More on Just War

A reader writes:

I saw your blog post on the immorality of the obliteration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in light of Just War theory. I am inclined to agree with you, but allow me to play the Devil’s Advocate for a moment. Consider this: how applicable is the demand to distinguish between soldiers and civilians to wars where one or more sides are so heavily militarized that this distinction has little if any basis in fact? Japan during the war was a totalitarian militaristic state – a society cannot get any more armed and warlike. And there is no question about there being significant pockets of Japanese society being held prisoner by the Empire’s leaders; to the average Japanese person, Hirohito was a god and the allies were foreign barbarians, right up until the end came. Evidence of this can be found in the incredible mass suicides carried out by *thousands* of Japanese civilians on Okinawa and similar islands. All of these people chose to kill themselves and in some cases their children rather than see them fall into the hands of the Emperor’s foreign enemies. There were serious plans in the works in the last months of the war to arm as many Japanese civilians as possible and fight a decisive battle somewhere on the main island in an attempt to stop the allied invasion; the Japanese gov’t even concocted a slogan for the effort: “One Hundred Million will Die for Emperor and Country”. One hundred million was the population of Japan at the time. Under such circumstances, when there is serious evidence of widespread animosity and a will to fight among the civilian population of one’s adversaries, does it make sense to continue trying to distinguish between soldiers and noncombatants?

I would appreciate any comments you may make. Thank you.

Disturbingly, this was precisely the reasoning of the WTC bombers. “Americans vote for their leaders, therefore American civilians are legitimate targets since they approve the policies of leaders we regard as hostile, etc.” The fact was One Hundred Million Japanese did not resist to the bitter end, as did a few nuts in the jungles of a couple of islands. So I remain unpersuaded that a country on a war-footing economy is therefore a legitimate target, as a whole, for military attacks. I think the basic Catholic paradigm which distinguishes between troops and civilians is still valid.