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Civics homework

James Fallows assigns some reading:

Please read the full Office of Professional Responsibility report on the "torture memo" misconduct of Jay Bybee, now a Federal appeals court judge; and John Yoo, now a tenured professor at the UC Berkeley law school. The report is available as a 10MB, 289-page PDF download here. Seriously, this is a document that informed Americans should be familiar with, as a basis for any future discussion about the costs and consequences of a "global war on terror" and about the maintenance of American "values" in the world.

Through American history, there have been episodes of brutality and abuse that, in hindsight, span a very wide range of moral acceptability. There is no way to "understand" lynchings that makes them other than abominations. But -- to use the extreme case -- America's use of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki will always be the subject of first-order moral debate, about whether any "larger good" (forcing an end to the war) could justify the immediate suffering, the decades-long aftereffects, and the crossing of the "first use" frontier that this decision represented.

My point now is not to go through the A-bomb debate. It is to say that anyone who is serious in endorsing the A-bomb decision has to have fully faced the consequences. This is why John Hersey's Hiroshima was requisite basic knowledge for anyone arguing for or against the use of the bomb. The OPR report is essentially this era's Hiroshima. As Hersey's book does, it makes us confront what was done in our name -- "our" meaning the citizens of the United States.

By Ezra Klein  |  February 22, 2010; 7:07 AM ET
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"It is to say that anyone who is serious in endorsing the A-bomb decision has to have fully faced the consequences."

This applies to both sides equally.

Posted by: Lomillialor | February 22, 2010 7:59 AM | Report abuse

The Hiroshima decision should be considered in the context not of ending the Second World War, which was pretty much over by that point thanks to America's use of conventional explosives to incinerate most of Japan's cities, but rather in the context of the race for the bomb and the coming Cold War. Hiroshima wasn't about ending the war but about demonstrating this terrifying new weapon we had developed ahead of the Russians.

And torture, I guess... has to be seen in the context of modern conservatism's inchoate loathing for the rule of law, love of brutality and conviction that this is what's needed to win a war against non-state actors/maintain America's global preeminence/punch the hippies/whatever.

Posted by: matthewarnold | February 22, 2010 10:27 AM | Report abuse

@matthewarnold I don't think the significance of the bomb in ending the war can be overlooked. Hirohito refused to surrender even after Nagasaki - necessitating the second bomb. The utilitarian and ethical maths is debatable, but it did shorten the war.

On the subject of the report - any guesses on the identity of the redacted member of the OLC??

Posted by: nicholasrandel | February 22, 2010 4:40 PM | Report abuse

Von Clausewitz said: (para phrased) preserve ones fighting force and destroy the enemy's is in one word VICTORY. Thank god we had Truman and he knew the Japenese Center of Gravity (COG)!

Posted by: kwoodyh | February 26, 2010 3:26 AM | Report abuse

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