In a post long even for Dave Armstrong’s Tolstoyian standards he looks at the Nuclear Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Do They Meet Catholic Just War Standards of Morality? He provides a roundup of opinions, but mostly on the side that the bombings were immoral (the camp that would include me). For most of my life I bought into the position that it was necessary action in order to save lives and the concept of doing evil to achieve good was fine with me. Even after visiting both Nagasaki and Hiroshima while stationed in Japan I still held to this opinion. Since then though I have seen that if this could be morally justified then anything could be as a commenter over at Amy Welborn’s site had previously noted.
As a convert myself I’ve been thinking about this particular issue recently as well. I used to believe the old “it was to end the war” routine. But I agree with Veronica and Publius it is unjust because it was aimed at civilians. All through my life I had never heard they were aiming for muninitions factories. They didn’t mention that on the old war shows my dad and I would watch either.
This also brings to mind another question. In WWII when the Americans were liberating Italy, the NAZIs ran into a church or cathedral. The Americans bombed it to get the NAZIs. Is this a sacriligious act to do so, even in defense of a nation?
Just a small correction… “if this could be morally justified THAN anything…” I think the correct statement should read: “if this could be morally justified THEN anything could be…”
And yes, I agree with your opinion. 🙂
Very interesting. I went to public schools, so of course I never heard the other side of the story. However, I am not convinced. There is an awful lot of anti-bombing argument there and very little pro-bombing. Not exactly “fair and balanced”.
Also it is funny how first the anti-bombers say that you should not justify WMDs based on “utilitarian calculations”, yet their first criticism is the numbers (46,000 American deaths, not 500,000). And I didn’t see that any of these anti-bomb folks were qualified historians or military strategists.
There is really just not enough solid fact presented here to make a convincing case for or against. Hindsight is 20/20, and you can find an “expert” to say whatever you want. So I’m leaning towards thinking that the correct decision was made based on the circumstances of the time.
But I will continue to research the topic further. This at least got me thinking!
Numbers are relevant in that proportionality of good achieved to evil caused would be required even if the bombings weren’t deliberate targettings of civilians. But even if the good achieved in the bombings were proportional to the number killed in the bombings, it was a deliberate targetting of civilians* and so cannot be justified under any circumstances.
*Many apologists for the bombings claim that the target was really the military manufacturing centers and that the civilians were just collateral damage. Bull. The reason they surrendered was because we took out two major population centers; that was the whole point. If we had just destroyed the factories with precision bombs (which we didn’t have at the time, but if we did…), do you really think they would have surrendered unconditionally? Not bloody likely.
Very insightful and interesting. I’ve just received a letter through the mail from Pax Christi too! I must fill in that membership subscription.
It wasn’t really about munitions factories. Hiroshima was “headquarters of the second general army and an important embarkation point”, according to Paul Johnson. As for Nagasaki, it was not an original target. A bomb was dropped on Nagasaki because the pilot could not find the primary target.
The war is over and we won. This argument is like the angels on a pin argument: pointless and a sign that Americans have way too much time on our hands. Go to Korea and ask the age 60 and over folks what they think about Hiroshima and they’ll probably ask why all the nukes weren’t dropped on Japan and why America took so long to do it.
I caution anyone against joining Pax Christi. First, they are absolute pacifists–which is not a Catholic postion (See the Catechism for this.) Second, they support many hetrodox positions such as women priests.
And based on Catholic social doctrine, those over-60 Koreans would be wrong about that. We cannot decide what is right and what is wrong based on our hatred or desire for revenge. When we go down that road we betray our Catholic faith.
Is it dancing on the head of a pin to discuss the past with a view to making better decisions in the future? What do you think our military would say about that? They still study Alexander the Great’s battles.
Why didn’t we drop the bomb on a military target, like the Japanese fleet? Granted, Japanese military targets were becoming hard to come by, but I’m sure we could have found a suitable target to make an example of. Why a town full of innocents? For that matter, why did we firebomb Hamburg? It amuses me nowadays when the U.S. military accidentally kills some non-combatants and the media freaks out. We really are doing all we can to keep innocent lives intact. If we were going by the same standards as the glory days of WWII, Baghdad would be ashes by now.
All who spend time wringing their hands over our use of the atom bomb in WWII should familiarize themselves with Paul Fussell’s excellent essay “Thank God for the Atom Bomb” which can be found at -http://www.journeythroughjapan.org/images/indepth/ACF3022.pdf
I read it many years ago after talking with my father of his war experiences in the South Pacific. The views of my father (sitting on Guam awaiting invasion orders) and his contemporaries such as Mr. Fussell, are worth the sincere consideration of both sides of the debate.
To this I would only add that I wish all concerned would spend as much time learning the truth of “The Rape of Nanjing” and the other atrocities of Imperial Japan that have escaped the attention of Western revisionist historians.
I happen to live near Oak Ridge, TN – a city that was built entirely for the Manhattan Project. Every year we see the peaceniks congregate – the usual collection of leftists, dopers, and jeans-wearing nuns. I’ll believe that they have a legitimate moral concern when they start commemorating the firebombing of Dresden – an action that in comparison with the nuclear bombing of Japan had virtually nothing to commend it except bloody revenge.
The opponents of an active nuclear arsenal (and the proponents of a never-ending apology for Hiroshima and Nagasaki) range from the delusional to the suicidal luddites. To try to superimpose a Thomist Just War doctrine upon World War II is a bizarre action for a cabal of mankind-hating neopagans who would like nothing more than the reduction of humanity to the level of chipmunks.
In the dawn of the new eugenics, it is no surprise to find people who will condemn the US for actions taken against the supportive populations of totalitarian regimes. Behind the contorted pity of their faces is the blank stare of a new hideous tyranny – a resurrected fascism – and any support you give their pacifist fantasies, however oblique, makes you complicit in their ultimate goals.
Tell the 60+ Koreans that we did, in fact, drop all the bombs. At the time of the bombings, only two were available.
Mr. Tardiff, the Japanese fleet was not located in one convenient location, and as for why not drop it on a military target, see my above comment, because I’m not crazy about repeating myself. Secondly, though it’s an attractive argument to suggest that maybe we should have dropped the bomb on an island or a ship and then sent the video to the Japanese, this simply would not have worked in reality. Consider the fact that even the bombings of those two cities was barely enough to break their will, and the surrender message had to be smuggled out of the palace while the cabinet committed suicide and the headquarters of the emperor’s personal bodyguard was in flames.
Good idea discussing the past witht an eye to a more informed future. That’s rather why we have the study of history in the first place. But what gets a lot of these people’s goats is that this is usually not the purpose of Hiroshima discussions. The purpose of such discussions, at least in the larger outside world, is for people to say “who are we to stop Saddam or Bin Laden? After all, we bombed Hiroshima.” I hope I’m not alone in seeing moral relativism and ethical equivalency arguments as being all the wrong reasons to study the past.
You’re right about Dresden. On the other hand,
“The opponents of an active nuclear arsenal (and the proponents of a never-ending apology for Hiroshima and Nagasaki) range from the delusional to the suicidal luddites.”
Comments like this really encourage discussion.
It is interesting that mostly those who defend this do not use moral arguments as to why descrimantly wiping out a civilian population is acceptable, but instead take the pragmatic view about ending the war earlier and saving lives. If this was all that mattered than nuking a whole country we were at war with would mean we wouldn’t lose one soldier on our side.
Jeff, you wrote, “If this (ending the war earlier and saving lives) was all that mattered, then nuking a whole country we were at war with would mean we wouldn’t lose one soldier on our side.”
It would, indeed, mean that, but such an undertaking would certainly violate several of the principles of Just War. (Please see the article “War” in the Catholic Encyclopedia (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15546c.htm)
The Mt. Holyoke College website features an excellent “Executive Summary” of the principles involved:
“Principles of the Just War
1. A just war can only be waged as a last resort.
2. All non-violent options must be exhausted before the use of force can be justified.
3. A war is just only if it is waged by a legitimate authority.
4. Even just causes cannot be served by actions taken by individuals or groups who do not constitute an authority sanctioned by whatever the society and outsiders to the society deem legitimate.
5. A just war can only be fought to redress a wrong suffered. For example, self-defense against an armed attack is always considered to be a just cause (although the justice of the cause is not sufficient–see point #4). Further, a just war can only be fought with “right” intentions: the only permissible objective of a just war is to redress the injury.
6. A war can only be just if it is fought with a reasonable chance of success. Deaths and injury incurred in a hopeless cause are not morally justifiable.
7. The ultimate goal of a just war is to re-establish peace. More specifically, the peace established after the war must be preferable to the peace that would have prevailed if the war had not been fought.
8. The violence used in the war must be proportional to the injury suffered.
9. States are prohibited from using force not necessary to attain the limited objective of addressing the injury suffered.
10. The weapons used in war must discriminate between combatants and non-combatants. Civilians are never permissible targets of war, and every effort must be taken to avoid killing civilians. The deaths of civilians are justified only if they are unavoidable victims of a deliberate attack on a military target.”
Either two or three days before the first bomb was dropped the Imperial War Minister put out an order that all 375,000 British (English, New Zealanders and Australians) and American prisoners of war were to be executed so that they couldn’t testify as to how they had been treated in Japanese captivity.
American estimates of American casualties alone in the first three months of an invasion were 1 million.
My father flew the coast of Japan before and after the bombs and he reports they were more than ready and waiting…
Wring your hands y’all…
Of course, it wasn’t only about saving the lives of our guys. For the first homeland invasion alone, the Japanese had put together a conscripted defense force of (I think it was) two million.
The reason they were more than ready and waiting was that, first of all, a message was delivered promising “prompt and utter destruction” if they did not surrender, and secondly, because the pamphlets that were dropped warned of a massive upcoming attack.
You’re right about the lack of moral arguments. But what moral arguments are there for killing women and children?
My nephew lost a leg in Iraq. My son-in-law was blown up by an IED but survived. And they went through this doing everything they could not to kill non-combatants. I find disgusting the attitude of those who want to paint as loons all who even ask questions about the destruction of 350,000 non-combatants (which included Eisenhower and McArthur, by the way). It’s all black and white. We are righteous, moral and just and have had our guys treated wrongly so we can kill women and children for utilitarian purposes. If the other guy does it, he’s a terrorist. And if you even raise any questions you’re unpatriotic, delusional or a suicidal luddite.
Sometimes a person should just save their breath.
Many of us have read and weighed all the arguements pro and con about dropping the bombs, and have decided to come down on one side or another.
My questions are: once we’ve decided, either way, what is it that those of us living today are supposed to do about what it is we have decided?
I have a notion that America’s enemies – today, in the here and now – Iran, North Korea, etc. who have functional nuclear program, do not consider as crimes what they have perpetrated on citizens of their own country – innocent civilians, all.
But we in our country do consider these things. My question is: What practical, constructive forward-thinking things can we expect to undertake as a result of having learned our lesson – either way – and move on?
(Or, I’ve sometimes asked myself, is not being able to move on the whole point of the exercise?)
Making moral judgmments on the past are necessary and required so that any lapses in the past do not have to repeat themselves. Decisions should always be evalulated in the light of truth, especially so that we do not become apologists for evil.
Thank you, Jeff, for your answer.
Yes, decisions should be evaluated in the light of truth. Don’t we have the teachings of the Catholic Church (Scripture and Tradition) and the wisdom of the Holy Father and the Bishops to help and guide us in these matters as they come up?
I’m not clear on what it is I hope to accomplish by investing time and energy in making my own personal, private moral judgements – today – on what people now long-dead did 50 years ago . . . and then, taking it on myself as a private citizen, condemning or exonerating them?
What do I hope to accomplish by this?
I would hasten to add, I definitely need to invest time and energy in evaluating my own actions in the light of truth. I need to make personal, private moral judgements on my own actions, of course, as well.
I’m a conservative and I agree that the decision to drop the bomb was wrong because the situation did not fit with just war theory. We cannot know that we ultimately saved lives by this decision or that there was no other moral way. I believe we have to be consistent when we say the ends don’t justify the means and show others that we are not afraid to own up to our own moral lapses. Even if it means having something that we agree with the liberals. I love my country and acknowledge our sins and don’t consider myself unpatriotic the same way I acknowledge my sins and don’t hate myself. In closing, I’d also like to throw in that bit about the plank in our eyes. In Christ.
Two points on this subject:
Prior to dropping the bombs, leaflets were dropped warning of the pending destruction of the cities, and telling people to get out; at least they tried.
Judging our action based on today’s information and today’s situation is unfair to those who had to make a decision with what they knew then, i.e. the long term effects of radiation poisoning were barely guessed at.
OK, one more, Mt Holyoak’s summary of just war theory adds a lot that is not part of classic just war doctrine, i.e. #’s 2,5,7,9)- see CCC sec 2309, note the last sentance in particular.
My mother and Father were both WWII vets. My father was an artillery radioman who survived 5 beach landings against entrenched Japanese forces. My mother was a clerk who handled paperwork for returning prisoners of war, including the victims of the Bataan death march.
Both believed to the end of their days that the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were wrong. Dad said “you don’t fight evil by doing evil.”
Mom always believed that MacArthur chose Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as they were the two most Catholic cities in Japan.
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