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.