Thursday, June 2, 2016

And yet another great reflection on the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings

Over at the always interesting Sardonic Ex Curia, we have a reasoned discussion on this tough topic.  He takes the case for and against the use of the bombs by examining the arguments of Fr. William Miscamble and G.E.M. Anscombe.

As usual, it's a fair and insightful piece and worth at least a read or two.  The treatment is balanced, and he brings up a great point, that the more credible case against the bombs ultimately leans on the action of the bombs itself.  And from a Catholic point of view, that's tough to argue with.  Not that understanding the context or the surrounding world situation isn't of value.  It certainly is.  And if condemnation of the decision is to be had, it should be with great fear and trembling and sorrow, for the loss of life and for those who were burdened with the choice between such horrible alternatives.

I will mention the hypothetical that is at the end of the post.  It reads like this:
Let's say that a certain wanted and proven crime boss is holed upon on the top floor of a building, which he owns, and he is well-supplied with food. He is behind thick glass and armored doors. He is surrounded with well-armed thugs who have enough ammunition to repel SWAT forces, and taking the floor will result in the serious loss of police forces. He will not come out unless he is guaranteed absolute extradition outside of the United States, but there are well-founded fears that he will simply continue his criminal enterprises from whichever foreign country, so the only option is his absolutely surrender or death. The crime boss has a wife and children for whom he truly cares, and these people have been placed in police protective custody pending outcome of the situation. He is known to be the head of a large and active drug network, which is responsible for many killings, and will likely continue to be until he is neutralized in some way.
 In such a situation, which are the morally acceptable options?
 1. The police can invade the floor, and risk heavy losses.
2. The police can bring down the entire building after warning the other inhabitants and giving them a chance to depart.
3. The police can wait for the crime boss to come out, risking a long siege / stakeout.
4. The police can attempt to bribe the crime boss out in some fashion.
5. The police can bring the crime boss's family out to the front of the building, and threaten them with execution if he does not capitulate.
The one thing I would add is to choice number 3.  In this case, remember we must conclude that the crime boss can, and likely will, randomly kill inhabitants of the building during the length of the siege.  So many might die that to pursue option 2 might not end up with any higher casualty rate.  In fact, some might survive the destroyed building easier than the rampaging crime boss.  I think that's a little closer to the situation as the allies understood it in August, 1945.  Still, it doesn't change the fact that the bombing as an act itself is either good or evil, no matter the context or the reasons surrounding it.  The historical conditions, if it is an intrinsically evil act, don't alter the evil of the act.  And that's assuming we will aver agree on the historical conditions.

Which is, of course, the problem.  Whether Russia tipped the scales, or Japan was on its knees, or the Imperial high command was killing anyone with a peace sign, or an invasion was the only way, or dropping leaflets could have done the trick, are all arguments that will, in the end, have no final resolution.  Just read why Napoleon lost Waterloo or Harold was defeated at Hastings for a taste of military history's tenacious ability to avoid agreeing on historical events. 

It's ultimately a moral argument.  And as I said, from a Christian point of view, I have a hard time saying yes to the decision as it was carried out.  Thankfully, most people I know from that era didn't see it as an awesome thing, but usually referred to it in some version of 'such a horrible thing, but it had to happen.'  Perhaps it did.  Perhaps it didn't.  In 2000 years historians might agree, but I doubt it. 

My only insistence is that we don't fall into partisan or nationalist banter, one way or another.  I certainly wouldn't want to hear anyone cheering the decision.  At the same time, those who use the event as a convenient club to beat America over the head with, or as a shield to avoid confronting Japan's horrendous track record, are just as bad as anyone cheering the deaths of thousands, if any do.  


  1. One thing that gives me pause is that God nuked us all once (using water instead of bombs at the time) and to say something is intrinsically evil means that He has no excuse or escape from that act (indeed it might be darkly entertaining to watch some try and explain how the Flood gets excused without the Bomb also being excused).

    Even then while I'm sure some might "know" about why the Flood happen, do they really believe it deep down in their bones? Honestly? Or do they think there's no way mankind could ever really be bad enough to warrant mass destruction?

    Not that I'm saying the USA is God's hand or anything, but His wrath is real, and I wonder if the bomb is so feared because it reminds us of that.

  2. Thank you for the read, and pointer and comments, David!


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