A reader disagrees with me on the Bomb

Michael M. writes:

I sometimes read your blog, and I want to thank you for it. I often agree with your opinions, and you express them so well. Please keep up the good work.

But I am writing to express my dismay about your recent attempts to justify air attacks on civilians in wartime. I do not think this can be justified under any circumstances.

Regarding your posts about leaflets being dropped beforehand, I want to point out that such leaflets (threatening destruction in general terms without revealing any really useful information about specific plans) were a staple of psychological warfare, widely used during the war, and were themselves a form of terrorism. They do not in any way mitigate the crime. And it was most certainly a war crime. Many American airmen (including generals of the Air Force) were deeply troubled by it at the time.

I am very disappointed. As I said, I have appreciated your writings in the past; but this is repulsive, and I wish you would reconsider your statements on the subject.

LA replies:

First, I don’t think I have ever “justified air attacks on civilians.” I have justified particular attacks, namely the use of the A-bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Second, I do not agree that those attacks were a crime. Any consideration of the morality of the dropping of the bomb that does not take into consideration the consequences of not dropping it, as well as the character of the Japanese regime and the measures it was prepared to carry out had the war continued, is itself immoral. Consistent with the hyper-aggressive ideology that had plunged them into war in the first place, the military rulers of Japan were prepared and eager to sacrifice the entire Japanese population for the sake of national honor, and the Japanese people, as demonstrated by the events on Okinawa, would have followed them. Only a stunning, total blow, transcending anything that had previously occurred, appalling the Japanese and taking away their fanatical will to fight, would have been sufficient to end that war without continuing destruction that would have been on a scale several times greater than what had already occurred. In an almost providential confluence of events, the atomic bomb, completed in July, was the one weapon perfectly suited to the task of ending that war and turning the Japanese into a peaceful nation that would no longer threaten the world.

As for Michael’s comment that the leaflets gave no useful or meaningful information, on the contrary, notice #2601 gave exactly useful information. It said that an unspecified number of the cities listed on the leaflet were going to be destroyed in the next few days, and told the people to evacuate their city to save their lives. That was all the information the people of Hiroshima needed to save their lives. Anyone who heeded the warning on notice #2601 would have lived. What more does Michael want? Detailed descriptions of the flight plan of the Enola Gay?

If Michael remains unpersuaded by my argument, I accept the fact that he will remain very disappointed in me. But he should understand that I am disappointed in him and in the many others who have lost the will and ability to consider the morality of the Bomb in the context of the total reality that America was facing vis a vis Japan in 1945.

- end of initial entry -

For anyone who can stand any more of the recent Bomb debate (I’m burned out by it myself, and I was the main instigator), blogger John Savage thoughtfully considers the discussion of the morality of killing innocents at What’s Wrong with the World.

Tom S. writes:

Like you, I’m tired of the ongoing debate about the A-bombing of Japan, but I wanted to make a comment about your exchange with Michael M. I’m sure Michael M. means well, but he does a good job of illustrating the unappeasable nature of the bombing’s opponents. For decades, we have been hectored by the Left and the Paleo Right about our “bombing of innocent civilians without warning.” Now, it seems that there WAS warning given; and what do we hear? That the warnings WERE NOT SPECIFIC ENOUGH, and “were themselves a form of terrorism.” So now, warning people of an impending attack, saying “get out of these cities, and spare your lives” is a war crime. This resembles the attitude of many of the commenters at 4W—civilians were killed, that makes it wrong, and there is literally no argument that can be made, no fact that could be uncovered, no authority ecclesiastical or secular who can pronounce, that will mitigate this.

People who have this attitude may or may not be right, but one thing is certain, there is no sense in continuing to argue with them. In the fullness of time, we will know. Until then, I guess that we will just have to disagree. Right now, we all have other enemies to fight.

But Tom S., like me, cannot stop the discussion just like that. He continues:

By the way, the Catholic Church agrees with you about shooting down the airliner and terrorism. The Church has traditionally excused such behavior under the so-called “Doctrine of Double Effect.” Father John Harden, S.J., the guy who helped to write the modern Catholic Catechism, and is a candidate for sainthood, actually explains this doctrine using an example very much like the airliner example. Farther Hardon says:

To quote Father Hardon, S.J., in his highly recommended, “Pocket Catholic Dictionary,” double effect is the “principle that says it is morally allowable to perform an act that has at least two effects, one good and one bad.”

Father Hardon goes on to detail the exact conditions necessary for “double effect” to apply:

1. the act to be done must be good in itself or at least morally indifferent; by the act to be done is meant the deed itself taken independently of its consequences;

2. the good effect must not be obtained by means of the evil effect; the evil must be only an incidental by-product and not an actual factor in the accomplishment of the good;

3. the evil effect must not be intended for itself but only permitted; all bad will must be excluded from the act;

4. there must be a proportionately grave reason for permitting the evil effect. At least the good and the evil effects should be nearly equivalent.

All four conditions must be fulfilled. If any one of them is not satisfied, the act is morally wrong.

Father Hardon gives this example:

The commander of a submarine in wartime who torpedoes an armed merchant vessel of the enemy, although he foresees that several innocent children on board will be killed. All four conditions are fulfilled:

1. he intends only to lessen the power of the enemy by destroying an armed merchant ship. He does not wish to kill the innocent children;

2. his action of torpedoing the ship is not evil in itself;

3. the evil effect (the death of the children) is not the cause of the good effect (the lessening of the enemy’s strength);

4. there is sufficient reason for permitting the evil effect to follow, and this reason is administering a damaging blow to those who are unjustly attacking his country.

LA replies:

Another example would be: A car at a U.S. checkpoint in Iraq passes an initial stop line and heads toward the U.S. soldiers. The car ignores all signals to stop and continues at the soldiers. The soldiers can see there are women and children in the vehicle in addition to the driver. The soldiers reasonably believe the vehicle is a suicide weapon heading at them. They fire at the vehicle to stop it, with the women and children being killed in the process. This is justified killing.

Or, Hezbollah has placed missile batteries in the midst of civilian residences in southern Lebanon. The missile batteries are firing missiles into Israel. The Israeli Defense Forces, knowing that the missile batteries are surrounded by civilian residences, destroy the missile batteries, killing several civilians. This is justified killing.

However, I’m not sure that the bombing of Hiroshima would be justified by the above reasoning.

Michael M. writes:
I have read your reply and I remain unconvinced.

The main premise of your argument is in your assertion that attacks on civilians were necessary to “end the war.” But you have not proven that. I doubt it very much. I think a naval blockade would have ended the war satisfactorily.

Regarding the leaflet that you keep mentioning: it seems that this leaflet listed 35 cities. Do you really think it’s reasonable to suppose that the Japanese could have wholly evacuated 35 cities within five days, or that they would have attempted to do such a thing because of a threatening leaflet? Where could these millions of people flee? Imagine the resources and facilities that it would take to accomplish such an evacuation. It is really almost absurd to maintain that the bombers are guiltless because this evacuation did not happen. Besides, the whole purpose of the bombings was to kill people and terrorize the whole nation. There is something disingenuous about any argument which pretends otherwise.

LA replies:

“I think a naval blockade would have ended the war satisfactorily.”

I think the statement is unsustainable and shows a departure from the world of reality. We’ve dealt with that specific claim at length in previous discussions.

“It is really almost absurd to maintain that the bombers are guiltless because this evacuation did not happen.”

I have REPEATEDLY clarified that I do not base the morality of the bomb on the leaflets. I supported the morality of the bomb before I knew about the leaflets. My position is that the leaflets place the bombing in a more favorable or less unfavorable light.

“…it seems that this leaflet listed 35 cities. Do you really think it’s reasonable to suppose that the Japanese could have wholly evacuated 35 cities within five days, or that they would have attempted to do such a thing because of a threatening leaflet? Where could these millions of people flee?”

If I were in a city in a country in which one city after another had been bombed by U.S. bombers and largely destroyed, and if tens of thousands of leaflets were dropped on my city saying, “We are going to destroy several cities, possibly your city, in the next few days. We don’t want to kill you. EVACUATE YOUR CITY OR DIE,” then I would gather vital possessions, a sleeping roll, food and water, and take myself and my family out of the city. This is not a matter of the Japanese government organizing the evacuation of 35 cities, it is about individual cities and individual persons seeing the threat facing them and saving themselves.

“Besides, the whole purpose of the bombings was to kill people and terrorize the whole nation. There is something disingenuous about any argument which pretends otherwise.”

This is a disgusting mischaracterization of what the U.S. was doing. The purpose of the bombing was to force the Japanese to a quick surrender including the removal of the fanatical military government that had started the war and caused and would have continued to cause untold harm to the world. The moment the Japanese surrendered, peace reigned. The purpose of the bombs was not to kill and terrorize, but to bring peace.

I repeat that Michael’s statement is a smear on our country.

As has happened in previous exchanges with bomb critics, Michael M.’s position suggests that nothing short of leaving the military government of Japan in place, and probably in possession of Korea and other countries, would have satisfied him morally.

Edward G. writes:

You start with the wrong assumptions. The civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not innocents. They voted into power the Tojo government, supported Japan’s war efforts, took the benefits of the war plunder, willingly sent their sons into the military and in every way supported the war. What makes them innocent?

LA replies:

It’s a good point, which I haven’t yet dealt with in this discussion. But surely there were some innocents at Hiroshima, like children, and since, for the 4W folks, a single innocent killed is enough to prohibit any use of lethal force, the discussion has to start from the premise that we killed innocent people.

Tom S. writes:

I just don’t get it … I just don’t understand why so many otherwise patriotic citizens (Like Mr. M.) are so eager to believe the worst about their country. Maybe we were wrong to drop the bomb, but it’s certainly not a moral “slam dunk,” as so many people seem to believe. Why are so many patriotic conservatives so quick to condemn? I mean, let’s say I had been told all my life that my grandfather, whom I loved, was a murderer, and then suddenly evidence surfaced that maybe, just maybe, it was self defense, or only manslaughter, I believe that my reaction would be “Boy, I hope that’s true. Let’s keep investigating, and find out the truth. He always seemed like such a good person, it would be great to find out that he was really innocent.” My attitude certainly wouldn’t be, “Well, I’m sure the old man was a killer. Sure, this evidence looks like it might exonerate him, but I’m not interested. After all, the guy he was accused of murdering is dead, so what difference does it make? Besides, if granddad was guilty, that makes me look like a better person in comparison.” Why do so many otherwise patriotic people seem to WANT to see us as guilty?

If our fathers and grandfathers were guilty in our bombing of Japan, then we should honestly admit it, and move on. But doesn’t filial piety (a conservative virtue, after all) demand that we honestly try to find out the truth, rather than simply parroting fifty years of leftist propaganda? Those guys put their lives on the line for us, after all—don’t we at least owe them that?

Posted by Lawrence Auster at August 24, 2007 01:10 AM | Send

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