The WMD That Destroyed A Whole Village
Even with the fall of Saddam Hussein, the war on terror is very far from over.
North Korea and Iran remind us that the “axis of evil” remains nearly intact. President Bush said the United States “will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons.” What are we prepared to do in the future to stop dangerous rogue states?
How our nation has responded in the past to stop its enemies will undoubtedly serve as a precedent for the future.
Mrs. Fuiko Miura, a Japanese native from the predominately Catholic city of Nagasaki, worries about this possibility. Why? Each year on Aug. 9, Miura thinks about the atomic bombing of Nagasaki in 1945.
She was there. Somehow, she survived.
She saw firsthand what a weapon of mass destruction could do. At the time of the bombing, she was only a 16-year-old schoolgirl. Yet she will never forget what happen that dreadful morning at about 11 a.m.
“At that moment, a horrible flash, thousands of times as powerful as lightning, hit me. I felt that it almost rooted out my eyes. Thinking that a huge bomb had exploded above our building, I jumped up from my seat and was hit by a tremendous wind, which smashed down windows, doors, ceilings and walls, and shook the whole building. I remember trying to run for the stairs before being knocked to the floor and losing consciousness. It was a hot blast, carrying splinters of glass and concrete debris. But it did not have the burning heat of the hypocenter, where everyone and everything was melted in an instant by the heat flash. I learned later that the heat decreased with distance. I was 2,800 meters away from the hypocenter.”
Just that one plutonium bomb killed 74,000 people that morning and seriously injured another 75,000. It possessed the explosive power of 21,000 tons of TNT. The ground temperature at the hypo-center of the explosion ranged from 3,000-4,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
Miura said that after the explosion many survivors suffered from what they called “atomic bomb disease.” The sick experienced vomiting, loss of appetite, diarrhea, high fever, weakness, purple spots on different parts of the body, bleeding from the mouth, gums and throat, hair loss and a very low white blood cell count. Few people knew they suffered from overexposure to radiation. They simply died not knowing why.
Could something like this or worse happen again in our current war against terror? It could. But weren't the circumstances surrounding the atomic bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima different from today's war on terror? They were. But there's something that hasn't changed: our relativistic and pragmatic morality. The morality that says the end justifies the means.
For instance, President Harry Truman, who decided to use the atomic bomb, argued that this weapon saved countless American and Japanese lives by shorting the war.
How did Truman know this for sure? American intelligence discovered Japan's fight-to-the-finish plan called Operation Decision.
This strategy of resistance provided 10,000 suicide planes, 53 infantry divisions, 25 brigades, 2.35 million trained troops to fight on the beaches backed by 4 million Army and Navy civil employees, and a civilian militia of 28 million. If an invasion of Japan became necessary, Allied forces expected to suffer about 1 million casualties. Japanese casualties would range anywhere from 10 to 20 million.
For this reason, Truman wanted to avoid an invasion of Japan. He had to convince Japan to surrender. The president had two options: continue with air raids, which were proving very effective but slow, or use the atomic bomb to get his point across. He chose the latter. It worked. After dropping the atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan surrendered. Truman achieved the end he sought, but what about the means? Is it ever morally permissible to use a weapon of mass destruction on a civilian population?
This question demands moral clarity more than ever since Sept. 11. Many will say the answer to this question depends on the circumstances at hand. This way of thinking dismisses the fact of objective morality based on truth. Reason and faith tell us, in light of truth, that certain acts are wrong in themselves.
Using weapons of mass destruction on a civilian population is one of them. The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes this point:
“Every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation. A danger of modern warfare is that it provides the opportunity to those who possess modern scientific weapons — especially atomic, biological or chemical weapons — to commit such crimes” (No. 2314).
Hiroshima and Nagasaki stand out as reminders that we are not above the temptation of using weapons of mass destruction. The ongoing war on terror will demand in the future that we make tough moral decisions.
We must win this war, but let us win it the right way.
Legionary Father Andrew McNair teaches at Mater Ecclesiae International Center of Formation for Consecrated Women in Greenville, Rhode Island.
- August 17-23, 2003