Global Warming and the Hiroshima Bombing

July 27, 2012 § 39 Comments

I find it more than a little ironic that the sort of people who quite rightly ridicule the ridiculous attempts to model complex reality in the form of anthropocentric “climate change” are often the very same people who are so utterly confident of their own little models of possible alternate realities during World War II.  Everyone seems to find himself in the epistemic position of tinpot omniscient god over the epistemic domain of his own counterfactual “war game”, whether it is predicting the outcomes of an Allied blockade of Japan or rising sea levels overtaking California.

There is a reason why as Catholics we are to develop the virtues, habits of doing the right thing here and now, of avoiding concretely evil acts and doing concretely good acts, rather than fooling ourselves into thinking we can know and control all of the consequences.  As Veritatis Splendour puts it:

[E]veryone recognizes the difficulty, or rather the impossibility, of evaluating all the good and evil consequences and effects — defined as pre-moral — of one’s own acts: an exhaustive rational calculation is not possible. How then can one go about establishing proportions which depend on a measuring, the criteria of which remain obscure? How could an absolute obligation be justified on the basis of such debatable calculations?

I think the Pope is far too optimistic with that initial “Everyone”.

(Note: prompted by discussions here, here, and here.)

§ 39 Responses to Global Warming and the Hiroshima Bombing

  • […] irritate (all consequentialists and apologists for grave intrinsic evil), the inimitably delphic Zippy Catholic makes a pungent observation about the insistence on using fantasy scenarios in order to come up […]

  • guest says:

    I assume you consider yourself part of the everyone?

  • Which everyone? I certainly do “…recognize the difficulty …” etc. My use of the term in the post is an intentional mirror image of the Pope’s use of the term.

  • Oh please, quit moaning and groaning for those poor nuked Japs!.The Imperial Japanese armed forces were conducting a decades long reign of terror upon the people of Asia! The bombs ended the terror and the vast majority of the Asian people and Japanese held POW’s were relieved that the Jap’s ability to terrorize them was destroyed by the a-bombs.

  • Talk about missing the point. Do you have anything to say about the subject of the post?

  • Jasper says:

    “There is a reason why as Catholics we are to develop the virtues, habits of doing the right thing here and now, of avoiding concretely evil acts and doing concretely good acts”

    Can a war be won by doing all good acts? should bombing be allowed? Almost always innocents are killed… what are the rules General Zippy?

  • Joseph H. M. Ortiz says:

    “The bombs [as a consequence] ended the terror and the vast majority of the Asian people and Japanese held POW’s were [as a consequence] relieved that the Jap’s ability to terrorize them was [as a consequence] destroyed by the a-bombs.” — Stephen Dalton, Consequentialism Incarnate.

  • TMLutas says:

    The job of the policy analyst seems not just wholly unfamiliar to you. You seem to relish in disrespecting an entire profession, one that does not deserve this assault. We aren’t assassins, poisoners, or abortionists. Professionally we look at choices that government officials need to make and discern what would be the best course of action for the people who ask us to do these analyses. Like any profession, we deserve a basic level of respect for our efforts to improve the world. And occasionally, like everybody else, we turn to others for advice and necessarily let others in on our own weird corner of the world in doing so.

    While chasing the speculative white rabbit through to the other side of the looking glass can be just as counterproductive as you say above, one shouldn’t just ignore the very real choices that were before Truman at the time and play out the reasonably foreseeable consequences of the non-intrinsically evil choice that you have admitted (over at Mark Shea’s) was there, the choice to blockade.

    What irritates is the refusal to look ahead and to own the consequences of the choices that would have followed. If the lowest cost solution in terms of casualties in a war is intrinsically evil, it is appropriate to pick the lowest cost solution that is not intrinsically evil and the delta, the difference in casualties is established as the minimum price you’re willing to pay and inflict not to lose your soul while avoiding slavery or genocide. There is a wealth of significance there to think through but very few will go down that path unless the conversation is allowed to play out.

    And your side *is* shutting the conversation down, sometimes in ugly ways. I do not forget that Mark Shea falsely accused me of heresy during his defense of your then refusal to examine alternatives on his own site. In fact the heresy was one so obscure to me that I had to look it up. When I did, I found that particular heresy so puzzling where it was not repugnant that I point by point denounced it and asked for clarification on the parts I didn’t even understand so I could meaningfully denounce those too. The attack was dropped like the steaming pile of evil that it was. One does not drop an actual accusation of heresy like that if you care, at all, for the nurture and perfection of the christian conscience of others. The reaction (really lack of reaction) to my denunciation was an implicit admission that the accusation was the theological equivalent of the brush back pitch. That’s playing dirty.

    You eventually relented and identified a real option put before Truman, the blockade option, as non-intrinsically evil. There’s no need to go into flights of fancy or major, incalculable hypotheticals. The consequences were calculated by military professionals in the mid-1940s and historians have been re-running the numbers with better facts ever since. Truman had a menu of choices. You can certainly evaluate the menu and identify which ones are or are not intrinsically evil. In fact you did. But it was like pulling teeth to get to there, a response which still puzzles me.

    Have the courage of your convictions and look straight in the eye the consequences of your choices. A lot of people think that Catholicism is fluffy bunny impracticality (you seem to have two in the thread comments above). They are wrong. Exercises like this, no matter how uncomfortable, not only assert it. They demonstrate it. For some people that is important and a milestone on their own journey to God through the Church.

  • Some of the rules.

    Another rule.

    More rules.

  • I am willing to let my own words in that and any discussion speak for themselves; and as far as other peoples’ words go, well, they are other peoples’ words.

  • TMLutas says:

    Fair enough, and thank you for the honesty necessary in approving my comment. I remain unenlightened on your reasons for reacting as you have but perhaps I shall not die so.

  • TMLutas says:

    You may wish to reflect over 2309’s use of the words “rigorous consideration”. That’s what a policy analyst does. It’s practically a two word definition of the job.

  • I’m just starting to get used to WordPress. It appears that the first time someone comments, it always goes into moderation; or at least it does that with whatever the default settings are that I’m using at the moment. I’m not fond of the threaded comments; maybe I can turn them off somewhere.

  • I have a long history of arguing that hypotheticals should only be entertained for non-intrinsically-immoral acts. Search on the word “hypothetical” and you’ll find stuff going way back. I understand that you find it frustrating, but I do have my reasons.

    I don’t agree that rigorous consideration requires us to play out every “what if” scenario which involves commiting intrinsically immoral acts. We should never commit them under any circumstances, so they are irrelevant to any rigorous consideration of moral action. At best their consideration is a red herring; at worst, a scandal and a path to Hell.

  • Joe, in the Old Testament, God ordered the total destruction of the Amalekites, man, women,and children. The Amalekites were the Japs of the ancient world, totally without pity, and waging war on people who have done them no harm. Both parties reaped the just consequences of their barbaric actions.

  • Truman is God, so the teaching of the Church can be safely ignored, supplanted by a Protestant style reading of Old Testament Scripture.

    I notice that this still has nothing to do with the subject of the post.

  • Joseph H. M. Ortiz says:

    Conducting the Allies’ effort in WW2 was, or at least should have been, a “prudential” one, in which it was up to moral reason, by the virtue of “prudence” (a mental energy that regards some complex concrete situation) to flexibly apply moral principles inflexible in themselves (e.g., the principle “don’t expressly kill a person”).
    “Reason must never abdicate. The task of ethics is humble but it is also magnanimous in carrying the mutable application of immutable principles even in the midst of the agonies of an unhappy world, as far as there is in it a gleam of humanity.” — Jacques Maritain, in his book Man and the State, Chapter 3, “The Problem of Means”.

  • ZC, you, Shea, Akins and some others are always wailing about Hiroshima. You and your buddies are always claiming their was a better way to end the war without the a-bomb attacks. The people who actually had to decide how to end it had to deal with reality, not hypotheticals . The reality was the government of Japan conscripted everybody into the armed services. If we would have invaded Japan, we would have to fight and kill every man, woman, and child armed with a bamboo spear. The blockade would have caused millions of people to starve to death. The bombs broke the will of the Jap military to carry on the war and saved millions of lives that would have been lost in a land war or a blockade. Not a bad consequence, if yo ask me.

  • I don’t claim that there was a “better” way under criteria you would accept. What I claim is what the Church claims: that intrinsically immoral means are always wrong.

  • Scott W. says:

    Just a blog mechanics question. I see your last comment as posted at 4:40pm, but I believe both you and I are EST and it is 4:15pm right now. Is that something on my end or yours?

  • Turns out it defaults to Zulu time, and I hadn’t adjusted it.

  • tolkein says:

    The point about Hiroshima and Nagasaki is that it worked because the Japanese thought we were immoral enough to raze every city in Japan to the ground. Effectively we were in the position of threatening to kill a man’s defenceless wife and children in front of his eyes unless he was to surrender – and of intending to carry out the threat if he didn’t surrender.
    This is not to say that the Allies were wicked in general, or that we weren’t, in general, fighting a just war; just that this bombing was wicked and immoral.

    Could the war have been won without the atom bombs or by hundreds of thousands of casualties in an invasion of Japan itself? Maybe without unconditional surrender – we did after all permit the keeping of the Japanese emperor, and the Japanese were exploring peace terms. Would a negotiated peace have been distasteful? Of course. But less distasteful than incinerating the civilians of Nagasaki and Hiroshima?

  • Joseph H. M. Ortiz says:

    FWIW, I reckon well said Tolkein’s points here. (I’ve read somewhere that Pius XII advocated a negotiated, not unconditional, surrender for Japan.)

  • […] commenter below wrote: You may wish to reflect over 2309′s use of the words “rigorous consideration”. That’s what […]

  • EMS says:

    Missing in these discussions about the use of the bombs is that we are operating in hindsight. We now know what the effects of the Bomb were. But back then, they didn’t know. Nobody at the time realized how many people would die, what the effects of radiation were, just horrific one bomb would be. Oppenheimer thought 20,000 would die, which is far less than the number that had died in just one firebombing of Tokyo in March (100,000 died in an estimated 30 minutes), less than died in Hamburg, less than died in Dresden, etc. Plans had already been made to blockade Japan, an invasion was scheduled for November, and the air forces that had bombed Germany to rubble were being sent to the Pacific to do the same to Japan. The Japanese had lost over 100,000 men in a failed battle in Okinawa, over 150,000 civilians had died in that fighting, and the experience in Germany where many German soldiers continued to fight what they knew was a lost war when the Allies invaded German soil lead many military leaders to believe that the Japanese would fight to the death of every last person if the Americans invaded Japan. Losing 20,000 in Hiroshima or another Japanese city seemed a small number compared to the literally millions who had already died in the war. Again, nobody really knew what would happen until after the Bomb dropped. BTW, there were only 3 bombs in existence. And there were literally hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of incendiaries and conventional bombs waiting to take their place if they weren’t used. Given that more civlians died in the airraids over Germany than died in Japan even with the bombs (see Robert Goralski’s WWII Almanac), and given what was known AT THAT TIME, I don’t think we can say after the fact that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were more immoral than any other bombings of cities during the war. That said, use of the bombs NOW against Iran, Iraq, etc. would be, I submit, an intrinsic evil.

  • mmghosh says:

    In your first line, are you referring to the gap between the projected Arctic sea ice melt in the IPCC AR4 and the current data?

  • The firebombing of Tokyo wasn’t any less immoral than the nuking of Hiroshima. They knew plenty well that civilians would be slaughtered, unless Little Boy just didn’t work at all.

  • Scott W. says:

    Yes, when the chosen act is, “I’m going to drop this weapon on civilians and hope that it works” you have already crossed the line.

  • TMLutas says:

    Bringing the US war in the Pacific to a successful close is not an intrinsically immoral act in my opinion. Certain ways to do so may be intrinsically immoral but that does not taint the enterprise. There’s always an intrinsically moral option to any significant enterprise that big. Your limit does not apply unless you disagree and categorically think that the US winning WW II was intrinsically immoral. Do you hold that position?

  • johnmcg says:

    What has zippy ever written that would suggest that he holds that position?

  • Bringing the US war in the Pacific to a successful close is not an intrinsically immoral act in my opinion.

    Are you actually talking to someone in this discussion?

    Technically, bringing the war to successful close isn’t an act at all. It is a vaguely stated goal or intended result, which might or might not be brought about by all sorts of different acts and ensembles of acts.

  • c matt says:

    Joe, in the Old Testament, God ordered the total destruction of the Amalekites, man, women,and children.

    Lesson being: don’t totally destroy a nation man, woman and child unless directly ordered by God.

  • […] with civilians using atomic bombs has to be compared to the “opportunity cost” of an imaginary land invasion and all of the imaginary consequences that flow, in the fictional story, from the fictional […]

  • […] my condemnations of usury and torture.  Close behind that is the way I am such a stickler for the just war doctrine, and how I don’t give people a break for voting for Republican candidates who stump for […]

  • […] is unjust killing, and not all killing is unjust … so pay no attention to this particular mass murder of innocents by ‘the good guys’, or this particular group of […]

  • JT says:

    Curious, so would bombing a ball bearing factory be legitimate in your view? Manned by civilians, used to make weapons of war or possibly non-military items.

  • Zippy says:


    My criticism is directed at killing the paradigmatically innocent, who literally cannot possibly be choosing any attacking behavior or choosing to materially support attacking behaviors in some way. Absent unequivocal agreement that killing the paradigmatically innocent (e.g. infants) is always morally wrong in all possible circumstances, there isn’t any point in discussing further casuistry.

    That established, though, I am pretty lax as to whom I am willing to consider not innocent. Even the janitor in a munitions factory is not unequivocally innocent in the pertinent sense; munitions manufacturing workers in their own homes away from work are not unequivocally innocent; workers in factories which produce “mixed use” products are not unequivocally innocent; civilians agitating for their government to attack us are not unequivocally innocent.

    In general, to lose unequivocal innocence merely requires some chosen material support of attacking behaviors against us. Under what circumstances this justifies dropping bombs on them is a big subject: “lack of unequivocal innocence” does not translate directly into a license to kill.

    But infants and very young children are paradigmatically innocent: it is literally impossible for them to be not-innocent in the pertinent sense, so no casuistry can justify killing them in a knowing, deliberate act — like Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Dresden, Tokyo, etc.

  • […] [2],, […]

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