• Frank Baldwin
    2
    I am not a philosopher, but a military historian interested in how the trolley problem applies to military history.

    The trolley problem is not an abstract thought experiment, but a fair approximation to the kind of decisions that are made daily by military commanders and then repeated with the surviving players. Who gets picked to carry out a dangerous task? Is it always the person most likely to succeed or do is there a moral element to sharing the risks? There is more to this than morality, but there seems to be a moral component to decisions than might be approached rationally on a purely utilitarian level. E.g. there are taboos among most armed forces about suicide tactics or targeting a mixture of friend and foe.

    I am particularly interested in the extent to which morality and, or psychology of the trolley problem may help to understand historic events where a decision to avoid the risks of friendly fire (killing the one) resulted in heavy casualties from enemy fire (killing the five). I have a hypothesis that this may explain what were in retrospect avoidable high casualties on the Somme in the First World War and on D Day and at Arnhem in the Second.

    Are there any articles or philosophers who cover this topic?
  • christian2017
    1.2k


    Thank you for your service Sir. The modern military kills people's psyches and then they live in cardboard boxes or worse. I could not have made it in the modern military.

    Isn't the trolley problem solved by having special forces (Seals, Delta force etc....). Pay their families well after they die. America has plenty of depressed people.

    Have a wonderful day Sir!
  • christian2017
    1.2k
    I am not a philosopher, but a military historian interested in how the trolley problem applies to military history.

    The trolley problem is not an abstract thought experiment, but a fair approximation to the kind of decisions that are made daily by military commanders and then repeated with the surviving players. Who gets picked to carry out a dangerous task? Is it always the person most likely to succeed or do is there a moral element to sharing the risks? There is more to this than morality, but there seems to be a moral component to decisions than might be approached rationally on a purely utilitarian level. E.g. there are taboos among most armed forces about suicide tactics or targeting a mixture of friend and foe.

    I am particularly interested in the extent to which morality and, or psychology of the trolley problem may help to understand historic events where a decision to avoid the risks of friendly fire (killing the one) resulted in heavy casualties from enemy fire (killing the five). I have a hypothesis that this may explain what were in retrospect avoidable high casualties on the Somme in the First World War and on D Day and at Arnhem in the Second.

    Are there any articles or philosophers who cover this topic?
    Frank Baldwin

    Most famous (famous) philosophers tend to be emo assholes so my guess is no. You are looking for a needle in a haystack going on a site like this to find exactly (exactly) what you are looking for. You should write a book on the subject because there probably aren't any notable (notable) "philosophers" that cover this topic.
  • christian2017
    1.2k


    in short, your answer could (could) be the best answer.
  • tim wood
    4.1k
    What sort of military situation do you imagine the trolley problem to apply to? And what military man in what military situation would consult the trolley problem for direction? Indeed, the problem offers itself as a problem for a reason.
    One aspect: the actor in the trolley problem has not two but three options: he can switch the car or not switch the car, or he can do nothing. The result of the nothing will be the same as one of the other choices but in the making is not the same. Military commanders functioning as commanders do not have that option - and probably do not think in such terms.
    I think that to the extent you have a question, the trolley problem is the wrong framing for it. Of course, if you really want to find out what soldiers are thinking, you might consider asking them.
  • ssu
    2.4k
    Are there any articles or philosophers who cover this topic?Frank Baldwin

    As a military historian I guess you know better these events than sociologists or philosophers. I've noticed that few philosophers understand war, especially if they haven't been in one or haven't served in the military. And military men aren't stupid, they can themselves think about these issues too.

    E.g. there are taboos among most armed forces about suicide tactics or targeting a mixture of friend and foe.Frank Baldwin
    Actually notice the change in contemporary military history to the 20th Century.

    It's been said for example that in the 2006 Israeli-Lebanon war the rather poor performance of the Israeli Army wasn't only because that Hezbollah had improved basic training of it's soldiers from the times of Operation Peace in Galilee, but also because the Israeli soldiers were more timid in the way that if a platoon suffered casualties, the platoon would rapidly start MEDEVAC procedures and concentrate on that. Bayonet charges don't happen, at least not with the whole unit standing up and charging the enemy. This is more than a matter of training: now as military medicine has improved our and there has been an emphasis on combat first response, there is also the attitude that huge casualties are simply not tolerated. Huge loss of life is a failure, even if the otherwise the objectives are met. The exception of this may be the Russian Army perhaps: the Russians have suffered large casualties in some units both in the Russo-Georgian war and in Ukraine too. And in a culture were the government oppresses mothers looking if their sons are dead or in hospital, there still isn't much regard for individual life. Earlier it wasn't just the Russians.

    WW1 and WW2 form actually an one era as in fact the tactics & strategy continued in 2939 from where it had stopped in 1918, with only better equipment (and a lot of clear thinking by the Germans, but also like with the US Marines). Yet the attitudes were the same. Your own soldiers dying was simply part of war. Now it's different. If in the summer of 1944 when a Finnish general saw that part of his division is being overrun and out of ammo his soldiers were surrendering, he ordered the artillery to fire on the own lines. And there wasn't any outcry about it, not even after war. The general was well respected afterwards, especially as he lived quite long.

    I am particularly interested in the extent to which morality and, or psychology of the trolley problem may help to understand historic events where a decision to avoid the risks of friendly fire (killing the one) resulted in heavy casualties from enemy fire (killing the five).Frank Baldwin

    I would say that we all are children of our times.

    The military is always and integral part of the society: it has the same kind of morals and psychology as the society it was formed from. A lot of people sometimes ask if we are tough enough or if the earlier generations were tougher. I don't believe that is true. War is something that it's leaders and organizers approach very practically and logically. This has been the way since the dawn of history I would argue. Hence when the technology and the medicine is there, a practical leader will use that. When the only option is to confront the enemy in an asymmetric way, then things like suicide-attacks are on the table. How the society thinks about a suicide-mission is also important and defines if this is tolerated or not.
  • NOS4A2
    2.9k


    The problem with the trolly problem is not the trolly, but the track. A train track assumes a fixed route and fixed destination. I think those who apply the trolly problem to real life and dynamic situations are dangerously mistaken in that regard.
  • tim wood
    4.1k
    Small but imo integral point. In the US among the unalienable rights is life (the other two being liberty and pursuit of happiness). In the US military you cannot be ordered to your death. There is, then, as part of being an American, a sense of an absolute value on and for life.

    Which fits with a quote attributed to Patton, to the effect that battle was not about dying for your country but making the other poor bastard die for his.
  • christian2017
    1.2k
    The problem with the trolly problem is not the trolly, but the track. A train track assumes a fixed route and fixed destination. I think those who apply the trolly problem to real life and dynamic situations are dangerously mistaken in that regard.NOS4A2

    When making a label for a concept you have to use letters and letters require words and words require definitions or examples. Some people are dumb and some aren't but you can't blame a guy for using words to describe the issue.

    The fact that people label this general (general) situation as trolly does not reflect their ability to understand complex concepts.
  • christian2017
    1.2k
    Small but imo integral point. In the US among the unalienable rights is life (the other two being liberty and pursuit of happiness). In the US military you cannot be ordered to your death. There is, then, as part of being an American, a sense of an absolute value on and for life.

    Which fits with a quote attributed to Patton, to the effect that battle was not about dying for your country but making the other poor bastard die for his.
    tim wood

    You can be ordered to your death if there is a 1% chance you'll survive. (or perhaps the percentage is 26.38%). Either way danger is danger.

    Tim Wood i never served in the modern military nor any military, have you?
  • Frank Baldwin
    2

    Military command decisions are not exactly the same as the Trolley problem because the trolley problem presents a choice between two certain events, whereas in the real world there is an element of uncertainty. No one in the British or US Military is ever ordered onto a suicide mission. Uuslaly a few people escape. However, the loss rate of torpedo bomber crews in British service (and possibly US) in WW2 was higher than in the Japanese Kamikazi units. In one of the few real "trolley problems" occurred when a runaway freight train was switched away from station to a branch line in low density housing. No one died even though a woman had a lucky escape.

    I am drawn to the trolley problem because it is about people forced to make unpalatable choices. There are several accounts of the stress of the "burden of command" on commanders and he guilt over the deaths of dozens, hundreds or thousands of people on their own side. In 1984 I heard a British WW2 general, Michael Carver, in 1944 a 28 year old Brigadier General talk about how he had to dismiss all three of the commanders of his tank regiments, because they were tired after two years of making these decisions every day.

    The thinking about these philosophical experiments may offer an insight in how different armed forces approached the problem of the risk of friendly fire.

    It took the French and British armies in the first world war about 750,000 casualties over eighteen months casualties to accept the idea that it was better to take 5% casualties from your own artillery than 30% from enemy machine guns in a tactic known as the creeping barrage. An assault was a rock paper scissors game That became an unspoken doctrine. There were manuals telling soldier that they had to be really close to the barrage, but nothing in writing about the likely cost. The Germans never adopted the idea and even promulgated a myth that the allies were firing dud shells. Even 20 years later in Normandy an SS General repeated the claims. It never seems to have occurred to them that their enemies would be so callous.

    In the German air assault on Crete in 1941 Luftwaffe planes were ordered to attack the targeted airfields until "Y" Hour when German paratroops and gliders were landing - amidst cannon fire and bombs.

    Three years later in 1944 the Western Allies had huge arguments planning the assault on the coast of France about the risks of friendly fire casualties. The resulting plan left the beach defences themselves un-attacked by allied aircraft and a ten minute gap between the last shell landing on the defenders and the first man ashore.

    The ideas provoked by the Trolley problem may help to understand why these different decisions were made, and why previous (utilitarian) experience was ignored.
  • christian2017
    1.2k
    Military command decisions are not exactly the same as the Trolley problem because the trolley problem presents a choice between two certain events, whereas in the real world there is an element of uncertainty. No one in the British or US Military is ever ordered onto a suicide mission. Uuslaly a few people escape. However, the loss rate of torpedo bomber crews in British service (and possibly US) in WW2 was higher than in the Japanese Kamikazi units. In one of the few real "trolley problems" occurred when a runaway freight train was switched away from station to a branch line in low density housing. No one died even though a woman had a lucky escape.

    I am drawn to the trolley problem because it is about people forced to make unpalatable choices. There are several accounts of the stress of the "burden of command" on commanders and he guilt over the deaths of dozens, hundreds or thousands of people on their own side. In 1984 I heard a British WW2 general, Michael Carver, in 1944 a 28 year old Brigadier General talk about how he had to dismiss all three of the commanders of his tank regiments, because they were tired after two years of making these decisions every day.

    The thinking about these philosophical experiments may offer an insight in how different armed forces approached the problem of the risk of friendly fire.

    It took the French and British armies in the first world war about 750,000 casualties over eighteen months casualties to accept the idea that it was better to take 5% casualties from your own artillery than 30% from enemy machine guns in a tactic known as the creeping barrage. An assault was a rock paper scissors game That became an unspoken doctrine. There were manuals telling soldier that they had to be really close to the barrage, but nothing in writing about the likely cost. The Germans never adopted the idea and even promulgated a myth that the allies were firing dud shells. Even 20 years later in Normandy an SS General repeated the claims. It never seems to have occurred to them that their enemies would be so callous.

    In the German air assault on Crete in 1941 Luftwaffe planes were ordered to attack the targeted airfields until "Y" Hour when German paratroops and gliders were landing - amidst cannon fire and bombs.

    Three years later in 1944 the Western Allies had huge arguments planning the assault on the coast of France about the risks of friendly fire casualties. The resulting plan left the beach defences themselves un-attacked by allied aircraft and a ten minute gap between the last shell landing on the defenders and the first man ashore.

    The ideas provoked by the Trolley problem may help to understand why these different decisions were made, and why previous (utilitarian) experience was ignored.
    Frank Baldwin

    People who enjoy life (nothing wrong with that) don't want to be "sacrificed" unnecasarily. People who are depressed to a certain degree, will move to Chicago and walk down the street in the middle of the night. No wrong answer because we each have our purpose. Our wives can always remarry.

    The David of history (real or fake) wasn't a christian so didn't believe in "Once Saved, Always Saved" (nor do all christians). There is an appearance from scriptures that David didn't just throw himself into danger for no reason indicating he saw value in living a long life.

    A depressed christian might move to chicago....

    Much of history is dictated by religious and philosophical beliefs.

    People who join the modern military know they might die. Some who join hope they die.
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