Friday, October 3, 2014

It was not moral for the U.S. to drop the atomic bomb

This may be a first for the Bubble: A discussion about the morality of dropping atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in order to bring about the end of World War II. Many faithful Catholics in America are confused on this issue, so let's try to get clarity. 

First, please understand that confronting this issue did not come easy for me. When I finally came into my Faith twenty years ago after realizing that the Church is what she claims to be, I had to bend my will on a number of major issues. One of those issues was the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan. I had always been a supporter of that action, but I had to reverse my position. Once I decided that following Christ and His Church was more important to me than even my strong American sensibilities, there was no other option.*

Now, you all know how much I love and admire Dennis Prager. He is a Jewish scholar and commentator who is brilliant and logical and good, and it is his motto that undergirds my blog: "I prefer clarity to agreement." Recently, as part of the ongoing Prager University videos (which I normally adore), a priest gave a talk about why it was not wrong to drop the atom bomb on Japan. I cringed. I have no idea how the priest was able to argue that error in light of Church teaching. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is clear:
Every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation. A danger of modern warfare is that it provides the opportunity to those who possess modern scientific weapons—especially atomic, biological, or chemical weapons—to commit such crimes. (CCC 2314)
There is no wiggle room here.

Now, I understand that many people of good will argue that The Bomb was simply the only course of action to preserve our nation, our freedom, our way of life, the lives of millions of innocents that may have perished if we didn't act, etc. They say that our action reduced net suffering and prevented the deaths of many more innocents than it caused, and that we mitigated a greater evil by performing these military strikes. That is the justification I used myself, and it's what I hear most often from supporters of the bombings.

But Catholics know from moral theology and Moral Reasoning 101 that we have no permission to sin, even if we mean to bring about a greater good. We've discussed before that the ends do not justify the means, ever.

Think about it logically: If we are permitted to commit evil in order to bring about good, then what on earth can't be justified? If we may target and kill a few hundred thousand non-combatants to win an important war, then why may others not kill a few million in gas chambers or gulags to save a nation and a way of life? Hypothetically, if I could save the whole world and all her treasures by torturing and murdering just one child (maybe your child?), I should do it, right?


Evil is evil and we may take no part in it, even to bring about a greater good. Heck, there is not a genocidal dictator who has ever lived who did not justify his crimes against humanity by appealing to what he believed to be a greater good.

Psychologically speaking, there is something else about the nature of the atomic bomb that lulls even good Catholics and good Americans into perceiving it as morally licit: When great distance lies between a killer and a victim, the conscience tends to deaden. Catholic Answers' writer Christopher Check ("Dropping the Atomic Bomb was Wrong. Period.") refers to retired Army Ranger Lt. Col. Dave Grossman's findings on the topic:

...while psychological trauma is not uncommon among infantrymen who have been in close combat, Col. Grossman did not find “a single instance of psychiatric trauma” associated with long-range killing. That includes the pilot and crew of the Enola Gay, the B-29 Super Fortress that dropped “Little Boy” on the people of Hiroshima. Indeed, Enola Gay’s pilot, Col. Paul Tibbets, went to his death claiming that he never felt guilt or lost sleep over having dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Indeed, he flew reenactments of the event at air shows. 
Grossman provides eerily antiseptic testimony given by Allied bomber pilots and crews who firebombed Hamburg, Dresden, and Tokyo. These campaigns together claimed the lives of nearly 400,000 noncombatants, mostly women, children, and elderly (because men of fighting age were off fighting). The bombers reported feeling “fascination” and “satisfaction” but not guilt or regret. 
Grossman’s argument should provoke us to ask if many people’s comfort with the bomb does not derive, at least in part, from a condition of distance from the event. The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed an estimated 180,000 civilians. Would supporters of the bombings be as sanguine if a battalion of Marines had been sent into the same cities to bayonet an equal number of women, children, and elderly?

I am an American patriot and I love my country more than anything other than my Faith and my family. Accepting the fact that the U.S. was dead wrong in dropping The Bomb was one of the hardest things I had to do when I embraced the fullness of the Catholic Faith. But it was not hard for me to understand the moral principle: We don't target and kill innocent people, no matter what the cause, no matter the potentially disastrous outcome if we don't. We are to serve the good, not bring about the good. We act virtuously in our every action, and we leave the outcomes to God.

It is better, as Christ said, to lose our life to save it, than to save our life and lose it. What does it profit any of us to gain the whole world but lose our soul?

This world and this life are not the end. Winning a war or preserving a nation or even preserving the entire earth is not worth going to hell for. The priest in the Prager University video may be right on every other issue of the Faith, but he is dead wrong on this one.

We must think with the mind of the Church, act as Christ would act, and leave the outcomes to God.


*Bending one's will to think with the mind of the Church is not a case of "blindly following". For perspective on this, read here.


  1. Hi Leila, I am also trying to "bend my will" toward the Church's thinking on this issue. (The other tough one for me is the Church's stance on the death penalty.) However, I think you're missing one possible objection. One might argue, for example, that the bombing was not "directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants". Hiroshima was one of a few carefully selected military targets, and the Japanese, like Hamas today, used human shields by hiding troops and factories among residential areas. I'm glad you made the connection to conventional bombing. I think if dropping the A-bomb was immoral because it was "indiscriminate", then so was conventional bombing, and maybe artillery bombardment, and certainly drones today. There are a lot of "just war" questions that we need answers to today, that I don't think the Church has given good guidance on. Like, how can we fight distributed terror networks like ISIS? Can a Christian morally serve in a military whose tactics are increasingly all about air power and drones? What about spying and deception in war?

    1. Good response here. I just read MacCarthur's memoirs of the war and they line up with this. The indiscriminate killing would have occurred at the hand of the allies through blockades and invasion. Unless the allies surrendered they would have been just as culpable as they were when they dropped the bomb except the cause of death would have been even-less-targeted starvation and disease and not the bomb itself. The classic self defense rationale for killing is that the killing is a secondary cause of the act in preservation of life. Here there is an exceptionally strong case that the act was not indiscriminate and it was in the cause of preservation of life.

    2. Matthew, thank you, and per the comment instructions (for purposes of this blog), I am putting my answer down at the bottom (it keeps us all on the same page, so to speak; and you can cut and paste what parts you are responding to if you'd like).

  2. @Joseph Clark:
    There's not much question about it being directed to the indiscriminate destruction of a whole city. We're talking about a weapon of mass destruction applied to a city. You're largely correct about the conventional bombing campaigns of the war as well, though they could at least in principle be targeted and usually were, however error-prone the aim might have been (note as well that our technical ability in that regard has markedly improved since). I would liken the nuclear strikes to the fire bombing campaigns that took place in both major theaters and likewise indiscriminately killed noncombatants. That sort of conduct is categorically abhorrent.

    Thanks for bringing this up. Even my arch-Catholic friends don't accept this clear teaching.

  3. I'm curious about how that applies to pre-emptive bomb strikes on the select spots in Syria that happened a couple of weeks ago... perhaps because it was more targeted, it is not "indiscriminate"?

  4. "The classic self defense rationale for killing is that the killing is a secondary cause of the act in preservation of life. Here there is an exceptionally strong case that the act was not indiscriminate and it was in the cause of preservation of life."

    Matthew, but those two-year-olds in the city, those kindergarteners, those infirm, those religious, those elderly, were most definitely not aggressors. They were directly killed, and yes, they were targeted. To say that the act was not "indiscriminate" is not plausible. Indiscriminate means that there was no discrimination between military targets and civilians. There was no such discrimination. What do you take the Catechism to mean in #2314. It can't be speaking in theory only, so to what real world situation might it apply? Thanks!

    By the way, many who defend abortion also say it's "self-defense" and is needed for the preservation of life (some argue that latter point, even in non-critical health situations).

    But self-defense requires that the aggressor be stopped, not a mass killing of innocents to get to the aggressors.

  5. Joseph Clark, thank you for the thoughtful question! Jarrod gives a great response. I would also refer you to the article from Catholic Answers that I linked in the original post:

    Specifically this paragraph seems relevant:

    Some Catholics have looked for wiggle room in the word “indiscriminate,” arguing that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were deliberately chosen military targets. Yet the vast majority of the victims were civilians. Why were the city centers chosen as ground zero, where civilian populations were most dense, rather than the industrial suburbs or the ports?

  6. Liesl, yes, I think that targeting is a big part of it. Just carpet-bombing cities or dropping atomic bombs has nothing of "target" in it. I am not up-to-speed on what was done specifically in those military strikes, but yes, the moral principles have to be in play for the actions to be more.

    And Joseph, those last questions are good questions, but just as in the field of bioethics today (think cloning, egg donation, IVF, children with three genetic parents, surrogacy, embryo adoption), the Church is having to respond to realities that change rapidly, things that have never been dreamed of before (social media in warfare?). So, we apply Christian principles to a given situation, and until the Church makes an official pronouncement on some of these things (and on some things she never will), we apply the moral principles as best we can.

  7. I agree with Jarrod. However I think the implications of the Church's teachings (apparently) do not allow us to stop at condemning the atomic bombings. The conventional bombs used in WWII were also indiscriminate -- they were not "smart bombs" like we have seen on the TV news during the last few wars. And what you mentioned about the bomber pilots being emotionally disconnected resonates with what I've heard about our modern-day drone operators, who are seeing the killing enemies and civilians as a sort of video game.

    This also reminds me of the argument in the Catholic blogosphere, several months ago (maybe last year?) about whether lying is truly a sin in all circumstances. The argument was prompted mainly by Catholics criticizing Lila Rose's group for lying to abortion clinic workers on hidden cameras. But it came up in discussion that deception of all kinds is involved in war strategy, tactics, and espionage. Is all of it immoral?

    It's an uncomfortable discussion, because it might just turn out that our only moral options are to radically change the way we fight wars -- and accept a lot more casualties on our side. I wish the bishops would hold a synod to articulate what the "just war" teachings mean for us today... instead of the synod/debacle currently under way.

  8. "The conventional bombs used in WWII were also indiscriminate -- they were not "smart bombs""

    The latter is true, but this excludes a lot of middle. Level bombing throughout the war was targeted, most of the time aided by the Norden bombsight, a fairly sophisticated dead reckoning system. It wasn't a great system - the inherent inaccuracy involved (along with the hazardous flight to and over the target) required a lot of bombs to be dropped - but it was possible for mission planners to, at least in principle, say "Your target is the factory/railyard/barracks" rather than "Your target is Berlin/Munich/Dresden." Fighter bombers were able to achieve even more impressive accuracy - I've read one account of a raid that successfully targeted a specific office in a townhouse (it contained detailed intelligence on a local resistance movement that was about to be acted on).

    This is an important difference. Paul Tibbets couldn't say "I was aiming for the ball bearing plant and I missed." Nuclear weapons don't allow that excuse unless the target is far removed from noncombatants. Most of them weren't. They still aren't today, even through the age of imminent nuclear war, since factory workers and even soldiers like to live within a reasonable commute of their workplaces, and they prefer to live with their families.

  9. Jarrod, thank you for that great answer. And Joseph, regarding deception, it's a great question. When the Lila Rose question came up, I asked a few people about Catholic cops who are part of undercover or sting operations. I never got a good answer on that (granted, I didn't ask very often). I would like an answer to that, and there is nuance there.

  10. Leila, thanks for this discussion, from the "other side" of the political spectrum for a change. As a former missionary to Japan, I completely agree with you. I regret to say that my opinion changed a few years after I returned home, not while I lived near Tokyo. As I became more Catholic and less politically partisan in my views (and more critical of America's actions throughout history), I had to rethink this.

    Many Americans don't realize that Nagasaki was (and is) the center of Catholicism in Japan from the days of St. Francis Xavier's preaching. It was the home of the 26 martyrs, and near the martyrdom sites of countless others. When we bombed Nagasaki, we bombed a city where the overwhelming majority of Japanese Catholics lived, a population that would not have been on the side of the military. I recommend the autobiography of Takashi Nagai, The Bells of Nagasaki, and the recent biography, A Song for Nagasaki. He was a doctor, professor, and researcher whose beloved Catholic wife was killed by the bomb. I believe her partially melted rosary was all the remains he ever found of her. Nagai himself died of radiation sickness years later. The sufferings of civilians was every bit as great and horrible as those caused by ISIS today. Nothing can justify this carnage.

  11. Joseph, my husband wrote his master's thesis on Thomas Aquinas's teaching on lying. He was working on his doctoral dissertation on the same subject when family life intervened. A few things I have learned from him on this subject:

    1) A lie is by very definition always sinful. We can never lie even to save a human life. For example, we can't say, "No, Mr. Gestapo, there are no Jews in my house," when there are.

    2) Not all deception is lying. I can hide Jews in my house and act as though they are not there. I can obfuscate, change the subject, or refuse to answer when asked about it. I can dress a Jew up in my clothes and give him a fake passport to get out of the country. None of these is sinful.

    3) Going undercover is sometimes morally acceptable (i.e., does not qualify as lying). However, I never got a good answer from him on Lila Rose.

    So my kids, for example, know that I am the Tooth Fairy. We pretend together, rather than my husband and me telling them something untrue. Nor do we permit telling lies and then saying, "It was just a joke." St. Augustine said that jocular lies (I'm not sure this term is correct) are still lies, unless it's obvious to every one that I'm kidding. For example, if I said I'm 100 years old as a joke, a few very young kids might believe me, but they are not at the age to distinguish truth from lying or pretending any way. Everyone else would know it was a joke (I hope).

    We used to discuss these things on our dates. Yes, we were a barrel of laughs.

  12. Connie, I had no idea about the Catholic population of Nagasaki! What a terrible story about the man's wife, and I am sure there are thousands more individually tragic stories. It just cannot be justified.

    That is very cool that your husband wrote on that subject!

    My little kids don't know I'm the Tooth Fairy, but they've never asked point blank, at least not that I can recall. Once, my oldest daughter (now 23) asked me tearfully if I was Santa, and I could tell she really knew that I was, but didn't want to let go of the dream, so I asked her if she wanted to keep believing and she said "yes", so I said, "Then you keep believing". We sort of both understood each other. Of course, I tell my kids that St. Nicholas (Santa Claus) is very much a real person, and a saint (so very much alive!).

    I like Chesterton on Santa: "Personally, of course, I believe in Santa Claus; but it is the season of forgiveness, and I will forgive others for not doing so."

    In my little moral theology reference book there is the distinction between lying (always wrong) and "mental restriction (internal reservation), which can divided into the "strict" and the "broad". The strict mental reservation is always forbidden, like the lie. One thing to note is that you need not answer someone who has no right to know the answer. If a Nazi asks, "Are there Jews here?" it is actually none of their business, so obfuscation or silence is totally moral.

    Anyway, fascinating stuff. My husband and I are a barrel of laughs, too, ha ha!!! We like to hash this stuff out.

  13. The problem with silence is that it doesn't get the desired results. The Nazis didn't have an equivalent of the Fifth Amendment; refusal to answer the question would undoubtedly be taken as admission of guilt and would in turn bring about a search of your house that turned up your wards. So too in warfare; it is often insufficient to merely keep our secrets. Rather, we want to induce the enemy to believe something untrue (say, a maneuver or a weakness of ours).

    This is a consequentialist line of objection, but I raise it not to defend lying but to make it clear that the methods which so far we all have agreed to be moral are also practically ineffective.

  14. Jarrod- Sure in the case of Nazis. But not all persons are going to have that ability. For example, Facebook asks how old you are or what your name is. You can decide to give them a ridiculous age or a pseudonym because it's not lying. Facebook has no right to know your exact age, name or location. It's none of their business (although they try to make it out so). At most Facebook could kick me off for violating their standards, but as it stands I'm not lying to their computers. I acknowledge that I'm not over 100 years old, my birthday is not Jan 1st, and my name isn't actually Delta Flute. The affect is that I don't have people on Facebook trying to steal my social security number based on my Facebook info.

    And it's the same in other situations, outside of your employer and the tax man you are not obligated to disclose your social security number. Your doctor can ask but you don't have to tell them (usually they just fill in a bunch of zeros). You're not obligated to tell an acquaintance your age or what your exact address is either. And you may elect not to since people do in fact steal your personal information and ruin your credit (just ask my cousin). So keeping secrets in the modern world is effective.

  15. Leila, mental reservation is really tricky for the non-expert. Words should correspond to reality. If a child asks, "Is Santa Claus real?" I could say yes with the reservation that Santa Claus is a corruption of the Dutch for St. Nicholas, who is real. But if he asks, "Is the Tooth Fairy real?" and I answer yes, because the Tooth Fairy is my alter ego and I am real, that's another matter altogether. I defer to my dh in these matters because he understands them better. I fear that doing otherwise would at least place me in the near occasion of sin, because at some point my kids are going to ask questions.

  16. Thanks for writing this post, Leila. There are far too many people across the political spectrum who think killing innocents is justifiable. I'm really glad that America has gotten a little better about that over the decades. Plenty of the things that everyone thought were normal and necessary would be unthinkable to us today.

    Maybe it's never moral to lie, but I still think it's objectively best to tell the Gestapo that there aren't any Jews in the house.

  17. Reading the first paragraph of my last post again, it looks a little sarcastic because of the new immoralities that we've developed since then. I was just talking about methods of warfare.

  18. Jarrod, as Mother Teresa said, "God does not call us to be successful. He calls us to be faithful." Sometimes Christianity is impractical--think of the Cross. But God's will is accomplished when we follow Him, not when we don't. And ultimately, that's what really matters.

    I think a Christian army should consult with theologians and philosophers, then do what the faith demands, practical or not. And I think that God will reward their faithfulness, maybe even with miraculous intervention.

    I love the story of Corrie Ten Boom's sister Nollie. The Ten Booms hid Jews and helped the underground in Holland. I believe Corrie lied to keep their work secret. However, once she was at Nollie's house and a member of the resistance was there. The Gestapo were coming. They hid him in a cellar-like room, and pulled a rug and then a table on top of the entrance. When the Gestapo entered, they asked, "Where is he?" Nollie believed in always telling the truth. She said, "Under the table." The Gestapo thought she was being a smart Alec and left. Nollie's way was impractical, but it worked. And she was one of the few members of her family who was not arrested and sent to a prison camp.

  19. I take a special interest in this area because I am a naval officer, and deception has been held to be important to competent fighting since at least the time of Sun Tzu. So that's why I wonder where deception becomes evil. Is it wrong to merely do certain things in the open and let the enemy think what he will? Is it wrong to pass bogus information to the enemy somehow, say through communications channels known to be compromised, or through known enemy agents? Is it wrong to lie to a third party in order to have that lie passed to the enemy? (My instincts are, in order: no, maybe, probably.)

    I'll say this, though: I've never been in a situation that, looking back, I think "I should have lied then." I've only ever regretted lying. This may only mean that I have not been in a sufficiently stressful situation.

    Connie- That's a good theological point and I don't disagree. Certainly we are not permitted to stop sin through other sin. It's also true that small miracles have rewarded people who stood firm like that - see the various miracles of roses said to have disguised saints' (secularly) forbidden actions. Of course, those are considered miracles for a reason - we have no reason to expect them when we choose our actions!


    I'm not so sure Facebook doesn't have a right to the truth when it asks you for information. After all, you are using their services and agreeing to their terms of use. If an information block is labelled "required" why wouldn't there be an obligation to provide it truthfully?

  20. I'm not sure about this, but I think the second scenario would be more like playacting. Those talking to each other, who are the only ones who have a right to expect to understand each other, would know what was going on. Only the Nazis (or whoever) listening in would be deceived, and they don't have a right to eavesdrop, etc. They know they have to take their chances and that the info could be false. But when two soldiers, even of an opposing army, are speaking to each other, they can't lie to each other.

    When in college, I was arrested for participating in an abortion clinic blockage with Operation Rescue. When the police asked our names, we answered John or Jane Doe, for two reasons. 1) To have a way to negotiate with authorities through our lawyer; 2) to identify ourselves with the unnamed unborn. A friend later said we had lied in this situation. That threw me off. But when I asked my dh about it, he said this was not a lie, because the police knew, and we knew that they would know, that my name was not Jane Doe. We were not trying to deceive anyone. I know this doesn't directly relate to our discussion, but it made me remember it.

  21. I guess the movie To Be or Not to Be would be a prime example of this type of scenario--deceiving without lying (if I remember it right). Anyway, it's a great movie starring Jack Benny.

  22. That's an interesting take, Connie. Real world: in the run up to the Battle of Midway the US knew an attack was coming but not where. The Japanese cipher system was compromised but the actual location decoded only as AF, a code word with no meaning to outsiders. Acting on their suspicions, the Navy put out a false message that Midway was low on water. A Japanese message intercepted later relayed the intelligence that AF was low on water, giving the game away.

    I could certainly make a case that this was an offense against truth regardless of the Japanese right to listen in on US channels. After all, it is obvious that the intended recipient of the message was the Japanese Navy and the message was false. Paragraph 2483 states: "Lying is the most direct offense against the truth. To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead someone into error. By injuring man's relation to truth and to his neighbor, a lie offends against the fundamental relation of man and of his word to the Lord." To me it seems that this fits the circumstances pretty well, and despite the intuitive sense it would make I don't see an excuse related to the other party's right to know, only the first party's intent to lead him to error.

  23. This is a really interesting discussion, and shows why you need to consult experts. I'll ask my dh about it on a long drive we have tomorrow.

    In the meantime, my understanding from him is that every right has a corresponding duty and vice versa. If I have the duty to speak the truth, it is only because my listener has a right to know the truth. So I think it would follow that if a listener does not have a right to the truth, then I do not have a duty to speak it. This is why some Catholic philosophers (erroneously) argue that you can tell the Gestapo there are no Jews in the house. They say that the Gestapo does not have a right to know. The right response to someone who does not have a right to hear the answer to the question he asks is to somehow avoid answering him, as we mentioned earlier.

    But if two American units are communicating with each other, their communication is supposed to be for each other, so it seems to me that as long as they did not lie to each other, they are okay--eve if they know someone is listening in. That's different than a Japanese soldier asking them straight out, "How much water is at Midway?" and their answering erroneously. But I might have this wrong--I'll let you know!

    Discussing the Catechism with my dh, he has said that various parts really oversimplify things from a philosophical perspective. It's great for every day situations, but was not meant to give all the depth needed for something like carrying out a just war. Even from my limited knowledge I would think he'd be critical of that second part--to act against the truth. I believe that philosophically lying only refers to words, not actions. Not to say the Catechism is wrong, but imprecise.

  24. Connie and Jarrod, this is fascinating, thank you! And I look forward to what Connie's husband has to say. Connie, when you said this:

    "Even from my limited knowledge I would think he'd be critical of that second part--to act against the truth. I believe that philosophically lying only refers to words, not actions. Not to say the Catechism is wrong, but imprecise."

    ... it makes me think of Theology of the Body when we say that a couple using contraception is "telling a lie with their bodies." Is that the type of thing to which the Catechism might be referring?

  25. I was thinking about this issue when this line of thought came to me. Tell me what you think.

    The clear immorality of the dropping of the atomic bomb is only seen clearly though faith and is likely not available to intellectually responsible, unaided human reason IF the most credible military experts believe that indiscrimiate civilian deaths would have been far greater by non-atomic means.

    I'm assuming that, of the 4 double-effect tests, it's the test on proportionality that is under the most dispute.

    Check 1 (The 'ends' test): The goal of destroying the military resources of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are morally licit

    Check 2 (The 'means' test): ALL large, modern military offensives (with or with atomic weapons) involve indiscriminate killing on some level so indiscrimate killing, in and of itself, is not essentially immoral if modern warfare is not essentially immoral.

    Check 3 (the 'intent' test): The intent is to end the war and not to kill innocents

    Check 4 (the 'proportionality' test): Of all the means available, the atomic option kills the fewest non-combatants

    It seems to me that Check 4 is the most uncertain one since it relies on expert prediction. I think some have focused on check 2 because the indiscrimate killing/suffering is so visible and happens all at once. But I don't see how it is morally significant to kill 'X' number of innocents at one time vs. spreading that same killing (or more) over a year or 2.

    If solid expert opinion is confident that the atomic option would (overall) mean the fewest non-combatant deaths, how can we reasonably condemn the act as clearly immoral? It might still "feel" immoral but many parts of war have a similar feel. If the war itself was just, the act of dropping of the bombs seems to be moral under the principle of double effect. It's only in hindsight (like after the Church has spoken) that the immorality comes clearly to light.

    Is my thinking off somewhere? If not, then, while the dropping of the bombs may still be objectively immoral, realizing that faith (in the Church) is required to see this clearly might garner more sympathy for many well-meaning people who don't clearly see the immorality.

  26. Jarrod- I don't think Facebook has the right to my personal information. Facebook is open to the public and operates more like a moderator rather than a service. The public certainly does not have a right to that information. There have been cautions among people about posting too much information because people can guess your social security number. Additionally Facebook sells space to advertisers. They've also run various experiments without consulting it's users. As I said before, it's obvious that none of the things I filled in about myself is true. It may be violating their terms of service, but that doesn't mean they have the right to know such information about myself particularly if they intend to sell it without my permission.

    1. Then don't use Facebook. You don't have a right to use their service if you refuse to abide by their terms.

  27. Deltaflute- I would disagree with you. By using Facebook you have to agree to their terms and conditions so it _is_ their business how old you are. Especially, in cases of making sure children are not on Facebook for safety reasons. If you want to use their program you should be truthful. If you do not wish to tell them that information you should not use their program. Saying it is "none of their business" when you agree to to do business with them isn't honest to me.

    That's a real problem I see in my line of work. People make a judgment call that something isn't any of our business so they lie. They don't seem to understand that going into a business and lying about things is often fraudulent. You are inducing the business to do business with you on false terms. It is far better to say "Why do you need to know that? It doesn't seem like it is necessary." which gives us a chance to explain why we need the information. But just lying because you don't think it is someone's business......that's still lying.

  28. Archie, thank you. It's interesting, but I don't think #4 is the one most in dispute. Not at all. I will go point by point, and I am open to correction:

    1) The Bombs were not doing that (my understanding is that the factories were more suburban). The Bombs were aimed at entire cities/civilian populations, not military targets/factories/combatants.

    2) Modern warfare techniques are immoral if they are targeting civilians and vast areas such as entire cities. It's not unique to atomic weapons, as you say.

    3) Well... to me that sounds an awful lot like the abortionist saying that the "intent" is to help the woman and get her out of a terrible suffering, not killing the baby. And yet, the means of "helping" the woman (or ending the war) is directly targeting and killing innocents. So, that doesn't work. Again, the end doesn't justify the means. I can't put a bullet through the head of an innocent hostage even if the hostage takers assure me they would free the other 99 of us. I become a murderer if I do it. I have no right to do it.

    Remember, the "collateral damage" in conventional warfare is not intended, in fact, it is a mistake. It means that the target was missed, or the aim was off, or something went awry. Does it happen? Yes, and it's truly unintended (if it's not, then it's immoral to have made the strike!). In the case of the A-bomb, the killing of the civilians was foreseen and intended. They meant to hit all of them. That is the nature of the Bomb. It was a successful hit. The commanders and bombers would all agree.

    4) Proportionality can't even apply in this case, since we have to begin with the premise that we may not commit evil (and that any bad consequences of what we choose are unintended -- we may not choose the lesser of two evils, ever. I think you are saying, "It's the lesser of two evils, because it kills fewer innocents." But the act itself (bombing cities indiscriminately) is itself an evil (inherently), so it cannot be permitted, period. Proportionality cannot even begin to apply.

    I also dispute that most people cannot see the immorality of it. I think we all know in our hearts that it is inherently wrong to decimate entire cities of human beings full of women and children and elderly. I don't know anyone who doesn't know that in his heart. What I think you mean is that most people think that a horrific act like that was justified in order to bring about a greater good. They stomach it that way, and then they start to feel proud of it. But as I said in the OP, I had more trouble accepting the truth on this issue than I did understanding it. Understanding it was the easy part. But then I had to go the next step and stop justifying it.

    1. Sorry about the lack of an ending parenthesis! Makes me crazy. And just to be very clear, I will repeat that we may never choose to do the lesser of two evils. We may never choose to do evil, ever.

    2. Hi Leila,

      1) I was trying to take Fr. Miscamble understanding of the historical facts at face value. If the Bombs were not actually doing that then that does effect things.

      2) Good point.

      3) I think the abortion analogy is out off because the end and the means are obviously out of proportion to honest people of good will. But the point about collateral damage is well taken.

      4) Yes, if the previous points on the ends, means, and intent don't go through then proportionality wouldn't apply. I was assuming that they went through.

      In no place was I assuming that the choice was between the lesser of 2 evils (not consciously, anyways) and I agree with you there. I was assuming the morality of a more conventional campaign and thinking about if the atomic drop was clearly morally wrong by comparing them with the help of double effect.

      Fair enough. I listened to Fr. Miscamble's talk and was trying to reason from his line or argumentation in light of double effect. But I think you're right, even if the level of collateral damge over a prolonged campaign exceeded the civilian casualties of the drop, it is obviously collateral in a way that the damage caused by the atomic bomb is not.

      The the moral quality of the "side-effects" of an atomic drop can be seen as different from collateral damage of more narrowly focused bombs.
      I don't believe that Fr. Miscamble dealt with that in his talk. I may need to view it again. :)

      Good stuff. Thanks for the detailed reply!

  29. Deltaflute, I have to agree with Kat and Jarrod on this one. If you agree to terms of service, it's like giving your promise. Let your yes mean yes and your no mean no, and anything else is from the evil one. If you don't want to agree to their terms, then you don't use their service. No one is forcing you to give them information. You are choosing to sign up for their service, and agreed to their terms.

    1. I should have put quotes around that Bible verse from Jesus, lol! Sorry, but you probably got that those were not my words there about "Let your 'yes' mean 'yes'..."

  30. Leila- The problem is that a lot of other businesses and associations only conduct their business through facebook. It isn't simply a business transaction between myself and the seller of a product. Facebook isn't really conducting business with me. It's a means to conduct business with another party. Other groups like Etsy allow you to use a user name whereas Facebook doesn't. If local grocery stores or schools or small business owners conducted themselves apart from needing a Facebook page, then I would agree with you. Unfortunately to completely conduct business affairs with them, you are required to have a Facebook account of some sort. Otherwise I would agree and stop using Facebook.

  31. With Leila, I'm also interested in your further contributions, Connie - especially with a movie coming out with the a title ("The Good Lie") that seems to speak directly to this question!

    As far as your other objections go, there are other historical problems. The US decided to pursue unconditional surrender (that is, we would not accept an end to the war that required promising Japan any favorable terms), but there's good reason to believe a negotiated end to the war could have been possible long before. The Japanese industrial base was shattered and their supply lines were completely severed; there was no way they could project power effectively and both sides knew it. An offer of some small concessions early, like clemency for the Japanese brass or a guarantee of continuity for Imperial rule (the latter of which wound up happening in the end anyway), if it ended the war, would have saved not only those expected to die through invasion, blockade, or conventional bombing (the other three strategies being considered) but those who actually died in the nuclear strikes as well!

    So at some point we have to call the desired ends themselves into question. There is a point where the policy objective (the "why we're fighting") changes from a just redress of wrongs to gratuitous humiliation, subjugation, or annihilation of the enemy. After that point no means are just; pursuing the ends at all is unjust.

    There is also a problem with who the bombs were applied against. Notionally the object of the strikes was to cow Japanese leadership into a quick surrender. But the strikes were places almost as far from Japan's political center as possible! Imagine if I had some just end I wanted from you. Surely we can agree that it would be unjust for me to kill one of your children every week until you complied! No, even if my grievance justifies the use of deadly force I can only justly apply it against you. If you need to use a nuke (which I do not concede), why not nuke Tokyo and deal with whomever takes over the government?

    Preferring a quick use of overwhelming force to a drawn out blockade poses some other problems. First, it kills the innocent people immediately. If we choose a blockade, we may still be responsible for the deaths that result, but the passage of time gives the enemy lots of chances to make the decision to end the war. Time has a way of building up stress under pressure; it is difficult to persist in a decision with difficult consequences if you always have a way out. Second, a starvation campaign need not have been the only goal of a blockade. Oil was the single most important wartime commodity; without it planes wouldn't fly and warships wouldn't sail, rendering an island nation completely impotent. It would have been feasible to continue sinking tankers while easing up on freighters, even if those freighters carried munitions alongside food. Third, with a blockade you get more effective double effect coverage; one can say "I need to weaken their forces by cutting off war materiel; unfortunately that also prevents them from having enough food to feed everyone."

    But in the end the blockade option, however executed, gives the enemy a bigger share of the moral agency. He has the choice as to which resources he wants to try and run the blockade with. The people have the ability to say "Hey, we're getting hungrier by the day, and we really want this to end already," and if that sentiment gets strong enough that might even decide it.

    I can't wrap this up other than to apologize for the wall of text, so there it is.

    1. There may well be historical problems. I was just trying to lay out the case as Fr. Miscamble presented them in the Prager University talk - taking them at face value and reasoning from there.

      Your point about drawing the conflict out is well taken. We can be more certain about the quick death toll than the toll of a more drawn out campaign. That uncertainty was one reason why I considered the proportionality test so arguable.

  32. I guess that wound up not so much being aimed at you in particular, Archie. Sorry about that.

  33. Archie, thanks for the thoughtful reply! (Where have all you men been all these years? We can use more of your insights in our blog discussions.)

    I guess I have to ask about why you think the abortion analogy does not apply? I am unclear on what you mean. Proportionality can only be discussed if we are talking about an act that is moral to begin with (with unintended bad effects). In both abortion and in dropping the Bomb, the act itself is intrinsically immoral. That's my argument at least, and that's how it's analogous. Hope that makes sense.

    1. Sorry, proportionality and intent. It doesn't matter about the intent or the proportions of either direct abortion or direct targeting of civilians and cities. Both are off the table from the get-go. But I get that you were coming at this from the position that it could be a case of double effect in the case of the Bomb.

      And I would argue that some folks of good will actually okay with legal abortion. It's hard to imagine, but it's true. My husband was one -- he's totally pro-life now, thank God. My grandmother was another. Nicest woman you'd ever meet. So loving and kind. She was pro-choice, as far as I know, and only because in her reasoning [according to my mom] she didn't want those little babies born into a bad situation. Obviously her reasoning was DEAD wrong, but her heart was not black. She was a person of good will who was wrong on this issue, perhaps due to malformed conscience?

      Anyway, I am loving this discussion. Thanks!

  34. Hi Leila,

    I'm glad you appreciate us! =)

    From the viewing them as 2 intrinsic evils, I understand the analogy. That makes sense.

    It jarred me a bit because, in my mind, I was considering the immediate aim of dropping the bomb as "destroying military resources" but the immediate aim of abortion as "destroying an innocent, unborn child". On that view, we're not looking at 2 intrinsic evils (on the surface). That's why, on first glance, the analogy didn't seem on-target to me.

  35. Archie, got it! Thanks for explaining!

    Is this your first time commenting on the Bubble? How did you find it, if you don't mind my asking?

    1. Leila,

      I think that the first time I commented was a few days ago on a post where you had a C.S. Lewis quote.

      I'm not sure how I first stumbled into the Bubble... I vaguely remember it having something to do with a post you had involving Steve Gershom - I probably followed a link from some aggregator site. I'm pretty sure that I've been around, on-and-off, for a couple of years... Lurking... ;)

  36. What type of business requires you to go through Facebook? I've been using Facebook almost since it began and I've never ran across a business that required me to use Facebook in order to do business with them. I realize a lot of business's give perks if you "like" them but that's not necessary to conduct business with them.

    But yes, Facebook is conducting business with you even if all it does is act as a platform between you and another individual or company. That's the whole point of Facebook, that is Facebook's business. So you are still bound by the terms and conditions.

    I don't care that you aren't following the T&C, what bugs me is you are trying to assert that as honesty. It isn't.

  37. Kat- A number of small businesses (in my case it was cloth diapers) only correspond with you via Facebook. In order to ask them to create something for you, they ask you to look at their albums or private message you through facebook. Schools also send out up-to-date information about closings on Facebook. My son's school uses twitter for example. Yes, there are perks in larger businesses.

    I never asserted that it was honesty if you mean by that I was fully disclosing information. What I said was I wasn't disclosing information on my person since I feel an obligation to protect my secrets. You aren't obligated to give out your SSN, for example, to your doctors even if you are contracted with them. They still ask. You can simply tell them you won't disclose.

    In the case of Etsy, I'm allowed a username so it makes things easier. It gets more complicated with Facebook since it's a sharing site. I have no intention of sharing information to the public. I'm also not given the option of a username nor am I given the option of checking an age box. Facebooks specifies that you must give them your real name and your actual age neither I think are within the scope of Facebook even if one uses it for public discourse. Google and Yahoo allow for usernames/handles/pseudonyms and do not require you to disclose an actual age especially to the public. They also don't disclose information to third parties the way Facebook is notorious for.

    Here's an article explaining what lying is and if it's ever right:

    Hope it helps explain a little of what I've been discussing.

  38. Leila, about acting as lying, I thought of the theology of the body too, but I think it's very doubtful the Catechism is talking about that, because that can only be called a lie in an analogous sense. But interestingly enough, I think the conversation with Deltaflute might be showing us what the Catechism means.

    As Kat has pointed out, sometimes simply signing your name or checking a box can become fraud if you don't really mean to follow through with what you agreed to. Some government forms even state that if you sign them and know the information in them is wrong, you could be guilty of perjury. So my guess is the Catechism mean these types of acts, acts which take the place of giving your word of honor.

    BTW, I'll be out of town until Tuesday evening and I don't do internet on the road--a needed break from the computer after months of writing, editing, and marketing my book. So I will try to get back to you guys about this on Wednesday. I can't wait to see what I miss here in the meantime.

  39. Archie, thanks! It was just fun to see some new names (and mostly male) when I posted this article. I knew the Bomb would elicit some new reactions, but it was neat to hear from new people in addition to the regulars (whom I adore and couldn't do without!).

    Connie, thanks and enjoy your time off!

  40. Deltaflute, that's an excellent article, thank you! I think the last paragraph is particularly relevent:

    "Happily, the Church’s imprecision on this question does not seem to have led to a great heresy or to widespread and dangerous confusion. Perhaps the reason is simple: For most of us, the moral challenge is to find the courage to tell the truth instead of "spinning" it for petty purposes. Our most common problem is not deciding grave questions of life and death but purifying our own questionable intentions. So while lying is a fascinating subject, we are wise to remember the kinds of cases which make it so are very different from the ones we ourselves typically face. If we ask whether Augustine and Aquinas were right in condemning all falsehoods, we may well choose to answer in the negative. But if we ask whether they were right in condemning our own weak and typical lies, only one answer is possible. On these lies, every saint agrees."

    To me, the lying that takes place with the Facebook situation is not so much the pseudonyms and fake dates (although those are falsehoods, too), but it's in stating that you agree to the terms and conditions of Facebook. If you don't agree to them, you should not say that you do. Because by checking that box, you are sort of making an oath, or giving your word. And it's lying if you say yes but mean no.

    You could always get cloth diapers elsewhere, or have a friend show you the school's Facebook page, etc. So, being a part of Facebook is not necessary. I know plenty of folks who do not have an account at all, and they get along just fine. Those are my two cents, for what they are worth!

  41. Deltaflute- It might be helpful to remember how Facebook started. It was a social site for college students. At the start you were required to have a college email and you were required to give your real name. It was a push-back against a number of sites that allowed users to retain anonymity usually with bad consequences. Those sites often sank into cat-fights and cyber-bullying long before the term "cyber-bullying" existed. So Facebook's requirement for a real name.....had a purpose. It solved a lot of issues and it part of what made Facebook the giant it is today. Is it still relevant now that Facebook is open beyond college students? The owners and their legal team seem to think so.

    You are deciding on your own that the information isn't relevant and continuing to use their platform. Why not ask a small business to deal with you via phone or email because you do not wish to use Facebook? Is it harder? Of course, but it is also more honest.

    I just don't understand it. How can you say you are in the right by failing to live up to the terms and conditions you agreed to when you signed up?

    I agree this is a small thing but the justification bothers me because you see a form of it all the time.

  42. OK, so we've been discussing the ebola epidemic. As a Catholic, then, should I support keeping borders open despite the grave nature of the disease. There are precautions that can be taken but the instant you become contagious can appear anytime - when one is out or on a plane or whatever. Plus the unknowns even by medical community/government bodies. As the president said there is little margin for error on this.

    So do we keep letting people in for treatment knowing one patient takes huge resources from one hospital because not doing so would be cooperating with evil? This discussion has been ongoing in our household.

  43. Hi Monica! My initial reaction to your question is that it's not immoral to quarantine and protect borders for dangerous and deadly infectious diseases. It would be a matter of prudential judgement by each government, I am guessing. Anyone else have thoughts on that?

  44. Sorry it took me so long to get back here on the lying issue. We were talking about this from Jarrod:

    "Real world: in the run up to the Battle of Midway the US knew an attack was coming but not where. The Japanese cipher system was compromised but the actual location decoded only as AF, a code word with no meaning to outsiders. Acting on their suspicions, the Navy put out a false message that Midway was low on water. A Japanese message intercepted later relayed the intelligence that AF was low on water, giving the game away."

    Now, was this lying, and thus wrong? I discussed this with my lying expert... er, expert on lying Dh. His gut reaction was that it was not lying. It was deception, but deception is not an intrinsic evil. Whether or not deception is a sin depends on the context. Dan's take was that in the context of war, deception is a weapon of war. The Japanese in this situation did not understand the immediate context of the conversation between the Americans, but the Americans who were talking to each other did. They had no intention to deceive each other by their words, so they were not lying.

    Dan used the example of our boys playing in the back yard. If one says he's a pirate in the context of playing, he is not lying, even if others who overhear him don't understand the context and really believe he is a pirate.

    However, Dan did say that other experts might have a different opinion.

    I asked him again about Lila Rose and he said, "I could write a paper on that, if I had the time." But he doesn't have the time and he did not want to give a partial answer that might be misinterpreted. Too bad for us!

    I have not read the article Deltaflute linked to on lying (I'll try to get to it), but lying is an intrinsically evil act. That means it's always wrong. If my theological or philosophical opinion contradicts the teaching of both Augustine and Aquinas, it's a good bet I am the one who is wrong.

  45. This is about the lesser of two evils, not about wrong or right, it is already wrong. The Japanese were ready to fight to the last child if necessary, heck some wanted to fight after the bomb was dropped. If the bubble wants to talk about no wiggle room, kindly apply that to your own morals instead of making yourself out to be Mrs high minded and know it all, all the time. You were lucky grandpa risked his backside for your own self fascination and delusional importance that you now enjoy, your lucky you can sit comfortable in you living room and reminisce about how high minded your choices are. Some people back then couldn't afford your luxury that you enjoy because of the risk of having their own neck on the copping block.

    1. Um, is anyone in there? It's not my "high-minded" choice, dear one. It's the teaching of the universal Church.

      And back to Morality 101: We may not choose to do the "lesser of two evils", because God does not give us permission to choose to do evil, period.

      Never comment here again. You have been a pain in the patootie for months. God bless!

  46. This is myopic and moronic and suits the overall condescending behavior of the author who can't even imagine the difficult choices people are faced with in daily life. At all time she places herself on the comfortable high ground fascinated with her own self granted superiority, not one compassionate or understanding thought gets past her own self preoccupation, after all one she counts herself and God, there's no one left to consider.

    1. You are one of the rudest people I've ever encountered. You must be fun at parties. Do not comment here again.

  47. Connie-

    Thanks for relaying that. It's reassuring to know there is a diversity of opinion on the subject. I agree that information and its management is a critical domain of warfare, and this includes managing the information (and its quality) your enemy has access to. This makes information a weapon itself, and in that it is morally neutral like all weapons*. So the problem, as far as I can see, is in the way the weapon is used, which I suppose brings us back to the original question. But, as you imply, values do shift in war. Life, normally a very high value regardless of nationality, becomes a partisan value - I kill you because you're trying to kill us, and preserving justice is better served by maintaining my comrades' lives and those of my countrymen than it is by losing them. I suppose truth could suffer a similar shift.

    *Recall that the condemnation of WMD is not because they are massively destructive but because they are difficult if not impossible to use discriminately. (Biological agents are probably an exception in that their use as weapons is evil in se. But even a nuclear bomb could conceivably be used against a military only target, or even as a weapon that doesn't directly kill anyone - a detonation in space would only hurt satellites, many of which are important military targets but only one of which are manned. Chemical weapons tend to be nasty but hypothetically a painless agent could be allowed since their effects do tend to be relatively local. There isn't anything wrong with killing a lot of soldiers at once as long as you are reasonably trying to only kill soldiers and you don't intend to inflict gratuitous pain on them.


PLEASE, when commenting, do not hit "reply" (which is the thread option). Instead, please put your comment at the bottom of the others.

To ensure that you don't miss any comments, click the "subscribe by email" link, above. If you do not subscribe and a post exceeds 200 comments, you must hit "load more" to get to the rest.