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Truman's Decision

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2/23/2014
Business Ethics

Truman’s Decision

Should the United States drop the atomic bomb, or should they invade Japan on foot in order to end World War II? Is it okay to kill innocent people as a means to reach a justifiable end? These were the questions that President Harry Truman was faced with near the close of World War II. More than 10’s of millions of people had already lost their lives during this war, and Japan was refusing to surrender even though it was clear to not only us, but also Japan themselves, that their defeat was inevitable. The president was under tremendous pressure to end this costly war, and a tough decision had to be made. This paper will evaluate from which ethical perspective Truman made his decision to use the atomic bomb, and why I believe it was ethically okay for him to choose the option that would cost the lives of over 200,000 Japanese civilians. The two ethical perspectives examined are utilitarianism and Kantianism. First, utilitarianisms fall under the school of ethics called consequentialism. It says that the moral status of the actions you take should be judged by the consequences of those actions. This ethical perspective can be used to answer the question proposed at the beginning of the paper, is it okay to kill innocent people as a means to reach a justifiable end? Supporters of utilitarianism would say that as long as the outcome contributes to the greater good of the greatest amount of people, then yes the act can be justified by the end that is produced. To these supporters, it is okay that the act itself may not be morally ethical, if the outcome is. In the case of Truman’s decision, his military advisors estimated that a land invasion of Japan might result in the deaths of as upwards of 1,000,000 American soldiers. This figure doesn’t even include the men that Japan would lose. The other alternative he was faced with was to drop the atomic bomb on a Japanese city. The amount of deaths that would occur from the drop were high, but not as high as the estimates for a land invasion. Looking at this dilemma from a Utilitarian perspective, Truman’s choice to drop the atomic bomb, while horrific in itself, saved the lives of more people, and therefore was a moral means to justify a greater good. Critics of utilitarianism make the point that you can never truly know what the outcome of an action will be unless you take it. So, it is wrong to decide whether or not an act is moral by just simply guessing what outcome you may achieve. Truman had a feeling that the use of the atomic bomb would cause Japan to surrender, but he had no way of knowing this for certain. He had to make the best decision he could with the information that he had.
The second ethical perspective that can be used when evaluating whether or not it is okay to kill innocent people as a means to reach a justifiable end is Kantianism. Kantianism falls under the school of thought called deontological ethics. It says that one should not look at the outcome of an act as a means to justify an end, but one should look at each individual act on its own to establish its moral status. Supporters of Kantianism would say that killing innocent people is wrong in any light that you try to examine it under, no matter the outcome. Truman made the choice to drop the bomb, first on Hiroshima, and then, when Japan did not surrender, again on Nagasaki. Yes, the Japanese surrendered and the war ended, but the costs were horrific. Two Japanese cities were destroyed and their inhabitants killed either immediately or by radiation poisoning. Kantianism would say that the action taken by Truman to drop the atomic bombs was wrong because of the lives that it did take, not the lives that it could have potentially saved.
I believe that when Truman made the tough decision to drop the atomic bomb on the Japanese cities, he was following the utilitarianism ethical perspective. I, also, agree with the decision that he made. He had to evaluate every alternative that he had to end the war, and at the end of his difficult decision process, it was clear that this was the alternative that provided for the least amount of lives lost. Even though he could not say for certain that this would be the ultimate end of World War II, he had to try to take the approach that would save the most lives. The worst possible outcome would be that Japan didn’t surrender, and a land invasion would ensue anyways. In his shoes, I would have made the same decision. In this situation Kantianism is not a viable ethical perspective for Truman to use in his evaluation because he was in the midst of a war. The actions taken by people in war are more often than not immoral in nature. It is even arguable that the act of war itself is inherently immoral. So, when making tough decisions about actions that are going to cost the lives of humans no matter what, you are forced to take the outcome into consideration. It is the only tool available to someone in a situation where the only choices he can make are unethical in nature, and where something has to be done. So, was it okay for Truman and the United States to kill innocent people as a means to end a horrific war? I believe it was.…...

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