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Keywords: engineering ethics, just war ABSTRACT: The efficiency of engineering applied to civilian projects sometimes threatens to run away with the social agenda, but in military applications, engineering often adds a devastating sleekness to the inevitable destruction of life. The relative crudeness of terrorism (e.g., 9/11) leaves a stark after-image, which belies the comparative insignificance of random (as opposed to orchestrated) belligerence. Just as engineering dwarfs the bricolage of vernacular designmoving us past the appreciation of brush-strokes, so to speakthe scale of engineered destruction makes it difficult to focus on the charred remains of individual lives.
Engineers need to guard against the inappropriate military subsumption of their effort. Fortunately, the ethics of warfare has been an ongoing topic of discussion for millennia. This paper will examine the university core class Ive developed (The Moral Dimensions of Technology) to meet accreditation requirements in engineering ethics, and the discussion with engineering and non-engineering students focused by the life of electrical engineer Vannevar Bush, with selected readings in moral philosophy from the Dao de Jing, Lao Tze, Cicero, Aurelius Augustinus, Kant, Annette Baier, Peter Singer, Elizabeth Anscombe, Philippa Foot, and Judith Thomson.
We desire three basic outcomes from our engineering ethics curricula: we want our students to understand, act on, and articulate their individual and collective sense of moral obligation. While we select content to enhance our students understanding, we schedule opportunities for reflection and discourse to integrate content and give them the necessary communication skills. Acting on their moral sensibility will require motivation: enactive mastery,1 as they encounter moral dilemma and work through
Engineering the Just War: Examination of an Approach to Teaching Engineering Ethics David R. Haws Department of Civil Engineering, Boise State University, USA
An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 2005 conference, Ethics and Social Responsibility in Engineering and Technology, Linking Workplace Ethics and Education, co-hosted by Gonzaga University and Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, CA, USA, 9-10 June 2005. Address for correspondence: David R. Haws, Department of Civil Engineering, Boise State University, Mail Stop 2075, 1910 University Drive, Boise, ID 83725, USA; email:[email protected] received, 1 November 2005: revised, 27 February 2006: accepted, 5 March 2006. 1353-3452 2006 Opragen Publications, POB 54, Guildford GU1 2YF, UK. http://www.opragen.co.uk
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ethical deliberations (for the most part, after theyve graduated and entered the profession); vicarious experience, encountering the moral dilemma of others with whom they identify; and expert testimony, following those whose expertise they accept. The desired outcomes (moral behavior); and required inputs (content), products (learning activities), and outputs (competencies) constrain the engineering ethics curricula.
Expert testimony comes from the primary writings of ethical theoryand as academically foreign to engineering as these treatises might seem, there is no efficient way to eliminate or minimize their prominence in anything we might rightfully call a course in engineering ethics. The efficacy of vicarious experience is dependent on the students ability to relate to the role models from whom the vicarious experiences are drawn. This constrains us at two levels: first, ethical dilemmas need to be drawn from the lives of engineerswho our students already desire to emulate. Second, the course facilitator needs to be an engineer, and needs to approach the dilemma and the primary writings as a novice (like the student) rather than as an expert (as someone might with a Ph.D. in philosophy, or a lifetime exposure to ethical discourse). Finally, the discourse must include non-engineers, empowered as equals in a classroom community. These were the constraints that helped me to formulate the university core class, one topic of which is discussed in the remainder of this paper.
Focusing on Ethical Issues in the Life of an Engineer Toward the end of the course, after developing sufficient background, students explore the criteria delimiting participation in a Just War. The text materials begin with a biographical sketch of Vannevar (vah NEE ver) Bush: An Electrical Engineering Professor at MIT, the inventor of early analogue computers (the Product Intergraph, and Differential Analyzer), one of the credited fathers of the Internet, and Director of the Office for Scientific Research and Development (OSRD) during the Second World War. By the time he was called to head the OSRD, Bush had demonstrated finesse in blending the basic research capacity of academia with the more applied (and better financed) research needs of industryand had tried unsuccessfully to form a triumvirate by also including the military. Because the Navy was unwilling to deploy his submarine detection device during the First World War, Bush became keenly aware of the limits of military planning.
When Bush became Chair of the Division of Engineering and Research, within the National Research Council, he saw a critical deficiency in communicationnot only between potential researchers in the military, industry, and academiabut also between researchers in the branches of the military. In addition, the military was a poor judge of how unimagined weapons might be either used, or developed in a timely fashion. In 1939, to better focus our nations pending war effort, Bush assumed the Presidency of the Carnegie Institute of Washington (CIW) to establish a base of operations in the nations capitol. At this time, Bush was also placed on the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA, the forerunner of NASA), and in May of 1940, proposed a new National Defense Research Committee (NDRC) to coordinate all
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weapons research and development. Bush was made chair of this new committee in June of 1940, drawing emergency Presidential funds; and in 1941 the OSRD was formed with Congressional funding (subsuming the NDRC after Pearl Harbor). While Bush maintained a focus on weapons that might be developed and deployed within the time constraints of the war (one of the reasons he failed to push the American rocket program), the main contributions of OSRD research centered on two defensive systems (the proximity fuse, which made anti-aircraft guns significantly more effective; and improvements in British RADAR). The most significant offensive weapon to emerge from OSRD research was the atom bomb.
The initial German success with nuclear fission had been announced at a CIW conference in January of 1939, and while many assumed that a working nuclear device could not be developed before the end of the war, Bush felt that Americas research toward the bomb was justified, if only to track the assumed parallel German efforts. Consequently, by midsummer of 1941, Bush began to push for atomic research. In September of 1942, covert funding for bomb development was buried in the Army Corps of Engineers budget, as the Manhattan Engineering Districtdrawing a massive influx of money and scientific talent. Bush became the chair of a three member Military Policy Committee, which would provide general project oversightdebating critical issues, such as weapon deploymentbut limiting the possibility of news leaks.
As it turned out, the Nazis had not continued their research into a fission bomb, and had drastically curtailed much of their weapons research when early success in the war led them to believe that they would achieve a final victory before such weapons could be mass-produced. By the time the reality of our own bomb began to dawn on researchersas the horrendous weapon they had created for the worlds only nuclear powerthey were effectively excluded from policy decisions. They could only ineffectually forward their concerns to the Military Policy Committee and hope that their position would be considered and passed on to the President.
The eventual use of the bomb against Japan was a complex decisionincluding economic and political as well as military issues. Bush favored use of the weapon against Japan, but also favored disclosure of atomic research (to enhance the weapons deterrent effect). As the war drew to a close, Bush was more concerned with continuing a fruitful, national research effort, described in his influential report ScienceThe Endless Frontier.2
The Dilemma of Engineering a Just War Bush clearly saw that the war had to be waged with technologyplacing scientist and engineers at a critical nexus, and leaving Bush, primarily, to direct the nations technological war effort. While the proximity fuse and low frequency RADAR were both defensive weapons, the atom bomb was an offensive threat to non-combatants. As a private citizen, it seems that Bush was justified in pursuing his agenda for the nations defense as soon as he came to believe that such defense was necessary. Since our war objective was to gain control of fortified positions, either within the lands of
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wholly or partially conquered allies, or within the undisputed territory of the enemy, the development and deployment of offensive weapons was unavoidable. This being the case, it would have been imprudent for Bush to concentrate research solely on defensive weapons.
But was Bush obliged to push for weapons that were more surgical, less likely to be used against civilians, or that minimized suffering? Given that some of the nations new weapons might be used in ways that their developers would consider immoral, should scientist and engineers have withdrawn from weapons research? Since Bush and the Military Policy Committee had the sole responsibility of channeling the concerns of researchers to those who would make deployment decisions, was Bush morally obliged to present the views of his researchers in their strongest formulation? Was it morally acceptable for Bush to restrict the input of researchers on issues of weapons policy? Just what are the engineers obligations in advancing and using technology to affect belligerence?
Is there any legitimacy for horrendous weapons (e.g., the machine gun of Richard Gatling) navely intended to force peace through deterrence?
How important is it that the deployment of force against an enemy maintains its institutional (as opposed to ad hoc) face?
Does the mass scale of weapons exercise a moral significance? Is there a moral implication in the extent to which imposed death is immediate
rather than lingering, or (what is perhaps the same thing) painless rather than painful?
To what extent is it legitimate to deflect the risk to life from one set of combatants to another, or from combatants to non-combatants?
Does a policy of conscription blur the ancient distinction between combatants and non-combatants?
These are just some of the questions I tried to address during the ten class periods devoted to this part of the course. The first two class periods covered the life of Vannevar Bush, the ethical dilemma of an engineer participating in the research and deployment of weapons, and the special rights and obligations that might obtain as a function of life, sentience, or the ability to reason. The remaining class periods were devoted to a series of primary writings discussed briefly in the following section (the complete bibliography may be obtained from the author). While the topic was significantly broadened (beyond the more typical five class periods) I felt that the expansion was warranted by our continued presence in the Middle East.
Reading Selections I began with a selection from the Art of War by Sun Tz Wu,3 and a few relevant chapters from the Dao de Jing.4 These readings were used to show the ancient distinction of a just war as deriving from its minimalist response, the granting of special status to non-combatants, and (in a way quite different from concurrent developments in the west) avoiding the apotheosis of military heroes, or the obsession
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of weapon cults (both of which require a rather perverse delight in killing). I also wanted to begin with thought from an era when military technology was still rather low tech, as a basis of comparison with the special problems that develop as the killing technology becomes more complex, and how that increasing complexity might interact with the (assumed constant) human psyche.
A second class period was spent discussing selections from Ciceros De Republica,5 and several writings of Aurelius Augustinus6 that addressed military conduct. These consider the needs of a state (for military defense) similar to and different from the defense needs of individuals. Classroom discussion included the Romans self-serving selection of allies, the defense of whom would naturally tend to enlarge their empire; and the dangers inherent in Augustines sense that the will of God might serve as an overarching source of justification.
To an extent, Augustine was an apologist for the military needs of a secular Christendom, and the class period devoted to Kants Perpetual Peace7 demonstrates the move away from finding justification for war and toward facilitating peace. Western Europe during Kants time, and for the next two centuries, was ravaged by the excursions of military alliances that were more-or-less evenly matched. While recognizing the states need to control its borders and internal affairs, Kant also saw the way that states manipulate each other to provoke reprehensible conflicts. Just as individuals with reciprocal threat advantage are ultimately forced to come together under a common civil constitution, Kant believed that a similar league of nations or federations of states was essential to regulate the reciprocal influence between states.
The Annette Baier reading, Violent Demonstrations,8 deals with the thorny issue of violence as a political expressionby sanctioned political bodies, but perhaps more interestingly by groups that see themselves as excluded. Violence, including the specter of death, is a part of our culture, and it is perhaps nave for us to decry terrorism from the safety of our own bunker. What can we do to effectively decrease the level of violence in our general society? Baier has some suggestions, not the least of which is stepping beyond moral outrage and lessening the exclusion of those who feel driven to violence as a last resort.
In Whats Wrong with Killing? Peter Singer takes a utilitarian approach to decisions regarding the comparative value of life,9 trying to unravel any reasonable support for our typical view that human life is of higher value than non-human life. Any metaethical evaluation of our apparent reverence for life has a tendency to spill over the edges of our humanity. For example, if moral value accrues to living organism from an ability to sense some natural property such as pleasure, then animal pleasure seems (at least potentially) comparable with human pleasure. If respect for life accrues from our ability to make reasoned projections concerning our own future, then the life of an infant, fetus, or intellectually impaired human, would seem to be discounted and classed with those of non-human animals. Finally, if our respect for life is the outgrowth of a moral calculus, then simply adding to the number of minimally satisfied beings might take precedence over improving the degree of satisfaction experienced by existing beings.
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Elizabeth Anscombe, in War and Murder10 contends that the unintended affect of pacifism (particularly in the aftermath of the First World War) was to loosen just war constraints on the killing of innocents. The general pacifist proscription against war failed to reinforce the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate human targets. Governments could then contend that while pacifist sentiments were laudable, they were unworkable in an arena of war. If the proscription against killing had to be set aside (as death, in times of war seems inevitable), then in for a penny, in for a pound. Given our long, human history of finding justification for the things we want to do particularly when anyone who might object has been silenced, if only by being held remote from the debatethe application of casuistic arguments such as the doctrine of double effect were probably inevitable. The doctrine of double effect (that foreseen evil resulting from an act can be justified, provided that it wasnt the principal intention of the act) was perhaps inevitably referenced to support the massive targeting of civilians by allied bombing campaigns during the Second World War.
The final two readings, Philippa Foots Killing and Letting Die11 and Judith Thomsons The Trolley Problem,12 try to place a finer point on our intuitions about the cause of death and the relative strength of our obligations. Our sense of moral culpability seems to hinge on the sequence of events leading to death: did our actions initiate the sequence, divert the sequence, or simply allow the sequence to run its natural course. The Trolley Problem, addressed by both essays, is interesting, perhaps, because of it implausibility. This detachment from our sense of reality brings up three interesting points. First, if hypothetical cases are informed by our moral sensibility (intuition) how can we be expected to have a meaningful intuition regarding any event which is so highly unlikely? Second, by diverting our attention from actual to hypothetical contrivances, does it become too easy to overlook the remainder effect of our moral deliberations (the remains of any moral obligationeven in the absence of culpabilitythat went unsatisfied as the result of our moral deliberation)? Finally, as Thomson points out, our assessment as to the better of two outcomes (e.g., killing one versus killing five) does not always seem relevant to our moral sensibility. If this is the case (the worse alternative really is the one selected during the course of our deliberations), then is it right that ethical resolutions should thus hinge on our personal moral squeamishness?
Conclusions The myriad and seemingly inherent injustices of war tend to cast any discussion of a just war in the guise of exercising an oxymoron. Still, the discussion has stimulated some of the keenest minds on recordand it seems that as engineers, who are always called on to refine the instruments of war, an understanding of the ethical implications of war technology is critical. Added to this, the young non-engineers who are typically given the horrendous task of deploying those engineered instruments of destruction, it would seem remiss to exclude them from the discourseeven the limited discourse that takes place in an undergraduate engineering course. As a consequence, I was very pleased that my course was made available to a general
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undergraduate audience, and that I was able to attract a good mix of engineering students, students from other technology majors, and students from the general undergraduate population.
I had 77 students for this first, spring offering of 2005. As might be expected in a lower division course, some students demonstrated a relative lack of insight regarding the significance of killing. For example, there was a somewhat pervasive notion that bigger bombs created less misery than smaller bombs, and that combat with more lethal weapons was somehow less brutal. The general notion seemed to be that bigger bombs would leave fewer to a lingering death (mathematically this might hold if one were to compare the area of a circular bomb blast with its circumference, but not if the zone of non-lethal injury also broadens with blast radiusnot to mention the influence on Whitmans musing comrades). Similarly, some students failed to entertain the idea that combat without weapons might somehow stop before one of the combatants were killedor that the facility of remote killing might have no effect on the brutality of dying.
Another interesting, if less anticipated discussion centered on the tactical use of violence by advocates of non-violencefrom the self-immolation of Buddhist monks in Vietnam, to the intentionally provocative tactics advocated by Gandhi in India and Martin Luther King in the American South. The non-violent use of violence seems to parallel more traditional acts of terrorismshocking the lethargic target audience with unexpected images that are too stark to be ignored (or easily forgotten). So how is it that the advocate of such non-violent confrontation emerges so cleanly from the encounter? Is mandatory exposure to carno-graphic images of violent acts (such as photos of lynched African-Americans, or concentration camp liberations, shown to captive audiences either at Nuremberg, or in American high schools) itself violent? If it is a legitimate use of violence, how does it achieve its legitimacy?
Of course, the point of classroom discussion is not to find the answers, but to begin the reflection. Engineers have been the sometimes-willing accomplices of military despots, since da Vinci peddled his talents to Ludovico Sforza and Lorenzo de Medici. Given an ever-widening killing field, it is important to contemplate the moral dimensions of war technology long before such technology makes its impact on flesh.
REFERENCES 1. Albert Bandura, (1997). Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control. W. H. Freeman and Company,
New York. 2. Bush, Vannevar, (1945). ScienceThe Endless Frontier. National Science Foundation,
Washington D. C. 3. Sun Tz Wu, (2002). The Art of War, trans. Lionel Giles. Dover Publications, Mineola, New
York, pp. 93-95. 4. Daodejing, (2003). A Philosophical Translation: Dao De Jing, trans. Roger T. Ames and David
L. Hall. Balantine Books, New York, pp. 123-127; 184-188. 5. Cicero, (1928). De Republica, trans. Clinton Walker Keyes. Harvard University Press,
Cambridge, Massachusetts. 6. Aurelius Augustinus: De Civitate Dei, trans. Marcus Dods, (2000). Modern Library, New York,
p. 123. Contra Faustus Manichaeum, trans. Richard Stothert, in The Nicene and Post-Nicene
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Fathers (1996). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids Michigan, pp. 300-303. Letter CXXXVIII, trans. Wilfred Parsons, (1965). The Catholic University of America Press, Washington D.C. (1930). Letter CLXXXIX, trans. James Houston Baxter (1930). Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
7. Kant, Immanuel, (1957). Perpetual Peace, trans. Lewis White Beck. Macmillan Publishing Company, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.
8. Baier, Annette, (1994). Violent Demonstrations, in Moral Prejudices. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, pp. 203-223.
9. Singer, Peter, (2000). Whats Wrong with Killing? in Writings on an Ethical LIfe. HarperCollins Publishers, New York, pp. 125-145.
10. Anscombe, G.E.M. (1981). War and Murder in Ethics, Religion and Politics. Basil Blackwell, Oxford, pp. 51-61.
11. Foot, Philipppa, (2002). Killing and Letting Die in Moral Dilemmas. Clarendon Press, Oxford, pp. 78-87.
12. Thomson, Judith Jarvis, (1986). The Trolley Problem in Rights, Restitution & Risk. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, pp. 94-116.
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