Starts a bit slow, but interesting nonetheless: the numbers and places of nuclear explosions throughout the years:
- Japan Commemorates 65th Anniversary of Hiroshima Bombing [Pic Of The Night] (gawker.com)
- “1945-1998″ by Isao Hashimoto: 2003 (edugeek.net)
Within the first two to four months of the bombings, the acute effects killed 90,000–166,000 people in Hiroshima and 60,000–80,000 in Nagasaki, with roughly half of the deaths in each city occurring on the first day. Of the people who died on the day of the explosion, 60% died from flash or flame burns, 30% from falling debris and 10% from other causes. During the following months, large numbers died from the effect of burns, radiation sickness, and other injuries, compounded by illness. In both cities, most of the dead were civilians.
In Hiroshima, the radius of total destruction was about one mile (1.6 km), with resulting fires across 4.4 square miles (11 square km). The residents of Hiroshima were given no notice of the atomic bomb.
Let’s focus on the area near ground zero, the hypocenter of the explosion, which is this part of the map above (the green lines are the rivers):
Below are a few 3D maps/maquettes of this area – which obviously suffered the most destruction – taken from an exhibition in the Hiroshima museum. They show the area before and after the explosion. In each one, you can see the famous dome structure which has become iconic for the event (I marked it on the images).
From another viewpoint:
What is the effect of the passage of time on violations of human rights?
- Perhaps there’s no effect: a crime remains a crime, and a rights violation remains a rights violation, even if all the victims have died long ago and their descendants don’t continue to suffer from the fact that their ancestors were wronged.
- Perhaps the passage of time erodes the severity of rights violations.
- Or perhaps the passage of time makes rights violations worse.
I think all these three effects can occur. Let’s look at them in turn.
Time has no effect
We have to distinguish this kind of case from cases in which the descendants continue to suffer from the harm done to their ancestors (I’ll deal with those latter cases below). What we’re talking about here are rights violations that have occurred many years ago, perhaps centuries ago, but don’t have an impact on the distant descendants of the initial victims. (All severe rights violations are likely to have some impact on a generation or two of descendants, but the question here is how the passage of time affects rights violations, and hence we need to imagine a sufficiently long period of time).
An example could be the execution some centuries ago of a group of political dissidents. Contrary to the case of slavery for example, you can’t reasonably claim that the descendants of the dissidents still suffer from the original rights violation centuries after it has happened. What you could claim, however, is that the passage of time didn’t reduce or increase the importance of the original rights violation: it’s still a stain on the nation’s self-image.
The significance of the original rights violation doesn’t lie in the impact it has on descendants who are presently living – like it’s arguably the case with the impact of slavery on currently living African Americans for instance. It’s significance lies in the impact on the whole of the nation. The rights violation took place in the past, but it didn’t end there. The victims are dead, but the crime reverberates throughout time.
So what should we do? We obviously can’t compensate the victims. They’re gone. We can’t compensate the descendants because they don’t suffer like for instance the descendants of slaves suffer. What we can do to make things right is to acknowledge, to apologize, to memorialize etc. Otherwise, no amount of time will reduce the impact of the original rights violation.
Time erodes the rights violation
Case number 2 seems counterintuitive. How can the simple passage of time make things better? We’re not talking here about things getting better simply because people forget or have a lack of historical sensitivity. Something more profound can cause historical rights violations to dissipate or even disappear. Jeremy Waldron has given an interesting example of the way in which the passage of time diminishes or even removes the impact of an injustice.
Say tribe A steals a water hole from tribe B after it has used force to remove tribe B from the territory. That’s, in some sense, a violation of the property rights of tribe B. However, after some time, an ecological catastrophe occurs, resulting in the said water hole to become the only one in a vast area. It can be argued that tribe A now has a right to use the water hole, and to do so to the same extent as tribe B. If tribe A grants equal access to tribe B there is no longer an injustice.
Another example is a rights violation that has an impact on the descendants of the original victims, say slavery. These descendants continue to suffer from the harm done to their ancestors, as is arguably the case for slavery in the U.S. However, even if the descendants suffer, it’s likely that the suffering diminishes over time. We can assume that both suffering and the struggle against suffering are to some variable extent attributable to people’s own actions (or inactions) and to current events, and not entirely to historical events. So if we decide to pay restorations to descendants of the victims of historical rights violations because the consequences of these rights violations reverberate to some extent throughout time in the sense that they still harm people today, we should apply a so-called discount rate.
Time makes things worse
An example of case number 3 is resource depletion. If past (or current) generations squander(ed) all or a substantial part of the earth’s oil reserves, it is likely that their descendants will have a standard of living far below the minimum required by human rights, and that the standard of living will go down as time goes by.
We have a long running series on this blog asking people to tell us what they think about particular moral dilemmas. However, since this is (in part) a philosophy blog, it’s useful to take a step back and ask ourselves what we are talking about. What precisely is a moral dilemma?
Definition of moral dilemma
Well, it’s obviously a conflict of some sort. If you’re stuck in a moral dilemma you have some good moral reasons to do each of two different things (“dilemma” comes from the Greek for “double proposition”). The problem is that you can’t do both. You do either one or the other, and by failing to do one you fail morally. A moral dilemma condemns you to moral failure. You have an unpleasant choice to make between two moral duties and therefore you’re forced to violate one duty.
It’s important to note here that both the moral duties are equally important. When it’s clear that one of the conflicting moral obligations easily overrides the other, we don’t have a moral dilemma. For example, you have the moral duty to repay your debts, but giving back a borrowed weapon to a deranged friend will make you an accomplice in murder. (That’s the classic example in Plato’s Republic). This isn’t really a dilemma since the obligation to prevent murder clearly overrides the obligation to honor your debts.
Because the two (or more) options in a dilemma are (or seem to be, see below) equally important, a dilemma presents you with an impossible choice. Hence the typical characteristic of a dilemma: you can’t get out of it. A dilemma is inescapable and inevitable. You have to make a choice but you can’t. You are thrown from one side to the other: from the obligation to make a choice to the impossibility of making a choice and back again and again.
Moral dilemmas and value pluralism
The equal importance of both (or more) options has to do with value pluralism. There are many important values in life – love, loyalty, honor, freedom, equality etc. – and those are generally – but not specifically – equally important. According to value pluralism – a moral theory I personally accept – there’s no way of establishing a hierarchy between these values so that we know which one to choose in case of conflicts (such as moral dilemmas). Some values are sometimes more important than others, depending on the context (see the example from Plato above). But those others are also sometimes more important.
The same value pluralism is the basis of the theory of balancing human rights. Human rights are basically moral values and they often contradict each other – the privacy of a public figure and free speech of a journalist, for example. It’s not obvious to claim that some human rights are more important than others (although there have been attempts) and therefore you’ll have difficult choices to make between respecting the rights of one person or another.
But let’s get back to the topic of moral dilemmas. Value pluralism is one cause of moral dilemmas, but not the cause. In some cases, moral dilemmas involve only one value. Take the example of Sophie’s Choice: Sophie is instructed by a guard in a Nazi concentration camp to decide which one of her two children will be killed, and if she doesn’t decide, both will be killed. There’s only one value at stake here and no conflict between values. (You could argue that there are a few values at stake: love, life, equality etc. but anyway, there are no conflicts between values, only conflicts between the choice of one child or the choice of another).
Types of moral dilemmas
So this brings us to a typology of moral dilemmas. We can indeed differentiate between types of moral dilemmas. The first distinction is the one described above, between dilemmas involving conflicts between values (usually two) and dilemmas involving a conflict within one value. Some would say that the latter aren’t real dilemmas. Take Sophie’s choice again. The solution is easy: give up one of the two children, no matter which one (assuming that there’s no difference in life expectancy etc.). That’s the best Sophie can do, because the other option – not choosing – will result in the death of both. The choice of which child is morally irrelevant. (Personally, I don’t believe things are as easy as that. We do have a real dilemma here).
Another distinction is the one between so-called epistemic dilemmas and non-epistemic dilemmas. The former are dilemmas created by the absence of knowledge, the latter would exist even with perfect knowledge. Perhaps you’re faced with a choice between participating in a war or staying home and caring for your sick mother (Sartre’s example). This dilemma is caused – in part at least – by the absence of knowledge. If you knew that your participation in the war would have a major effect on the outcome of the war, and if you knew that your mother would be OK without your help, the dilemma would disappear and the choice would be obvious. So in this case it’s the absence of knowledge about the consequences of either choice that creates the dilemma. Some people would say that we don’t have a real dilemma in this case because the provision of knowledge solves the dilemma, and a real dilemma has to be impossible to solve even given perfect knowledge. (Again, I don’t think it’s as easy as that. In real life, knowledge is often missing and it’s useless to say to someone facing a dilemma that knowledge could solve the dilemma).
Another type of epistemic dilemma is the one in which a dilemma appears because of the factual uncertainty about a case. For example, you could be faced with the choice of helping a friend vs informing the police of this friend’s crime. The conflicting values here are friendship/loyalty and your duties as a citizen. However, there’s a dilemma only because you’re unaware of the fact that this “friend” isn’t really a friend and just abuses your trust. Better knowledge would solve the dilemma.
And finally, another type of epistemic dilemma arises when the person faced with the dilemma isn’t sure about the particular moral principles that (should) apply. For example, you may believe that loyalty to a group of criminals is an important moral value but there isn’t any good moral theory available that produces justified moral reasons for such a moral principle. When this “moral principle” conflicts with another, better principle (e.g. snitching), you may find yourself believing that there’s a moral dilemma. Again, better knowledge would solve the dilemma.
Some other distinctions between types of moral dilemmas:
- dilemmas can be self-imposed (making two mutually exclusive promises for example), or imposed by the outside world (Sophie’s choice for example)
- dilemmas can result from your own wrongdoing (again the promises) or by chance (Sartre’s example)
- there can be obligation dilemmas in which more than one feasible action is obligatory (Sartre’s example) or prohibition dilemmas in which all feasible actions are prohibited (Sophie’s choice)
- dilemmas can be within one system of morality or across systems of morality (there can be a conflict between our general moral obligations – e.g. do not be an accomplice to murder – and our role-related obligations – the duty of a priest to protect the secret of confession, even when a murderer comes to confess her crime)
- dilemmas can be single-agent dilemmas (Sartre’s example and Sophie’s choice) or multiple-agent dilemmas (should the US bomb Hiroshima?)
By the way, you can still vote on our moral dilemmas here and we’ll add some new ones soon.
Tsutomu Yamaguchi (born March 16, 1916), a Japanese man, is one of the few people who survived both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings. He had already been listed as a hibakusha (explosion-affected person) of the August 9 Nagasaki bombing, but on March 24, 2009 the government of Japan officially certified that he had also been in Hiroshima on a business trip during the first atomic bombing. (source, source)
From Robert L. Peters’ blog:
For those involved in the peace movement around the globe, thoughts this week turn once again to the horrors of Monday, August 6, 1945—when at 08:15 the first nuclear weapon ever deployed on human beings (a bomb named Little Boy) was dropped on Hiroshima by the crew of the American B-29 bomber Enola Gay. Three days later, at 11:02 on Wednesday, August 9, Nagasaki was the target of the world’s first plutonium bomb (named Fat Man) dropped by the U.S. B-29 Superfortress Bockscar, flown by the crew of 393rd Squadron.
Image below: a moving poster designed by the late great Yusaku Kamekura, considered by many to be the father of graphic design in Japan. The poster “depicts a cluster of multicoloured burning butterflies falling from the sky, caught in the flash of an atomic blast, their wings alight with hot red and orange flames burning like streaks of blood from their delicate wings—the beauty and grace of the image serves to undermine the horror and tragedy of war.” Hiroshima Appeals is a poster series that appears annually, initiated by Japan Graphic Designers Association for the Hiroshima International Cultural Foundation.