Based in London; Formerly of New York, Buenos Aires, Fife, and the Western Cape. Saoránach d'Éirinn.
A writer, blogger, historian, and web designer born in New York, educated in Argentina, Scotland, and South Africa, and now based in London. read more

Debating Hiroshima

Christian morality versus modern relativism

THREE YEARS AGO over on the New Criterion‘s blog, Armavirumque, my friend and then-colleague & boss Roger Kimball and I had an interesting exchange on the morality of the bombing of Hiroshima. The debate began when Roger wrote a blog entry citing an opinion piece from Oliver Kamm of the Guardian supporting President Truman’s decision to drop the Bomb. I then responded with a post of my own pointing out that the conservative reaction at the time was one of horror at the moral depravity to which we had descended, and that the it-would-have-been-worse-if-we-didn’t school of thought essentially can be reduced to an ends-justifies-the-means argument. Roger then responded with a post arguing that, well, sometimes the ends do justify the means.

Regardless of one’s thoughts on the Hiroshima bombing, arguing that the ends justifies the means is one of the cornerstones of relativism. Christians believe that we are not allowed to do evil, even if that evil may serve a good cause. It is not simply a matter of choosing something bad over something worse. Evacuating the British Army from Dunkirk, for example, was bad, but leaving it there was worse. Yet, both were morally licit options for Churchill to make, though the prudential evidence supported the former option rather than the latter.

Innocent people inevitably die in most wars, but that cannot excuse the deliberate and intentional targeting of an entire city for destruction by a military force. That so many American Christians still excuse the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is frightening evidence that America has convinced Christians to be Americanised rather than Christianity convincing America to be Christianised.

Political wisdom from The Guardian

by Roger Kimball (August 6, 2007 – 10:18am)

It is not often that I agree with the politics espoused by The Guardian, England’s most left-wing serious newspaper. But an article by Oliver Kamm today in that newspaper wins my wholehearted endorsement. Today, August 6, is the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. As Mr. Kamm points out, that action, together with its successor at Nagasaki on August 9, ended World War II. It saved hundreds of thousands of American lives and millions of Japanese lives. Were those bombings terrible? You betcha. But as Mr. Kamm notes, if they caused suffering, they saved much greater suffering that would have ensued had the United States invaded Japan. This was understood at the time. But in recent years a revisionist view has grown up, especially on the Left, which faults President Truman for his decision to drop the bombs. “This alternative history,” Mr. Kamm argues. “is devoid of merit.”

New historical research in fact lends powerful support to the traditionalist interpretation of the decision to drop the bomb. This conclusion may surprise Guardian readers. The so-called revisionist interpretation of the bomb made headway from the 1960s to the 1990s. It argued that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were less the concluding acts of the Pacific war than the opening acts of the cold war. Japan was already on the verge of surrender; the decision to drop the bomb was taken primarily to gain diplomatic advantage against the Soviet Union.
Yet there is no evidence that any American diplomat warned a Soviet counterpart in 1945-46 to watch out because America had the bomb. The decision to drop the bomb was founded on the conviction that a blockade and invasion of Japan would cause massive casualties. Estimates derived from intelligence about Japan’s military deployments projected hundreds of thousands of American casualties.

It will be interesting to see what sort of response Mr. Kamm’s article elicits. I predict howls of rage and vituperation. But he is right:

Hiroshima and Nagasaki are often used as a shorthand term for war crimes. That is not how they were judged at the time. Our side did terrible things to avoid a more terrible outcome. The bomb was a deliverance for American troops, for prisoners and slave labourers, for those dying of hunger and maltreatment throughout the Japanese empire – and for Japan itself. One of Japan’s highest wartime officials, Kido Koichi, later testified that in his view the August surrender prevented 20 million Japanese casualties. The destruction of two cities, and the suffering it caused for decades afterwards, cannot but temper our view of the Pacific war. Yet we can conclude with a high degree of probability that abjuring the bomb would have caused greater suffering still.

Read the whole thing here.

What is the essence, the core, of conservative wisdom? One part is that when it comes to the real world, the choices we face are often not between good and bad but between bad and worse. This is particularly true in times of war. A difficult lesson. But crucial for those who wish to do good as well emit good-sounding slogans.

Do the ends really justify the means?

by Andrew Cusack (August 7, 2007 – 11:47am)

By now it seems a ritual: the summer ‘silly season’ is annually punctured (albeit only temporarily) by the perennial debate over the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In the previous post, our editor and publisher Roger Kimball agreeingly cites the “political wisdom” of Mr. Oliver Kamm of the Guardian, the house journal of Britain’s liberal establishment.

“New historical research,” writes Mr. Kamm, “in fact lends powerful support to the traditionalist interpretation of the decision to drop the bomb.” Mr. Kamm neglects to enlighten us that by “traditionalist” interpretation, he of course means the standard interpretation of the liberal status quo.

“The so-called revisionist interpretation,” Mr. Kamm informs us, “argued that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were less the concluding acts of the Pacific war than the opening acts of the cold war. Japan was already on the verge of surrender; the decision to drop the bomb was taken primarily to gain diplomatic advantage against the Soviet Union.” Interesting enough? Well, here comes Mr. Kamm’s jaw-dropping insight to debunk the revisionists: “Yet there is no evidence that any American diplomat warned a Soviet counterpart in 1945-46 to watch out because America had the bomb.”

To borrow from the popular speech of our time: well, duh!! The concept that American diplomats would officially (or even informally) inform the Soviet Union, one of their formal allies, that a given act of war against the Empire of Japan was also partly a warning to the Communists of American power seems so ridiculous as to be rejected at first sight.

“Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” Kamm continues, “are often used as a shorthand term for war crimes. That is not how they were judged at the time.” That is not how they were judged by whom, Mr. Kamm?

It was only two days after the bombing of Hiroshima that the Republican former President Herbert Hoover wrote to a friend that “the use of the atomic bomb, with its indiscriminate killing of women and children, revolts my soul.” Leo Maley and Uday Mohan pick up on this over at the History News Network:

Days later, David Lawrence, the conservative owner and editor of U.S. News (now U.S. News & World Report), argued that Japan’s surrender had been inevitable without the atomic bomb. He added that justifications of “military necessity” will “never erase from our minds the simple truth that we, of all civilized nations . . . did not hesitate to employ the most destructive weapon of all times indiscriminately against men, women and children.”

Just weeks after Japan’s surrender, an article published in the conservative magazine Human Events contended that America’s atomic destruction of Hiroshima might be morally “more shameful” and “more degrading” than Japan’s “indefensible and infamous act of aggression” at Pearl Harbor.

Such scathing criticism on the part of leading American conservatives continued well after 1945. A 1947 editorial in the Chicago Tribune, at the time a leading conservative voice, claimed that President Truman and his advisers were guilty of “crimes against humanity” for “the utterly unnecessary killing of uncounted Japanese.”

In 1948, Henry Luce, the conservative owner of Time, Life, and Fortune, stated that “[i]f, instead of our doctrine of ‘unconditional surrender,’ we had all along made our conditions clear, I have little doubt that the war with Japan would have ended soon without the bomb explosion which so jarred the Christian conscience.” A steady drumbeat of conservative criticism continued throughout the 1950s. A 1958 editorial in William F. Buckley, Jr.’s National Review took former President Truman to task for his then-current explanation of why he had decided to drop an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima. The editors asked the question that “ought to haunt Harry Truman: ‘Was it really necessary?’” Could a demonstration of the bomb and an ultimatum have ended the war? The editors challenged Truman to provide a satisfactory answer. Six weeks later the magazine published an article harshly critical of Truman’s atomic bomb decision.

Two years later, David Lawrence informed his magazine’s readers that it was “not too late to confess our guilt and to ask God and all the world to forgive our error” of having used atomic weapons against civilians. As a 1959 National Review article matter-of-factly stated: “The indefensibility of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima is becoming a part of the national conservative creed.”

Meanwhile, George S. Schuyler, another prominent conservative (and later on a contributor to National Review) wrote in his Pittsburgh Courier column of August 14, 1945 that:

Not satisfied with being able to kill people by the thousand, we have now achieved the supreme triumph of being able to slaughter whole cities at a time. In this connection it is interesting to note that there is no longer any pretense that only military installations are targets. Skimming through in the skies over Hiroshima, one of our bombing planes dropped the fearsome atomic bomb to murder 200,000 or Japanese mothers, fathers and children indiscriminately. It seems that just yesterday we were bemoaning German barbarism in bombing Warsaw, Rotterdam, London and other industrial centers, and citing as evidence of the Japanese savagery the slaughter of a few thousand innocents in Shanghai.

Perhaps Mr. Kamm, in saying that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not judged as war crimes meant to say that that is now how the bombings were judged in Great Britain, but of course this is not the case either. The prominent conservative philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe protested voiciferously in 1956 when Oxford, her place of study and employ, awarded an honorary degree to Harry Truman.

Anscombe, of course, was a convert to Catholicism and it is naturally from Catholic conservatives that much ire is stoked in reaction to the destruction of the two cities. Bishop Fulton Sheen, the popular television personality, called it “our national sin” while Fr. James Gillis, a Paulist priest who was the editor of the Catholic World and a leading figure in the circles of the American right, called it “the most powerful blow ever delivered against Christian civilization and the moral law.”

Not all the conservative opposition came from Catholic circles, however. Military historian Maj. Gen. J.F.C. Fuller wrote:

Though to save life is laudable, it in no way justifies the employment of means which run counter to every precept of humanity and the customs of war. Should it do so, then, on the pretext of shortening a war and of saving lives, every imaginable atrocity can be justified.

Admiral William D. Leahey, meanwhile, asserted:

the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. . . . My own feeling was that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make wars in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.

The splendid Richard Weaver, on whom our own Roger Kimball wrote a thoughtful essay, saw the bombings as “inimical to the foundations on which civilization is built” and attacked

the spectacle of young boys fresh out of Kansas and Texas turning nonmilitary Dresden into a holocaust . . . pulverizing ancient shrines like Monte Cassino and Nuremberg, and bringing atomic annihilation to Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Yet, as Anscombe wrote, “it was the insistence on unconditional surrender that was the root of all evil.” The allied insistence on avoiding any negotiations to bring a quicker end to the war undoubtedly cost many American lives, not to mention thousands upon thousands of non-combatants who were killed in the mean time. It was a perennial discouragement for those German officers attempting to overthrow Hitler, and it was a continual encouragement to the Japanese to fight on to the bloody end, lest they risk seeing their sacred emperor hanged outside his palace by American, British, and Soviet judges. (The continual attempts to justify the atomic bombing of these cities beg the question: would our current enemies — the “terror” against which we currently wage “war” — therefore be justified in employing a dirty bomb or even a regular nuclear device against New York or Los Angeles? I think not.)

The great (and much-neglected) conservative thinker Thomas Molnar once said that the Revolution would be complete when both the United States and the Catholic Church were won over to the revolutionary principle. Those who saw the Iron Curtain divide Europe and then the fall of the Berlin Wall forty years later have now lived to see the ideology of worldwide revolution preached from the White House. Those who wait to see it preached from the Vatican shouldn’t hold their breath.

Another word about Hiroshima

by Roger Kimball (August 7, 2007 – 4:00pm)

I do not wish to belabor the issue of whether saving millions of lives is a good thing. But since my colleague Andrew Cusack has weighed in on the morality–or was it the theology?–of dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I thought I would add a word or two to my post of yesterday from Paul Fussell, whose classic essay “Thank God for the Atom Bomb” really says all that needs to be said about the subject of whether using those fearsome engines of war was justified.

The future scholar-critic who writes The History of Canting the Twentieth Century will find much to study and interpret the utterances of those who dilate on the special wickedness of the A-bomb-droppers. He will realize that such utterance can perform for the speaker a valuable double function. First it can display the fineness of his moral weave. And second, by implication it can also inform the audience that during the war he was not socially so unfortunate as to find himself down there with the ground forces, where he might have had to compromise the purity and clarity of his moral system by the experience of weighing his own life against someone else’s. Down there, which is where the other people were, is the place where coarse self-interest is the rule. When the young soldier with the wild eyes comes at you, firing, do you shoot him in the foot, hoping he’ll be hurt badly enough to drop or misaim the gun with which he’s going to kill you, or do you shoot. him in the chest ( or, if you’re a prime shot, in the head) and make certain that you and not he will be the survivor of that mortal moment?

It would be not just stupid but would betray a lamentable want of human experience to expect soldiers to be very sensitive humanitarians. The Glenn Grays of this world need to have their attention directed to the testimony of those who know, like, say, Admiral of the Fleet Lord Fisher, who said, “Moderation in war is imbecility,” or Sir Arthur Harris, director of the admittedly wicked aerial-bombing campaign designed, as Churchill put it, to “de-house” the German civilian population}, who observed that “War is immoral,” or our own General W. T. Sherman: “War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it.” Lord Louis Mountbatten, trying to say something sensible about the dropping of the A-bomb, came up only with “War is crazy.” Or rather, it requires choices among craziness’s. “It would seem even more crazy,” he went on, “if we were to have more casualties on our side to save the Japanese. ” One of the unpleasant facts for anyone in the ground armies during the war was that you had to become pro tem a subordinate of the very uncivilian George S. Patton and respond somehow to his unremitting insistence that you embrace his view of things. But in one of his effusions he was right, and his observation tends to suggest the experiential dubiousness of the concept of “just wars. ” “War is not a contest with gloves,” he perceived. “It is resorted to only when laws, which are rules, have failed. ” Soldiers being like that, only the barest decencies should be expected of them. They did not start the war, except in the terrible sense hinted at in Frederic Manning’s observation based on his front-line experience in the Great War: “War is waged by men; not by beasts, or by gods. It is a peculiarly human activity. To call it a crime against mankind is to miss at least half its significance; it is also the punishment of a crime.” Knowing that unflattering truth by experience, soldiers have every motive for wanting a war stopped, by any means.

Andrew seems deeply impressed by Elizabeth Anscombe’s contention that America’s insistence on unconditional surrender was “the root of all evil.” In fact, it was our failure to insist on this in 1918 that was the root not perhaps of all evil but that particularly toxic node that paved the way for World War II and the untold suffering it caused. Do the ends really justify the means? Alas, like so much about the real world, the melancholy–but also the moral–answer is, “Often, yes.”

This post was published on Thursday, August 5th, 2010 2:14 pm. It has been categorised under Church Military Politics and been tagged under , , .
B T Van Nostrand
5 Aug 2010 6:02 pm

Kimball is just one more Americanist, and thus no conservative. He betrays himself with that wistful final paragraph’s wish that the allies had insisted upon unconditional surrender as World War I drew to its disastrous end.
No thoughtful conservative can delight at the defeat of traditional Christian Europe in 1918. Europe’s last three seriously Christian states fell: Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Russia.
The victory went, not to”democracy” (although that would have been bad enough) but to Freemasonry and Bolshevism.
It was precisely the harshness of the Versailles Treaty which led to Hitler, not the fact that Germany was left intact (but, ominously, headless). Kimball thinks like a Wilsonian, and there is no harsher judgement than that.

Michael Gogins
6 Aug 2010 4:57 pm

I am a liberal, not a conservative. But I am not a moral relativist, so I applaud Andrew Cusack’s clear judgment here.

The plain fact of the matter is, we live now in a terrible dark age, where almost everyone in the world has a gun at their head wielded by official gangsters who transparently do think that the ends justify the means (“Do as I say, not as I do”).

There is no difference at all between most “conservatives” and most “liberals” on this most critical matter, which in addition to risking an actual nuclear war is making the global (and national) political climate worse and worse by the year.

Mike Gogins

7 Aug 2010 1:47 am

For one’s reflection:

“The Foundations of Our World”
August 6, 2010 – by Richard Fernandez

8 Aug 2010 4:13 am

If it was your arse on the line waiting to invade Japan, I doubt you wouldn’t be poo-pooing the new fangled big bomb!

8 Aug 2010 12:37 pm

I know Hiroshima and its citizens well (and also the account of the Jesuit priests who survived the blast unaffected by heat or radiation despite being within 400 yards of the epicentre).
The civilians of Hiroshima were engaged in demolishing many parts of the city in anticipation of a conventional bombing attack (to avoid risk of a fireball effect as these building were wooden). They were also organised into civil defence (offence)? corps as were civilians in many other parts of Japan.
If conventional bombs had been dropped on Hiroshima (to equal the effect of the Atomic bomb), we probably would not be holding this debate. However, the main point is that the two Atomic bombs did ensure the rapid capitulation of the country. If this had not happended we would have faced months of street fighting in which many more than 140,000 civilians would have died to say nothing of allied troops and those men, women and children who suffered in the Japanese death camps.

Andrew Cusack
8 Aug 2010 3:30 pm

“If this had not happended we would have faced months of street fighting in which many more than 140,000 civilians”

This was certainly a very real possibility, however knowledgeable military men like Admiral Leahy and General Eisenhower agreed that the atomic bomb was completely unnecessary, and I trust their upfront, at-the-time assessment rather than the innumerable possibility of potentialities.

The nasty fact that persists is the immoral and counterproductive insistence on unconditional surrender. If we had merely given an explicit assurance that the Emperor would neither be tried nor executed, I think that would have helped end the war more quickly, but we refused to do so, even though we ended up neither trying nor executing the Emperor. If we weren’t going to do so, why not say so to ease the way to a Japanese surrender?

Your point about conventional bombs is an apt one, but the arguments about Hiroshima and Nagasaki are equally valid towards the bombing campaigns against London, Bristol, Coventry, Dresden, Tokyo, etc.

Industrial targets are fair game, and it is reasonable to expect a certain number of bombs to miss their targets and go astray and kill civilians (accidentally, not intentionally). But the Luftwaffe’s bombing of London and the RAF/USAAF bombing of Dresden, etc. were specifically targeted at civilian populations for the purpose of demoralization. They tended to be counter-productive, as citizens being bombed (unsurprisingly) blame the bombers rather then their own government, and pull together in a spirit of solidarity, in London during the ‘Blitz’ just as in Belgrade in 1999.

Andrew Cusack
8 Aug 2010 3:39 pm

“If it was your arse on the line waiting to invade Japan, I doubt you wouldn’t be poo-pooing the new fangled big bomb!”

I think this is a very fair and important point. I hope I would still be on the side of the Angels even if my life were on the line, but it seems a very real possibility that I would give in to the Devil on my other shoulder and say “Better dead women & children than dead me.”

I highly recommend reading the autobiography of George Macdonald Fraser, Quartered Safe Out Here, the last (I think) chapter of which I heard read aloud on the BBC once. G.M.F. was serving with the British forces in the Burma campaign at the end of the war, and deals with the reactions to hearing about the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by these men fighting the Japanese in terrible conditions in the jungles of south-east Asia. His thoughts on the subjects are memorable and all the more impressive as he ostensibly would have been among those who would’ve had to take part in an invasion of Japan.

Steve M.
8 Aug 2010 5:15 pm

I found it striking that the Paul Fussell passage cited by Roger Kimball starts the argument with “When the young soldier with the wild eyes comes at you, firing, do you shoot him in the foot…?” The civilian baby is sleeping in a crib, the civilian housewife is washing dishes, etc. None of what Andrew Cusack has written, and, as far as I can tell, none of those writing in opposition whom he quotes, are trying to stir up hatred towards Harry Truman or the men who carried out his orders. But there is a world of difference between understanding the presssures they were facing, and their justifiable fears as to the alternatives, and agreeing that evil means can be deliberately chosen if the end sought is really, really good. Saving even one American soldier’s life in 1945 would be a very high end indeed, and saving even one starving person, solider or civilian, in a death camp is a priceless good. If we accept the logic that the end justifies the means, why not deliberately kill 100,000-200,000 civilians in order to save one innocent life?

Seeker of Truth
9 Aug 2010 2:09 am

Why not Germany………Too,was German lives more valuable than the lives of the Japanese..that is the answer that is blowing in the wind

9 Aug 2010 5:28 am

I totally agree with regard to Dresden, an appalling act. But my point regarding Hiroshima (and many other regions in Japan)is that the civilian population were charged with military defensive roles that, effectively, rendered them militia and a great threat to our forces

Michael Gogins
9 Aug 2010 9:06 am

See Andrew Cusack on the immorality of demanding unconditional surrender. To expand on this, according to the doctrine of just war, war is justified only as a last resort in securing an end which is just, and only if the evils arising from the fight are outweighed by the good arising from victory. Some allied commanders felt the bombing was unnecessary. Many allied scientists and advisors warned of the evil effects of nuclear bombing (some have indeed come to pass). Truman and the other allied commanders heard both sides of this, and made the wrong decision.

It is not the identify of a person as a “soldier” or a “civilian” that qualifies them as a target in a just war. It is whether they are ACTIVELY fighting against justice. The logical end of your chain of thought is to exterminate, and that is what we are prepared to do.

To make this a bit clearer, if the enemy army only boasted and threatened and never got on the road in their tanks, it would never be justified to attack them, and if the enemy civilians, even ladies, got in those tanks and began to attack, they would be enemy combatants and if opposing justice could be killed.

To make this a bit clearer yet, violence is so evil that wise and just commanders use it only as a last resort. This is the utterly critical point and it is what underlies Cusack’s objection to unconditional surrender. It was not necessary to demand unconditional surrender in order to end the violence of the Japanese Empire.

In terms of “last resortness,” being absolutely required to end the violence, bombing industrial workers is not required either. It is gratuitous vengeance, terrorism, incompetence, and so on.

Dick Rolwing
9 Aug 2010 10:21 pm

The 19th century distinction between innocent civilians and armed soldiers no longer neatly applied to 20th century wars between whole nations. Even in grade school I collected things to support American soldiers in WW II. No army anymore lives off of booty, off the land, except the Taliban, and they are no army. Soldiers do not manufacture tanks, airplanes, bombs, machine guns, aircraft carriers, submarines, or supply their own food, clothing and transportation. They do not pay their own salaries. 20th century wars are total wars in the sense that whole nations are involved to a significant degree. And yet i got the Catholic Theological Society in 1995 (50 years) to sign on to 2 Vatican statements which condemed attacks upon cities (without making a judgment about any particular one attack.

10 Aug 2010 1:30 pm

‘That so many American Christians still excuse the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is frightening evidence that America has convinced Christians to be Americanised rather than Christianity convincing America to be Christianised.’ – AC

Well said, Andrew. I agree wholeheartedly, and it disturbs me that many in this debate betray a confused notion of Christian ethics and the Just War Theory, in addition to an erroneous notion of double effect. It is also sad to note that even very pious Catholic friends of mine confuse Catholicism with the Constitution; they are Republicans before they are Catholics, yet they think that being Catholic means being Republican. It is what I like to call ‘The Apotheosis of America’.

Glenn Beck, anyone?

10 Aug 2010 3:58 pm

Forgive me Andrew if you have already seen this: [link]

10 Aug 2010 7:42 pm

Andrew, what is your view on nuclear disarmament? Trident and its renewal, especially in these economically challenging times, is being hotly debated in Britain. Should Britain finally ‘ban the bomb’ and carry out unilateral disarmament? If the use of WMD is never justified, is the maintenance of a nuclear also immoral or just M.A.D.?

Philip Warren
17 Aug 2010 6:54 am

The Imperial Japanese Army by early 1945 was killing on average well over 5,000 a day in its occupied co-prosperity sphere? To understand why Hiroshima, understand 50,000 American casualties, 100,000 Japanese dead, and 100,000 Okinawan dead at the conclusion of Okinawa ten weeks earlier, and then multiply it by a factor of 10 for the upcoming Japanese homeland invasion.
Despite these stubborn facts, Mr. Cusack who has not the wit or moral courage to serve his own country in uniform, plays the armchair general. His bootlicking love of any nation but his own is pathetic…

Xander Fraser
17 Aug 2010 8:32 am

Nail and Head Mr. Warren. Nail and Head.

My granduncle was at the tender mercy of the Japanese on the Death Railway in Burma, and based on what I know of his experiences I am of the view that the bombing of Japan – atomic or otherwise – was quite correct. Those whose consciences are pricked by the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki evidently never had to face a Japanese bayonet charge at such places as Imphal and Kohima, nor deal with the Kempeitai. Equally, those who shed tears for the bombing of Dresden know little of what went on in the interrogation cellars of the Gestapo nor of the cultural rape of Europe which the Nazis conducted.

Note Mr. Cusack’s glib non-answer to my own question as to why he has not signed up for active service – not the chocolate box ‘soldiering’ of units such as the New York Guard – at a time when his country is at war. Such people are not fit to carry the boots of the marines and soldiers currently fighting (not poncing about in comic-opera rigout) in Iraq and Afghanistan – soldiers and marines who have not had a fraction of the opportunties and privileges which Mr. Cusack likes to tell us about ad nauseum.

I find the highbrow moralising and social posturing which characterises this blog ludicrous. The lauding of all things British and European at the expense of one’s own homeland is pathetic. Among the more obvious contradictions I have encountered is that Mr. Cusack weeps for the Serbs of Kosovo and rages against NATO action against Milosevic’s thug state, which as a Catholic with a professed admiration for the culture of the Habsburgs, makes no sense.

Just because someone has gone to St. Andrew’s does not mean that one is of that background, no matter how much cultural posturing one engages in; the same holds true for Jacobitism, Royalism and all the other traditions which Mr. Cusack and his cosy huddle of the likeminded have chosen to select from the dessert trolley of history. A word of advice ‘gentlemen’ – you’re either born into those traditions or you’re not; it’s either in your blood or it isn’t. Browsing through this blog is like being stuck in some hellish Jane Austenesque snobfest.

Much about the tone and content of this site has both intrigued and repelled me, so, having some time on my hands, I made enquiries in London and elsewhere, as some of the names which have cropped up here were familiar. Let me just say that I have had some questions answered, and some of the people who have been so publicly praised on here are the sort whom I would cross the street to avoid. All is not as it seems.

Michael Gogins
17 Aug 2010 9:04 am

Mr. Warren,

Your use of personal insults in a public forum will, for persons of wit and honor, pretty much rob your comment of effect. I wonder if, on some level, you are not aware of this.

Setting that aside to attend to the matter of your comment in spite of my distate for its tone, several in this thread including Mr. Cusack and myself have pointed out that according to most conceptions of morality, it is never right to do wrong that good may come.

Of course, in practice, most political and military dilemmas boil down to a choice of what appears to be the lesser evil. But then “doing wrong that right may come” becomes another evil that must be placed in the scale. Sometimes it is unavoidable, but it must still be accounted for.

The difference between your conception of the Pacific War dilemma and mine appears to be that in balancing evils, you do not give much weight, if any, to the dishonor and crime of killing hundreds of thousands of innocent women and children. If you factor this into your equation it will require a very different course of action.

This is especially true because Japan could have been defeated at much lower cost without the absurd requirement of unconditional surrender, or by our enduring the inconvenience of a large, long siege instead of an invasion.

David Davies
17 Aug 2010 6:14 pm

I don’t hold any brief for blowing up whole cities. The atomic bomb is a horror.

What is ignored here, I think, is that in the Summer of 1945 there were no civilians in Japan. All had been drafted by the Army, whose slogan was “One hundred million die together.” Draftees are often unwilling soldiers, as those of us who were young during Viet Nam are well aware. Is is therefore immoral to kill an enemy soldier because he is a draftee?

If you see your enemies suit up a five year old kid with a suicide vest and start him walking toward your position, is it OK to shoot the kid?

Richard M
18 Aug 2010 11:17 am

The arguments presented here against the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki appear to fall into two categories: 1) That the bombings were by nature immoral, and 2) they were unnecessary, as Japan was on the brink of collapse/surrender anyway.

I have never found the latter argument convincing, and neither have the most reputable historians who have looked at the evidence of late (Richard Frank comes to mind). Japan’s straits were dire in August of 1945 but most of the military leadership was committed to a last ditch fight no matter how desperate the odds; the fact that there was an attempted coup by hardliners even after the emperor’s intervention – and even after the atomic bombings and the Soviet invasion of Manchuria – only underlines this reality. Before August 10-12 the consensus in the war cabinet was for peace only if it left intact the current military regime and permitted no occupation of the home islands – obviously unacceptable concessions for the allies to make. Starvation might have forced Japan to a surrender by the beginning of 1946 after the rice ferries from Korea had been cut off – but that is hardly more moral than atomic weapons being dropped on cities.

Which leads me back to the morality argument. My grandfather was stationed in the Philippines with the 6th Army in the summer of 1945, having fought a hard campaign already, and was facing inclusion in the invasion of operations of Olympic/Coronet. He was always convinced that the bombings saved him from that (likely grim) fate. Yet seen in this light, it’s hard to deny Mr. Cusack’s point that this is an “ends justifies the means” argument. In this equation, the lives of 130,000 Japanese were expended to save the lives of millions of Americans and Japanese a few months later. And however attractive that moral calculus may seem, that goes against Church moral teaching. The ends cannot justify the means.

It has also been pointed out – quite rightly – that in species the a-bomb attacks were really not different from the fire bombing campaigns that had reduced most other Japanese cities to ashes – and killed over a million Japanese civilians. But if that is true, so much the worse for firebombings. The reality is that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were only the final acts in a long, terrible Allied air campaign in Europe and Japan that had long since departed from not only any reasonable adherence to Church teaching but the strongly held positions against deliberate targeting of civilians by Allied military and civilian leaders before the war. Even General Sherman made sure to spare civilian lives when he burned his way through Georgia.

Having said all this, I do think that the atomic bomb could still have been used to hasten the end of the war in morally acceptable fashion. Such a use would have to involve the targeting of a clear, unambiguously military target (such as the giant naval base at Kure), or a demonstration explosion. I suspect the former would have a greater chance of success. And I suspect it would not have raised the same concerns among generals like Eisenhower.

Richard M
18 Aug 2010 11:31 am

P.S. Mr. Gogins raises the question of unconditional surrender. As Mr. Cusack notes, “Yet, as Anscombe wrote, “it was the insistence on unconditional surrender that was the root of all evil.””

Perhaps. But it’s worthwhile to ask what the alternative being considered was.

If it had been made clear to the Japanese leadership that the emperor could be preserved, it has been argued that it would have made the decision to surrender easier.

That might be true. It would have difficult for Truman to do, given polls suggesting a vast majority of Americans wanted Hirohito executed; but the real problem would have been in defining just how the imperial throne and person would be preserved in an Allied occupation. At any rate, after reading accounts of the discussions of the council in the last weeks of the war, I am still not convinced that it could have obtained a surrender, certainly not for a few more months of siege. The Army was still demanding 1) no occupation, and 2) no change in regime (i.e., the military would remain in charge). Obviously, no Allied government could accept such a condition. Japanese militarism would remain to threaten East Asia and the Pacific.

Nonetheless, I do agree that making an explicit offer (a conditional surrender) of permitting the emperor to remain, and not to be tried or executed – so long as the Home Islands were occupied and the military government dismantled for good, and war criminals tried – should have been tried. It probably would not have worked, or at least not before the autumn had run its course, with all the attendant death and suffering. But it would have been worth the attempt.

Richard M
18 Aug 2010 11:40 am

Seeker of Truth says “Why not Germany………Too,was German lives more valuable than the lives of the Japanese..that is the answer that is blowing in the wind.”

Well, the original plan *was* to use it against Germany – it was after all the German atomic bomb project (which came to nought in the end) which spurred the creation of the Manhattan Project in the first place.

But the first bomb was not ready for testing before July. Germany surrendered on May 7. Indeed, even availability by March probably would have been too late, given how obviously German resistance had only weeks to live and the risk of hitting rapidly advancing Soviet armies already crossing the Oder (which would have been an even greater concern had US – and Soviet – scientists known more about radioactive fallout).

At any rate, the USAAF and RAF had already reduced most German cities to rubble by that point using conventional bombs. And the same moral concerns are raised by many of those air raids.

Robert Harrington
20 Aug 2010 5:43 pm

“The lauding of all things British and European at the expense of one’s own homeland is pathetic. ”

Uhhhh… have you checked out the MASSIVE section of this site under the ‘New York’ label? That alone debunks this lil bit of slander on your part.

Re: Serbia. Your argument is that because the Serbs behaved badly, then it must be ok to behave badly to the Serbs. (Ditto Dresden, Hiroshima, etc). If that’s not obviously ridiculous, I don’t know what is!

20 Aug 2010 7:43 pm

“The nasty fact that persists is the immoral and counterproductive insistence on unconditional surrender. If we had merely given an explicit assurance that the Emperor would neither be tried nor executed, I think that would have helped end the war more quickly, but we refused to do so, even though we ended up neither trying nor executing the Emperor. If we weren’t going to do so, why not say so to ease the way to a Japanese surrender?”

Ya think, huh? That woulda done the trick? Where does one begin? Hmm. You know what? You can’t. I lived in worked in Japan for a chunk of my life and devoted a great deal of my younger years and education to the study of its political-economy. But this analysis…I just…hmm…well in a sense I guess there’s a logic to it. I mean to say that if you know absolutely nothing about your subject, then you might as well jump in with both feet and leave the experts with so much garbage they won’t even try to clean it up. (And that’s without even touching upon the theological reasoning.)


P.S. I remember having breakfast on my porch in Kasahata, Saitama in 1986 and reading that the Ministry of Education’s ban on using the word “invasion” when referring to the movement of Japanese troops during WWII remained in effect for all history textbooks. That was also the first day I had read these words from Hirohito’s radio address after the bombing of Nagasaki: “…the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage…” I’d better stop because then I might have to explain something about the real relevance of the Emperor…and then I won’t even be 10% of the way into the introduction necessary to clean up this mess.

Xander Fraser
23 Aug 2010 4:35 am

Hmmmm, I don’t know who ‘Michael Brabazon’ is, but he seems to have cross posted or made a mess of mis-quoting my own post? Clarification?

Xander Fraser
23 Aug 2010 4:41 am

Actually, hold on…..I see that my own posting appears a number of times? Admittedly, earlier attempts to post met with no success, hence the multiple posts perhaps? Am curious to hear from Mr. Brabazon as to whether I have a stalker, impersonator or someone who agrees with me almost verbatim? Perhaps Mr. Cusack has sent forth his agents to ‘hack me’ or somesuch?

Michael Brabazon
23 Aug 2010 6:05 am

Mea Culpa – I see that my attempt to post in response to Xander Fraser was botched – I was trying to quote, not copy. I have contacted Mr. Cusack to this effect. For now, I won’t tempt fate by trying to post at length. However, I will say that Mr. Fraser seems unable to grasp the fact that the argument being made here is not strictly military but rather ethical and moral. Mr. Cusack and others are not obliged to account for their reasons for not joining their respective armies, and for Mr. Fraser to constantly seek to silence debate by recourse to this clarion call is unfair and not a little intellectually dishonest. That Mr. Fraser served in the South African Army is admirable of itself, but does not necessarily place him in a morally unassailable position which renders any and all views contrary to his own null and void. One can admire and harken back to the culture and society of the Habsburgs and still abhor the illogical and politically naive decision of NATO to bomb Serbia in the service of the Muslim Kosovars. Equally, whilst Mr. Cusack does indeed display a great love for and knowledge of all things British and European, this is not to say that he holds to this viewpoint at the expense of the United States – even the briefest of glances at his numerous postings on New York history, architecture and society should refute such a notion?

It is a little difficult to keep the flame of civilisation alive when hunkered down in a ditch Mr. Fraser – we cannot all be there, and someone has to keep things going for when the fighting is over. Surely this is not an unreasonable or pompous position to take?

23 Aug 2010 12:32 pm

Perhaps a reading of Thomas Merton’s “Original Child Bomb” would be meaningful.

23 Aug 2010 7:17 pm

Mr. Fraser,
In spite of current thinking, class envy is not a virtue.

Anyway, your comment provides no substantive response to Mr. Cusack’s post. You seem to argue that the brutality of Japanese soldiers justifies the incineration of innocent Japanese children, and likewise the barbarism of the Nazis makes the torching of German mothers and infants ok. You don’t see that your thinking makes you one with the enemy.

And since when is a person’s moral thought only valid if he’s served time in the military?

8 Sep 2010 2:44 pm

If the Allies had obliterated Hiroshima and Nagasaki with conventional warheads to the same effect as the nuclear, we would not be having this discussion.

Andrew Cusack
8 Sep 2010 2:54 pm

Shepherd: Incorrect, we would still be having this discussion.

That’s why we still have similar discussions regarding the immorality of the blitz over London and the bombing of Dresden. Different weapons, but similar effects.

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