Today, the Feast of the Transfiguration, is also the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. Usually, it’s people on the left who are on the wrong side of morality. But in the case of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, it’s usually conservatives who are wrong here.
It’s interesting that Sherman’s burning of Atlanta is considered a vile act of barbarism, although Sherman merely burned property and spared civilians. Truman did not spare civilians. Indeed, no second thought is given in the fire-bombing of German and Japanese cities. Sherman is quoted as saying, “War is hell,” but the problem here is whether we will place any moral restraint in our war effort. Surely, war should never be entered into war lightly, and nations do deserve, and are obligated, to defend themselves. War then, is a not necessarily evil, but can be morally neutral. Yet, war crimes are possible during war. After World War II, the Nuremberg trials charged Germans with crimes against humanity. These crimes against humanity were based on natural law. Excuses such as “I merely followed orders” or “it was not against German law at the time” were unacceptable excuses. It seems that the moral calculation is one which says that it is a crime when you do it, but not a crime when I do it (or when my side does it).
The focal point of these discussions is whether Truman made the morally correct decision in bombing Hiroshima. Defenders usually invoke the position that this bomb spared us a costly Japanese invasion. The problem is that although we think we can foresee the short term consequences, we actually can’t foresee all the consequences. The World War I soldier who regrets not shooting Hitler during that Great War has no idea what the alternate World War II might have brought. Supposing that Hitler had killed a Jew who, if he had lived, would have developed a virus which wiped out all of humanity. Would that be considered a defense of Auschwitz? Of course not! We cannot base a morality upon the consequences, because we can never weigh all the possible consequences. We don’t have that knowledge. We can only judge whether the act, at that moment in time, is morally evil or not. If it would have been a war crime if the Germans had dropped the atom bomb on Boston, we can not turn around to say Hiroshima was not morally evil.
We live in these days, in fear that a dirty nuke will devastate a major American city. Such fears were brought about as a reason to go to war. They are weapons of mass destruction. So was the bomb at Hiroshima a weapon of mass destruction. Are we to trust Americans with such weapons? Why should the world trust us, since we’ve messed up on that moral question already?