This is a transcript of a conversation I had with Eric Gajewski about the morality of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. ChatGPT summarized and edited the original transcript for clarity. You can listen to the full conversation at TradCatKnight.org
Eric: I wanted to discuss a sensitive topic today, particularly relevant last month due to the anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. There’s a lot of conflict and tension surrounding this, even within traditional circles.
Jeff: Absolutely, it’s a crucial topic to revisit. With recent events like the testing of an ICBM nuclear missile on the West Coast and ongoing global tensions, it’s timely. So, let’s dive into the basics of Catholic teaching on this matter.
This topic extends beyond the concept of war, touching on the principles that underpin the doctrine. It explores the interaction between civilians and governments and the consequences of a society embracing total war or principles contrary to the just war doctrine. Such a shift can lead to issues like abortion and euthanasia.
To understand this, we need to define our terms. We’re discussing the just war doctrine, articulated by Thomas Aquinas. It outlines the conditions under which war is justifiable, including the presence of a real and certain danger, right intention, probability of success, exhaustion of peaceful alternatives, and proportionality of the anticipated benefits of war.
Yes, I’m here. To address your earlier point, the situation in the 80s under Bush, with the alleged weapons of mass destruction, is a prime example of how information can be manipulated. Governments can fabricate reasons to justify war.
We know the U.S. provided Iraq with biological and chemical weapons during the Iraq-Iran war. The claim that Iraq still possessed these weapons was dubious. Moreover, possessing weapons of mass destruction doesn’t automatically justify war. If it did, any country, including the U.S., could be a valid target.
Eric: What if there’s credible intelligence that a country plans to use these weapons against us? Does the Church permit a preemptive attack?
Jeff: A preemptive attack could be permissible under very limited circumstances, according to Church teaching.
When evaluating the right to go to war, we must consider several principles. Is the cause just, and is it defensive, aimed at protecting the innocent? Is the government, the competent authority, making the decision with the right intention? Have we assessed the probability of success and ensured that war is the last resort? Especially for Americans and British, given our historical context, we must ask if our actions are proportionate.
Consider a hypothetical scenario where a small country poses a threat to us. Will our response be proportionate? The West has a history of disproportionate actions, as evidenced by events like Hiroshima and Nagasaki. If an enemy plans to bomb a subway, killing hundreds, does that justify an invasion killing hundreds of thousands, including many innocents? Clearly not.
Eric: As we delve into the right conduct during war, are there specific resources you recommend for understanding this complex topic?
Jeff: I didn’t bring the titles with me, but I’ll post them on my blog and social media. Generally, searching for “traditional Catholic just war” online should yield useful resources. I also have a collection of free e-books on my website.
Unfortunately, the just war doctrine has been distorted in modern times. Some conservatives, ironically, have contributed to this perversion by adding their own interpretations. It’s crucial to rely on traditional sources.
Jeff: Now, let’s discuss the right conduct during war. Assuming the criteria for just war are met, we must also evaluate the means and behavior during the conflict. The Church mandates a distinction between combatants and non-combatants. Civilians should never be intentionally targeted. Even in the Middle Ages, there was an understanding that civilians might be affected, but it should never be intentional.
Eric: I’m reminded of the Vietnam War, where distinguishing between combatants and civilians was challenging due to guerrilla warfare. How do we navigate such gray areas?
Jeff: There has always been a gray area. Even in the Middle Ages, women and children could become combatants under extreme circumstances. If our actions are likely to result in the deaths of innocents, we must reevaluate whether we are truly distinguishing between combatants and non-combatants.
Eric: It’s a complex issue. My uncle, a frontline soldier in Vietnam, faced these moral quandaries.
Jeff: The primary responsibility lies with the decision-makers who can anticipate these moral dilemmas. Soldiers on the front lines aren’t primarily culpable for unjust actions. Their culpability is proportionate to various factors.
The culpability of soldiers in war can vary. For instance, if they enlisted knowing they might be placed in morally compromising situations and were indifferent to that, their culpability would be significant. However, if they were drafted and found themselves in such situations while trying to fulfill their duty, their culpability would be reduced.
In every war, there are moral dilemmas. For example, during World War Two, there were instances where American soldiers killed enemy combatants who had already surrendered. This can be attributed to the intense situations soldiers find themselves in, where self-preservation instincts take over.
Moving on to the right conduct in war, proportionality is crucial. The force used must be proportionate to the harm that needs to be prevented or corrected. For instance, in response to the 9/11 attacks, assuming no conspiracy theories, how many should we seek to kill to restore peace? Our response must be proportionate, akin to how parents must discipline their children proportionately.
Additionally, war must not employ means that are evil in themselves. Actions that deliberately target civilians or use weapons that do not discriminate between civilians and combatants are forbidden. Fair treatment of prisoners of war is also mandatory.
Eric: Considering the complexity of distinguishing between combatants and non-combatants, as seen in wars like Vietnam, how does this apply to potential revolutions, where civilians might rise against their government, as hinted at by movements like January 6?
This is a significant question for Americans, given our history of rebellion. Catholicism traditionally offers deference to rulers, but this is predicated on the assumption that the rulers are just and promote the common good. When a government promotes evil or injustice, it loses its moral authority, similar to a father who acts contrary to the welfare of his family.
In such cases, rebellion to restore peace and justice can be justified. Applying this to the U.S., it’s conceivable for Catholics to conclude that an authority, while theoretically still legitimate, is acting contrary to the common good and promoting evil and violence. In such scenarios, action to restore peace and justice might not just be permissible but morally obligatory.
Consider a teenage son who must assume the father’s role to protect his family due to the father’s negligence or corruption. This analogy can be applied to the January 6 event, which was essentially non-violent. Although things got out of hand, the actions were akin to trespassing. Under Catholic doctrine, while we might criticize such behaviors, the response should be proportionate.
Eric: The punishments meted out seem excessive. It appears there’s an attempt to intimidate people into silence, painting protesters as extremists to deter future uprisings. The sentencing of the Proud Boys’ leader, who wasn’t even present, underscores this injustice.
Jeff: Catholics outraged by these developments and contemplating action, remember that the principles of just war apply equally to rebels. Actions must have a probability of success. If they are futile or frivolous, they are immoral. The horror of war, with its toll on innocents and societal structures, underscores the need for careful consideration.
Unfortunately, we must cut this short today. We’ll continue our discussion in early October, delving into topics like Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and objections to the Catholic doctrine of just war.
The second and final part of this conversation can be found here.
Resources you might find valuable:
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
- URL: Just War Theory
- Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
- URL: Just War Theory
- The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:
- Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs:
- BBC – Ethics Guide:
- URL: War – Just War