Thank God for Consistent Moral Theologians Like Fr. Ford

Thank God for Consistent Moral Theologians Like Fr. Ford August 8, 2013

John Herreid at Ignatius sends this along:

An excerpt from Russell Shaw’s book “American Church: The Remarkable Rise, Meteoric Fall, and Uncertain Future of Catholicism in America”:

As they’d done in every other American war, U.S. Catholics in large numbers fought in World War II. The Church vigorously supported the war effort. The habits of hyper-patriotism, combined with a more general Catholic tendency in the direction of uncritical support of political authority, may help account for the fact that Catholics, like Americans generally, raised no objections to the use of atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

True, a friend recalls being told by a nun who was a parochial schoolteacher at the time that she and other teachers received a written communication from the pastor telling them they were welcome to tell their students that deliberately bombing civilians was wrong. But this seems to be the exception. Certainly there was no general Catholic outcry against the use of the bomb. On the contrary, my reaction as a ten-year-old Catholic—that the “Japs” had picked this fight at Pearl Harbor and deserved whatever they got, and besides, the new weapon had saved many American lives by bringing the war to a speedy close—probably mirrored that of most of the Catholic adults around me.

One of the few Catholics who protested was the leading American moral theologian of the day, John C. Ford, S.J. Father Ford is remembered now as a leader of the minority on the papal birth control commission who supported the Church’s constant teaching on contraception before Pope Paul VI’s encyclical “Humanae vitae” of 1968. But that was to come later. In 1944, in the journal “Theological Studies”, Ford published a 49-page article arguing against the killing of the innocent by the obliteration bombing of cities that was then being carried out by the American and British air forces. A year later, in his “Notes on Moral Theology” in the same journal, after having acknowledged the atrocities committed by the Soviets, the Nazis, and the Japanese, he nevertheless spoke of “the greatest and most extensive single atrocity of all this period, our atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki”.

The words were widely noted in theological circles, but they didn’t reach me or most other American Catholics at the time. Even now, it appears they haven’t reached many.

From Russell Shaw’s book “American Church: The Remarkable Rise, Meteoric Fall, and Uncertain Future of Catholicism in America”.

Available in softcover and e-book

It’s striking to me that Fr. Ford would say this after having discussed Nazi atrocities. I suspect it’s due to the fact that, in 1945, with the war just ended, the extent of the Holocaust was not yet widely known. I have a hard time believing that Hiroshima/Nagasaki, bad as they were, can be weighed as the “most extensive single atrocity” of the war once the deliberate mass murder of some 11 million innocents was widely documented. I wonder if he ever returned to the question later?

That said, given the state of knowledge as it stood when he said it, his argument makes plain that there were Catholic voices (voices that eventually prevailed at the Council) which recognized that mass murder–even done for the red, white, and blue–remains mass murder (which gives the lie the the “things were different back then” excuse). And, in a certain way, it can be argued that the fundamental consequentialism of the nuking of Hiroshima is the most deadly toxin still leaching poison into the American (and Western) experiment to date. After all, nobody but a few nuts argues that the Holocaust was just. Also, as reader Stu points out, the crimes of totalitarian regimes are ordered and organized without any input from the governed, but in a representative democracy, responsibility for the actions of the state is shared by the whole citizenry.

So 68 years later, no German looks back at the Holocaust and tries to justify it, but (as the comboxes right here on this blog make clear) lots of Americans argue that this act of mass murder was not merely not evil, but morally good. And aggregators like Pewsitter actively promote that view in the teeth of (and without any reference to) the Church’s clear and unequivocal teaching. Such consequentialism–that you may deliberately kill innocent human beings if they get in the way of what you want–is at the root of the abortion and euthanasia ethos.

Fulton Sheen saw that years ago.

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.

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  • Josh

    And thank God for laymen like Russell Shaw. He may not get a lot of exposure, but his work is outstanding. His Does Suffering Make Sense? changed my life.

  • Stu

    “On the contrary, my reaction as a ten-year-old Catholic—that the “Japs” had picked this fight at Pearl Harbor and deserved whatever they got, and besides, the new weapon had saved many American lives by bringing the war to a speedy close—probably mirrored that of most of the Catholic adults around me.”

    Indeed. But is that shocking or not understandable? After 5 years of horrific war in which people believed their vary existence was at risk with an enemy who committed horrible atrocities and weaponry whose capabilities were beyond imagination, is it really a surprise that people were detached or willing to lock past such things if it meant the end of the war? I think we often don’t put ourselves in the shoes of those who lived these past events.

    But good news is, following generations will do the same to us.

    Thankfully there are men like Father Ford to help get us back on track.

    • Andy, Bad Person

      Sure, it’s understandable, and I pray it lessens the culpability for those involved in the evil, whether directly or indirectly.

      But lessened culpability doesn’t sanctify the act, or even make it acceptable.

      • Stu

        Of course not. And I am not trying to imply anything remotely like that. But it might make us pause a bit in our judgment of the people involved.

  • Jim Sheridan

    Fr. Ford was a former alcoholic who found sobriety with the help of the Alcoholics Anonymous program. AA’s co-founder Bill Wilson was very impressed with Fr. Ford’s theology, and according to this article by W. Robert Aufill: “Wilson, impressed by Ford’s insight, asked him to edit Twelve
    Steps and Twelve Traditions (with the Big Book, this is the
    basic text of 12-step recovery) and Alcoholics Anonymous Comes
    of Age. In part, Wilson’s concern in these books was to
    present the AA program in a way acceptable to Catholic

  • Gary Beckwith

    The fire bombing of Tokyo Japan before the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima/Nagasaki was pretty horrible too. Estimates were 80,000 to 100,000 people incinerated.

  • James C.

    Anyone who is not troubled by our terror bombing campaigns on civilians in the Second World War should be required to watch the Japanese animated film “Grave of the Fireflies”. I’m not joking, it’s one of the most devastating war films ever made. I wept for 2 hours after watching it, and I haven’t watched it again. I don’t need to, because its images and the lessons they teach were seared into my memory. It’s a shattering but necessary experience.

    • HornOrSilk

      It is a great film. I fully agree. Of course, it presents the horrors suffered by the innocents. And it is quite emotional indeed. If someone can’t feel some sorrow from it, something is wrong with the person. And while the real life ending is a bit different, it is based upon the writings of an author who experienced what we see in the movie.

    • Rebecca Fuentes

      I also agree. I had a similar experience after watching it. Excellent suggestion, but don’t watch it without tissues. It’s heartrending.

  • TomD

    I must admit that I am beginning to hate early August every year and the inevitable commentary to follow concerning the atomic bombs dropped on Japan.

    . . . okay, I’ll take the bait . . . if only to defend the honor of the millions of Americans who fought during World War II.

    “. . . after having acknowledged the atrocities committed by the Soviets, the Nazis, and the Japanese, he nevertheless spoke of ‘the greatest and most extensive single atrocity of all this period, our atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki’”.

    . . . the greatest and most extensive single atrocity . . ..

    Atrocity. Let that word sink in for a moment. So, are we to believe that among the Soviets, the Nazis, the Japanese and the Americans, that it is the Americans who committed the worst atrocity during World War II? Not those attempting to ultimately enslave humanity, but the defenders of freedom?

    It must be nice to make judgments with such assured confidence, especially when the future of humanity then, literally, lay in the balance. If not for the United States, who knows what the world would have been like post-World War II.

    It has been estimated that many more Japanese civilians would have died during a land invasion of Japan than were killed by the two atomic bombs, not to mention the loss of life of US military personnel during an invasion. In these circumstances, where events not of your own making unfold in front of you, initiated by aggressors that you must respond to, you must make the best decision available to you. Not the perfect decision, in a fallen world, but the best decision.

    We weep when such decisions must be made, but we live in a fallen world and are often confronted with imperfect choices. May God have mercy on us.

    • jroberts548

      The millions of Americans who fought in the war didn’t drop the bomb. When you defend the bomb, you’re defending Truman, and not millions of American soldiers.

      • Dave G.

        Perhaps it would have been more accurate to say ‘the atrocities committed by Stalin, Hitler, and Tojo , the most extensive and single atrocity of all this period, Truman’s decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki.’ Some might disagree with the ranking of course.

        • Stu

          I hear you. No doubt the overall atrocities committed by Stalin, Hitler, and Tojo overshadow the use of the Bomb. I think for me, the use of the Bomb bothers me so much because “we” as a nation did it and I expect more from us.

          Again, one does have to take into account the historical context of the situation but even with that I think we made the wrong call even if the motivations were good.

          • Dave G.

            I think that’s what separates the bombings from, say, the Holocaust. Except for the ‘Hitler’s President’ take, most agree that the bombing was trying to do something good (end the war, defeat a nation that some think was evil), but the means were inexcusable. That is hell and gone from ‘those sub-humans are a blight on the Fatherland and we need to initiate the final solution through systematic genocidal extermination of their race from the face of the earth.’ I mean, if we don’t see the difference there, we’re not trying. For me, I loved the part your wrote on the other thread about it being the early age of air warfare. I mean, it’s easy to say we should have bet on the American hockey team in 1980 now, but it wasn’t so easy in 1979. That’s why I can disagree with the solution but still feel for Truman and even admire him despite it.

          • merkn

            If “we” as a nation dropped the bomb, does that mean that the “we” that is the nation of the Japan are responsible for Pearl Harbor, the Rape of Nanking. murdering prisoners of war and turning most of Pacific Asia into a slave labor camp?

            • Dave G.

              You know, sometimes I think that’s how we saw it back then. The combination of nationalism and total war had brought out this idea that we were at war with fill in the blank nation. The lines between civilian and state and military were blurred. Sometimes intentionally. Not that we always just looked around to bomb babies, and some of those opposing the bombs have come close to acting as if that was always top of America’s strategies. It wasn’t. And yet, at the end of the day, there was this belief that all Americans were part of the war effort, all Germans, all Japanese. And sometimes they were. Remember the American home front? It was repeated around the world. The entire populations were involved in supporting the war. Again, in hindsight, a horrible mixture and one of the many reasons that things turned out as terribly as they did.

            • Stu


      • TomD

        I am defending the honor of those who served in the military in WWII, for whom the word atrocity has been associated with their service.

        • jroberts548

          If their honor needs defending (which it doesn’t), I’d say it’s from the people who commit atrocities in their and our name.

          • TomD

            The word “atrocity” was associated with their service. I am willing to bet that most of those in the military at the time thought the decision was the right choice and would not appreciate having their service associated with the word atrocity.

            Those ultimately responsible for the atrocities are those who initiated the aggression. That is not to excuse the taking of innocent life, only to understand that in a fallen world, innocents die when there are aggressors. If we had not quickly ended the war in the Pacific, more innocents would have died. Do you deny this? Would we have been responsible for that atrocity?

            • jroberts548

              So if a soldier committed a war crime – e.g., by torturing someone as at Abu Ghraib – and someone notes that that’s an atrocity, does that mean that they’re associating war crimes with the service of every single soldier? If someone rightly condemns a Bishop for his inadequate response to clerical abuse, is that the same as associating all Catholics with child sex abuse? If a wide receiver drops a pass, does that mean all the receivers can’t catch?

              • TomD

                You didn’t answer my question . . . don’t bother . . . and I am not going down a rabbit hole with you.

                • jroberts548

                  Your question’s immaterial. You’re making the absurd and dishonest claim that calling Hiroshima and Nagasaki atrocities somehow insults all other American soldiers. My point is that that’s absurd and dishonest. Unless they’re following an order that’s manifestly illegal, soldiers aren’t responsible for their actions of their superiors. It is, in fact, the other way around.

                  You’re deflecting. We don’t know what would have happened had we not dropped the bomb. I’m not gonna argue made-up counterfactuals. We do know that with or without the bomb we’d forced Japan to a point that the best they could have hoped for was surrender and to retain the home islands. Surely, the Soviet declaration of war at 4 am on August 9, and the prospect of fighting an unwinnable war on two fronts, played a role as well. Beyond that, who knows?

                  Also, are you aware you’re taking the position that it’s okay to deliberately target innocent civilians?

                  • Dave G.

                    I’m often amazed at how people take a Westerncentric take, one that Japan has encouraged. One thing was clear in 1945. As the war progressed in Germany, and it was clearly at its end, Germans began surrendering by the truck load. Battles diminished and it was often skirmish level or guerrilla warfare in the West (not in the East, where it was a fight for survival). By 1945, most Germans were preparing for the end. As the war progressed in the Pacific, ti was the opposite. The more obvious it was that Japan didn’t have a chance, the more fanatical the resistance. While thousand had died in early campaigns, by late 44 and 45 the casualties were in the tens of thousands, and not only soldiers but mass civilian deaths and suicides (the Okinawan campaign had left scars on military planners and American in general). So this whole narrative where Japan, looking strangely like a Western European Democratic power, was just itching to give peace a chance never jived with the facts of the events. And in the last 20 years, much has come to light making the traditional narrative held by critics of Truman and his decision, and encouraged by Japan, appear suspect at best. That doesn’t validate the bombings of course, but it brings to light that the teaching of the Church is tough, not easy because, well, Japan was just laying there pining for peace, love and John Lennon songs so obviously we shouldn’t have…

                    • jroberts548

                      I didn’t say they were itching for peace. I said that with or without the bomb, the Soviet declaration of war against Japan, coupled with their defeats across the Pacific, meant Japan was in a position with completely no possibility of winning. I don’t know how adding the atomic bomb changes that – we killed more people firebombing Tokyo than bombing Hiroshima, and Tokyo didn’t make them quit. I’m amazed by this orientalist viewpoint where firebombings, military defeat all over the Pacific, and the prospect of Soviet invasion are outweighed by the atomic bomb.

                    • Dave G.

                      In a Western Democratic European context, no chance of winning means different things than, say, a non-Western Asian Japanese honor context. That’s the point. The thing about the A-Bombs vs, say, firebombings or Soviet Invasion is that they were new. Let’s face it, living under the shadow of nuclear annihilation is why we focused on them for so many years, as opposed to other things. They were shocking. One little bomb wiping out a city? The shock value alone tipped the scale. And yet, it wasn’t until after the second had been dropped that surrender finally happened. Again, it was a different ballgame in the East. Some of the things we knew only after the fact, and in light of the last 20 years or so, some of the traditional narratives are now being called into question.

                  • TomD

                    “Also, are you aware you’re taking the position that it’s okay to deliberately target innocent civilians?”

                    No, I do not believe that it is “okay.” No matter what the United States did or didn’t do during World War II, innocent civilians would have died, “targeted” by the Nazis or the Japanese. After August of 1945, if we hadn’t dropped the bombs, and in order to win the war in the Pacific, innocent civilians would still have died. Is that “okay?”

                    Your position is not as pure as you think. Alas, in the face of evil, when evil initiates war in a fallen world, there are no perfect choices. An impure world sometimes requires impure choices. Do nothing during war, innocent civilians die. Do something during war, innocent civilians die. Only in an imaginary world can there be perfect purity, with perfect choices. Once World War II was started, innocent civilians were going to die. We deal with the reality that we have, and then pray for God’s mercy.

                    And, I’ll say this for the last time, to call the dropping of the bombs “. . . the greatest and most extensive single atrocity . . .” is to directly associate the word “atrocity” with the service of our military and their united mission to defeat the Nazis and the Japanese.

                    • jroberts548

                      I don’t care how many times you say otherwise, saying that one person or handful of people committed an atrocity doesn’t associate anyone else with that atrocity. Truman was also a democrat. Am I associating all members of the armed forces with the democratic party, or would that just be stupid? Many of our allies were Soviet, and the Soviets contributed to Japan’s decision to surrender. Am I associating Bolshevism with our armed forces, or would that just be stupid?

                    • TomD

                      I don’t know why, when trying to discuss issues, some feel it necessary to use unhelpful words like “stupid” to characterize others’ ideas. But if you think the associations you mentioned are “stupid,” I’d have to agree.

                      And on the discussion of this issue, with its tone which has now made further discussion fruitless, we will simply have to agree to disagree:


                    • jroberts548

                      If you think it’s stupid to associate everyone who fought in WWII with something Truman’s responsible for (his party), why do you think it makes sense to associate every American who fought in WWII with something Truman’s responsible for (the bomb)?

                      You know what is also unhelpful? Making the absurd and dishonest claim that someone who criticizes the bomb is also criticizing every American who fought in the war.

                    • TomD

                      I didn’t make that claim. Now, we are done.

                    • jroberts548

                      “I am defending the honor of those who served in the military in WWII, for whom the word atrocity has been associated with their service.”

                      That’s exactly the claim you did make.

  • kirthigdon

    I attended a Catholic high school in the 50’s and can recall one priest vehemently denouncing the use of the atomic bomb as immoral. My mother and father were very much opposed to the US participation in World War II and my dad deeply resented the time he spent in the army. Yes, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, but the US had been supporting China in its war against Japan. It was basically a clash of US against Japanese imperialism – the US had seized Hawaii, the Philippines, Guam and other Pacific islands. The Japanese had taken Manchuria and other large parts of China and would take still more temporarily in the first few months after Pearl Harbor. In the end US imperialism won by its greater use of violent air power but the US “American exceptionalists” are now in a tizzy about China being a greater threat than Japan ever was. The only real threat to global peace is the evil empire run out of Mordor-on-the-Potomac. Other threats are small and regional at worst.

    Kirt Higdon

  • Dave G.

    Sort of reminds me of an an anti-Catholic rant some time ago that I argued with in which the individual said that while Islamic terrorism was horrible, it was in no way as evil as the systemic and sustained rape and abuse of thousands of children by the Catholic Church. At the time I thought he was off his rocker. I guess everyone has their own special set of standards.

  • merkn

    According to Wikipedia:”It is estimated that the bombings in Normandy before and after D-Day caused over 50,000 civilian deaths. The French historian Henri Amouroux in La Grande histoire des Français sous l’Occupation, says that 20,000 civilians were killed in Calvados department, 10,000 in Seine-Maritime, 14,800 in the Manche, 4,200 in the Orne, around 3,000 in the Eure” I think this is high, and 20, 000 more reasonable. But in any case allied forces knew with moral certainty that they would kill thousands of French citizens by invading. How is the bombing of French civilians different from atom bombing Hiroshima? I take it all those objecting to hiroshima would object to the Normandy invasion?

    • Dave G.

      Word of warning, don’t get your info from Wikipedia.

      • merkn

        Fair enough, But are these figures completely wrong, or just off by a few thousand. The point is no serious historian will deny that thousands of civilians were killed in the bombing and artillery fire that preceded and followed the June 6 1944 invasion. Their deaths were deliberate in the same sense as the civilians at Hiroshima, where 10,000 Japanese soldiers were stationed.

        • Dave G.

          They can be right, and still be wrong. I remember the very first article I ever read when I heard of Wiki. Clearly, the author and/or editors didn’t like the book I was reading about. Nothing wrong factually, but key things were ignored and the negative reviews dominated most of the response section. True as it was, but ignoring key points to present a particular picture.

    • jroberts548

      There’s a difference between killing civilians while trying to attack a military target, and killing civilians while trying to wipe out a city.

      • Bronxreader

        The Army headquarters at Hiroshima was a legitimate militairy target. Or are you contending that Truman chose Hiroshima because he intended to kill civillians. Hiroshima was a horrible choice among a horrible list of alternatives.

        • chezami

          Of *course* he intended to kill civilians. If I am at a bar and some goon grabs a girl and threatens to cut her throat, I am not going to be able to claim “double effect” if I pull out my .357 Magnum and fire through the girl to kill her attacker. I intended to kill her in order to kill the attacker. Truman intended to kill thousands of cilvilians to get some troops.

    • LSUStatman

      The difference lies in whether the targeting was on military targets, which can be manned by civilians or be close to civilians, or on the civilians themselves.

      After WWI, Italian air theorist Giulio Douhet proposed the bombing of cities to break the will of the enemy population to support a war. He reasoned that if you broke their will, the government would have to capitulate and the result would be fewer casualties (gross simplification, but that’s the basic theme). In this case, civilians would have been directly targeted, perhaps because they were civilians and therefore not yet accustomed to the horror of war. While never really fully accepted by other military theorists, parts of Douhet’s beliefs found favor in just about every military school between the wars.

      The civilians that were paying attention, however, were aghast (which may be one reason the military never fully bought in). In fact, when the U.S. was developing the B-17, it had to be sold to congress as a coastal defense weapon, because there was no appetite for its use as an offensive bombing platform.
      The level of horror of WWII changed all of that in most people’s mind quickly. Yes, Germany and Japan did target civilians indiscriminately (Covington & Nanking, for example) in an attempt to get their enemies to surrender. But let’s not fool ourselves, the Allies did it too in Dresden and Tokyo. In fact, the bombing campaign over Japan was specifically designed to use incendiary bombing over cities. We “justified” it by talking about the cottage industries of Japan were diffused in a way they weren’t in Germany and by talking about the adverse winds that would make high altitude precision daylight bombing impractical (not that it worked as well as we would like to believe over Germany either.)

      The irony is that bombing people tends to piss them off, making them less likely to surrender, not more likely. The only times bombing has changed an enemy’s mind are the bombing campaigns at the beginning of the Gulf War (which were specifically aimed at nodes of military response, not civilians and were tightly targeted) and the Hiroshima & Nagasaki atomic bombs.

      I would submit that the atomic bombings were no more immoral than the Tokyo and Dresden bombings. The only difference is that the specific tool used cannot be precise in targeting–no target in the world is so spread out that the effects of an atomic or nuclear device would be limited to legitimate military targets.

      That said, as I understand Catholic Social Thought, it is not the tool that matters, but the intent of the user. As such, we cannot limit our outrage at the prosecution of WWII to the atomic bombings. It really did change a lot of our thinking.

      “War is Hell” — Gen William Tecumseh Sherman (who knew a lot about Total War).

  • Rebecca Duncan

    I watched a documentary about the people who survived the bombings. I never used to think of it too deeply and I would go along with popular opinion that it had to be done. But after watching that documentary, I could never think of it the same way again and it makes me pretty sick when people argue that it was ok. I was in their shoes too though, so I understand that they just haven’t really thought of what happened to those people.

    • Dave G.

      Don’t assume. They may well understand. Again, for many people the Church’s teaching that it’s better the good and innocent die than we do what is wrong to save them is tough. Heck, there was a time when the Church didn’t follow that course. And of course most of the rousing condemnations of the bombs happened well after the fact. For me, I set aside every August to remember those forgotten millions who died under the heals of Japan. That doesn’t validate the bombings. I just note that in all our annual discourse, while we often hear of the Holocaust, or even those millions in Russia who died, and we’ve all seen the Killing Fields, almost nobody ever mentions or thinks about those endless millions killed by Japan. Which is why, in context, the bombings were ordered.

      Sometimes folks act as if 1945 was nearly the zenith of Messianic peace and love, and then BAM!, those crazy killin’ Americans swooped in an nuked babies because, well, that’s what they do. Given that the war had claimed tens of millions, given that millions had died under Japanese rule, given that thousands were dying daily, given that at the time it appeared based on the goals at the time that the only way to stop the war and stop the daily killing was an invasion that could lead to hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of deaths, that’s how it could be ordered. Again, based on the Church’s teaching that better the innocent die than do wrong to save them, it was clearly wrong. But when we look at the whole context, not Japan’s take on things, or critics of Truman, or critics of the US, or other countries hoping to keep attention away from their track record, you can see that the bombs were not some freakish exception, but the final sad and horrific act in a half century that had already claimed the lives of almost a hundred million human beings (and millions more were yet to come).

      Oh, and I read a book some years ago of stories from the survivors as well. It sent chills down my spine. The part I remember? A train engineer was running his train toward Hiroshima (I remember in part because my Dad was an engineer). He was in contact with the yard tower, which is common. It was the usual back and forth, and suddenly there was silence from Hiroshima. So it isn’t that I don’t say it was wrong, or that I am unaware of the horrors. Many simply remember that Hiroshima and Nagasaki had happened ten thousand times already and a war weary world had possible grown numb to it all and thought one more time and it would all be over. And many of the countries that say, I’m shocked, Shocked! that the US could do such a thing should probably take a step back and reflect on a nearby mirror.

  • Paul

    I wonder if people are giving the “single” in “greatest and most extensive single atrocity” the correct weight. It doesn’t mean “greater in total than any of the others”, it means “most destructive action taken on its own”. The Shoah (to take the best known horror) was the sum of a thousand atrocities of varying magnitude and extent. To say that not one of those thousand acts in isolation added up to dropping a nuclear bomb is not to let the Nazis off the hook.

    • Paul