A little over a year ago, Shawn of the blog Rerum Novarum issued a challenge to Catholics to debate him on the morality of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the close of WWII (he was pro). I accepted the challenge, and we emailed back and forth about logistics, and I prepared an initial post setting out the against side of the question. Unfortunately the proposed debate never ended up happening, for reasons that I won’t go into now.
Since today is the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, I thought I would post what would have been my initial contribution to the debate. As it is rather long, I have broken it up into two parts. During our email exchange, Shawn and I had agreed that, in order for the bombings to be justified from a Catholic perspective, it had to be the case both that:
1) the bombings did not involve the intentional targeting of civilians; and
2) the bombings saved lives, that is, any alternative course of action would have resulted in even greater loss of life.
This post addresses the first condition, and argues that the bombings did, in fact, involve the intentional targeting of civilians. In the second part, I will argue that the second condition, proportionality, was also not met. Continue reading
Pat Buchanan (yes, I know) had a provocative column on Friday questioning whether World War II can rightly be called “The Good War.” Here is a taste:
Britain declared war on Sept. 3, 1939, to preserve Poland. For six years, Poland was occupied by Nazi and Soviet armies and SS and NKVD killers. At war’s end, the Polish dead were estimated at 6 million. A third of Poland had been torn away by Stalin, and Nazis had used the country for the infamous camps of Treblinka and Auschwitz.
Fifteen thousand Polish officers had been massacred at places like Katyn. The Home Army that rose in Warsaw at the urging of the Red Army in 1944 had been annihilated, as the Red Army watched from the other side of the Vistula. When the British celebrated V-E day in May 1945, Poland began 44 years of tyranny under the satraps of Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev.
Was World War II “a good war” for the Poles?
Can a war in which 50 million perished and the Christian continent was destroyed, half of it enslaved, a war that has advanced the death of Western civilization, be truly celebrated as a “good war”?
While Catholic moral theology forbids absolutely the direct or intentional killing of the innocent, it does not prohibit all actions that result in the deaths of innocents. Under the doctrine of the double effect (also known as the principle of side effects), an action resulting in the deaths of innocents may nevertheless be justifiable so long as those deaths are not intended either as a means or as an end, and as long as the good that results from this action outweighs the bad. For this reason, Catholic moralists have typically said that some level of collateral damage (that is, unintentional killing of the innocent) can be permissible in war.
Exactly how much collateral damage can be tolerated in a military action is, of course, no easy question. Judging the consequences of an action means speculating about the future, something we humans are not terribly good at. One cannot give a set number or ratio below which civilian casualties in a military operation are acceptable and above which it is not, as too much depends on the particular circumstances of the individual case. Certainly I thank God that I am not in the position of having to make such decisions, weighing the near certainly of a small number of civilian casualties against the probability or possibility of a much greater number of deaths. Nevertheless, as I consider things like the incident yesterday in Somalia, my mind cannot help but return to the story in Genesis of Abraham pleading with God to spare the innocent of Sodom and Gomorrah: Continue reading
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