The Moral Use of Nukes

by Jimmy Akin

in Moral Theology

Moon I was a bit surprised that some commenters on the recent Harry Truman was a war criminal post thought that I was being vague in some of the things I said. I think a careful reading of the post would take care of the confusion, but I'm also aware that sometimes things need to be explained in more than one way for perfect clarity, so I'm happy to oblige.

In this post let me deal with the issue of the moral use of nukes. 

First, let's look at something the Catechism says:

2314 "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." A danger of modern warfare is that it provides the opportunity to those who possess modern scientific weapons – especially atomic, biological, or chemical weapons – to commit such crimes.

This passage specifically has in mind the kind of actions that the U.S. committed in bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Those events are specifically what informs this paragraph.

While this is true, I do think that there are situations in which the moral use of nuclear weapons is morally legitimate, even if it means that a city is destroyed as a result. Hiroshima and Nagasaki
weren't such cases, but I can imagine scenarios in which this obtains.

How would I square that with the above passage from the Catechism?

They key, I think, is the phrase "indiscriminate destruction." So far as I can tell, this means one of two things.

First, it may refer to an indiscriminate intent on the part of those causing the destruction.That is, those causing the destruction intend to kill everybody in the city or area indiscriminately. They want everybody to die. Everybody is the target. In other words, on the level of intent they do not discriminate between combatants and noncombatants. That's why the destruction is indiscriminate.

In contrast to this there is the attitude of only intending the death of combatants. In this case it is combatants who are the targets, even though it may beforeseen that noncombatants will also die as collateral damage. 

If we take this down from the level of destroying a city or a vast area to just a particular building, the difference in intent will be clear: There is a fundamental difference in intent between a person who wants to destroy a building so that everyone in it dies, combatant or not, and a person who wants to destroy a building in order to take out the combatants in it, even though noncombatants may also die.

In the one case the target is everybody in the building. In the other it is the combatants in the building.

This kind of analysis is what allows the moral legitimacy of bombing combat-related targets in wartime even knowing that a certain number of civilians will die also. The point is: You're not trying to kill the civilians.

How much collateral damage can be tolerated in a particular case will depend on the value of the military target that is being taken out. If the military target is a single, lonely private then less collateral damage can be tolerated than if it's the whole leadership of the opposing war machine.

In any event, on this reading of the text, trying to take out a military target with tolerable collateral damage would not constitute indiscriminate destruction because those carrying out the destruction do discriminate between combatants and noncombatants.

But there is another way in which the phrase can also be taken. Instead of referring to the level of intent, it might refer to the level of result. In this case "indiscriminate destruction" would refer to the killing of everybody in a city or area. Period.

A consequence of this interpretation would be that one could never destroy a city or a vast area as a matter of principle. It would be intrinsically evil to do so.

But this seems wrong because at this point we are dealing with matters of scale. What makes something a city rather than a village or a hamlet or just a shack? The number of people. (Not the buildings; the buildings are not in focus.) 

But if some collateral damage is tolerable–ever–(e.g., you can blow up a shack containing a terrorist mastermind and his chief lieutenants even though there is a single civilian in there, too)–then reason indicates that a greater degree of collateral damage will be tolerable if the target to be taken out is more valuable. 

If some degree of collateral damage is tolerable when the military target has one value then a greater degree of collateral damage will be tolerable when the military target has even greater value. In other words, the amount of collateral damage that can be tolerable is proportionate to the value of the target to be destroyed.

If this kind of situation obtains then it does not seem reasonable to say that, at some arbitrary level, the amount of collateral damage is such that the act suddenly becomes intrinsically immoral. Anyone advocating such a theory would need to say what this level is and why a mere increase in magnitude–leaving everything else the same–makes the act intrinsically evil regardless of the military value of the target. 

Why is a collateral damage amount of X potentially justifiable whereas a collateral damage amount of X+1 is all of a sudden intrinsically unjustifiable?

This being the case, it would seem possible to construct scenarios in which there is a sufficiently high value target to justify the destruction of a whole city, and we will look at such a scenario in a moment.

I therefore would say that the passage from the Catechism and Vatican II that refers to "indiscriminate destruction" either should be taken as referring to an indiscriminate intent (i.e., an intent that does not discriminate between targets; it just wants to kill everybody) or, if it refers to indiscriminate results (i.e., everybody dies, regardless of combatant status) then the passage is simply not envisioning the kind of scenario I am about to postulate.

The latter wouldn't be surprising since the Catechism and Vatican II are pastoral documents that are meant to present Catholic principles in a pastoral manner and they are not always phrased in a rigorously technical fashion designed to cover all imaginable scenarios.

Like the following one (which I am very sure the fathers of Vatican II did not have in mind).

Suppose the following . . . 

1) We have colonized Luna (or "the Moon," as everyone who lives there calls it) and have set up a city in the Sea of Tranquility consisting of five million people. We'll call it Sea of Tranquility City.

2) There is an evil alien race known as the Zergamoids. They are really evil. Even their name sounds evil (in a cheesy, 1930s-sci-fi way).

3) The Zergamoids have dropped a planetkiller in the middle of Sea of Tranquility City. This particular planetkiller converts zero point energy into gamma rays and, if activated, it will irradiate the entire surface of Earth with as much radiation as a moderately-nearby gamma-ray burster, totally killing all life.

4) There is a Zergamoid ship in orbit around Mars, and it sent the activation code to the planetkiller ten minutes ago.

iv>
5) We have no way to stop the planetkiller from receiving this transmission and, since Mars is at this hypothetical time only twenty light minutes from Earth (approximately on the other side of the Sun from Earth), we've got ten minutes until the go-code activates the planetkiller.

6) This is far too little time to evacuate either Earth or Sea of Tranquility City.

7) The planetkiller is sufficiently resistant to damage that the only way to take it out is to use a nuke sufficiently powerful to not only destroy the machine but also destroy Sea of Tranquility City.

In these circumstances, it would be morally legitimate to nuke the planetkiller even though it would mean that Sea of Tranquility City, with its five million inhabitants, would also be destroyed.

Therefore, there are at least hypothetical situations in which the use of nukes in urban areas is morally legitimate.

In such cases you aren't targeting the civilian population. You're targeting something else–a military target (in this case, a planetkiller) that has sufficient value to make the huge foreseen collateral damage tolerable.

Now, I can see some hands going up in the audience, and I can hear the objection being formulated: "But wait! Nothing like this is likely to happen in real life . . . anytime soon."

Quite true.

But the point of a thought experiment is to propose a test case which is clear, regardless of how probable it is. While this situation is quite unlikely to happen any time in the foreseeable future, it does reveal the moral principles needed to show that in some imaginable situations the use of nuclear weapons in urban areas is morally permissible.

That's not to say that we're at all likely to encounter such a situation, or that we ever have or even ever will, but it is to show that such use can be legitimate in a specific kind of situation.

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{ 117 comments }

The Masked Chicken May 8, 2009 at 5:03 am

This sounds like a straightforward use of the doctrine of double effect.
In reality, everyone on the moon would just wear their tin foil hats and that would deflect the activation beam :)

SDG May 8, 2009 at 5:18 am

Heh heh. I know you well enough, Jimmy, to have foreseen from the outset the sort of scenario you would posit, but it was still fun to watch you do it.

“That’s not to say that we’re at all likely to encounter such a situation, or that we ever have or even ever will, but it is to show that such use can be legitimate in a specific kind of situation.”

And this, I think, is key. Just because a hypothetical scenario can be imagined doesn’t mean we are now opening the floodgates to the moral use of nukes in warfare generally.
If it turns out that, say, waterboarding in a TTB scenario is licit, the same principle would apply: As many opponents of waterboarding have pointed out, TTB scenarios are vanishingly rare (I’ve never heard of one), and allowing the possibility of waterboarding in a hypothetical TTB scenario does not prevent us from condemning it in the vast majority or even all real-life scenarios.

Reason May 8, 2009 at 5:48 am

Thankfully, you weren’t running the country during World War II. We would have lost the war but I’m sure our new Japanese and German masters would have been very fond of you. Stick to Battlestar Galactica.

Bryan Cross May 8, 2009 at 6:47 am

Jimmy,
The planetkiller is sufficiently resistant to damage that the only way to take it out is to use a nuke sufficiently powerful to not only destroy the machine but also destroy Sea of Tranquility City.
This is why thought-experiments are not reliable guides, because it is very easy to imagine things that are far-fetched, wholly unrealistic, or even impossible. The stipulation you give here seems entirely arbitrary and unrealistic. Apparently we have lost precision-guided technology and ‘bunker-busting’ technology, but we retain nuclear weapon technology. Apparently, we have no similar technology that can aim some directed electro-magnetic radiation at the device, and disable it without destroying the whole colony. Right. If we had seen this type of scenario coming, and done nothing to design weapons that destroy this sort of device without destroying the whole colony, then we would be still be guilty by culpable negligence for the deaths of all those persons who died as a result of the use of the nuclear weapon.
In the peace of Christ,
- Bryan

BillyHW May 8, 2009 at 7:22 am

One could easily imagine alternative realistic scenarios as well. Jimmy was just trying to make a point.
How about an evil tyrant is very close to developing a biological weapon that will kill all human life on earth in a lab buried deep underneath a very well defended city?

Paul May 8, 2009 at 8:15 am

These Zergamoids should all be slaughtered for violation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

Terence M. Stanton May 8, 2009 at 8:16 am

A.M.D.G.
We know for a fact that Japan wouldn’t have surrendered after Hiroshima. They almost had a coup after Nagasaki. There was actually a plot to kidnap the emperor during the peace signing ceremony.
We have to go back and look closely at the campaign in Okinawa which was started on April 1st and the United States military did not declare the island secure until July 2nd. That was about seventy days before the surrender. It was the most deadly campaign for our Marine Corps.
It was also the deadliest campaign for the Japanese: 100,000 Japanese killed, 100,000 Okinawans killed. There were 50,000 American casualties and wounded, missing and killed — and that was just a foretaste of what was going to come with an invasion. If some people say, “Well, maybe we didn’t have to invade,” then they should look at what Curtis Lemay had as an alternate solution; bringing B-17’s and 24’s, Lancasters and B-29’s and putting them on Okinawa to continue the incendiary raids of Japan. That would have been a bloodbath. So any calculus you have for achieving a non-conditional surrender would have cost more lives.
If you take the third alternative and say, “Well, we didn’t have to have an unconditional surrender,” then critics should look and see what the Japanese army was doing in places like the Phillipines, Korea and China up until the last days of the war. They were continuing a pattern of systematic butchery and execution. That was not discussed too much in my college history classes. They were just as bad in some ways if not worse as the Nazis and the Soviets were. They were quite simply a barbaric military and the only thing that put them out of business was the U. S.
Putting an immediate end to that makes Truman a war criminal? Should he have jumped in a time machine and gone twenty years in the future to consult the Second Vatican Council? To make a blanket statement as Mr. Akin does about Truman is absurd. I would say that roughly 100% of the free world was with Truman on this one in 1945. Armchair moralists who have never fired a shot in anger and don’t know a thing about defending a nation would be wise to mind their tongues as they condemn a man who provided them with the very freedom they now use to denigrate him. I suppose this should not surprise me, however. This is the nature of democracy. A prime example would be the Athenian generals who were often executed after winning battles because the people were not thrilled about the manner in which the battle was won.

Martin May 8, 2009 at 8:23 am

If we developed the atomic bomb in time to use it against the Japanese troops entrenched in Okinawa and used it there, would it have been moral? I think so. I think the use of atomic weapons in this way would have been moral and would still have allowed victory in WWII. The problem, though, is that we only had enough 235U for 1 weapon and enough 239Pu for two (one for practice). Would two atomic weapons used against troops and other military targets been sufficient to force a Japanese surrender? I’m glad I wasn’t in Truman’s shoes.

J.M.J. West May 8, 2009 at 8:24 am

While I agree with your story and the principle behind it, I have to admit I feel nauseous and dirty considering it.
Maybe I’m just a Zergamoid-sympathizer…

SDG May 8, 2009 at 8:29 am

Terence M. Stanton: See Means, Ends, Unjustified by.

Terence M. Stanton May 8, 2009 at 9:06 am

A.M.D.G.
SDG – I’d say that the preservation of the free world and the elimination of the most savage empire of the 20th century would qualify. Every last man, woman and child in Japan was prepared to kill American G.I.’s. They would have fought with sticks and stones if they had to. The modern American mind cannot comprehend this mind-set. Their dedication to the Emperor was akin to the jihadists devotion to Allah. Perhaps this is also why so many fail to understand the danger of Islamofascism. They regarded him as a living god.
I am all ears to hearing the perfect, justified, pain-free, bloodless, Church Father-approved military solution to ending World War II.

SDG May 8, 2009 at 9:27 am

I’d say that the preservation of the free world and the elimination of the most savage empire of the 20th century would qualify.

I’m not sure you’re quite getting the fullness of the concept “Means, Ends, Unjustified by.”
Saying “The end was really, really, really important” does not help. At all.

Every last man, woman and child in Japan was prepared to kill American G.I.’s. They would have fought with sticks and stones if they had to.

Maybe so, maybe not, but that we didn’t nuke Hiroshima and Nagasaki in order to stop the men, women and children in those cities from killing American GIs with sticks and stones. We did it to horrify and demoralize the nation into surrendering.

I am all ears to hearing the perfect, justified, pain-free, bloodless, Church Father-approved military solution to ending World War II.

I don’t recall anyone saying that jus in bello required “pain-free” and “bloodless” means. That would be silly.

Joe S May 8, 2009 at 9:29 am

If you don’t want to read Richard Frank’s entire book, he summarized it in an article for the Weekly Standard. It’s about a 10 minute read.
http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000%5C000%5C005%5C894mnyyl.asp?pg=1

Paul May 8, 2009 at 9:42 am

Is it possible to be a good Catholic without accepting the principle of double effect?

SDG May 8, 2009 at 9:58 am

Is it possible to be a good Catholic without accepting the principle of double effect?

I might want to know what one would put in its place before answering. If the question is “Is it possible to be a good Catholic while accepting consequentialist or proportionalist ethics, i.e., any means whatsoever can be justified by a sufficient end?” then the answer is no.

Mike Petrik May 8, 2009 at 10:20 am

Mr. Stanton:
You might consider refraining from unhelpful hyperbole. No one is condemning President Truman, who undoubtedly was in a terribly tough spot and made his decision in good faith. But his decision does appear to have been intrinsically wrong, which means that it cannot be justified by resort to analyzing comparative consequences. Even the best men with the best of intentions can commit moral error, especially under difficult circumstances.
I will always admire Truman, even if I concede that the bombings were likely morally wrong. I bet that this is true for Mr. Akin and most of the combox contributors as well.

RC2 May 8, 2009 at 10:36 am

Jimmy, thank you for bringing this up.
In 1995 the US finally declassified all the Japanese cables the US intercepted in the lead-up to the war. It’s no longer a matter of speculation: the Japanese had already outright rejected an offer of peace that allowed them to maintain the Imperial system.
Operation Downfall would have cost 5-10 million Japanese lives, including about 5 million Japanese civilians, a figure our generals arrived at from the kill rates at the Battle of Okinawa. An additional million American soldiers would die, with casualties estimated in the tens of million.
Total deaths, including from leukemia at Hiroshima & Nagasaki: @220,000.
It may be the case that the Magisterium of the Church says that faced with a choice between years of war that would take millions of lives, or dropping the bomb and taking 220,000, Truman was morally required to accept the death of millions, including Japanese civilians (there were no smart bombs in the 40s), but in that I case I cannot understand magisterial teaching.
Of course, he could have surrendered or resigned. Isn’t that the only moral option we’ve left Truman? If that’s really our position, I think we have to understand what we’re really saying is that no Catholic could honestly take the oath of office of the President of the United States. Is that what the Magisterium teaches? Or are we possibly misreading the Magisterium?
I’m not asking a rhetorical question, I’m seriously interested in how people think about this question.

Pat May 8, 2009 at 10:51 am

RC2,
I am with you on how to answer these questions. I am a serious Roman Catholic. I come to this site precisely to help me think through these type of things.

ChristopherY May 8, 2009 at 10:53 am

Here are some concrete examples of when it would be morally permissible to use nukes.
1. To destroy a flotilla of enemy ships and boats bent on invasion. Kinda like a D-Day style attack, but on the United States.
2. To obliterate nuclear missle launch facilities. SCUD missles were designed to be launched from mobile units and could be equiped with nuclear war heads. If a number of them were in a single area they could be taken out with one of our missles.
3. To destroy a group of bombers headed for a high value target. This was actually the role of the Nike Missles that were based in a ring around Washington, DC.
Granted, I really hope that nuclear arms are never used again.

Matheus May 8, 2009 at 10:54 am

…what we’re really saying is that no Catholic could honestly take the oath of office of the President of the United States.

Let the game begin…

Mike Petrik May 8, 2009 at 11:11 am

RC2 and Pat,
The problem that you two are having is that you are evaluating the morality of the act solely by reference to comparative consequences. This is appropriate only if one first concludes the act is not intrinsically immoral.
Perhaps this example would be helpful:
A group of men take ten innocent people hostage, all your relatives. They then inform you that if you kill a certain third party unrelated to you, they will allow the innocents to go free; otherwise they will murder them. Do you kill the selected innocent? If one resorts to examining consequences, this would appear to be the just result since it saves many lives. It is nonetheless morally impermissible because one is never permitted to murder an innocent person, even if it saves the lives of others. While one might “feel” that a failure to murder the assigned innocent renders him responsible for the the deaths of the others, Catholic teaching is clear that such moral culpability rests with the person who actually killed them.
By analogy, while it is indeed likely that a decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved many more lives, the targeting of civilians was nonetheless intrinsically immoral and therefore cannot be sustained. Had Truman refrained from these bombings and millions more died as a consequence, the moral culpability would have rested with the Japanese leadership, not Truman.

Joseph D'Hippolito May 8, 2009 at 11:13 am

[RULE 1 VIOLATION DELETED]

Joseph D'Hippolito May 8, 2009 at 11:13 am

[RULE 1 VIOLATION DELETED]

Joseph D'Hippolito May 8, 2009 at 11:13 am

[RULE 1 VIOLATION DELETED]

SDG May 8, 2009 at 11:17 am

Mr. D’Hippolito: Stay on topic, do not abuse other posters (or your host) and try not to be gratuitously offensive.

Mike Petrik May 8, 2009 at 11:20 am

I should add that if the protaginist in my example chose to murder the selected innocent in order to save the lives of his family, he would be a murderer, but only in the most technical sense. While morally culpable, the elements of coercion and temptation under the circumstances would certainly distinguish him from the typical murderer in the eyes of any reasonable person, and presumably God as well. Similarly, if Truman was a war criminal, he was only in the most technical sense, if one assumes his motives were to save lives. While morally culpable, such culpablity was not reasonably comparable to that of the Japanese and German war criminals tried and convicted after the War. Consequently, usage of the term “war criminal” is harsh and inflammatory, and probably not especially helpful, under the circumstances, even if it can be justified technically.

Pat May 8, 2009 at 12:18 pm

Mike,
Thanks for responding. That was helpful. The question about “…what we’re really saying is that no Catholic could honestly take the oath of office of the President of the United States” made by RC2 is something I have thought about. Actually, I think what I would say is that it seems virtually impossible (for instance in the last election) that an Orthodox Catholic could even get elected to the Presidency. I’m thinking here of the issue of contraception. Not even Sarah Palin was against contraception. And, I’m not sure how the ol’ ” well I don’t believe in it… but, it’s not my place to…” arguement would work

Mike Petrik May 8, 2009 at 12:36 pm

Pat,
You raise a fair point. While there is nothing in Catholic teaching that would prevent a faithful Catholic from holding the office of president and fulfilling its constitutional requirements, certainly the large divide between our nation’s popular understanding of morality and our Church’s teaching of true morality makes it difficult for a faithful Catholic to be elected or make popular decisions if elected.

SDben5 May 8, 2009 at 12:42 pm

I don’t know the details of WW2. But did the US consider any of these options?
Most of the Japanese population is located in laege cities near the coast. Could the US have prewarned the population of these cities and dropped a bomb off shore from several of these cities to demonstrate the effectiveness of the weapon? (Not considering tidal wave effects from the blast, which may have been less the deaths from a direct hit on a city. Tidal wave damage would also be more specific to coastal installations, i.e. harbors, and navy installations)
Did the US consider dropping an atomic bomb in an low inhabited area of Japan to demonstrate effectiveness or on a military base isolated from major population centers? I’m not even sure if any such military base existed in Japan in WW2.

Mike Petrik May 8, 2009 at 1:08 pm

SDben5,
I believe the answer is yes to all your questions. If you are interested, a fairly simple Google search will reveal a lot of interesting history. The bottom line is that they were considered and rejected for reasons that were understandable even if not necessarily correct. Bear in mind, however, that most Catholic moral theologians assert that threatening to do something that is intrinsically immoral is itself immoral, whether or not you actually intend to do it. My point is that there is no easy escape from the reality that making the moral decision in Truman’s case would probably have cost countless more lives. Does this fact mitigate Truman’s culpability? I would say that it does. Just as dropping the bombs as a pure act of revenge or bigotry would aggravate such culpability.

The Masked Chicken May 8, 2009 at 1:30 pm

Dear Mike Petrik,
Given the inconsistent interpretations of what constitutes Constitutional principles by the Supreme Court, it is possible that someday, either they will give an interpretation of an aspect of the Constitution that goes against Catholic principles or an amendment will be passed that violates them. The Constitution is not a Catholic document, per se, but was written during a time when it was still possible to put religiously motivated ideas into governmental documents. If it is not, now, impossible for a Catholic to be president, if we do not act to help influence governmental policies according to the light of good reasoning and moral correctness, it may be, some day soon.
The Chicken

Mike Petrik May 8, 2009 at 1:40 pm

Dear TMC,
I certainly acknowledge the risk you describe. I would distinguish, however, between a constitional decision or amendment that is inimical to Catholic teaching versus one that requires that a constitional officer commit an immoral act in order to uphold the constitution. The former is far more likely than the latter (Roe and Dred Scott are good examples, though both are distinctive for their poor constitutional reasoning). That said, the latter can certainly be imagined and as you suggest we should all be admonished to do our best to prevent it.

RC2 May 8, 2009 at 1:59 pm

Mike, thank you for your response, and before I respond I want to make the public assertion that I am a believer working through a difficulty, not a dissenter, and I appreciate the interaction.
However, all you seem to be doing is reiterating the injunction against the targeting of civilians, which I have no difficulty understanding or expecting our leaders to comply with.
But that only means to me that you think Truman deliberately targeted civilians; I don’t think he did, in which case our difference isn’t one of principle but of application of principle to the facts.
Here is what Truman wrote in his diary about the bombings:
“The weapon is to be used against Japan between now and August 10th. I have told the Sec. of War, Mr. Stimson, to use it so that military objectives and soldiers and sailors are the target and not women and children. Even if the Japs are savages, ruthless, merciless and fanatic, we as the leader of the world for the common welfare cannot drop this terrible bomb on the old capital or the new [Kyoto or Tokyo].
“He [Stimson] and I are in accord. The target will be a purely military one and we will issue a warning statement [known as the Potsdam Proclamation] asking the Japs to surrender and save lives. I’m sure they will not do that, but we will have given them the chance. It is certainly a good thing for the world that Hitler’s crowd or Stalin’s did not discover this atomic bomb. It seems to be the most terrible thing ever discovered, but it can be made the most useful.”
Truman thought he was targeting military instillations, not women and children.
Furthermore, the conventional weapons of WWII were not like those of today –there were no smart bombs. Any bomb ever dropped on industrial targets (Nagasaki was the chief producer of ordnance for the Japanese; Hiroshima even moreso was a military industrial city. As targets they were on a par with the kinds of targets hit in Europe to defeat Germany)did enormous “collateral damage.”
Truman of course knew that many civilians would die from the atomic bombings –he said he cried for nights beforehand imagining the deaths, but he was not targeting them, he was targeting the Japanese military machine.
Had he ordered Operation Downfall, he would equally have known in advance that he would be firebombing many civilians –in fact many millions more women and children than likely to be taken by the atom bomb.
In WWII, any time you attacked a city you were pretty much attacking its citizenry indiscriminately –not by choice, but by the principle of double effect because of the lack of sophistication of the weapons.
So by what moral calculus could Truman have faced the choice of dropping the bombs and killing 200,000 but ending the war OR continuing the war for years, devastating an entire country (not just two cities) and killing millions of civilians slowly by fire and carpet bombing and chosen the latter? Who could make such a choice?
What is the principle –assuming we are not targeting innocents– that makes an atomic bomb worse than repeated carpet bombing? It seems to me the only thing we have against the atomic bomb is that we think it intrinsically targets civilians. I am skeptical that was true in the context of WWII, just as a factual matter.
It is certainly true now of a nuclear bomb versus smart bombs, and I am therefore inclined to think the Magisterial teaching looks forward to prevent the use of a nuke rather than backwards to tell us Truman was a war criminal.
At any rate, Jimmy’s wild scenario here seems to me to parallel Truman’s dilemma pretty well, actually, at least in my understanding of the facts of the case.
That said, I appreciate your willingness to say what Truman should have done (Ground War). When I’ve had this conversation with others, they’ve always been unwilling to choose and defend any course of action for Truman at all, which strikes me as dubiously moral. Our morality is useless if it can’t guide real men in actual situations.

A Curious Onlooker May 8, 2009 at 2:12 pm

I am interested to know how Catholicism reconciles the God who commanded Israel to execute every member of the Midianite people (women and children included) and bashing the heads of captured infants against stones with the God who says to love your enemy. I’m sorry for being a bit off topic but it somewhat goes along with trying not to harm the Japanese people. Did God mellow out or something? I’m not trying to be flip. It just seems like a stark contrast.

Mildred May 8, 2009 at 2:50 pm

Perhaps this example would be helpful: A group of men take ten innocent people hostage, all your relatives. They then inform you that if you kill a certain third party unrelated to you…
In the bombings, the only people killed were already among the “hostages” themselves. The “hostages” were not simply the U.S. military but the people of Japan and other occupied nations. In fact, one might argue that the entire world was being held hostage. The bombings were a rescue plan to save as many hostages as possible. No one who wasn’t already a hostage was at risk in the rescue plan. If one considers the hostages as a body of people, the rescue plan was an amputation of a body part to save the body. While the death of some hostages was a reasonably foreseeable effect of the rescue plan, it could be (as RC2 suggests) that the deaths were not Truman’s intent but only a foreseeable side-effect of the rescue plan to save the body.
Or, to use another example, the war itself was a runaway trolley. While it would be immoral to intentionally throw two cities into the path of a runaway trolley in order to stop it and keep it from hitting ten cities on the track ahead, it could be morally permissible to intentionally divert a runaway trolley onto a track holding two cities and away from a track holding ten, even if one reasonably foresees that the diversion would result in death of two as a side effect of saving the ten.
The issue of morality hinges on intent, and no one knows Truman’s intent but (perhaps) Truman. His writings and words might give clues, but that is all.

SDG May 8, 2009 at 3:01 pm

Or, to use another example, the war itself was a runaway trolley. While it would be immoral to intentionally throw two cities into the path of a runaway trolley in order to stop it and keep it from hitting ten cities on the track ahead, it could be morally permissible to intentionally divert a runaway trolley onto a track holding two cities and away from a track holding ten, even if one reasonably foresees that the diversion would result in death of two as a side effect of saving the ten.

However, if you are driving the trolley and a madman on the trolley demands that you deliberately run over and kill ten innocent pedestrians, or else he will murder all twenty passengers on the trolley, it is not permissible to do so, even though more people will die if you don’t.
Evil effects can be accepted as consequences of working for a good effect (as in the trolley episode you cite); they cannot be the means of bringing about the good effect.
That’s why Jimmy’s nuke-the-moon scenario works, even though a city-full of people dies, but Hiroshima and Nagasaki don’t.

The issue of morality hinges on intent

Not when an act is evil in is object. A good intent cannot rescue it.

RL1411 May 8, 2009 at 3:02 pm

Would it have been morally licit to use Mothra on the Japanese?

Phil W. May 8, 2009 at 3:05 pm

In my view, a combination of Jimmy’s interpretations #1 and #2 is the correct one. The words “indiscriminate destruction” refer to a destruction that is indiscriminate, as in #2. But, in the phrase “directed to the indiscriminate destruction”, the words “directed to” refers to the intention (main point of #1). Therefore, it is insintrically immoral to destroy whole cities so that you are intentionally doing it without discrimination.

Joe S May 8, 2009 at 4:32 pm

The ability of Europe’s pacifism become so pervasive is somewhat ironic, considering it has infected The Church in such a way that some members have branded President Truman and others as war criminals.
This pacifism was able to “flourish,” for the most part, because of the resolve of the U.S. and the umbrella of its armed forces. This resolve started with President Truman and General Marshall, among others. The first real test of this resolve and umbrella was the Berlin blockade and the subsequent airlift.
The commander of the U.S. Air Force in Europe at the time of the Berlin Airlift was General LeMay.

Terence M. Stanton May 8, 2009 at 5:06 pm

A.M.D.G.
Sorry, RC2. Your use of logic and common sense is not appreciated here. Move along. Don’t you know that the only posters taken seriously here are the ones you have special “moral theologian” decoder rings and graduated from war college?

Mildred May 8, 2009 at 5:06 pm

SDG,
Not when an act is evil in is object. A good intent cannot rescue it… Evil effects can be accepted as consequences of working for a good effect (as in the trolley episode you cite); they cannot be the means of bringing about the good effect.
It’s true that the end doesn’t justify the means, but you and Jimmy have confounded the means (bombing) with both intent and consequences by labelling the means as the intentional killing of innocent people (e.g. “deliberately run over and kill ten innocent pedestrians”) and thus are making it an issue of intent and (side)effects. The issue is, unless bombing is intrinsically evil, where is the evil? Bombing may reasonably be foreseen as incurring loss of innocent life, sometimes in large numbers, but that does not make bombing an evil act.
That’s why Jimmy’s nuke-the-moon scenario works, even though a city-full of people dies, but Hiroshima and Nagasaki don’t.
… in your opinion. Like anyone, you and Jimmy can value your opinions, but they are just opinions.

Wikipedia Debate May 8, 2009 at 5:37 pm
SDG May 8, 2009 at 6:29 pm

where is the evil?

The evil is 200,000 deaths, not as a foreseen but unwilled effect of an otherwise necessary act, but as the means to an end. It is not my opinion. It is the law of double effect.

Mildred May 8, 2009 at 6:42 pm

It is the law of double effect.
Then by the law of double effect, the “Hiroshima and Nagasaki scenario” is morally permissible.

Jake May 9, 2009 at 12:01 am

Yes, it is. The confusion between foreseen and intent is also significant in the debate over euthanasia. To an external observer (a movie camera), two actions can appear IDENTICAL, and be completely different morally because of the intention. If the intention of the atom bombings was to damage Japan’s war-making industry, even though it was foreseen that many civilians would be killed, and assuming the other criteria of the double-effect were met, the bombings were, (which I think is correct) – morally permissible.

Eagles Nest May 9, 2009 at 5:35 am

The post is fascinating and profound. I haven’t read the comments so I’m not sure if this has been added.
I would say Truman saved more lives in the end using the bomb. Conservative estimates of the amount of lives lost to invade Japan were one million. That was certainly the only other alternative to ending the war in the Far East.
The Japanese culture was in the grips of the bushido code. To label everyone as “innocents” would not hold true if that innocent person would grab a gun or do something akin to the suicide bombing that modern terrorists do. Many in that land would have done just that. The only option would have been to kill them.
I just can’t brand Truman a “war criminal”. One of the hardest things to defend is an action that prevents many deaths by having some deaths. Please forgive me for the numbers that I’m going to throw out but this is hard truth.
For example, the current War on Terror. Who knows how many more deaths there would be in this country if we didn’t go on offense? Total (and please correct me if I’m off slightly) deaths for the two bombings in Japan is around 300,000. Again, the estimates to invade Japan were one million.
I really don’t believe Truman was a war criminal. Although I pray another a-bomb never is dropped I believe the dropping of those two bombs did save more lives in the end.

The Thriller May 9, 2009 at 7:28 am

How can Truman be a war criminal when you are applying a Church teaching that didn’t exist at the time? There were no atomic bombs until 1945 and certainly no Church document preventing their usage. What you’re doing is retroactively convicted him for something that hadn’t been defined as being wrong. Was it wrong? Well, we’ve had a good debate here on it. However, the guys who used steroids in baseball before they were banned by the league technically didn’t break any rules because they didn’t exist at the time of what is now considered an infraction. Doesn’t Truman deserve the benefit of the doubt and not being slandered posthumously as a “war criminal”?
It can also be said that as practitioners of total war there were no civilians in Japan. The country as a whole was willing to kill Americans and were training to do just that up until the end. Truman was in an impossible situation: use the atom bomb and end the war killing a few hundred thousand…. Starve them to death via naval blockade and end the war (some estimates say about ten million would be killed in this fashion but there would still be a resistance you would have to defeat undoubtedly)…. Bomb them conventionally and kill millions more “civilians” and then still secure the home islands with a conventional land force…. Go from island to island in the most god awful bloodbath of hand-to-hand combat the world has ever seen killing every last Japanese who resisted (fifteen? twenty million or more?).
It seems as if what some are suggesting is that we can’t use the a priori knowledge that Japan’s entire citizenry would defend the emperor to the death and/or commit mass suicide. This information was readily available to the United States from the events on Okinawa and all of our intelligence reports. The statement is then made that we need to forget about all that, pretend the Japanese won’t resist or kill themselves and then go along fighting the “moral war” that ends in a catastrophic loss of life for America and virtually wipes out the entire nation of Japan? However, we didn’t use that nasty atom bomb and at least we have our morals.
The real world is a lot different from dissecting and cursing the actions of others from the comfort of your bedroom internet connection in a free, democratic country in the year 2009. Thank you, President Truman.

SDG May 9, 2009 at 8:23 am

Then by the law of double effect, the “Hiroshima and Nagasaki scenario” is morally permissible.

You can say the words, but you haven’t answered the argument.

The real world is a lot different from dissecting and cursing the actions of others from the comfort of your bedroom internet connection in a free, democratic country in the year 2009.

As has already been pointed out, (a) the year has nothing to do with it — the moral illegitimacy of terror bombing was understood and agreed upon by the Allies at the start of the war, and (b) nobody is “cursing” anybody’s actions.

The Masked Chicken May 9, 2009 at 8:36 am

Dear SDG,
I think Mildred misunderstood what you intended to say. The exchange was:
where is the evil?
The evil is 200,000 deaths, not as a foreseen but unwilled effect of an otherwise necessary act, but as the means to an end. It is not my opinion. It is the law of double effect.
Posted by: SDG | May 8, 2009 6:29:26 PM
It is the law of double effect.
Then by the law of double effect, the “Hiroshima and Nagasaki scenario” is morally permissible.
Posted by: Mildred | May 8, 2009 6:42:59 PM

Mildred can correct me, if I am wrong, but I think she read your remark to mean that “the evil of 200,000 dead as a means to an end…is the doctrine of double effect.” She read the last clause of the first sentence as defining double effect. In which case, she asked, probably confused, if killing as a means to an end is double effect, “then, by the law of double effect, the “Hiroshima and Nagasaki scenario” is morally permissible.?” [My editing of the comments].
I think she thought you said that double effect is the using a means to an end and since that happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, then by the law of double effect, Hiroshima and Nagasaki must be morally licit.
Just trying to clear up the confusion and keep the peace :)
The Double Confusing Chicken

Mildred May 9, 2009 at 8:41 am

You can say the words, but you haven’t answered the argument.
Like I said before, no one knows Truman’s intent (call it “Truman’s will” if you prefer) but (perhaps) Truman. His writings and words might give clues, but that is all. Truman is the only one who’s called to answer Truman’s argument. It was his decision and everyone else can but second guess it. Jake’s post was quite good.

SDG May 9, 2009 at 9:13 am

Like I said before, no one knows Truman’s intent (call it “Truman’s will” if you prefer) but (perhaps) Truman.

A good intention cannot redeem an act that, by the law of double effect, must be judged impermissible. In my madman-on-the-trolley scenario, no matter what the intentions of the driver, complying with the demand to run down innocent pedestrians in order to mollify the madman and prevent a greater number of deaths would always be impermissible.
Chicken’s post above may be helpful. To clarify, the law of double effect states, among other things, that a morally licit act may have evil consequences (such as a lot of civilians dying) that are unwilled but foreseen and accepted, as long as (a) the consequences of not acting can be foreseen as worse (which let’s stipulate is the case here), and (b) the evil consequences are an unavoidable side effect of acting for the good effect — not the means of achieving the good effect.
Terror bombing doesn’t pass the second criterion. Civilian deaths are not an unavoidable side effect of terror bombing, as they are in tactical bombing of military targets. Civilian deaths are the means to the end. It is precisely because dropping nukes can and does kill a whole lot of people that we dropped them, in the hope of horrifying and demoralizing the enemy into surrendering.

Mildred May 9, 2009 at 9:14 am

I think she thought you said that double effect is the using a means to an end and since that happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, then by the law of double effect, Hiroshima and Nagasaki must be morally licit.
No, I already expressed that using a means to an end is not licit if the means is evil. As my previous example about the trolley well shows, I’m not relying on SDG’s shuffling response for my definition of double effect. While SDG confounds the means (bombing) with the deaths, others maintain that the deaths were only a foreseen but unwilled side-effect of the act of bombing. By the law of double effect, if the deaths of innocent people were not willed by Truman, but only a foreseen but unwilled side-effect of the act of bombing, then his act of bombing was morally permissible. I understand that some people may have trouble seeing how bombing an entire city could be anything other than willing the deaths of innocent people, but I recognize that as only a limited view and not a necessary view. How Truman saw it is what counts, not how SDG or anyone else might see it or guess in regards to how Truman saw it.

The Masked Chicken May 9, 2009 at 10:11 am

Just to complete things, the act itself cannot be morally evil, even though the consequences might be. An operation to save a woman’s life that results, accidentally, in the death of her unborn baby or leaves her sterile, is morally permissible in those cases where the act of the operation is not, in itself, morally evil. If the purpose of the operation where to kill the baby, as in abortions, then it would not be morally permissible. If the purpose of the operation were to kill the baby to save the mother’s life, it would not be morally permissible. If the purpose of the operation is to save the mother, but it accidentally or consequentially kills the baby, then the doctrine of double effect takes. It is a subtle difference.
Here is a moral conundrum, however, that does go to the messiness in dealing with intention vs. act: Gen. Patton was relieved of duty for slapping a private he thought was afraid as a means of trying to “bring him out of it”. His intention was good (or so he thought), but the act was deemed one of improper force by a superior (it turned out the man’s nervous condition was the result of malaria and Patton apologized when he later found out the true nature of the condition). Contrast that with a father who swats his son who is playing the stereo with headphones on when his father is trying to ask him to take out the garbage. Both people think they have good intentions and the acts are the same, but in the one case, the result is a moral evil, whereas in the other the act is morally neutral or even permissible. The difference is that Patton’s act was objectively disordered with regards to knowledge and authority, whereas the father’s was not. Intentions must be combined with proper knowledge (or at least due diligence) and authority when contemplating an act. Defects in these areas can weaken or intensify culpability, depending on the situation.
Truman bombed innocent people, deliberately. It does no use to argue that they may have fought to the death at a future time. This is Minority Report thinking, writ large: “Let’s punish people for future crimes.” Deterrence is possible, but not by use of an evil means. This is like the Old West outlaw who kills one hostage to keep the others quiet.
Truman’s act was, objectively, evil. His intention might not have been and he might not have understood the nature of his act according to right reason. Truman was not Catholic. His moral upbringing might have included a different, erroneous understanding of how power should be applied. These are all mitigating factors. That is why I am reluctant to brand Truman a war criminal, even though he committed a war crime.
The Chicken

Igor Larionov May 9, 2009 at 10:27 am

“We have discussed among ourselves the ethics of the use of the bomb. Some consider it in the same category as poison gas and were against its use on a civil population. Others were of the view that in total war, as carried on in Japan, there was no difference between civilians and soldiers, and that the bomb itself was an effective force tending to end the bloodshed, warning Japan to surrender and thus to avoid total destruction. It seems logical to me that he who supports total war in principle cannot complain of war against civilians.” — Father John A. Siemes, professor of modern philosophy at Tokyo’s Catholic University, and an eyewitness to the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima

The Masked Chicken May 9, 2009 at 10:40 am

Dear Mildred,
Thanks for clarifying your understanding of SDG’s point. The discussion between the two of you was confusing to me.
The Chicken

SDG May 9, 2009 at 11:41 am

I understand that some people may have trouble seeing how bombing an entire city could be anything other than willing the deaths of innocent people, but I recognize that as only a limited view and not a necessary view. How Truman saw it is what counts, not how SDG or anyone else might see it or guess in regards to how Truman saw it.

How Truman saw it is not what counts, except as regards his personal culpability before God. It does not affect our efforts to assess the moral character of the act itself.
I am willing to grant that if Truman had reason to believe, or thought he had reason to believe, that there were Zergamoid planetkillers beneath Hiroshima and Nagasaki, then his decision to bomb might have been based on sound moral reasoning. I’m not being dogmatic or unreasonable, here. :-)
Morally speaking, though, the question before us isn’t ultimately “Was Truman morally culpable of terrorism?” (that’s for God to judge). The moral question before us is “Can we conclude that to act thus under these circumstances is morally justified, or not?”

By the law of double effect, if the deaths of innocent people were not willed by Truman, but only a foreseen but unwilled side-effect of the act of bombing, then his act of bombing was morally permissible.

Not quite. Simply declaring something a “foreseen but unwilled side-effect” does not exculpate us from moral responsibility.
For example, the deaths of innocent people run over by a truck may be the foreseen but unwilled side effects of the truck driver’s decision to drive at 90 miles an hour while ignoring stop signs and red lights. However, such an act cannot be judged permissible unless there is a proportionate reason for the driver to be driving at 90 miles an hour while ignoring stop signs and red lights — i.e., unless (a) the foreseen consequences of his not doing so are worse than the foreseen consequences of doing so, and (b) the evil consequences are the side effect, not the means, of achieving the good effect.
In the same way, as regards nuking a city, Jimmy has argued that such an act can be regarded as justified if there is a reason proportionate to the deaths of the people, i.e., if (a) the foreseen consequences of his not doing so are worse than the foreseen consequences of doing so, and (b) the evil consequences are the side effect, not the means, of achieving the good effect.
If anyone wishes to propose an end to be achieved by nuking Hiroshima and Nagasaki that is both proportionate to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and also not the effect of that evil consequence, I’m all ears.
Otherwise, Jimmy’s conclusion that it is only possible to see such an act as an act of terror bombing = terrorism = war crime seems unavoidable.

Otto May 9, 2009 at 1:26 pm

It always interested me as to what would have happened had the United States not nuked Japan. I wonder how the war would have played out and what would have been its ultimate conclusion.
That’s why I always loved “twist-a-plot” books.

Duke May 9, 2009 at 4:27 pm

The Japanese got exactly what they had coming to them. You mess with the bull, you get the horns. Lou Holtz complained to Bobby Bowden after he beat him like he stole something in a bowl game why he ran up the score. Saint Bobby responded, “it’s not my job to keep the game close… it’s yours”.
If they didn’t want their country incinerated maybe they shouldn’t have let a gang of thugs take it over and do their thinking for them. The Japanese were the schoolyard bully that finally ran into a bigger guy. It was the first (and last) time Japan ever made that mistake. I don’t care about your wimpy, pacifist arguments. Rough men with bad attitudes fight and win wars and leave you sallys to whine about it for the next hundred years.

The Masked Chicken May 9, 2009 at 4:41 pm

Dear Duke,
Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. [Matt 26:52]
The Chicken

SDG May 9, 2009 at 4:52 pm

I don’t care about your wimpy, pacifist arguments.

Do you care about lying? No one here has made any pacifist arguments that I can see.

Lou Holtz complained to Bobby Bowden after he beat him like he stole something in a bowl game why he ran up the score. Saint Bobby responded, “it’s not my job to keep the game close… it’s yours”.

A sports analogy in a discussion about nuclear war? Disgusting.

Joy Schoenberger May 9, 2009 at 6:25 pm

I’d like to see some analysis of the morality of a country HAVING nuclear weapons as a retaliatory deterrent to other country’s use of such weapons, as the U.S. and her allies have today.

Eagles Nest May 9, 2009 at 6:49 pm

This might be the first time I outright disagree with Jimmy. His arguments are not very cogent at all (for what it’s worth).
I honestly haven’t followed this thread as closely as SDG or many others. So it’s possible that somewhere along the line this upcoming question may have been answered by Jimmy or SDG. Hundreds of thousands of lives were lost getting the Japanese out of strategic atolls and spits of islands. Millions would have been lost to invade and conquer Japan. What else would you have had him do? The ground war? Attrition?
After the millions of deaths, the death camps being found, a war weary world, etc., etc., etc. I can’t even fathom the term “terrorist” to describe this. This term applied to this situation honestly leaves me aghast and embarassed that it’s used as commonplace. Truman a terrorist? My goodness! This is equating him someone who straps themselves with bombs and solely and deliberately targets innocents. Something Truman, as has been established by others, truly didn’t intend with the bombing.
Again, first time I truly disagree with Jimmy. Completely.

Eagles Nest May 9, 2009 at 7:05 pm

Actually, my question from my previous post was answered. It seems SDG would have opted for a ground war. I disagree with that option for already expressed reasons. Sorry for rehashing something already established.
Please someone help me. Can two Orthodox Catholics (both equally informed) truly disagree from a Catholic point of view on an issue just like this and still both be in a state of grace?
Also, can someone direct me to literature from the Church that applies teaching and expounds on this specific topic and others involving war?
Nonetheless, great post. I truly love the profundity of the arguments. Even those I disagree with. Thanks!

SDG May 9, 2009 at 7:51 pm

Truman a terrorist? My goodness! This is equating him someone who straps themselves with bombs and solely and deliberately targets innocents.Just to be clear, strapping a bomb to yourself is not necessarily a morally problematic act, even if you plan to die in the explosion.
If the target is a legitimate one and there is no other way to get the bomb into proximity, if your death is a foreseen and accepted but unwilled consequence, if the consequences of not acting are more serious than the consequence of acting, then it can be morally legitimate to smuggle a bomb to the target site and detonate it at the cost of your own life.
What differentiates terrorism is not strapping bombs to oneself. Terrorists strap bombs to themselves because they lack the luxury of more sophisticated and less dire delivery systems. If terrorists could rain smart bombs on markets and parks as well as military establishments, they would certainly do so.
The moral differentia of terrorism, what makes terrorism terrorism in a moral sense, is not nature of the delivery system, but the nature of the target and the tactics. Terrorists target civilian targets, i.e., targets that lack tactical military significance, in order to produce terror and degrade the enemy’s morale and political will to resist.
Terror bombing of civilian targets, as practiced by in WWI the Germans and in WW2 by (at first) the Nazis and (later) the Allies, seems to be morally indistinguishable from acts of terrorism. The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are simply an extreme example of the same thing.
So, in answer to the comment “This is equating him someone who straps themselves with bombs and solely and deliberately targets innocents,” Truman did target innocents, and since strapping a bomb to yourself is not the issue, the equation is simply a factual one.

SDG May 9, 2009 at 7:52 pm

P.S. Eagle’s Nest, I’ll get back to your other questions tomorrow if I can.

manic mechanic May 10, 2009 at 12:26 am

Terrorists target civilian targets, i.e., targets that lack tactical military significance, in order to produce terror and degrade the enemy’s morale and political will to resist.
Since when do terrorists drop leaflets warning of a major bombing attack?

manic mechanic May 10, 2009 at 12:33 am

A sports analogy in a discussion about nuclear war? Disgusting.
Claiming that Truman is a war criminal and that our bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a terrorist act is what is truly disgusting here.

Tarvis Adravida May 10, 2009 at 12:51 am

Since when do terrorists drop leaflets warning of a major bombing attack?
The IRA has been known to do exactly that.

Eagles Nest May 10, 2009 at 5:52 am

I don’t believe that rudimentary means alone qualifies you as a terrorist. You can be a terrorist with an airplane as you can be with a roadside IED. I wrote the terrorist “solely and deliberately targets innocents”. I might add that they are cowards and expect that most of us would know what that means, and in what context, but in a forum with passionate opinons that comment would be twisted and spun ad nauseum (i.e. A soldier who shots an enemy combatant that isn’t looking at him to protect his mate. This isn’t cowardice but some might twist it as such). Those are not the only qualifications but they certainly predominate my view of a terrorist.
Now again, some points.
-Truman was aiming for military installations.
-The majority of these innocents supported the military aggressiveness and usurpation of the Japanese and they would grab a gun, sword, torch, or pitchfork should the United States invade. To label them as innocents can be quite fallacious. I believe it is.
-Truman did know innocents would lose their lives. He weeped and mourned at this fact. I hate to play a numbers game with lives but the hard fact is … more were saved with the bombing than through a ground war. It is the lesser of two extreme evils.
I believe the debate comes down to whether one can look at the act with outright objectivity as you can some of the other acts of the war. I disagree with taking that view. I don’t look at the Rape of Nanking, the Nazi death camps, the uprooting of a whole generation of people that predated the decision of the bombing on the same evil sinful stage as the bombing itself. I believe it was the lesser evil of two options to end an even bigger evil. God forgive me if this is wrong but I truly believe that.
SDG, I really look forward to the response about my question of two Catholics disagreeing on an issue like this and whether both are in a state of grace. Thanks!

SDG May 10, 2009 at 9:27 am

I wrote the terrorist “solely and deliberately targets innocents”.

Eagles Nest, in passing (between Mass and visiting friends), would you therefore say that if terrorists target military targets as well as innocents, they are not terrorists? Also, if the Palestinians have legitimate grievances against the Israelis and the Israeli people do nothing about it, are they truly “innocent”?

Eagles Nest May 10, 2009 at 10:28 am

Fine questions SDG. To the first, I think it’s a question about semantics. Using a term like “terrorist” is (sadly) subjective. I read it and think about heinous atrocities. Another might look at it and think “to invoke terror” and that can include a burglar, a bully, or a brawny man trying to intimidate. These issues of vernacular come up a lot in discussions. A true lexiconagrapher can answer this question. You know where I side.
Obviously modern day terrorists target military installations and targets. To me, of course this doesn’t undress them from the label “terrorist”. Terrorists aren’t conventional fighters in a war (So are special ops across the world terrorists? Of course not!). It again goes back to an issue of semantics. Anyone can nitpick whatever definition I come up with and render this a perpetual issue. Still, it is a great question and I’m not trying to delegitamize it. But it’ll go on forever.
As for the second question … oh dear! Again, it seems like semantics. Anyway I answer that will most certainly open a can of worms. A jug of worms. A huge tankard of a goblet of a tank of worms. I would need more specificity on the actual grievance and non retaliation to be comfortable answering that.

manic mechanic May 10, 2009 at 1:30 pm

The IRA has been known to do exactly that.
Oh okay, the IRA is a terrorist group. The IRA did something we did, hence we must also be a terrorist group. Brilliant.

SDG May 10, 2009 at 3:14 pm

manic mechanic: You missed a logical beat there. The argument being made is not that the IRA’s use of advance leaflet warnings proves that we are terrorists, but that our use of them doesn’t prove that we aren’t.
Sorry for the hit-and-run postings. Been in and out all day.

adam May 10, 2009 at 3:23 pm

Three thoughts:
I’m surprised there can is any argument about this at all from the Catholic perspective. The Catechism, our bishops, and the Pope have consistently questioned modern warfare and nuclear weapons. JPII has famously questioned if any war today can be considered just, let alone a war which uses nuclear weapons
2. I once heard a detailed presentation from a survivor of Hiroshima. If you ever have the opportunity please take it up. I think the personal perspective makes it easier to understand the words “indiscriminate killing.”
3. I believe that “collateral damage” is an euphemism for “innocent life,” and following the consistent ethic of life theory which Cardinal Bernadin graciously articulated for us I think we would do well to speak of innocent life in regards to nuclear weapons as we do with abortion and other intrinsic evils.

SDG May 10, 2009 at 3:32 pm

JPII has famously questioned if any war today can be considered just

He did? Source?

Joseph D'Hippolito May 10, 2009 at 4:34 pm

Adam, the “consistent ethic of life” is nonsense. Those who advocate it also advocate the abolition of capital punishment, which God commanded to be used against convicted murderers because capital punishment is the only proportional punishment for murder, in God’s eyes. The abolitionist movement is grounded more in the influence of secularism than in Church teaching, JPII notwithstanding.
Besides, just on a common-sense basis, one cannot equate abortion with capital punishment with war, since none of these things are the same. Is war always wrong, as abortion supposedly is in the Church’s eyes? When a peacful nation is attacked by an aggressive neighbor — especially a particularly tyrannical, imperialist one — is it supposed to just knuckle under or should it resist? If you said “knuckle under,” then you would have supported Vichy France, the collaborationist government that worked with the Nazis during WWII.
Finally, Adam, how is “just war” supposed to “work” when the opponent is fanatically genocidal, like the Nazis used to be and the Islamists are today? And if you don’t believe the Islamists are fanatically genocidal, then what do you think suicide bombings and beheading of captives represent?

Duke May 10, 2009 at 5:18 pm

Count me among the 85 percent of “disgusting” Americans in August of 1945 who thought nuking Japan was the right thing to do.

SDG May 10, 2009 at 8:23 pm

Duke: You seem to be having trouble reading. Nobody said Americans who support/ed nuking Japan were disgusting.
I can respect a man who wrestles with the horror of nuking Japan, and, with a knot in his gut, makes the painful decision to embrace that act as a necessary horror. I think he’s wrong, but I can respect him.
It’s the glib dismissal of the moral difficulty with a flippant sports analogy that I find obscene and contemptible.
Hope we’re clear now.

Joseph D'Hippolito May 10, 2009 at 9:08 pm

It’s the glib dismissal of the moral difficulty with a flippant sports analogy that I find obscene and contemptible.
SDG, it’s the glib dismissal of any historical context or recognition of the facts on the ground by people who call Pres. Truman a “war criminal” — especially more than 60 years after the fact, when they neither have to make the decision he did nor be held accountable for it — that I find obscene and contemptible on this issue.
Hope we’re clear now.

Ben May 10, 2009 at 9:33 pm

Here’s a hypothetical delving into the moral licitness of moral stupidity…
A peaceful society of warm, fuzzy people called the Ergamoids found an abandoned space ship had left a copy of JPII’s Evangelium Vitae which they took to heart. They lived on the other side of the planet home of the Zergamoids and their evil leadership. Eventually, the cultures came into contact and it was the intent of the Zergamoids to wipe out their planetary brethren. Now, the Ergamoids weapon technology was basically nil, no equivalent to lethal discriminating force whatsoever. However, by odd twist of fate, they had accidentally discovered the a-bomb equivalent for the planet. They knew they had a sacred moral duty to defend themselves from the aggressors who were daily claiming a few lives and who were apparently on the verge of obtaining the same mass destruction technology. The Ergamoids knew that using their mass weapon destruction indiscriminately on the Zergamoids was wrong. But they knew that passively letting the Zergamoids either pick them off or put the finishing touches on their own WMD technology in order to destroy them was also wrong. They had no useful discriminating weapons and nowhere to effectively flee to. Which of the two morally illicit choices should they choose?

SDG May 11, 2009 at 3:34 am

Joseph D’Hippolito: Please don’t use words like “glib” if you aren’t prepared to use them correctly.
For example, the sentence immediately preceding this one was glib. The moral reasoning underlying the critique of the nuking of Japan, laid out by Jimmy and by me, is not. Whether or not you agree with the conclusion, it is a morally serious argument.
I said I can respect a man who wrestles with the horror of nuking Japan, and, with a knot in his gut, makes the painful decision to embrace that act as a necessary horror. Such a decision may be (as I contend) wrong, but it is not glib.
In the same way, I expect such a man, if he is a morally serious man, to be able to respect a man who wrestles with the horror of attempting to deal with the Pacific war without reliance on acts of terror bombing, and makes the difficult decision that it is a necessary horror.
A man who cannot tell (or, worse, who doesn’t care about) the difference between a morally serious argument he disagrees with, and an obscenely glib sports analogy that he agrees with, is either not a morally serious man or has not thought things through carefully enough.
Only you know which of those two scenarios is the case, or perhaps you don’t.

Tim J. May 11, 2009 at 8:01 am

“Which of the two morally illicit choices should they choose?”
The choice between sinful alternatives is always a lie. There is never any situation wherein we are *compelled* to sin at all.

“Emperor, we are your soldiers but also the soldiers of the true God. We owe you military service and obedience, but we cannot renounce Him who is our Creator and Master, and also yours even though you reject Him.
In all things which are not against His law, we most willingly obey you, as we have done hitherto. We readily oppose your enemies whoever they are, but we cannot stain our hands with the blood of innocent people. We have taken an oath to God before we took one to you… you cannot place any confidence in our second oath if we violate the other.
You commanded us to execute Christians, behold we are such. We confess God the Father the creator of all things and His Son Jesus Christ, God. We have seen our comrades slain with the sword, we do not weep for them but rather rejoice at their honor. Neither this, nor any other provocation have tempted us to revolt. Behold, we have arms in our hands, but we do not resist, because we would rather die innocent than live by any sin.”
Letter to the emperor Maximian from Saint Maurice & the Theban Legion, all 6600 of whom were martyred at Maximian’s command.
What a bunch of milksops.

Little Boy May 11, 2009 at 8:22 am

You’re welcome, America.

Fat Man May 11, 2009 at 8:23 am

Ditto.

Random Dude May 11, 2009 at 8:41 am

My Papa walked down to City Hall on his 17th birthday (August 5th, 1945) with my Great Grandpa and joined the U.S. Navy. I’m sure he would’ve ended up in the Pacific if not for the events in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It probably makes me a bad person and, if so, I’ll have to answer to God for it but if we had to burn Japan to the ground and kill every last one of them that would be preferable to having one hair harmed on my late grandfather’s head. That’s not because it would have meant non-existance for me. I haven’t lived much of a life. However, my grandfather was the best man I’ve ever known and anyone whoever met him said the same. I don’t care about the empire who embraced the quest for global dominion in the 1940′s or the people who supported them. If that makes me cruel and heartless… so be it.

Ben May 11, 2009 at 9:24 am

“Which of the two morally illicit choices should they choose?”
….The choice between sinful alternatives is always a lie. There is never any situation wherein we are *compelled* to sin at all.
I agree, but as I suggested it was an exercise in hypothetical moral stupidity. If all roads look sinful to you, what do you do? However, it seems you answered that question by saying the active evil of taking direct innocent life indiscriminately is less evil, and therefore preferable than the evil of not defending yourselves and your families which is our sacred duty. So, you are saying that this non-action, which under normal circumstances would be evil, is actually good due to lack of suitable alternatives.

Tim J. May 11, 2009 at 9:33 am

“If that makes me cruel and heartless… so be it.”
Really? Wow.
My Dad was a Navy man, himself, and on a destroyer at the end of the war. I can’t say whether he would have seen action in an invasion of Japan or not, but he was a military volunteer and understood the dangers of the position when he signed up.
The women and children of Hiroshima and Nagasaki never signed up for anything.
My Dad was a good man, too, and died of smoking.

fh in Houston May 11, 2009 at 10:15 am

“At the time of its bombing, Hiroshima was a city of some industrial and military significance. A number of military camps were located nearby, including the headquarters of the Fifth Division and Field Marshal Shunroku Hata’s 2nd General Army Headquarters, which commanded the defense of all of southern Japan. Hiroshima was a minor supply and logistics base for the Japanese military. The city was a communications center, a storage point, and an assembly area for troops. It was one of several Japanese cities left deliberately untouched by American bombing, allowing a pristine environment to measure the damage caused by the atomic bomb.”
From Wiki
There is no doubt that we would have attacked this City at some point. It was a legitimate military target.
What you are really arguing over is weather or not a nuke can be used. Now we know the answer should be no. This does not make Truman a war criminal, or the bombings at that time immoral. In an all out war, all persons cooperating with their government are combantants. Soldiers don’t get C-rations out of nothing, someone has to grow the beans.

Tim Lacy May 11, 2009 at 10:17 am

More useful historical background: http://hnn.us/roundup/entries/74048.html. – TL

SDG May 11, 2009 at 10:55 am

RANDOM DUDE & VARIOUS OTHER HANDLES:
House rules at this blog stipulate that commenters pick a handle and stick with it.
In part, this is to prevent users from creating an artificial “echo chamber” by posting repeatedly under multiple aliases. It is also to encourage users to have the courage of their convictions and to use their established identity to say whatever they want to say.
Please do not rotate handles. Thank you.

Joseph D'Hippolito May 11, 2009 at 10:59 am

SDG, I know what “glib” means and that adjective accurately describes Akin’s approach in his original post. I remind you that Akin was arguing exclusively from the CCC and through his own logical projections. He did not take into account the historical context (massive number of American casualties on Iwo Jima and Okinawa, let alone after four years of world war) nor the facts on the ground (the realistic alternatives Truman had to dropping the bombs). Had his post taken such things into consideration, then I would have given his position respect, regardless of his conclusion. As it stands, however, he is doing no more than “name calling” and hiding behind the CCC to do it. Neither such behavior nor the “conclusions” derived from it is not worhty of respect.

SDG May 11, 2009 at 11:35 am

I remind you that Akin was arguing exclusively from the CCC and through his own logical projections.

Wrong again. Not only did Jimmy cite EV as well as the CCC, EV was his primary source.

He did not take into account the historical context (massive number of American casualties on Iwo Jima and Okinawa, let alone after four years of world war) nor the facts on the ground (the realistic alternatives Truman had to dropping the bombs).

Wrong again. Jimmy does cite “historical context and facts on the ground,” but the relevant facts do not include the ones you cite.
The key historical point is that “entire cities were targeted to produce the greatest psychological effect on the Japanese and these cities included innocent civilians who were part of the target.”
That is the key point because if it is true, it follows that the “historical context and facts on the ground” that you demand to see considered are in fact irrelevant given the teaching of EV and the CCC.
No scale of casualties and no dearth of realistic alternatives can justify targeting entire cities for psychological effect where the cities include innocent civilians as part of the target. None. It is irrelevant.
You, however, disagree with this, since as previously established you believe that achieving victory in war “outweighs any other considerations.”
In the view you have previously defended, the goal of winning justifies any and all actions deemed necessary, even targeting innocents. Nothing is ruled out.
That’s the real issue, in case you hadn’t noticed.

Ben May 11, 2009 at 11:42 am

From what I can tell, Akin is saying that dropping the A-bomb on Japan could have been licit if no other means could have stopped the war, the intent was to take out military targets only, the expected collateral damage of innocent life would not exceed the expected amount of innocent life saved on behalf of the Allied people (as the defensive side, even our troops would have been considered innocent when making this judgment), and the target chosen was the most strategic one attainable. If there would have been further stipulations, I would like to hear them; likewise, if any of the above stipulations are irrelevant.

Tim J. May 11, 2009 at 11:42 am

Perhaps I didn’t make myself clear, Ben. When I called the Theban Legion a bunch of milksops, I was being sarcastic.
“So, you are saying that this non-action, which under normal circumstances would be evil, is actually good due to lack of suitable alternatives.”
To which non-action are you referring? I would not call choosing martyrdom rather than sin a “non-action”, but a positive, heroic act.
Legitimate defense of the innocent is a duty, but to sin in the act of self-defense (or the defense of one’s family or country) is never a duty. If the only way to save my family was to kill some innocent person, or torture some more shady individual, I hope I would have the faith to stick by my principles and let my family die, with the hope we would be reunited in heaven.
If this is only a fool’s hope, then I’m a fool, and the Christian faith a sham. If accepting defeat, humiliation and death at the hands of evil men is a sign of moral cowardice, then BOY did I pick the wrong Master to serve.

Duke May 11, 2009 at 12:19 pm

I apologize about the sports analogy. It was in very bad taste. I felt it was the lesser of two evils. I had initially thought of suggesting the Japanese changing their national anthem to “You Dropped A Bomb On Me” by The Gap Band.

Ben May 11, 2009 at 12:32 pm

TimJ, not sure you noticed, but I agreed with you. Here, in this hypothetical, we have to eschew the moral duty to defend the family from the aggressor, since the only way to do so that was known is evil. So what would superficially be evil, that is, shirking one’s duty to defend innocent life, could actually be good due to lack of alternatives. We have to trust in the Lord as you say and watch helplessly, if that’s what it entails, as love ones die the temporal death.
However, as I alluded to in my last comment on Japan, I think the Ergamoids have another choice: use the WMD, intending only military targets, accepting that the collateral damage of innocent life is less than the innocent life on your side. If this is a morally correct choice, then perhaps doing nothing and accepting genocide of your people would be morally wrong.

fh in Houston May 11, 2009 at 12:55 pm

“use the WMD, intending only military targets, accepting that the collateral damage of innocent life is less than the innocent life on your side”
This is exactly what was done. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were military targets.

Michael May 11, 2009 at 1:06 pm

Random Dude,
My grandfather, the best man I have ever known, was a German soldier on the eastern front who was part of the occupational force in Ukraine. I thank God for preserving him, he was one of a small fraction of his unit to return, in war and later as a prisoner of war so I could know the influence of such a good and wise man in my life. I would, however, not wish anyone’s death for my benefit. He would be disappointed in me if I ever hoped such a horrible thing.

Ben May 11, 2009 at 1:08 pm

Were they the most attainable strategic targets or were there better targets? Was the intent to take out the military targets in the city, or the city itself?
Had they exhausted all other legitimate means of winning the war?
If yes (a), yes (a), and yes, then maybe the act, as it historically occurred, was not sinful as I understand Akin arguing it. I think Akin would argue that no, no, and debatable are the true historical answers.

fh in Houston May 11, 2009 at 2:19 pm

We should never use the nuke.
I am only speaking to the fact that some have suggested that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not military targets (read no or little military value) which is not the case.
But this key statement by you:
“accepting that the collateral damage of innocent life is less than the innocent life on your side”
puts the entire decision into perspective as the war was fought in terms of 1945 understanding of the situation.
This is why it is good to review and discuss this, but preposterous to call Truman a terrorist or war criminal.

Joseph D'Hippolito May 11, 2009 at 2:20 pm

Wrong again. Jimmy does cite “historical context and facts on the ground”…
Really? Where? Show them to me.
but the relevant facts do not include the ones you cite.
Which means that Akin’s whole thesis is irrelevant because those facts played a fundamental role in Pres. Truman’s decision-making. Akin is conveniently ignoring unpleaseant facts that do not jibe with his thesis.
The key historical point is that “entire cities were targeted to produce the greatest psychological effect on the Japanese and these cities included innocent civilians who were part of the target.”
These cities also were places with military factories and other important infrastructure designed to wage war. How would you wage the war, SDG, given that diplomatic alternatives were exhausted as of Dec. 7, 1941?
That is the key point because if it is true, it follows that the “historical context and facts on the ground” that you demand to see considered are in fact irrelevant given the teaching of EV and the CCC.
No scale of casualties and no dearth of realistic alternatives can justify targeting entire cities for psychological effect where the cities include innocent civilians as part of the target. None. It is irrelevant.

Thenn EV and the CCC are irrelevant because they do not provide realistic, practical, applicable moral guidelines when leaders are faced with unsavory decisions. They are nothing but esoteric gibberish. The comment threads on this subject are all the proof I need, because the people defending them have to rely on “thought experiments” and other hypotheticals, not on historical analysis. Anyone offering such analysis immediately gets disregarded (as you did when you called the facts I submitted, “irrelevant.”
You, however, disagree with this, since as previously established you believe that achieving victory in war “outweighs any other considerations.”
Typically, you misrepresent my words. I said that, as commander-in-chief, Pres. Truman’s moral responsibility to protect the troops under his command while pursuing victory (or, for that matter, facing defeat) outweighs any other considerations. The Japanese government had the primary moral responsibility to protect its own citizenry, not Pres. Truman. They failed to do this by 1)pursing a militarist policy knowing that Japan could not win and 2)refusing to surrender even after seeing the devastation wrought in Hiroshima; consequently, the Japanese government had the primary moral responsibility for Nagasaki’s destruction!

Joseph D'Hippolito May 11, 2009 at 2:30 pm

Besides, SDG. why are you defending what Akin wrote? Why can’t Akin do it himself on these threads?

Peter May 11, 2009 at 2:39 pm

Just a couple of thoughts:
1. I was just reading today that Japan had decentralized their war machine into the suburbs and residential areas. That was the reason for the incendiary bombing of Japan.
2. It would seem to me that the comparison of 220,000 lives vs 10 million lives lost (or even 1 million civilian) would make the use of nuclear weapons “morally legitimate” in the face of “huge foreseen collateral damage”. I think that Jimmy’s thought experiment proves the correctness of Harry Truman’s decision.
3. One last thought, What if Harry Truman had not made the decision to use nuclear weapons? Somebody play that next 20 years out in their mind. Mankind has been utterly unable to go twenty years without going to war through out history, and in the twenty years after the end of WWII we had plenty of limited wars. Without the experience of Hiroshima and Nagasaki somebody surely would have tried to used them to gain military advantage in some war. Then with time for all sides to have built up their arsenals what would have been the result?
I don’t claim to be able to see alternate futures but surely God in his mercy gave us an example of the future of nuclear weapons and then gave us a moment to evaluate their enormous power.
I for one am thankful that Harry Truman had the guts to make the difficult decision and he seems to me to be the last of our real heroes definitely not a “War Criminal”
Seems to me that all these people who can’t tell the difference between a President making a terribly difficult decision and a Terrorist attacking innocents is the real reason America is in trouble and is headed down the wrong road.

The Masked Chicken May 11, 2009 at 3:42 pm

Dear Ben,
You wrote:
If all roads look sinful to you, what do you do?
This condition in moral theology is called a perplexed conscience. There is a lengthy discussion on it, here [warning, not a Catholic site, but the principles are borrowed from Catholic moral theology]. The author states, in the discussion on how ignorance affects conscience:
Normally we should find it difficult to accept a position that makes it necessary for a man to be in the wrong, whatever he does. Where a man is thus “perplexed”, i.e. convinced that either of two actions, one of which he must do, is wrong, we generally say that in these circumstances one of the two actions is in fact right, or else that he who chooses what he believes to be the less of the two evils is not to be blamed. …[Emphasis, mine]
Yet even here it is recognised that exceptions are possible. St. Alphonsus, in discussing the matter (Lib. I, Tract n, cap. 4, sub. i, no. 171), quotes Gerson as saying that on occasion there may be invincible ignorance of even the primary principles of the natural law, as when someone is convinced that he ought to tell a lie in order to save his friend’s life. And he gives his own opinion in these words, “I have never been able to understand how a man sins, when, after taking all proper steps to inform himself, he still labours under invincible ignorance” (no. 173). He therefore recognizes, it would seem, that, even after long investigation and reflection, a man might arrive at and hold an opinion about the morality of an action that is at variance with the truth. When this happens, the ignorance is invincible, and that not only when there is ignorance that there is any other point of view, as in the cases imagined by St. Thomas, but also in the full face of all the arguments; and face obedience to conscience then merits no blame.
The question, then, it would seem, is how invincibly ignorant was Truman? This, I have no idea and I suspect no one else does, either.
The Chicken

Joseph D'Hippolito May 11, 2009 at 10:11 pm

That’s the real issue, in case you hadn’t noticed.
SDG, here are the real issues pertaining to this discussion:
1. Truman was not Catholic, so he would not be morally required to follow Catholic teaching on anything.
2. If Truman were Catholic, then he would be accountable only for what Catholic teaching said during his lifetime, not in documents made decades later.
Akin tries to apply Catholic teaching ex post facto to somebody who was not obliged to follow it in the first place! As a result, Akin engages in character assassination — and hides behind Church “teaching to do it!

Paul May 12, 2009 at 8:04 am

SDG,
I enjoy and appreciate your comments, and would like to answer your question:
I asked: Is it permissible for a Catholic to reject double effect?
Your answer (effectively): Not if that Catholic accepts consequentialism, or something equivalent.

Paul May 12, 2009 at 8:06 am

Joseph,
To be fair about the last comment, what is right is what is right always, and what is wrong is what is wrong always.
Though, as you excellently observe, Truman would likely not be held responsible for his actions (though we never know a person’s conscience), what he did would still be wrong.
It’s not like church documents change what is moral or immoral when they are issued. That would be an odd moral framework, indeed.

Chris May 12, 2009 at 10:55 am

This has been a very fascinating debate.
Although I am of the firm belief that Truman was no war criminal, I can see how the action of using a nuclear weapon on a major city is objectively evil.
Allow the following scenario:
We can cure cancer and save millions of lives if we just do a little embryonic stem cell testing over here… Let’s say Obama does this and a cure is found. Decades later, the living look back and say, “Obama saved the world from cancer – think of how many would have died if he hadn’t flooded embryonic stem cell researchers with government money!”
Does that in any way make the destruction of human life acceptable to achieve this end? Are we better off as a human race? Most of us Catholics would agree that it was achieved by evil means, and many would very easily label Barack Obama an evil man… so what’s the difference between a hypothetical cure for cancer found by Obama through the destruction of innocent like, and Truman “curing” the planet of WW II by implementing a weapon that has no choice but to eliminate innocent lives? Leave the personal culpability/ignorance issue out of it. What’s the substantive difference?

Chris May 12, 2009 at 11:08 am

The other problem that we run into with this discussion is that if we are simply basing the A-Bomb’s moral acceptability on the fact that it ultimately prevented more civilian deaths, then Truman should have dropped a couple on Moscow when he got done with Japan, right? I mean, even though we weren’t “at war” with the Soviets, we could have justified it by theorizing that eventually we would be, and it was certainly worth the civilian lives to keep the Soviets from getting the A-Bomb in their own arsenal.
I’ve really done a 180 on this since Akin made his first post. I think that, objectively, nuking Hiroshima/Nagasaki was wrong. But I don’t believe Truman is personally guilty of being a “war criminal”, given the extenuating circumstances of his life, his position, and the events leading up to it.

Beadgirl May 12, 2009 at 11:25 am

I think that is an important distinction that can sometimes get lost — doing a bad/sinful thing does not automatically make one a bad/sinful person. The act itself can always be wrong, but how we judge the person as a whole needs to take into account a lot more than just that one act in isolation.
In other words, I think I agree that bombing the cities was a war crime, but I do not simplistically judge Truman a war criminal.

Beadgirl May 12, 2009 at 11:27 am

And I just saw (again) Akin’s headline for the entry. I in no way mean to imply Akin is being simplistic, I was just trying to distinguish between an act and the person that commits the act.

Mildly Annoyed Matheus May 12, 2009 at 11:40 am

Joseph D’Hippolito
Haven’t you been banned already, jackass? If so, why don’t you beat it?

SDG May 12, 2009 at 11:44 am

MAM: Let’s avoid language like “jackass.”
I have removed the offending post(s) you refer to.

Matheus May 12, 2009 at 11:56 am

I have removed the offending post(s) you refer to.

Thanks.

…Let’s avoid language like “jackass.”

Fair enough. For what it’s worth, I made sure that the word wasn’t listed as vulgar on the dictionary.
Please don’t forget that diligence regarding pest control on the blog is never great enough…

c matt May 13, 2009 at 12:32 pm

Soldiers don’t get C-rations out of nothing, someone has to grow the beans.
They also don’t get fuel, armaments and funding out of nothing. So by that logic Houston (fuel refining), Dayton OH (steel mfg) and Los Angeles and New York (war bonds financing, propaganda) would have been as legitimate targets as Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In 1945, the US was involved in nearly as total a war effort as the Japanese – agriculture, manufacturing and even entertainment – were geared toward the war effort. So, there were no innocent American civilians, I suppose?

Jeff May 16, 2009 at 7:39 pm

Jimmy, I’m very much hoping you WILL post some more thoughts on torture in the near future.
One thing I notice from you that can’t be said about very many in the debate is that you seem to be able to be careful and respectful toward the issues and the PEOPLE involved, and also respected BY most of them.
What we really desperately NEED on this issues is a prinicipled discussion among Catholics on this issue.
A DISCUSSION not a fight.

Christian Hedonist May 31, 2009 at 1:26 pm

“Why is a collateral damage amount of X potentially justifiable whereas a collateral damage amount of X+1 is all of a sudden intrinsically unjustifiable?”
When all other circumstances such as victim’s wealth are held constant, why is a theft value of X materially a venial sin whereas a theft value of X+1 is all of a sudden materially a grave sin?
Follow your logic and your heart to Reformed Christianity.

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