I Don't Want To Be Right About The Bomb

I found myself engaged in thoughtful conversation with a political fellow traveler the other day on topic fraught with moral and intellectual landmines. The fellow and I have had a running conversation on various different topics. As we agree on many things, and agreement signals the end of conversation, we prefer to engage upon the topics in which we diverge.

One particular topic brings him back time and again and seems to have the same irresistible lure of a good whiskey on a November evening. The bomb. The Hiroshima bomb.

We have been over this topic many times and we still disagree, but he continues to push me to heat the metal of logic to see if we can bend it to our wills. Nevertheless, every time we do, it breaks.

I want to agree that dropping the bomb was the right thing to do, I just cannot.

My colleague Jimmy Akin has done the heavy lifting on this topic so that I don't have to.

My friend and I have been over these points before, but he decided to revisit it after sending me this video by Bill Whittle, with whom I agree most of the time. The video is making the rounds again.

Knowing the Catholic (my) position, my friend tried to find the loophole and I admit that I would prefer to have him find one for me.

As Whittle explains, the Japanese people might plausibly be viewed as more than just innocent bystanders. Modern warfare depends so much on the manufacturing capability of a people that a case could be made that the civilian population might rightly be considered active participants.

It is an interesting, if unconvincing argument I told him. Even if this was the case, there were many other means by which we could--and were--destroying that Japanese manufacturing base. By the time we dropped the bomb, and freely admitted by most,  the U.S. had almost complete air superiority. Even Whittle notes that we were dropping leaflets and performing many other bombing runs prior to the Enola Gay's flight. We had the capability of destroying that manufacturing base without targeting an entire city of men, women, and children, many of whom could never be considered combatants.

He countered, as does Whittle, that in the culture of Japan at the time, every man, woman, and child would have resisted an Allied invasion even if they were reduced to using stick and stones. Such an invasion, the argument goes, might have cost millions of Allied and Japanese lives, so dropping the bomb might have saved untold lives on both sides.

It might. Then again, it might not.

Jimmy has already dispensed with the notion of doing bad to do good, so I won't do it again. But I had to point out to my friend how this argument undercuts any such need to drop a bomb.

I know that the stated Allied goal was the unconditional surrender of the Japanese, but the real goal, the moral goal, was to eliminate the ability of the Japanese to make war against their neighbors and us. If our air superiority had the ability to cripple the Japanese manufacturing capability through conventional means to the point where the Japanese people must resist an invasion with stick and stones, the makes a case that invasion is then unnecessary. It is true that the Japanese might not have surrendered under such conditions, but that containment of the Japanese war-making ability was possible, without dropping the bomb.  Maybe not quick, maybe not easy, but necessary.

No matter how many times I look at it, I just can't seem to figure out a way to justify it. No matter how many times I heat the metal, it always breaks. Being right does not make me feel any better about my country being wrong. I wish it did.