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Hashimoto: No Apology Needed For Hiroshima

My friend and former Dallas Morning News colleague Mike Hashimoto, the world’s only Japanese-American redneck, reflected recently on President Obama’s planned visit to Hiroshima, which happened earlier today. [1] Excerpt:

Hiroshima was one of the pivotal events to end a war that needed ending. Without it, more Japanese would have died in a U.S. assault on the islands, as would have tens of thousands of Americans. People die in wars, and wishing it weren’t so doesn’t make it so.

If it took a step as extreme as an atomic weapon to convince those obsessed fellows running Japan that surrender was the superior option, then it did. No apology needed for sparing lives on both sides, and I’m relieved Obama doesn’t plan one.

As historical events go, I’ve always felt more strongly about Franklin Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 that sent 120,000 people to prison camps solely because of their ancestry, the great majority Japanese. Or the “Go for Broke” heroics of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in World War II. Or Ronald Reagan signing into law the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 and his apology for interning U.S. citizens back then.

Perhaps that’s just a consequence of growing up Japanese-American, with an emphasis on the latter.

Read the whole thing. [1]

I have never been able to settle my conscience about the atomic bomb attacks. Hash is right: they almost certainly brought the war to a faster conclusion, saving more American and Japanese lives. But wiping out 70,000 in a single instant, and 70,000 more in radiation-related deaths? The mind reels, and it should.

Nevertheless, I wonder: had the same effect been achieved over a period of days, like the Anglo-American firebombing of Dresden (which killed around 25,000, and nearly leveled the German city), would that be controversial today? Would we mark the event? Probably not. Granted, Hiroshima marks a technological turning point in the history of humankind, and of man’s inhumanity to man: the deployment of a bomb that can annihilate an entire city in one second. Conceptually, this was a new thing, a new and horrible thing.

But if I or my son stood to die in the invasion of the Japanese home islands, I am certain that my horror at the new thing would have been all but non-existent. Recalling the literature scholar and World War II vet Paul Fussell’s essay (later a book) thanking God for the atomic bomb, Bret Stephens wrote [2]:

I brought Fussell’s essay with me on my flight to Hiroshima and was stopped by this: “When we learned to our astonishment that we would not be obliged in a few months to rush up the beaches near Tokyo assault-firing while being machine-gunned, mortared, and shelled, for all the practiced phlegm of our tough facades we broke down and cried with relief and joy. We were going to live.”


Because Hiroshima and Nagasaki were real events, because they happened, there can be no gainsaying their horror. Operation Downfall did not happen, so there’s a lot of gainsaying. Would the Japanese have been awed into capitulation by an offshore A-bomb test? Did the Soviet Union’s invasion of Manchuria, starting the day of the Nagasaki bombing, have the more decisive effect in pushing Japan to give up? Would casualties from an invasion really have exceeded the overall toll—by some estimates approaching 250,000—of the two bombs?

We’ll never know. We only know that the U.S. lost 14,000 men merely to take Okinawa in 82 days of fighting. We only know that, because Japan surrendered, the order to execute thousands of POWs in the event of an invasion of the home islands was never implemented. We only know that, in the last weeks of a war Japan had supposedly already lost, the Allies were sustaining casualties at a rate of 7,000 a week.

We also know that the Japanese army fought nearly to the last man to defend Okinawa, and hundreds of civilians chose suicide over capture. Do we know for a certainty that the Japanese would have fought less ferociously to defend the main islands? We can never know for a certainty.

“Understanding the past,” Fussell wrote, “requires pretending that you don’t know the present. It requires feeling its own pressure on your pulses without any ex post facto illumination.” Historical judgments must be made in light not only of outcomes but also of options. Would we judge Harry Truman better today if he had eschewed his nuclear option in favor of 7,000 casualties a week; that is, if he had been more considerate of the lives of the enemy than of the lives of his men?

Your thoughts?

196 Comments (Open | Close)

196 Comments To "Hashimoto: No Apology Needed For Hiroshima"

#1 Comment By Deggjr On May 29, 2016 @ 7:26 am

“Moreover, the enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb, the power of which to do damage is, indeed, incalculable, taking the toll of many innocent lives. Should we continue to fight, it would not only result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization.”

– Emperor Hirohito, surrender speech, paragraph 6


#2 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On May 29, 2016 @ 9:28 am

My comment got swallowed up for some reason, so I’ll restate. Aaron Gross, +1000 to your “I don’t give a sh*t about your grandfathers” comment, and Eamus, +1000 to you as well. It’s depressing that the most fervent defenses of the duty not to mass-murder on this thread are coming from a pair of non-Christians.

On the other extreme, Dominic’s “patriotism is more important than moral theology” bit would be a hilarious parody of secularist moral bankruptcy if it weren’t so sad.

#3 Comment By pjsmoov On May 29, 2016 @ 9:35 am


Ike did write that in a memoir published years after the fact and long after Stimson had passed away. Perhaps his memory accurately recalls his frame of mind in July 1945 regarding the use of nukes. Or maybe not. What’s in the Stimson papers (and diary)? Did Marshall recall anything?

Using the bomb was really a foregone conclusion. Why wouldn’t we use it? And Japan didn’t surrender immediately after Nagasaki. In a coup the military attempted to capture the emperor and keep the going. Military planners genuinely believed that an invasion would be a bloodbath.

I’m not arguing that unconditional surrender was a policy that could not be modified (it actually was) and that the atomic bombs were the only option. My point is that planners made a reasonable assessment, considered alternatives, and Truman agreed to use weapons that were designed to be used. Were there political considerations involved? Of course. But, the work of serious scholars, and not talk radio hosts, has thoroughly discredited Alperovitz yet look at how his thesis is still believed by people who want it to be true.

#4 Comment By Eamus Catuli On May 29, 2016 @ 10:56 am

Wow, dominic, thanks for that. I had no idea you were such a crazed extremist on this. So yes, apparently you do conflate the people with the dictatorial government, and since you don’t feel sorry for the latter there’s no need to feel sorry at all. The atomic bombings just lie outside of and beyond any moral analysis. Well, I guess that’s one way of evading the clear teachings of your own faith.

And yeah, no, yours is not the Catholic position. It is SO not the Catholic position that even a non-Catholic can see this. Not that I care whether you’re a good Catholic or not, but I do think there’s value in Catholic moral traditions, especially regarding just war, and I’m sorry to see anyone, Catholic or not, be as brutally dismissive of them as you are.

#5 Comment By M_Young On May 29, 2016 @ 11:33 am

Ronald Reagan’s apology was one of the worst things he did, even worse than the amnesty/legalization of illegals. It set the stage for the TNC’s of the world, and the white-grovelling of today.

I would have had no problem with some sort of financial compensation for Japanese-Americans. And indeed directly after the war there was individual compensation. But the fact is that there were thousands of Japanese in pro-Imperial Japan groups in the US. And at the very first opportunity two American born persons of Japanese descent sided with Japan (see the above mentioned Ni’ihau incident). The evacuation of Japanese and Japanese Americans from the West Coast was a prudent measure.

#6 Comment By JonF On May 29, 2016 @ 12:18 pm

Re: I am comfortable with war

War may occasionally be necessary, but I do not see how any Christian can be “comfortable” with it.

#7 Comment By Platte R. On May 29, 2016 @ 12:52 pm

Certainly no apology needed or wanted from Obama. For Obama to “apologize” would be utter hypocrisy.

As of this year Obama has kept the country continuously at war longer than any president in our history.

He is now the War Party president par excellence. The greatest slopper of the defense contractor troughs. The biggest payer of bribes to corrupt foreign leaders.

It is sheer impudence for him to presume to issue an apology on behalf of an earlier president who was at least trying to end a war.

#8 Comment By Tom S On May 29, 2016 @ 4:45 pm

Note that Nagasaki was not the original target of the second A-bomb. The original target was the industrial city of Kokura, but cloud cover over the city prevented the drop, and so Nagasaki.

#9 Comment By Gary On May 29, 2016 @ 6:11 pm

“The Secretary was deeply perturbed by my attitude…”

With good reason. Ike was wrong about the Japanese wanting to surrender and Stimson knew it

#10 Comment By pjsmoov On May 29, 2016 @ 6:56 pm

Gary Cowart has actually read his history unlike some others on here.

“By the time the bombs were dropped, Japan certainly posed no further threat to the United States; it was militarily defeated, just not yet occupied.

FYI, Japan really didn’t pose a threat to the U.S. after Midway, something that’s easy to say in retrospect. But, feel free to look up the number of casualties and deaths form summer 1942-45 in the Pacific theater. And you might want to consider a broader perspective and remember the millions of dead under Japanese occupation throughout Asia. Also, google Manilla 1945 and tell me whether that city looks substantially different than Hiroshima did after the atomic bomb.

“So the question here isn’t whether the bombs were justified as a means of winning the war — they weren’t needed for that — but whether they were justified as a means of avoiding negotiations and bringing about a military occupation of Japan. That’s the issue.”

That’s your issue and allied strategists never really discussed policy in such a limited fashion. Atomic bombs weren’t essential to winning the war or for bringing about a military occupation. That would have happened anyway but at a much greater cost in lives lost. The bombs brought about a quick end that, among other things, saved lives throughout Asia, saved Japanese lives, and saved Japan from possible Soviet occupation. Mac or Stalin. Who would you prefer as you overlord? And if the Japanese high command really believed it was entirely defeated, why didn’t it just accept the Potdsam Declaration? Who are they to dictate terms? Doesn’t the Japanese leadership bear some responsibility here? (BTW, has anyone here read about Japanese military and occupation policies in the final months of the war and the Ketsu Go plan?)

Douglas K

“The shock of learning the USA had a weapon that could destroy a city would have been just as effective if an evacuated city was destroyed, if the first attack was followed by a promise there would be no warning for the next ones.”
FYI, they were warned. Japan didn’t surrender after Hiroshima and the military high command wanted to continue the war.
“Instead, they opted to commit a couple of history’s greatest war crimes, for no reason except to prove they could.”
Someone who makes this comment shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Aaron Gross
Wow. Just wow. There are quite a bit of American and British (among others) grandfathers who, for all of their faults, helped make the world a better place. There were lots of others, particularly in Japan and Germany, who supported regimes that started WWII, a war that led to the deaths of perhaps 65 million men, women and children, and implemented the brutal policies of these regimes. There would have been more dead had the war not ended when it did. Many of those surviving grandfathers in America supported the postwar, peaceful transformation of America that has made this country a pretty cool place to live in. I just don’t see grandfathers in Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan having the ability to enact similar reforms but maybe I’m underestimating them. I guess that’s just me.

Anyway, the moral threshold to justify using atomic weapons and killing civilians was crossed much earlier by Japan, Germany, the Soviet Union, and Great Britain (see Bomber Harris), and, yes, by the US by 1944. Are all such instances morally reprehensible? Was, for instance, the bombing of Caen a war crime? Or, as the top French commander stated regarding potential collateral damage to retake Normandy (maybe 40,000 French civilians died in the process), c’est la guerre? Winning that war didn’t really allow for debate over the morality of individual actions.

I suppose it feels good decades later to be able to condemn with absolute moral certainly the decisions made by people, many humane leaders, who made these crucial, difficult decisions under exceptional circumstances. I personally wish the war had concluded in a more peaceful, less brutally destructive manner. Those were horrific weapons that killed tens of thousands of Japanese civilians, primarily the elderly and children. I understand that. I’m not setting off fireworks applauding the use of nukes. But American leaders, using available evidence and with a fresh perspective on end of the war in Europe and the unfolding of the war in the Pacific made a difficult decision that I believe was understandable and justified. Personally, I’m grateful that the US and Japan became friends and allies, and I thought President Obama’s embrace with the Hiroshima survivor was wonderful expression of our reconciliation.

#11 Comment By Eamus Catuli On May 29, 2016 @ 7:36 pm


My comments were addressed to those here — and there were quite a few, at least in the early going — who seemed not even aware that the demand for unconditional surrender was a conscious policy choice, but instead were treating it as if it were a fact of nature. Any serious moral analysis needs to acknowledge the actual policy and defend it against the unchosen alternatives.

Secondly, I’ve pointed out that the A-bombs — and the firebombings of cities of which they were a further extension — didn’t just kill tens of thousands of people. In a way, that’s the easier that outcome to stomach. They also horribly burned and injured many others, in effect subjecting them to torture. This was not accidental, but was a consequence the war planners knew they were bringing about. That, too, has to be factored into any serious moral analysis. The question isn’t just whether the Allies were justified in killing civilians, including children, en masse but whether they were justified in torturing many of those they didn’t kill.

I have said there were also mitigating factors, and I’m aware that the decision-makers were acting under enormous pressures. But my general point here has been: let’s consider all facts relevant to the moral question, not just those that lead to our preferred conclusions.

#12 Comment By Eamus Catuli On May 29, 2016 @ 7:53 pm

@pjsmoov, also:

Wow. Just wow. There are quite a bit of American and British (among others) grandfathers who, for all of their faults, helped make the world a better place.

Aaron Gross may have put it bluntly, but it is of course true that one’s personal stake in a given decision doesn’t determine whether it is/was moral or not. In fact, evaluating things in terms of whether and how they benefit you personally, instead of whether they’re right in some more general or abstract way, isn’t really reasoning morally at all, it’s declining to.

It also suffers from the basic problem of survivorship bias. The people saying “I wouldn’t be here if my grandfather had been killed in the war” are people who wouldn’t be here if their grandfathers had been killed in the war. So they’re a specific, selected group. Not getting to vote, or even to speak up, are all the people who don’t exist today, but would exist if their grandfathers and grandmothers hadn’t been killed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

So the “grandfather principle,” as we might call it, is at best a variant of the ad populum fallacy, combined with a rigging of the vote by conveniently limiting the populum to beneficiaries of the act we’re evaluating. One of the whole purposes of moral reasoning is to overcome fallacies like this, and to recover the implicit moral claims that the victims have on us as well.

#13 Comment By EHH On May 29, 2016 @ 9:47 pm

pjsmoov @May 28, 2016 at 5:40 pm

Thanks for the link. It seems like a good review of the literature and provides some names and titles to follow up. The Alperovitz book (the later, big one) looked pretty convincing but it was the only thing I read concentrating solely on the Hiroshima decision.

#14 Comment By Aaron Gross On May 30, 2016 @ 2:18 am

I finally got a “wow just wow”!

#15 Comment By Erin Manning On May 30, 2016 @ 2:57 am

I wanted to comment on this earlier this weekend, but it’s been busy (starting with Confirmation at our church Friday night–tiny parish in TX, 30+ newly confirmed teens, so a good occasion).

Anyway, I’m glad to see that some of my fellow Catholics have avoided the error of approving of unjust warfare, though I’m disappointed that others haven’t. Let’s be clear, fellow Catholics: the Church unequivocally condemns the use of nuclear weapons, regardless of the alleged justifications. Theoretically, you might find a just use of an atomic bomb (if, say, an uninhabited meteor was headed for Earth and you could destroy it with a nuke without disproportionate loss of life or the curse of really bad movies based on the story). But you cannot justly use one in war unless you’re going to detonate one in an unpopulated area (and even then you’d have to be sure you weren’t going to cause tsunamis or spread radiation into populated areas).

The principle is simple: in a just war, there are rules governing the conduct of the war if it is to remain just. One of these rules involves proportionality. Briefly, proportionality means that you can’t cause harms to civilians when these harms are excessive, even if there are specific military targets. Serious students of just war theory might disagree in good conscience over certain examples of warfare which might seem to cause disproportionate civilian casualties and damage to civilian property, but those same students would be united in agreeing that both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as the bombings of Tokyo and Dresden, completely fail by any just war measurement: not only were civilian casualties hugely disproportionate, but it can be argued that they were actually sought, to bring terror to the people and force them to turn against their leaders (both in Germany and in Japan, in fact).

So, bluntly: Hiroshima and Nagasaki were unmitigated evils. Matter, as Rod said in another post, matters. Fulton Sheen said of the bombings, some 30 years later: “See how much the world has changed? Now, what made it change? I think maybe we can pinpoint a date: 8:15 in the morning, the sixth of August, 1945. Can any of you recall what happened on that day? … it was the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima in Japan. When we flew an American plane over this Japanese city and dropped the atomic bomb on it we blotted out boundaries. There was no longer a boundary between the civilian and the military, between the helper and the helped, between the wounded and the nurse and the doctor, between the living and the dead – for even the living who escaped the bomb were already half-dead. So we broke down boundaries and limits and from that time on the world has said ‘We want no one limiting me’. So that, you people have heard the song, you’ve sung it yourselves: ‘I gotta be me, I gotta be free’. We want no restraint, no boundaries, no limits. Have to do what I want to do. Now let’s analyse that for a moment. Is that happiness: I gotta be me, I’ve got to have my own identity?” Sheen traced the beginnings of the sensate age itself to the decision to drop the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

A simple thought experiment: suppose that you had the opportunity to end a great war. All you have to do is gather 135 civilians from the nation you are fighting: men, women, children, ranging in age from newborn to elderly. First, you have to separate the people into two groups, selected at random: 66 in one group, and 69 in the other. From the first group, you will now throw 33 of them into a blazing hot incinerator so they are burned to death in seconds. You will not differentiate between men and women, old and young; you will burn toddlers and infants and elderly alike without mercy. Now, you will turn down the heat in the incinerator and burn about twenty more so that they will die within hours, days, or weeks. The remaining handful will also be given burns that will end up being fatal, but they will live a bit longer, screaming in anguish and begging for help which you will not give them.

Next, you move on to the other 69. Half of them will be given poison. It will shorten their lives but not kill them outright, even if they watch in horror as tumors form and their skin sloughs away in places. Some of the remaining half will be given non-fatal burns and smaller doses of poison, while the rest may have their arms or legs broken, or be blinded or deafened or crippled or stabbed. Unlike the first 66, though, these 69 will survive, for at least the next five years. But you will limit their medical care and let them suffer.

That was Hiroshima. But there were 135,000, not just 135. And the burned, even those who died, were also poisoned, while the poisoned were also burned, as were those who had injuries from debris and the collapsing buildings and so forth.

What we did was evil. The extent to which our various ancestors were culpable for that evil is between them and God, but it was evil to target civilians the way we did in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Tokyo and Dresden and anywhere else it was done.

#16 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On May 30, 2016 @ 3:18 am

Eamus Catuli,

I love your diagnosis of the ‘grandfather fallacy’. We disagree on a lot of spiritual and theological issues, but I think we agree on the fundamental issue of ‘is it OK to kill women, children and old men, none of them participating in the war effort, in order to win a war.” Thanks for that, and thanks for your hat-tip to Catholic just war ethics.

The ‘grandfather fallacy’ is as you point out an abdication of moral reasoning, not an example of it. It’s exactly as vicious and stupid in this context as it is when people say, e.g., “I don’t want to hear people say abortion is wrong, because without abortion I wouldn’t have been able to go to college”, or “Cuban Communism must be bad, because my grandfather suffered under it”, or “Liberal immigration policies are good, because my grandfather wouldn’t have been able to immigrate without them”, or “Strict drug laws are good, because I know people who ruined their lives on marijuana or alcohol”, or something to that effect. In all cases, they’re an abdication of the duty to reason objectively. Abortion is a specially close analogy for the problem you point out, for the obvious problem of survivorship bias. The woman who benefited from being able to finish college is here, the baby she killed is not.

There is of course an easy answer to “What was the alternative to Hiroshima” that certain dissident Christians have formulated throughout the ages, most notably Tolstoy, but also a number of early pacifists, and especially the Gnostics. This is to say that worldly politics ultimately don’t matter, because the physical world doesn’t matter, and therefore beating the Axis doesn’t matter either: the only thing that matters is purity of the soul, and it would be better if the Axis conquered the world than for us to kill one Japanese child unjustly. The Gnostics and Tolstoy both believed flat out that physical nature didn’t matter, so to them this was an easy question to answer: there is a relationship between Gnosticism and pacificsm. The secular materialist goes in the other direction and holds that the material world is all their is, and therefore, earthly victory is the only kind of victory that matters, and any degree of atrocity is permissible to beat an enemy as evil as the Axis. I think that the gnostics and Tolstoy erred in undervaluing the world (though not by much), but I think modern materialists err much further in the other direction, and doing so leads us into the horrible rabbit hole in which our society finds itself re: Hiroshima. There must be some limits we will not cross even if our life, or the life of our society, depends on it.

#17 Comment By pjsmoov On May 30, 2016 @ 10:04 am

We’re entering another day on this topic which is challenging my natural tendency to move on, but I’ll give it a shot. (This is kind of enjoyable. I commented on occasion a few years ago so maybe I’ll be back more often.)

“Any serious moral analysis needs to acknowledge the actual policy and defend it against the unchosen alternatives.”
I did within the constraints of a comment section and I recommend that you do so as well. Perhaps you simply believe my arguments are based on an unserious moral analysis. But, you really aren’t considering the likely consequences of the unchosen alternatives especially for those living under Japanese occupation nor the likelihood of Japanese militarism surviving the war. The suffering of those at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was indeed horrific, but there were more numerous victims and “tortured” souls elsewhere. Likely among the suffering would be considerably more Japanese civilians in the event of an invasion, although neither allied planners nor the Japanese high command showed much concern for these people. You appear to believe that the Japanese were ready to surrender if only we modified one policy, that an armistice would result, and that negotiations would conclude quickly thus precluding an invasion. I don’t.

“who seemed not even aware that the demand for unconditional surrender was a conscious policy choice”
As opposed to an unconscious policy choice? But you didn’t address the valid reasons for adopting said policy nor, to my satisfaction and probably to the satisfaction of many policy makers in summer 1945, why the policy should have been modified or abandoned in summer 1945 (or perhaps earlier. Should it have been modified or ditched even with the Nazis?). Also, don’t Japan’s leaders bear some responsibility for not accepting the Potsdam Declaration? Considering the circumstances, it’s a remarkably reasonable and benevolent statement of intent that calls for punitive measures only against war criminals. And it came with a stern warning if rejected.

“This was not accidental, but was a consequence the war planners knew they were bringing about. That, too, has to be factored into any serious moral analysis. “
Of course they knew about possible consequences or at least made reasonable assessments however flawed they may have been. Look at the extensive preparations for an invasion and casualty estimates. Even low estimates were higher than actual casualties on Iwo and Okinawa. And I wasn’t dismissive of the impact of these weapons. But, during WWII, policy makers didn’t have the luxury of engaging in abstract moral analysis of every major policy decision under consideration. They had to be practical and they wanted to win the war as quickly as possible. They knew that doing so would involve the suffering of tens of thousands of people under various scenarios.

“…let’s consider all facts relevant to the moral question, not just those that lead to our preferred conclusions.”
But you aren’t considering “all” of them. I suspect that you’re choosing a couple of items you think support your preferred conclusions and you’re framing the moral question in a way that suits your moral philosophy.

And I wasn’t counting raised hands but reasoning, subjective as it is, from a not-insignificant amount of time spent on the secondary and primary sources on WWII, decision-making during that war, and on the nature of totalitarian systems. Admittedly, moralizing from counterfactuals isn’t really my thing so I’ll just go ahead and stick with my conclusions stated in previous posts.

#18 Comment By Douglas K. On May 30, 2016 @ 11:02 am

The United States was extremely lucky in WW2- zero bombs were ever dropped on our country and zero civilians were ever killed on our own soil.

Almost zero. In 1942, Japanese planes dropped firebombs in a wet southern Oregon forest, attempting but failing to start forest fires. In early 1945, the Japanese sent thousands of incendiary bombs on balloons in the jet stream in an attempt to start forest fires in the American west. In May 1945, one of those bombs killed six people (five of them children) at a Sunday school picnic near Bly, Oregon. I think they were the only civilian casualties on the American mainland during the war. There’s also the possibility one of the balloon bombs was responsible for a major forest fire in Oregon later that year (the 1945 Tillamook burn), but that’s speculation; the cause of the fire remains unknown. The US government and media suppressed nearly all public mention of the balloon bombs, both to avoid a panic and to keep the Japanese from learning the program was effective at all.

However, the broader point is accurate: the United States mainland suffered very few attacks and very few civilian casualties during a war that ravaged much of the world and left tens of millions dead. Six deaths isn’t even a blip on that scale.

#19 Comment By German_reader On May 30, 2016 @ 2:48 pm

“On the other extreme, Dominic’s “patriotism is more important than moral theology” bit would be a hilarious parody of secularist moral bankruptcy if it weren’t so sad.”

You’re wrong about that, Dominic1955 is a practicing Catholic as far as I can tell, and opposed to secularism. You can’t blame his opinion about the ethics of WW2 bombing on godlessness.

#20 Comment By Deggjr On May 30, 2016 @ 3:12 pm

7,000 casualties per week only counts American casualties. This [4] states the death toll in the 1945 famine in Vietnam was somewhere between 600,000 and 2,000,000. The primary cause of the famine was the Japanese Army appropriating rice for Japanese consumption.

The Japanese may have been beaten since Midway but they didn’t act like it. This [5] states: “Overall, perhaps two thirds of all Japanese military dead came not from combat, but from starvation and disease. In some cases this figure was potentially even higher, up to 80% in the Philippines and a staggering 97% in New Guinea.”

Fortunately Truman brought an end to the killing through the fastest means available.

#21 Comment By John S On May 30, 2016 @ 3:44 pm

It’s totally immoral to target innocent non-combatants, period. Cardinal Newman said “it were better for sun and moon to drop from heaven, for the earth to fail, and for all the many millions who are upon it to die of starvation in extremest agony, so far as temporal affliction goes, than that one soul, I will not say, should be lost, but should commit one single venial sin…” So much the more so the deliberate targeting of a single innocent civilian for the sake of obtaining a surrender or in order to save someone else’s life.

#22 Comment By Eamus Catuli On May 30, 2016 @ 4:25 pm


Theoretically, you might find a just use of an atomic bomb (if, say, an uninhabited meteor was headed for Earth and you could destroy it with a nuke without disproportionate loss of life or the curse of really bad movies based on the story).

Thanks for that one, it made me laugh. Also I’m pleased to see someone else besides me bring up the point that the moral issue here isn’t just killing but burning, maiming and torturing live people. In a weird way, it seems that by creating this mental picture of instant annihilation, the immense destructiveness of nuclear weapons actually makes it harder to see how harmful they really are.


I think there’s a lot to be said for the linkage between modern materialism and amoral / immoral warfare (as also outlined in Erin’s quotes from Bishop Sheen). I would also agree that the kind of survivorship bias I’m talking about applies in the case of abortion as well. Where it leads is into the question of what moral claims on us people who don’t exist, or don’t exist yet, have — an issue bearing on other policy questions as well (climate change, for instance).

That’s too big a question to do justice to in a short comment, but I would say, briefly, that those claims are not zero — moral reasoning, as I said above, is partly about recovering and recognizing them — but they also can’t be absolute, not without creating all kinds of moral paradoxes (because, any decisions — like blowing up Hiroshima, but also much, much more minor choices — that foreclose the future existence of one person might also be what make possible the existence of another). So for me, the further question this issue raises for abortion is: When in the stream of the innumerable choices, on the part of innumerable people, that eventually lead to a given person being born do the moral claims attaching to that person arise? It’s not obvious to me that it’s at the moment of conception, which I realize is where we differ. But I agree that the glib sorts of remarks you quote (“without abortion, I wouldn’t have been able to go to college”) are nowhere close to adequately addressing that issue.


I agree that the various points you raise also need to be factored into any adequate moral analysis. Also, of course, we’re forced to make (at best) educated guesses about what the factual situation was, especially with regard to questions like what Japan’s leaders would or wouldn’t do under various scenarios. So I am not arguing for a final, settled position on all this, and I don’t think I’ll ever be that confident that I’ve finished adequately weighing all the facts. I was just calling for trying to weigh all the facts, that’s all, in the face of what seemed to be some obviously huge omissions from some people here (like the fact that unconditional surrender does not have to be one’s war aim).

Let me just add this: One can, as you say, make arguments for the better outcome brought about by the scenario that actually unfolded, and my own comments above note, for instance, the value even for Japan of the US having achieved regime change there and being able to carry out a relatively enlightened postwar occupation. However, I would be more impressed with arguments in favor of blowing up cities if the party doing it had been existentially threatened with destruction itself, instead of sitting on huge strategic superiority vis-a-vis a largely beaten foe. That is, imagine the Axis having almost won the war, and having ringed the United States with a naval blockade while awaiting its final surrender. If Harry Truman orders the use of his secret superweapon at that point, as a way of escaping the trap, turning the tide and giving his country a fighting chance, I would have an easier time excusing it and explaining it away than I do in a situation (like real-life 1945) in which the reverse was the case. That consideration doesn’t entirely settle the question either, but it’s part of why I’m skeptical of the various utilitarian calculations that you and other defenders of the bombings propose.

#23 Comment By A Real Shame On May 30, 2016 @ 8:48 pm

@Platte R. – “Certainly no apology needed or wanted from Obama. For Obama to “apologize” would be utter hypocrisy. [… He] is now the War Party president par excellence. The greatest slopper of the defense contractor troughs. The biggest payer of bribes to corrupt foreign leaders.”

Not to mention responsible for thousands of civilian deaths via his various unnecessary wars, botched drone strikes, etc. …


#24 Comment By pjsmoov On May 30, 2016 @ 9:35 pm

I’m pretty sure I could gauge the reaction of say General Marshall or Admiral King if, during any discussion of military strategy, anyone said something such as, “Maybe we should consider Tolstoy on this one.”

Those are good points. Also, the Japanese high command was willing to accept at least 10 million Japanese deaths through starvation and disease in order to feed troops defending Japan against an allied invasion.

We’re just not gonna agree and that’s fine. I actually do understand your principled, ethical stance here. As you said, I’m utilitarian on this issue.

Anyway, I’ll play along. Hypothetical: It’s spring 1942. The US is not on the verge of defeat but there are great fears about the conquest of the Soviet Union, German success in North Africa, Japanese success in the Pacific and Asia, and a general fear that the Axis could link up in the Middle East. FDR gets word that we have the ability to knock out Nazi Germany with atomic weapons. It’s spring 1942 so most Russians killed in WWII are still alive as are most Jews killed in the Holocaust. Would it be justifiable to bomb Hamburg, the Ruhr and/or Berlin according to your moral philosophy or does the use of such weapons require a greater degree of strategic weakness for the US or an actual existential threat?

#25 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On May 30, 2016 @ 10:29 pm

Not to mention responsible for thousands of civilian deaths via his various unnecessary wars, botched drone strikes, etc. …

I’m not aware that the various critics of the atomic bombings here have gone on record as being pro-Obama.

#26 Comment By M_Young On May 31, 2016 @ 12:24 am

I wonder what Erin Manning would say to the American merchant seaman whose face was burned half off due to him being sprayed with scalding hydraulic fluid as a Kamikaze struck his ship on September 30, 1945. Or the Manchurian women who surely would have been raped and killed as Imperial Army dead-enders holed up against a Russian-Chinese onslaught. Or the Japanese ‘civilians’ who, encouraged by their leaders to resist a D-Day type invasion of the homeland, would have been burnt by flamethrower rather than Atomic heat.

Any real, rather than ‘thought experiment’ moral calculus must take into account things as they most probably would be, rather than isolate the bad — the ‘evil’ on once side.

#27 Comment By Mike Zix On May 31, 2016 @ 1:17 am

I’ve heard two different accounts surrounding the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki:

1. Japan had not surrendered prior to the bombings.

2. Japan had offered to conditionally surrender prior to the bombings.

Which is true, I don’t know. But if Japan really did offer to conditionally surrender, I don’t see how anyone could possibly justify the bombings.

Obviously, it’s impossible to drop a nuclear bomb without killing massive numbers of innocents. So, I still believe today what I believed 30 years ago: use of nuclear weapons is never morally justifiable.

Ronald Reagan, 1985: “We seek the total elimination one day of nuclear weapons from the face of the Earth. A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

#28 Comment By Mike Zix On May 31, 2016 @ 1:29 am

I forgot to mention in my prior post what perspective I’m coming from. I’m a libertarian with no party affiliation, and I favor a non-interventionist foreign policy. I oppose the progressive agenda in its entirety.

#29 Comment By Nathanael On May 31, 2016 @ 8:12 am

Ironically, conservatives used to be characterized by their opposition to the use of nuclear weapons on civilians. In 1959—a decade-and-a-half after the use of the atom bomb—National Review editorialized that, “The indefensibility of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima is becoming a part of the national conservative creed.”



#30 Comment By dominic1955 On May 31, 2016 @ 9:47 am

“Here’s the way Fr. Heribert Jone, considered a gold standard amongst orthodox Catholic moral theologians, outlined the moral principles regarding the use of atomic weapons:

The fourth condition required for positing an action that has an evil effect that there be a sufficient reason, i.e., a proportionate resulting good, to permit the evil effect. The morality of using either the atomic or hydrogen bomb as a weapon of war is therefore, not a question of principle, which remains unchangeable, but a question of fact, and the fact questioned is whether there can be a military objective so vital to an enemy, the destruction of which would be a sufficient reason to permit the death of a vast number of civilians who at most contribute only remotely and indirectly to the war effort. We think this proportion can exist 1) because today’s concept of “total war” has greatly restricted the meaning of the term “non-combatant”; 2) because in modern warfare the conscription of industry, as well as manpower, greatly extends the effort on the home front; and 3) because it is difficult to set limits to the defense action of a people whose physical and even spiritual existence is threatened by a godless tyranny. Therefore, while use of atomic weapons must be greatly restricted to the destruction of military objectives, nevertheless, it may be justified without doing violence to the principle of a twofold effect. (Moral Theology #219 pp. 143-44 1961 Edition)”

It’s more complicated than it seems on its face, if one is actually willing to think through it. However, since most folks aren’t scholastics and none of us will probably ever be faced with possibly having to order the nuclear bombing of somewhere, it’s best to not worry about it.

I would agree that we should seek to rid ourselves of nuclear weaponry. However, too many Catholics have forgotten how to do the work of scholasticism and instead would rather parrot the mushy nouvelle theologie lines. Unfortunately, there wasn’t more scholastic work done on this issue before the Church’s schools were infected with NT.

War often comes down to choosing the best among the bad. To me, dragging stuff like this up (both pro and con) in the popular media around Memorial Day of all days, is gauche.

#31 Comment By Agentzero On May 31, 2016 @ 12:02 pm

I have learned a lot reading these comments, and I thank everyone. Two points stand out to me:

Someone upthread suggested that suggested that the U.S. did not want a conditional surrender from Japan because they feared leaving even a part of the regime in place would lead to another war in the future. That is plausible to me: consider what the world had just witnessed in Germany.

Second, in reading the debate here about the morality of the bombings, I am drawn again to Fussell. It’s important to recognize that his point was not to argue that dropping the bombs was “moral.” His point, really, was that there is nothing particularly moral about war; the entire enterprise was horrible and led men on both sides to commit unspeakable brutalities. (No, I am not proposing an equivalence between the two sides. Read the essay.) Our innocence was already long since lost, if you want to think of it that way. We had been slaughtering civilians for years at that point–as, of course, had our enemies. How could Truman not make the decision that promised to Make. It. Stop. as soon as possible?

#32 Comment By JonF On May 31, 2016 @ 12:50 pm

Re: You’re wrong about that, Dominic1955 is a practicing Catholic as far as I can tell, and opposed to secularism. You can’t blame his opinion about the ethics of WW2 bombing on godlessness.

Last I checked Roman Catholic moral philosophy does not differentiate between the godly and the godless in determining what is and is not sinful.

#33 Comment By John S On May 31, 2016 @ 2:05 pm

I don’t see how Fr. Jone’s reasoning can apply to the case of Hiroshima or Nagasaki. The military targets there could easily have been taken care of with conventional bombs. The point of using the atom bomb was to maximize destruction. Therefore the primary purpose of the action was evil. The evil was not a secondary effect. P.S. I find his #3 a little puzzling. Clearly our defense action must be limited, even if it means our existence is threatened.

#34 Comment By Mm On May 31, 2016 @ 3:00 pm

Hard to believe no one has cited Fr Wilson Miscamble’s work- he is clearly one of the better sources.

Or his book: The Most Controversial Decision, Truman, the Atomic Bombs, and the Defeat of Japan
He thinks the bombing was the least evil option available to the US

#35 Comment By John S On May 31, 2016 @ 3:04 pm

P.S. May I add that the discussion taking place in these comboxes is head and shoulders above that taking place over at another “conservative” site about the same subject. both in terms of civility and content.

#36 Comment By Eamus Catuli On May 31, 2016 @ 4:43 pm


Would it be justifiable to bomb Hamburg, the Ruhr and/or Berlin according to your moral philosophy or does the use of such weapons require a greater degree of strategic weakness for the US or an actual existential threat?

Not sure what you mean by “bomb” them — with nukes? With the intention of leveling the cities? I would have a hard time saying that’s ever “justifiable,” meaning consistent with a fully considered moral analysis. What I’m prepared to say, though, is that some decisions, under situations of extreme duress, are understandable, meaning (roughly) that I can imagine having made them myself, although I would hope I would also recognize on reflection that they were still unjustified.

But a lot depends here on the specifics of the fact situation — what exactly the threat is, how high one’s confidence in it is, how certain one is that the erstwhile immoral act will defeat that threat and prevent a greater evil, etc. In other words, you need the kind of detail you get in one of those elaborate, multi-day war games before you can really even begin to answer the questions. They are complicated and difficult questions, I certainly agree about that.

#37 Comment By Erin Manning On May 31, 2016 @ 6:13 pm

Dominic, I don’t think much of a “gold standard” of moral theology that makes the argument that in modern warfare there is no such thing as a non-combatant and/or no such thing as private property that has no military usage. Sorry. Many other moral theologians have expressly rejected the “all are combatants” theory of modern warfare, seeing in it nothing more than an excuse to declare that there is no such thing as a “true civilian” and, by defining all the men, women, and children in an enemy nation as “soldiers” making it morally legitimate to attack them directly and intentionally. This is pretty shady, in my opinion. Since we’re speaking of people’s grandfathers, my grandfather (too old to fight in WWII) worked during the war for a candy company that stopped producing chocolate commercial products for the most part and switched to long-lasting hard candies that could be shipped to the troops. Did this make him, and everybody else who worked in the candy factory, a “combatant?” Could our enemies have legitimately and morally dropped atomic weapons on such factories in our country because they were being used to support the military? It’s laughable.

M_Young, I’m happy to answer your objections. First, the question (from a moral standpoint) of whether we may do evil because the other side is doing evil is always answered in the negative. We may not do evil, period.

Second, the soldiers who suffered terribly because of kamikaze attacks etc. should be honored and supported, but when you are a soldier you are by definition a combatant, and that combatants suffer and die is a fact of war. This is one reason why it is so important to make sure the war is just in principle and just in conduct, because it is terrible to put soldiers in harm’s way for unjust reasons.

Third, the likelihood that women and children may be targeted for rape and murder by occupying armies is one of the reasons why you must be sure you have a just reason to go to war in the first place, because the evils wars produce are well known. However, if we are permitted to drop nuclear bombs on any places where rapists are wont to gather and abuse women and children, I think there won’t be any cities left standing in the world.

Finally, your use of scare quotes around ‘civilians’ when you speak of the Japanese suggests that you subscribe to the “no true non-combatant” way of thinking, which I have already addressed. The fact of the matter is that we did occupy Japan after WWII, and civilians did not rise up en masse and attack. Most of them were desperate for food, medicine, and other basic necessities at that point, and I’m not just talking about the people around Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The myth that there were no real civilians in Japan and that they were prepared to fight to the last infant to preserve their nation is a persistent one.

#38 Comment By Gary On May 31, 2016 @ 8:41 pm

This may have already been mentioned, but as part of their plans to defend the homeland, the Japanese had in place a system to draft as a civilian fighting corps all men between 17 and 60 and all women between 19 and 40. I may have the ages slightly off.

#39 Comment By John S On May 31, 2016 @ 9:42 pm

I watched Fr. Miscamble’s lecture. It can be boiled down to this: thanks to the atomic bombings fewer people died/suffered. As far as I know this argument clearly runs afoul of the very Catholic moral principle that the end cannot justify the means, a principle reiterated in Veritatis Splendor which, oddly, he cites. Solomon eviscerates his position in one line: “It is always and everywhere wrong to kill directly the innocent.”

#40 Comment By Mm On June 1, 2016 @ 10:11 am

John S- The Frs point is it is an easy academic point to say no innocents can be targeted, but a lot different when you are staring the deaths of millions in the face. The difference in lives saved was almost certainly in the million+ range when considering all the deaths due to starvation in Japan & occupied Asia. Almost every other alternative scenario was worse or certain to fail. Most who insist it was inexcusable can’t offer a reasonable way out except to consign a million+ to a slow death. While, I admire his philosophic stance, Solomon’s suggested alternative was pathetic & he even meekly put it out. In the end, Fr M is probably correct, dirty hands is the best we could do. One can only hope we never face such a prospect again. WW2 was an unusual case- a massive total war with one very evil side-the deparavity of the axis powers is poorly comprehended by many today.

#41 Comment By Erin Manning On June 1, 2016 @ 11:33 am

Mm, it is not an academic point but a moral one: you may not do evil, not even for a “good” purpose. It is always wrong directly and intentionally to kill an innocent human being. Most people who play around with these ideas start out by insisting that not a single Japanese citizen was truly “innocent,” not even the helpless children burned alive at Hiroshima. That is a wicked and pernicious idea that must be rejected.

Even if it were certain that millions would die due to starvation etc. (which it is not, by any means), one may still not do evil. Could you morally stop the deaths of millions from starvation in WWII by kidnapping 14 Japanese infants and slowly roasting them to death over an open fire? Well, far more than 14 Japanese infants burned to death at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and we directly intended those deaths–there is no way to pretend that our goals were strictly military and that we were shocked and horrified by the civilian casualties.

And the “one side was really REALLY evil, so we were permitted to do evil ourselves to stop it” argument is quite frankly stupid. When the “good guys” decide they may do evil so that good may result they have by definition ceased to be the good guys.

So many of these arguments remind me of a famous quote: “It is expedient that one man should die for the people lest the whole nation perish.”

#42 Comment By dominic1955 On June 1, 2016 @ 2:16 pm

John S,

I don’t necessarily think this exonerates the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, rather, that there is more thinking to be done and not just writing it off as “obviously” immoral.

Personally, I don’t see the evidence that those two cities were particularly valuable military targets or even centers of production. Secondly, it doesn’t look like the bombs were specifically targeted for what military establishments and/or war production factories that were there. As such, I’d say the bombings weren’t justified.

However, I don’t see why we focus on the atomic bombs. The firebombing of Tokyo and Dresden were probably just as bad, if not worse, in terms of sheer death and destruction-without expressly military targets.

Erin Manning,

What is laughable is that he doesn’t make the argument you are trying to attribute to him-simple as that. Slow down and actually read what was written versus what you want it to say.

#43 Comment By dominic1955 On June 1, 2016 @ 2:18 pm

John S,

I don’t necessarily think this exonerates the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, rather, that there is more thinking to be done and not just writing it off as “obviously” immoral.

Personally, I don’t see the evidence that those two cities were particularly valuable military targets or even centers of production. Secondly, it doesn’t look like the bombs were specifically targeted for what military establishments and/or war production factories that were there. As such, I’d say the bombings weren’t justified. I don’t think it was justifiable to just use those cities as a show of power either.

However, I don’t see why we focus on the atomic bombs. The firebombing of Tokyo and Dresden were probably just as bad, if not worse, in terms of sheer death and destruction-without expressly military targets.

Erin Manning,

What is laughable is that he doesn’t make the argument you are trying to attribute to him-simple as that. Slow down and actually read what was written versus what you want it to say.

#44 Comment By John S On June 2, 2016 @ 7:18 am

You are right that the firebombings of Tokyo and Dresden were wrong and for the same reason.

#45 Comment By Mm On June 2, 2016 @ 4:59 pm

Frankie-“frankly stupid”-well so much for civility. Not frankly stupid-many alternatives to the bombing would face serious problems with Japanese depravity. Many were sure Japan would accelerate civilians deaths & starvation to increase pressure on the US to negotiate, etc. The orgy of violence increased as Japan’s position deteriorated- as an example, killing of POWs became routine rather than let the US armed forces free them. Responsible authorities believed any attempted “demonstration” bombing would be met by placing POWs at the sight. If you were less self righteous you could bring up the danger of seeking to excuse actions by claiming extreme urgency- but calling those who don’t 100% agree with you stupid is more satisfying I guess.

#46 Comment By Maynard Toll On June 4, 2016 @ 12:30 pm

There is no point in arguing (especially with lots of anger and moral indignation) over whether the US had a better way to end the war than dropping atomic bombs on two civilian populations. The bombs did in fact end the war very quickly. We can never know how quickly the war would have ended if we had followed another course.

Personally, I suspect we could have achieved the same thing by dropping only one bomb over an underpopulated area which nevertheless left no doubt of its destructive power. Surrender might have taken a few weeks longer, and we probably would have had to revise our surrender terms to permit the imperial dynasty to continue as a constitutional monarchy (which we eventually allowed anyway). Just my guess, from what historical scholarship has since discovered about the state of play on the Japanese side at the time. The argument against this course is that we had only two bombs and could not afford to waste them on intimidating demonstrations that did not work.

But what interests me more is how emotional people can get in defending their nation’s reputation for honorable behavior in war. I do not accuse my country of immoral behavior in dropping two atomic bombs on Japan given all the uncertainties at the time. I just suspect it could have been avoided without sacrificing more American or Japanese lives, because I doubt an invasion would have been necessary (again with the advantage of hindsight in the form of postwar scholarship). But many patriotic Americans get really mad if you take this position.

The Japanese too are reluctant to admit that the misdeeds on their side (rape of Nanjing, treatment of POWs, etc.) are any worse than the misdeeds that all the combatants committed in the second world war (including, many Japanese think, our dropping two atomic bombs unnecessarily on two cities, and our firebombing of Tokyo). The refrain you often hear in Japan is that they come off worse only because history is written by the victors. This reluctance to own up adequately to their own bad behavior remains a big problem for them in Asia today. But I think we sort of do the same thing, maybe to a lesser extent, but still. It is only human to defend the honor of your tribe.