Saturday, 7 August 2010

The Shock of the Bomb

Underneath this title, a lead article in today's Times proclaims:
Hiroshima was a terrible act of war but no crime, in a just and necessary fight
The lead article comments on the annual commemoration of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, taking note of the first time participation in the commemoration in Hiroshima itself of the US Ambassador to Japan.
The American commemoration symbolised humanitarian concern and President Obama's commitment to building a peaceful world order. It was not an apology to the people of Japan. Neither this administration nor any other is ever likely to give one. That is not obduracy but recognition of historical truth. The bombings of Hiroshima and, three days later, Nagasaki were a terrible act of war. But they were no crime. ...

Was there no alternative? There was: a conventional invasion of the mainland and a blockade. It does not settle the ethical debate over the A-bomb, but that course would have cost many more lives and provided a glimpse of hell...

America's use of the A-bomb ended a necessary war against a totalitarian power. That memory places an historic obligation on the US and its allies to reflect with humility, but not with contrition, on destruction wreaked in a just cause.
Wasn't the dropping of the two atomic bombs itself a "glimpse of hell"? Doesn't the anxiety to avoid civilian casualties in current conflicts rather contradict the attitude of disregard to civilian casualties caused in Hiroshima and Nagasaki? And if apology and contrition is considered appropriate in other contexts, why not in this one?

From the point of view of Catholic teaching, few statements are as solemn as that contained in Vatican II's condemnation of total war in its constitution Gaudium et Spes n.80:
...this most holy synod makes its own the condemnations of total war already pronounced by recent popes,(2) and issues the following declaration.

Any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities of extensive areas along with their population is a crime against God and man himself. It merits unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation.

The unique hazard of modern warfare consists in this: it provides those who possess modern scientific weapons with a kind of occasion for perpetrating just such abominations; moreover, through a certain inexorable chain of events, it can catapult men into the most atrocious decisions. That such may never truly happen in the future, the bishops of the whole world gathered together, beg all men, especially government officials and military leaders, to give unremitting thought to their gigantic responsibility before God and the entire human race.

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