Monday, August 11, 2008

Question of the Day

Was the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki morally justified?

40 comments:

bob said...

Absolutely, our leaders job is to keep America and it's people safe.

Japan was no where near ready to surrender.

Therefore the atomic bombs saved American lives.

DannyG said...

Yes.
Look at the casualty rate for both sides @ Iwo Jema.

Look at the number of suicide boats and planes Japan had in reserve for an invasion of the home islands.

Consider what the casulaties from a combined blocade and bombing campaign would have been.

After Germany surrendered my dad spent the next few months as a translator at Aschwitz (sp?). His squadron had orders in hand to transfer to the Pacific in anticipation of the invasion of Japan when the bombs were employed. Instead they were home for Christmas. He never doubted the necessity or justification.

klaxophone said...

It's the anthropic principle. Instead of occupying Japan my father would have invaded Japan, and I probably wouldn't be here to say 'Yes, it was justified.' Besides saving American lives, it may have killed fewer Japanese than a systematic invasion of their home islands would have.

Michael said...

For the sake of America, I agree with Bob and DannyG. However, the imminent casualty figures included civilians, and this must surely have been known beforehand. American lives were spared, of course, but under Augustine's "Just War" and considering the nature of John's question, was the bombing "morally" justified?

I just don't think it is so simple to say "yes" merely for the sake of the United States as if to infer that everything the US chooses to do is morally justified. Would I have done the same thing if I were in Truman's shoes? Honestly, I have no idea because I am too far removed from the situation and the time.

Would the US be morally justified to take similar measures against Iran or Syria knowing them to be major backers of world-wide terrorism? Would the US be morally justified to take similar measures against North Korea? Sudan?

I just don't think it's that simple.

Dan Trabue said...

God forbid that Christians ever actively and enthusiastically support the targeting of hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children for a horrible death.

No, absolutely not! The ends (however questionable that is) do NOT justify the means.

Might makes right may make sense from a Darwinian point of view, but not from a Christian point of view.

A nation that advocates the targeting of civilians for such terror has very little room to complain about the much smaller crimes of "terrorists."

klaxophone said...

Dan, would invading Japan with conventional forces have lead to the death of fewer Japanese civilians?

Dan Trabue said...

I am much closer to a pacifist or at least a Just Peace Theorist (google it) than a Just War Theorist, as I think that is closer to the Christian Way.

Having said that, IF we are going to have JWT as a rough criteria for how and when to wage war, then we need to abide by at least its principles. We can't target civilians. That is just wrong.

If those civilians include children and we're talking about hundreds of thousands of such deaths, then it is all the more wrong.

This is what SHOULD separate US and more progressive thinking about defense from more barbaric approaches. We have the belief that some actions are just wrong.

Included in this set of beliefs is that it is wrong to target and kill children, it is wrong to target and kill civilians, it is wrong to commit genocide, it is wrong to torture, for starters.

The ends do not justify the means. MIGHT we have slaughtered fewer children if we didn't use the nukes than if we did, in the end? The answer is: It doesn't matter. We ought not choose to slaughter children. Period. That is something that goes beyond the pale.

If we don't have criteria of things that are not acceptable, then we would have no real reason for opposing Japan in the first place. IF it is okay to attack innocent civilians unprovoked, then there was nothing wrong with Pearl Harbor. IF it is NOT okay to attack innocent civilians, then we ought not do it.

We can't have it both ways.

Seems to me.

klaxophone said...

What about the sin of omission -- failing to prevent others from killing innocents?

The Ironic Catholic said...

Nope.

Gosh, John, these have been easy lately!

Seriously, violence against non-combatants should never be considered morally acceptable. Basic Just War Theory there.

Keith Taylor said...

Absolutely it was.

Dan Trabue said...

What about the sin of omission -- failing to prevent others from killing innocents?

I'm not advocating that nothing should have been done. I'm advocating for taking as many steps/approaches as possible to stop an oppressive, deadly force SHORT of engaging in morally unacceptable behavior.

We could probably gain information by raping captured enemies as a means of torturing them. Ought we rape captured enemies? No. It is wrong.

It is wrong - always wrong - to target and kill innocent people. Especially children.

klaxophone said...

One problem with Dan's position is that it tries to avoid sins of commission by ignoring sins of omission. Surely it's as wrong to allow rape and murder you could stop, even if the dictator's anti-aircraft guns are atop the crippled children's hospital, or his ordnance plants are in the suburbs. The other problem is its fundamental impotence. "Repressive Dictator's behavior is unacceptable, and for the sixth year in a row we raise our voices in condemnation. We call for the killings to stop at once!" The result is not peace, but despotism - rule by any Dear Leader able to take hostages. At least in this country those of us willing to use force are content to allow a large degree of liberty to those who are not.

Dan Trabue said...

One problem with Dan's position is...

Which might be fine IF that was my position. However, as I stated, I am in favor of taking positive, well-considered actions to STOP oppression, genocide, dangerous leaders. I am opposed to "doing nothing."

In fact, that is one reason why I'm generally opposed to war-as-solution - it too often FORCES us to do nothing. Because War-as-solution is so expensive, expansive and extensive, it preoccupies our energies and resources. So while we're doing all we can do to deal with, for instance, Iraq and Afghanistan, we have no significant wherewithal to deal with Russia, Iran, Sudan, Rwanda, Colombia.

War-as-solution almost always requires that we do nothing in some circumstances so we can wage our war in other circumstances.

But we can take less violent actions and still be successful (or at least as successful as war-as-solution is).

We did it in Nicaragua when we used Non-Violent Direct Action to stop the Contra terrorists, successfully for the most part.

We did it in South Africa when we used economic pressure to stop Apartheid violence.

We did it in India when Gandhi used economic pressure to stop colonial oppression.

We have taken steps to stop deadly violence in many places and times without resorting to targeting civilians.

THAT is what I'm saying is wrong.

I wonder, Klaxaphone, how you address the seeming inconsistency of the targeting of civilians?

IF we're angry at Japan for attacking civilians at Pearl Harbor, we'll respond by attacking even more citizens at Hiroshima? That doesn't make logical or ethical sense to me.

Kansas Bob said...

I wonder why the Japanese leaders did not surrender after Hiroshima? It could have saved the lives of those killed 3 days later at Nagasaki.

klaxophone said...

Dan, I'm sorry, I misunderstood and mistated your position. I wouldn't want to use you as an arguing proxy for some generic pacifist.

Looking at President Roosevelt's Infamy speech, the anger was that it was a premeditated attack while we were at peace and negotiating. His speech doesn't mention civilians. Also, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not chosen to deliberately target civilians. Granted we can't take the Wikipedia article "Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki" as authoritative, but the section 'Choice of targets' says they were "an important army depot and port of embarcation in the middle of an urban industrial area. It is a good radar target and it is such a size that a large part of the city could be extensively damaged. There are adjacent hills which are likely to produce a focussing effect which would considerably increase the blast damage. Due to rivers it is not a good incendiary target." That charge of deliberate targeting of civilians might be better made about the firebombing of Dresden, or maybe of Tokyo.

So, is it wrong to target civilians? Yes. It's as wrong to locate the ordnance plant next to the school. It's as wrong to allow such hostage-taking to work, or to do nothing effective while the killing goes on. When faced with a choice of evils, President Truman chose the lesser.

Dan Trabue said...

Another good question is why would we have done the bombing in the first place? Many leaders and military types believed Japan was ready to surrender.

See here.

This included General Dwight Eisenhower, who said:

"During his recitation of the relevant facts, I had been conscious of a feeling of depression and so I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. It was my belief that Japan was, at that very moment, seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of 'face'..."

And Chief of Staff, Admiral William Leahy who said:

"It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons.

"The lethal possibilities of atomic warfare in the future are frightening. My own feeling was that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children."


Amen.

See what they and others at the time had to say here.

John said...

Dan wrote:

Another good question is why would we have done the bombing in the first place? Many leaders and military types believed Japan was ready to surrender.

And yet, as Kansas Bob points out, they didn't even after Hiroshima.

Dan Trabue said...

Klaxaphone said:

When faced with a choice of evils, President Truman chose the lesser.

I can almost respect this position (although I would still disgree with it strongly) AS LONG AS the person advocating such a position recognizes that choosing a lesser of two evils is still choosing an evil.

The problem is, of course, in choosing to do evil.

One could say that the man whose wife is ill and unable to "meet his intimacy needs" would be justified in having an affair, as a lesser of two evils. After all, it is wrong to have an affair, but it is also wrong to burn with lust. Or even worse, to leave his wife because of his unrequited lust.

Therefore, by going to a prostitute to have his "needs" met, he saves the marriage. It was an evil, yes, but the lesser evil than a divorce.

I don't buy the argument, myself. I think at least partially because it assumes only one of two positions - I can divorce my wife or I can have an affair. Those aren't the only two possibilities.

Rarely are there only two possibilities.

bob said...

The argument for or against choices made before the bombs were dropped make little sense.

We didn't choose to go to war, we were attacked and defended ourselves.

Once war was begun the ony choices are how to win with the fewest casualties.

The instantaneousness of the deaths in the atomic bombings while revolting served the purpose of lessening casualties.

It's easy to sit back and say we shouldn't target this or that,but if I was in the military I would want the safest course of action taken.

Anything less is morally reprehensible, again a government's first responsibility is to it's own people.

Dan Trabue said...

Bob said:

The instantaneousness of the deaths in the atomic bombings while revolting served the purpose of lessening casualties.

This is, of course, a guess. A supposition which is not provable. Some people at the time made this suggestion. Others at the time (and since) have suggested otherwise.

Either side is unprovable - proving what "might have been" always is. For what that's worth.

Bob also said:

Once war was begun the ony choices are how to win with the fewest casualties...

It's easy to sit back and say we shouldn't target this or that,but if I was in the military I would want the safest course of action taken.


One MIGHT make the suggestion that this line of thinking is reasonable from a military point of view.

The question asked, though, is was this nuclear MORALLY justified? And, since it was asked of a generally Christian audience, I think I presumed was this bombing morally justified from a Christian point of view.

I think it is safe to say that from a Christian AND moral point of view, we ought never target children or innocent people for mass destruction.

Do you disagree?

Larry B said...

I have been to Hiroshima and been through the peace museum to see firsthand the effects of our bombing. What is interesting however is that the Japanese take a very conciliatory approach toward this event and from the best I could gather do not view what we did as something immoral.

Prior to this event, the Japanese were noted for their own levels of oppression and cruelty especially towards the chinese. They openly display this fact in many of the museums I visited.

I don't believe it's so black and white as Dan continues to imply that the immorality of the act can be judged solely on the fact that innocents were lost. Innocents are lost everyday on our highway when we choose to drive - It's a statistical certainty. I don't know if you can declare driving immoral simply because innocents are lost.

bob said...

I think that in modern warfare the best that can be hoped for is to minimize collateral damage.
The way war is fought now every advantage possible is taken.hiding amongst civilians, in schools,everything seems legal at times.




I could be wrong but I believe we offered Japan the opportunity to surrender before Hiroshima .
I don't believe we should target children but once war has begun I don't think anyone is safe.
Let's hope that the decision to nuke or not to nuke never has to be made again.

Dan Trabue said...

Innocents are lost everyday on our highway when we choose to drive - It's a statistical certainty. I don't know if you can declare driving immoral simply because innocents are lost.

An argument could be made (that's another area of passionate opinion for me - there are 1 million people who are killed in car crashes every year and another 3 million from air pollution, a good portion of which comes from autos).

However, the difference between cars and Hiroshima is no one sets out driving with the express intention of killing people. The Hiroshima/Nagasaki bombs WERE dropped with the express intention of killing people - men, women and children. It was the plan.

Are you all really not willing to say that it is always a moral wrong to target children for mass slaughter?

See, this is the problem that many have with many on the religious right: Many of them have pretty firm ideas of what is right and wrong and are quite willing to express those opinions (and often in a judgmental, sanctimonious manner), but when it comes down to it, they have areas where they are pretty wishy washy - and in areas like targeting innocents where one SHOULD have a strong opinion.

IF you want to make the case that war results in evil actions and sometimes - not knowing what else to do and being afraid that if we don't commit evil ourselves, greater evil will happen - sometimes, we do choose to commit evil, wrong, horrible actions, then you might have some ground to stand on in this imperfect world.

But what I don't get is claiming that an action like targeting civilians is not wrong. If it was wrong for Japan to do it at Pearl Harbor (and at least that was a military target), why is it RIGHT for us?

There's a vague "it's okay if it's US doing the atrocity" sort of vibe to that idea, it seems to me.

klaxophone said...

Dan, it's clear that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not chosen 'to target children for mass slaughter,' but as strategic military targets. Of course it's wrong to target children for mass slaughter. Nobody disagrees (well, maybe Osama et al.) President Truman didn't do that at Hiroshima, nor did Japan at Pearl Harbor. Your straw men and hyperbole undermine your own case. You could argue that the firebombing of Dresden and the Nanking Massacre were unjustified, but you'd have to find someone to argue with, or gin up a disagreement where there is none. In fact, much of your argument here seems like a coat hanger for a general condemnation of the US government, and of conservatives in general.

Dan Trabue said...

"Conservatives" like Eisenhower? Like Admiral Leahy? You think I was bashing them in praising what they had to say?

I grew up conservative. My parents are conservative. I think my position is quite conservative on many topics (including the use of atomic bombs on Japan). I'm certainly not condemning conservatives generally nor my gov't generally. I am condemning those who support the targeting of civilians. I'm condemning of (DEMOCRAT) President Truman for his decision - against the advice of many of his more prudent, morally-minded advisors.

To pretend that the civilian center of Nagasaki or Hiroshima were military topics seems to me to be a huge stretch. I mean, there are often potential military targets amid civilians, but dropping a NUKE on a civilian city is not targeting a military target.

It was planned to instill terror and hopelessness in the people of Japan so they would surrender. It was a weapon of terrorism, not military targeting. I'd suggest one CAN'T possibly use an atomic bomb to be used specifically on military targets because of its very nature.

Dan Trabue said...

And still I wonder:

If it was wrong for Japan to do it at Pearl Harbor (and at least that was a military target), why is it RIGHT for us?

klaxophone said...

Dan, if we aren't going to read what each other writes, there's little point in continuing. I expect you find repetition no more persuasive than I do. Thanks for articulating your position. I'll hope we can find some common ground another time.

John said...

Dan wrote:

If it was wrong for Japan to do it at Pearl Harbor (and at least that was a military target), why is it RIGHT for us?

It's wrong to initiate violence, not to respond to violence with further violence.

Dan Trabue said...

I agree about repetition, but no one had answered the question, so I was asking the question again (not repeating my position again). For what it's worth.

Peace.

Dan Trabue said...

Thanks, John, for the answer.

So, to make sure I'm understanding you correctly: You think it's wrong to target civilians initially, BUT if another nation targets our civilians, THEN it is okay to target their civilians?

Anonymous said...

Long time since I've read or commented, but lo and behold some things and people never change. Without further adieu, allow me to jump in:

To answer the Question of the Day, albiet a day late; I answer in the affirmative.


See, this is the problem that many have with many on the religious right: Many of them have pretty firm ideas of what is right and wrong and are quite willing to express those opinions (and often in a judgmental, sanctimonious manner), but when it comes down to it, they have areas where they are pretty wishy washy - and in areas like targeting innocents where one SHOULD have a strong opinion.

Dan, with all due respect, this is the problem that I have with you: you have pretty firm ideas of what is right and wrong and are quite willing to express those opinions (and often in a morally preening, sanctimonious manner), but when it comes down to it, you have areas where you are pretty wishy washy - and in areas like targeting innocents where one SHOULD have a strong opinion.
You clumsily dodge Larry B.'s automobile example of innocent lives lost by asserting "the express intention of killing people" clause; yet from previous posts that you have made here and other blogs, you have no qualms in supporting legalized abortions. Abortions - legalized or not - are performed with the express intention of killing people; or if you will, the targeting of innocent lives.
In summation, you are opposed to the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (estimated total casualties 200K) and war in general, yet support the aborting of approximately one million unborn human beings each year in the U.S.? I wonder, Dan, how you address the seeming inconsistency of the targeting of innocent lives?



Respectfully,
Joseph

bob said...

Dan, I don't believe anyone argues that Pearl Harbor was wrong because of civilians. The problem with Pearl Harbor Was Japan negotiating with the U.S. as a ruse to sucker punch us.

When we attacked Hiroshima we told them we were going to nuke them they refused to believe.
An argument probably could be made that nukes are never moral because there range of devestation is so large that civilians would always be a part of the target.
I would argue personal and national morality are not necessarily the same.A nations morality must be centered in caring for thier own interests and people.
Idon't think anyone personally would advocate nuclear attack but when the choice comes down to thousands of Americans and Japanese lives or just thousands of Japanese lives i would be hard pressed to call Truman immoral.

John said...

Dan wrote:

So, to make sure I'm understanding you correctly: You think it's wrong to target civilians initially, BUT if another nation targets our civilians, THEN it is okay to target their civilians?

I think that it's wrong to initiate violence. I also think that targeting civilians should be avoided if at all possible. Usually, it is. This was one of the such time when it was necessary.

In proper Just War Theory, war may be necessary, but it is, nonethless, profoundly evil -- even in the best-case scenario.

Larry B said...

Dan asks:

Are you all really not willing to say that it is always a moral wrong to target children for mass slaughter?

This is an easy question to answer - intentional targeting of innocent children for mass slaughter would be morally reprehensible.

But in my mind, you haven't proven that this was the US's intent with Hiroshima and Nagasaki. My own experience at the musuem in Hiroshima argues against that statement. The Japanese fully acknowledge that they were conducting military operations in the middle of civillian territory. They acknowledge that they were given fair warning of an imminent event. They acknowledge that the entire city was alerted with air raid sirens with ample time to evacuate prior to the bombing. They chose however to ignore the warnings, the air raid sirens, and they made the choice for their citizens that the operation of their military was of prime importance over the safety of their civilian population.

I don't see how you can logically argue that the US intended for civilians to die. They gave the Japanese a choice. They understood the moral implications of civilians dying in an attack and made provisions for the Japanese to take appropriate action. That does not show malicious intent.

That would be like arguing that a government shows malicious intent by giving us freedoms if someone uses that freedom to harm another.

Dan Trabue said...

that you have made here and other blogs, you have no qualms in supporting legalized abortions. Abortions - legalized or not - are performed with the express intention of killing people; or if you will, the targeting of innocent lives.

The difference being that I am not in favor of the gov’t killing ANY innocents – especially children. I am opposed to the gov’t doing it in Hiroshima and I’m opposed to the gov’t aborting children.

I am also opposed to the gov’t making medical decisions for people – including abortion. If individuals make the medical decision to have an abortion and they’ve done it for frivolous reasons, ending the life of an unborn child, I think that is wrong, but it’s not the gov’t doing it. And I trust the families to make that decision as to whether or not it is frivolous or necessary, not the gov’t.

That’s the difference.

John said...

I am also opposed to the gov’t making medical decisions for people – including abortion. If individuals make the medical decision to have an abortion and they’ve done it for frivolous reasons, ending the life of an unborn child, I think that is wrong, but it’s not the gov’t doing it. And I trust the families to make that decision as to whether or not it is frivolous or necessary, not the gov’t.

Here is where my libertarianism drops off. I think that one of the few legitimate purposes of government is to protect people from crime (e.g. murder, theft), so the state may and should protect children from being murdered. Just as it should protect adults from being murdered.

Dan Trabue said...

Dan, with all due respect, this is the problem that I have with you: you have pretty firm ideas of what is right and wrong and are quite willing to express those opinions (and often in a morally preening, sanctimonious manner)

This is, without a doubt, true, much to my shame. I am a prideful opinionated lout and express some of my opinions fairly sactimoniously at times and, for that, I apologize. I shall work on it.

Still, I think there is some good in all of that, in that it's good for so-called conservatives to see in someone else how exactly it is they come across when they express opinions on, for instance, abortion or gay marriage. Sanctimonious preening abounds way too often (although certainly not in all more conservative circles - our host, John, here is an exceptionally humble and reasonable brother and example to us all).

And, in my defense, we ARE talking about innocent lives here and the Bible is full of some pretty harsh rebukes against those who'd oppress the poor and innocent and fail to take care of children. We are talking about some deadly horrific actions and I find some justification in being outraged that some would attempt to justify it when it's "our side" doing the killing.

Still, I shall do what I can to weigh the need to speak out against oppression and death vs being humble when I do so.

Dan Trabue said...

John said:

so the state may and should protect children from being murdered. Just as it should protect adults from being murdered.

But I would object to the state making the call on end of life decisions people make for themselves or their loved ones. For me, abortion fits more closely in with those sorts of medical and/or end of life decisions than they do with murder.

Off topic, but for what it's worth.

jockeystreet said...

I read this post and a few of the comments before heading out to work this morning and the question has been on my mind since.

The answer might be yes.

But if yes, it's got to be a tortured yes. It's got to be a painful, struggling yes that takes into account the really real reality of how absolutely horrible those bombings were, how absolutely horrible it is to destroy thousands upon thousands upon thousands of innocent lives in a flash. Any yes, I think, has to really look at the human suffering-- the mothers and brides and children and grandfathers and little brothers and big sisters and eccentric neighbors, all the human beings with full and real lives who were killed (some quickly, some very slowly).

To justify it reflexively, to give a "yes" without acknowledging and I think somehow being affected by that horrible weight, strikes me as being "sinful."

The answer might be yes, that the bombings were justified-- from a political, military, practical point of view.

But, like Dan, I read "morally justified" as meaning something other than politically, militarily and practically necessary; this being Locusts and Honey, I read "morally justified" to mean not just "morally justified," but "morally justified from a Christian point of view."

From that perspective, I can't see the answer as being anything other than an "absolutely not."

I know, I know... Just War Theory. I don't know what I think of that; I don't know all that much about it. I don't remember Christ mentioning it. But I've been reading some of the "yes" responses here, and I've been trying hard to picture Jesus, surrounded by children and disciples, approached by the general who asks "teacher, in order to end this war early and save the lives of countless soldiers, am I justified in incinerating an enemy's city; in order to strike at military targets and end this long war, am I justified in killing that city's women, children, grandfathers?" I have a really, really hard time picturing Jesus saying "of course you are." I have a hard time picturing Jesus saying anything but "throw down your sword, beat it into a plowshare," that sort of thing.

The answer might be yes, from a political or practical point of view.

But it seems that choosing to follow an ethical path-- and, even more, following Jesus' path-- sometimes has very little to do with being practical. It has a lot to do with impractical things, like loving enemies, taking up crosses, choosing to suffer evils rather than commit them. That's burdensome, uncomfortable, etc. What else would we ever expect it to be?

Anyway, my thoughts throughout the day, for what they're worth.

Keith McIlwain said...

It was not morally justifiable for a Christian to make that call.