedy. But the nation that kills is not necessarily the nation at fault. Deaths should not be tallied for balance, as if fairness necessitated a Jew die for every Palestinian killed, or as if the United States should have allowed 200,000 of its citizens to be bombed as an offset to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The fault for death and destruction lies squarely with the aggressor. As Dennis Prager states concisely in the video on the next page, the aggressor in the Middle East is clearly Hamas.