Many decisions that appear to have been cruel ones have been made because they were thought to be the pragmatic decision at the time. One example of such a decision was that of the British government not to warn it's people of a pending bomb attack by the Nazis so that the Nazis would not realize that the British had broken their code. Another example was the decision of Truman to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki in order to convince the Japanese to surrender.
There are many examples of where such pragmatism does not make things better in the long run. After Operation Desert Storm the United States decided not to help the Kurds and the Shiites in their rebellion against Saddam Hussein, a rebellion that the United States had encouraged. The pragmatic reasons were that the the U.S. did not want to be drawn into additional battles and the U.S. was afraid that if Iraq broke up into pieces Iran would invade. Perhaps the U.S. was afraid of biological attacks from Iraq although I don't remember seeing that mentioned as a reason. The United States in 2002 is still faced with the threat that Iraq will give briefcases loaded with biological agents to Al Qaeda who will smuggle them into America (New York Post 9/16/02).
You're talking vials, briefcase bombs or gallon jugs. You can even do it by sending an infected suicide terrorist here," said one defense official.
As a result of U.S. "pragmatism" Iraqi helicopters gunned down Kurdish civilians and Saddam consolidated control of Iraq. If the U.S. had helped the Kurds it is possible that a strong stable pro-Western Kurdish state would have emerged. In 2003 the U.S. had to go back to fight Iraq again. There has been great difficulty in getting uprisings to occur again. Iraqis told American soldiers that they are reluctant to rise up again since they were betrayed by the Americans in 1991 and are afraid to be abandoned to Saddam's vengeance again.
Another example of such pragmatism going wrong was the decision by the U.S. government not to warn the leader of the fleet in Pearl Harbor about evidence of a possible Japanese air attack. the reason for not doing so was so that the Japanese would not know that the U.S. had broken their codes. The consequence was a large part of the U.S. fleet being destroyed.
During World War II the British blocked the immigration of Jews to Palestine. Their pragmatic reasons were that there were more Arabs than Jews and the Arabs would be angry if the British allowed Jews into the country. The British wanted the Arab countries to help against the Germans. The result of British policy was that many Jews died who could have been saved. Most of the Arab countries allied themselves with the Nazis anyway.
Another example of pragmatism gone wrong was when the Jewish leader, Dr. Kastner of Hungary, helped the Nazis convince the Jews of Hungary to voluntarily be deported. He was told by the Nazis that if he did that they would save 600 of the best and brightest Jews of Hungary including him. As a result of Dr. Kastner's attempt at pragmatic behavior many Jews who could have lived were killed by the Nazis.
Often we don't know what is the pragmatic course of action. Often we can only guess at the outcome of our actions. For this reason when it is not clear what course of action is the pragmatic one we should take actions based on obvious results and morality. For example I believe the United States should have prevented Saddam's helicopters from gunning down Kurdish civilians because of the obvious result of innocent people being killed.
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