Equal to at least 625 Nagasakis. Perspective.

Our Lady of Nagasaki

Our Lady of Nagasaki. Her crystal eyes were melted away by the blast.

As Brad noted yesterday, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan, in August of 1945, the final and second-most significant major act of violence* in the Pacific theater of World War II. Anywhere from 60,000 to 80,000 were killed by this bomb.

Assessing the guilt/innocence of each of those killed for the sins of Imperial Japan is not something I’m prepared to do (much less canonize them), any more than I am prepared to assess the guilt/innocence of every American with regard to the sin of dropping the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Further, I am not one to dwell on past sins and gash my own chest years down the road. Learn from past sins? Absolutely. Consider myself well-nigh irredeemably depraved? Not so much. It doesn’t strike me as a very Catholic way to live life.

I prefer to combat the present, ongoing sins, considered in light of past sins, and work to steer the body politic away from future sins.

For instance, the ongoing national scourge of legalized abortion. Since Roe v. Wade in 1973, abortion has claimed around 50 million unquestionably innocent lives. That equals anywhere from 625 to 833 times the death toll of the Nagasaki bomb. Like the Nagasaki bomb, it is sanctioned by the U.S. government, in some cases paid for by the U.S. government. But unlike the Nagasaki bomb, it is an ongoing sin rather than a single moment in an overall historical tableau. And with the latest developments in governmental intrusion into our personal health decisions it is a larger problem than Nagasaki and Hiroshima combined. Yes: larger. And ongoing.

Sins have happened. Nationally and personally. We do well to remember them and learn from them. Sins continue to happen. We do even better to stop them and root out the enabling disordered thinking.

Don’t cry over spilled milk; but if even more milk in the process of spilling, do what you can to stop it.

And this is the thing about living in the U.S.: we are not defined by our past. We are informed by it, but not defined by it. We are founded upon timeless principles, enshrined in a certain few documents, that enable us to re-assess and re-define our national identity and destiny with each generation.

This is a terribly frightening prospect if we do not form the next generation properly, but it is also our opportunity. We can hold on to a terrible policy like slavery, or we can fight a war to excise it. Likewise with other immoral policies of our past: we grow beyond them as we and the world grow older together. But growing older does not necessarily mean growing wiser: the danger is in adopting new immoral policies that may be worse than the former.

While the bombing of Nagasaki is troubling, to say the least, I find it difficult to offer absolute condemnation. An evil may never be done for the sake of good coming from it, but all-out war, which the Pacific theater of World War II was, if ever there was one, makes that line more difficult to define.

But even if the bombing of Nagasaki were entirely unjustifiable without question, I’m not entirely clear on the value of national chest-slashing over it. No one who had decision-making ability is still alive, and we pretty much agree that atomic weapons—which today are exponentially more powerful than they were then—are awful things that we wish no one had discovered. But that terror escaped from Pandora’s box. And in the grand ledger of things nuclear, it’s a good thing that a nation like the U.S. was the first to weaponize the technology and became the hyper-power—imagine if Nazi Germany had beaten us to that terrible day?

So we move forward in a nuclear world doing what we can to prevent such weapons from ever being used again, cognizant of the danger of such terrible weapons falling into the hands of lunatic regimes, all the time wishing that such weapons had never existed in the first place, but not using them ourselves simply assert our national will.

On the other hand, abortion, among other ills, faces us daily as an active, ongoing evil that involves individuals asserting their own will over that of another, with deadly consequences. And we daily have the chance to move this country in the direction of rejecting it. I find that the far more hopeful and useful conversation.

Preach life, love, and the joy of knowing God. The rest will take care of itself.

Our Lady of Nagasaki, pray for us, that we may see the present evils and work to excise them.


*The bomb dropped on Hiroshima days earlier killed many more.



  • enness

    Tom, you can be assured that I am solidly anti-abortion, and there is much I agree with you about, but it is not okay to say that abortion is an ongoing problem whereas the bombing of Nagasaki isn’t. If that is what you are saying, and it sure sounds like it, I just cannot give it a pass. There are still estimated to be somewhere around 100,000 survivors who were children at the time and continue to suffer from higher rates of cancer.

  • Scott W.

    But even if the bombing of Nagasaki were entirely unjustifiable without question, I’m not entirely clear on the value of national chest-slashing over it.

    Because it comes from the same black fountain that abortion does: rationalizing the consequentialism away. “If you shoot a man who just murdered your wife, you’re justified.” No, rather a court will find that your anger was a mitigating circumstance which will likely reduce your sentence than if you cooly and deliberately planned killing him well in advance. It’s still wrong in both cases.

    • http://twitter.com/tomcrowe Tom Crowe

      Scott W. — Does the national chest-slashing un-drop the bombs? I admit that I overstated my case, but I did so in response to what I saw as over-heated, overly condemnatory rhetoric in Brad’s post. My point, which I perhaps did not make clearly enough, is not that we should utterly forget about the dropping of the bombs, but that the over heated rhetoric does not help. Be circumspect, sure; recognize error, absolutely; take steps to prevent such awful things from ever happening again, no doubt. But do it with proportion.

    • Joe M

      Scott W. If you shoot a man who is attempting to murder your wife, you would be justified and exonerated in court. And that is the more apt comparison to the dropping of the atomic bombs since Imperial Japan was in the process of waging war, refusing to stop, threatening the lives of 100,000 pows, etc.

  • Kangas

    Your comparing Nagasaki to abortion is disgusting. We killed more people in the firebombings, why don’t you complain about that? We SAVED the Japanese people with a show of shock and awe, that scared the Empire out of its wits. Would you rather the Japanese race be extinct today, so you could say “we didn’t use the atomic bomb.”?? That in of itself is immoral. Abortion is murder, our attack on Japan was self defense. If you shoot a man who just murdered your wife, you’re justified. If that man had a child with him who died as a result, then that’s his fault. Food for thought. God bless America.

  • Brad Birzer

    Wonderful and sobering post. Thank you.

    • Brad Birzer

      Tom, my sincere apologies. I posted this praise of your article before I saw your rude comments on my previous post. –Brad Birzer

  • Marquis

    I will not apologize for actions I have not done. I will not feel guilty for the sins of others. I am only responsible for my own sins.



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