This chapter from Michael Walzer's Just and Unjust Warsdeals with conditions and circumstances in war that become so dire that a nation might be justified in violating the "war convention" (essentially the just-war condition of discrimination or international treaties against deliberate attacks on civilians). The supreme emergency that might justify such action is conditioned by two criteria: "The first has to do with the imminence of the danger and the second with its nature." Professor Walzer explains these criteria in more detail and then tests the World War II British decision to bomb German cities and the U.S. decision to use the atomic bomb in Japan against these criteria. he argues that a good case could be made for the "supreme emergency" facing the British in late 1940 but that the supreme emergency was ended by July of 1942, hence the terror bombing of German cities between 1942 and 1945 could not be morally justified by the "supreme emergency" argument. In evaluating the U.S. decision to use the atomic bomb against Japanese cities, Walzer concludes that the utilitarian calculations were not those of a nation faced with a supreme emergency; that, as in the case of the bombing of Dresden in 1944, the two criteria were not met, and hence the decision and the bombing failed his tests for violating the war convention.
Everyone's troubles make a crisis. "Emergency" and "crisis" are cant words, used to prepare our minds for acts of brutality. And yet
From Chapter 16 in Just and Unjust Wars:A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations, by Michael Walzer. © 1977 by Basic Books, Inc., Publishers. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.