Evil for Evil, Reviling for Reviling

Evil for Evil, Reviling for Reviling May 28, 2016

“Do not return evil for evil or reviling for reviling; but on the contrary bless, for to this you have been called, that you may obtain a blessing.” 1 Peter 3:9

Atomic bombing of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945, taken by Charles Levy
Atomic bombing of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945, taken by Charles Levy

The piercing banshee wail of a four-year-old girl shatters the silence of a quiet country afternoon. I rouse myself from my reclining position as the thunder of four feet rapidly approaches. There is a brief moment of silence that precedes the simultaneous rapid-fire explanations of what just happened.

I give my best grumpy-dad look and hold up three fingers. This is the universal signal for “you have exactly three seconds to shush.” Thankfully, they’re still young enough that it works like a charm. I direct my attention to the louder participant (the one whose scream initiated this whole process). “He hit me!” her indignant little voice exclaims. I turn my attention to the offender. “Did you hit her?” “Yes, because she bit me!” I know now that I’m going to turn my head more than a spectator at a tennis match. He hit, because she bit, because he called her a name, because she knocked over the house of blocks he worked 30 minutes to build, because he told her to go away, because she was not being careful near his army base, because …

So we sit down and unravel the stories and discuss how this should have played out. We speak of each person’s dignity, and how respect should have won out. “[Eldest] you were wrong to hit.” “But she bit me!” “Yes, but that doesn’t justify your actions.” Each person did something wrong; each person escalated; each person bears their own responsibility. The wrong of the one did not justify the wrong of the other.

Over the last two days my facebook feed has gone nuclear – literally. The POTUS (whom I am loathe to defend) apologized for the actions of the United States at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Like an offended four-year-old, the justifications fly at a rapid pace. ‘Don’t you know how they treated our soldiers? Don’t you know that they trained women and children to fight? Don’t you know what they did to the Chinese?’ Yes. I do. Their actions were monstrous and immoral, but their immorality does not, in any way, justify our immoral actions. Each nation bears their own responsibility.

Principles of Conflict

Lest we forget, even the oft-quoted principle of “An Eye for an Eye and a Tooth for a Tooth” was given to limit conflict. An eye for an eye, means you can’t escalate the conflict. Hiroshima and Nagasaki fail to meet even this Old Testament criteria.

Jesus changed Eye for an Eye to ‘Love your Enemies.’ Hiroshima and Nagasaki certainly fail that criteria.

For those that find the commands of Jesus to be too impractical, too pie-in-the-sky for a real and fallen world, St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas formulated a principle now called the “Just War Theory” which, like “Eye for an Eye” is meant not to justify, but to limit armed conflict. And while it is possible to fit World War II into the Just War Criteria (specifically the European theatre), each action within war must also meet the criteria.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki fail three important criteria of Just War – namely Proportionality, Military Necessity, and Malum in Se. Proportionality says that combatants must be sure that the harm caused to civilians or civilian property is not excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage. Military Necessity stipulates that an act must be on a legitimate military objective. Malum in Se forbids the use of any act that is “evil in itself;” This includes the use of weapons whose effects cannot be controlled.

Those who rush to the defense of these acts often say “This act saved hundreds of thousands of American lives that would have been lost in the protracted conflict.” To this I respond with Romans 3:8, we must not do evil that good may result. Not only this, but to preemptively strike, is to act contrary to the principles of Just War.

Others will point to the suffering and death of our own soldiers at the hands of the Japanese military. I answer that we do not honor the lives of our own own dead by rejoicing and justifying the deaths of others.

In dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, America attacked civilian populations, not military targets – and not just any civilian population, but the most Catholic populations in the country.

No amount of military intelligence can justify the act of decimating a civilian population with a weapon of mass destruction. No piece of information can take something that is ‘evil in itself’ and cause it to be justified.

In condemning these heinous and indefensible acts, I do not condemn our military, I do not condemn the whole of our actions in WWII, I do not say that we should have stayed out of the conflict. In condemning these heinous and indefensible acts, I say only that these two actions (at the very least) are wholly indefensible, are intrinsically evil, and should never – under any circumstances – ever be repeated.

Please, for the love of all that is right and holy, resist the urge to celebrate or justify evil.


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