The question to be answered is whether a nuclear war with its massive destruction is, under any circumstances, now ethically justifiable.
The form of the question presumes that the pros and cons of pacifism itself are not involved, because if pacifism were the accepted moral attitude, then the matter of nuclear warfare would be entirely irrelevant.
War is the ultimate means by which an aggressor nation seeks to subject another country to its will. The victim has but two basic choices, to fight or to surrender. Appeasement may be a temporary measure to gain time to prepare for defense, but it never causes an aggressor to desist; rather, it encourages him to further aggression and merely postpones the decision to fight or surrender. The conflict is one of opposing wills, expressed in the clash of military arms. Any destruction beyond that believed necessary to cause the submission of the aggressor and bring about a settlement of the war issues is unjustifiable and therefore unethical. If nuclear weapons are not a military necessity, then their possession and use it certainly unethical. Their military necessity must be examined.
Even if nuclear weapons are a military necessity in preventing, deterring, or fighting an otherwise justifiable war, the massive destruction they inevitably cause to the non-combatant population may make it unethical to use them, even though the only alternative is complete submission to the aggressor. The critical factor here is the word massive. In every war some non-combatants unavoidably become casualties. Civilized nations seeking to act in a civilized manner attempt to avoid hurt to enemy non-combatants whose efforts do not contribute directly to the enemy’s prosecution of the war. In spite of such ...1
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