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August 01, 2007


Old Dominion Tory

I understand and applaud Christine's journey outside of the labels that are current in American politics. As I have come to live The Faith more actively, I too have felt constrained by current political labels.
However, I must admit to some trouble with the papal condemnations of the use of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagaski.
First, the Holocaust was an act of industrialized mass murder with no legitimate aim whatsover. From start to finish, it was utterly evil. The use of the atomic bombs against Japan, while by no means something to be cheered, was an act of war against an implacable enemy.
Put another way, the responsibility for the horrors of the Holocaust rests solely on the Nazis. A large share of the responsibility for Hiroshima and Nagasaki, however, must be parceled out to the Japanese warlords who sowed the wind by taking a nation ill-prepared for a sustained conflict to war against the United States and its allies. It was their decision to begin the war and their decision to continue it that forced--yes, forced--the likes of Harry Truman and George Marshall to make a terrible decision. Thus, to assert that Nagaski=Auschwitz seems to be more than a little inaccurate.
Consider, too, that, if the U.S. had not used the atomic bombs, an invasion of Japan's home islands probably would have been necessary to force Japan to surrender. Judging from the aftermath of Okinawa and Iwo Jima, the conquest of Japan would have killed millions of Japanese civilians (as well as Japanese and Allied soldiers) and made a wasteland of much of Japan.
Would, therefore, it have been morally preferable--more humane, if you will--for the invasion, with all its attendant suffering, to take place? More specifically, would it have been morally preferable if, in the course of the invasion preparations, U.S. bombers had devestated Hiroshima and Nagaski with high-explosive and incendiary bombs?
I don't pretend to have the answers to these questions or to know what the proper Catholic response is to all questions related to war and peace are. However, we need to show a lot of charity to those honorable, dutiful men who in August 1945 had to make a truly hard moral choice in the midst of a war. And the first acts of it should be a steadfast refusal to lump them together with the monsters who set out to exterminate an entire people and a clear recognition of the stark moral questions that any condemnation of them should prompt for *us*.

Mrs. Peperium

As one who has always felt constrained by labels, particularly ones with synthetic fabrics involved...may I say ditto, Old Dominion Tory-san.

I have great sympathy for the men involved making the decision to nuke, especially when one takes into consideration all that the world had gone through in the 3 previous decades.

Since becoming Catholic, I've always focused on what my ex-CIA priest who oversaw our swim across the Tiber pointed out : VJ day is/was August 15th. In the photos of Hiroshima one can see one building left standing intact, in the distance of the epicenter. That is/was a home of Catholic priests. Priests -- I don't want to get it wrong so I'll use broad terms -- with a special relationship with Mother Mary. Their building survived intact and none of the priests were injured. Then VJ Day came on the 15th.



ODT: Thanks for the thoughtful response. I agree that the Japanese government must take some blame for Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as it was warned by our government of our use of the atomic bomb. Japan refused to surrender. I don’t think by any stretch of the imagination that Truman’s decision was one easily or lightly made.

The only way one can justify dropping the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki is by the principle of double effect, as well as by reasoning that it was, all things considered, the lesser of all evils.

If one argues that the principal reason to drop the atomic bomb was to destroy the military sites, and civilian deaths were an unfortunate consequence, then the principle of double effect applies. Some have also argued that the nuclear bomb cost less lives than any other method of warfare, and brought a swift end to the war in the Pacific, and thus was the least of all evils.

First, we can all agree with the Catholic Church that one may never use evil means in order to bring about good. This is where the principle of double effect comes into play. Strategic precision bombing would have been the best method; but I understand that our government gave up on strategic bombing because the jetstream above Japan resulted in mostly missed targets. I also understand that most of the military plants were comprised of small homes with 30 workers or so interspersed throughout the city, and would have been extremely difficult pinpoint targets to make. We thus switched to firebombing, which ended in destruction on a massive scale (particularly in Tokyo, which some consider to be even worse than Hiroshima). Firebombing continued over other Japanese cities, and by the time we made our decision to vaporize Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I don’t think there was much of a distinction left between military and civilian bombing.

Whatever our intentions, it is without question that the vast majority of deaths in both Hiroshima and Nagasaki were civilian deaths (totaling approximately 220,000). A nuclear bomb by its very nature is intended to wipe out all life within a one-mile radius, and ravage by fire anything within a 4-mile radius. But, as I said, by that point, we had already been firebombing civilian populations in Japan, with drastic results, and so it was a small step to use the nuclear bomb. I don’t have any easy answers to the choices our government made; but I cannot help feeling uneasy when I consider the Catechism:

"Every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation." (2314)


I think you have caused all have read your reflections to think seriously about these matters. I have felt uneasy about the way the bomb was used since I first started thinking about this as a teenager. I have never been able to come up with a clear answer, since ODT's point about the lives at risk is impossible to ignore. Thank you for raising this topic, as another anniversary of these horrors is approaching.

american fez

The final paragraphs of George MacDonald Fraser's "Quartered Safe Out Here" - a very personal book (probably his best) about fighting the Japanese in WW2 - provide an excellent and human conclusion to misgivings concerning the dropping of the bomb on all those civilians.
And, I have to say, it seems to me that it is far more sensible to follow the Pope's teachings than it is to vote for some coniving and dishonest, sanctimonious scumbag who calls himself conservative.
In fact, I thinking of manufacturing some souvenir tee-shirts as we approach the next election. They will have the legend "Don't Vote: Just Pray" emblazoned across the front.

Mrs. Peperium

Hey Fez, you're back too!

In theory your idea works but a problem comes into play in that a Catholic is supposed to act responsibly in their homeland. Voting is a responsibility in a representative democracy. To not do it, you are neglecting you duty...

All wars present problems. Very grave problems. But if you support the objective of a given war, does this mean you are automatically rubber stamping everything that was done to win or lose that war?

I hope not.

Andrew Cusack

More on this topic over at Armavirumque!

Mrs. Peperium

Dear Andrew,

I'm so very proud of you. Roger Kimball actually refers to you as his colleague. Never forget the man could refer to you as his boot and knife boy and he would be absolutely spot on if he did. I must further ponder the arguments the both of you have put forward, before I comment further but I will say, if you can get The Roger to concede this much (that would be the colleague bit), a great future is in store for you with the NY publishing world. I await with baited breath what Christine has to say on The Roger's latest words.

Now Andrew, don't blow it and get the man his morning coffee. Oh, and do give him my best. And please give Mr. Panero, Mrs. Farnsworth, Ellie. and Lilly a great huzzah.

Oh, and I suppose Mr. Yezzi deserves a nod too...

Mrs. P


With all due respect to Mr. Kimball, I am unimpressed with his response.

He quotes Paul Fussell's essay, noting that it sums up everything that need be said about the issue. But all Fussell does is opine (and quote others who opine) that "War is cruelty" and "War is craziness." This is not so much logic as it is personal observation about the way humans tend to behave in the worst situations. Fussell scoffs at the idea of just wars (even using scare quotes), and argues that it's silly for anyone to expect soldiers to be sensitive humanitarians in war.

Of course, that is not the point. Soldiers are merely obeying orders, and when they come upon the enemy, they know what the rules of engagement are. The commander-in-chief, the President of the United States, who heads the entire military, we *do* expect to be a sensitive humanitarian. We *do* expect him to take into account the innocent lives that are at stake when he decides to invade a nation or attack the enemy. (This is why we do not elect brutal dictators or petty tyrants; we like to know--or at least believe--that the president cares about the poor and the downtrodden and all those who stand in harm’s way.)

Mr. Kimball then ends on this note:

“Do the ends really justify the means? Alas, like so much about the real world, the melancholy--but also the moral--answer is, "Often, yes." “

Didn’t he just read what Fussell wrote? The entire point of the piece was that war is inherently immoral, and those who attempt to make it otherwise are silly.

The melancholy answer, yes--but the moral? No.

Mrs. Peperium

*Sigh* *sigh*... OK, everyone be kind recalling this is the finishing school girl amongst you speaking...

Do the ends really justify the means? Trying to be good Catholics we must never say yes to such a question. I just wonder if it is even appropriate for us to pose this question. The ultimate responsibilty to what happened that August 6th to the people of Japan lay with their Emperor. He was the one who horribly abused his power by attacking a nation with nuclear capabilites. A nation that was already engaged in a war with pure Evil on another continent.

After all the violence and bloodshed in Europe with two WW's I am sympathetic to those who wanted to bring about a speedy conclusion to the war with Japan. I can understand why they chose it and I am sorry that they were put in such a terrible position.

This next bit is purely anecdotal. August 6th is my mother's birthday. The bomb was dropped on her 13th birthday. She was on vacation in Maine when the news came over the radio. Her best friend had come on vacation with her and when they heard the bomb was dropped, immediately understanding this meant the war was over, they ran around the dining room table singing a ditty "they dropped The Bomb on my birthday". One of our maiden aunts, Aunt Betty, brought them up short immediately with "STOP! Don't you understand how many people were just killed?" My mom and her friend immediately stopped singing. They had not a clue until her rebuke. Later, they drove into the mainland and people were all over town setting firecrackers off in the streets.

When my mom told me that story some 30 years later, when I was about the same age she was at the time of the bombing, I could not believe her reaction was to sing. I asked her why she did. She said they were just so relieved to have the war over. It had been going on for almost all of what she could recall of her childhood.

You see I understood what the bomb had done because I was raised after we had employed it. We knew, for a lack of better words, the fallout of using it. She did not. She was raised during the war and only understood how terrible World Wars were. As did her parents being her age in the First World War and then having a small child in the Second. To them, at the time of its use, the bomb was a good thing.


Incidentally, my b-day is August 6th too. Feast of the Transfiguration, you know, which makes it doubly jolly as your mother can surely avow.

Honestly, I have not read the entirety of the post or comments, but I am with Christine on this one. Even if ordinary citizens were in ignorance about the devastating consequences of nuclear bombing, one doubts the bombers were entirely in the dark. I love Our Lady's words in the poem "Ballad of the White Horse." Christians aren't allowed to do wrong in order to win. They are obliged to "go gaily in the dark," fighting for justice and truth even when they might lose. As to the Japanese Emperor - an old adage may come in handy here: Two wrongs doesn't make a right.

Also, from my understanding of the historical facts, the US acted with a somewhat vengeful spirit.[Forgive me if these issues were already addressed in the comments I've skipped over.] We demanded unconditional surrender which, you must admit, would worry the wisest and best of rulers even and not just horrible abusers of power. When the Japanese refused, we bombed. And then we accepted non-unconditional surrender after all, which indicates that we really didn't need to demand unconditional surrender in the first place.

Mrs. Peperium

OK, now another anecdotal story about trying to be a good Catholic:

I came to the Church when I was 37 years of age. After my initial confession --there's a real term for it but my mind is gone-- I recalled that I had said many dreadful things about Catholic priests and nuns on the Far Left - ones like Greely and if memory is right something I once wrote about Drinan even made it into the letters section of the WSJ. Anyhoo, I realized I needed to go and confess these things. Because this was a very old school parish and I'm very talkative even in the confessional- in the confessional I told the priest this was my second confession etc... and that I had forgotten all the awful things I had said about and proceeded to list off all the errant Catholic priests and nuns. When I was done, he instructed me that I did not need to say the names of the priests and nuns. I said "I know that Father, I just did it in hopes you'd understand why I was led into saying the things I did and go easy on me."

The Father, Father Perrone, who is so old school it's almost frightening (but not really), broke out in such loud laughter I believe the people outside the confessional heard him...

The Enemy does cause even the best of people to do bad things. Very bad things. Thank goodness for the Church who continually instructs.

Mrs. Peperium

Now, I just walked through my dining room and got hit upside the head by two framed things on the wall --both signed by President Harry Truman.

Now, I'm going to defend a Democrat. Yes, Mr. Kimball war does cause people to do dreadful things doesn't it? Anyhoo, hanging on one of our dining room walls is the Purple Heart and a statement of grateful thanks for giving his life for his country of a relative of Mr. P's. He was a First Lieutenant killed in the Southwest Pacific Area on May 26, 1945.

Can you imagine being the President and having to sign those documents understanding how much pain would occur as each one landed at its final destination?

I could see how a President would want to do anything to stop from having to sign tens of thousands of those documents.


Mrs. P,
I can also see how a President would want to do anything to prevent more deaths and end the war. But (1) civilized nations have agreed that we are not allowed to do simply *anything* to end war (otherwise, for example, why would the Geneva Convention exist?), and (2) it wasn't Japanese civilians who bombed Pearl Harbor.

Churchill himself has admitted that initially England and America's policy was never to firebomb whole populations. Our moral code prevented it. But when Germany began to do it, the Allies dropped their scruples and firebombed as well, but on a far more destructive scale. From there it was a short step to justifying use of nuclear weapons. After permitting the incineration of Tokyo (a majority civilian population), I don't see why Truman would hesitate terribly long over vaporizing Hiroshima and Nagasaki (which contained more military targets). In all honesty, why would we drop our policy not to firebomb (driven by moral considerations to protect the innocent) simply because Germany did it? Is that not akin to telling a child he may murder and steal because others have done the same to his loved ones?

Mrs. Peperium

Christine, thank you. Clearly the morality of dropping the bomb is "butchery of untold magnitude." And yes, the Geneva Convention is in place (in hopes) to prevent civilized people from doing very uncivilized things to win wars.

I agree with the assessment of the Church. Yet, I can also see why the decision was made to drop it.

One of the strange things about our war with Japan is that it was Pearl Harbor that brought us into the War, we then devoted most of our strength (ok everyone recall this is a finishing school girl speaking and not a military authority) to the European arena of WWII. The "butchery of untold magnitude." that had occurred at the hands of the Nazis in Europe must be factored into the equation of our dropping the bomb. Plus also, the ignoring the threat of Hitler when he was little more than a paper tiger in the '30's. Or when Churchill was railing away in Parlaiment about the need to deal with him but the rest of the British Empire was more concerned with the true love of a daft Prince of Wales.

Now going anecdotal again (brace yourself), one day as Catholics in Maine we came out of Church. There was a visitng priest at the Bar Harbor Church from the D.C. diocese who spoke with an Irish brogue. He was very jolly and greeted the departing flock. The couple ahead of us were British. Recognizing their accents he asked them where they were from. "Coventry." He said something like "Coventry. Why how long has your family been there?" The response included something like before the war. Upon hearing this Mr. P's countenance began changing from upbeat and cheerful to stomach churning. He started mumbling about Coventry and shaking his head. The priest also started talking openly with the people about how awful Coventry had been. I recall him saying something like how afraid Churchill had been that the rest of England found out what had happened there (in terms of destruction), they would have demanded the end of the war - or capitulation to the Nazis.

As we headed back to the house I asked Mr. P about Coventry. What I recall was that England had broken the German code. Coventry was an ammunitions building area or something. The Germans were planning a full scale attack on Coventry. Churchill allowed the attack to go forward on Coventry by the Germans because it was more important to the winning of the war to not let Germany know they had cracked their code. The attack was brutal and 1000's of innocent were murdered and maimed. I even think there was an information blackout on the details.

Then there is the attack Churchill ordered on the French fleet to destroy it before the Germans got it. That attack killed a few thousand of England's allies -French soldiers. Because it was more important to destroy the fleet than allow the Nazis to gain hold of it.

But back to Japan. We get into the war because of them and we then trot most of our troops off to Europe. OK...plus we do battle in the Asian Pacific theater.

It is not for me to judge the decision to drop the bomb. Again, I agree with the Church's assessment.

War does cause people to do horrible things.

And sometimes horrible things are done to prevent more horrible things from occuring.

We also at this point could bring in the theory of Total War brought about by the French Revolution. If I recall correctly, the Japanese royal family has long modeled itself after the French/European model. They also may have modeled the way they mobilized their war effort by hiding military targets among the women and children in the Total War theory.

Prior to the Total War theory, the military was under the wing of the Church. Soldiers (knights) pledged to protect women and children. Then that was all wiped away.

Also, the doctrine of Papal Infallibility comes into to play too...

This all is most challenging...


If you permit me, I shall take a turn at the anecdotal... Ordinarily I avoid the cinema, excepting British dramas and old American classics, but some friends convinced me to patronize the local theater last week. How providential that now seems, for "The Bourne Ultimatum" holds interesting relevance for this discussion. The hero is a repenting assassin trying to discover his past, which involves brainwashing and false passports among other things. As it would turn out (SPOILER), he freely chose to become a brainwashed assassin because the CIA promised him that he would save American lives by so doing. Well, being the conscientious sort of man inspired by rhetoric of that kind, he soon found it difficult to kill total strangers point blank without any knowledge of the why or wherefore.

I am sure we all agree about this, but when sticky moral questions arise it is often helpful to recall the principles at stake - souls are more important than bodies and cannot be endangered for the sake of avoiding physical danger.

Incidentally, I am of the radical opinion that if we cannot have a confessional Catholic state, persecution would probably benefit the Church more than religious freedom.

Mrs. Peperium

Excellent anecdote Lorraine. Thank you.

Yes we can agree, most definitely.

And yes, sadly, persecution probably does benefit the Church more.

And happy belated birthday. I never knew that about the jolly aspect. My mother can be very jolly too.

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