Friday, August 24, 2007

Thinking about Hiroshima.

“What guided me in my thinking and guided all our efforts—The reason the 21st Bomber Command worked like no other command during the war and kept us going—was the million men we were going to loose if we had to invade Japan. That says nothing of the Japanese losses, although we didn’t give a damn about them at the time. We were primarily worried about our own people”

Curtis Le May.

I’ve been watching with dismay the two opposite lines of reasoning evidenced at VFR and WWWtW.

It would appear to me that Laurence Auster is putting forward an argument that the ends justify the means. The Japanese were wicked, tenacious and determined not to give in no matter what the price. The dropping of the bomb instituted events which stopped the war quickly and saved many lives, Japanese and American; this interpretation is consistent with the facts.

The position of WWWtW is that the attack on Hiroshima is wicked because innocent civilians were killed. As I have argued previously the position of the main protagonists on WWWtW leads to functional pacifism. The criteria that they set up for the fighting of just war make it effectively impossible to fight. Furthermore their thinking opens a line of tactical exploitation by wicked people. Tie up an innocent to your tank, plane or whatever and it is immune from attack on the basis of the moral argument put forward by WWWtW.

Both approaches are wrong and both are wicked.

Following my line of reasoning from yesterdays post I would like to make an analysis of the atomic bombings within the Christian tradition.

Auster's argument is quickly dismissed. Christian tradition has always condemned the line of reasoning that wicked means justify good ends. That ends that argument.

Now I feel that the atomic bombings were wrong but not for the reason the people over at WWWtW do.

Firstly the state has authority to bear the sword in defence of the common interest. However the state is allowed only to attack the unjust (aggressors) and their means, it is not allowed to attack the innocent. Now any enemy city is going to contain a mixed bag of the innocent and combatants, the concept of deliberately targeting a city itself, is morally wrong since by definition it would be an intended attack on both the innocent and the guilty.

However, we are allowed to attack the unjust and if in the process, innocent civilians are killed unavoidably, then the action is permitted according to Christian tradition. It would appear therefore that the attack on Hiroshima was justified, as Hiroshima was a major military base as well as Nagasaki.

However double effect is a two edged sword and the mechanism that permits collateral losses also obligates their minimization. The question to be asked then is, did the U.S. have a capacity to destroy the military installations of Hiroshima without using the atomic bomb? The answer to that is unfortunately yes.

The Twentieth Air Force had the capacity to destroy whatever it wanted on the Japanese mainland. Towards the end of the war it was safer in a B-29 flying over Japan than in a training mission over the United States. General Curtis Le May felt at the time that the action--dropping the bomb--was unnecessary, as did Admiral Arleigh Burke; the two men who were putting most of the hurt on Japan. Had the 20th Air Force gone in to firebomb Hiroshima, perhaps twenty to forty thousand would have been killed, but that means that the sixty thousand extra who died as a result of the atomic bomb would not have been. The option to minimize civilian losses was available and it was not chosen, therein lays the evil.

Had the U.S. no other way of defending itself against attack except by nuclear weapons then I believe it would have been justified in using them, provided they were targeted at military targets only and with an eye to minimizing civilian casualties. The problem was that no one cared about the Japanese, no one gave a damn. In fact Hiroshima was also seen as an experiment, the fact that it had remained deliberately unscathed with a view of it being a test city for nuclear experiments shows just how degraded the concern for the Japanese had become, the citizens of Hiroshima were to be the guinea pigs of atomic warfare.

Truman did agonise over the civilian losses that the bombs were going to produce; I do not stand in judgment of him. He was a fundamentally decent man and I believe that when he made the decision to drop the atomic bomb, he did so with a good and hence binding conscience. I live in a different time and benefit from the freedom his actions provided. Free from the pressures, sorrows and anxiety of war, I and others can dispassionately reflect on the situation with the benefit of hindsight; which by its nature is always crystal clear. Truman did not enjoy that privilege.

Every society should make a moral accounting of its conduct and if it finds itself wanting, ask for forgiveness from the Almighty and determine not to repeat the same mistakes again. Our Christian tradition reasserts that we should choose to suffer death rather than perform evil. Death before dishonour is not just the motto of some fanatical Japanese; it is also the motto of the Christian soldier.


Anonymous said...

I'm afraid that LeMay was overstating matters here, as he so often did. Actually, LeMay broadcast radio warnings and dropped leaflets on cities that were about to be attacked, warning them to evacuate their cities. There is still ongoing debate about whether Hiroshima and Nagasaki were actually warned, but LeMay obviously did "give a damn" about the Japanese, no matter what he said at the time. Whether he gave enough of a damn can be argued...

The Social Pathologist said...

Very Good point. Le May was a far more subtle and complex character than people realise. His apparent "brutality" and ruthlessness in military operations was a consequence of him trying to minimise casualties, both civilian and military. In fact when you read his writings you find a man who has a sort of muscular humanity.I've got to run off know but in the next few weeks I plan to put up a few posts on him. Please drop by.

Anonymous said...

Yes, LeMay was a complex character. Like Patton, he felt the need to appear "tough" even brutal, in public, but he was actually more complex. He was demonized by the American Left because of his hatred of Communism, and his reputation has never really recovered. Interestingly enough, he hated war...

The Social Pathologist said...

I don't think that he needed to appear tough, I think he was tough. But being tough and being humane are in no way incompatible. It's that Christian thing, about the lion laying down with the lamb.

Anonymous said...

As I have been following and participating some in the WWWW and VFR discussion, I agree with the 4 point understanding of how to determine if double-effect plays a role. And while I see your point of view on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I disagree with it.

One area of contention is that the Japanese government had formed the Patriotic Citizens Fighting Corps which included all males 15-60 and females 17-40. This turned the vast majority of the Japanese population into soldiers.

Second, as another poster pointed out, leaflets were dropped and radio broadcasts initiated which warned the civilian population to leave 35 cities, including Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In a time of war, that is probably as good as warning as you are going to get. Considering the devastation inflicted up to that point by US bombing, it would have made sense to leave.

Third, the leaving of the potential atomic bomb sites untouched was not necessarily a matter of inhumanity towards the Japanese. If we had nuked a city that had already been damaged by conventional bombing, the extent of the damage caused by the atomic bomb could have been minimized by the war clique. Choosing untouched locations demonstrated the power of the weapon without any doubt. And while a large number of people didn't care about the Japanese, the choice of cities was not necessarily for inhumane reasons.

Finally, what was the purpose of the bombing. It really wasn't to destroy the military infrastructure which was the target. It was to demonstrate to the Japanese that we had a weapon which could utterly subjugate them without us being required to invade. To convince the Japanese, it required that we display the weapon on a live, military target, under wartime conditions, with the actual delivery system, and on an unblemished target. The fact that it took a second bombing displays the hold the military still had on the country.

Again, I can see your side and I don't believe either side has an open and shut case in the matter.

Lastly, I don't believe Auster is arguing for the means justify the ends. I think is arguing more that the type of war and opponent in this situation changed the valuation of who is actually a civilian and a soldier.

The Social Pathologist said...

You have several good points on which I would like to comment:

I agree that Japanese conceptions on who was a non-combatant and Western ones were totally different. My understanding was that in Okinawa, children and the elderly were involved in the fight. This argument goes some way in justifying the concept of targeting a city. However not all the citizens were combatants and it is the duty of the Christian soldier to spare innocents within his capacity.

Leaflet dropping once again goes a long way to justifying American action. I have far less problem with the firebombing of Japanese cities because of this, however as the atomic bomb was a far more destructive weapon, I feel more warning should have been given.

From what I have read on the matter , Hiroshima and Nagasaki--and others--were left essentially untouched because they were to be the atomic bomb demonstration cities. You've got to remember that the citizens of those towns did not really have an inkling of what could be done by the U.S. Air Force. I'm not sure that warnings were taken seriously. Saddam's threats of destruction of the U.S. were taken as bluster by most of the U.S. Administration. I imagine that Truman's Potsdam declaration was treated the same by the Japanese.

I agree that the weapon did not have a sole military effect, in fact it's decisive effect was psychological on the Japanese leadership. However this effect was achieved at the expense of innocent lives; put it this way, had the Japanese dropped an atomic bomb on Seattle , would it of been a just action? Do unto others as you would have done unto yourself.

I have to disagree and I do feel that Auster is at core using an ends justifies the means argument, and it is a compelling argument. It's an argument I subscribed to for a long time. It's just that on further reflection, I don't think that it is right.

Anonymous said...

My understanding was that in Okinawa, children and the elderly were involved in the fight. This argument goes some way in justifying the concept of targeting a city. However not all the citizens were combatants and it is the duty of the Christian soldier to spare innocents within his capacity.

I agree that we need to try to distinguish between the two. However, when the other side decides to blur or erase the distinction, it's setting an impossible standard to expect soldiers to make the distinction.

...however as the atomic bomb was a far more destructive weapon, I feel more warning should have been given.

I believe part of the reason for the less specific notices is that there was a real concern the bombs wouldn't work. Had they not worked and we had warned of a nuclear attack, the morale boost to the Japanese could have been significant. Also, had we give a specific date, time, and place, the Japanese would have surely prepared against the attack. Finally, since we had been firebombing cities with devastating effects, the type of warning issued should have been sufficient.

I'm not sure that warnings were taken seriously.

From a recent article at the CIA website, "Postwar surveys showed that the Japanese people trusted the accuracy of the leaflets and many residents of the targeted cities prepared immediately to leave their homes."
I just don't know how much more can be expected.

However this effect was achieved at the expense of innocent lives;...

However, per the torpedoed merchantman example, the goal was not to kill civilians. It was to impact the ability of the enemy to make war. The reason the Japanese surrendered was not due to the civilian casualties. It was because they realized they couldn't force an invasion and play for an armistice. Their whole plan would have involved massive civilian casualties.

...put it this way, had the Japanese dropped an atomic bomb on Seattle , would it of been a just action?

Seattle would have been a legitimate target with it's war industries. With the type of war it was, I couldn't call it an unjust action.

Do unto others as you would have done unto yourself.

I agree. However, the basic rules of warfare are that soldiers are legitimate targets. When you make virtually your entire populace soldiers, they all become targets. It's up to the other side to take reasonable steps to remove non-combatants. Otherwise we are back to the WWWW functional pacifism.

Thanks for your response.

Anonymous said...

Just one last point, was there a significant, solely military target on one of the Japanese home islands that the US could have chosen? If there was, then I think that would bolster your point.

The Social Pathologist said...

The points that you raise are good points.

I have no problem attacking military targets, but to say that the whole population of Japan was legitimate military target I just can't buy, even though many people whom Westerners would consider civilians weren't.

The principle of double effect obligates us to minimise the negative effect. That implies choice in the negative effect. The question to be asked is did the U.S. have a capacity to destroy the military targets in Hiroshima without the bomb. My understanding of the matter is that it did and therefore it took less than the due care that was due to the Japanese innocent. (Yes, I am asserting consideration had to be given to the Japanese innocent even though many of their compatriots were utter, ruthless bastards)

As for the unreliability of the bomb, Little boy wasn't even tested as they were certain it would work. Fat man was proven at Trinity. A failure of fuzing was possible but there was significant redundancy.

Also I'm not sure but I am not aware of any significant military target that would have fully exploited the affect of the bomb.

Lots of people at the time wanted to make a demonstration of the bomb before actually using it, while others didn't. I don't think it would have been unreasonable to demonstrate it prior to its use. Lots of people at the time felt that way.

I suppose what I would have done is as follows.

1) After the trinity test public announce that an atomic bomb had been developed, the Soviets knew already.

2) I would have asked for Japanese scientists and emissaries to witness a demonstration of the bomb against one of the small islands of the pacific which were left to "rot " on the vine.

3) I would put the emissaries up close to understand full what was waiting for them and get them to film it.

4)If the japanese leaders were not going to give in then I would have given lets say thirty days notice to evacuate all towns above a certain size and then would have let them have it. Knowing that I did all I could to save the civilians.

5) Personally I don't think it would have gotten that far as no 4.

Once again, I'm not Truman and do not stand in judgement of him or the men who dropped the bomb. I just never want it to happen again.

Anonymous said...

I don't want it to happen again either. That's one reason that Iran CANNOT be allowed to get the Bomb. But that's another issue...

The Social Pathologist said...

Agreed; but our society loves peace more than it loves doing what is right.

Robert said...

Iran does not have America's record of continous aggressive warmaking. It has as much right to nuclear weapons as any other state.
Since every historian knows Japan was seeking to end the war and the American government knew this, using the nuclear bombs was a crime. Japan's sole condition was the safety of the emperor.

neutrino-cannon said...

I'm a bit late to this debate, I fear, but I have a question about the distinction between a soldier and a civilian.

There were quite a few Japanese soldiers on remote stations in the Pacific who simply didn't believe the war was over and continued attacking crops and generally making a minor irritation out of themselves decades later.

The US could have hunted down and killed such men. They were enemy soldiers, after a fashion. Certainly they would have self-identified that way. In at least a few cases, however, their former commanding officers were found and told the lone fanatics to stand down; that the war was over.

I think anyone with a shred of romanticism in their heart would say that it would be a shame to kill such men. Such stalwart loyalty to their cause; even a truculent and hostile cause such as the preservation of Imperial Japan is touching. It would seem wrong to hunt down and kill such men like dogs when peaceful alternatives exist, even though they would probably want nothing more than such a death.

I would argue that there's no hard line between a combatant and a noncombatant, as far as their essential humanity is concerned. If one is to construct a theory of mercy, there is no uniform a man can don which renders him immune to the scope of mercy. A warrior who comes at a tank with a sharp stick may well be a soldier, but they're hardly a threat to the crew of the tank. Likewise, a street vendor who supplies insurgents with information about the occupier's convoys and patrol schedules is a threat, although nominally a civilian.

That is the wisdom in Clausewitz's maxim that war is politics by other means. War is characterized by wanton destruction, but wanton destruction is not the point of war. The point of war is to exercise control over people by force. To a humane people then, war should be made as brief and decisive as possible, as only then can lives be spared both death and agony; civilians and others.

The Social Pathologist said...

To a humane people then, war should be made as brief and decisive as possible, as only then can lives be spared both death and agony; civilians and others.


It's only necessary to take out a combatant if the threat they pose is real. The American strategy of letting certain pacific island "rot on the vine" was correct. There was no need to bring death and destruction to islands which were not strategically significant or posed an actual threat.

The Christian philosophy of war should be limit force to what is prudentially necessary. This does not mean a "minimum" force strategy, rather, a strategy which aims squarely at the destruction of the pertinent evil as practically possible whilst sparing as many innocents as they practically can.