Friday, August 6, 2010

G.E.M. Anscombe's "Mr. Truman's Degree"

On the anniversary of the first two, and so far only, civilian mass murders by nuclear bomb, I would like to call attention to the late Catholic analytical philosopher G. E. M. Anscombe's essay in criticism of Oxford's honoring the murders' prime mover.  The text of her essay has been available on my site for four years.  Today's post consists of my prefatory note. 
Anthony Flood, August 6, 2010

In an effort to make clear that pacifism in no way inspired her condemnation of the mass murders in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and her consequent protest against Oxford's, i.e., her university's, awarding Two-Bomb Harry an honorary degree, the distinguished analytic philosopher G. E. M. Anscombe (1919-2001) irritated me in three ways.

(1) She overlooked non-statist approaches to the problem of “restraining malefactors.”

(2) She implicitly affirmed the justifiability of a military draft (although her underlying insight—“in an attenuated sense it can be said that something that belongs to, or concerns, one is attacked if anybody is unjustly attacked or maltreated”—is suggestive).

(3) She further believed the oppression of an ethnic group might be “a reasonable cause of war.” By "war" she almost certainly meant a state’s
(a) militarily extending its reach beyond the territory over which it asserts exclusive control over another state's similarly monopolized territory; and
(b) funding and manning that military undertaking through taxation and/or conscription.
By contrast, a libertarian would introduce, and insist upon, the distinction between a war of aggression and a war of self-defense. Individuals may act militarily and in concert to liberate oppressed people if systematic injustices (e.g., taxation and conscription) do not sustain that enterprise. There is no reason, however, to believe that when Miss Anscombe wrote that "the plight of the Jews under Hitler would have been a reasonable cause of war," she attributed its reasonableness to its having met libertarian standards.

Nevertheless, these defects (which many may not regard as such) neither diminish my enthusiasm for posting this classic essay nor dull the force of her argument, encapsulated in these excerpts:

The Censor of St. Catherine’s [the Oxford college where the President Truman would receive an honorary degree] had an odious task. He must make a speech which should pretend to show that a couple of massacres to a man’s credit are not exactly a reason for not showing him honour. . . . The defence, I think, would not have been well received at Nuremberg.
For men to choose to kill the innocent as a means to their ends is always murder . . . .
. . killing the innocent, even if you know as a matter of statistical certainty that the things you do involve it, is not necessarily murder. . . . On the other hand, unscrupulousness in considering the possibilities turns it into murder.
August 8, 2006
Updated August 7, 2008

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