Fighting the hypothetical: when there's no right way

You are the top general in the country of Hypothistan. For years, your country has been at war with belligerent Theoretica. Set aside who started what; the issue is complicated and probably not binary.

The Theoreticans have a nasty habit of using their countrymen as human shields. They fire rockets from densely populated villages, and base their operations in civilian homes. Hypothic military strikes and reprisals invariably kill some Theoretican civilians.

Your army has two options: you can ruthlessly rush in now and bomb the areas the enemy bases at. This crude but effective attack will stop the war, but it will also kill many civilians.
Or, you could act gingerly, and try your hardest to only target the combatant Theoreticans. There will still be some civs killed- less in the short term, but possibly more total if this war drags on long enough. And the Theoreticans will continue killing Hypothicans until you win.

What do you order your army to do?

I pummel them into submission, or I don’t go to war. And once they’re pummeled, I leave. Nation-building is a pipe-dream.

I’m not sure that adding this layer of abstraction is going to illuminate this debate.

I want to win? I obliterate whatever portions of Theoretica that happen to contain the enemy combatants.

Are there other considerations I should entertain aside from “I want to win”? Please elaborate.

If the war is really the Gaza strip seen through a glass darkly, this hypothetical presents an utterly false dichotomy. In reality, this crude, ineffective attack will kill many civilians but do very little to stop the war.

While I see the Palestinian issue, I think this may be partially inspired by Dio recently insisting that no civilian casualties, even the wife and children of terrorist generals, are ever acceptable.

As far as two horns of a dilemma, why not refute it by picking some third option? In this case, what’s wrong with just sniping the heck out of every public official of Theoretistan until they give up their human shield ways? Pick some nice day, and get them all at once. Tra la.

(The suggestion is not really morally acceptable, but I have yet to have had my coffee.)

I’m confused, and I suppose so are other people, so I’ll ask outright: Is the actual object of this debate to discuss the shortcomings of outrageous hypotheticals – which leave you with the option of either killing the baby Beethoven while your car is one fire, thereby allowing Hitler to rise to power, or killing a butterfly 65 million years in the past, leading to humanity being enslaved by a tyrannic reptile race – in resolving real-world moral dilemmas?

Well, one would have to have a good understanding of the culture and politics of one’s enemy. After all, if martyrdom was a glorious Theoretic tradition stretching back to the Assassins of the 12th Century, those human shields might have an entirely different attitude towards the shielded combatants than that of a Hypothican in a similar situation.

My personal thrid option would be full engagement with the UN in order to broker, mediate and enforce a ceasefire, including scope to address whatever ‘complicated issue’ lay at the root of the conflict. A crude and ruthless attack which, say, blew up a UN school full of children, would not be helpful in this regard.

Can’t we just surrender?

It depends of what you’re fighting for.

Define what you mean by winning the war.

Well it says “the issue is complicated and probably not binary” so I’m assuming they’re not cartoon villains.

This is Morals 101 stuff. The first thing you learn is that moral arguments are a waste of time, as we shall shortly see.

But taking this at face value as hypothetical, the case turns on two issues.

  1. Why are the Theoreticians indescriminately firing rockets at the Hypothicans?
  2. Why do the Theoreticians hide behind their mommy’s skirts?

Until these two questions are answered fully, there is no way to decide your conundrum. It would seem at first you could ask the Theoreticians how come they’re being such assholes. Suppose (hypothetically) they said, “65 years ago, a bunch of Hypothicans invaded Theoretica and occupied the best real estate.”

So how come you base offensive missile with your civilians?

Again, suppose (hypothetically) they said,“The Hypothicans are a client state of a Great World Power. GWP has armed them with the latest weaponry and stands between them and world opinion which many times has condemned them both. If we placed our missiles anywhere but where we do, the Hypothican’s would simply destroy them.”

Now you’ve heard their side and it’s time to find out how the Hypothican’s see it.

I refuse to further hypothesize but suppose the Hypothican’s come up with a whole different story? What then?

You’d throw the question to a UN court of opinion where GWP would recuse itself.

Fat chance, so no answer.

This is the US war of independence, right?

The American rebels are refusing to pay taxes, destroying goods and hiding amongst the civilian population. They shoot UK soldiers from cover.

So presumably the answer is that Theoretica are in the right. :smack:

It’s based on a real-world conflict I was wondering about, yes.

Which one?

I see this case like children harrasing adults with constant assaults that wound the adults and hurt their ability to engage in normal activity. The children, knowing that no one expects them to act like adults, are secure in their knowledge that the world will be horrified if the adults someday get tired of it all and smack them down once and for all.

The rest of the world, unaware of how implicitltly insulting their view of the children is, say “what can you expect, they are just children”. Meanwhile the rest of the world turns a blind-eye to the children sending infants with bombs in their diapers to kill both themselves and the adults. They can maintain this viewpoint secure in the knowledge that an even bigger group of adults has the moral courage, and will, to not let the adults be picked off one-by-one. Thus the rest of the world manages to not anger the children (who are an increasing percent of the population where the ROTW lives) so that they will attack them as well. Thus the ROTW gets to protect their own sorry behinds, while pretending there is some sort of moral equivalence between using babies as bomb carriers and responding to their attacks.

Somehow, the adults, who are capable of killing every last one of the children but unwilling to do so, are vilified by the world for not honoring the wishes of the children that have explicitly stated they want all the adults to die.

Hypothetically, I choose one Theoretical village and completely destroy it, and I mean really grind it into dust. Not even pet goldfish will be allowed to escape. Then I announce that any village or city harboring Theoretical combatants is subject to the same treatment and one will be randomly chosen per week, so unless the Theoretical citizens want to take a chance, they’re better off not letting combatants hide in their midst.

Hypothetically, of course.

If the Theoreticans are putting their bases among their civilians deliberately, the moral onus is on them. This assumes that the Hypothestani are waging a just war.

But if the military value of the target outweighs the value of the collateral damage - that is to say, once you have reduced the risk to civilians as much as is reasonably possible - boom boom base, and bye-bye civilians. Sorry, but there is it.

I doubt you are ever going to get the Theoreticans or Hypostani pacifists to agree that the condition has ever been met.


From post#13

The sooner GWP gets off its ass, admits its mistakes in the past with regard to Theoretica, Hypothica and all their neighbors AND starts moving to remedy them, the sooner better off we’d be.