Friday, June 21, 2002

Sorry... this will be quick

I'm taking a moment out of my disseration work to recommend a new Catholic blog, A Saintly Salmagundi, whose author -- Fr. Bryce Sibley -- I am happy to say I know from my time in Rome.

Fr. Bryce is one of the many wonderful priests coming out of the American diocesan seminary in Rome, the North American College (which, by the way, is one of the few places you can find a decent Thanksgiving meal on Turkey Day; for some reason, Romans don't celebrate this feast ;-).

Another NAC friend -- new D.C. priest Fr. Tim McMorland -- was recently profiled and interviewed by USAToday in what is generally an excellent article.

Trust me... if the men coming from the NAC are any indication, the future is bright for the Catholic Church in the U.S. And it's not just the new priests... many recent rectors of the NAC have gone on to become solid bishops. The most recent case is Bishop Timothy Dolan, who was recently interviewed in the National Catholic Register.

The future's so bright...

Tuesday, June 04, 2002

Others who wonder

Louder Fenn views the bombing as immoral, while Mark Butterworth disagrees.
No disrespect for Vets & our Soldiers here

Up to this point, most people have taken my thoughts on the morality of dropping the atomic bomb on Japan in the spirit I intended them. However, it was probably inevitable that my intentions be misunderstood, as I believe Blithering Idiot has done in his, umm, scathing response to my initial post.

So, I want to make it crystal-clear that I hold our vets and soldiers in the highest esteem, and that I am extremely grateful to them for what they did and continue to do in defense of our nation. I have relatives who fought the Japanese and had to hide from the Nazis, and I greatly respect all of them for what they did and went through.

The purpose of beginning this discussion was to examine the moral arguments for and against dropping the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As both Mr. Sulik and John Betts have argued, my premise that those two cities had no military value was perhaps flawed. As I noted previously, if that's the case, then my case would have to be seriously revisited (although Disputations indicates that even this doesn't make the morality clear-cut).

Also, the "so what?" rhetorical question in my initial post should not be construed to mean that I could've cared less about the American loss of life that would have occurred in any invasion of Japan. Rather, it was directed at the argument that this justifies killing non-combatants. I thought that this was clear from the context, but perhaps it wasn't. So let me make my initial argument clear:

1. Deliberately killing non-combatants is never morally licit.
2. Therefore, if our intention in bombing Hiroshima & Nagasaki was to force the Japanese to surrender, then it was morally illicit, regardless of the circumstances. (Please recall my note that this refers to the objective moral character of the act, not to the culpability of those involved.)

That's all. Not idiotic. Maybe mistaken (which is why I italicized the "if"), but not idiotic. I can accept being proven wrong, as John's posts may well do. Contrary to Mr. Sulik's assertion, I'm not "wedded" to my views.

I hope this clears up any misunderstanding, and I look forward to the discussion continuing.

Monday, June 03, 2002

More on The Bomb

John Betts has replied to my initial response regarding his views on dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. (For the record, I don't see John as a bomb-happy nut, as he is concerned my title "Betts & The Bomb" may have implied.)

The crucial contention in John's new post is that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were in fact bombed with the destruction of military power in mind and not the death of civilians. This is obviously a central issue, because if John (and the evidence he brings to bear) is correct, then my case would have to be revisited. From what I knew of the situation, the two cities lacked substantial military value, but John argues that I am mistaken on this point.

Unfortunately, I (for my part) am supposed to be working on a dissertation, so I don't have the time to put in to research this issue. However, if anyone else (including John) has evidence/argumentation one way or the other, I'd love to hear it.

Sunday, June 02, 2002

Betts & The Bomb

John Betts has weighed in on the Bomb Discussion, arguing that civilian casualties are an unfortunate side effect of war. While I certainly agree that when civilians die as an unintentional side effect of a military operation, there is no moral dilemma (all things being equal), that was not the case with the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

As both sides acknowledge, neither city had any substantial military value; if our goal was to attack some aspect of Japan's military structure, other cities would have been hit. But they weren't, because our goal was not to attack the military, but to force the leadership to surrender by wiping out major population centers.

Our purpose was to get Japanese leadership to surrender. The means we used was to kill thousands of non-combatants. Unlike our War on Terrorism, Japanese civilian death was not an unintentional side effect of dropping the bomb... it was the direct intention, it was the means. And as such, it is inexcusable, at the objective level (see my initial post on this below regarding the mitigated culpability of those involved).

John asks my thoughts on the Cold War doctrine of MAD (Mutual-Assured Destruction)... with Reagan, I thought it was a ridiculous and morally-repugnant doctrine, and I'm glad it's out the door. It's like threatening to kill my neighbor's family if they kill mine... does it work? Maybe. Is it right? I doubt it. Better to develop defensive weapons systems and simultaneously scale back offensive firepower (as we are doing now) than to threaten mutual annihilation.

Anyway, that's my $.02. I'd love to hear any rebuttals/other comments.

By the way, see Disputations for some comments that concur with my assessment and disagree with the other view.

Saturday, June 01, 2002

More on The Bomb

E.L. Core has posted some comments in agreement with my argument against the atomic bombing of Japan on his new blog.

On the other hand, Mark Sullivan at Ad Orientem (an excellent Catholic blog focusing primarily -- but not exclusively -- on things liturgical) disagrees.

Mark's argument is basically this: dropping the bombs was justified because it saved more innocent lives than it killed and it ended a war that caused untold suffering (Mark also points to the fighting "character" of the Japanese).

While I understand Mark's argument, I have to disagree. As Catholics who uphold the unique dignity of every human being -- even of those against whom we may have to fight -- we cannot perform a numerical analysis to determine the pluses and minuses of a particular action in order to decide how to act. Although I'm sure that it was not at all his intention, Mark's argument sounds dangerously like that of ethical utilitarians, who argue that the best course of action is that which maximizes pleasure (or money, or power, or whatever standard you choose) and minimizes pain & suffering, regardless of the nature of the act itself.

Such a view clearly runs against Catholic moral thought. Some acts are -- in and of themselves -- immoral, and no circumstances can mitigate that reality. Intentionally killing thousands of civilians is such an act, as Vatican II unequivocally stated in Gaudium et Spes, n. 80:
Any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities or extensive areas along with their population is a crime against God and man himself. It merits unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation.

Am I glad World War II ended, and that we were the victors? Certainly. Do I esteem our veterans? With the highest respect. But in seeking a victorious outcome in a cause that is just, we must make sure that we maintain our moral code, and that we carry out our cause without deliberately, intentionally, and consciously wiping out large populations of civilians or committing similar atrocities.

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.
Palm Beach is Back... Wayyyy Back

According to this AP story, school district officials in Palm Beach county have "issued" a standarized American and world history final exam on which a student need only answer 23 questions correctly out of 100 in order to pass the test. Answering just over half (that's 50 for those of you in Palm Beach) correctly gets you an A.