Monday, September 05, 2005

The Nuclear Bombings of Japan: Consistent with Catholic Just War Standards? (Part II)

By Dave Armstrong (9-5-05)

Gar Alperovitz notes the following facts:
Brigadier Gen. Carter W. Clarke, the officer in charge of preparing MAGIC
intercepted cable summaries in 1945, stated in a 1959 interview:
we brought them [the Japanese] down to an abject surrender through the accelerated sinking of their merchant marine and hunger alone, and when we didn't need to do it, and we knew we didn't need to do it, and they knew that we knew we didn't need to do it, we used them as an experiment for two atomic bombs." (See p. 359, Chapter 28)
Perhaps the Japanese would not have surrendered very soon after August 1945 without the bombs. Everyone must speculate and there can be no sure answer (as in all "what if?" historical inquiries).

I have simply shown that many high-placed military figures at the time did not favor the bombings, and indeed felt that surrender would occur without it. They know a lot more about this than lay observers, sitting in armchairs, 60 years later, which is why I keep appealing to them.

On the other hand, ultimately, my judgment on this isn't based on utilitarian, pragmatic calculations as to whether Japan would surrender or not. I think the bombings were intrinsically immoral because of the numbers of civilian casualties involved. Therefore, they could have no ethical justification, period (not even on a secular absolutist basis), no matter how good the perceived or probable end might be.

No one could have not known this (the high casualties of noncombatants), and I have provided some strong evidence that indeed it was known at the time, and that even proponents of the bomb cannot get over that fact. Cities of multiple thousands of inhabitants are somehow thought to be "military targets" and the unintended civilian casualties as secondary to the destruction of some military plants (as if this justifies the wholesale slaughter). I find it absolutely outrageous. I understand the reasoning (as I used to hold it myself) and do not cast aspersions upon the motivations of proponents, but I cannot support the thing itself, because I don't find the rationales offered to be based on Catholic just war principles.

I find this position as outrageous as the following analogy (to use the example of my own city, which I know something about):

In the Detroit metro area is Willow Run Airport. In that area, many bombers were manufactured by Ford Motor Company, and played a key role in the air war (my father, incidentally, flew 24 missions over Germany as a top gunner in the Canadian / Royal Air Force, and I have always been very proud of that part of his life). We also have military bases (of what relative importance I know not).

But say for the sake of argument that these bases were very important, along with the Willow Run facilities which were undeniably very important. By the reasoning of some proponents of these bombings (and alas, Truman's), one could detonate an atomic bomb halfway between Willow Run and Selfridge Air Force Base, which location would be approximately in the very center of Detroit proper. By this incomprehensible reasoning, Detroit (a city of 2 million in the WWII era) is a "military base." Therefore, to strike at its center (as in the examples of Hiroshima and Nagasaki) is to strike military targets; therefore, not intending to kill civilians (who just happen to unfortunately be there). Their deaths are justifiable by the principle of double effect.

So say that, roughly a third of the inhabitants of metro Detroit (including my mother and her parents at that time, and possibly my father's parents) would be killed (approximately the ratio at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, without doing the exact math). This would amount to some 670,000 deaths. But these are all "collateral damage" because, after all, they were not the "targets": Willow Run and Selfridge were.

It's double effect, you see. If 200,000 can be killed by this absurd moralistic rationalization, why not 670,000? Just as if one abortion is legal (the intrinsically immoral taking of an innocent life), why not 1.5 million a year? Once that line is crossed there is no end. This is why the Catholic Church opposes it from the outset, on principle, and in accord with basic principles of justice inherent in the natural law, known to all conscientious men. I think the analogy above is quite apt and that it shows once again the moral absurdity of such a position.

As for Truman's subjective culpability, I make no judgment on that. I believe that he was in an extremely difficult situation, and that we must allow for that, and that God certainly will, in His infinite wisdom. I am not about condemning individual motivations in this discussion.

I understand quite well, I think, the honorable motivations and intentions of those who disagree with me on this (again, having once held the same position myself, as is so often the case). I simply disagree that the position can be harmonized with Catholic moral principles. America decided in its carpet bombing policies, to abandon just war criteria. The reasoning was that one must oppose total war by total war. This is immoral and indefensible. Understandable in those incredible circumstances, sure, but ethically indefensible . . .

Such an analogy as mine above is intended as a reductio ad absurdum (one of my favorite rhetorical techniques in dialogue). It is incumbent upon bomb proponents to reply to that, in order to show that what it suggests is false; viz., that the analogy does not prove the absurdity of that which it seeks to overcome in the reductio.

Furthermore (and this is a crucial point in understanding my approach) I cited many prominent Catholics (and at least one very prominent Anglican layman), in Part I, for the following reasons:

1) Because they (in most cases) know more about the issue than I do.

2) To show that this position is indeed the Catholic mainstream one, not some fringe or "left-wing" or quasi-pacifist position.

3) To reiterate that a Catholic's opinions on such momentous ethical and socio-political issues are formed within the matrix and framework of Catholic community and the magisterium (as opposed to pure private judgment) , even if the issue is not technically one of dogma and non-negotiable. Catholics may differ, but they are still Catholics, who must form such opinions of conscience and ethical principle in light of the Church's teaching and guidance. If one, therefore, shows little outward sign of doing so, then one must be guided towards the proper sources that he has been overlooking in forming his opinions. And so I am presently providing that service.

The credentials and reliability of Ralph Raico, whom I cited in Part I, were questioned. I shall present his scholarly credentials (readers can make up their own minds):
Ralph Raico is professor of European history at the State University of New York
College at Buffalo. He received his Ph.D. degree from the University of Chicago,
Committee on Social Thought, where the head of his dissertation committee was
F.A. Hayek. Among Dr. Raico's articles and essays are: "Rethinking Churchill" in
The Costs of War, John V. Denson, ed.; "Austrian Economics and Classical
Liberalism," in Advances in Austrian Economics, vol. II; "The Theory of Economic
Development and the 'European Miracle,'" in The Collapse of Economic Planning,
Peter J. Boettke, ed.; "Classical Liberal Roots of the Marxist Doctrine of
Classes," in Requiem for Marx, Yuri N. Maltsev, ed.; and Classical Liberalism in
the Twentieth Century
. Dr. Raico has also contributed to The Review of Austrian
, the Zeitschrift fur Wirtschaftspolitik,the Cato Journal, and other

scholarly journals. He is the translator of Ludwig von Mises's Liberalism and of
essays by F.A. Hayek contained in Hayek's Collected Works. Dr. Raico was editor
of the New Individualist Review and senior editor of Inquiry. He has lectured
widely in Europe, the United States, and Canada, and is fellow in social thought
at the Cato Institute.
I'm not brash enough to think that my own bald opinion on such a momentous matter is enough to persuade or carry any weight with anyone. Therefore, I cite scholars and leading figures in the Church. There is nothing wrong in citing people who have more knowledge and expertise on a subject.

One can distinguish between:

1) Making a strong assertion about some Catholic teaching as a matter of one's
own opinion.


2) Making out that this opinion is dogmatic Catholic teaching with regard to the particular under consideration and that no one can possibly disagree.
Karl Keating wrote:
The atomic bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, like the fire bombings of
Dresden and other German cities, cannot be squared with Catholic moral
principles because the bombings deliberately targeted non-combatants.
I think this can easily be interpreted as an instance of #1 and not #2. Perhaps it could have been worded better (as is usually the case with almost all writing), but I don't think he was being "dogmatic". The same applies to the Catholic Answers Guide. To state one's opinion (even if strongly held) that a certain Catholic principle was violated in Instance X is not the same as asserting that one's opinion on the matter is itself magisterial and unable to be dissented against without being a lousy Catholic.
We are talking about bombs detonated over the center of cities with multiple thousands of people. To say that this was not a deliberate targeting of civilians as well as military materials is absurd. By this reasoning we could explode a bomb over Baghdad or some other Iraqi city if a significant number of terrorists resided within, and simply say that we were targeting the terrorists, and had no intention of killing anyone else.

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