Monday, October 18, 2010

Laconia: DELIBERATE friendly fire is modernist utilitarianism

I do not find it at all impossible to comprend why so many Germans found it easy to cold-bloodedly murder millions of 'useless' outsiders, whom they hated and feared, after learning that they first killed hundreds of thousands of their 'own kind of people', kinfolk that they regarded as 'useless mouths' impeding an all-out total war effort.

While these numbers killed dwarf any other killings during the last War, they do not seem to me to plump the depths of the evil that modernist utilitarianism proved capable of during Modernism's big war.

As just one example,German soldiers east of Berlin, near the end of the war, followed orders to blow up a river bridge to stop the Russians coming over it, despite the fact that the bridge was loaded with hundreds of German civilians.

I call this 'deliberate friendly fire' (and I do not consider fragging as friendly fire at all).

My definition of deliberate friendly fire : "you know there are people from your side - soldiers or civilians - in the very small area you are accurately aiming your weapons at, and you fire away anyway and kill many of your own side while attempting to kill the enemy".

It is fairly well known that naval escorts were routinely under orders to never stop to pick up convoy survivors in the freezing North Atlantic waters but rather to abandon them (to likely die), while they chased subs instead.

Sometimes they had to be even more brutal - dropping depth charges in among survivors ,knowing many would die from the blast.

In September 1942, the converted Cunard liner LACONIA, which had frequently docked in Halifax during the war,
was sunk by a U-boat off Africa.

She was an armed warship, so this was fully allowed under the rules of war, though the U boat thought she was a troop carrier, not an  armed naval vessel.

The U boat captain got a shock when he heard the survivors in the water speak Italian and learned that there were 1500 Italian POWs on board, along with Allied women and children.

He told Berlin he was going to signal his position in clear language and try and arrange a rescue trip, under the flag of the Red Cross, to a neutral (Vichy) port.

The British ,suspecting a trap, didn't fully inform a near by
American fighter bomber base, who decided to bomb the U-boat, even though it would mean the death of many near-by allied sailors and families - as it did.

The ultimate decision was apparently made by one plane's bomb sighter's adamant eagerness to drop bombs on civilians, if needed to record a u-boat kill.

His personal decision led first the Germans and then the US to create a formal and public "sink everything without warning or rescue"  submarine policy worldwide - leading to hundreds of thousands of extra civilian deaths - many of them being innocent people 'from their own side'.

My partner Rebecca, without giving it much thought, said things like this happen - 'sometimes you must kill a few to save the many' .

I told her I rejected utilitarianism absolutely and decided to write this blog entry to try and explain why to her.

World War Two was many kinds of war.

After all, it was the same war that saw Americans unwilling to send healthy young fathers off to fight till forced to in late 1943.

They also rejected using the one in ten Americans who were black in combat roles and they rejected a wider use of women to replace men to go off and fight.

They objected to almost every rationing rule with real bite.

This unwillingness to fully engage their national resources, if doing so led to inconveniencing civilian lifestyles and upsetting prewar civilian norms, meant that America couldn't put up enough military resources to stop the relatively small number of U boats wrecking havoc all over the Atlantic.

This, in turn, led to these brutal 'kill our own side if need be to kill the enemy' orders as Allied commanders tried everything to try and keep the U boats from winning the war on their own.

Everything? Did I say that ?

I didn't mean that Allied commanders were willing to put a serious number of their longest range bombers on U-boat patrol - the one thing needed to stop the U boats cold.

No, those were saved for the glamorous (but mostly useless) high tech bomber war against Germany itself - not the boring but useful patrols over the Atlantic.

I say that utilitarianism is never moral - even if we ( literally all of we - from child to grandmom) all agreed to draw straws.

Straws to see who goes off to die in the infantry and who gets to stay home.

This total utilitarianism without limits would end up consuming itself until we, on all sides, would literally fight to the last person.

But we haven't seen - Thank God ! - this kind of utilitarianism - yet.

What we got in World War Two was selective use of total utilitarianism, almost always invoked by the higher-ups and almost always inflicted upon those lower down.

In 1942-1943,during the same time as the Laconia Incident, thsat same US government also decided to deny penicillin to the SBEs that Dawson championed.

The small supply of penicillin would go instead to quickly cure GIs in Italy who had deliberately incurred cases of VD to get out of the constant killing zone that was the American front line.

Once quickly cured in a day or two by penicillin, (the old protocol took months to get a full cure), they could be ordered back to fight - to fight until they died thanks to the American 'no rotation' rule'.

This was all decided so that American civilians back home won't have to be called up to fill out their depleted ranks.

This penicillin decision likely meant death for both SBE and GI.

A selective, lethal, slice of 'total war' was applied there, on these few people, so that a less lethal slice of total war did not have to be applied here, among many people.

I find it a horrifically cynical policy but it has its defenders, even today.

The right policy would have been to issue the threat of a government factory to supply this miracle drug, if the private drug companies proved too slow.

The fear that a Democrat government factory would have ended up getting the credit for "supplying the miracle", rather than private enterprise, would have lit a fire under the backside of Republicans like George W Merck as nothing else could.....

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