Thursday, May 30, 2002

WWII and The Bomb

I watched NBC's Memorial Day special on Monday, which showed us the horrors and bravery of the island-hopping campaign in the Pacific during WWII.

Near the end of the show, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (with atomic bombs, for those of you in Palm Beach) was discussed, with comments from the pilot of the Enola Gay (which dropped both bombs) and soldiers who were fighting in the Pacific during the war.

The pilot (I can't recall his name) asserted that when he took off to drop the first bomb, he "threw religion and morality out the window" (that's a rough quote). In other words, he had a job to do, a job that he and those above him -- including of course, President Truman -- hoped would end the war. And it did. But in flying the missions, the pilot (and presumably the rest of the crew) preferred not to consider the morality of their actions.

In the time since then, the standard defense for dropping the bomb is this: if we hadn't done so, we would have lost perhaps a million men in an invasion of the Japanese home islands, and many more Japanese would have died in that fighting than did in the dropping of the two nukes. This is the basic form of the argument by the pilot of the Enola Gay mentioned above.

My response: so what?

The fact of the matter is this: if we consider the moral act of dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki objectively -- i.e. apart from the subjective factors involved for those who ordered & carried out the attacks (more on this below) -- there is no doubt that it was an immoral act, in that thousands of innocent non-combatants were deliberately killed (as is well-known, neither city had any real military value). I don't care that it (may have) saved lives, both American and Japanese. On the objective level, there is no moral ground for deliberately killing an innocent non-combatant. (Here it comes...) the ends never justify the means. I'm sure that the Enola Gay pilot did not intend to state a principle for living in the quote above, but I hope that such a view is no longer common among those who have the responsibility for safeguarding our nation. It is in war especially that moral considerations must be made, to ensure that our cause and how we carry it out is just.

I want to make it clear that I am not passing judgment on Truman, the pilots, or anyone else involved in ordering & carrying out the strikes: as they say, war is hell, and the pressure the situation brought to bear on all of them greatly reduces their culpability, in my opinion. As I have noted, my argument focuses solely on the objective level -- whether or not it was (and is) right to nuke a civil population for any reason.

I know that many of you -- including fellow Christians -- may disagree with me. Great. I'd love to receive emails or see another blogger engage me on this issue, because it's possible that I've neglected something. But at this point, I don't see how anyone who values innocent human life could endorse dropping The Bomb on Japan.

Note: please read the rest of this discussion above as well.

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