Monday, September 05, 2005

The Nuclear Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Do They Meet Catholic Just War Standards of Morality? (Part II)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Furthermore (and this is a crucial point in understanding my approach) I cited many prominent Catholics (and at least one very prominent Anglican layman), in Part I, for the following reasons:
1) Because they (in most cases) know more about the issue than I do.

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

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

No comments: