This is a great article, puts things into perspective…
The Moral Lesson of Hiroshima
by John Lewis (April 29, 2006)
On August 6, 1945 the American Air Force incinerated Hiroshima, Japan with an atomic bomb. On August 9 Nagasaki was obliterated. The fireballs killed some 175,000 people. They followed months of horror, when American airplanes firebombed civilians and reduced cities to rubble. Facing extermination, the Japanese surrendered unconditionally. The invasion of Japan was cancelled, and countless American lives were saved. The Japanese accepted military occupation, embraced a constitutional government, and renounced war permanently. The effects were so beneficent, so wide-ranging and so long-term, that the bombings must be ranked among the most moral acts ever committed.
The bombings have been called many things-but moral? The purpose of morality, wrote Ayn Rand, is not to suffer and die, but to prosper and live.
How can death on such a scale be considered moral?
The answer begins with Japanese culture. World War II in the Pacific was launched by a nation that esteemed everything hostile to human life.
Japan’s religious-political philosophy held the emperor as a god, subordinated the individual to the state, elevated ritual over rational thought, and adopted suicide as a path to honor. This was truly a Morality of Death. It had gripped Japanese society for three generations. Japan’s war with Russia had ended in 1905 with a negotiated treaty, which left Japan’s militaristic culture intact. The motivations for war were emboldened, and the next generation broke the treaty by attacking Manchuria in 1931 (which was not caused by the oil embargo of 1941).
It was after Japan attacked America that America waged war against Japan-a proper moral response to the violence Japan had initiated. Despite three and a half years of slaughter, surrender was not at hand in mid-1945. Over six million Japanese were still in Asia. Some 12,000 Americans had died on Okinawa alone. Many Japanese leaders hoped to kill enough Americans during an invasion to convince them that the cost was too high. A relentless “Die for the Emperor” propaganda campaign had motivated many Japanese civilians to fight to the death. Volunteers lined up for kamikaze “Divine Wind” suicide missions. Hope of victory kept the Japanese cause alive, until hopeless prostration before American air attacks made the abject renunciation of all war the only alternative to suicide. The Japanese had to choose between the morality of death, and the morality of life.
The bombings marked America’s total victory over a militaristic culture that had murdered millions. To return an entire nation to morality, the Japanese had to be shown the literal meaning of the war they had waged against others. The abstraction “war,” the propaganda of their leaders, their twisted samurai “honor,” their desire to die for the emperor-all of it had to be given concrete form, and thrown in their faces. This is what firebombing Japanese cities accomplished. It showed the Japanese that “this”-point to burning buildings, screaming children scarred unmercifully, piles of corpses, the promise of starvation-“this is what you have done to others. Now it has come for you. Give it up, or die.” This was the only way to show them the true nature of their philosophy, and to beat the truth of the defeat into them.
Yes, Japan was beaten in July of 1945-but had not surrendered. A defeat is a fact; an aggressor’s ability to fight effectively is destroyed.
Surrender is a decision, by the political leadership and the dominant voices in the culture, to recognize the fact of defeat. Surrender is an admission of impotence, the collapse of all hope for victory, and the permanent renunciation of aggression. Such recognition of reality is the first step towards a return to morality. Under the shock of defeat, a stunned silence results. Military officers no longer plan for victory; women no longer bear children for the Reich; young boys no longer play samurai and dream of dying for the emperor-children no longer memorize sword verses from the Koran and pledge themselves to jihad.
To achieve this, the victor must be intransigent. He does not accept terms; he demands prostrate surrender, or death, for everyone if necessary.
Had the United States negotiated in 1945, Japanese troops would have returned to a homeland free of foreign control, met by civilians who had not confronted defeat, under the same leaders who had taken them to war. A negotiated peace would have failed to discredit the ideology of war, and would have left the motivations for the next war intact. We might have fought the Japanese Empire again, twenty years later. Fortunately, the Americans were in no mind to compromise.
President Truman demonstrated his willingness to bomb the Japanese out of existence if they did not surrender. The Potsdam Declaration of July 26, 1945 is stark: “The result of the futile and senseless German resistance to the might of the aroused free peoples of the world stands forth in awful clarity as an example to the people of Japan . . . Following are our terms.
We will not deviate from them. There are no alternatives. We shall brook no delay . . . We call upon the government of Japan to proclaim now the unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forces . . . The alternative for Japan is prompt and utter destruction.”
The approach worked brilliantly. After the bombs, the Japanese chose wisely.
The method was brutally violent, as it had to be-because the war unleashed by Japan was brutally violent, and only a brutal action could demonstrate its nature. To have shielded Japanese citizens from the meaning of their own actions-the Rape of Nanking and the Bataan Death March-would have been a massive act of dishonesty. It would have left the Japanese unable to reject military aggression the next time it was offered as an elixir of glory.
After the war, many returning Japanese troops were welcomed by their countrymen not as heroes, but with derision. The imperial cause was recognized as bankrupt, and the actions of its soldiers worthy of contempt.
Forced to confront the reality of what they had done, a sense of morality had returned to Japan.
There can be no higher moral action by a nation than to destroy an aggressive dictatorship, to permanently discredit the enemy’s ideology, to stand guard while a replacement is crafted, and then to greet new friends on proper terms. Let those who today march for peace in Germany and Japan admit that their grandparents once marched as passionately for war, and that only total defeat could force them to re-think their place in the world and offer their children something better. Let them thank heaven-the United States-for the bomb.
Some did just that. Hisatsune Sakomizu, chief cabinet secretary of Japan, said after the war: “The atomic bomb was a golden opportunity given by Heaven for Japan to end the war.” He wanted to look like a peaceful man-which became a sensible position only after the Americans had won.
Okura Kimmochi, president of the Technological Research Mobilization Office, wrote before the surrender: “I think it is better for our country to suffer a total defeat than to win total victory . . . in the case of Japan’s total defeat, the armed forces would be abolished, but the Japanese people will rise to the occasion during the next several decades to reform themselves into a truly splendid people . . . the great humiliation [the bomb] is nothing but an admonition administered by Heaven to our country.” But let him thank the American people-not heaven-for it was they who made the choice between the morality of life and the morality of death inescapable.
Americans should be immensely proud of the bomb. It ended a war that had enslaved a continent to a religious-military ideology of slavery and death.
There is no room on earth for this system, its ideas and its advocates.
It took a country that values this world to bomb this system into extinction.
For the Americans to do so while refusing to sacrifice their own troops to save the lives of enemy civilians was a sublimely moral action. This destroyed the foundations of the war, and allowed the Japanese to rebuild their culture along with their cities, as prosperous inhabitants of the earth. Were it true that total victory today creates new attackers tomorrow, we would now be fighting Japanese suicide bombers, while North Korea-where the American army did not impose its will-would be peaceful and prosperous. The facts are otherwise. The need for total victory over the morality of death has never been clearer.
I’ve seen a similar argument on Amy’s blog too – that Japanese society was hopelessly in love with death and “samurai codes of honor” and that every civilian was willing to become part of the military and lay down their life kami-kaze fashion to kill American soldiers.
But after an initial reading of the Japanese point of view – after reading about the resistance of Japanese dissenters, the military’s iron grip on the society, the lives of those civilians on the ground – that argument seems to grossly caricaturize Japanese culture and the civilian population. I suspect the picture laid out in such a matter manner is one in line with Western Orientalism, but not quite in line with the truth. Maybe someone who knows a bit more about Japense history during the war can chime in, but this is my impression from reading Saburo Ienaga’s “Pacific War.”
“With little to eat and no hope for the future, under constant air attack and exhausted from overwork, urban Japanese were desperate. Getting enough food on the black market to stay alive each day was their only thought. The next day and the next person would have to take care of themselves. Chino Toshiko thought, “We have sunk to nothing but animals.”
Ienaga’s description of the bombings themselves is also wrenching. One also needs to recall that the Tokyo fire bombings were brutal acts as well (if you wish to see a moving film on the subject, I suggest the animated “Grave of the Fireflies.”
Anyway, regardless of whether the points above stand or not, one may not do evil so that good may come of it. And targeting civilian areas indiscriminately is evil.
So the point of the nauseating article Catherine posted is this: it is fine to do evil if a truly great good will result. Does Catherine think this is Catholic morality? But perhaps she is not Catholic.
Bombing is some ways makes everything so abstract. I wonder if the defenders of the Hiroshima bombing would be so triumphalistic if our army, instead of dropping bombs, went in to the city and slit the throats of every man, woman, and child, perhaps torturing them brutally before killing them. Would that be moral, if it taught the Japanese an important lesson that making war on others is bad?
I’m not so sure Mr. Zimmerman, aka Dylan, was being “naive and superficial” in directing his anger at arms merchants.
The war in Iraq has been a disaster by any normal human measure. Yet it is not enough to wipe that smirk off Mr. Bu$h’s face. Why? Well, to the corporations that have invested in Iraq- Bechtel, Halliburton, Exxon and the rest- or who profited from the manufacture of arms for that conflict -Boeing, Lockheed Martin, etc.- the war is a whopping success: every one of them saw record profits last year.
Depends on your bottom line.
And if there is an argument for Hiroshima that does not rely on consequentialist logic I have never seen it.
Consequentialism always measures some hypothetical imagined evil, quite beyond the human mind to know with certainty, with the very real evil done to prevent this speculative disaster.
Doesn’t work, and has always been condemned by the Church, which insists that certain acts are inherently evil no matter what the circumstances.
American Catholics, who overwhelmingly support any act by their government in time of war that will hurry victory, drive me crazy.
“The purpose of morality, wrote Ayn Rand, is not to suffer and die, but to prosper and live.” This is precisely the Randian attitude I believe that causes the neocons enamored of her writing to become efficiency addicts and earthly utopian seekers.
I think you are just plain wrong (and I would say culpably so) that GWB is motivated purely by lucre. Maybe others on his team are, but he is really a true believer. Now, whether one ought to believe what he believes is another question. But the idea that oil is the only reason we went to war with Iraq (and I’m not saying it wasn’t part of the reason) is just too cynical for words.
I get very tired of people presuming to know the inner minds of others and therefore KNOWING that they are motivated by something other than what they claim to be motivated by. Maybe there are people like that, but I don’t think most people, whether liberal, conservative, whatever, are like that. I think the wacky left is wacky not because of any secret insidious master plan, but because they believe in what they say. I think the neocons for the most part really believe that what they are pursuing is the Common Good, not just personal gain. And I believe that the Catholics who support the neocons also genuinely believe that their positions are in line with the teachings of the Church.
I think to write “Bu$h” is patently unfair and offensive and does not contribute to careful analysis and fruitful debate. Hatred gets us nowhere, even of those who are wrong.
Robert, I never said that Bush was motivated solely by lucre, nor that the neocons don’t believe that their agenda will serve the common good. Indeed, some of them are such utopians that they have been known to dream of the eventual withering of the State, just like many of them did in their leftist youth. However, that “the common good” just happens to coincide with the growth of their stock portfolio and bank accounts is seen as a happy coincidence.
Just like it is a happy coincidence that so many in the administration’s upper echelon just happen to be in the oil bidness…
And, by the way, I don’t hate anyone. I pray for the leaders of our country at every liturgy and in private prayer.
I think both Dan and Chris point to one of the great divides between themselves and those they disagree with: the matter of economic profit. There are many who actually believe that, although economic prosperity is not the totality of the common good, it is an essential part of it. The growth in their portfolios is not merely a happy coincidence, but a sign that the government is doing at least part of its job. In other words, economic prosperity helps one exercise freedom. I actually don’t think there is anything wrong with the idea per se, although some capitalists tend to exaggerate its importance for the exercise of freedom and tend to neglect other, more important conditions for the exercise of freedom. They need to read more Solzhenitzyn, I guess. Or the letters of Paul.
I think Dan is right. The neocons tend to be earthly utopianists. They don’t understand that economic prosperity and technological progress are not the ends of human existence.
Shouldn’t we make a distinction between what we need to live decent and human lives – “if we have food and clothing, then let us be content with that,” wrote St. Paul, and the notion of ever increasing profits and material goods. A growth in stock portfolios doesn’t seem to me to exactly coincide with St. Paul’s “food and clothing” and, of course, we would have to include decent shelter, medical care and some other things here. But I think you get the idea.
Corporate profits are not individual profits. So, fundamentally you gentlemen are against the idea of the corporation (as a moral person or legal fiction), the idea of one person controlling a significant amount of money that is not needed for his own personal necessities, the idea of a growth economy, and believe that all profits beyond the necessary and good R & D are luxuries and therefore immoral.
How does one evaluate when profit-taking is moral and when it is not? By what criteria or standard or measure are the current oil company profits obscene? I’m not asking polemically, but since you’ve made the judgment I’d like to know on what basis you make it.
” I have nothing against a decent profit, but when the price is human lives and culture, or when the profit is obscene (like recent oil profits), then the word for it is “sin”.
Those are awfully subjects terms, Daniel. What the definition of ‘obscene”? Is it in terms of a percentage gain(lets say the stuff you sell), or a monetary gain(the oil industry example). The oil industry works on a very very small percentage profit gain, but the monetary total is very high…I am a shareholder, a owner of BP and Exxon, so I hope that that number is high.
“8×10″ and 9 x 12″ sizes are $250 each. Please call Daniel to discuss ordering at 330-837-0534. ”
” I have nothing against a decent profit, but when the price is human lives and culture, or when the profit is obscene (like recent oil profits), then the word for it is “sin”.
Now, who is the arbiter of what is an obscene profit, and what is not? I am sure you are a wonderful artist, as evidenced by your website, but where did you calculate the price of $250? Is it my business to know how much of that number is profit?
Speaking only for myself, I think this whole question needs to be approached from the beginning. First, by asking questions such as, What is an economy for? Why did God create man in such a way that we need external goods to live? What did our Lord means when he said that “a man’s life doesn’t consist of the abundance of the things which he possesses”?
It seems clear to me that we need external goods not for their own sake, but in order to live so that we can devote ourselves to the things that matter, to God, to our families and friends, to cultural and intellectual matters. If this is so, then we need only those external goods which subserve the real purposes of human life. Otherwise, goods tend to become ends in themselves, and we have the materialism that thrives in the U.S. today.
It is common to attack any call for restaint, by claiming, as some of those above did, that this is so subjective as to be meaningless. I don’t think so. We all implicitly recognize the difference between needs and wants, and although we certainly couldn’t come up with an exact dollar figure, nevertheless I think we could come up with a rough figure as to what is an income necessary for a decent human life. I recommend the following thought experiment. If someone asked you if you could live on $5000 a year, you would say No. If he asked if you would need $200,000 a year, you would say Yes, that would be more than enough. So, OK. Start increasing the $5,000 and reducing the $200,000, and you’ll arrive a a rough figure, somewhere in between, where you recognize that you’ve reached a sufficient amount, one that allows, as Pope Leo XIII said, to live in “frugal comfort” so we can devote our lives to things that are really important
As to corporate profits. When a company has recooped what is necessary for its expenses, repair of its facilities, R&D, payment for its workforce, where do you think the extra profit will go? To its executives and its stockholders. Corporate profits may not be individual profits, but they have a way of ending up in individual hands. Oil company profits have increased, that is, the difference between what they are paying for their product and what they are charging consumers. It is not just a case of increased sales volume, but, apparently, of an increased profit margin. What is the justification for this?
As to corporate profits, there is no ready-made formula to determine if a profit is just. But it is a matter of “reasonable,” a concept we all accept in everyday life. You would object if a plumber came to your house and charged $10,000 to fix a faucet. Why? Because we all recognize that it is not reasonable.
I can only assume that Catherine Schotka is either not a Catholic or has read very little in papal social teaching or even Holy Scripture. She would find that it is not only Marxists who look without favor at materialism, but the Catholic Church and indeed, our Lord himself. Or does she think that St. Paul was a Marxist?
“If this is so, then we need only those external goods which subserve the real purposes of human life. Otherwise, goods tend to become ends in themselves, and we have the materialism that thrives in the U.S. today.”
Here is the problem with this statement: there are some people who have the aptitude and ability to control a great deal more wealth than is necessary for personal needs, including even cultural, and contribute to society with that “excessive” wealth. So long as they don’t gain it at the expence of other’s essential human needs (which is a real problem and one that I’d probably agree with Nichols and Storck on), I don’t see that there is any limit to what one may own so long as one puts it to use to promote the common good and not for extravagant luxury.
I think the problem here is not owning the money, but what use one puts it to. In other words, the universal destination of goods demands that those with a great deal of wealth use it primarily to benefit society.
Oh, and Thomas, how do you define “profit margin”?
How do I define profit margin? Well, not in any unique way, I think. Here is how Black’s Law Dictionary defines it: “The difference between the cost of something and the price for which it is sold”, or “The ratio, expressed as a percentage between this difference and the selling price.” Here is how the web site investopedia defines it: “A ratio of profitability calculated as net income divided by revenues, or net profits divided by sales. It measures how much out of every dollar of sales a company actually keeps in earnings.” It can be either net or gross.
I am not arguing for equality of incomes, which is impossible in any case. And I agree with you that “those with a great deal of wealth use it primarily to benefit society.” I do not see this happening, however.
Moreover, this wealth must be earned justly, and there are reasonable limits. The notion that a CEO should be able to make over 400 times the income of a factory worker seems absurd to me. Would not 10 or 20 times be more than sufficient?
And it need not be individuals who benefit society from the possession of wealth. It could be the Church, guilds, universities, other corporate bodies, which in the Middle Ages used to get large, no strings attached, gifts from the rich, when there was still some tradition of noblesse oblige around.
“The notion that a CEO should be able to make over 400 times the income of a factory worker seems absurd to me.”
I disagree with this. So long as the ordinary worker is getting a living wage (which I would define much higher than the current wage structure provides for) I don’t see any essential reason why a CEO should make under any particular percentage of the worker’s wage. I mean, why is 10 to 20 times just and 400 not? You seem to be going by some kind of feeling. Unfortunately, feelings aren’t a good argument.
By the way, one of those 19th century tycoons (Carnagie?) insisted that no one in management make more than 10 times the least paid worker. That was, of course, so that more profit would go to the shareholders!
Without getting bogged down in specific numbers and prescriptions, it seems to me that the compensation currently being given to a lot of top corporate management is unjustifiable, not only from the Catholic moral perspective but from a long-run health of the business perspective.
“So long as the worker is getting a living wage” is the key here. There are a lot of problems with defining “living wage,” and if you define it as anything above physical subsistence it’s going to depend a lot on the social context. I would call a living wage in our society enough to provide a reasonable middle-class living for a family. If every worker–*every* worker, including the custodial staff–were getting that, then maybe it wouldn’t matter if the CEO was getting 200 times that. But they aren’t.
Never mind hypothetical discussions about how that could be remedied: let’s start with the recognition that it just isn’t right for half a dozen people to make multiple millions in *one* year–more money than they can spend without really working at it–while their employees at the bottom have to work two jobs to make ends meet–by which I mean to pay the rent, utilities, and groceries. That is NOT an imaginary or far-fetched scenario, and it’s wrong. We can kick around a million ways to address it or come up with a million reasons why it can’t be addressed. But as Catholics we ought to recognize that it’s Just. Plain. Wrong.
As Belloc once said (I’m paraphrasing) you may not be able to quantify the difference between a caress and a blow, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t real.
Tom- You misunderstood her; she didn’t say we are “Marxists”; she said we are “Marists”.
While most of us are devoted to the Mother of God, I would say it is safe to say there are no Marists among us. Franciscans, Benedictines, Byzantines, Thomists, yes, but no Marists.
My price of $250? Listen, I would make more money delivering pizzas in my spare time, and way more getting on the overtime list carrying mail. Icon writing is a time consuming effort, even for someone like me who works relatively fast.
The price is determined by being on the low end for handpainted icons, in an effort to make it reasonably affordable.
Similarly, I charge $250 to teach someone iconography. At the end of the class they have a handpainted icon, so it seems fair to charge what I would charge for one, the difference being that it is an icon that the student has painted.
While this is more profitable that painting, or even carrying mail overtime, assuming I have enough students (ten is my limit) it is still pretty cheap as far as classes go.
And Catherine, I will stick with the common definition of “obscene”: I know it when I see it.
“it just isn’t right for half a dozen people to make multiple millions in *one* year–more money than they can spend without really working at it–while their employees at the bottom have to work two jobs to make ends meet–by which I mean to pay the rent, utilities, and groceries. That is NOT an imaginary or far-fetched scenario, and it’s wrong.”
I of course agree with this and said as much. The issue, then, is not the multiplier one uses to determine how much more an exec should make, but whether the lowest paid worker is being paid justly (and whether the consumer is being gouged). So, the issue of the multiplier is per se a red herring. That was my only point. There is no way to determine what multiplier one should use presuming justice on other fronts.
Yes, I’m reacting against the general tendency to kind of write the whole question off because “reasonable” is subjective. It’s true about the multiplier not being the beginning and end, but don’t you think a corporate policy limiting it and therefore limiting the disparity would be beneficial? Seems like a place where Catholics in business could really act for the good.
That was an interesting bit of data about Carnegie and his intent to return more money to shareholders. That seems to be far less important nowadays–the big thing is the stock price, because buying and selling it is where the big money is made.
I’m not one of those who thinks execs are useless drones (although some are). Yes, many work very hard and have abilities that not just everyone has. I’ve worked for a big corporation and neither idealize nor demonize them.
True, in itself it’s not necessarily the problem, but I think limiting the disparity by means of a reasonable multiplier (let’s just say 10 as a hypothetical) could help indirectly. Adopted as a corporate policy, it would insure that a rising tide would really lift all boats, and distribute the company’s resources more broadly.
To many of us it is self-evident that a society is healthier when there is not huge disparity of wealth. Not, note, egalitarianism, but at least not great wealth next to dire poverty, like you see when visiting Manhattan.
This is not evident to you?
It is evident to me that dire poverty is bad and that the wealthy have a heavy obligation to do what they can to prevent it from happening. It is not evident to me that the disparity itself is intrinsically problematic.