Thoughts for Hiroshima Day

From Eureka St, 24 June 2008:

In 1965, the Second Vatican Council of the Catholic Church declared: ‘Any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities of extensive areas along with their population is a crime against God and man himself. It merits unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation.’ There is no other church moral teaching which has been so solemnly declared.

Many democratic leaders, if placed in Truman’s shoes, would, in good conscience and with a heavy heart, invoke an exception and do exactly the same again, no matter what any church leader said.

The American philosopher Michael Walzer has been a long time critic of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In Just and Unjust Wars he states ‘Our purpose, then, was not to avert a ‘butchery’ that someone else was threatening, but one that we were threatening, and had already begun to carry out.’

He rightly distinguishes Japan from Germany and argues that there was no need to demand unconditional surrender. ‘[A]ll that was morally required was that they be defeated, not that they be conquered and totally overthrown.’ Walzer claims, ‘In the summer of 1945, the victorious Americans owed the Japanese people an experiment in negotiation.’

In the essay ‘Terrorism and Just War’, from his recent book of essays Thinking Politically, he says ‘the American use of nuclear weapons against Japan in 1945 … was surely an act of terrorism; innocent men and women were killed in order to spread fear across a nation and force the surrender of its government.

‘And this action went along with a demand for unconditional surrender, which is one of the forms that tyranny takes in wartime … There can’t be any doubt that the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki implied … a radical devaluation of Japanese lives and a generalised threat to the Japanese people.’

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