Though lacking the leisure to say all that I’d like, or even all that ought to be said, I promised reader Julie that I would do this, and so I will. But in the interest of saving to myself some of that precious commodity, I have decided to post a letter written many years ago (seventeen, to be exact) in response to an editorial in a major conservative magazine, in the hope that this will suffice for the moment.
It was written in the early years after my conversion when I was experiencing, as I’m sure many of you have, that odd Catholic compulsion to read everything you can get your hands on – the lives of saints and of popes (saintly and otherwise), apologetics, history, theology - anything that might open one more window into heaven, into the life of Him who dwelt among us, without whom "nothing was made that was made", and whose mere presence on our earth, let alone His footprints in the sand and His blood on our hands, made incarnate the words of Genesis: that it all was good.
It was during this time that I was made to think of things never thought of. I had never questioned the rightness of our use of The Bomb against Japan. It was my country, we were the good guys, and a murderous enemy had been laid low. I had always accepted the common wisdom, that we had no other choice, but things are never quite so simple and there is always another choice. One of the writers I stumbled upon during this period was one Gertrude Elizabeth Margaret Anscombe, now widely admired (after her death) for getting herself arrested in her old age in front of an abortion clinic, but utterly ignored by those same admirers in her opinion about Hiroshima, as though she were merely being cranky about the matter of dropping bombs on civilians. She filled in the gaps in my thinking and resolved the doubts instilled by the words of the Vatican Council in its condemnation of total war: "All warfare which tends indiscriminately to the destruction of entire cities or wide areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man, to be firmly and unhesitatingly condemned."
Unable to see how a moral pronouncement by a Pope or a Council could carry much more authority, I was pained to witness the apologies offered by so many fellow conservative pro-lifers, many of them prominent in public life and whom I admired greatly, like William F. Buckley, Jr., who to this day, as far as I know, still makes that apology. In their excusing our use of the bomb, it seemed to me they were much like those pro-lifers who make exceptions in the cases of rape, incest, and fetal deformity, as though life were only sacred in the easy cases. Hiroshima was a hard case, and hard cases normally make bad law, except in this case. The lives of those men, women and children in Hiroshima who, in an instant, had their eyes burned from their skulls, seem not to resonate among us with quite the same force as when we imagine an innocent baby torn from its mother’s womb. Even Paul Fussell, a supporter of the bombing and author of a powerful essay entitled Hiroshima: A Soldier’s View, admits, after perusing a book, Unforgettable Fire: Pictures Drawn by Atomic Bomb Survivors, the pitiable horror left in the nuclear wake:
The drawings and paintings, whose childish style makes them doubly touching, are of skin hanging down, breasts torn off, people bleeding and burning, dying mothers nursing dead babies. A bloody woman holds a bloody child in the ruins of a house, and the artist remembers her calling, "Please help this child! Someone please help this child…Someone, please?"
Another memoirist recalls "the sight of a stark naked man standing in the rain with his eyeball in his palm…there was nothing I could do for him."
Against this Fussell juxtaposes the horrors suffered by our own soldiers and prisoners of war, and ends up making the argument from experience, the kind of experience that inspired one naval officer "menaced by kamikazes off Okinawa" to remark, "Those were the best burned women and children I ever saw."
(An aside: It seems somehow appropriate that one of the eyewitnesses to the explosion was a Catholic priest, a Jesuit, who got pretty cut up by flying glass, participated in the rescue efforts immediately thereafter, and penned a personal account of it all which he gave to a Bishop Franklin Corley, who arrived with the occupation forces in September. The account "lay mostly hidden" for fifty years, but you can find it here.)
At Buckley’s magazine, National Review, the disdain for those harboring reservations about the bomb’s use seemed to have been elevated to an annual rite of disparagement. Their editorial was provoked by a journey to Japan undertaken by a gaggle of Hollywood eminences, most eminent among them the actor Jack Lemmon, who proceeded to offer profuse apologies on behalf of their country and to proclaim their embarrassment at being members of the human race. At this one could not blame NR for taking umbrage, but they went further, defending the bomb’s use and pillorying those who would disagree. Paul Fussell’s essay was cited in their defense.
Finally fed up, I sat down to do what I never do anymore – write a letter to the editor. As I wrote, it grew in length, such that I decided to submit it as an article length response to the editorial. It was rejected without comment by Maggie Gallagher, at the time NR’s articles editor. So I sent it to J.P. McFadden at the Human Life Review, in the mild hope that, the defense of life being their preserve, it might find a sympathetic ear. No luck, though Mr. McFadden was kind enough to attach a long note expressing his wish that I send them another "kind" of article, for he "could not in good conscience agree with" either me or Anscombe. "Nor do I see that your concluding arguments re abortion et al. really follow. You may be right: killing an individual innocent may be the same in or out of war, but…the full consent of the will is different." He did not explain how, which I would have appreciated, being at a loss to see what part of Mr. Truman’s consent, and that of those who praised him, had been withheld. My mouth somewhat full of the aftertaste that accompanies disgust, I never did send him that other "kind" of article. But I do have the original, and here it is, from November, 1987:
Who Are the Innocent?
Every year, on or around the anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, NR grants an obligatory number of lines in The Week (Sept. 11) to defending this first and, to date, last use of atomic weapons against the antics of "sentimentalists" (in this case, Jack Lemmon, et al.) who, as Americans, and with the belated zeal of religious converts, find themselves "ashamed to be members of the human race." And in the face of such remarks your sneers are just, for not even Christ was ashamed to be one of us. But the brevity of your defense implies that the argument is won, that, in fact, it is hardly worthy of response, and as a matter of consensus that may very well be. But on other matters of life and death – abortion comes to mind – NR would be the first to declare that consensus has no place at the bar when judgement is handed down. It is well to remember that movie actors are not your true antagonists, nor even myself, for there are others far more imposing – Dwight Eisenhower, for one, and Edward Teller for another – this latter having expressed his reservations on a recent Firing Line, though Mr. Buckley did not pursue this to any depth. But I do find myself in an uncomfortable position, and it is this: I am a Roman Catholic, a conservative, and a loyal NR reader (in precisely that order) who must now number himself among those Americans no longer possessing, in the words of your editorialist, "the ability to think." I am an offense "to all Americans and [astoundingly] Japanese who died in that war," although I wonder if the dead of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were counted in that vote. Still, loins girded, I believe what I have to say needs saying just one more time; perhaps you will permit me to unburden my mind, or what’s left of it now that the thoughts have been taken out.
As I have said what I am, let me also state what I am not: a sentimentalist, for I take seriously any decision to make an end (or a beginning) to human life. The charge seems to be that reflection, especially to the point of remorse, upon those who died in the atomic blasts is not the result of a disciplined exercise of one’s faculties, but a moral cavil. Fools rush in where conscience need not tread. The charge is spurious on the face of it.
Nor am I ashamed to be an American, let alone a member of the human race. I am not even very ashamed of Harry Truman. It is possible I am deficient in this regard, though not uncommonly so, for I imagine that those of us who have committed wrongs for which our sense of shame was not up to task constitute a great company. And if it is so hard in the case of private wrongs, how am I to work up a great head of shame for someone else’s misdeeds? A father can be ashamed of his son, and vice-versa, but outside the family and the fellowship of close friends, this impulse becomes quickly nebulous. I see my obligation to the Japanese dead in much the same light as my obligation to the Negro: not to repeat the sins of my fathers. And (as it bears on public policy) this is where it must end, for if the private citizen is compelled to shoulder blame for the crimes of his leaders, whether in sympathy with them or not, then affirmative action (an attempt to spread the guilt evenly and invisibly, as by means of some Original Sin) is a divine mandate, every citizen of Germany might have been tried at Nuremburg, the citizens of Hiroshima got what they deserved, and Paul Fussell, who lauded The Decision, can stand beside Truman as an equal in the Judgement. And total war has its justification. So even if our inability to summon a proper sense of shame does not show to our discredit, we are not excused from calling a spade a spade.
Lastly, and most emphatically, I do not hold to pacifism, even though our bishops seem to have discovered, and even encourage, a new prominence for it in their pastoral letter. Thomas Mangieri of Christendom College has cited in an analysis of that letter, this proffering of "the equal tenability of pacifist and just war traditions", as one of its four main flaws. If the bishops go too far in one direction (following a Trend rather than Tradition), it is nevertheless possible that my hatred of this insidious doctrine goes too far in the other. I instinctively look at the man who will not fight as a coward. In a more rational moment, I will grant him the right to conscientiously object to a particular (that is, unjust) war. I prescind totally from this discussion priestly and religious vocations. That they will pray for me while I fight for them seems a bargain well-struck. But for a man to say that I may not fight at all…But pacifists don’t say that, of course. They imply it. What they actually say is that killing a fellow human is so awful that they cannot in good conscience bear arms against him. It is this matter of conscience, and the means by which it is so delicately formed, that arouses my ire.
Here I wish to call to my aid another imposing antagonist (yours, not mine), one Gertrude Elizabeth Anscombe, for it was only after reading her analysis of this doctrine that I began to understand the depth of my hatred for it. Her remarks are most appropriate, offered as they were in a 1956 essay upon the occasion of Oxford University choosing to confer upon Harry Truman an honorary degree. Her opposition apparently caused quite a fuss at the time, but the prophets were stoned even then and Mr. Truman received his degree on schedule. She was not in the habit of disputing such degrees, or of quarreling over whether a person ought to be as distinguished as he is. It was only the "rare case in which a man is known everywhere for an action, in the face of which it is sycophancy to honor him, that the question can be of the slightest interest." In her opinion the action was wicked, and she lays much of the blame for the widespread inability to call it such (to call a spade a spade) at the feet of a growing acceptance of pacifism "as a doctrine which many people respect though they would not adopt it." For it does seem a fine attitude to strike, and many become weak-kneed when confronted with a conscience that finds human life so sacred the taking of it may find no legitimate occasion. But this is precisely the problem. It has become fashionable, says Anscombe, "to talk with horror of killing rather than murder," and since killing is the currency of war, such thinking leads us to conclude that we have made peace with an evil, accepted it, and therefore "not to mind" whom we kill.
And so we see how it cuts both ways: this allows the pacifist (or sentimentalist) to have it one way, and the advocate of total war (or hardnose) to have it the other. Both are despicable because they blur the line between punishment and revenge, self-defense and murder.
It is the drawing of this line that brings us to the heart of the matter. In our common wish (I trust) to avoid doing evil that good may come, it is my hope that we can agree on the principle that choosing to kill the innocent as a means to an end is always wrong, is, in fact, murder. If not, I don’t see where else we can go. The line must, of course, be extended to define the innocent, but to say that it cannot, or should not, in certain cases be drawn is simply to abandon responsibility, and "not to mind whom you kill."
…for with Hiroshima and Nagasaki we are not confronted with a borderline case. In the bombing of these cities it was certainly decided to kill the innocent as a means to an end. And a very large number of them, all at once, without warning, without the interstices of escape or the chance to take shelter, which existed even in the "area bombings" of the German cities.
And who are the innocent?
They are those who are not fighting and not engaged in supplying those who are with the means of fighting.
As to the farmer in the field growing wheat which may be eaten by the troops, she does not think he is supplying them with the means of fighting, but concedes that even here the line may be difficult to draw. But to extend it to the neighboring village where his wife and children live is clearly to step over it.
It should be evident (and I hope the necessity for such a distinction was made clear in my discussion of shame) that this definition of the innocent does not account for personal culpability, say a citizen’s shared guilt in the widespread hatred of their countrymen for us, the enemy, but instead relies upon the strictly observed physical status of their acting as those who are either "harming" or "not harming." The conscripted troops of a totalitarian regime, for example, may be as guiltless as any other citizen, but because they are fighting may be attacked. But they "should not be attacked more ferociously than is necessary to put them hors de combat." Furthermore, upon surrender, they enter the domain of the innocent, and so "may not be maltreated or killed," not because they are guiltless, but because they are defenseless.We also make traditional allowance for cases involving the accidental killing of the innocent, such that
…even if you know as a matter of statistical certainty that the things you do involve it,[it]is not necessarily murder. I mean that if you attack a lot of military targets…as carefully as you can, you will be certain to kill a number of innocent people; but that is not murder. On the other hand, unscrupulousness in considering the possibilities turns it into murder…
In short, if the target you want to destroy cannot be gotten at without the certain foreknowledge that you will also kill large numbers of civilians, then you can’t do it. "Then you cannot very well say they died by accident. Here your action is murder."
Naturally, this manner of line-drawing can be carried into other areas. Thus, we generally wish to prohibit abortion because the target under attack, the fetus, is innocent and "not harming", but we would make an exception for the mother of an ectopic pregnancy and permit removal of the fetus for, although the baby is certainly innocent in the sense of being guiltless, it is no longer "not harming." The real "villain" is some vagary of nature, which has conscripted the fetus in service to its unjust cause, and so we permit the mother to kill in self-defense.
Anscombe did not employ this analogy for obvious reasons, but she did take up the death penalty. While protesting that she has no prejudice in its favor, that, moreover, it is not even indispensable, she grants (with her Church) the state’s authority to inflict this punishment as punishment. Not as deterrence, because this remains unproven and is, in any case, a good end which leaves untouched the means by which we achieve it. And not as vengeance because, as we have already shown, the measure of divine retribution according to the state of one’s soul is none of the state’s business. But criminals are engaged in an unjust aggression against their law-abiding fellows, and those whose means of waging this war are particularly heinous are subject to trial and execution because certain actions deserve this punishment, just as the slaughter of American prisoners at Malmedy during the Battle of the Bulge, and the atrocities in the death camps, provoked war crimes trials and death sentences, while the mass of German soldiers who fought for an unjust cause, and could not be shown to have violated the accepted norms of waging war, were merely re-incarcerated behind the bars of their border and policed by Allied guards.
I really believe that your editorialist probably accepts the general principle offered here, but has somehow managed to rationalize the Hiroshima case into an exception. Paul Fussell’s powerful witness to the savagery of the Pacific war makes it less difficult to see how such exceptions are made. His 1981 New Republic essay is essentially an argument from experience, particularly the misery of the American combat soldier who had to face, in Admiral Halsey’s words, this "implacable, treacherous, barbaric" enemy. Fussell is careful to mention that there was savagery on both sides, but I don’t think it overly sentimental or sloppily patriotic to assume that in most cases the Americans were pupils to their Japanese tutor. It is easy to see how the whole of the Japanese people, in the mind of a soldier on the ground or a sailor on a Kamikaze-plagued deck, might come to wear this barbaric visage. It is easy to see how, on this level, the exception is made. How it was made in the corridors of power in Washington is less convincing.
For even after the horrors of Bataan and Okinawa have been made vivid and their undeniable power admitted by all, a nagging thought reminds us that we generally take some pride in our civilized refusal – often violated when, as Fussell puts it, "…you come face to face with an enemy who designs your death" – to adopt that same enemy’s more atrocious methods. That is why Lieutenant Calley had to be prosecuted for his work at My Lai, where the barbaric visage stared from the face of every villager. We would not permit him to make this decision on behalf of anyone but himself. Truman’s decision, on the other hand, is perceived as having been made on all our behalfs, and I consider this a psychological source of our difficulty in admitting that it was wrong. But both actions required a temporary suspension of the general rule giving sanctuary to the innocent. Many others suspend this rule in principle. The Ayatollah Khomeini, for example, holds a philosophy that permits no definition of the innocent whatsoever, that, in fact, regards them as the most appropriate target. Please do not think me idiot enough to draw an exact parallel between Truman and Khomeini. With Americans these are moments of weakness; with Khomeini they are a habit – worse, a conviction. But we must see, lest our weakness become a habit, that the argument from experience, though understandable, is not valid, and that the exception for special cases cannot be made because it provides no haven for the innocent and ends up devouring the rule.
This leaves only one forceful argument in favor of the bombings, and its force is difficult to resist. It comes in two parts: first, it brought about a good end; it stopped the savagery and the war, suddenly and all at once. It was effective, which is the question Fussell wanted answered, not "Was it necessary?" Second, more lives were saved than would have been lost in an invasion of the main islands.
Neither as stated can be shown to be false. As matters of fact at least one, and probably both, are certainly true. But the first badly begs the question of employing, to an admittedly good end, a means that does not allow for a definition of the innocent. The second, however, has the sound of a sincere attempt to justify the means, and must therefore be examined.
Even Anscombe does not dispute the main contention: "Given the conditions," failure to drop the bombs would have required an invasion of Japan to accomplish our goal, and "very many soldiers on both sides would have been killed; the Japanese…would have massacred the prisoners of war; and large numbers of their civilian population would have been killed by ‘ordinary’ bombing."
Her ‘very many soldiers’ does not carry the impact of most accepted casualty estimates – in the millions. It strikes us at once as a very good thing that death on this scale should be avoided. The magnitude of the estimate seems to logically overwhelm, and to render less obvious, other considerations. It even begins to seem that, ‘given the conditions’, saving these lives was the true end we wished to achieve by dropping the bombs, and it was certainly one of them.
But what were the conditions? The unlimited objective, the fixation on unconditional surrender…that was the root of all evil. The connection between such a demand and the need to use the most ferocious methods of warfare will be obvious. And in itself the proposal of an unlimited objective in war is stupid and barbarous.
This was the true end, not saving lives. The formulation "more lives (many more) were saved than were lost" veils the real intention, which was to kill the innocent as a means to an end, and it is by intention that we determine whether or not an action is murderous. Saving lives was only a corollary of our intention to kill the innocent and, in fact, possessed no existence of its own apart from that original intent. It was child to the parent; and both in turn were obedient subjects to a tyrant: unconditional surrender. The end justified the means.
Normally we do not permit this. We have traditionally held the end at the mercy of the means because the means are all we have, the tools we work with; our choice of these tools determines whether our hands come away dirty or clean. It is the tools themselves that are either dirty or clean; they do not become so by setting them to work on the engine of war. The cliché that ‘war is a dirty business’ is only another way of muddying the moral waters, of justifying any means to an end, of refusing to draw that crucial line dividing those we may kill from those we may not.
During World War II, George Orwell joined the chorus of clichés. He did not regret that "the immunity of the civilian…has been shattered…War is of its nature barbarous; it is better to admit that. If we see ourselves as the savages we are, some improvement is possible, or at least thinkable." A little over ten years later Anscombe would lament that "These conceptions [those compelling us to draw the line] are distinct and intelligible ones; they would formerly have been said to belong to the Law of Nations. Anyone can see that they are good, and we pay tribute to them by our moral indignation when our enemies violate them. But in fact they are going, and only fragments of them are left."
She also has harsh words for Mr. Truman:
I have long been puzzled by the common cant about President Truman’s courage in making this decision. Of course, I know that you can be cowardly without having reason to think you are in danger. But how can you be courageous? Light has come to me lately: the term is an acknowledgement of the truth. Mr. Truman was brave because, and only because, what he did was so bad.
This is a hard judgement with which to concur, and no reader should think it is easier for me than any other American. But it is a judgement our moral tradition demands, the further denial of which I fail to see can be of any benefit to conservatives, unless we wish to make common cause with the consequentialists who are carrying the day. There is a whole school of them waiting to welcome us with open arms, even if our first tentative steps involve only exceptions and ‘special cases.’
Choosing to kill the innocent as a means to your end is always murder.
This is the principle that suffers if we fail to make the judgement. This principle makes the difference (not of degree, but kind) between SDI and a missile aimed at Moscow, the former a tool recently taken in hand by President Reagan, and which will leave on his presidency a mark of greatness if history is properly written, and our hands clean if war should ever come. If we fail to make the judgement, the principle suffers not only in the case of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but across the gamut of life and death issues: abortion for the unborn, infanticide for the born, euthanasia for the comatose, the terminally ill, and the gravely suffering. Always a good end is found to justify our means of doing them in.
This process is well under way. Many do not regret it; they call it Progress. I would like to see National Review always in the vanguard of those who would turn back the clock. Perhaps we are all sinners deserving of nothing but death, but the Gift has been entrusted to our keeping whether we are worthy or not. Many of us are restrained in our stewardship by the belief that in time we will be called to account for it; we will be asked why the line was drawn here and not there, and all, especially those of us "who still possess the ability to think," will have good answers to give. But I suspect only one will open the narrow gate admitting us to the company of the truly innocent. This is the hardest judgement of all, and we will not be asked to concur in it – because we shall have already done so.
That the reader might judge for himself whether Truman has any "interstices for escape" from Anscombe's judgement upon him, here are a few excerpts from his personal diary, which came out many years after the fact. For my own part, I can't tell whether he's just kidding himself, ignorant of what the bomb was capable of, or simply deluded by a common human failing - the need to rationalize. In any case, we do see a conscience either hard at work or trying to rediscover itself.
7/25/45- "The weapon is to be used against Japan between now and August 10th. I have told the Sec. of War, Mr. Stimson, to use it so that military objectives and soldiers and sailors are the target and not women and children. Even if the Japs are savages, ruthless, merciless and fanatic, we as the leader of the world for the common welfare cannot drop this terrible bomb on the old capital or the new [Kyoto or Tokyo].
"He [Stimson] and I are in accord. The target will be a purely military one and we will issue a warning statement [known as the Potsdam Proclamation] asking the Japs to surrender and save lives. I'm sure they will not do that, but we will have given them the chance. It is certainly a good thing for the world that Hitler's crowd or Stalin's did not discover this atomic bomb. It seems to be the most terrible thing ever discovered, but it can be made the most useful."
8/9/45 - [from a public statement]"The world will note that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base. That was because we wished in this first attack to avoid, insofar as possible, the killing of civilians. But that attack is only a warning of things to come. If Japan does not surrender, bombs will have to be dropped on her war industries and, unfortunately, thousands of civilian lives will be lost.
"Having found the bomb we have used it. We have used it against those who attacked us without warning at Pearl Harbor, against those who have starved and beaten and executed American prisoners of war, against those who have abandoned all pretense of obeying international laws of warfare. We have used it in order to shorten the agony of war, in order to save the lives of thousands and thousands of young Americans.
"We shall continue to use it until we completely destroy Japan's power to make war. Only a Japanese surrender will stop us."
8/9/45 Letter to Senator Richard Russell:
[In response to Sen. Russell's wish that Japan be hit with more atomic and conventional bombing:]
"I know that Japan is a terribly cruel and uncivilized nation in warfare but I can't bring myself to believe that, because they are beasts, we should ourselves act in the same manner.
"For myself, I certainly regret the necessity of wiping out whole populations because of the 'pigheadedness' of the leaders of a nation and, for your information, I am not going to do it until it is absolutely necessary...
"My object is to save as many American lives as possible but I also have a humane feeling for the women and children in Japan."
8/11/45 Letter to Samuel McCrea Cavert, general secretary of the Federal Council of Churches:
[In response to Cavert's request, "Respectfully urge that ample opportunity to be given Japan to reconsider ultimatum before any further devastation by atomic bomb is visited upon her people.":]
"Nobody is more disturbed over the use of Atomic bombs than I am but I was greatly disturbed over the unwarranted attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor and their murder of our prisoners of war. The only language they seem to understand is the one we have been using to bombard them.
"When you have to deal with a beast you have to treat him as a beast. It is most regrettable but nevertheless true."
And from an article: Altho he never publicly admitted it, President Truman had his misgivings about using a-bombs on cities. On Aug. 10, 1945 (the day after the Nagasaki bomb), having received reports and photographs of the effects of the Hiroshima bomb, Truman ordered a halt to further atomic bombings. Sec. of Commerce Henry Wallace wrote in his diary on Aug. 10th, "Truman said he had given orders to stop atomic bombing. He said the thought of wiping out another 100,000 people was too horrible. He didn't like the idea of killing, as he said, 'all those kids'." (John Blum, ed., The Price of Vision: the Diary of Henry A. Wallace, 1942-1946, pg. 473-474).
On July 21, 1948 Truman confided some other private thoughts on the atomic bomb to his staff. Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission David Lilienthal recorded Truman's words in his diary that night, along with Lilienthal's own observations in parentheses:
"I don't think we ought to use this thing [the A-Bomb] unless we absolutely have to. It is a terrible thing to order the use of something that (here he looked down at his desk, rather reflectively) that is so terribly destructive, destructive beyond anything we have ever had. You have got to understand that this isn't a military weapon. (I shall never forget this particular expression). It is used to wipe out women and children and unarmed people, and not for military uses." (David Lilienthal, The Journals of David E. Lilienthal, Vol. Two, pg. 391) [my emphasis].
Truman's candid comments underscored the indiscriminate power of the atomic bomb that causes it to kill people we don't want to kill.
And that author's own assessment: Was President Truman a Bad Guy?
I am not interested in "finding fault" with President Truman. From reading his diary, his letters to his wife, and accounts of private conversations he had with others, I've come to the conclusion that Truman believed dropping atomic bombs on Japan would save American lives. After studying Harry Truman and the awful cup that passed to him, my heart goes out to him. He was happy in the Senate and did not want to become Vice-President or President. When the presidency was thrust upon him, we were struggling through one of the most crucial and chaotic periods in our nation's history. To make matters worse, neither Roosevelt nor Truman had taken care to see that Truman was well-informed on the war situation. Not surprisingly, the new President, by his own admission, was overwhelmed by the tasks facing him.
Taken from this site, a pretty good source if you want to do some more reading.
National Review is right about 90% of the time, so I can't get too outraged over them being wrong once in awhile.
Posted by TSO email at October 17, 2004 07:45 AM
I would disagree about NR, being a neo-conservative mouthpiece, and as bad as the liberals.
But there is one aspect about dropping the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that folks may not have noticed. Truman was a Freemason. And Hiroshima and Nagasaki are, historically, the two largest centers of Catholic activity in Japan.
Connection? Explicitly, I don't know. Implicity, who knows? But certainly, I wouldn't discount demonic influence regarding the choosing of these two particular cities.
Posted by Roy F. Moore email at October 17, 2004 01:05 PM
Since I am not too long out of the read everything about the Catholic Church in sight phase I well remember what you refer to. In common I also had to change some things that I held to as what I thought were slam-dunk cases like Hiroshima.
I lived in Japan for two years and had been to Hiroshima which today you can not see the marks of the horific destruction that occured except for the library at the center of Peace Park. Even seeing the museum with those terrible photos I still held to the belief that are actions were just to save American lives.
Only Later did I see that this was really a form of terrorism by killing innocents in order to get the Japanese government to change their policy. This issue has become a form of cafeteria Catholicism for conservatives where in this case they see the means to an end as being okay.
Posted by Jeff Miller email at October 17, 2004 07:40 PM
Hello?! American would have lost if it weren't for the A-bombs. Collateral damage of dead civilians is normal in every war. Silly geese.
Posted by Jake email at October 17, 2004 09:46 PM
even if this is old for you, it is new to us and the content is timeless. Given that you have limited time for writing new stuff, keep posting the old! I'm still conflicted about Hiroshima. I think that Nagasaki was totally unnecessary, but I am not sure how the balance sheet runs for Hiroshima. I do know that we did a better job rebuilding Japan and Germany than we have done so far in Iraq - I don't know if that is a failure of plan, a failure of will, or that it has to do with the culture at hand.
Posted by alicia email at October 17, 2004 10:59 PM
TS - suppose the 10% they happened to be wrong about concerned abortion. Would that outrage you?
Mr. Moore - no disrespect intended, but I find the idea that the freemason Truman subconsciously wanted to kill Catholics ridiculous. Catholics didn't bomb Pearl Harbor.
Jeff Miller - I appreciate your honesty, and your willingness to put the demands of your faith before other loyalties. But I've known this about you for some time.
Jake - that was deep.
Alicia - I appreciate the compliment and the trackback, but if the content was so timeless, why did it not make a dent? The balance sheet for Hiroshima? There is no balancing to be done. Since my words will not convince, let me repeat one more time the words of the Council: "All warfare which tends indiscriminately to the destruction of entire cities or wide areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man, to be firmly and unhesitatingly condemned."
Posted by William Luse email at October 18, 2004 03:23 AM
Anscombe's zeroing in on the "fixation on unconditional surrender" is very sharp. I've tried to get ahold of this essay, but my local university library has lost all three volumes of her collected works.
Posted by Kevin Jones email at October 18, 2004 09:16 AM
Try this webpage. Scroll to the bottom. Maybe you can order it from one of those sites.
Posted by William Luse email at October 18, 2004 02:40 PM
I had this very discussion with my father some weeks ago, during the course of which I realized that somewhere along the line I had arrived at the conclusion that dropping those bombs was an evil act, beyond any justification. When had my opinion changed? I cannot say.
But it is certainly reassuring to have so assiduous an examination of the issue to confirm my judgment. Well done, Bill.
Posted by Paul Cella email at October 18, 2004 04:35 PM
Paying ransom encourages more kidnapping. Accepting the doctrine you espouse encourages terrorists to hide amongst women and children.
I suspect the only thing stopping Tel Aviv or New York from being suitcase nuked is a rational fear of indiscriminate reprisals in kind against places like Teheran or Mecca.
Accepting your doctrine leaves us defenseless. If you convert America to your doctrine, sooner or later we will start to lose our cities. And you will be in the "right" as you see it, as the lights go out on civilization.
If you condensed down your essay to your essential point (minus all the "I'm not saying this" and "not accusing him of that"), I think you'd have something much clearer, and much more easily dismissable by common sense.
I agree with the "silly geese" comment above.
Posted by Nonplussed email at October 18, 2004 06:15 PM
So the lights stay on in America because we reserve the right to slaughter women and children. Talk about easily dismissable.
Posted by William Luse email at October 19, 2004 01:29 AM
The USSR had several thousand ICBM's pointed at the US in theCold War. No way to shoot them down. The only thing stopping them from launch was, well.
Did our lights stay on by threatening women and children from 1949 to 1991?If you want to put it that way, I suppose they did. Didn't they?
Cella says you make an "irrefutable" case. But any moral truism taken in isolation (like "it's wrong to kill civilians") seems irrefutable, until hard cases with conflicting goods are considered.
If Kim Jong Il settles himself in his capital, surrounded by a millionwomen and children, is he impervious to retaliation if he nukes Seattle? Safely ensconced like that under the Luce Shield, can he decide whetherto demand usurious blackmail, or obliterate us entirely?
We could invade, I suppose, but what if he threatens to nuke one US city for every hour we are on his territory?
It seems to me your doctrine--that threatening large numbers of civiliansis off limits as "evil"--paradoxically increases the chance a city will be nuked. It also seems to me it perversely encourages dictators to endanger theircivilians all the more, by using them as shields around their military installations.
It's a fallen world. Messiness and complexity abound. Lesser evils prevent greater ones. Force and threats seem necessary, in background, for civilization to continue. Having them exist quietly at the margin means we can usually go about our lives unaware of them. Banish them entirely as "evil," a la Tolstoy, and things degenerate.
Don't we as adults have to struggle with these perplexities, these tradeoffs in seeking the greater good among various vexing options?
"So being an adult requires the killing of women and children?"
I suppose you could dismiss me with a snappy debate line like that, but I hope you won't.
I suspect I'd agree with you on most moral issues, but I think you're off-base on this one. And that you're unfairly denigrating those doing the heavy lifting of keeping us safe. It's a pretty terrible thing to label a tool "evil", if it's the only tool in the toolbox that keeps things from going to hell.
Posted by Nonplussed email at October 19, 2004 04:39 PM
I notice you keep referring to the issue of deterrence rather than dealing with the instance of Hiroshima. There is a difference between threatening to nuke a city and actually doing it.
Second, tyrants and terrorists will always use civilians as shields. Always. It's happening in Fallujah right now.
The 'lights in America' I was referring to was that light of civilization you first mentioned. We are civilized because of who we are and what we believe, which includes the understanding that to resort to certain tactics forfeits the claim to being civilized.
You would agree with me on most moral issues, but I'm off-base on this one? So then this is a moral issue? Unless push comes to shove, in which case we'll abandon the morality? Before we agree on an issue, can we first agree on a universal principle that guides our approach to the issue: that we may not do evil that good may come? I don't think we can. You've already said that "Lesser evils prevent greater ones."
I believe what you're saying is that, when it comes to the acceptable moral means of fighting a war, there is no morality; that, when it comes to either us or them, there is no one we may not kill; that, in order to save ourselves, there is nothing to which we are forbidden recourse. There are no lines to be drawn. Is that what you're saying? And if so, to what other moral issue that we might agree upon would you apply this logic?
Keep in mind my replies may not be prompt. Paul Cella is coming to town for a visit, and I will find him vastly more congenial company than an anonymous commenter. And I may not reply at all if you don't learn how to spell my name, all four letters of it.
Posted by William Luse email at October 20, 2004 04:39 AM
I'm having a rough time right now, so forgive me for this short response. Trust that I read your piece twice and that you would do well writing for my favourite magazine, Foreign Affairs. Think about it sometime.
I fear we are in agreement about the immorality of nuclear weapons. I personally feel that way about civillian or military targets...they are the mustard gas of a Brave New World.
There is a quote I must hunt down to see what you think. Hopefully the book is somewhere in all our interminable boxes.
Posted by julie email at October 20, 2004 07:59 AM
Julie, hope the rough time passes quickly.
Posted by William Luse email at October 20, 2004 02:40 PM
It won't. :-)
I am the mother of four children whom I home educated at my husbands urging for the last eight years. Our youngest is autistic, and though I knew he was from the age of two they would not diagnose him until a petite mal left him dead in our pool. I rescued him, but suffered a severe trauman to my frontal lobe which makes me very slow in dialogues such as this.
My husband, an ex-catholic, has felt the evangelical call for service and quit his job as a banker, moved us away afrom any family and friends and commenced med school at the age of 50.
I find myself, having given up a law scholarship, to be a wife and mom now suddenly in need to get three regular kids and one disabled one through school in order to go to work to support my husbands calling.
I'm tired and generally out of oomph debate and discuss anything anymore, but I love you and your writing to pieces. You are gold.
Posted by julie email at October 21, 2004 08:45 PM
I can't tell if your husband's doing a great thing or a selfish one. The former I trust. And against the common grain, he's still your husband. Good women put up with a lot in this life, don't they? And I thought my life was tough. I was thinking of giving this up altogether, but you may keep me going a little longer. Not that it would do any good, but I wish I could kiss your forehead.
Posted by William Luse email at October 22, 2004 01:58 AM
I think there is a fear on the part of contemporary "conservatives" that if they admit that America has in actual fact done some terribly wrong things (it isn't like there ought to be any ambiguity in the case of Hiroshima, let alone Nagasaki), they will become just like the America-hating left. I put "conservatives" in scare quotes for a reason: for these "conservatives" do not love their country for the right reasons. If America is a set of propositions to which people assent, and which guarantee her moral rightness, then any incident of radical wrongness destroys America herself. But if America is an actual ethnic people with a shared history in an actual place, a grand extension of family with an authoritative if far from perfect shared tradition, then naturally there will be times that she was terribly wrong; but this does not diminish our love for her.
The problem is that "conservatives" of the former type are not really conservatives. Conservatives who hold the latter understanding will not be concerned about a moral slippery slope that denies the legitimacy of America as such. Propositional America is brittle and fragile, and it will die from its own weaknesses soon enough. May America the Beautiful live a long, happy, and prosperous life beyond the passing of the propositional illusion.
Posted by Matt email at October 24, 2004 03:41 PM
Insightful comment, Matt. You've just made a pretty good argument against the conservative "big tent", which I despise. If conservatism's founding principles aren't moral ones, what good is it?
Posted by William Luse email at October 25, 2004 03:04 AM
Finding this article by a reference "click link" on Touchstone Magazine's "mere comments" page, I must say I have never read anything as sincere, analytic and thorough on the issue of "the Bomb" used to end WWII in the Pacific, or on the usage of "in war"-violence directly against civilians in general for that matter.
Have to say that through the years I, like most folks(?) to a certain degree have accepted the "truth" that The Bomb, at that specific time, had to be used, since it did end the war.Never sure that position ever was right, I'm finding myself swaying on this, and that feels good...maybe I thought so all the time but nevertheless sloppily accepted or believed that they really contemplated other tactics but found the Bomb droppings to be the least evil to do, all things considered(?)
Anyway, why accept, if only in THIS case, the mass-killings/mass-murder of strictly civilians?Did Japan have to surrender exactly the way it was asked to, in effect making the Bomb droppings more likely than if some other way to ask them/demand from them to end their war making had been chosen?
Regarding he couplings to other issues regarding life and death of humans, like abortions and euthanasia and more, I found your writings very very much down to the point, even though I am not extending that view of mine to accepting the rightness of the death penalty.I accept fully, however, the real and gigantic gap between the lawful murdering of unborns and giving a, lawful too, punishment to a criminal, who already knew the penalty existed before he acted to risk receiving it for himself...
Posted by Mats in Sweden email at November 1, 2004 06:21 PM
For a Swede your English ain't bad. And thanks very much for your comment, the compliment, and your thoughtfulness. Wish there were more like you.
Posted by William Luse email at November 2, 2004 01:15 AM
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