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PROPORTIONALITY, CHARITY, AND THE USE OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS: A RESPONSE TO TIMOTHY RENICK JOHN LANGAN, S.J. Georgetown University Washington, D.C. I N THIS year of the fiftieth anniversary of the dropping of nuclear weapons on 'the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there are many reasons for American moralists to look carefully at the morally problematic actions which the U.S. government undertook in order to end the war in the Pacific. For this reason, the provocative article of Timothy Renick, "Charity Lost: The Secularization of the Principle of Double Effect in the Just War Tradition,'' which appeared in the July 1994 issue of The Thomist, deserves to be welcomed, even though the author and I are clearly in disagreement about many points. I note that we agree in regarding the bombing of these cities as morally wrong since it involved the deliberate targeting of civilian populations and so failed to meet the test of discrimination. This is a conclusion that I would also apply to the obliteration bombings of German and Japanese cities which used conventional explosives and incendiaries as well as to the German attacks on British cities, whether these were carried out by bombing raids or by missiles. Renick, however, believes that just war moralists should also have condemned the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki because these actions failed to meet the test of proportionality . It is his view that Elizabeth Anscombe, Paul Ramsey, and I have been relying on an "adulterated version of the principle of double effect."1 It is clear both from the general construe1 Timothy M. Renick, "Charity Lost: The Secularization of the Principle of Double Effect in the Just War Tradition," The Thomist 58 (1994): 444. 617 618 JOHN LANGAN, S.J. tion of his article and from his language in particular passages that he does not regard the changes he records as constituting a legitimate development, but as a "corruption"; they amount to a tragic forgetting and a profound weakening of the original principle of double effect as this was interpreted in the light of charity . He also argues that the "adulterated version of the principle ofdouble effect" is a crucial element in contemporary defenses of nuclear deterrence proposed by Paul Ramsey and myself.2 Now I will not contest Renick's general historical view of the development of Christian uses of the principle of double effect with regard to the moral'}>roblems involved in conducting war. I will not even reject the claim that there has been in the literature of international law and in the moral assessment of military strategy a significant long-term secularization. Given the general tenor of Western culture over the last four centuries, I would not expect anything else. Rather, I would like to raise some questions about the interpretation of proportionality that Renick claims to find in Augustine, Aquinas, and Suarez. I will argue that this interpretation relies on a way of thinking about proportionality that is both unintelligible and inapplicable and that it imposes artificially rigorous standards on the conduct of warfare . Renick makes the further claim that his corrected version of the principle of double effect would proscribe the use of nuclear weapons "anywhere at any time."3 This, of course, amounts to an alternative way of establishing a universal proscription without arguing that the act in question is intrinsically evil or is evil because of its object or kind. Such an argument, we should note, sets itself the challenging task of establishing the disproportionality of all acts within a given class without consideration of particular circumstances and without appealing to the nature of the act in itself. I The first major element in Renick's position he derives from his reading of the views of St. Augustine, who interpreted chari2 Ibid. 3 Ibid. A RESPONSE TO TIMOTHY RENICK 619 ty as forbidding killing in self-defense but often requiring killing in defense of others. The unjust assailant is to be resisted, but is not to be killed "if it is possible to secure the desired end only by injuring him."4 In Renick's view, this illustrates the point that charity requires us "to minimize the evil done" even while...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2473-3725
Print ISSN
0040-6325
Pages
pp. 617-632
Launched on MUSE
2017-04-05
Open Access
No
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