Thursday, September 08, 2005


Debunking Dave Armstrong’s “Consensus of Catholic Opinion” Argumentation Fallacy Viz. The Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

One of the things that give Catholic moral/ethical teaching its enduring credibility is that it is not subject to the shifting sands of majority opinion...or what we are often misled to believe is majority opinion.

Since even the best and the brightest of the members of the Catholic Church are fallible humans, at times influenced by their own biases and emotional dispositions, and subject to being misled by inadequate, or even false, information, they are by no means exempt from this. In fact, the infallibility of the Church's teaching magisterium, because it is essentially a negative charism (i.e. it prevents the Church from teaching error on matters of faith and morals), it prevents the Catholic conscience from being hamstrung by improperly formed private opinions of those in the Church hierarchy, including the pope himself.

It is imperative, therefore, that this be borne in mind when forming moral judgments on certain acts committed in the waging of a just war. The reason being is that making such judgments require not only a sound understanding of Catholic moral principles guiding such action, but also having knowledge of and being able to make assessments of concrete circumstances that are not theological per se and hence outside the Church's competence to authoritatively pronounce on.

This is especially true when we try to make moral heads or tails of an event as gruesome and horrific as the Atom bomb drops on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan on August 6th and August 9th 1945, bringing an abrupt end to the Second World War.

Catholic commentators and apologists as a whole, while normally displaying a great deal of thoughtfulness and balance in discussing other complex issues, drop the ball big time on this one. The most recent, and I think the most embarrassing, examples are the recent weblog postings (Click HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE) of well-known Internet Catholic apologist and author Dave Armstrong in response to myself, I. Shawn McElhinney, and Kevin Tierney. Instead of actually interacting with the arguments made by Shawn, Kevin (Kevin himself being undecided in his opinion as to the moral justification of the bombings) , and myself that support for President Truman's DECISION TO DROP THE BOMBS AS HE DID indeed has room in the Catholic conscience he just regurgitates quotes from prominate Catholics in a fashion reminiscent of an anti-Catholic fundamentalist who throws up quotes from Scripture and the Early Church Fathers as proof texts supporting the doctrine of Sola Scriptura or some other objection to the faith. {1}

But before we deal directly with some of the Catholic sources he cites, I want to make some preliminary points.

The first is a little background behind Dave's outburst.

Back on August 7th of this year (the day after the 60th Anniversary of the Hiroshima bomb drop), I sent a private e-mail to a small circle of friends (Dave being among them) remarking on how Stephen Hand of TCR, a mutual nemesis of ours, was beside himself in characterizing the bomb drops as "Absolute Evil" on his website, even going so far as to decorate his homepage with a picture of the mushroom cloud, the devastation of the city of Hiroshima, and a stopped clock against a black background.

In another e-mail, subsequent to that one, I made the remark that the circumstance in question was too complex to make the slam dunk condemnation that most Catholic apologists make with the bombings. Dave's response was rather passionate in that condemning them was indeed a slam-dunk. Then Shawn and I (mainly Shawn) responded by making a brief case, sighting pertinent and often overlooked information concerning the circumstance within which the decision was made (e.g. it was the least catastrophic of any alternative and that these were military, not civilian targets etc.), as to why an outright condemnation of the bomb drops viz. Catholic moral principles made by many Catholic apologists was way too simplistic. In reply, Dave admitted his ignorance of the issue (an admission he later makes public in his first blog post):

"Obviously, you and Greg have studied this particular matter in far more depth than I have. So I eagerly look forward to considering your arguments carefully when I return [from his vacation]. If you can convince me, great. I would like to think that the act was a morally justified one. Thus far, from what I know (and admittedly there is a lot more to learn about the whole thing) I maintain my present opinion." (Emphasis in the original)

I remember remarking to Shawn in a phone conversation (before Dave's public reply) how stand-upish and humble it was of Dave to make that admission.

But lo and behold, on the same day he returns from his vacation on August 25th, he posts his first of several rather verbose responses.

Now, there is no way he can go from being as ignorant as he admitted to being to being able to interact with the arguments of those who have in his words "studied this particular matter in far more depth than I [Dave] have" in one day when you consider that in the thirteen days between his admission and his first post, he was on vacation and (again) by his own admission, did not study the matter during that time.

Furthermore, I now see his going public the way he did, not giving us any real advanced heads-up, as an attempt to blind side us. Look, if I had a disagreement of this magnitude with a polemical ally, I would at least try to hash the issue out privately, ensuring that I have a proper understanding of both the issue in question and the arguments of the other before even considering to take it public. This would make even more sense if I was as ignorant of the issue under discussion as Dave admitted to being.

But wait, it gets even more bizarre. He then reads some pretty strange things into my linking to a Victor Davis Hanson Article:

Greg also prominently links to Victor Davis Hanson, military historian, conservative Democrat, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and frequent contributor to National Review, describing one of his articles as a "smackdown on the revisionist historians and hand wringers." We shall turn to this article next.Victor Davis Hanson's "Smackdown on the Revisionist Historians" First of all, it should be noted for the record that Hanson is not a Catholic. It took some doing to discover this but I was curious enough to pursue it. At length I found a statement of Hanson himself: "I am a 48-year-old Swedish-American Protestant . . . " Most Swedes (and their American offspring) who are religious at all are Lutherans, and that would be my best guess here, unless Hanson converted to something else later on. That doesn't mean that Hanson could not accurately portray or reflect in his own opinions, classical Catholic just war theory (I did so myself in my former Protestant days), but it is just a tad bit strange that a Catholic has to appeal to a Protestant in order to uphold primarily Catholic just war thought and ethical considerations.In fact, in the article cited by Greg: 60 Years Later: Considering Hiroshima , Hanson never once uses the terms just war or Christian or Catholic. And when he uses the word morality in reference to the bombings, it is in a sense decidedly non-Catholic, and arguably relativistic, merely utilitarian, and an instance of situation ethics (I shall cite that portion below, in a separate section). Furthermore, he strongly implies that the bombings were indiscriminate actions in precisely the sense that Catholic teaching clearly condemns. So this is a strange source for Greg to cite in favor of his outwardly Catholic position. Hanson's argument does not (at least not prima facie) proceed from Catholic or even general Christian principles, it seems to me. Could it be tied into the "double effect" principle?

When Dave can pull the boards of Pat "[the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki] are te rrorism on a colossal scale "Buchanan, Ralph "Truman is a war criminal worse than any Japanese general" Racio, and Howard "Objectivity is impossible, even undesirable" Zinn from his eye, he will see that Hanson isn't even a speck in mine. I don't cite Hanson as moral authority per se, but as a military historian and scholar who indeed "puts the smackdown" on on the revisionists and handwringers who operate from a faulty premise regarding the circumstance within which Truman made his decision. That's pretty much it! So, how Dave comes to the conclusion that Hanson's Swedish Protestant lineage is somehow relavent here and that I am ascribing some sort of quasi-magisterial authority to him is a big mystery to me.

Dave's attempts to deflect the justification of the bombings viz. the principle of double effect are, in a word, pathetic. Since Shawn demonstrates in painstaking detail how this is so, I won't belabor the point too much. But I would like to comment on one thing Dave says here:

"It cannot plausibly be maintained that this was a non-intended effect of a moral good (taking out military installations) because of the nature of the weapon, where it was targeted, and immediate historical precedent." (Empahsis Added)

If Dave thinks that the "nature of the weapon" (i.e Nuke) proves that the bomb drops are unjustifiable, it (to borrow a phrase from his beloved Cardinal John Henry Newman) "proves too much." It not only proves that the bomb drops are unjustifiable, but that Pope John Paul II, in recognizing the moral licitness of nuclear weapons as a means of deterence, is endorsing situation ethics (i.e. the ends justify the means). The logical conclusion here is inescapapble: If the acquisition and/or build-up of nuclear weapons as a means of deterence is morally licit, then so are their use, should the circumstances require it. And as we will see a bit later, this isn't the first place Mr. Armstrong runs into trouble with the late pontiff.

Now let us turn our attention to some of the particular quotes Dave cites (Dave's comments and sources are in red my sources in blue, and my comments in regular font). The first is what he cites from Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani:

Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani wrote in 1947:

The extent of the damage done to national assets by aerial warfare, and the dreadful weapons that have been introduced of late, is so great that it leaves both vanquished and victor the poorer for years after.Innocent people, too, are liable to great injury from the weapons in current use: hatred is on that account excited above measure; extremely harsh reprisals are provoked; wars result which flaunt every provision of the jus gentium, and are marked by a savagery greater than ever. And what of the period immediately after a war? Does not it also provide an obvious pointer to the enormous and irreparable damage which war, the breeding place of hate and hurt, must do to the morals and manners of nations?These considerations, and many others which might be adduced besides, show that modern wars can never fulfil those conditions which (as we stated earlier on in this essay) govern - theoretically - a just and lawful war. Moreover, no conceivable cause could ever be sufficient justification for the evils, the slaughter, the destruction, the moral and religious upheavals which war today entails.

[I would argue that current-day technology with non-nuclear precision, "surgical" strikes, smart bombs, etc. make just war conditions far easier to fulfill than 60 years ago (indeed I believe that the criteria are fully met in the Iraqi War); but one cannot anachronistically project today's weapons back to 1945; the atomic bombings as they were carried out remain unjustifiable by catholic moral standards]

First of all, it seems rather clear that Dave is confusing the difference between making a clear moral judgement and expressing concerns about the dangers of modern warfare (i.e. hand wringing). Again, this would prove too much if we were to follow Dave's logic because His Eminence is clearly including conventional weapons and war in general, and makes no mention of nukes (even though he probably had those in mind too). Dave does a good job of hoisting himself on his own petard with his bracketed comment at the bottom. His stating that "current-day technology with non-nuclear precision, "surgical" strikes, smart bombs, etc. make just war conditions far easier to fulfill than 60 years ago" put him in direct conflict with the opinions of Popes John XXIII, John Paul II, and the present pontiff Benedict XVI who all argue the opposite, that "current technology" makes war less, not more justifiable vis-a -vis the Just War theory than before. But then again he can disagree with those opinions (as do I) because such disagreements fall well within the framework of the legitmate diversity of opinion enjoyed by Catholics. However, since he later quotes John Paul II, speaking in the same manner about the bombings to make his case that the bombings cannot be justified by Catholic moral standards, he has to say the same about the Iraq war, a war which he believes to be just. Can't have your filet mignon and eat it too, Dave.

Next is his citing of Karl Keating's August 3, 2004 E-Letter:

Many justify the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima by saying the abrupt end to the war saved as many as a million American lives that would have been lost had Japan been invaded. I don't know where the figure of one million came from. My understanding is that the War Department estimated a maximum of 46,000 casualties in an invasion. That was a worst-case scenario, meaning the likely number of casualties would have been far lower.

Some commentators have argued that no invasion was needed at all, since Japan no longer had an air force or navy and had no domestic source of oil for its industries. A blockade would have resulted in the Japanese war machine and economy grinding to a halt. The war thus could have ended without an invasion, though the end probably would have come long after the summer of 1945.

Be that as it may, what concerns me is the attitude, so prevalent among political conservatives (most of whom are religious conservatives), that there are no limits in defensive warfare: If the other guys started the fight, they deserve whatever they get. In a defensive war it is not a matter of "My country right or wrong" but of "My country can do no wrong," which is an odd thing coming from conservatives who, on domestic matters, can be highly critical of their government's moral failings (as regards abortion or homosexuality, say).

To achieve a good, you may not perform a sin. To provide your family financial security, you may not rob a bank. To protect your wife's health, you may not abort the child she is carrying. And to defeat an enemy in war, you may not violate just war principles. But we did--and more than once, sad to say.

The atomic bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, like the fire bombings of Dresden and other German cities, cannot be squared with Catholic moral principles because the bombings deliberately targeted non-combatants. The evil done by our enemies did not exonerate us from the moral law. Their evils did not provide us justification for evils of our own. Being a Christian in peacetime is difficult; it is more difficult, but even more necessary, in wartime.

Fat Man exploded directly above the Catholic cathedral in Nagasaki. The city was the historical center of Catholicism in Japan and contained about a tenth of the entire Catholic population. The cathedral was filled with worshipers who had gathered to pray for a speedy and just end to the war. It is said their prayers included a petition to offer themselves, if God so willed it, in reparation for the evils perpetrated by their country

Dave not only doesn't help his own case here, but also doesn't do the Apologist any favors by repeating the latter's rather weak arguments. For starters, if the Apologist could have made a clear magisterial argument against the bomb drops, effectively slamming the door on any Catholic debate, he definitely would have. But the fact that he doesn't undercuts his slam-dunk protryal of it that it "cannot be squared with Catholic principles." And the matter-of-fact way that he states that the bombings were the "deliberate targeting of civilians" shows that his lacuna of knowledge regarding the situation is such that he is unable to correctly apply Catholic principles to it. Truman's diary entry of July 25, 1945 states:

"This weapon is to be used against Japan between now and August 10th. I have told the Sec. of War, Mr. Stimson to use it so that military objectives and soldiers and sailors are the target and not women and children. Even if the world for the common welfare cannot drop this terrible bomb on the old Capitol or the new."

When this is read in conjunction with the other statements made in other pertinent documentation, the unqualified assertion made by the Apologist that the bombings "deliberately targeted non-combatants" is totally absurd. Moreover, further blurring the distinction between combatant and non-combatants is the fact that Japanese civilians were being conscripted en masse. According to MacArthur biographer William Manchester:

Hirohito's generals, grimly preparing for the invasion, had not abandoned hope of saving their homeland. Although a few strategic islands had been lost, they told each other, most of their conquests, including the Chinese heartland, were firmly in their hands, and the bulk of their army was undefeated. Even now they could scarcely believe that any foe would have the audacity to attempt landings in Japan itself. Allied troops, they boasted, would face the fiercest resistance in history. Over ten thousand kamikaze planes were readied for "Ketsu-Go," Operation Decision. Behind the beaches, enormous connecting underground caves had been stocked with caches of food and thousands of tons of ammunition. Manning the nation's ground defenses were 2,350,000 regular soldiers, 250,000 garrison troops, and 32,000,000 civilian militiamen, a total of 34,600,000, more than the combined armies of the United States, Great Britain, and Nazi Germany. All males aged fifteen to sixty, and all females ages seventeen to forty-five, had been conscripted. Their weapons included ancient bronze cannon, muzzle loaded muskets, bamboo spears, and bows and arrows. Even little children had been trained to strap explosives around their waists, roll under tank treads, and blow themselves up. They were called "Sherman's carpets." This was the enemy the Pentagon had learned to fear and hate,a country of fanatics dedicated to hara-kiri, determined to slay as many invaders as possible as they went down fighting. [William Manchester: American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880-1964, pg. 510-511)]

It is worth noting here the fact that this statement comes from the biography of one of the most high profile opponents of the bomb drops is of no small import here.

The ignorance of the Apologist on this subject is further laid bare with his "46,000 worst-case scenario" canard. My friend Shawn briefly explains where that number came from:

"To start with, I remind you all that there were over 7,000 American battle deaths in Iwo Jima (21,000 Japanese deaths) and 12,000 American battle deaths at Okinawa (Japanese killed or captured was around 100,000: that excludes suicides by Japanese soldiers to avoid capture). The decision to use the bomb (and forego an invasion) was made after Okinawa because of the concern that invading Japan may well involve a whole slew of Okinawas. Prior to that point, several scenarios were run by the Joint War Plans Committee with battle deaths ranging from 21,000-46,000 with casualties of 105,000-170,000. I remind you all that those figures were presented in June of 1945 and were based on running various scenarios as well as estimations of Japanese troop levels being at six combat divisions, two depot divisions, 350,000 men total (numbers first proposed in 1944), and other elements. Furthermore, they were offered as an "educated guess": hardly the definitive statements..."

MacArthur himself even further debunks the 46,000-casualty error via his biographer:

He [MacArthur] had no illusions about the savagery that lay ahead he told Stimson that Downfall would "cost over a million casualties to American forces alone"--but he was confident that with the tanks from Europe he could outmaneuver the defenders on the great Kanto Plain before Tokyo. Whether he would be as adroit with Eisenhower's generals "not to mention Ike himself- was another matter. Granting an interview to Bert Andrews of the New York Herald Tribune, he said that the ETO commanders had made "every mistake that supposedly intelligent men could make," that "the North African operation was absolutely useless," that "the European strategy was to hammer stupidly against the enemy's strongest points" and that if he had been given "just a portion of the force" sent to North Africa in 1942, he "could have retaken the Philippines in three months because by then the Japanese were not ready." [William Manchester: American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880-1964, pg. 513]

Besides, if 46,000 casualties was anywhere near a realistic scenario, not to mention worst case scenario, for what would have been the largest invasion in the history of warfare (it would have made the Allied invasion of Normandy look like a couple of sailors crashing a bridal shower) it would have meant that the invasion, in proportion to its magnitude, would have been the Mother of All Cakewalks. Truman would have been a fool (not to mention criminally cupable) not to opt for the invasion because dropping the bomb instead, in the face of such minimal losses in an invasion, would have robbed him of a much-needed moral high ground.

Lest anyone think that the U.S. did not consider holding the moral high ground important and that they didn't have it, I refer them to the very insightful words of Japanese diplomat Toshikazu Kase, in his 1945 report to Emperor Hirohito on the ceremony aboard the USS Missouri (BB-63) marking the surrender of Japan, and the end of the Second World War. He wondered "whether it would have been possible for us, had we been victorious, to embrace the vanquished with similar magnanimity [as the U.S. embraced the Japanese]. Clearly, it would have been different." He continues, " After all, we were not beaten by dint of superior arms. We were defeated in the spiritual contest by virtue of a nobler idea. The real issue was moral--beyond all the powers of algebra to compute." (Taken from William Manchester's "American Ceasar: Douglas MacArthur 1880-1964" pg. 534)

Just as, if not more, absurd than the 46,000 casualties worst-case scenario canard is the idea of a blockade of Japan. The death and misery that a blockade would have visited upon the Japanese civilian population would have dwarfed that of the bombings. Historian Richard Frank points out.:

The strategy of blockade and bombardment looked to end the war by starving the Japanese population and trusting that the emaciated survivors surrendered. This strategy was supported by naval and air officers who later claimed it could have ended the war without the atomic bombs. While General Marshall told Truman in June 1945 that the air campaign could not end the war with Japan, I believe that there is good chance (though not certainty) that the advocates of bombardment and blockade were correct. There is no absolute certainty as to when the war might have ended under this strategy given the contingency of so many events and the belief among many Japanese officers that it would be better for the Japanese people to perish than to surrender.

Japanese historians maintain that ten million Japanese were on the edge of starvation when the war ended. Certainly the records of the early occupation period I examined brought home forcefully an extremely dire food shortage that lurched very close to a famine during 1946. Had the U.S. chosen to rely simply on the blockade and bombardment strategy and not use atomic bombs or an invasion, it would have killed a great many of these ten million starving Japanese, if not all. Would we be morally more at ease with this outcome? How many of them were children? I believe for reasons I set out in my book that had the war gone on for only days after August 15, the revised targeting directive aiming the B-29s at the Japanese rail system and the food shortage would have locked Japan on a course to a mass famine regardless of whether the war ended shortly after the rail system was destroyed or not. Thus, it was far more imperative for the Japanese that the war end abruptly in August 1945 than they have appreciated. And it was far more fortunate that events worked out that they did surrender then.

If the Apologist objects to the Atomic bomb drops that had the derivative, not intentional, effect of killing 200,000, he would have to object more strongly to the blockade idea that could possibly have starved to death as high as fifty times that many. And I'm sure everyone, except maybe Michael Schiavo attorney George Felos, would agree that being killed by an atomic blast is a more merciful death than starvation.

Let us now turn our attention to the Mark Shea "If Killing You is Wrong, I Don't Wanna Be Right" piece shall we? It is not all together clear from this piece whether or not Mark is inferring that believing the bombings are justified is an example of an "If Killing You is Wrong, I Don't Wanna Be Right" mindset. Anyone with an understanding of Catholic principles guiding moral conduct in war and an understanding of the circumstance surrounding the decision to drop the bomb wouldn't dare utter such nonsense, regardless of whether he believed the bombings were justified or not.

I find Dave's citing of Fr. Jim Tucker especially interesting seeing as how I had asked the young padre to substantiate his "Vatican of Pope Pius XII condemned these actions as crimes against God and man" claim and the best he could do is come up with second and third hand sources (one of which I cite in my previous blog post on the subject) too ambiguous to add up to a condemnation of any kind, much less a magisterial condemantion. In response, I had pointed out to Fr. Tucker that when these statements are understood in the overall context as to how the political Vaticanese toward war issues had developed from at least fifty years prior to the time of Pius XII (especially during the pontificate of Benedict XV) these statements aren't really all that harsh. In fact, Pope John Paul II had been more harsh in his opposition to the death penalty and that Vatican officials had been much more harsh in their opposition to the Iraq war and that both issues are within what the future Pope Benedict XVI called a "legitimate diversity of opinion" even going so far as explicitly stating that Catholics could disagree with the Holy Father in an official CDF communique to the USCCB last year.

Furthermore, I asked if Pius XII believed that there was absolutely no room in the Catholic conscience then why didn't he make that clear, seeing as how many, if not most, Catholics in the U.S. and other Allied countries likely agreed with Truman's decision. It would have been his pastoral duty to correct such erroneous consciences, no?

Moreover, I also illustrated how Guadium et Spes #80 does not apply to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings because they were not (a) indiscriminate (b) directed toward the destruction of cities. As the relevant statements from Truman's diary and other documents make clear that they were military targets that specifically state that civilians were not targeted, although it was a foregone conclusion that there were going to be civilian casualties. And such action can be justified under the principle of double-effect provided the bad effect of such action does not outweigh the bad effect to be avoided.

My response was sent on 8/18 of this year and I have yet to receive a reply.

Then he quotes Fr. Michael Scanlon, former President of Franciscan University at Steubenville, Ohio:

In addition to dealing with the internal reality of sin and the need for conversion, the call to be penitents enables one to deal effectively with the sin in the world around us. Men and women frequently experience depression when they allow themselves to experience the sinful atrocities of the contemporary world. Whether it be the ovens of Auschwitz and Dachau, the charred bodies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the ravages of saturation bombing, the starvation of Bangladesh and Calcutta, the destruction of family life and morals, the prevalence of abortion and pornography, the teenage drug addicts and alcoholics, the crime waves, the imminence of a nuclear holocaust, the practical atheism of pagans and nominal Christian peoples, or the individual tragedies that touch all our lives, the sin around us is real and must be faced. Who does not experience powerlessness in the face of all this? (

Here again, Dave achieves more in the way of embarrassing the person he is citing than he does in buttressing his case. He exposes Fr. Scanlon's rather careless way of lumping in the bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in with the atrocities at Auschwitz and Dachau. Irrespective of whether or not one believes the bombings to be just, it is clear that there is absolutely no comparison between an act that had as its motivation the ending of a grueling and bloody war and preventing further mass bloodshed and an act that was clearly directed to the extermination of innocents because of their race. It is beyond incomprehensible that anyone, not to mention the former president of one of the most reputable Catholic Universities in the U.S., if not the world, would even give the impression that these acts share any moral equality. I will give Fr. Scanlan the benefit of the doubt by not asserting that he did this deliberately, but it does read in such a manner that it could be interpreted that way.

Then he cites C.S. Lewis:

C.S. Lewis:

"The victory of vivisection marks a great advance in the triumph of ruthless, non-moral utilitarianism over the old world of ethical law; a triumph in which we, as well as animals, are already the victims, and of which Dachau and Hiroshima mark the more recent achievements."

May I add, the non-Catholic C.S. Lewis! Since he gives me grief for citing the non-Catholic Victor Davis Hanson (even though I don't cite him as a moral authority per se as Dave is clearly citing Lewis), it is only proper for me to return the favor. Again, lumping the bombings in with Dachau, as the quote from C.S. Lewis appears to be doing, is a prima faciae absurdity as I already explained above.

Now, let's see how Dave tries to bring two popes in on the act. First up is Pope Paul VI:

It is no longer a simple, ingenuous and dangerous utopia. It is the new Law of mankind which goes forward, and which arms Peace with a formidable principle: 'You are all brethren' (Mt 23:8). If the consciousness of universal brotherhood truly penetrates into the hearts of men, will they still need to arm themselves to the point of becoming blind and fanatic killers of their brethren who in themselves are innocent, and of perpetrating, as a contribution to Peace, butchery of untold magnitude, as at Hiroshima on 6 August 1945? And in fact has not our own time had an example of what can be done by a weak man, Gandhi - armed only with the principle of non-violence - to vindicate for a Nation of hundreds of millions of human beings the freedom and dignity of a new People?"

Since, as the contextual background of the pope's statement and the venue in which it was made make clear, it carries no magisterial weight and must be treated solely on its merits as any other opinion. And given the fact that this statement is inserted into a hand-wringing over war in general, it unclear what the pope's actual opinion was as to morality of the bombings. I remember Shawn remarking to me in a conversation that he has read a couple of biographies on Pope Paul VI did not come across any discussion on the part of the late pontiff on the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. It is not at all unreasonable to assume that because the future Pope PauL VI already had enough on his plate in the years following the war with his various duties, he was not able to study the issue in sufficient depth to be able really weigh in on the matter.

It is also important to note here that during the time (the 1960's) Cardinal Montini was elected pope (1963) coincided with a massive change in how historical events were interpreted and that widespread disputes broke out over whether certain events actually occurred. This is a nice way of saying that revisionist history gained an inordinate amount of traction during this time.
Its effect on understanding the circumstances surrounding the bombings is even more complex, as historian Richard Frank explains:

"In 1945, an overwhelming majority of Americans regarded as a matter of course that the United States had used atomic bombs to end the Pacific war. They further believed that those bombs had actually ended the war and saved countless lives. This set of beliefs is now sometimes labeled by academic historians the "traditionalist" view. One unkindly dubbed it the "patriotic orthodoxy."

But in the 1960s, what were previously modest and scattered challenges of the decision to use the bombs began to crystallize into a rival canon. The challengers were branded "revisionists," but this is inapt. Any historian who gains possession of significant new evidence has a duty to revise his appreciation of the relevant events. These challengers are better termed "critics. "
Among an important stratum of American society--and still more perhaps abroad--the critics' interpretation displaced the traditionalist view."

Further still, the MAGIC cables did not first become declassified until 1978, the same year Paul VI died. Even then, the release of the full non redacted set didn't take place until 1995.

Next is John Paul II:

Pope John Paul II condemned the bombings, and strongly implied by comparison that they were genocidal, as shown in Catholic World Report, Nov. 1999 (vol. 9, No. 10): "World Watch" http://www.cathol..):

Lessons of Hiroshima, NagasakiPope sees "crimes" in atomic bombing
As he greeted a new ambassador from Japan, Pope John Paul II said that Hiroshima and Nagasaki should stand as "symbols of peace" and should remind the world of "the crimes committed against civilian populations during World War II."

Receiving the new ambassador, Toru Iwanami, on September 11, the Pontiff lamented that "true genocides" are still being committed in several parts of the world today. He expressed his regret that the "culture of peace is still far from being spread throughout the world."

In response, I will just simply repeat, (with a few minor adjustments) my earlier response to this in Dave's comments box on 8/29:


If the quotes you provided from JPII and Paul VI is of them speaking in a magisterial voice, then it would be game, set, match. Shawn and I would have to change our positions if we were to remain within the bounds of Catholic orthodoxy.

No pope has ever condemned the use of nukes as intrinsically evil. In fact, the same JPII you quoted recognized the moral licitness of building up nukes as a means of deterrence. The inescapably logical conclusion drawn from that is that their use can be morally licit, should circumstances require it.

I wonder that if JPII (or Paul VI for that matter) knew that the bomb drops were not the targeting of civilians but the targeting of military assets that caused civilian casulties as a derivative effect and that the only alternative would have been a blockade that would have starved and/or an invasion that would have slaughtered in upwards of ten times the amount of civilians, if he would have spoken of the bombings as crimes. You cannot assume, especially without them explaining why they hold such opinions, that they have accurate knowledge of the concrete circumstances surrounding the decision to drop the bombs. There was, and still is, a great deal of misinformation out there regarding the bomb drops. You should know; you've spent the last week or so parroting a great deal of it.

Furthermore, if you are going to cite statements JPII (you would do better to find the full text of the pope's statements than just a Catholic World Report news blurb using snippets) made when receiving a Japanese ambassador to buttress your case that the supporting Truman's decision has no room in the Catholic conscience, then you would have to say that the same pontiff calling the death penalty "cruel and unnecessary" in St. Louis in 1999 means that support for the death penalty has no room in the Catholic conscience either. This would put you in a real quandary because JPII's doctrinal chief (who now sits in the papal chair made clear (with the pontiff's approval) that a Catholic can disagree with the Holy Father on this issue in an official CDF commnique to the USCCB."

As Dave did not interact with those points when I first raised them on 8/29, I will not be surprised if he again fails to do so here.

On the issue of whether or not John Paul II had adequate information as to what went into that fateful decision, I would be remiss if I didn't point out that, in addition to the factors I cited above in my response to his citing Paul VI, John Paul II had the added burden of being behind the Iron Curtain until his elevation to the papacy in 1978. And when we consider the development of Vatican policy (not doctrine mind you) toward war in general and nuclear weapons in conjunction with the influence of revisionist history previously alluded to, it is by no means an unreasonable stretch to assume that he may have been further influenced by Communist spin doctoring on the bombing issue.

Because of his reputation as a credible thinker regarding Catholicism and just war issues, theologian and John Paul II biographer George Weigel is the most credible source he cites:

George Weigel readily concedes the objective immorality of the bombings, and their clash with just war theory, while noting the limitations of the options of that terrible time (as opposed to maintaining that the actions nwere just because of the complexities of the ethics and military strategy, as Greg and Shawn and Victor Davis Hanson do):

In these circumstances, which were the real world circumstances of the time, the use of atomic weapons seems far less a deliberate atrocity than a tragic necessity.This is not to suggest that the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was, or is, easily justifiable under the moral criteria of the classic just war tradition. But the moral barrier had been breached long before August 6 and August 8, 1945. So-called strategic bombing, aimed at the destruction of civilian populations, had been going on for five years; none of it met the just war in bello criteria of proportionality anddiscrimination. Indeed, if one measures the violation of non-combatant immunitystatistically, the fire-bombing of Tokyo, Osaka, Kobe, Nagoya, and other Japanese cities was a greater breach of the just war tradition than Hiroshima and Nagasaki.That the Germans had destroyed Rotterdam, the British, Hamburg, and the British and Americans, Dresden, does not "justify" the American destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But certain moral distinctions can and should be drawn between the bombing of cities for purposes of sheer terror (Rotterdam) or revenge (Dresden), and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which, on the best available evidence, was undertaken with a legitimate strategic purpose in mind. That purpose was summarized succinctly by Truman biographer David McCullough: "If you want one explanation as to why Truman dropped the bomb: 'Okinawa.' It was done to stop the killing."The greater legitimacy of an end does not, of course, justify any possible means.But recognizing the legitimacy of the end does enable us to enter imaginatively and even sympathetically into the moral struggle over means faced by a responsible political leader confronting a brace of bad choices.It sometimes happens, these days, that a parallel is drawn between Auschwitz and Hiroshima, as two embodiments of the evil of the Second World War. But this seems wrong. What Harry Truman did in August 1945 was, strictly speaking, unjustifiable in classic moral terms. But it was understandable, and it was forgivable. What was done at Auschwitz was unjustifiable, maniacal, and, in this world's terms, unforgivable. That is a considerable moral difference.

But outside of the fact that Dave and George Weigel agree that bombings cannot be justified, all similarities between them cease. Unlike Dave, Weigel sympathizes with Truman's decision. I am sure Mr. Weigel would be as appalled as I am at Dave's calling the bombings the "murder of 200,000 civilians." Although I disagree with Weigel's conclusion that the bombings do not meet the Ius in Bello criteria, I applaud the rather balanced way he takes that position.

It seems to me that Weigel is laboring under the idea that we were targeting civilians. As I had previous shown, this is erroneous or (in the best case favoring the view condemning the bombings outright) very, very, very doubtful.

I think the reason why Weigel is taken in by this error is that perhaps the "critics" view was probably an uncontested view (as outlined the by Richard Frank quote above) in the academic environment that Weigel came of age in.

Now to some concluding thoughts. I am sure many readers have, understandably, two questions on their minds at this juncture: 1) Why am I "attacking" a fellow orthodox Catholic in public so strongly? And 2) Why are you expending so much energy arguing over something that happened sixty years ago?

To the first objection, for starters, in the words of John Rambo, "He drew first bluhd" by blind siding us, naming us by name, in going after us in public first. Even after Shawn appealed to him to bring this back into the private forum before this situation gets ugly and Dave goes further and further adrift into waters he has no idea how to navigate in, Dave refused. Furthermore, if we are going to hold our opposition accountable when they unceasingly engage in this kind of shoddy pseudo-argumentation, shouldn't we hold fellow Catholics, particularly those who have established reputations for orthodoxy and influence to an even higher standard?

Answering the second objection comes down to this: What happened on August 6th and August 9th 1945 are significant historical events. And the care we take in acquiring and fostering a proper understanding of those historical events has a profound impact on the future, even if we at times draw different conclusions as to the moral rightness of the decisions shaping those events. In light of the havoc wreaked by revisionist history in recent years, it is clear that Santayana wasn't blowing smoke out of the southern end of his anatomy when he said that "Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it."

As Catholics, we of all people should be all the more mindful of this because arguably no other insititution in the world has been more victimized by revisionist history than the Catholic Church.

I hope and pray that Dave Armstrong will take this to heart and exercise much greater care in his portryal of these gruesome and horrific events.


{1} Lest the reader draw any conclusions that this writer has any personal axe to grind against Mr. Armstrong, let me point out a couple of things. I have a great deal of respect and admiration for the way he has used the medium of the Internet to make the truths of the Catholic faith accessible to literally thousands. I am also grateful for the public solidarity he showed Shawn and I when we publicly rebuked Stephen Hand for passing off his irresponsible rantings as though they were some kind of quasi-Catholic dogma, particularly in light of the way Dave took the brunt of Stephen's mean-spitited public accusations.

Kevin Tierney's response to Dave Armstrong can be read here.


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