Monday, September 05, 2005

Critique of Dr. Thomas Sowell's Article: "Trashing our History; Hiroshima"

I shall now examine Dr. Thomas Sowell's opinion on the issue of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. First, let me begin by saying that I have immense admiration for Dr. Sowell, and have cherished his opinion on social and political and economic matters for many years. I have several of his books. I would even say that he is a sort of "hero" of mine in some respects.

But on this one he is simply wrong, and exhibits many of the same non-Catholic and ethically tenuous tendencies that I have been critiquing. I don't know what his religious persuasion is. Whatever it is (probably not Catholic, I would guess), he is not arguing like a Catholic in this instance. My interjections will be in green; otherwise, all words are his:

"Trashing our history; Hiroshima"
August 9, 2005

Every August, there are some Americans who insist on wringing their hands over the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945,

I'm sure there are; as one of the persons I cited in my original paper noted: the guilt does not devolve upon Americans today, as we did not make the decision; therefore we can simply analyze it without the liberal-type guilt complexes and melodramatic displays of ersatz "compassion." This is a real, super-serious issue that must not be besmirched by liberal nonsense. If, on the other hand, it so happens that liberals, for whatever reason, are more likely to have the correct opinion on the matter than conservatives, then so be it. Truth is truth. I follow it wherever it leads, no matter what is fashionable among the circles I happen to move in (one of which happens to be American political conservatism of a certain stripe. I'm not "wringing my hands"; I am dealing with the relevant ethical issues at hand.

so it was perhaps inevitable that such people would have an orgy of wallowing in guilt on the 60th anniversary of that tragic day.

Again, many will do so. What I, on the other hand, am doing (cool as a cucumber over here) is simply pointing out that my country was wrong when it did this: terribly wrong, and that it cannot be justified by Catholic ethical principle and moral theology; nor by just war criteria that were once widely accepted in Western Civilization: in its Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, and secular manifestations alike. I don't personally feel any individual guilt at all. How could I? But there is a proper biblical sense of national shame and a need for "repentance" in terms of simply admitting we were wrong, rather than playing games about it and pretending that evil was justified because our enemy was acting in extraordinarily evil ways. I have often stated similarly about our abominable, wicked treatment and massacres of blacks and Indians (aka African-Americans and Native Americans). Those things constituted America's "original sin" (as many have noted); the bombings (and the abortion holocaust) are our present unrepented-of "national sins".

Time magazine has page after page of photographs of people scarred by the radiation, as if General Sherman had not already said long ago that war is hell.

It certainly is; that doesn't make it wrong or less newsworthy to point out evil acts within wars which may themselves be justified overall (as WWII certainly was). It is no more wrong to show these pictures than to show pictures of the victims of abortion (which I have done in public, to the great distress of pro-aborts passing by): both show innocent victims of objectively, intrinsically evil acts. Nevertheless, anticipating this objection, I will not post such pictures here. I want my argument to depend solely on its reasoning and factuality, not on the emotionalism (however justified) of photographs of the atrocities.

Winston Churchill once spoke of the secrets of the atom, "hitherto mercifully withheld from man." We can all lament that this terrible power of mass destruction has been revealed to the world and fear its ominous consequences for us all, including our children and grandchildren.


But that is wholly different from saying that a great moral evil was committed when the first atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

It is (and "high" Catholic statements on the subject are often of the former sort, for various reasons). For my part, I assert both things.

What was new about these bombs was the technology, not the morality. More people were killed with ordinary bombs in German cities or in Tokyo. Vastly more people were killed with ordinary bullets and cannon on the Russian front. Morality is about what you do to people, not the technology you use.

This illustrates exactly one thing I have repeatedly pointed out: even many of those who defend Hiroshima and Nagasaki will decry Dresden, or will admit that the former, or the air raids on Tokyo were just as devastating and troublesome as the nuclear bombs. But that's just the point, isn't it? If you condemn one, you must condemn them all (and if you accept one, you consistently must accept them all), as they are all equally immoral on the just war grounds that noncombatants must not be deliberately targeted by military strikes. The amazing thing is thast Sowell passes right over this crucial moral consideration. Rather than condemn all these attacks, he would rather simply point out that the earlier, non-nuclear ones were just as bad, and then casually adopt utilitarian ethical reasoning, rather than traditional Christian morality, in judging the atomic bombings. It never ceases to amaze me. It seems that utilitarianism, along with a secular libertarianism, has often infected conservative thought. I have long noted the latter, but I wasn't aware till now that the former had also made such inroads.

The guilt-mongers have twisted the facts of history beyond recognition in order to say that it was unnecessary to drop those atomic bombs.

Note the gratuitous equation of all who oppose these bombings with "the guilt-mongers" (not to mention twisters of history and dishonest revisionists). Nice ad-hominem rhetorical touch there. All who disagree with Sowell are guilt-ridden extremists . . .

Japan was going to lose the war anyway, they say.

And so did many many other high-ranking military figures, including MacArthur, Eisenhower, Nimitz, etc. say . . .

What they don't say is — at what price in American lives? Or even in Japanese lives?

Tthey do say that. But that doesn't justify doing evil!!! This is again purely utilitarian, "good ends justify evil means" reasoning.

Much of the self-righteous nonsense

Now Dr. Sowell can read the hearts of all who dissent from Americanist orthodoxy and determine that they are self-righteous? That's interesting . . .

that abounds on so many subjects cannot stand up to three questions: (1) Compared to what? (2) At what cost? and (3) What are the hard facts?

None of this treats the question of the morality of killing 200,000 civilians under the guise of a "military strike." It's an end run around it, ultimately ending in (ironically) considerable emotionalism (lamenting possible deaths rather than actual ones) and utilitarianism, just as revolting as that which it decries.

The alternative to the atomic bombs was an invasion of Japan, which was already being planned for 1946, and those plans included casualty estimates even more staggering than the deaths that have left a sea of crosses in American cemeteries at Normandy and elsewhere.

That's assuming it would have occurred. With several analyses predicting a probable Japanese surrender by the ened of 1945, and with the Russian declaration of war against Japan, this is not a slam-dunk certainty, fact-wise.

"Revisionist" historians

Is the use of quotations here a concession to fairness on Sowell's part?

have come up with casualty estimates a small fraction of what the American and British military leaders responsible for planning the invasion of Japan had come up with.

These things can be reasonably discussed as probabilities and projections, and good men can differ, but in the end, the morality of an act in Catholic thinking is not dependent on its results (which is pragmatism or utilitarianism or situation ethics), but rather, upon its intrinsic moral qualities and secondarily upon the intentions of the doer of the act.

Who are we to believe, those who had personally experienced the horrors of the war in the Pacific, and who had a lifetime of military experience, or leftist historians hot to find something else to blame America for?

I believe MacArthur, Eisenhower, and Nimitz, who "had a lifetime of military experience," and were not particualry "leftist" as far as I know. They all opposed it, and thought that surrender was soon to come.

During the island-hopping war in the Pacific, it was not uncommon for thousands of Japanese troops to fight to the death on an island, while the number captured were a few dozen. Even some Japanese soldiers too badly wounded to stand would lie where they fell until an American medical corpsman approached to treat their wounds — and then they would set off a grenade to kill them both.

I agree that this is horrible and that we need to understand this in order to understand American sentiment and action at the time. But it is no justifying rationale.

In the air the same spirit led the kamikaze pilots to deliberately crash their planes into American ships and bombers.

Indeed. We dropped bombs instead, from great heights, which killed 100,000 in one fell swoop. I dare say that that is more (objectively) evil than one kamikaze pilot, who was at least brave, if not moral in what he did.

Japan's plans for defense against invasion involved mobilizing the civilian population, including women and children, for the same suicidal battle tactics. That invasion could have been the greatest bloodbath in history.

I see. So we should avoid the horrible spectre and "bloodbath" of killing the women and children on the ground in such a scenario, by killing thousands of women and children from the air. Compelling reasoning, isn't it? Again, there is something wonderfully delusional about committing atrocities from the air without seeing them firsthand, versus doing them eye-to-eye and hand-to-hand. One is a lot less "messy" than the other, but no less immoral, I'm afraid.

No mass killing, especially of civilians, can leave any humane person happy.

Ah, good; so we can be unhappy about it, but alas, not enough to cease doing it. This smacks of the same "moral reasoning" used by pro-aborts, who inevitably appeal to the "unhappiness" and "tragedy" and "unpleasantness" of the choice they always want to make legal and in effect, moral.

But compared to what? Compared to killing many times more Japanese and seeing many times more American die?

Right back to utilitarianism . . .

We might have gotten a negotiated peace if we had dropped the "unconditional surrender" demand.

Good; a rare, refreshing concession to the "hand wringers" and "revisionists," etc.

But at what cost? Seeing a militaristic Japan arise again in a few years, this time armed with nuclear weapons that they would not have hesitated for one minute to drop on Americans.

Far afield from the present inquiry . . . Germany didn't develop nuclear weapons after the war, and they weren't nuked.

As it was, the unconditional surrender of Japan enabled General Douglas MacArthur to engineer one of the great historic transformations of a nation from militarism to pacifism, to the relief of hundreds of millions of their neighbors, who had suffered horribly at the hands of their Japanese conquerors.

It wasn't absolutely unconditional because they were allowed to retain their Emperor, to save face. This begs the question, anyway, by assuming that an "unconditional" surrender was necessary for these things to occur.

The facts may deprive the revisionists

What? no quotation marks now?!

of their platform for lashing out at America

Just like a drunken boxer "lashes" out against his opponent, without reason or scruple . . .? One must be anti-American to be against carpet bombing of civilians?

and for the ego trip of moral preening

Now the otherwise great scholar is reduced to psychobabble too! How the mighty have fallen. In condemning "self righteous . . . moral preening, he falls prey to exactly the same thing, far as I can tell, by patronizingly lecturing his opponents like a schoolmaster would his student underlings.

but, fear not, they will find or manufacture other occasions for that.

Oh yes! Flaming liberal that I am, no doubt I shall prepare for further devious anti-American diversions as soon as I depart this critique . . .

The rest of us need to understand what irresponsible frauds they are —

Ooooh! Dr. Sowell! Now I and my ilk are "fraud[s]" too? Why the necessity to name-call? Is no dissent whatsoever allowed on this point?

and how the stakes are too high to let the 4th estate succeed as a 5th column undermining the society on which our children and grandchildren's security will depend.

Fine, emotional-type, purely polemical, non sequitur ending; this piece went from bad to worse to almost a self-parody by the end . . .

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