Was Nuking Japan Divine Judgment?

A reader asks over at the Register.  I issue a strong caution against trying to rationalize what the Church calls a “a crime against God and man, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation” into God smiling on us as avenging angels. That way madness and the everlasting fires of hell lie.

  • Michael

    I think the best way to look at it is to say that God allows the devil the power to influence men to commit evil. If we presume that satan would prefer that a nuclear bomb be dropped every day and we assume that he is capable of convincing us to do so given enough power, then it is safe to assume that it is merely the hand of God saving us from nuclear war at any given time. In that scenario it is likely that a people can so offend God that He can no longer stay His hand. This is obviously a vast oversimplification of God’s relationship with us and the devil but I think it is fairly accurate. God is responsible for the nuclear attack on Japan in the same way that a parent is responsible for a child’s bump on the head when wrestling with a sibling. The parent can warn the children that if they play that way someone will get hurt. If they continue to play that way the parent can separate them temporarily. The only way to completely prevent injury is to permanently separate the siblings which would do more harm than good.

    • Harpy

      “If we presume that satan would prefer that a nuclear bomb be dropped every day…”

      Hmmm, I am not sure that this is a good assumption in the sense that it annihilation of mankind would reduce the number of souls available for the father of evil to corrupt. It would seem that the father of lies would want a situation where at a minimum there would be net births so that there would be more opportunities to turn people away from “I am”.

  • Scott W.

    Ludicrous accusation that people against dropping the bomb desire the deaths of many more thousands in a protracted war in 3….2…..1…..

  • http://roominhouseblues.blogspot.com Joseph Drake

    Satan corrupted more souls by tempting man to destroy himself with nuclear bombs than he would ever have accomplished by our choosing life. The scourge of abortion in America is our war like hatred of life turned inward.

  • Mike

    I don’t think I would agree with you harpy. That would imply that satan enjoys bringing souls to hell. I don’t think he enjoys anything I think he just despises it and wishes its destruction.

    • Harpy

      Good point and interesting perspective…

  • Mike

    Human life that is.

  • The Deuce

    Let’s suppose for a moment that it was divine judgment. That wouldn’t get us off the hook any more than it did Babylon.

    • Stacy

      Very good point. The Lord apparently has used the acts of one nation to discipline another in the past, but that did not make the acts in question good. Babylon lives on as the symbol of every evil empire *because* of what the original Babylon did to Israel (even if God permitted and used it).

  • Brian

    Unbroken by Laura Hilenbrand gives some interesting perspective on Japan’s attitude towards surrender. They tortured and treated captured American soldiers like slaves because to surrender was seen as cowardly. Better to die fighting or kill yourself. How do you win a war against a cultish and kamikaze war machine? How else to end the war? Invasion would have been costlier………dropping atom bombs though?

    Put yourself in Truman’s shoes. What would you do? The war in Japan was a filthy, no-hold-barred affair.
    A moral grey area I think.

    • Andy, Bad Person

      A moral grey area I think.

      Nope. All you’ve said has been used to obfuscate the issue in the past, but using a weapon as indiscriminate as an atom bomb on a populated city is a crime against humanity.

      It. Doesn’t. Matter. If the Japanese were monsters. Using that as an excuse to nuke them is still consequentialism, a moral error.

  • merkn

    I believe that section of the catechism did not exist when the bombs were dropped. That does not mean the principle is inapplicable, but if you are trying to judge the actions of those who made the decision at the time, it is not so clear cut.

    • Mark Shea

      It was always the case that deliberately murdering innocents is gravely sinful. All the Church did was underscore this fact for a “civilization” increasingly deaf to that fact. The Council reminded. It did not inform.

      • merkn

        I agree with your point on murdering innocents, but the point of the bomb was not to deliberately murder innocents. Hiroshima was the headquarters for the Japanese 2d Army. It was a legitimate militairy target. Of course they were aware that civilians including women and children would be killed, but that has always been the case when a city has been sacked in wartime. French civilians were killed in D-Day shelling; the commanders knew that would happen to a moral certainty. I think the appropriate analysis is the Just War analysis that allows a balancing of the likely harm and evil of the Bomb’s use against the the actual evil resulting from continuing the war by conventional means. You may be right, but it is a close question.

        • Mark Shea

          Yes. The point of the bomb was to deliberately murder innocents. If you choose to shoot through the body of the hostage in order to kill the kidnapper, you don’t get to then say, “I meant to kill the kidnapper, but not the hostage.” You meant to kill the hostage along with the kidnapper. When you choose to murder all the inhabitants of a city, you choose to murder all the inhabitants of a city. Or, more briefly, you choose to murder.

          You shall not murder.

        • Scott W.

          The innocents killed here can not be reasonably put into the collateral damage category. The presence of military there is a flimsy pretext for the utter indiscriminate vaporizing of a city’s population.

    • Andy, Bad Person

      But it’s in the Catechism now, and there are plenty of Catholics that still try to defend the bomb.

  • Elmwood

    If you don’t support the nukin’ of the japs, you don’t support the troops and therfore you must be a commie. Now let me get back to El Rushball….

  • MikeTheGeek

    a) Regarding the notion of divine judgment, the use of an action for judgment doesn’t depend on the righteousness of the action. I don’t think any of the Catholic Churches recognize Saint Nebuchadnezzar, but the scriptural evidence for him being an agent of God’s judgment are clear and unambiguous. Was the nuking of Japan such an act? How the heck would I know, outside of God’s direct revelation (which I don’t receive very often)? I wouldn’t put a lot of trust in anyone who claims to know one way or the other.
    b) A-bombs seem to come up a lot in this venue. I really don’t get what it is that makes them so special. A thousand-plane incendiary raid was capable of doing every bit as much damage as the A-bomb was. Precision targeting capabilities didn’t come along until the middle of the VietNam war, and didn’t mature until Gulf War I. They aren’t without problems, either. If you drop an iron bomb from a plane, you at least have a pretty good idea of where it will hit, subject to the vagaries of air currents and ballistic stability. If you drop it at point A at velocity B it will land somewhere in a circle of radius C yadayadayada… If a “precision munition” malfunctions, you have no idea where they heck it’s going – maybe it will take a ballistic path, maybe it will just head off in the wrong direction. Malfunctioning “smart” weapons – we’ve all seen the movies; somebody go warn Sarah Connor.
    WWII was a much closer thing than most people realize these days. I can’t vouch for the veracity of the claim, but there is some real evidence produced by some serious people that the uranium bomb dropped on Hiroshima contained some captured German material. Nobody was going to take the chance of not dropping the bomb. In the modern world, they are useful only for deterrence and saber-rattling, or possibly in space; then, it was a life-saver for a good chunk of my generation’s fathers.

    • Scott W.

      it was a life-saver for a good chunk of my generation’s fathers.

      Even if we grant this, it would be an example of the good effect if the Principle of Double Effect applied. It doesn’t apply however because the chosen act of indiscriminately vaporizing the populace of a city is an evil act however well-intentioned. While it is a valid point to bring up the moral analysis of conventional bombing, it is not necessary since there are so many people willing to defend the nuking. IOW, it can go on the to-list.

      • MikeTheGeek

        One of my points is that, when you get to defending or condemning the use of nukes, the horse has left the barn and is halfway to Nevada. Dropping the Big One was simply – and literally – an extension of the already-existing bombing campaign; that campaign using incendiaries to burn the guts out of Japanese citeis, replaced the “precision bombing” (which wasn’t very) campaign in order to get the Japanese to quit. That was originally put in place because that was considered the way to cripple a country’s ability to produce the means to wage war. That was done in order to facilitate the invasion of Japan. That was a result of the Japanese initiating hostilities. The point is, the problem is that we as a species make a habit of killing each other, and that we regularly produce people and societies that are willing to kill people and break things in order to take what belongs to others and make it their own. Once you get past that point, it is all fluff. I don’t see the moral difference between dropping a nuke and sending my dad and a million buddies ashore with M-1s, Shermans, and flamethrowers to storm the beach and fight their way through the very same cities one burned-out, corpse-littered street at a time. It ceases to be moral theology and becomes intellectual posturing, trying to decide how many demons can stand on the nose of a bullet. And it’s safe, cheap posturing at that, since none of the actors are around to respond. Don’t mean to be rude, but my BS tolerance is at a low ebb today.

  • Scott W.

    Once you get past that point, it is all fluff. I don’t see the moral difference between dropping a nuke and sending my dad and a million buddies ashore with M-1s, Shermans, and flamethrowers to storm the beach and fight their way through the very same cities one burned-out, corpse-littered street at a time.

    I would be interested in an argument that demonstrates that an invasion of Japan is an evil act in and of itself (as opposed to a circumstantial evil), as long as it isn’t part of a formula in which says that because invading is just as evil, therefore nuking is morally acceptable.

    And it’s safe, cheap posturing at that, since none of the actors are around to respond.

    Isn’t this similar to “You are a man, therefore your opinions on abortion are irrelevant.” that we sometimes hear from pro-abortioniststs? Whether it is posturing or not, I’m really only interested in whether what the one posturing is saying is actually true.

    • MikeTheGeek

      Since both have the same effect – the death of vast numbers of people, the destruction of cities, the reduction of the survivng populace to destitution, and the wastage of enormous amounts of wealth (in all senses of the word) that have taken centuries to create and accumulate – then I submit they both have the same moral status. If one is intrinsically evil, then so is the other. If one is a conditional evil, then so is the other. I think part of the disconnect has to do with the “intended results” versus “accidental results” of the action. A lot of people seem to hold that the purpose of dropping the bomb was to kill innocent civilians. The purpose of dropping the bomb was force Japan to surrender. The purpose of invasion would have been to force Japan to surrender. The unintended consequence of both is massive death and destruction on a scale otherwise only attained in a zombie movie. The technology to pick off the Japanese military (themselves, btw, mostly conscripts who were no more guilty or deserving of death than their factory-worker cohorts) simply did not exist. I don’t claim to guess whether either scenario is an intrinsic or conditional evil; I just claim that what is good for the goose is sauce for the gander. It can’t be had both ways. You fall into some middle ages sort of incoherency where it’s honorable to hack a guy’s arm off with your broadsword but it’s evil to shoot him.

      Isn’t this similar to “You are a man, therefore your opinions on abortion are irrelevant.”
      No, I don’t think it’s the same at all. It’s saying that it’s easy to win an argument with dead people. Sort of like claiming that St. Constantine didn’t see a vision before the battle of the Milvian Bridge, that it was actually a UFO, or “proving” that Shakespeare didn’t really write Shakespeare.


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