Sat

30

Jul

2016

Hiroshima and Nagasaki: 71 Years On

 

On August 6 1945 over 10,000 people were killed in less that a second in the city of Hiroshima in Japan. Many were vaporised, literally obliterated from the face of the Earth with no trace of them left, by the ‘heat pulse’ of an atomic bomb dubbed Little Boy. Nuclear weapons give out heat radiation when detonated which travels at the speed of light, which is why people died so quickly. But this is only the first of three ways in which nuclear weapons kill. Those who were far enough away from the epicentre of the explosion, the point at which the bomb actually went off, to escape death by burning would be struck almost immediately by a shock wave or blast generated by expanding air travelling at 1000 km/hr. Burning buildings were shattered and burnt people killed by the this second effect of the bomb. The further away from the epicentre of the explosion, the better the chances of survival, but even those who escaped the heat and blast were still victims of the third  effect of a nuclear explosion, and one that is unique to this form of weaponry, namely radiation. This comes in two forms: prompt and delayed. The former is radiation that is released directly by the explosion while the latter is released by materials which themselves are irradiated by the explosion, become radioactive and then in turn release their radiation as ‘fallout.  Heat, blast and radiation all killed people in Hiroshima, either singly or ‘synergistically’, in combination. Three days later it all happened again in the Japanese city of Nagasaki, though this time a Fat Man bomb did the killing, Fat Man being fat where Little Boy was thin, reflecting the different designs of the two weapons. Around 100,000 people were killed in both attacks, nearly all of them civilians and nearly all of them women, children and old men.

 

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Wed

09

Dec

2015

Cultural Self-Confidence: Abbott of the Fore Once More!!

I have not blogged since the change of Prime Minister in this country, because I have not felt the same degree of anger, frustration and disgust since Abbott left office. Indeed, Turnbull’s positive approach is most welcome after the fear-mongering of his predecessor; and no one likes a whinger! But now Abbott is to the fore again - demonstrating by his remarks about Western culture and values that among the many things he is not we should include being an historian – and has said he will continue to speak out. So I guess, more blogs from me.

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Sat

05

Sep

2015

Tony Abbott and Wayne LaPierre

Our Prime Minister commented on the death of the poor little Syrian boy who was washed up on a beach in Turkey, like so much flotsam, certainly a very disturbing image. His comment was that if the local authorities, in Turkey and elsewhere, were stricter about turning back the boats, about preventing boats landing, then as has apparently happened here in the land of Oz, refugees, economic migrants and others would not set out in the first place, and hence not be at peril upon the sea. 

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Wed

22

Jul

2015

Towards a Totalitarian State

The recent North Korean election recorded a vote of 99.7% in favour of Kim Jong-Un’s party. This is reminiscent of the votes in favour of Stalin and other leaders of the Soviet Union, and in Nazi Germany. The results, one supposes, could not have been 100%, as there must have been people who were too ill to vote. Of course, there was only one party to vote for in each case. In a democracy, on the other hand, in a real democracy, there are real alternatives for the group who will control the state apparatus, the military, police, treasury, etc. and this control will be for a limited time. A one party system is not actually defined as a totalitarian state, it could be a ‘benign dictatorship’, but no instances of the latter have ever existed. A totalitarian state is one in which the power of the state is not limited by any law. So, for instance, its citizens can be subject to arbitrary arrest and imprisonment – there is no habeas corpus. Historically, what ordinary people have had to fear is their own rulers, kings, dictators, popes, oligarchs, etc. who have presided over totalitarian systems There have, of course, been some terrible invaders, like Genghis Khan and Adolf Hitler, but looking at the twentieth century as an example, places two and three on the killer list are occupied by Stalin and Pol Pot who killed their own people. Hitler and Genghis are exceptions.

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Sat

30

May

2015

Denying Citizenship: More Folly and Confusion

The Abbott government is instituting measures to strip Australians of their citizenship if they undertake certain acts, such as fighting for IS. It seems as if the only ones liable to have their citizenship stripped are those who have dual nationality, although the application of the measure to any Australian appears of have had the support of the Prime Minister and the Minister for Immigration, among others. One is tempted to simply dismiss this as yet another politically-motivated ruse, which will make matters worse, not better, but it does raise some interesting questions, such as, what does it mean to be a citizen of a country (like Australia) and, can the government take this away? There is an extensive body of writing about such issues, no doubt, but here I shall simply speculate a little and put forward some thoughts without delving into the literature. (As always, you, my reader, may comment and contribute.) To begin with, we could ask whether someone who holds two nationalities or citizenships (terms used interchangeably here), one being Australian, is in some way different from someone who is an Aussie, pure and simple and fair dinkum. The relevant difference here will have to do with rights, because being a citizen is all about having rights. So we need to ask next, what is it to have a right, which is the key question.

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Tue

05

May

2015

Peter Singer on Q&A, 4/5/15

The philosopher and ‘ethicist’ – we in the trade prefer the term “moral philosopher” – appeared on the ABC programme Q&A last night. I will comment here on two the topics he discussed. At the very end of the programme he was asked about an attempt in the US to elevate chimpanzees to the status of persons. This does not mean, as was pointed out, that the proposal is that chimps be thought of as persons like us. What it does mean is that they are to be according a certain status. Having said that, I believe it is intended that they have a certain legal status, though I am not entirely sure. However, Singer and a good number of other philosophers, including Jeremy Bentham as far back as the middle of the nineteenth century, have argued that sentient animals, which includes chimps and many more besides, should be given some moral standing. Bentham argued that since sentient animals can feel pain and hence can suffer, as we do, this should be enough for us not to treat them any old how. We should consider their feelings, just as we should consider the feelings of other people. I agree with all of this. It does not mean that we should treat animals the same as we treat humans – they do not, so to speak, deserve the same standing as humans, but they deserve some. Just how this is to be worked out is a complex matter. Singer is, or used to be, a vegetarian and does not wear leather or anything made from an animal. I’m not so strict, by any means.

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Thu

30

Apr

2015

Bali 2 Executions: 2

The aim of these reflections on the executions of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran is to try to provide a basis on which to form some moral judgement about them. There are three possibilities: the actions could be morally right, that is to say, in accordance with the moral system or moral principles used to make the judgement. In the terms of a consequentialist ethic of the type mentioned in the last post, this would mean that, in the circumstances, the executions were the best alternative course of action. What “best alternative course of action” means depends on the particular consequentialist system. One such system,  called negative utilitarianism, sees the best course of action in given circumstances as the one that prevents the most harm. In this post I will outline another system, called Common Morality, which shares some features with negative utilitarianism. (More on both these systems elsewhere on this website, for instance in Chapter 3 of the book MWR which can be found under “On Weapons Research”.) Returning to the possible moral judgements, the actions could be deemed morally wrong, that is to say, they are actions that ‘violate’ the principles of the moral system. Finally, the actions could appear to be morally wrong, that is, violate the moral principles in question, but turn out on further reflection to be justifiable. I will briefly explain both these alternatives with reference to Common Morality. A final point: morality is in the first place about the actions of individual moral agents, those with the capacity for moral reflection. Chan and Sukumaran were executed by the Indonesian state, and so to discuss the morality of these actions, we must accept that the latter has the status of a moral agent. I have no problem with that: in fact I have published a paper on the question and can make it available if anyone want to see it.

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Tue

28

Apr

2015

Bali Two Executions: Part 1

Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were executed this morning, to the horror and disgust of many, and to almost continuous press coverage. Religious groups prayed, to no avail (as usual), and the Prime minister has withdrawn his ambassador and suspended all ministerial contact, describing the action as “cruel and unnecessary”. I will comment here on some of the moral issues raised, and for the moment adopt the consequentialist moral position which is easiest to apply in this instance.

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Fri

24

Apr

2015

Gallipoli 100 Years Ago

Australia and Turkey (and to a lesser extent the other participants in the invasion) are  engaged in an unrestrained orgy of celebration of the centenary of the Gallipoli campaign. It is unusual for both sides to celebrate a campaign, or for that matter a battle, which was won decisively by one of the participants. Yet both Australia and Turkey not only celebrate Gallipoli, they see it as a defining event in the evolution of the respective nations. The Turks certainly have something to celebrate because they repelled an invasion, which they mark as the transition from the Ottoman Empire – centuries past its prime at the time – to the modern state of Turkey, a secular democracy free from the arbitrary impositions of religious and imperial power. Australia marks the occasion as a ‘coming of age’, though it is far from clear what this means. Thousands of Australians died fighting a pointless and ill-conceived invasion in a war that had nothing whatever to do with Australia, save that the mother country, Britain, was one of the protagonists. To come of age, one would have thought, would have been to refuse to go. I need to say more about all this. 

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Fri

13

Mar

2015

Conversing on the Topic

My lack of activity here is partly explained by the fact that I have had, and have, other writing commitments, including a piece in The Conversation in which I argued that there are no purely defensive weapons – see (https://theconversation.com/purely-defensive-weapons-theres-no-such-thing-for-ukraine-or-anywhere-else-37582) – which is a topic that I have visited more than once before – see Chapter 5 of the book for download on this site. This is just a brief comment on the responses to the article just mentioned (and to post the link). 

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Wed

28

Jan

2015

Knights, Dukes and Madness on Australia Day.

The purpose of this blog is to provide some analysis and clarification of matters of  current concern that require or deserve analysis and clarification. That Prime Minister Abbott’s decision to grant the Duke of Edinburgh an ‘Aussie” knighthood is absurd surely requires no such scrutiny, being clear even to the members of the government. But I think perhaps it does.

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Thu

15

Jan

2015

Charlie Hebdo and Freedom of Expression

I want to address some of the (many) issues that arise from the recent murders of the staff at Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine, in Paris. In the first place, and appealing to the characterisation of terrorism given in the previous blog, this was not an act of terrorism, surprising as it may seem at first sight. This judgement derives from the fact that the murders do not appear to be acts of random violence, but rather violence that had a specific target. The aim was not, apparently, to further some (political) aims by killing some French citizens, or Parisians, but to kill those who worked on the magazine. If the killers had gone to the wrong building and killed fourteen people who did not work for Charlie Hebdo, then they would have failed in their ‘mission’, but if they had simply been terrorists, this would not have mattered. I think this is the correct view to take of the murders and I think it does confirm the criteria for terrorism given in the previous blog. But I would add one qualification: from what I understand, Charlie Hebdo was particularly offensive to Muslims and it was therefore a specific target. However, it is possible that part of the rationale was deterrence, and the motivation was deterrence as well as revenge: a message was being sent to others who might insult the Prophet. This aspect of the incident inclines one to see it as terrorism, designed to prevent others from doing what Charlie Hebdo did. So the question of whether or not this was an act of terrorism is not entirely straight forward and clear-cut  - which is perhaps what we would expect.

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