Peace is Our Profession
August 8, 2015 14 Comments
In still another demonstration of the consequences of decline of American leadership, as the seventieth anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki approach, we are once again forced to confront the horrific moral problems of the use of nuclear weapons.
As is, or should be, well-known, Truman and American leadership had no doubt at all about the morality of the use of atomic weapons in the case of Imperial Japan. As stated here:
It was to spare the Japanese people from utter destruction that the ultimatum of July 26 was issued at Potsdam. Their leaders promptly rejected that ultimatum. If they do not now accept our terms they may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth.
And the real justification is this:
Hiroshima and Nagasaki were nuked 70 years ago. 34 years ago Paul Fussell wrote this important essay, ‘Thank God for the Atom Bomb’.
21 year old 2nd Lt. Fussell commanded infantry in WWII France. Later, he had to sit around waiting to invade Japan and die. That was the general expectation of the vets of the European theater – they didn’t think they’d survive Japan.
Then Aug 6th happened.
When the atom bombs were dropped and news began to circulate that “Operation Olympic” would not, after all, be necessary, when we learned to our astonishment that we would not be obliged in a few months to rush up the beaches near Tokyo assault-firing while being machine-gunned, mortared, and shelled, for all the practiced phlegm of our tough facades we broke down and cried with relief and joy. We were going to live. We were going to grow to adulthood after all.
Do read that essay linked above, and the link here and think about that last line. One Million American soldiers and most of the population of Japan thought that in August of 1945.
The essay ends this way:
Harry Truman was not a fascist but a democrat. He was as close to a genuine egalitarian as anyone we’ve seen in high office for a long time. He is the only President in my lifetime who ever had experience in a small unit of ground troops whose mission it was to kill people. That sort of experience of actual war seems useful to presidents especially, helping to inform them about life in general and restraining them from making fools of themselves needlessly – the way Ronald Reagan did in 1985 when he visited the German military cemetery at Bitburg containing the SS graves. […]
Truman was a different piece of goods entirely. He knew war, and he knew better than some of his critics then and now what he was doing and why he was doing it. “Having found the bomb,” he said, “we have used it. . . . We have used it to shorten the agony of young Americans.” The past, which as always did not know the future, acted in ways that ask to be imagined before they are condemned. Or even simplified.
Paul David Miller writing in The Federalist did a pretty good summarization of the case for the moral use of nuclear weapons.
Because nuclear weapons are so big, they are hard to use in a discriminating way. Drop one bomb and you are almost guaranteed to kill far more people than is militarily necessary.
It would be easier to argue for the immorality of all weapons under the guise of pacifism—all weapons, all war, and all violence are always wrong—but that is neither what the president argued nor what most Christians or most citizens instinctively believe. According to the just war tradition, Biblical passages like Genesis 9 and Romans 13 permit—even obligate—states to wage war in pursuit of a just cause. As part of the covenant God established with Noah and his descendants after the flood, God mandated that we pursue violent offenders with the sword: “From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man” (Genesis 9:5). God specifically did not reserve for himself the duty to strike down violent aggressors, but chose to delegate the task to us. This is the foundation of the state’s legitimate coercive authority and the reason most Christians have not been pacifists. “Rulers do not bear the sword for no reason,” Paul wrote (Romans 13:4), “They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” The “sword” is a violent, coercive tool: states exist under God’s mandate to uphold order in this fallen world.
States can, therefore, wield weapons. Why not nuclear weapons? The best moral argument against nuclear weapons, as opposed to other kinds of weapons, is that they violate the just war principles of discrimination and proportionality. The principle of discrimination says that in fighting a war justly, we are obligated to discriminate between enemy combatants and civilians and avoid harming the latter as much as possible. This is a simple extension of our obligation to love our enemies and our neighbors: we should strive to kill as few of them as necessary. Because nuclear weapons are so big, they are hard to use in a discriminating way. Drop one bomb and you are almost guaranteed to kill far more people than is militarily necessary. Hiroshima was the headquarters of Japan’s Second General Army and Nagasaki was a major industrial center for war materiel, both legitimate wartime targets—but the nuclear bombing of those cities killed up to 250,000 people, almost all civilians.
Continue reading: In Defense Of (Some) Nuclear Weapons.
He does a good job here and I think you should read the whole thing. One place where I think he falls down a bit, is in making a clear delineation between tactical and strategic. What he says was true, in the early 60s and perhaps through part of the 70s, but with the deployment of Minuteman III, Peacekeeper, and Trident, American strategic warheads returned to around 120-800 or so kiloton range with a circular error probable (CEP) of approximately eighty to one hundred and twenty meters. They are the ultimate smart bombs, specifically designed to destroy Soviet missile silos, and thus actually fall under counterforce rules. The countervalue weapons are all gone from the American inventory.
Remember the heady days in the early 90s when history had ended, and we had a ‘peace dividend’ to waste on corrupt programs? Those days are gone, Father Time has restarted the clock, and the most horrendous part of recent American foreign policy is that now, seventy years after the first use of atomic weapons, we again must contemplate the moral way use them again.
Experience is indeed the best teacher, and we threw away ours in a dream of eternal peace, one hopes that relearning the lesson is not as expensive as it could be.