John Herreid Sends Some Followup Info on Fr. Ford

John Herreid Sends Some Followup Info on Fr. Ford August 9, 2013

He adds to yesterday’s information:

You can read Fr. Ford’s article from 1944 on obliteration bombing online:

If anyone were to declare that modern war is necessarily total, and necessarily involves direct attack on the life of innocent civilians, and, therefore, that obliteration bombing is justified, my reply would be: So much the worse for modern war. If it necessarily includes such means, it is necessarily immoral itself.

One of the three tropes one often hears from Red-Blooded Real American Catholics of the Pewsitter mold is that “liberal revisionists of the 60s” are guilty of poisoning public opinion about Hiroshima/Nagasaki with their dissenting liberal ways.

Memo to Red-Blooded Real American Catholics: Fr. Ford, who fought for Humanae Vitae, was defending the Church from liberal dissent about contraception when half the chromosomes of most Red-Blooded Real American Catholics were candidates for the inside of a condom. And it is Holy Church, not liberal dissenters, who teaches that “Every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation.” If you are looking to ferret out dissent in your never-ending quest to purify the Church of CINOs, check the mirror. Me: I have no intention of imitating your perpetual demand that people be kicked out of the Church for failure to be as pure as the mandarins of orthodoxy at Pewsitter. But I would suggest that if you cheer for Pewsitter’s link celebrating mass murder, you might drop in for the sacrament of confession at your local parish.

The second trope one constantly hears is the complaint, if you please, that the Church’s teaching on Just War makes it really hard to have a war. Yes. That’s the idea.

The third trope (which I heard plenty of this week) is the absurd notion that, unless a Pope or bishop explicitly declares a war to be unjust, we are basically free to assume it is just. False.

Just to be clear, in the Church’s moral tradition, it is not the case that the bishops have to issue a definitive declaration that a war is unjust. Rather, Caesar has to demonstrate that a war is just. In short, the *presumption* is for peace, not war.

That’s why, when the Church teaches about Just War Doctrine in the Catechism, the section is prefaced, not “Justifying War” but…

Avoiding war

2307 The fifth commandment forbids the intentional destruction of human life. Because of the evils and injustices that accompany all war, the Church insistently urges everyone to prayer and to action so that the divine Goodness may free us from the ancient bondage of war.105

2308 All citizens and all governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war.

However, “as long as the danger of war persists and there is no international authority with the necessary competence and power, governments cannot be denied the right of lawful self-defense, once all peace efforts have failed.”

War is the geopolitical equivalent of having to amputate your own leg. The Church approaches it with the same level of eagerness and so should we.

So when JPII says he opposes the Iraq war, and Ratzinger says “the concept of ‘preventive war’ is not in the Catechism of the Catholic Church” and the bishops say, “Based on the facts that are known to us, we continue to find it difficult to justify the resort to war against Iraq, lacking clear and adequate evidence of an imminent attack of a grave nature. With the Holy See and bishops from the Middle East and around the world, we fear that resort to war, under present circumstances and in light of current public information, would not meet the strict conditions in Catholic teaching for overriding the strong presumption against the use of military force” what that means is that those tasked with making the case for just war have failed to do so. The bishops do not need to make the case for unjust war. The state needs to make the case for just war. So, for instance, in Iraq, the American state failed to do this and the pope, Ratzinger and the bishops all said so. The burden of proof was on the state, not the bishops. Catholics are to form their conscience accordingly in harmony with the Magisterium’s guidance, not in accordance with political expedience.

Oh, and one final point. One of the Stupid Dissenter Tricks much beloved by all dissenters against the bleedin’ obvious teaching of the Church (both progressive and reactionary) is to go find some beloved theologian to explain why dissenters don’t have to listen to the bleedin’ obvious teaching of the Church when it inconveniences their politics and ideological commitments. The idea is to create an alternative Magisterium to the real one and let it “correct” the Church’s teaching. When you try to disagree, the dissenter then says “How *dare* you unwashed layman with no “Fr.” in front of your name or letter behind it criticize *priest/distinguished academic/important personage*!”

So guys like Charles Curran and Richard McBrien were huge favorites with the progressive dissenting Pelvic Left when it came to the bleedin’ obvious teaching of Humanae Vitae (which Fr. Ford ardently defended) or the Church’s teaching on women priests. And these days, reactionary dissenting outfits like Pewsitter pull exactly the same stunt by linking some cleric on Youtube who will tell the Real Red-Blooded American Catholic patron of Pewsitter that the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was just fine.

And since I don’t have time for the inevitable dumb objection, “But you just linked to Fr. Ford to back you up!” permit me to just head it off at the pass here.

Yes. And that’s because Fr. Ford is defending the teaching of the Church and not dissent from it on both the question of artificial contraception and the question of the morality of mass murder of civilian populations.

Funny thing about dissenters: they come to look and sound more alike each year.

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  • Evan

    But Mark! Something something PRUDENTIAL JUDGEMENT/PRIMACY OF CONSCIENCE something something.
    Bet you can’t argue with that.

  • Ben

    I enjoyed the part yesterday where it was argued that armed Japanese toddlers had it coming.

    • But what about the babies??? Were they pooping C-4 into their diapers?

      • Ben

        Everyone knows that. Next time I’ll be more specific.

  • Dave G.

    All of this reminds me that it’s possible to be right on one thing, and so wrong in so many other ways. Back in college, we used to have campus ministers come and tell us just how sinful we were. Sometime with graphic explanations. They spoke of Jesus and God and the cross, too. Heck, some of what they said, from a Christian POV, was right. And yet wow. A reminder that being right about one thing is not a blank check for everything else.

  • The assumption underlying the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki seems to be that it was necessary and morally imperative to defeat the Japanese at any cost. This is a false assumption.

    One basic principle of natural law – gladly taken up by Catholic moral teaching, because it’s true – is: It is better to suffer evil than to commit evil.

    But modernity has elevated suffering itself to be the greatest of evils. So avoiding or relieving suffering becomes the justification for any other action.

    But this is founded on a lie. Suffering is unavoidable. Death is inevitable. Why? Because they are the natural consequences of A) our finite natures and B) our sinful actions. We do not have the power to overcome them.

    Only Christ has the power to overcome them. He has done so – not by breaking the chain of causality which binds consequences to actions, not by avoiding or relieving suffering – but by making suffering and death themselves a communion with his immortal joy in heaven.

    Suffering may be the worst thing we can imagine; fine. Our imaginations are too small. St. Paul said it better: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.” (Romans 8.18) So the Christian is free even in the face of the worst thing we can possibly imagine.

    So it would have been better to let the Japanese win the Pacific, win the West Coast, even win the world, than to commit murder of innocents in the name of “victory.” Because this “victory” is truly defeat; it surrenders to the tyranny of suffering and death.

    • Dave G.

      Fair enough. Sell everything you have, give it to the poor, and then get back to us. I would rather the Church start there.

  • dan-O

    >>> The assumption underlying the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki seems to
    be that it was necessary and morally imperative to defeat the Japanese
    at any cost. This is a false assumption

    Actually, that isn’t the assumption or premise of any of the arguments I have ever heard.

    The Japanese were going to lose the war. Neither the Americans nor the Japanese had any doubt about that. The reason the atomic bombs were used was because the following calculus was carried out:

    “A land invasion of Japan would cost X number of casualties (American and Japanese, military and civilian). Dropping 1 or 2 A-bombs would cost Y number of lives (military and civilian). The value of X is *significantly* greater than the value of Y. Therefore, we should go with the a-bomb”.

    Now, perhaps this type of cold-blooded tallying of lives should not be done by a mere human. Perhaps you disagree with the numbers, although there is plenty of evidence to suggest that X was indeed much greater than Y (yes, including civilians).

    Either way, this is a coherent moral argument, and deserves to be addressed on its own merits. But frankly I don’t really see being it addressed seriously here. The bombings are simply called “mass murder”, and we are done. Which is too bad, because I think it is, at the very least, a very very interesting moral dilemma.

    Also, I believe that there is an element of fear of the word “atomic” or “nuclear” that adds to this. There were many carpet bombings of major European and Japanese cities during WWII that cost many civilian lives; in fact in some cases the casualties were higher than Hiroshima & Nagasaki. However very little is ever heard of these bombings. The fact that it was an atomic bomb (somewhat understandably) makes these bombings a bigger deal in our minds.

    • There are two factors which do not appear in your calculus:
      1) An invasion would cost American lives, while a bombing would only cost Japanese ones. The assumption is that Japanese lives are less valuable than American ones – an attempt to avoid our own suffering.

      2) There is a difference between a civilian being killed accidentally in the course of combat and a civilian being the target of an attack: an accident is not a moral act, but targeting is. Targeting a civilian population center, even one with a large military presence, with a weapon which does not distinguish between civilian and military, is to include the civilians in one’s target. That is, it is to target civilians. Targeting civilians is an intrinsically evil act, known as murder. Again, it is justifying “any cost” to avoid our own suffering.

      Finally, you’re correct that the carpet bombings of other cities are equally evil acts. Perhaps they should be more widely known and discussed. The bombing of Dresden has often been presented to me as an example of unjust and indiscriminate warfare. For my part, I’m talking about the atomic bombings simply because that’s the topic of the original post.

      • dan-O

        I am writing briefly while at work, so I understand that I am not writing the Perfect Essay here, but I have to say I am not sure that you even read my post.

        re (1), I never said anything of the sort. In fact I clearly stated “American and Japanese”.

        re (2), again, Japanese civilians certainly were taken into account when thinking about invasion of Japan. Firstly, there was hardly the concept of civilians in Imperial Japan. All men were forced to join the military. Women, children and the elderly were made to fight as well (and only given hand-to-hand weapons to do so), especially as the war went on, and it was apparent that the Japanese would lose.. Those who didn’t fight were executed for being cowards. Additionally, it was known that the Japanese killed their own civilians, and expected civilians to commit suicide before capture. Entire towns of Japanese were forced at gunpoint by Japanese soldiers to jump off a cliff into the ocean, because only an immoral coward would surrender, alive, to the enemy. This isn’t a guess of “what would happen if Japan itself was invaded”, this is what was going on throughout the Pacific. Okinawa was a particularly brutal example of this, if I remember correctly.

        But don’t take my stupid blog-comment’s word for it (seriously). Here is one of the best short essays I have seen on the subject. (Sorry for the format of it, someone must have transcribed it manually):

        The decision to drop the A-Bomb, and the question of whether it was moral or not, is a very complicated one. It seems to be addressed with a great lack of seriousness here, as if it could easily be dismissed as “mass murder”. This is absurdly simplistic. Read the essay that I linked above. It very concisely summarizes the complicated mess that this whole period in history was. I don’t care if you agree or disagree with what I say or whatever, but the lack of seriousness and the simplicity of these arguments are, frankly, silly.

        • Please don’t mistake simplicity for lack of seriousness. From a Catholic point of view – which you may not share, and I can respect that – this is a question about first principles of morality. There are NO circumstances which justify intentionally taking innocent human life. Insofar as civilians were included in the target, this qualifies as intentionally taking innocent human life. It is intrinsically evil, and no supposedly good end or outcome can justify it.

          The only circumstance that comes close to touching the Catholic argument is that the civilian population of Japan was willing to fight to the death to defend their homeland – in other words, that the civilians were not really civilians.

          But this is no different, in principle, from any other nation with a patriotic population. Would Americans not fight and die to defend our land from invasion? But until the invasion occurs, and we are in actual combat, there remains a real distinction between civilian and combatant.

          The civilians of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not attacking us, that we could consider them to have become combatants. They were going about their lives. They had no opportunity to lay down arms and surrender, to be taken prisoner rather than be killed. They had no chance to stand aside and let the invading force march through. They were targeted as civilians, with only the veneer of “total war” to justify lumping them together with combatants.

          All the calculus of body counts and tactical options is subsequent to this single, fundamental, and yes simple question: were we targeting civilians? The answer is yes; therefore, from the principles of Catholic morality, the decision was an immoral one.

          That the same (or worse) kind of moral justification is used to defend unjust military tactics today makes the argument anything but silly.

      • Dave G.

        The fact that the US was trying to reduce American casualties first does not mean they didn’t care about the overall numbers of civilian casualties. In war, by logic, you are trying to mitigate your own casualties. By most accounts, outside of those who begin with criticism first, Americans were shocked by the numbers of civilians willing to die/commit suicide in the face of American advancement. It was believed by not a few that any end to the war was going to cost civilian lives somewhere, whether civilians at the hands of Japan, Japanese civilians, or a combination. Again, doesn’t make the decision right, but we should avoid assuming the worst or trying to paint the decision makers in the worst light.

        • I’m not interested in gazing into Truman’s soul. I’m simply interested in clarifying the nature of the action, so that we can learn from the mistake and avoid it in the future.

  • Vicq Ruiz

    A very interesting article by Fr. Ford.

    I particularly call your attention to pp 268-69, a passage which culminates as below:

    …I believe the confessor is justified in absolving the bombardier who feels forced to carry out orders to take part in obliteration bombing, unless the penitent himself is convinced (as I am) of the immorality of the practice.

    Three significant (at least to me) points are raised here.

    First, this is obviously written pre-Nuremberg Trials, with all that entails. I should like to have asked Fr. Ford in 1948, “Would you have absolved a young man who came to your confessional in 1944 with a description of his duties in deporting Jews to the camps??”

    Second, when carried to its logical extension this position of Fr. Ford’s could serve as justification to have absolved everyone in the military hierarchy up at least to A.V.M. Harris, if not right to the outer door of Churchill’s office.

    Finally, (but to me most importantly) the decision to absolve those who actually are dropping the bombs seems to me indicative of an unwillingness to publicly confront what he clearly holds to be a war crime. When your (democratic) country is at war, it’s not particularly risky to write a critical chapter in a book with limited circulation.

    But for the Catholic Church to refuse absolution to every Catholic Bomber Command aircrew member…….well, that would have forced the issue in a very courageous and very public way. And it might have stopped area bombing, something which the writing of this article manifestly did not do.