Nuclear Weapons and Christian Conscience. Edited by Walter Stein and with a Foreword by Archbishop Roberts, S. J. The Merlin Press. 12s. 6d.
it is surely true that the revulsion from the use of strategic nuclear weapons in any circumstances which is one of the roots of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament is moral and not merely prudential. In the end prudence and morality are not to be divided; but immediately there is an obvious difference between wanting to get rid of nuclear weapons in Britain lest the Russians should be provoked into attacking us and disapproving of the use of such weapons even in circumstances (to make the perhaps absurd supposition that there could be such) where their use could be supposed to bring about some great advantage. Many people have slandered the Campaign, alleging that the agitation was against British and American bombs only. It is true that there have been a few people on the fringes of the Campaign who have wanted to make a distinction between capitalist bombs and socialist bombs; but the swift response of the Campaign to the resumption of nuclear testing by the Russians has shown the
It may seem very strange that, faced with the proclaimed intentions of Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union to use nuclear weapons against great centres of population in certain specified circumstances, we should be asked to give reasons for our moral revulsion. One who seriously, outside the context of an academic discussion, asks for reasons why we should think genocide or the torture of prisoners or the punishment of the innocent wrong we should think to be mad. We are nevertheless faced with just such questions; for it seems to be the case that a great many British, Americans and Russians who are apparently sane think the burden of moral proof rests upon the opponents of nuclear weapons, not upon the defenders. This is a strange fact about the world, but it is a fact; and we have therefore to come to terms with it, to show by argument the moral evil of nuclear warfare and of the intention to wage it.
Mr. Walter Stein and his fellow symposiasts have given us a set of arguments designed to show that nuclear warfare is murder and therefore impermissible in all circumstances. They are all of them Roman Catholics; and because this is so it is important to note that their essays entirely lack the notes of uplift and sentimental moralising that some prospective readers may, with however little justice, expect. The arguments are severely logical, they appeal to principles that many non-Christians will hold to be sound, and in those cases where their theological presuppositions make a difference this is expressed quite straight-forwardly. The book is quite the best analysis so far made of the moral issues that lie behind the primitive certainties of the Campaign.
I will now try to give an account of the substance of the general argument. This will be unjust to the detail of the argument and risks giving a false impression on some points; but I hope to be able to convince the reader that the book is worth close attention.
Pacifism is a false doctrine about the use of force in society. It is a condition of civilisation that there should be force at the disposal of the public authorities; and such force may legitimately be used, not only against the internal enemies of a society, but also against the organised forces of other societies. The legitimacy of the use of force rests upon a number of conditions. It may be used for the punishment of criminals; it may be used to repel unprovoked attacks; it may be used to right serious injustices. Not all uses of force even for these good purposes are permissible. There must be a certain proportion between the way force is used and the offence in question. You may put a man in prison for armed robbery; but you may not put out his eyes or make him suffer by punishing the innocent members of his family. In a just war you may bomb arms factories or petrol dumps; but you may not kill people indiscriminately in order to weaken the morale of the enemy. Even where your cause is just, you may not use force unless you have serious reason to believe that you can win and that the final result of such a victory will not be worse than the result of compromise or capitulation. What is altogether excluded, even where the end sought is a good one, is the deliberate and intentional killing of the innocent. (“Innocent” here means, as Miss Anscombe points out in her essay, “not harming”. Soldiers who surrender and are taken prisoner are in this sense innocent. This is why it is abominable to kill or torture prisoners of war.) We may never do what is morally evil that good may come.
The moral confusion of pacifism rests upon a refusal to distinguish between the killing of the innocent and other kinds of intentional killing. Those who refuse to make this distinction do not commonly become pacificists. They accept the pacifist premiss; but infer from it that wickedness is unavoidable in this world, that all one’s choices are between evil and evil, and that since no one who is not a pacifist is prepared to outlaw all uses of force, then one who approves of e.g. killing in self-defence has no logical ground for objecting to the bombing of Hiroshima. It is argued that what has gone wrong here is a shift in the argument from “evil” to “morally evil”. It is plainly ruled out by logic that I should ever have a duty to do what is morally evil; this would be to say that I ought to do what I ought not to do. But I may well have a duty to do what is in a non-moral sense evil. It is obvious that every war is an evil; but it does not follow from this that I can never have a duty to fight in a war. To deprive a man of his liberty is to inflict an evil upon him; but I may well have a duty to do this and what I do is not morally evil. Pacifism is a corrupting doctrine as well as a confused one, since it debilitates those who are not pacifists, making them suppose, absurdly, that short of the pacifist refusal to kill at all there can be no rules about killing. (I think what the authors say is very relevant to much of what is said on this topic in the Labour movement. Pacifism has deeply influenced the movement; and while this has had some good results, it has produced a kind of moral disarmament which has favoured the present confused support for the policy of the deterrent.)