Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Responsibilities We Should Be Glad Not To Have

Blackadder has about as good a set of posts as I've ever seen addressing the moral question of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki from a contrarian position. (And Part II.)

This is a debate into which I generally refrain from inserting myself, in that there are three overall reactions that I have to the two atomic bombs that were dropped on Japan: I am glad that they successfully ended the war without the immense bloodshed (American and Japanese) that an invasion of the home islands would unquestionably have involved; I am deeply shocked and saddened at the incredible destruction that was wrecked upon a primarily civilian city (just as in the massive firebombings of both German and Japanese cities); and I am tremendously grateful not to be in the position having to make the decision that President Truman was confronted with.

There a certainly disturbing things which can be noted about the decision to drop the bomb on the particular targets that we did. Most especially of those that I have read, the desire of the targetting committee on the scientific side to pick a fairly untouched (thus, necessarily, militarily non-central) target in order to see clearly the effects of the bomb on a city.

There are also a number of other paths that were clearly considered, which might have been better than that which we eventually took. Blackadder links to primary source material about General Marshall's advocacy for using the bombs first against more exclusively military targets. And according to Truman's own diary, it was the intention to issue a warning to the civilian populace of the target city before dropping the bomb -- something which did not happen.

However at the same time, the very thing which makes alternative paths beguiling is that since they were not taken, we do not know what their results would have been. Thus, we can always allow ourselves to imagine that some alternative course would have had results as good as or better than what actually happened -- but we can never know.

While when I was younger I was a fairly vociferous defender of Truman's decision in regards to dropping the atomic bombs, I think I have lapsed into a position more of being willing neither to strongly endorse nor to condemn the decision.

Living, as we do, in a democracy, we rightly consider it our duty to consider the past and potential actions of our leaders and weigh their morality. And yet to the extent that we are a representative democracy, we still have leaders whose final duty it is to make certain decisions. Among those was Truman's decision to use atomic bombs against Japan.

Had I been in Truman's place, I might have chosen differently than he did -- though without being in Truman's place and knowing what he did and did not know at the time, it's hard to say. Or perhaps, I would have acted as Truman said he did in his diaries -- which either because he was not fully informed of what was going on or because his wishes were not fully carried out do not fully match what did in the end happen. (See Blackadder's first post for quotes from Truman's diaries.) But more than anything else I'm simply glad that I do not have the burden of making the decision Truman was faced with -- knowing that hundreds of thousands of people would die in horrible ways whichever way he chose. To be a leader in time of crisis is a truly great burden, and if anything it has become more so as the size of nations has swelled into the hundreds of millions of souls and our technology has put more destruction in the hands of fewer people.

This is not to say that we can never judge the actions of our leaders. Some of their actions are clearly right or clearly wrong. But there are other choices, and this was one, which I in no way envy them.

In the Divine Comedy, Dante finds in Ante-Purgatory a valley full of famous rulers who are not yet ready to enter the active purgation of Mt. Purgatory itself. Their obstacle to holiness is that they have for too long focused on their energies on securing earthly safety and prosperity for their countries. It was, in Dante's view, a responsibility which was ordered to the good, but not the highest good. And so they waited in the outskirts of Purgatory until they were sufficiently recentered on the ultimate good to begin their journey upwards.

17 comments:

Kyle R. Cupp said...

I condemn the bombings on the ground (among many) that innocent human lives were deliberately targeted; their deaths were intentional even if they were not desired. Assuming the best of motives, our government intentionally took innocent lives for the purpose of saving lives. If we hold the bombings were justified, then to be consistent we must hold that, at least in some circumstances, murder, the intentional taking of innocent life, can be justified.

There's also this from Gaudium et Spes: "Any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities of extensive areas along with their population is a crime against God and man himself. It merits unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation."

Donald R. McClarey said...

I approve the bombings on the grounds that every other option was worse and would have entailed more loss of innocent human life. Continued blockade of the Home Islands, along with further conventional bombing of the transportation infrastructure, would have resulted in the death by starvation of millions of Japanese civilians by the Spring of 1946. An amphibious invasion of the Home Islands would have led to a memorable blood bath. The invasion of Okinawa cost 12,000 American dead, 107,000 Japanese military dead and around 100,000-150,000 civilian dead. One can only imagine the death toll in carrying through to completion Operation Downfall. The main thing I regret about the bombings is that they didn't happen sooner to forestall the blood bath on Okinawa.

A link below is given to a good article by Peter Bastian of the Australian Catholic University giving a good overview of the controversy surrounding the bombings.


http://www.anzasa.arts.usyd.edu.au/ahas/bomb_historiography.html

Paul said...

The quote given earlier in the comments, from Gaudium et Spes:

"Any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities of extensive areas along with their population is a crime against God and man himself. It merits unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation"

is a declaration which cannot be reasonably interpreted in any other way than definitively condemning the bombings at Hiroshima/Nagasaki (and other things), regardless of the consequences.

Discussions on this subject need to address this teaching.

Patrick said...

Intentionally killing innocent civilians in wartime is intrinsically evil no matter what the consequences.

Even if it meant the U.S. would lose the war, even if it meant millions of Americans and Japanese would die, even if it meant Axis domination of the entire globe - we cannot do evil because we think good will come from it. Never. Not once.

Now in my human weakness I might have made the same decision Truman did, but I would have been wrong. Warning the civilians would not have changed the moral calculus on this. All it means is that the elderly, handicapped and those unable to flee would have been the primary victims.

Darwin said...

Kyle & Paul,

I'd tend to take the quote from Gaudium et Spes as referring to the very real threat in the mid sixties (when it was written) of a termo nuclear war consisting entirely of wiping out each other's cities, rather than addressing directly the somewhat different situation nearly twenty years earlier in Japan.

That said, I'd agree that if the intention of the bombings was simply one of, "We're going to start killing vast numbers of your civilians and shall keep doing so till you surrender rather than engaging in military action," it would be unquestionably evil.

However, it seems to me that the there was both in intetion and in action a real emphasis on destroying military installations and military manufacturing. The question is: Was the weapon used far too wide in its effects to justify its use against the particular targets chosen. That's where I find myself most in a quandry. It seems to me that there would have been more densely military targets the bombs could have been used against with the same end effect.

Though from Truman's comments, it may be that this is something clearer to us in retrospect than it was to him at the time.

Given that we had it, I think it was probably better that we used it and ended the war sooner with fewer overall deaths. However, I suspect that we could have done that while choosing somewhat better targets -- and that is where I find a great deal to worry about morally, in that a lack of concern in choosing targets could suggest either a wrong intention or a lack of concern about intention.

Donald R. McClarey said...

"we cannot do evil because we think good will come from it. Never. Not once."

Actually that is precisely what we do when we go to war. I realize that this is allowable under the Just War doctrine and that fighting in a Just War is therefore not evil. However, the manifest evils that occur in even a Just War, and if the US war against Japan was not a Just War, there is no such thing as a Just War, are as foreseeable as night following day. We engage in a Just War because the consequences of not waging the war are worse. Does that mean that everything done in waging a Just War is morally licit? No, but it does mean I think that in a war moral questions often arise, and that the answers to those questions are often not simple to those called upon to make the decision, and only seem simple when looked back upon decades later by those who face no consequences for not acting as the decision maker did.

Paul said...

Darwin,

I have found nothing in the relevant parts of Gaudium et Spes which might somehow mean that the teaching applies to post-WW2 nuclear weapons and not to WW2 nuclear weapons. The Council bases its teaching on the indiscriminate effect of the weapons. When weapons have large enough effect, there are particular uses (the teaching gives the examples of cities or large inhabited areas) where it is impossible to maintain a claim that the goal is using the weapon in a military way. Thus all the otherwise legitimate considerations of double effect simply do not come into play. (Deep sigh from me here, because double effect is widely misunderstood in Catholic blogs.)

Darwin said...

Paul,

My reason for thinking that that particular verbiage dealt with the then-current fear of a war consisting of a massive city-destroying nuclear exchange springs from the overall context:

80. The horror and perversity of war is immensely magnified by the addition of scientific weapons. For acts of war involving these weapons can inflict massive and indiscriminate destruction, thus going far beyond the bounds of legitimate defense. Indeed, if the kind of instruments which can now be found in the armories of the great nations were to be employed to their fullest, an almost total and altogether reciprocal slaughter of each side by the other would follow, not to mention the widespread deviation that would take place in the world and the deadly after effects that would be spawned by the use of weapons of this kind.

All these considerations compel us to undertake an evaluation of war with an entirely new attitude.(1) The men of our time must realize that they will have to give a somber reckoning of their deeds of war for the course of the future will depend greatly on the decisions they make today.

With these truths in mind, this most holy synod makes its own the condemnations of total war already pronounced by recent popes,(2) and issues the following declaration.

Any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities of extensive areas along with their population is a crime against God and man himself. It merits unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation.

The unique hazard of modern warfare consists in this: it provides those who possess modem scientific weapons with a kind of occasion for perpetrating just such abominations; moreover, through a certain inexorable chain of events, it can catapult men into the most atrocious decisions. That such may never truly happen in the future, the bishops of the whole world gathered together, beg all men, especially government officials and military leaders, to give unremitting thought to their gigantic responsibility before God and the entire human race.


My reasons for not being sure whether this is dead on when discussing Hiroshima and Nagasaki would be that those bombs were relatively small and that people were as yet unclear as to the full effects of atomic bombs. (One of the plans discussed was to drop atomic bombs on the coastal defenses of Japan in the couple hours before a US amphibious attack. That we even contemplated that makes it pretty unclear we had very little idea what we were dealing with.)

That said, its the concern that the intent of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs were dropped simply in the interest of the indiscriminate "destruction of entire cities" that would lean me towards thinking of those bombings as immoral. I think we would have a much clearer situation if more strictly military targets had been chosen.

That said (and given how bad the aim of conventional bombs was in WW2 -- such that destroying military complexes usually involved leveling that entire area of the city) I'm not sure that the intention was destroying the city and population per se -- as opposed to destroying its military and industrial facilities.

Paul said...

Darwin,

However:
- The discussion of this issue in Gaudium et Spes actually begins at #79, where it is certain that the Council had Hiroshima and Nagasaki in mind.
- That the weapons were "relatively small" does not matter: it matters whether the weapons were actually large enough to come under the Council's condemnation.
- That the weapons were not fully understood does not matter: it matters whether the understood-at-the-time effects of the weapons come under the condemnation. The debates at the time clearly show that the scale of the weapon was understood.

Your last paragraph commits what might be called the "fallacy of intention". The word "intention" in English can be used in two different ways, which must be distinguished else erroneous conclusions get made. For example: Suppose I kill someone in order to take their money and give it to the poor. I can truthfully say; "My intention was to give aid to the poor". But it is also true that I intentionally killed someone (e.g. simply by deciding to put a bullet in a gun, aim it at the person, and pull the trigger). Having an intention further down the chain of cause and effect does nothing to negate the fact that there might also be an intention that preceded it.

In the present case, the fact that one intention in the use of nuclear weapons at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was to "destroy its military and industrial facilities" does nothing to preclude the fact that this was to be achieved by an earlier intention, which was "the indiscriminate destruction of an extensive area along with its population".

Kyle R. Cupp said...

I think the quotation from Spes could apply, for while the extent of destruction may magnify the evil, what rendered the bombings in question evil to begin with was its indiscriminate character, as Paul said.

The primary goal may have been the destruction of military targets, but the civilian deaths were in no way accidental. They were willed intentionally, purposefully, and deliberately. The officials making the decisions may not have wanted to kill innocent people, but they chose to kill them, in addition to the military targets that may have mattered more to them in their calculations.

Kyle R. Cupp said...

We engage in a Just War because the consequences of not waging the war are worse.

The idea of a just war and its condition of proportionality are built on the premise that not all forms of killing human beings are unjust. Intentional killing of civilians, including by means of indiscriminate bombing, is intrinsically evil; it cannot be justified under any circumstances, difficulties, or whatever good may result.

…in a war moral questions often arise, and that the answers to those questions are often not simple to those called upon to make the decision, and only seem simple when looked back upon decades later by those who face no consequences for not acting as the decision maker did.

For this reason I would refrain from judging the hearts and culpability of those who decided to drop the bombs. However, looking at the act itself, in light of moral principles, leads me to condemn the act as unjust.

Darwin said...

Paul,

- The discussion of this issue in Gaudium et Spes actually begins at #79, where it is certain that the Council had Hiroshima and Nagasaki in mind.

Actually, section 79 of G&S strikes me as having significantly less to do with WW2 and Hiroshima and Nagasaki in particular than section 80. Is there some particular line you're thinking of?

That the weapons were "relatively small" does not matter: it matters whether the weapons were actually large enough to come under the Council's condemnation.

It is the question as to whether they were large enough to come under the Council's condemnation that I'm disputing. The abombs used wrought roughly the same destruction (indeed, perhaps arguably slightly less) than a massive conventional raid targeting the industrial areas of a city would have in WW2. The difference was, it was able to do it with one plane, rather than hundreds, and the devastation was evenly spread throughout the area rather than splotchy.

That the weapons were not fully understood does not matter: it matters whether the understood-at-the-time effects of the weapons come under the condemnation. The debates at the time clearly show that the scale of the weapon was understood.

Again, that's where we differ -- or more to the point, the point on which I am not clear. There were certainly some in the targeting committees who had no problem with wiping out a city full of civilians just to see what would happen -- but I'm not clear that that's what Truman thought he was doing.

Your last paragraph commits what might be called the "fallacy of intention". The word "intention" in English can be used in two different ways, which must be distinguished else erroneous conclusions get made.

I'm aware of what the fallacy of intention is, but I don't think that's not what I'm doing here. (Perhaps we could speak of the end towards which an action is ordered verses the intention or goal of the actor, if we want to be more clear.)

However, what I think is worth considering here is that the ability to target bombs in WW2 (bad to start with and made much worse by fact bombers were dodging around trying to avoid fighters and anti-aircraft fire) was sufficiently poor that even discriminate bombing of specific targets in a city tended to result in very widespread destruction. I'm not clear to what extent Truman thought this would be any different than a simultaneous and fairly well aimed bombing run.

Also worth considering, but with more caution as it puts us on rather shaky ground, is the extent to which the Japanese believed (and made it clear that they believed) that every citizen was a soldier and obligated to die rather than surrender -- thus making it necessary to in some sense defeat _the country_ in a way that was recognized as such.

However as I've said several times, I think that the most morally dubious element of the bombings was the decision to use them against targets such as Hiroshima and Nagasaki rather than against more strictly military targets.

Kyle,

For this reason I would refrain from judging the hearts and culpability of those who decided to drop the bombs. However, looking at the act itself, in light of moral principles, leads me to condemn the act as unjust.

In this case, I think I'm pretty strictly interested in the culpability question, since my main thought centers around not getting too wrapped up in backseat driving this particular event long after the fact. (Which to be fair is not, I think, what Blackadder was engaging in with his post.)

I would say that the lesson which we have (and G&S in particular) taken from the only military uses of atomic weapons has been that it is something which we cannot allow to happen again. (In which we have thus far been successful for sixty years.)

Donald R. McClarey said...

"Intentional killing of civilians, including by means of indiscriminate bombing, is intrinsically evil; it cannot be justified under any circumstances, difficulties, or whatever good may result."

Normally yes, but not always. For example, a common tactic in medieval warfare was the besieging of cities. Since no food was let in it was quite foreseeable that large numbers of civilians within the cities would starve and perhaps die unless the city surrendered or was relieved by a friendly army. Papal armies often besieged cities. If there was ever any condemnation of besieging cities by popes, I am unaware of it. Of course in those days popes actually had to make, as rulers of the the Papal States, on a smaller scale, the type of decisions that Harry Truman and the leader of any nation at war has to make frequently.

Interestingly enough Pius XII took a fairly cautious approach at the time after the atomic bombings:
"Although the Vatican newspaper, Osservatore Romano, said atomic bombing had created "an unfavorable impression" in the Vatican, Pope Pius XII told visiting newsmen that such a statement was unauthorized."

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,797666,00.html

Darwin said...

To be fair, Donald, I don't think we can take "the papal states did it" as any kind of moral evidence because frankly, as secular rulers, the popes were pretty lousy.

But I think the overall siege analogy is reasonable. One of the elements of proportionality, I think, that we're expected to take into account with just war analysis is the suffering of innocent civilians which is in every age the result of war.

Paul said...

Darwin,

#70 in Gaudium et Spes the Council says: "now that every kind of weapon produced by modern science is used in war". For nuclear weapons, that must have Hiroshima and Nagasaki in mind.

You say: "The abombs used wrought roughly the same destruction (indeed, perhaps arguably slightly less) than a massive conventional raid targeting the industrial areas of a city would have in WW2."

That doesn't help so much, since some of the bombing raids in WW2 are themselves just as questionable, being aimed at "extensive areas along with their population". You say: "even discriminate bombing of specific targets in a city tended to result in very widespread destruction". While some (perhaps many) of the raids did try some level of discrimination -- and that was perhaps enough to escape the condemnation of the Council -- that was not true of all raids, especially later in the war.

As for the decision to bomb Hiroshima, I have seen no evidence that the targeting committee (and many others) failed to understand the effect the bomb would have on the city ("extensive areas along with their population"). Although Truman made the overall decision, the condemnation of the Council couldn't possibly be limited just to a leader's actions.

As for the issue of "intention": it is important to note that the declaration of the Council is of a particular act. First we decide if such an act has taken place ("the destruction of entire cities or extensive areas along with their population"). Then we decide if this act was something aimed at (not necessarily as an ultimate end, but at any level of intention). If both decisions are positive, then the Council's condemnation applies.

Donald R. McClarey said...

"To be fair, Donald, I don't think we can take "the papal states did it" as any kind of moral evidence because frankly, as secular rulers, the popes were pretty lousy."

I quite agree with you, although some popes were fairly able, for example Sixtus V. My point was rather that popes were cautious when they exercised secular power in condemning actions that as secular rulers they might have to take themselves. Perhaps the loss of the Papal states was intended by God to allow the popes to make moral judgments in this area free from secular responsibilities which might hinder their willingness to make such rulings. Or perhaps the loss of secular authority is a mere historical blip, and that popes, unlikely as it might seem now, will be secular rulers again in the future.

Darwin said...

Fair point.

I tend to think it's a very good thing that the popes no longer hold significant secular power, in that I think the papacy's teaching office is made freer and cleaner by not having the pope as a player in international politics.

But then, I'm one of those benighted souls who thinks that there isn't a "Catholic teaching" on gun control or exactly what the minimum wage should be. :-)