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“Blotted out boundaries”: On the 75th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

It is not horrifying that imperfect men should make wrong choices under the extraordinary pressures of a world war; it is reprehensible that so many would still dismiss the spiritual issues at stake with flippant sophistry.

Aerial photos of atomic bomb mushroom clouds, over the two Japanese cities of Hiroshima (left) and Nagasaki (right) in August 1945. (Wikipedia)

“A handful of individuals, some of them quite unused to moral responsibilities on such a scale, made it their business to extirpate the populations of Nagasaki and Hiroshima; we must make it our business to curtail the possibility of such snap decisions, taken simply on the assumptions of worldly wisdom.” – Russell Kirk

In the current climate, any critical commentary regarding U.S. employment of atomic weapons during World War II—on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, on August 6 and 9, 1945—runs the risk of devolving into mere America-bashing. Under enormous pressures of political-correctness, it is all too easy for even the tradition-minded 21st-century Catholic in the U.S. to go with the flow, waxing noisily self-righteous about crises which we never had to face and which happened long ago and far away.

Rather than beat our breasts with false repentance over what “we” did to the Japanese, let us admit that most of us did not live through the Second World War, and that by “we” what is very often meant is “they”. In reality, we do not remember where we were when we first heard the breaking news about Pearl Harbor, we have never had to worry about the outcome of the most catastrophic conflict the world has ever seen, and for the most part we post-nationals today have little connection with those American sailors, soldiers, and airmen who were killed or maimed fighting against the Japanese Empire in the Pacific.

With that in mind, let me emphasize that Christian moral philosophy is not about loudly and uncharitably condemning others who made mistakes in the past. It is, rather, about learning from said past, so as to avoid repeating the same mistakes ourselves.

Certainly no serious Catholic can help but find the destruction of Nagasaki poignant, as the city was the site of famous martyrdoms during the close of Japan’s “Christian Century,” and had by 1945 become a key outpost of Christendom in the Orient. Indeed, that the bomb was dropped very nearly directly upon the Urakami Cathedral poses a disturbing thought: quite aside from the tens of thousands of residents killed by the bombing and ensuing radiation sickness, thousands of whom were our co-religionists, the Eucharist was presumably present in the cathedral’s tabernacle at the time. Did the United States government drop a nuclear bomb on Christ Himself?

For the English analytic philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe the bomb represented an utter repudiation of just war doctrine, according to which a state must not only have just reasons for going to war (ius ad bellum) but must also prosecute the war in a just fashion (ius in bello). If it was such an outrage when the Germans practiced unrestricted submarine warfare during the First World War, how then had it become justifiable for the United States to practice unrestricted bombing during the Second? Such are the kinds of questions we might ask after reading “Mr. Truman’s Degree”, which was Anscombe’s protest on the occasion of Oxford University awarding an honorary degree to Harry Truman in 1956.

As Truman’s main claim to fame was the fact that he was the president who had ordered the bombs dropped, Anscombe found the honorary degree unconscionable. To those who praised the decision for having saved American lives, she replied that it was clear even at the time that the the Japanese would have surrendered had there been some guarantee that their emperor would not be executed as a war criminal. “It was the insistence on unconditional surrender that was the root of all evil,” Anscombe contended. “The connection between such a demand and the need to use the most ferocious methods of warfare will be obvious. And in itself the proposal of an unlimited objective in war is stupid and barbarous.”

Moreover, continues Anscombe, any argument on behalf of the bombings must sooner or later point toward utilitarianism:

For men to choose to kill the innocent as a means to their ends is always murder, and murder is one of the worst of human actions. So the prohibition on deliberately killing prisoners of war or the civilian population is not like the Queensbury Rules: Its force does not depend on its promulgation as part of positive law, written down, agreed upon, and adhered to by the parties concerned. When I say that to choose to kill the innocent as a means to one’s ends is murder, I am saying what would generally be accepted as correct. But I shall be asked for my definition of “the innocent.” I will give it, but later. Here, it is not necessary; for with Hiroshima and Nagasaki we are not confronted with a borderline case. In the bombing of these cities it was certainly decided to kill the innocent as a means to an end.

It may be worth mentioning that Anscombe would become one of the earliest and most fervent opponents of legalized abortion, on one occasion being forcibly dragged away by police during a sit-in protest outside a new abortion clinic in Britain.

On that note, we find Archbishop Fulton Sheen explicitly linking the use of atomic weapons to other, more politically fashionable wrongs of the twentieth (and twenty-first) century:

When, I wonder, did we in America ever get into this idea that freedom means having no boundaries and no limits? You know, I think it began on the 6th of August 1945 at 8:15 am when we dropped the bomb on Hiroshima. That blotted out boundaries. The boundary of America that was the aid of nations, and the nations that were helped. It blotted out the boundary between life and death for the victims of nuclear incineration. Among them even the living were dead. It blotted out the boundary between the civilian and the military. And somehow or other, from that day on in our American life, we say we want no limits and no boundaries.

Sheen’s remarks touch upon what seems to me a metaphysical truth about our contemporary situation. As the world has become more and more democratized, the modern mind has increasingly found boundaries, limits, and borders intolerably hateful, insofar as such restraints force man to recognize that he is not a god enjoying the unqualified freedom to go wherever and do whatever he wishes. Moreover, this hostility towards restraints seems so ubiquitous as to transcend conventional understandings of “left” and “right”.

It could simply be that those conventional understandings are in fact misunderstandings, and that contempt for traditional restraints is left-wing by definition. After all, if the military is inherently right-wing, and support for the use of atomic weapons is right-wing, then what do we make of military officers of the era – from Admirals Leahy and Halsey to Dwight Eisenhower – who asserted that the Japanese had already been effectively beaten? For such officers, the bomb was not only an act of terrorism, but a pointless one at that.

In his memoirs published in 1950, for instance, Leahy plainly condemned the destruction:

Once it had been tested, President Truman faced the decision as to whether to use it. He did not like the idea, but he was persuaded that it would shorten the war against Japan and save American lives. It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons […] My own feeling was that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make wars in that fashion, and that wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.

Leahy’s common prejudice against “the Dark Ages” notwithstanding, the opinion of a veteran of the Spanish-American War, the Philippine insurrection, and the Boxer rebellion can hardly be dismissed as that of a politically-correct bleeding-heart with no experience of war’s grim reality.

Again, none of the preceding is meant to join in Anscombe’s full-throated attack on Harry Truman, much less to breezily condemn the crews of the Enola Gay or Bockscar, who were probably too absorbed in the practical side of their mission – navigating over the ocean, avoiding anti-aircraft fire, and so forth – to reflect much upon its moral dimension. It is not horrifying that imperfect men should make wrong choices under the extraordinary pressures of a world war; it is reprehensible that so many would, even with the benefit of hindsight, still dismiss the spiritual issues at stake with flippant sophistry. It is as if such people would rewrite the ending to Lord of the Rings such that Aragorn seizes the Ring and uses it to zap Mordor from afar, thereby allowing everyone to live happily ever after. Tolkien was wiser, and understood war much better.


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About Jerry Salyer 42 Articles
Catholic convert Jerry Salyer is a philosophy instructor and freelance writer.

83 Comments

    • Sadly author ignored examples set by our God re for example the killing of the first born of every family in Egypt or the killing of every one in two cities or condemnation of all the children of Adam to sickness and death for his sin. If the bible is the inspired word of God these events have implications.

      • I am far from being a Biblical scholar, but does any one think those examples were meant for us to emulate?

        I want to be careful about how I put this. The discussion about this article shows that the issues surrounding Hiroshima and Nagasaki will never be finally settled, that they will always be matters for consideration and reflections, and hopefully, an avenue for us to become better people. I hope that consideration can always be conducted with the assumption of goodwill on all sides. Ray, I very much hope that my answer to your post is taken in goodwill.

        • Albert what is purpose of bible if not instructional tool? Every Sunday a reading from the bible and apostles is explained as a model for our lives, There seems to be a schism between those who believe the bible as written and those who interpret it in the context of today. Much like situation with US Constitution. I certainly take your answer in goodwill Christ certainly told us stories as lessons for our life and lived his life as a model for us or so I believe.

          • Thank you, Ray. I appreciate the discussion and the spirit in which it is offered. I will simply admit that I would find it frightening — from my own inadequacies — to try to consider Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the context of the Last Plague in Egypt.

  1. The article is deficient in presenting a number of facts pertinet to the decision to use nuclear weapons. The following would be appropriate to have been included. 1) The casualities of the last major battle before invading Japan, which is Okinawa. That battle cost 50,000 US casualties, 100,000 dead Japanese soldiers and estimates of up to 150,000 Japanese civilians, many who committed suicide to avoid capture. 2) The convential bombing of Tokyo cost 100,000 lives of civilians just to start. 3) The Japan Prime Minister and Emporer refused to surrender, the Emporer was viewed as a god by the Japanese. 4} Based on the fierce battle at Okinawa, that Japanese soldiers would fight to their death and civilians would also not surrender, it was estimated that US casualties could be a 1,000,000. So a discussion on the use of nuclear weapons to end the war strikes me as just a bit too coy.

    • Much of what is said in your comment is speculation when estimating the death rate. Also there were other ways than a full blown invasion. Another option is to drop it on a non civilian target. Pres. Truman gave them three days, or two and a half days, to decide to surrender and communicate that surrender to us. That was not enough time for Japan’s top military brass to decide on the plans of surrender, if they decided to do so.

    • Thank you Mr Salyer for such an excellent article. As you note Ms Anscombe said any argument in favor of the bombing points to utilitarianism as one commentator has just demonstrated. Historians have noted that the United States might have been at the edge of bankruptcy and unwilling or unable to continue the war effort. In any event it is a fact that the U.S. unleashed horror that killed so many civilians.

      • Document’s discovered in the U.S.National Archives in 2019, (marked for destruction), by an Australian Historian, show clearly that Imperial Japan, was ready to surrender to the Allies at least one year BEFORE Hiroshima & Nagasaki,under the condition that Hiroito will not be put on Trial for War Crimes.!!The U.S. Fire Bombing of Tokyo and the lost Battle of the Midways, convinced Japan, that the War was lost, for Japan.!!

    • The article explains how the Allied insistence on “Unconditional Surrender” contributed to the desperate and prolonged resistance of the Japanese. While it is an exercise of counterfactual history, there is reason to believe that once the tide had clearly turned, negotiated settlements could have ended the wars in the Pacific and Europe earlier on terms acceptable to both sides and would have saved the lives of millions. As Anscombe said, it was a “stupid and barbarous” policy. We accomplished the almost complete destruction of Germany and Japan and ended up making Eastern Europe and much of Asia safe for Communist domination and murder.

  2. The usual way of analysing the morality of the use of the atom bombs against Japan in 1945 is deficient. It is trite that “a state must not only have just reasons for going to war (ius ad bellum) but must also prosecute the war in a just fashion (ius in bello).”

    I will examine the matter in terms of the moral determinants: object, circumstance and purpose.

    These two points of justice are in principle separable and have different objects. A military operation must be directly and immediately ordered to the acquisition of military advantage in the theatre of war if it is to be morally good in its object and have ius in bello. If the operation is conducted by the aggressor, the party who lacks jus ad bellum, then there is a circumstance which renders the whole act morally illicit, though in the external forum it is not as such a war crime. Alternatively, the act is rendered illicit by its purpose, which is the waging of aggressive war.

    The proper and legitimate object of war as such, and of the military acts which terminate a war, are the pacification of an aggressor. Only those acts of violence which have, as their direct and immediate effect, the persuasion of the government of an aggressor to sue for peace, can have ius ad bellum – the object of the act is different from the object of an act claiming ius in bello, and the proportionality analysis proper to the application of the principle of double effect is also different.

    If you sought to justify the use of the atom bombs on the basis only of ius in bello, you would have an uphill struggle.

    If you did so on the basis of ius ad bellum, the playing field is more even. On this basis, you could reasonably justify their use on the grounds of the urgency of ending a war that had cost 60 million lives and brought catastrophic and unprecedented death, destruction and moral harm to the nations.

  3. Grand Rapids Mike is correct. When I was in Medjugorje in Dec. 2002, we had a World War II veteran with us. He was going to be sent to fight in the Pacific. He told of his relief when the Atom Bomb was dropped and Japan surrendered. The Bomb gave the Japanese an “honorable” way out within their culture to surrender. If there was no bomb, the casualties on the Japanese side would have been total. The casualties on the American side would approach what Grand Rapids Mike has indicated. Mr. Salyer should keep in mind what General Sherman said about war. He told the good citizens of Atlanta that war is hell and it must be ended quickly.

    • I am glad that the person you met at Medjugorje did not die in the war, but the question is, was the invasion of Japan which the atomic bombings averted necessary in any event? The was a central focus of Mr. Salyer’s consideration.

      I have always found Sherman’s statement to the mayor of Atlanta, “War is cruelty and you cannot refine it,” a fascinating point of discussion in these matters. If we take what Sherman said as definitive, it would have provided an unanswerable defense for the Nazis at Nuremberg. Since I don’t think very many people who would think that way, I think we can dismiss Sherman as an “expert witness.”(And without meaning to compare what Sherman did to Hiroshima and Nagasaki,as one who did wage acts of war directed as civilians, his formulation was more than a little self-interested.)

      In point of fact, quite a number of people over centuries have tried to refine the cruelty of war. Those efforts are often treated as quixotic or even hypocritical. But to the extent that those efforts have accomplished anything at all, they must represent a substantial numbers of lives saved in too many wars.
      When Sherman said that the cruelty of war could not be refined, did he mean to say that those lives did not matter?

      Coming back to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, were the bombings the acts of those who believed the cruelty of war could not be refined, or of those who believed that whatever lives could be saved by trying to refine its cruelty were worth saving?
      And if we have to choose which side we will try to be on,…..

      • “When Sherman said that the cruelty of war could not be refined, did he mean to say that those lives did not matter?”

        “”(And without meaning to compare what Sherman did to Hiroshima and Nagasaki,as one who did wage acts of war directed as civilians, his formulation was more than a little self-interested.)”

        Sherman destroyed infrastructure rather than killing people. There’s very good argument against the idea that what he did was “total war.” The Wikipedia article on the March to the Sea is quite informative (no, I don’t always trust Wikipedia but this article is a good one): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sherman%27s_March_to_the_Sea For one thing, his acts “against civilians” were actually to make sure that equipment and supplies could not get to the southern armies.

        As to the phrase to the mayor of Atlanta, have you read the whole letter? https://cwnc.omeka.chass.ncsu.edu/items/show/23

  4. Even if we accept the numbers mentioned by Grand Rapids Mike, his argument surely misses the point.
    It is the nature of the act of dropping two atomic bombs on the cities full of non combatants which is being condemned.
    It is not a question of comparing numbers – you can’t determine moral issues in that way. The war against Japan was a just war, but dropping the atomic bombs was not just.

    • The kinetic effects of the bomb – killing people and destroying things – are merely the evil effects of an act morally good in its object by reason of its persuasive effect on the government of Japan. As long as the good effect was immediate and direct, and was the only one intended, then the outcome of the analysis depends on the assessment of proportionality.

      • This is pretty incredible.
        “The dropping of the bomb is a good act: merely its after-effects are evil, like killing or incinerating people”

        Is this the same type of thinking that has let us incinerate third-world nations with moral ease in Asia and the Middle East the last 60 years?? I sometimes wonder if boomers are all psychotic.

        • The physical act of detonating the bomb is morally neutral. It acquires its moral description – its object – from its sole effect or, if there are several, from one or more of its good effects.

          It is confusing to speak of “after effects”. The effect of an act is what it causes immediately and directly. It is to be distinguished from its remote consequences. These are governed by the rule that we must not do evil that good may come of it. So, if the surrender of Japan was obtained only by means of the kinetic effect of the bomb, then by definition the former was not an effect of the act and thus only its evil effects determine its object.

  5. We read: “Indeed, that the bomb was dropped very nearly directly upon the Urakami Cathedral poses a disturbing thought [….] Did the United States government drop a nuclear bomb on Christ Himself?”

    At Nagasaki, one sixth of the Catholic Japanese population was annihilated in an instant, also the cathedral, but a POSSIBLE MISREADING of the above remark (as partly anti-Catholic targeting?) must be rejected. Instead, is this history largely a comedy of errors? Two points:

    FIRST, on the second bombing mission, Nagasaki was the secondary target (moved above Kokura due to last-minute weather [and the urgency of a blocked auxiliary fuel line affecting the return flight to base—Glynn, A Song for Nagasaki, 1988/Ignatius 2009]); and then the drop itself is credibly believed to have been based only on radar, rather than visual sighting as required, therefore missing the INTENDED commercial district by almost two miles.

    SECOND, evidence suggests that President Roosevelt himself had shown DOUBT whether (not how) the bomb, originally instigated to deter Hitler in Germany, might actually be used on Japan (wording in the Hyde Park Agreement initialed by Roosevelt and Churchill in September 1944, and a follow-up letter).

    A thoroughly documented account and analysis (including over 100 pages of some 2,500 fine-print footnotes, and an extremely wide range of actual casualty estimates from the planned invasion) is provided in Gar Alperovitz (THE DECISION TO USE THE BOMB, 1995), accessing interviews (etc.) and an enormous amount of information declassified after the 50-year sealed period (the above two points are from pp. 535 and 661).

    As a non-historian/non-specialist, my personal OPINION is that the contested condition of “unconditional surrender” lengthened the war in the Pacific (and Germany) more than the atomic bombings are believed by many to have shortened it. Ironically, the major sticking point (retention of the Emperor) was allowed after all, when post-war Japan became a constitutional monarchy in 1947.

  6. Does the phrase ‘The Rape of Nanking’ strike a responsive chord with anyone? How about ‘The Bataasn Death March’? The Japanese were given plenty of time to surrender after Hiroshimas, they chose not to.

    • Yes, thank you, they definitely should strike a deep and disconcerting cord in anyone who is familiar with the broader scope and details of the Pacific theater.

  7. Although both adversaries purposely attacked civilian populations the British fire bombing Bremen and Dresden, German bombardment of civilian areas Warsaw, Leningrad Japan the barbaric savagery inflicted on civilians Nanking all in violation of the Geneva Convention, and in violation of the moral premise that it is never justified to kill innocent human beings – despite argument that lives were saved by atomic bombing Hiroshima, Nagasaki it was in principal unethical. Although in real time combat I’ve counselled some of the bravest of the brave Vietnam vets who felt compelled to call fire on enemy combatants who were decimating them, and who were purposely entrenched among civilians. One Lt Colonel had half his face blown away multiple physical injuries made such a call and suffered regret and guilt often close to suicide. He was still a hero in my estimate and managed to help him work through it with emphasis on God’s compassionate goodness. But those decisions made in the field in the heat of combat are different in kind from policy made in war rooms. The latter have more time to consider long term precedent and moral consequences. I agree fully with Bishop Sheen’s take. We’ve wandered far afield from justice since. Jerry Salyer sums it up well in his final paragraph.

    • See my comments above. The case turns on whether the use of the bombs had the direct and immediate anticipated effect to persuade the government of Japan to sue for peace, thereby pacifying an aggressor and determining the act as good in its object. If so, then proceed to the proportionality analysis.

      • Yes Michael. John Paul II [as well as Aquinas] repudiated Proportionalism in Veritatis Splendor citing that the object of a human act must ultimately be directed to God. Virtually all ethical ideologies that omit that premise focus on the notion of greater good rather than the morality of he object. All evil stems from that mistake regardless of the presumed good. That encompasses the belief that mitigation can absolve mortal sin including habitual circumstances like adulterous union, same sex relationships, even masturbation. John Paul warned we cannot make mitigation a theological category that eliminates moral responsibility. The object of the act remains the determining principle in morality.

    • Fr., strategic bombing recognizes the fact that wars are waged between nations, not between armies, navies, and air forces. War efforts are supported by industrial production, hence areas of industrial production are legitimate war targets are they not? Further, both Hiroshima and Nagasaki were areas with military application, Hiroshima being a port, an industrial center and a major military headquarters, while Nagasaki was a major center for production of war materials.

      Further still, up to one hundred Japanese cities had already been bombed, many being totally destroyed with considerable loss of life. Again, done in the interest of destroying the nations war making capability. Is it inherently more moral to destroy a city with a hundred planes and thousands of bombs, rather than one with one plane and one bomb? That already longstanding and ongoing campaign would have continued until the time of the invasion. The death total would have dwarfed that of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Chances are there would have been nary a peep about any of that from those who today condemn the A-bombings.

      The American bombing campaigns were not comparable to the indiscriminate warfare waged either by Japan, or Germany, and any attempt at comparison misses the mark. The Germans for example launched unguided V-1 And V-2 rockets at population centers in Britain. These were terror weapons, not strategic weapons used for strategic purposes. And the Japanese were directly and intentionally inflicting massive suffering on civilian populations of China and Korea. There’s was a true campaign of terror.

      Personally I’d be much more inclined to direct moral condemnation,, not to President Truman or his advisers, nor to the military charged with executing orders, but to the sinful state of mankind. Hence, the awful destruction is to be greatly mourned with the dead honored and mourned as well. But moral castigation against our decision makers, who faced choices we can’t even begin to imagine, should be left aside in my opinion. Bishop Sheen is indeed right. But it’s a terrible reflection on the state of our sinful world and the sin of Mankind, rather than something that can be conveniently isolated and directed at our decision makers who unlike any of us, 75 years later, actually had to make the call and do so without the benefit of hindsight.

      • The brutal nature of the Japanese and German regimes and their crimes are irrelevant the question of whether the A bomb attacks and the other mass carpet bombings of both countries’ cities were morally justified. You may not do evil that good may come of it. The horrible atrocities of the Axis clearly surpassed those of the Western Allies, but they do not thereby make the deliberate pulverization of what were basically civilian targets right. I do not intend to condemn the men engaged in the fighting or the many people who understandably wanted the war to end as soon as possible and who doubtlessly felt an enormous sense of relief when the final surrenders occurred.

        • Using your logic we should have surrendered rather than killing any civilians and Lincoln should have allowed the South to leave rather than killing any civilians because any evil is not justified by a good it accomplishes.

          • My logic would not prohibit all military action that might result in civilian casualties. It does forbid the deliberate targeting of them or indiscriminate mass bombings or shellings that result in large casualties of non-combatants. It is anything but pacifism. Please do not distort my position.

        • “The brutal nature of the Japanese and German regimes and their crimes are irrelevant the question of whether the A bomb attacks and the other mass carpet bombings of both countries’ cities were morally justified.”

          As most of the posts on this article indicate, the brutality of the regimes are absolutely relevant to the question of the atomic bombs. Discussing the issue without considering all of the facts and necessary information is dishonest and manipulative, as well as being disrespectful to the millions who perished at the hands of the German and Japanese war machines.

          • So, because the governments of Germany and Japan were evil and brutal, attacking their civilian populations was fully justified. That seems to be what you are saying – collective punishment for the misdeeds of a rogue national government. I don’t see how this comports at all with any kind just war theory I have come across and I do want to live under such a standard. I agree with Edmund Burke: I do not know a method for drawing up an indictment against a whole people.

        • “So, because the governments of Germany and Japan were evil and brutal, attacking their civilian populations was fully justified. That seems to be what you are saying – collective punishment for the misdeeds of a rogue national government.”

          Yes, that’s actually a good summary of my point. You falsely assume that the individual citizens who actively and intentionally supported the rogue national governments are somehow not responsible for the atrocities committed by those governments. German and Japanese national culture created the monsters of WWII, so in some respects, the people were as guilty as their leaders.

      • Chris C, I agree with your interpretation of events and the status of Mankind. I’m aware also that Truman had a difficult decision to make in context of the info he had, and that he agonized over it. I said above “in principle” it was unethical implying very trying circumstances. The reason why I addressed the issue is that Proportionalism for whatever presumed good leads to dissipation of our ability to distinguish acts like abortion, euthanasia, any form of ‘mercy’ killing as actions that kill rather than acts of benevolence. Our most infamous example is Caiaphas who said, Do you not realize it is better that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.

  8. For the record; the Trinity test bomb, which was detonated in a static test tower, was atomic detonation number one. The Hiroshima bomb was atomic detonation number two. The Nagasaki bomb was atomic detonation number three. The Trinity test took place on July 16, 1945. The Hiroshima bomb was used on August 6, 1945. The Nagasaki bomb was used on August 9, 1945. At the time they were used the US was in a state of declared hot war with Japan.
    *
    PBS has a series titled “Nazi Mega Weapons” where they did an episode on the siege of Berlin titled “Fortress Berlin.” Some of the defenders of Berlin were members of the Volkssturm, people’s storm, a German national militia. It included the Hitler Youth and old men. It said that the Russian casualty count stood at over 80,000 and it was said that the German losses were close to double this figure. This places the losses in the conventional assault of Berlin in the same ballpark as the Japanese losses from the a-bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
    *
    The two a-bombs that were dropped over Japan were the first deliverable a-bombs that the US had. The two bombs used in combat were of two different designs and were the first real world combat use of each bomb type. They were untried in combat conditions, there was the risk that they could have been duds. They were also the entire US nuclear arsenal. I’ve heard varying reports as to how long it would take to build more bombs. After the Nagasaki bombing Truman ordered that further a-bombing would require his express authorization. The footage that we see on TV about the above ground testing and its effects on infrastructure took place after the war. We know a lot more about the effects of nuclear war than Truman did at the time that the a-bomb use decision was made.

    • Knowledge of the costly assault on Berlin, plus all conventional saturation bombings, suggests a broader question…In addition to the comparable numbers of casualties, did we now shift into a technocratic world focused instead on the comparative numbers of nuclear warheads?

      If nuclear devastation (Hiroshima and Nagasaki) had not jumped species from the realm of the possible to the realm of actual photographs, would Stalin have abruptly decided to engage in the nuclear arms race? A slippery slope which dominated world geo-politics for the next half century (!) at least.

      Late in the game, members of the science team warned against actual use (Szilard petition delivered to DC on July 19, 1945; even the media—e.g., Washington Post on June 11 and the New York Times July 13—urged public clarification of “unconditional surrender”). The scientists foresaw the inevitable post-war arms-race. But, in the absence of earlier or better communication (another technology!), it’s likely that Truman never saw the snail mail crossing several foot-dragging (?) desks (Aplerovitz, above, p. 191).

      Stalin had been passive toward the American nuclear program until he saw images of the flattened Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Then he got the picture—this new device was not simply an enhanced Blockbuster. Did the War really end on August 15, or like a virus did it simply migrate onto another geography and mutate from a Hot War to Cold?

      Hindsight is easy, but foresight was not entirely lacking.

      • When it comes to unconditional surrender, it is my understanding that in addition to keeping the emperor Japan’s terms also included that the Japanese hold their own war crimes trials, and there would be no occupation of the Japanese homeland. Hirohito had to just about shove his surrender decision down the military’s throat. There was an abortive military coup d’état just before the surrender statement was transmitted. This coup d’état is called the Kyujo incident. I’ve seen several documentaries about the post surrender occupation of Japan that said that things were very tense in the early days of the occupation, and that there were still elements of the military who were resisting the surrender. There is a channel on YouTube called “Military History Visualized” that has some videos covering the end of war situation with Japan. They are: The Invasion of Japan – Operation Olympic / Downfall
        Why not blockade Japan into Surrender? (feat. D.M. Giangreco)
        Why the Japanese Military wanted to fight on after(!) the 2nd Nuke (feat. D.M. Giangreco)
        According to the videos the Japanese military still had a will to continue the war.
        *
        As to Stalin, the Manhattan Project was compromised by Soviet spies. I think that the Soviets had a pretty good idea about the a-bomb even before it was used. I get the impression that their spies had sent a lot of technical information back to the USSR.
        *
        The problem that I see with many of the anti-bomb faction is that they all too often are conducting negotiations with themselves, and not with a real world adversary who doesn’t think like they do.
        *
        One thing that you can say about Hiroshima and Nagasaki is that they showed the real world effects of the a-bomb up close and personal. World War II was a total war. Nuclear weapons were a quantum leap in destructive power. It took a while for the world to adjust to this new reality. So far, the nukes would appear to have kept a lid on the size of conventional conflicts in the post-World War II era.

  9. The problem with self-righteous perspectives is that they tend to be myopic, focusing on selected details at the expense of others. A careful consideration of all of the relevant facts clearly demonstrates that dropping both atomic bombs was appropriate and necessary both in terms of military strategy and ethics.

    Consider the atrocities the Japanese committed during WWII. During the rape of Nanking, Japanese soldiers buried civilians alive, used them for bayonet practice, beheaded lines of prisoners for sport & competition, and raped and murdered thousands of women. Japanese officials conducted experiments on human subjects that rivaled anything happening in Nazi Germany at the time, and let’s not forget POW camps, hell ships, and the Japanese effort to obliterate Korean nationality and culture. Because Japanese culture created the men who committed those crimes, the population was as morally guilty as the offenders. There were no “innocent civilians.”

    VE day meant that thousands of American bombers were now available to strike the Japanese mainland on daily bombing runs. A land invasion by the army was not an option, but a bombing campaign would have burned every major Japanese city to the ground. The economic, physical, and human losses would have been catastrophic. Dropping the bombs ended the war quickly, effectively preventing the Soviet Union from establishing a sphere of influence in Asia. Given the fate of Eastern Europe, ending the war before the Soviets arrived was essential.

    Let’s never forget that the real victims were the millions of people who were brutalized by Japanese Imperialism. Shame on the culture and people that made the atomic bombs necessary.

  10. I’ll take seriously the arguments of those questioning the morality of the decision to drop the A-bombs, when they dare to admit the obvious truth: That continuation of the War in the Pacific would have assuredly resulted in a massively higher number of casualties of the U.S. and Japanese military and Japanese civilians. And when they admit that, notwithstanding that certain fact, it would have nevertheless been the moral thing to do.

    I may well have missed it, but it looks to me as if critics of President Truman’s decision fail to show the courage of their convictions by admitting as much. Rather they pretend, possibly as a fallback, that it was not only immoral but unnecessary from a strategic standpoint. That is of course absurd. The Japanese war cabinet was unanimously opposed to ending the war even after the bombs were dropped. It was left to the Emperor to make the sole decision to end the war. Further, it is also undeniable that the alternative to the A-bombs would not have been limited to an invasion, but also to the massive conventional carpet bombing campaign that was already taking place in 1945; a campaign that killed more than the A-bombs, and would have continued doing so up until the time of the invasion. In short, there is no way to condemn the decision as “unnecessary” from a standpoint of military strategy unless one is prepared to accept the consequences of that decision.

    Further, some suggest that unconditional surrender was an immoral demand and that Japan was on the “brink of surrender” anyway. It most certainly was not. The only “terms”; and there never was a formal surrender offer or proposal from the Japanese government, that the Japanese government would have conceivably agreed to would have left the Japanese military intact. It would have been more akin to a “cease fire” than a surrender. There was only one way to ensure disarmament from Japan, and that was total and unconditional surrender. Anything less would have left a military govenment in power, free to reinitiate hostilities at a time of their choosing and free to hang on to their possessions in China and Korea.

    The more honorable course for critics of President Truman’s decision to take it is it to admit freely that irrespective of the invevitable loss of life, a loss that would far exceed those of Hirsoshima and Nagasaki, nevertheless those substantially higher casualties would out of moral necessity be an acceptable cost.

    For my part I won’t second guess, with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, the awful decisions made to end the Second World War. I’d feel like a virtue signaling hypocrite if I did so.

    • We read: “I may well have missed it, but it looks to me as if critics of President Truman’s decision fail to show the courage of their convictions by admitting as much [the truth of the Chris C’s take on things]”.

      There were a lot of moving parts, but simply as a matter of information, others who might not have lacked courage and who held a different view—even at the time—and who opposed the bomb drops included: General MacArthur, Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe General Eisenhower, Pacific Fleet Admiral William Leahy, Commander of the Pacific Fleet Chester Nimitz, Commander of the 5th Amphibious Force Admiral Henry Hill, Commander of Fifth Fleet Vice Admiral Raymond Spruance, and Commander of the 3rd Fleet Admiral William (“Bull”) Halsey. Chief of Staff George Marshall particularly wanted clarified the catch-phrase “Unconditional Surrender” (lifted from a single battle, Fort Donelson, in the Civil War). General Spaatz, whose command included the 509th B-29 group, and who refused to act until given his orders in writing, especially could not understand the rational for the second bomb (documented chapters in Alperovitz, The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb, 1995).

      The post-war Strategic Bombing Survey (1946) concluded: “Based on a detailed investigation of all the facts and supported by the testimony of the surviving Japanese leaders involved, it is the Survey’s opinion that certainly prior to 31 December 1945, and in all probability prior to 1 November 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated” (Stoff, Fanton, Williams, editors, The Manhattan Project, Document 94, 1991).

      • Mr. Beaulieu, I did not see your post here before I submitted my own regarding some of the high ranking miliary personnel who opposed the bombings. Thank you for providing the documentation of the facts I was trying to remember.

  11. I was a small child when two cousins came home from POW and told how pamphlets were dropped in several cities in Japan warning them to evacuate befor the bomb. The pamphlets did not name which cities would be destroyed but nevertheless, what other nation EVER warned their enemies?? The emperor was as GOD and he could not surrender without giving his position to an enemy. They would never have surrendered normally. Three days is plenty of time to surrender if you want to care for your own people. Are you thinking?? Three days is ample. Also many conveniently ignore the experience of the community of Jesuits who prayed the Rosary every day, whose house was within a mile of ground zero and the house and they were not harmed. They have been studied through the years and there were no explanations. They had no radiation or physical or consequent harm. Very little has ever been said about it but it is well worth study. I am beginning to think the WWII generation really was the last great one. People today don’t know which end is up. We also helped Japan recover so much that it was said if you want to improve your country have a war with the USA. When I was small, we bought everything Japan made after the war, to help the common people recover. MAde in Japan was a saying. My cousins however were so damaged by their experience, they never really recovered. IT must be recalled that we did not start that war and did not want in. Some friends in school had no fathers and their mothers waited 7 years to declare them dead because the bodies were never found at Pearl Harbor.

  12. Well, Salyer. How nice that you can condemn the use of the A-Bomb from the very safe position of decades past the war.I remind you first, that the Japanese engaged us with a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, in which thousands of our men were condemned to death by drowning, not an easy way to go. Their object: to cripple our military capability. Doubtless their plan was to have invaded the US later and inflicted who knows what kind of actions on our citizens, possibly not unlike what they did in china? With burning , looting and rape. After Pearl Harbor, what happened was on them. For an immensely powerful nation, the US mostly prefers to be left alone, an isolationist streak running heavily in the country for centuries. That is, unless you attack us. Then, all bets are off. War is not a game, to be played by neat rules and deciding how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. The object of a war is to beat your enemy into submission, with as few casualties on your side as possible. Period.Excessive worry about collateral damage is how you lose a war. You fight to win. The nuclear bomb made that possible. Considering they were finding dug-in Japanese soldiers in the jungles of the Philippines some 20 years after the war, the idea they would have simply give up their island nation is laughable. In short, better their people died than our own. I cant think of what you are trying to say regarding the destruction of the Catholic church. With all that was at stake in the bombing, I am dubious US planners were even aware the church was there. Certainly its destruction was not a conscious goal of the bombing. While the Japanese are a friendly nation now ( wise choice on their part) at the time there was no nation more infamous for deliberate barbarous actions, both as a country and in the behavior of their individual soldiers. Stories are legion of Allied prisoners starved and beaten to death while captured, others tortured to death. Let’s not forget their military tactic of the kamikazi pilot, who not only sank the ship but also brought with it unnecessary individual deaths. I find this revisionist whine reprehensible, and believe the ongoing modern pushing of this point of view is why our soldiers today find themselves asked to fight with one arm tied behind their back. Until the recent rise of Middle Eastern barbarism, as with the 9/11 attack, and other attacks worldwide on civilians, the gratuitously violent behavior of the Japanese had no Western equivalent, except for their Nazi partners.Instead of attacking a difficult but necessary wartime decision, be glad you did not find yourself growing up in either the post war German or Japanese culture, had they been victorious. That is, assuming your family would have survived their occupation of the country at all.

    • As the quote in the piece indicates, Fulton Sheen strongly condemned the bombings after they happened. What the author is saying here is hardly outrageous or arrogant.

      • With all due respect to the good Archbishop, I disagree with him because he misdirected himself in his identification of the object of the act. He applied to the criterion of ius in bello to an act different in kind from a terminal act of war which had ius ad bellum. Its immediate anticipated effect was to persuade the Emperor and government of Japan – the aggressor – to sue for peace.

        This misdirection led him to apply the wrong proportionality analysis.

        The use of these bombs in the pacification of an aggressor is reasonably judged to have been proportionate to the urgency of ending a war that had brought unprecedented death, destruction and moral harm to the human race. Such an extreme case is unlikely to recur.

        • Michael your argument nevertheless places as you acknowledge a proportionate good, ending a deadly war as the moral determinant of the act. Effect good or bad does not determine the good or evil of an act, although all acts must be ordered to a good end. It’s the matter of the act [materia circa quam], what the act actually does not the form [intent] that determines good or evil. Otherwise this form of reasoning can justify any evil act, such as abortion to save the planet from impending overpopulation, on the basis of some ulterior good. Urgency to end a war is a value judgment, as is the lack of military acumen that determines only invasion would have ended that war.

          • Father, my argument is based on my best understanding of #79 to #83 of Veritatis Splendor, though every time I read it I cannot help feeling frustrated that Pope John Paul II did not devote more words in clearer explanation of the matter. His clearest statement of it is:

            “The primary and decisive element for moral judgment is the object of the human act, which establishes whether it is capable of being ordered to the good and to the ultimate end, which is God. This capability is grasped by reason in the very being of man, considered in his integral truth, and therefore in his natural inclinations, his motivations and his finalities, which always have a spiritual dimension as well. It is precisely these which are the contents of the natural law and hence that ordered complex of “personal goods” which serve the “good of the person”: the good which is the person himself and his perfection. These are the goods safeguarded by the commandments, which, according to Saint Thomas, contain the whole natural law.”

            The moral determinant of the object of the act of using the bomb is the effect anticipated and intended by President Truman in advance: the pacification of an aggressor and the acquisition of peace, which is the proper end of war and the determinant that it, and the acts of violence that terminate it, have ius ad bellum.

            The comparison with abortion is ill-taken, as the act of killing an innocent human being in the womb has only one effect, that of murder, and cannot in reason be anticipated as capable of having a good effect. The reduction of overpopulation you offer as an example is a remote (intended) consequence of the act, not its effect, and so cannot enter into the determination of its object.

            A requirement of the principle of double effect is that the good effect must not be obtained by means of the evil effect. So if the Emperor of Japan had been in the safe vicinity of the detonation, had been knocked off his feet by the blast, and decided for that reason to sue for peace, then this requirement would not have been met. In the event, he was far away in Tokyo and amenable only to the persuasive effect of the act.

            Concerning the nexus between the evil effect and the good obtained by it, there are two alternative tests. One is the “but for” test – the good effect would not have been obtained but for the evil effect. The other is the “substantial contribution” test – the evil effect made a substantial contribution to the good. I do not know which is the correct test.

          • I don’t think any of that counts when it is self defense!!!! Thank you fine veterans and leaders who stood for freedom and intelligence. You new comers wont understand until it is on your doorstep. We are allowed to protect our families and country. Thank you Mr. Harvey from Australia. We used to be the heros until fashionable to hindsight every past person’s choice. Gee whiz, might as well watch the eve news.

          • I’ll reply here Michael because this is an important ethical issue. The principle of double effect was elicited by ethicists from Aquinas’ treatment of acts that have an unintended evil ‘physical’ effect, such as acts that result in two effects good and evil in (ST 2a2ae 64, 7). He gives the example of the right to self defense, which in order to be morally correct requires the least force possible. Although acting in self defense may cause the unexpected death of the assailant. The major premise here is that the evil physical effect is not a moral evil because it’s accidental. Ethicists applied this theorem of double effect to medicine, when a physician for example amputates a gangrene foot, a physical evil to save a life. If he amputated more than reasonable that could be judged unethical. The concept of double effect drifted in application to acts intended for a morally good effect that also have an expected [when inevitable it’s intended] morally evil effect. The latter would be killing, seizing territory, causing peripheral injury to someone’s person. Effect as Aquinas rightly taught doesn’t determine the good or evil of an act since the intended good effect is a presumption that can end other than intended. Actually this includes the form of either the interior act [intent] of the will, or the form that is the external act of the will, which is the act. Both interior and external acts of the will must be good in order for the object of the act to be morally good. Insofar as your query “but for test – the good effect would not have been obtained but for the evil effect” would comply only if the civilian casualties at Hiroshima were actually unforeseen. If we say unintended [knowing there would be enormous casualties] by postulating the good consequence [would not have been obtained but for the evil effect] as the intent then the act would be morally evil. If a knowing “substantial contribution” it would likewise be evil. The catch here is that we’re dealing with a known evil effect that could have been avoided in pursuit of ending the conflict. If it were the only option available it would carry more ethical weight. It can’t be considered as peripheral or collateral damage to use military jargon because the consequence of killing so many innocent civilians was known. I appreciate your in depth analysis which reveals how difficult some moral questions can be. Your position would seem viable as said if necessary, although I’m convinced the principle of inviolability of innocent life must remain intact.

          • “Effect as Aquinas rightly taught doesn’t determine the good or evil of an act since the intended good effect is a presumption that can end other than intended.”

            If effect doesn’t determine the good or evil of an act, then what does? Your reply demonstrates my earlier point in regret of Pope John Paul II’s failure to give a clear and thorough treatment of the question in Veritatis Splendor.

          • Apologies for clicking prematurely on my brief reply to your comment, Father. I should have said that my emphasis was on the determinants of the object of an act, not yet its overall morality. If effect does not determine the morality of the object, then what does?

        • Thanks Michael. I’ll reply here. Agency is primary in determining a moral act rather than focus on the event as if it were independent. Evil is in the will.

          • The best illustration that evil is in the will is the case of contraception. If for the sake of argument the external act by which a person contracepts were morally neutral in its object, it is by definition committed with an ill will similar to the mens rea of murder. The will is set against the good of human life, and it is the ill will that suffices without more to determine contraception as an evil act.

            The importance of the object of the act is illustrated by Pope John Paul II in VS: “The morality of the human act depends primarily and fundamentally on the “object” rationally chosen by the deliberate will, . . . . there are certain specific kinds of behaviour that are always wrong to choose, because choosing them involves a disorder of the will, that is, a moral evil . . . . The reason why a good intention is not itself sufficient, but a correct choice of actions is also needed, is that the human act depends on its object, whether that object is capable or not of being ordered to God, to the One who “alone is good”, and thus brings about the perfection of the person.”

            Given that it is the gravest obligation of a civil ruler to establish peace, the tranquility of a just order, the highest good of any political society, he always chooses an act good in its object as he chooses an act which has ius ad bellum by reason of its anticipated effect in putting down an aggressor.

            There may be something on this topic in Fr Thomas Crean’s book “Integralism”, a copy of which arrived today. I’ve only just begun to read it, so I’m about to find out.

          • Excellent overview Michael. I wish to clarify by precis what I said above. The principle of double effect took a wrong turn when ethicists concluded that a proportionate good end would justify a ‘morally evil act’ to achieve that good end, whereas Aquinas and for ethics up to that point the issue was a ‘physical evil’. Consequently they blurred the distinction between physical evil and moral evil, which pertains to Hiroshima, Nagasaki. An example, theologian Charles E Curran was dismissed from Catholic U for opposing Human Vitae arguing contraception is a justifiable physical evil not a moral evil. Now a human act is composed of two willful objects. The interior object which is the intent and the external object of the will which is the choice of act. A morally good act must have a good intent and good choice of act. The object of the act therefore is ultimately determined by the external object of the will that is the choice of act. All good moral acts are ordered to a good effect. Although an unexpected impediment may alter the good effect. Nonetheless if the agent by good intent, and finally determined by a choice of act that is morally good the object of the act is thereby ordered to God, who wills all that is good and gratuitously moves the will of Man [ST 1a2ae 110, Article 2] to that good.

      • It doesnt mean he was correct. During the Avignon papacy’s Western Schism, following the death of Gregory XI, saints rallied to BOTH sides of the split papacy. Being a saint doesnt make you a military or political expert, nor do your opinions make you responsible for the lives of millions, as it is for secular rulers. Politicians often have to make a decision between two bad choices. Thankfully the country had not yet reached the point of numbers of guilt ridden leftist politicians putting Americans LAST.

  13. All of this virtue signalling hand wringing over the dropping of the bomb is silly, and only people who have nothing at stake and little knowledge of the facts of the war argue about this.
    250,000 people were dying EACH MONTH that the war continued in China. This was due to the fact that food shipments could not get through, medicine shipments could not get through etc etc etc.
    The same was probably happening in Japan, as civilians were increasingly denied basic supplies to live on. The same was happening in the Philippines and to some extent in Vietnam and other areas of Asia.
    The Japanese had indicated by use of Kamikaze that they would never surrender and on Iwo Jima and Okinawa, they conducted fanatican resistance, where they would feign surrender and then hide grenades on their bodies and blow themselves up and the Americans who captured them. Civilians in Japan were ready to use sharp stakes to attack Americans when they landed. In short, Japan was a strange country where fanaticism and death was worshipped. They had killed 10 million Chinese civilians, basically for fun and to show them who was boss. Rape and torture were not only common treats in store for subject populations, they were thoroughly encouraged by the Japanese authorities. Same for Korea, Philippines, etc. This is not allowed to be remembered today, for our schools are useless. But it was true. So rather than let several million Japanese die in a long, drawn out invasion, and maybe a million Americans die in the invasion, and maybe another million other Asians die simply because the war continued, it was better to get it over with quick. Period. If some ivory tower types argue that Catholic doctrine demands that we let all these millions of people die when we could have ended it with a short, sharp, atomic bombing they are out of their minds, and prefer the world of theory to reality.

    • “….and only people who have nothing at stake and little knowledge of the facts of the war argue about this.”

      Seems a bit … much?

  14. One thing I find interesting is that the virtue signalers who condemn the use of nuclear weapon to end the war are in effect saying the only virtuous choice is to have thousands of American dead bodies strewn on the beaches of Japan in an invasion. Whether in the end the total causalties of an invasion would have been a 1,000,000 or something less, each invidual would have been dead American soldier who did not start the war or were part of a warrior culture. But in today’s virtue signaling culture dead American soldiers are okay, since the virtue signalers are so much better than those would be dead soldiers.

    • You use the phrase: “[w]hether in the end the total causalties of an invasion would have been a 1,000,000 or something less…” WELL SAID. In support of your wording, the elusive casualty estimates might look something like this…

      Popular consumption of the HIGH-END one-million fatality figure (not casualties) began with an article under Secretary of State Simpson’s name, published in Harper’s Magazine in February 1947. The article was multiply reprinted by others without fact-checking, so WHERE did Stimson get this figure? Well, on May 15, 1945 former president Herbert Hoover had sent a memo to Stimson suggesting that a clarification of terms (of “unconditional surrender”!) might possibly save “500,000 to 1,000,000 lives…” Guesswork?

      Actual calculations from a month later turned, in part, on whether the “invasion” would involve only Kyushu Island (projected for November 1945) or also Honshu (March 1946) which was judged to be unlikely after Russian involvement. Commenting on Truman’s later biography (of which Truman edited every line), Alperovitz observes: “no historian has been able to find solid contemporary evidence that Truman’s meeting with is military advisers at Potsdam (where the president says the estimates were offered) actually occurred” (The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb, p. 518).

      The LOW END of the “casualty” range (not fatalities or deaths), Alperovitz adds: “The only [casualty] estimate we can prove that was actually presented personally and directly to the president—on June 18 by General Marshall—was 31,000. On the basis of ratios then common in the Pacific campaign, this in turn would translate into 7,000-8,000 deaths.” Not to propose these very low-end numbers here, but only to note what is known to have been told to the president. This Marshall estimate is based on data from the varied case of Leyte, Luzon, Iwo Jima, Okinawa and the first 30 days of Normandy—again, still limited to only Kyushu Island as a sufficient action to force a “feeling of utter helplessness [and surrender]” (Minutes of President’s Meeting with Stimson, Forrestal, McCloy and Joint Chiefs of Staff, document #52, June 18, 1945, in Stoff/Fanton/Williams, The Manhattan Project, 1991).

  15. Regarding the condemnation of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it is easy to sit in judgment on the United States for executing these attacks. It is easy to do it outside of all historical context. However, it is more balanced to point out that actions bring consequences. The rape of Nanking, the Bataan Death March, the biological experiments of Unit 731 near Harbin. Imperial Japan, what goes around, comes around!

  16. Well said Robert Mark Poggioli . The Japanese killed 21 million Chinese wit not one sign of regret or apology. The
    writer is safe and sound in America 75 years later. What if President Truman had delayed and Stalin’s vast Russian Army had started invading Japan. It really almost happened ! What then, start WW3 just as the world ends WW2 ?
    The writer’s hand wringing is very much misplaced and possibly a callous disregard for victims of Japanese barbarity,
    including member of my own family. Thank you America for eternity for saving my country, Australia from invasion by Japan and only God knows what fate for our only 6 million population during WW2.

    • Do you have a source for the 21 million figure for Chinese deaths? I’m not challenging you per se, that’s just an incredible number and I had not heard that the casualty rates were that high in China. For some reason, I thought the death toll was much lower.

  17. I wish to unsubsribe now. My last 2 comments have been deleted. You deny free speech. I guess you are really
    “Cafeteria Catholics”, prbobably Biden Catholics supporting Roe v Wade, abortion up to date of birth etc. In Australia
    we call you “Pretend Catholics “. Believe me , there are many like you. Trump-Pence 2020.
    Please complete “unsubscribe “ immediately. Your actions are those of hypocrites. In any event God bless you.

    • No, they were not deleted. They were moderated–like all comments at CWR. And even if they weren’t put through (as some comments aren’t, for various reasons), it wouldn’t be a denial of free speech. It would be CWR exercising its right to run this site as it wishes.

      I guess you are really “Cafeteria Catholics”, prbobably Biden Catholics supporting Roe v Wade, abortion up to date of birth etc

      Bad guess.

  18. Unfortunately the re-write of true history is an obsession with some. Just a few facts to give Truman’s decision at least some context as GR Mike and Chris C. did. The Japanese people were united under the State Shinto religion, doctrine included Hirohito was Emperor by divine right, suicide was an honorable final action. Hirohito sanctioned the policy to “Kill all, burn all, loot all”. Japan, during their wars of expansion in the 1930s committed thousands of horrendous atrocities. The leaders of Japan knowing America was going to invade developed a fanatical, suicidal defense plan called Operation Ketsugo. America’s invasion plan called Operation Downfall, many times larger than the D-day invasion, was scheduled for kick-off 11/1/45. It was estimated that millions would die on both sides. Operation Downfall was the invasion that never happened because President Truman made the courageous and right decision.

  19. Good to read of Feast Day of St.Charbel, whose intercession said to bring healing to ‘both Christians and Muslims ‘ ,amidst the memories of human failures and lust for power of secular rulers , those who have resisted The Truth of seeing the sacredness of human lives , instead see themselves as the gods who make up own rules in rebellion against the laws written by God in human hearts –
    https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/the-lebanese-saint-who-unites-christians-and-muslims-31761
    Thank God for The Consecration to the Immaculate Heart , to speak to hearts about the holiness , given us , through the Incarnation , of The Lord who took upon the flesh of The Mother , to set us free ,by The Precious Blood , from the dominion of the death spirits and their generational holds .
    Thank God too that our Fathers are vigilant at their posts , armed for the warfare of the kind that none of us are spared –
    https://cruxnow.com/church-in-europe/2020/07/vatican-recognized-exorcists-group-offers-guidelines-for-quality-control/

    • And how specifically is this post related to the content of the article? Did you read it? The purpose of the forum is to interact based on the content of the posted articles.

      • Thank you for asking ; Fatima , its warning of ‘ errors of Russia ‘ in connection with W W 11 – a truth that ever need to be kept front and center , that error of Russia being not too unlike that of the lust for power that led Japan as well.
        The desire of some Muslim nations too , to assume global power in similar steps , thus the role of St.Charbel .

        We too , in sort of a W.W. 111 and the weapons of spiritual warfare needed
        being made available with more focus , as mentioned in the last article
        sited in the above comment .
        Came across this one below too , the fall out from one lawsuit and how Germany has stayed away from exorcisms as a result , ? indirectly thus letting that ‘error of Russia ‘ of secular power undermining God’s designs for The Church and the world , to live in peace , set free from demonic holds .
        http://www.renewamerica.com/columns/abbott/200116
        Recalling the atrocities of war , with its connection to spiritual realms – to help us into ever deeper repentance as well as gratitude – thus also honoring the mission of CWR as well .
        Blessings !

  20. Perhaps it’s worth considering the following, from “Gaudium et Spes” (section 80) : “Any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities or of extensive areas along with their population is a crime against God and man himself. It merits unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation.”

  21. This is an excellent article. I greatly appreciate the balanced perspective–carefully pointing out the problems with the decision to drop the bombs, without the vitriolic blaming and holier-than-thou attitude so common in discussions about this sad subject. Truman seems to have been genuinely torn by the decision–I remember reading that he agonized about the innocents that would die–but thought he had no other real choice since at that point (the argument goes) Americans were killing Japanese soldiers at about a 20-1 ratio. If America was to invade Japan, something like 20 million Japanese would be killed and around a million Americans. When presented with a weapon that might end the war immediately, Truman thought he must try it. It is important to remember that the US was still fighting in the Pacific. The Battle of Okinawa had just ended. The Japanese had an army of about 100,000 on Okinawa, and only 19 soldiers surrendered. Almost all the rest were killed. My point is that the projected invasion of Japan looked nightmarish.

    This is why I think this article is so good. It acknowledges the dilemma and doesn’t try to make a moral monster out of Truman for making a hard–though flawed–decision in the middle of a cataclysmic war. I really liked the citation from Admiral Leahy’s memoirs. I think that’s probably about right. It is never allowable to do evil to bring about good. Our society has forgotten this. This is a good reminder. Thanks.

  22. Giving my agreement to the comment by Grand Rapids Mike.

    Highly recommended book: The Most Controversial Decision: Truman, the Atomic Bombs and the Defeat of Japan by Wilson D. Miscamble, C.S.C. Cambridge University Press, 2011.

  23. Hiroshima and Nagasaki had military significance. The two mightiest super battleships in the Imperial Japanese Navy were built in the shipyards at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Yamato was built at the Hiroshima shipyards and the Musashi was built at the Nagasaki shipyards. Nagasaki was the backup target, the primary target was Kokura.
    *
    It has been my understanding that, for the most part, that precision bombing in Word War II was more of a myth than a reality in real world combat conditions. The Navy had to give up using the Norden bombsight and switch to dive bombing. According to the Wikipedia article on the Norden bombsight the circular error probable in 1945 was 900 feet. The article said that a 500 pound bomb had a lethal radius of 60 to 90 feet.
    *
    According to an Air Force magazine article titled “Daylight Precision Bombing” the Hiroshima a-bomb fell 800 feet from the aiming point, and the Nagasaki a-bomb fell 1,500 feet from the aiming point. The article stated that the jet stream over Japan was a problem for high altitude bombing missions. The article further stated that “Japanese industry, including cottage industries making military parts and equipment, was so integrated with populated areas that it was difficult to draw the line between them”. The article also stated that it wasn’t until the Gulf War that bombing truly attained pickle barrel levels of accuracy.
    *
    You fight a mechanized war with the industrial infrastructure that you have. Any large scale manufacturing operation is going to need a local population to staff and provide support services for these operations. The US converted US civilian industrial plant and equipment to produce military equipment and supplies. They were located near population centers. The slogan “Arsenal of Democracy” was used in the US at this time. I live within several miles of a Lockheed-Martin plant that makes military weapons systems components. The only things that spared the US homeland cities from attack were the oceans and that there were no intercontinental range bombers or missiles until after the end of the war. Hitler had wanted to bomb New York. Germany made multiple attempts to work on intercontinental range weapon systems, but none came to fruition.
    *
    It wasn’t the a-bomb per se that broke down the boundaries, it was the adoption of mechanized warfare. Production and supply chain logistics plays a major role in modern mechanized war and governs the speed at which military forces can advance the battle lines and whether they can fight at all. Logistics was what the Battle of the Atlantic was all about. The video service Nebula has a series about the logistics of D-Day.
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    I’m willing to give Truman the benefit of a doubt on the a-bomb decision. It is important to be careful about discussing the a-bombing of Japan. Nukes more devastating than the ones dropped on Japan are still with us. A too enthusiastic defense of the dropping of the a-bombs on Japan could be used to justify their current use, with no way to exclude their use over US cities.

    • In partial answer to your first and last points. FIRST, due to the naval blockade the shortage of raw materials had already reduced industrial operations by this time to a fraction of their capacity, probably 20 percent; and of the possibly 60 to 70,000 killed, only an estimated 150 were military personnel.

      And SECOND, your final point, totally valid, the long-term danger of a nuclear arms race was precisely the point raised by the scientists in their recommendation for restraint (my comment above, July 23 at 1:28 p.m.), part of which reads:

      “To sum up, we urge that the use of nuclear bombs in this war be considered as a problem of long-range national policy rather than of military expediency, and that this policy be directed primarily to the achievement of an agreement permitting an effective international control of the means of nuclear warfare. The vital importance of such a control for our country is obvious from the fact that the only effective alternative method of protecting this country appears to be a dispersal of our major cities and essential industries [arguably accomplished by suburbanization enabled by the national freeway system—funded under the National Interstate AND Defense Act of 1956]” (The Frank Report, June 11, 1945, in The Manhattan Project, Document #49).

      • “FIRST, due to the naval blockade the shortage of raw materials had already reduced industrial operations by this time to a fraction of their capacity, probably 20 percent;”

        Probably? And how widely known was that at the time?

      • One thing that needs to be considered is the extremist nature of the Axis leadership. The PBS show about the Berlin siege said that Hitler ordered a scorched earth policy of destroying all productive infrastructure to keep it from falling into enemy hands. As the Russians entered the city there were roving SS and Nazi extremist death squads that would charge Germans found not fighting with treason and desertion and subject to execution on the spot, usually public hanging to make them an example to the remaining Germans. There was also a reported mass suicide of nearly four thousand Berliners. The end of the Berlin siege was Götterdämmerung.
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        There is another PBS documentary titled “The Bomb” that covers the a-bomb program from the beginnings of the Manhattan Project to more recent times. One person on the show said that nothing spoke well of the Japanese leadership. That they were callous and did not care about the suffering of the Japanese people. This agrees with the “Military History Visualized” videos I mention in an earlier comment, where it was stated that the Japanese people had been under rationing longer than the USA had been. I’ve seen consistent accounts that Japan had a fair amount of military equipment.
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        The PBS bomb show did an interview with a Manhattan Project woman scientist who said that it was her impression that the scientists were about evenly divided as to the use of the a-bomb. The show covered post-war efforts of the US to try to come to an agreement to give up the a-bomb that was blocked by the Soviets. It also covered a post-war series of Pacific a-bomb tests called Crossroads that used the same bomb type that was dropped on Nagasaki. The press was invited to see the test. The first test shot was a PR bust. The bomb was off-target, off in the distance and the test wasn’t seen as being very impressive. That test was a-bomb detonation number four. The next one was an underwater shot and was a radioactive mess. Concerns about a-bomb effectiveness played a role in preventing their use in Korea.
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        When you read what the generals say you need to keep in mind the adage that no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy. Operation Market Garden, “A Bridge Too Far”, and Operation Barbarossa, Hitler’s invasion of Russia, were failures. D-Day was anything but smooth sailing. Before the invasion Eisenhower prepared two messages, to cover both the success and the failure of the D-Day invasion. I think that many of the low end casualty estimates for a Japanese invasion were based on D-Day and fighting on the way to Germany. The trouble with these western-front battles is many of them took place in occupied France, not the German homeland. A Japanese invasion would have been on the Japanese homeland from day one. That is why I think that Berlin is a better example to use when talking about a Japanese invasion. BTW, Eisenhower did some nuclear saber-rattling during the Korean war.
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        When people discuss unconditional surrender, they need to keep in mind that World War I ended in an armistice. Many of the post World War II conflicts that the US got involved in had inconclusive endings. Afghanistan and Iraq turned into insurgency conflicts. Libya was a complete botch. I’m not sure where the opponents of unconditional surrender derive their confidence from. Many in the Axis leadership were to the point to where they had no future in a post-war world because of their extremist conduct during the war. For many the die was cast.
        *
        It is interesting that you mention suburbia. I read an article about New Left Urbanists by Christopher F. Rufo, about the effects of progressives on urban planning. It is titled “The Rise of the New Left Urbanists.” According to the article there appears to be an attempt to demonize the suburbs and assert that single-family housing is part of white supremacy. It’s an interesting read, detailing the attempts to hijack urban planning by the left.

  24. I am wondering why those who question the morality of Truman’s decision have not commented on the fact of the leaflets being dropped on the cities, days befor the bomb. I looked it up to see if what I heard as a child was true. There is plenty of info on the internet and even the text of the messages sent to the civilians. It is true. They had plenty of warning. They were the attackers, they were warned and we are the bad guys?? Much of the Popes quotes and other thinking reported in your comments is post war. Our consciousness has changed. It is called development/ That is the problem with hindsight. You have different information than those trying for forsight and due dilligence. When the wolf is at the door one usually does not think of how to hurt him the least and to be as mericiful as you ordinarily are but take him out ASAP. May God purify America and continue to bless her. We are the land of the free because of the brave.

    • I cannot now locate where I read it, but the claim was made that the leaflets for Nagasaki were delayed and actually arrived for delivery one day late, after the bombing had already happened.

      Also, within Japan’s traditional culture, did the Emperor and High Command fully grasp that a warning of such magnitude would be delivered directly from one government first to the populace (leaflets), and not first from one government to another? The official warnings had been much more generic. The same kind of intercultural disconnect possibly explains confusion over the Japanese response to the Potsdam Declaration (“makusatsu”) which means EITHER “ignore”, “take no notice of” OR “treat with silent contempt”. The radio message was addressed to Japanese military in the field, to maintain morale, but was intercepted by American code breakers (which Japan still did not suspect) and in DC then was translated by interpreters and understood by the president more in the latter sense…as a rejection slip.

      As I mentioned in my very first comment, e.g., with regard to “unconditional surrender” (far above, July 23, 5:49 a.m.), a lot of these fast-moving events seemed to roll together into a very tragic “comedy of errors.” I’m reminded of Picasso’s later and chaotically-disjointed paintings, especially his brilliant “Guernica” of the Spanish Civil War (a dry run for World War II) which I was fortunate enough to see in New York when it was on tour in 1967.

      • I looked that up too in Atomic Heritage and leaflets were dropped called the LeMay leaflets, befor the bomb. The one that was delayed was the one after Hiroshima (containing pictures of the cloud) and did not get to Nagasaki until a day later. They did have the first warning. I also found that leaflets were often dropped over sites by Allied forces befor attacks where there were civilians around. IT shows risk and sacrifice for the sake of innocent people unlike I ever have heard. Evil was in the intent of those desiring to conquer the whole world and everyone was aware of that. The rest was defense. It was very clear then and it is now. You can’t change the truth. I would say that boundaries were then caused to come into being because of that war, not taken away. War befor that was steal land, burn, rape, pillage and take slaves. And never warn the enemy. This is still true in parts of the world and would have happened to Allied forces if they had there way.

  25. I could not disagree more, Tony W.

    The fact is, when you look at the unprecedented ruthlessness of the Japanese fighting forces and the effectiveness of their propaganda at controlling populations, there’s a very good case to be made for the U.S. using even these horrendous nuclear weapons.

    You need only look at the Battle of Saipan, the first island assaulted by the U.S. in the capture of the Mariana Islands, in which the Japanese forces fought to nearly total annihilation — nearly every single one of the 30,000 Japanese soldiers and sailors either fought to the death or committed suicide — to see what a bloodbath the invasion of Japan would have been.

    Because, even after the Japanese military at Saipan were annihilated, approximately five percent of the remaining civilian population committed suicide rather than live under the feared Americans they had been warned about. That amounted to more than 1,000 purposeless civilian deaths.

    Scale that miniscule island in the South Pacific up to the entire Japanese archipelago, with its army of 6 million men and population of 105,000,000, and you have an idea of the hard truth facing the American administration as it faced its fateful decision.

    Add to that calculation the unprecedented brutality of the Japanese forces toward their prisoners of war, and toward the populations in all of their occupied areas — for example, the horrors in Nanking and Manchuria were utterly unspeakable, and they occurred even before World War II started — and its difficult to imagine a case for *not* using any and every weapon at one’s disposal to prevent such an inconceivable bloodbath.

    This is not to make light of the horrors of nuclear destruction — not at all.

    It is, rather, to fully factor in the extreme fanaticism and brutality of the entire Japanese war machine under the leadership of Hideki Tojo and the Japanese imperial regime.

    We know the history. Somewhere around 130,000 to 230,000 Japanese civilians died horrific deaths at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And may God rest their souls.

    But it’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which many times that number of soldiers and civilians don’t die if nuclear weapons are *not* used.

    One last point. It’s even debatable whether the use of nuclear weapons was the deciding factor in the decision of the Japanese leadership to surrender.

    Some historians believe that they faced even more pressing developments, specifically: the entry of Japan’s historic enemy, Russia, into the war, since Russia was intent on exacting revenge after Japan’s brutal takeover in Manchuria the decade prior; growing civil unrest at home, and an imminent coup attempt by forces in the army that saw no way forward.

    My point is that Mr. Salyer is guilty of arguing from the perspective of 2020. He is saying that Truman and the American leadership should have known what we know now — that Japan surrendered and established a peaceful government, and so wouldn’t it have been nice if all that really terrible nuclear warfare hadn’t happened?

    I don’t begrudge him his opinion. What I do begrudge him — strongly — is his dismissal of the real alternatives the players at the time had to choose from.

    • I am going by memory here, but I believe on the 50th anniversary of the bombings, the Wall Street Journal published an Op-Ed in which the author quoted a fairly extensive array of WW II big name military figures who condemned the attacks. It went well beyond Admiral Leahy and included at least Eisenhower and possibly Marshall and Nimitz as well. According to Thomas Fleming, in his book The New Dealer’s War, even Truman himself lived to regret the decision and blamed Roosevelt for keeping him in the dark about the Manhattan Project. These were not people looking at the matter from a perspective of 75 years in the future. There is no disputing that Japanese resistance in the Pacific campaign was fanatical and that the casualties associated with an invasion of the home islands would have been horrific. There were no easy choices, but the rigid Unconditional Surrender policy helped to put us in that box, and should have been reconsidered at the end.

  26. Most of the damage that was caused by WWII occurred during the last two years of the war. The Germans and Japanese had pretty much been beaten by the spring of 1943, but President Roosevelt prolonged it for two more years by his unconditional surrender declaration demand and by his approval of the Morgenthau Plan. This means that the United States bore far more responsibility for the damage caused by WWII than Hitler’s Germany.

  27. “This means that the United States bore far more responsibility for the damage caused by WWII than Hitler’s Germany.”

    Twaddle.

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