Bravo, Michael Denton

Bravo, Michael Denton November 8, 2007

Michael Denton of For the Greater Glory wrote a wonderful piece on just war doctrine and America that appeared today in LSU’s The Daily Reveille. It is a good example of how a Catholic applies the principle of the dignity of the human person across a number of issues. Here’s my favorite section, but do read the whole thing:

For centuries, governments at least pretended to be waging wars according to these rules [just war doctrine]. Every government wanted to appear to be the just defender of life and liberty.

Contrast this with our world today. The Bush administration did not need [to] justify the Iraq War with morals but rather used utilitarianism. Even Bush’s opponents mostly argued not that the war was immoral but that the weapons that made the war useful did not exist so the war was not really useful. So we decide whether to kill not because it’s right or wrong but whether the killing helps us out. How selfish have we become?

This thread has continued in the presidential debates. The Republicans are waging a debate about which forms of torture are valid. Under the just war doctrine, torture is never permissible. Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., in response to a question about what he would do to extract information from a terrorist about a nuclear device, boasted “I’m looking for Jack Bauer at that time!” He went on to imply that water boarding and other techniques would be quite acceptable. According to ABC News, the procedure requires that “prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner’s face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.”

It is disgusting that the Republicans find this acceptable. Unfortunately, their Democratic counterparts are not much better. The frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., chastised Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., for saying he would never use nuclear weapons against terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to The New York Times. Maybe it’s me, but a big mushroom cloud for a few guys in caves? Have we lost our minds?

Our country is founded on the idea that every single human life is precious. Unless we return to the idea that we should never promote the destruction of innocent human beings or the torture of anyone, then we will soon find that what we are really torturing is our consciences, and what we are really destroying is ourselves.

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  • digbydolben

    Bravo to you and bravo to young Mr. Denton!

  • Donald R. McClarey

    “Tibbets went to his grave defending the decision to drop the bomb on innocents.”

    Actually Tibbets was completely untroubled by doubts and never thought the atomic bombings needed a defense. Here is an interview with him from the Columbus Dispatch in 2005.

    The most salient quote: “He waved off other requests to be interviewed, in part because of his health and for weariness of suffering a new crop of reporters thinking they are the first to ask, “Any regrets?”

    His answer always has been a resounding “Hell, no,” lately modified to lament, “The guys who appreciated that I saved their asses are mostly dead now.”

    The “Hiroshima survivors”, as many of the troops who were earmarked to take part in the invasion of Japan called themselves, are mostly dead now, and their descendants have the luxury and freedom to debate at length the morality of the action that spared the lives of their ancestors. How the “Hiroshima survivors” viewed the bombings was well summed up in the essay by Paul Fussell “Thank God for the Atom Bomb”.

  • Funny, when I think of “Hiroshima survivors” I do not think of the perpretators of evil, I think of the victims.

    Let me be blunt about this: you cannot call yourself Catholic and defend the Hiroshima bombing. It’s as non-negotiable as it gets.

  • Blackadder

    If there are any “Hiroshima survivors” in Mr. McClarey’s sense, they are Russian, not American. Stalin planned to invade Japan several months prior to the planned American invasion in November, 1945.

    Of course that wouldn’t have happened either, as the Japanese leadership feared Soviet domination more than anything else, and would gladly have accepted defeat on America’s terms before they let that happen. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were unnecessary.

  • SMB

    Well done indeed, Mr. Denton. But Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the inevitable culmination of a war fought on both sides without pity. After the Blitz, Nanjing, Leningrad, Dresden, and Tokyo, it’s hard to imagine another outcome.

  • digbydolben

    These bombings–especially of Nagasaki, which was a genocide of the Catholic Christian population of Japan–were absolutely unnecessary and a CLASSIC example of violation of the “just war” teachings of the Church. In terms of the previously announced goals of the conflict–which “just war” mandates must be adhered to throughout the conflict (and not moved UP, after “victory” becomes more probable)–imperial Japan was destroyed–reduced to the islands of the mainland. It would have been quite feasible to quarantine those islands and squeeze the Japanese establishment into negotiated surrender–not the atheistic “total war” phenomenon of “unconditional surrender,” which, previous to the American Civil War and the French Revolution, had never been a hallmark of war in Christendom. Hiroshama and Nagasaki were probably bombed NOT to panick the Japanese into surrendering quickly to us, rather than to the Russians, but, rather, in order to “shock and awe” the Soviets with American military superiority, which did nothing but prompt them to go nuclear immediately. This objective of the bombing, then, had NOTHING to do with the conflict with the Japanese, and was, thus, a late-conceived objective of the original conflict, and, hence, a violation of “just war” teachings. Also, the MANNER of such warfare indicates that it was fought against illegitimate civilian targets–“collateral damage,” if you will, that, because it was unnecessary for achieving the war’s stated objectives, makes of it an act of MURDER.
    The peculiar irony of the way World War II ended in Asia made it America’s responsibility to put Japanese society back together in such a way as to make eventually inevitable a resurgence of Japanese militarism, nationalism and glorification of war, as well as a refusal to publicly admit guilt for imperial Japan’s atrocities. If the Japanese themselves had been left to reconcile their differences, work under vastly more straitened circumstances to re-industrialize, as well as to re-consider their racist and chauvinist State policies (including emperor-worship), it is probable that Japanese society would be healthier, more mature, more democratic, less racist and much, much poorer and chastened. That would be good for the Japanese and good for the world.

  • But Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the inevitable culmination of a war fought on both sides without pity.

    Inevitable? Sigh…

  • Donald R. McClarey

    Hiroshima unnecessary? Hardly, as this review of Hiroshima in History by Richard B. Frank demonstrates. I highly recommend his book Downfall, the best one volume history of the end of the war in the Pacific that I have read.

  • Wow. Something I did got posted on Vox Nova with praise? I’m not sure I ever thought this day would come but it is a happy day to be sure! Thanks Policratius

    I did want to make some brief comments to one or two of the commenters:

    Donald R. McCrary: I had to cut it from the column, but in my research on Tibbets I found an interview with the Guardian newspaper back in 2002.,3604,769634,00.html

    In it, he provides something of a defense:

    The Interviewer: One last thing, when you hear people say, “Let’s nuke ’em,” “Let’s nuke these people,” what do you think?

    Tibbs: Oh, I wouldn’t hesitate if I had the choice. I’d wipe ’em out. You’re gonna kill innocent people at the same time, but we’ve never fought a damn war anywhere in the world where they didn’t kill innocent people. If the newspapers would just cut out the shit: “You’ve killed so many civilians.” That’s their tough luck for being there.

    I think in there you see that Tibbs has a clear position on just warfare. Namely, anything in war is just if it proves to be advantageous militarily and that governments should take no consideration of civilian “collateral damage” into account.


    I see what you mean about the inevitability of it considering that the US following the lead of the British seemed to have ignored civilian causalities following the Battle of London. However, the United States could have made the decision to not drop the bomb. It could have only threatened. Or it could have aimed at a military target (though I doubt any that would fit the just war criteria existed, and that’s assuming any type of nuclear attack could qualify as proportional, which is also highly doubtful). But ultimately the United States chose to go ahead and do this against civilians. It was only inevitable in the sense that sin leads one down a path that one rarely realizes without hindsight.

    Thanks again to those who complimented the column!

  • Blackadder


    Whether it was the atomic bomb or the Soviet invasion of Manchuria that caused the Japanese to surrender is, as Mr. Frank himself notes, a matter of “legitimate debate.” In other words, it is quite possible that the Japanese would have surrendered in August of 1945 even if the atom bomb hadn’t been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This hardly seems like proof that Hiroshima was necessary.

    Further, regardless of whether Japan would have surrendered in August of 1945 even without Hiroshima, it seems pretty clear to me that they would have surrendered shortly thereafter, because they knew that if they didn’t they would face invasion by Russia. And even if they hadn’t, Russia’s planned invasion of Japan was scheduled to take place before America’s planned invasion, so no matter how you slice it, the issue of American causalities is a red herring – there weren’t going to be any such casualties.

    Now one could argue that allowing the Soviets to invade Japan (or at least secure their position on the Korean peninsula) would have had its own negative consequences. And I would agree. In fact, I consider it to be one of the great foreign policy blunders of the 20th century that Russia was allowed to enter the war against Japan in the first place. Had Russia not invaded Manchuria, Mao would not have had a base from which to launch his civil war in China, and the communists would never gained control of North Korea. We might then have been spared the millions of deaths that came from Communist rule in China, North Korea, Vietnam, and Cambodia. Far better, it seems to me, to make peace with Japan on something less than terms of unconditional surrender.

    But even if (contrary to the above) the atom bomb was necessary to bring an end to the war, it wasn’t necessary to bomb cities full of civilians. The bomb could have been dropped on strictly military targets (such as the Japanese soldiers in Kyushu), as was advocated at the time by General Marshall. There was simply no need to kill hundreds of thousands of civilians in order to end the war.

  • Donald,

    You are the classic case of the tunnel vision reader who clings to accounts toward which he is already predisposed and ignores all negative evidence to the contrary. Dogmatism at its finest!

  • Donald R. McClarey

    Thank you Michael Joseph. Being called tunnel vision by a dogmatic leftist, the pro-life issue aside, is akin to being called lazy by a sloth.

  • Donald R. McClarey

    Blackadder, a Soviet invasion of Hokkaido would have been beyond the naval lift capabilities of the Soviets. The American naval lift capacity was being stretched to the limit for Operation Olympic, and I think the Soviets would have had difficulty landing enough forces on Hokkaido to survive the type of defense and counter-attack from the Japanese. Amphibious assaults on the Kurile islands were one thing, a full scale invasion of the Home Islands another. The war faction in the Japanese cabinet did not intend to negotiate peace until an invasion had been defeated or stalled.

    In regard to the bomb being used on a demonstration target, Mount Fuji for example, or a purely military target, prior to Hiroshima I think I would have suppoorted such an idea. Hiroshima established beyond argument that I would have been wrong. The Japanese did not surrender after Hiroshima. It took them several days to surrender even after Nagasaki.

    In regard to unconditional surrender, I think we were right to insist on it. We needed to remake Japanese society to ensure that we wouldn’t fight with them in 20 years. Contrary to popular myth we didn’t guarantee that the Emperor remain in power. In the fall of 45 and spring of 46 Macarthur came under strong pressure from Washington to try Hirohito as a war criminal. Wisely Macarthur stood up to such pressure, realizing that an attempt to prosecute Hirohito would lead to unending unrest in Japan and that the Emperor was a useful tool in his plan to reshape Japan.

    Agreed that getting the Soviets into the war was a strategic blunder, one supported by Macarthur.

  • Policraticus

    Being called tunnel vision by a dogmatic leftist, the pro-life issue aside, is akin to being called lazy by a sloth.

    Ah, yes, especially since the pro-life issue is so minor that it really makes no noticeable difference between a generic “leftist” and a pro-life “leftist.” Once more, you have dazzled us with your armchair labelling.