Re: If we do get Afghanistan, what shall we do with it?

From: Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Date: Fri Nov 23 2001 - 12:48:10 MST

Lee Daniel Crocker wrote:
> But Hiroshima and Nagasaki were different: at the time, there
> was no reason to belive the war wouldn't continue for a long
> time, at the cost of many thousands of lives. A show of
> devastating, overwhelming, terrifying force against an enemy
> that was clearly the agressor, leaving him no choice but total
> unconditional surrender, accomplished exactly the right goal:
> war over, lives saved, no questions. I have a lot of sympathy
> for folks who argue for restraint in the use of force in most
> cases, and I think many of our own uses of force were unjustified.
> But Hiroshima and Nagasaki were that exceptional case, and
> were the right thing to do at the right time.

I think that if the United States had realized, that far back in time, how
much the threat of nuclear war - and later, nanotechnological war and
biological war - would hang over the heads of future generations, the
correct decision would have been to spend the lives necessary to subdue
Japan the hard way. The US was the first to acquire nuclear weapons, and
then immediately used them, in war, against a nonnuclear opponent's
cities. This is not a good precedent if some country other than the US is
the first to acquire military nanotechnology. This does not help the US's
argument for nuclear nonproliferation.

I think it would have been worth subduing Japan the hard way in order to
establish the principle that non-first-use of weapons of mass destruction,
even when the lives of your country's soldiers are at stake or whatever,
is an absolute, inviolable principle - that who wins or loses some war
between nations isn't worth dragging existential risks (planetary risks)
into the equation. We blew our chance to establish that principle almost
immediately. It's depressing.

If dropping the A-bomb had been a single decision, with no implications
for the future, then it probably would have been the right decision. But
there was more at stake in the decision to drop the A-bomb than the people
of that time knew. It wasn't just a question of minimizing total war
casualties, as was thought, but of establishing precedents for handling
existential risks. So I'm not blaming them, but I still think they made
the wrong decision.

-- -- -- -- --
Eliezer S. Yudkowsky
Research Fellow, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

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