Can the bombing of Hiroshima be morally justified? Stephen Beale, writing for the National Catholic Register, rightly answers a resounding “no” to a question which many of us find morally questionable itself. While pacifists (myself included) have recently questioned the problematic way just war theory is often applied to excuse war, in this case an application of just war theory yields a clear result: that a bomb which resulted in such cataclysmic and horrifying slaughter of innocent civilians, at a time when military leaders recognized that Japan was already defeated, was just in neither cause nor method.
The dropping of the bomb was not necessary to end the war. Historical evidence suggests that it was used, in fact, to demonstrate to the Soviet Union that the United States possessed fearsome and superior military force – in short, it was used, according to New Scientist, “to kick start the Cold War.”
But let’s suppose for a moment that it was, somehow, mysteriously, a “necessary move.” Would it be justified? We are quick to assure individuals that the ends do not justify the means. Why would this be different for colllective entities such as nations or corporations? If the value of each part is zero, the sum of a collective of parts must also be zero: that is, if an individual is not entitled to do harm, a collection of individuals is also not entitled to do harm. Majority rule does not sway morality; might does not make right. If anything, the individual should be given more lenience in the case of “necessity” – because a single individual is likely to do less harm; because a single individual is likely to have fewer recourses.
Beware the word necessity, when used by those in power. Necessity, for the poor, means food, shelter, clothing, warmth, and basic health care. It means a level of practical certainty about safety from harm. Sometimes, when one is poor and desperate, one is driven to do illegal things, possibly even immoral things, to achieve a necessity: think of Jean Valjean stealing bread. Think of illegal immigrants fleeing violence. Think of a woman who shoots her abuser.
But when the poor and desperate take extreme measures to achieve the necessary, they are punished. Take, for instance, the case of Jane Laut, who resorted to desperate measures after twenty-nine years of domestic abuse by her husband, an Olympic athlete and therefore one of the great and powerful against which one may not raise a hand.
In cases of extreme desperation, it is possible even for a pacifist to understand why one might choose to take a life. In such cases, even if one takes the radical view that even scumbags and abusers have a fundamental right to life, the element of culpability on the part of the shooter should be regarded as crucial in any sentencing. Jane Laut does not deserve to be punished for an act which was done in desperation, for survival, to protect not only herself but her child.
The jury didn’t understand that when her husband threatened to kill her son in front of her, then their dogs and then her, shoved a loaded gun in her face, there was a battle. She could not decide not to shoot him. He taught her how two use those guns all those times forcing her to play Russian Roulette. Jury called it premeditation, her therapist and another Domestic Violence Specialist called it PTSD and fear of death in action. Last year the DA offered her a 6 year jail sentence, acknowledging her being a battered wife. She decided to take a stance to keep fighting for her and other battered women and raise her then 16 year son. The DA turned around and charged her with two double life sentences. The DA has the power to charge her with voluntary manslaughter again. We need you to help fight for justice for Jane and all other battered women and children. Jane has been silenced for 29 years and now the courts have silenced her once again.
If she deserves to be punished for this, how much punishment should be meted out to those military leaders who unleash hell on thousands of civilians for the sake of some miasmic national goal?
Why is utilitarianism somehow acceptable for nations, but not for individuals?
Or is it that we who laud death-dealing violence as an aspect of manliness, the supposed “strength” touted by the likes of Trump – and who accept the spectacle of a woman with a gun as long as it’s sexualized, fetishized, all the phallic connotations of a gun in the hand of a woman there to meet the delectating eye – are unable to excuse the use of force by a woman raising her hand against that most glorious of American idols, the male sports star?
Please, stop defending the bombing of civilians unless you are willing to extend the same courtesy of utilitarianism to any instance of killing for the sake of convenience. You can not with any moral integrity oppose abortion and euthanasia in one breath, and then support war sins with the next. If we Americans are justified in killing for the sake of “freedom”, how can we not extend compassion to a woman who shot her abuser in order to save her child?
Question whether we have adopted an ethos that elevates freedom above life.
Question whether we are using “necessity” as an excuse for infamy.
Question the extent to which our glorification of war, and our vilification of women who choose abortion, is driven not by morality but by worship of a toxic masculinity that carries with it a deep-rooted misogyny.
image credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atomic_bombings_of_Hiroshima_and_Nagasaki#/media/File:Hiroshima_Dome_1945.gif. public domain