The three best arguments for dropping the atomic bomb





Yeah, because there aren’t any.

Atomic_bombing_of_JapanSorry. There’s simply no way to square that circle. There’s no way to say it’s okay to intentionally kill tens of thousands of civilians because of ____. You just can’t finish that sentence in harmony with Catholic morality. At all. We are not talking about the accidental deaths of civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They were intentional.

The best attempt, and it still fails, is that the bombing prevented the deaths of a quarter million American troops. To me, that isn’t simply an academic debate. One of those troops could easily have been my own grandfather, John Ohmann, who served in the South Pacific on the U.S.S. Jenkins. If Truman hadn’t drop the bombs, John might not be 89 today and still living in Minnesota. Heck, I might not exist!

And yet, that doesn’t make it right.

How could I say, “Boy, I’m glad we vaporized a city of full of innocent people so that my grandfather might not have been killed and I could be born!”

Ruthless evil (like Imperial Japan) has the tendency to corrupt even its combatants. We’ve seen that this past decade with Al Queda. What happened at Abu Ghraib was considered unthinkable by Americans. But it once it came to light, there were Americans who justified or at least rationalized it.

We should stop this temptation. We should stop the justifications and the rationalizations. Catholics should look back at the atomic bombings of Japan like slavery, as an immoral action and a black mark on a country which has otherwise largely been a force for great good.



  • Al

    I guess that the headline “The Three Best Arguments For Dropping The Atomic Bomb Consistent With Catholic Moral Theology Considered After The Fact With 20/20 Hindsight Easily Formulated Assuming You Aren’t Descended From One Of The Soldiers That Would Have Hit The Beach On The Japanese Home Islands” wasn’t catchy enough.


    Joshua ~

    Here is a comment I posted to Brad Birzer a couple of years ago on the issue which, by your leave I’d like to re submit.

    Pax tecum, Greg

    Dear Brad ~ As I believe I’ve written here before, my father would have, in all likelihood, landed on the beach at Kujukuri with his 7th Infantry Division spearheading Operation Coronet, the invasion of Honshu. As a result, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve done a great deal of reading about the war in the Pacific, especially the early days and the events of 1945. I don’t believe your dismissal of the utilitarian reasoning of the time is warranted. In that vein, please consider that the United Nations had three alternatives to using the nuclear devices. Let’s look at them with emphasis on their effect on Japanese civilians. 1) Continue Conventional Bombing and the Submarine Blockade: B-29 raids on the Japanese homeland began in mid-1944. By November of that year, the USAAF concluded that high altitude, daylight bombing were not optimally effective. As a result they switched to night bombing with incendiaries. This tactic resulted in increased B-29 losses but the effect on Japan was devastating. On the night of March 9/10, 1945, 279 B-29’s, each carrying six to eight tons of firebombs attacked Tokyo killing an estimated 96,000 to 197,000 Japanese, mostly civilians and another 1,000,000 made homeless. When the war ended, there were still large parts of Japanese cities “available” for targeting. At the same time, US submarines had effectively cut off Japan’s links to both the outside world and significantly, inter-island trade. As a nation dependent on sea communications the blockade alone would have driven them deeper and deeper into starvation. 2) Invasion: Operation Downfall would have ended the war before the Conventional Bombing / Blockade would have. However the loss of both allied and Japanese lives would have, arguably been much greater. The estimates of US KIA/WIA ranged from 220,000 to 268,000 to 1.5 million. Japan’s planned defense of Kyushu and Honshu, Operation Kestso-Go, included total mobilization of the civilian population on a scale unseen in human history. Equipping all but a small number of them with a firearm and ammunition was out of the question. As a result most were given bamboo spears. One woman reported that as a 15 year old schoolgirl, she was told that to kill even one American would be enough. Given Allied firepower, the slaughter is hard to imagine. Estimates of Japanese deaths ran around 107,000 though one study went to 5-10 million. I suspect that these numbers don’t reflect the deaths due to starvation and exposure which would have occurred after the fighting stopped.
    Other alternatives mentioned in the literature are 3) Diplomacy and or Demonstration: Given the drama that played out after the Nagasaki bombing, when hard liners were actually insisting that they should fight to the last Japanese and let the entire race be destroyed, to live I on in legend and myth, it’s hard to believe ether a pause in the fire- bombing with diplomatic overtures or a demonstration of the Bombs’ capabilities would have done anything other than prolong T the war. Finally, I see no blood lust on the part of the ultimate decision maker, Harry Truman. He clearly made what he believed was the best decision in a difficult situation. Indeed, his and General MacArthur’s occupation policies were among the most humane in history.

  • Jacob Alvarez

    The arguments people use to justify dropping the bombs are similar to the “If you could go back in time, wouldn’t you kill Adolf Hitler in his crib?” reasoning. We as Catholics wouldn’t have murdered an innocent human being, because, honestly, there would be no way of knowing what that person is capable of. We assume WWII would have dragged on if we hadn’t used the bomb, but there’s no certainty in that. You can’t fight evil with evil without begetting more evil!

    • Ron

      The decision to use atomic bombs against Japan was a profoundly ethical and humanitarian act that not only saved millions of lives but perhaps helped the world avoid WWIII during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Some acts of “violence” are very Godlike and this was one of them. I’m sure God has taken care of all those innocent victims who lost their lives because of a very barbaric Japanese military.



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