Harry Truman and the Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb

 

Harry Truman

Peter Robinson expressed his opinion on Twitter today that President Truman did not approve the use of the nuclear bomb. “Truman never approved the use of the bomb–or disapproved it,” He wrote. “The military considered it one more weapon, like a new submarine or aircraft. They kept Truman informed. But they did not ask his approval.”

That’s not my memory from reading David McCollough’s Truman, so I decided to look it up, as best I could.

Here’s what Truman himself said of the matter, as quoted by McCollough on page 442 of the paperback edition:

The final decision of where and when to use the atomic bomb was up to me. Let there be no mistake about it. I regarded the bomb as a military weapon and never had any doubt that it should be used.

McCollough continues on the same page:

Though nothing was recorded on paper, the critical moment appears to have occurred at Number 2 Kaiserstrasse later in the morning of Tuesday, July 24, when, at 11:30, the combined American and British Chiefs of Staff convened with Truman and Churcheill in the dinning room. This was the one time when Truman, Churchill, and their military advisers were all around a table, in Churchill’s phrase. From this point it was settled: barring some unforeseen development, the bomb would be used with a few weeks.

Peter followed up by saying that Truman authorized the release of a “document explaining the bomb, not the bomb itself.”

Page 435-437:

With the start of his second week at Potsdam, Truman knew that decisions on the bomb could wait no longer. At 10:00 Sunday morning, July 22, he attended Protestant services led by a chaplain from the 2nd Armored Division. …

[Secretary of War] Stimson had appeared at Number 2 Kaiserstrasse shortly after breakfast with messages from Washington saying all was about5 ready for the “final operation” and that a decision on the target cities was needed. Stimson wanted Kyoto removed from the list, and having heard the reasons, Truman agreed. Kyoto would be spared. “Although it was a target of considerable military importance,” Stimson would write, “it had been the capital of Japan and was a shrine of Japanese art and culture…” First on the list of approved targets was Hiroshima, southern headquarters and depot for Japan’s homeland army. …

Tuesday, July 24, was almost certainly the fateful day.

At 9:20A.M Stimson again climbed the stairs to Truman’s office, where he found the President seated behind the heavy carved desk, “alone with his work.” Stimson had brought another message:

Washington, July 23, 1945
Top Secret
Operational Priority
War 36792 Secretary of War Eyes Only top secret from Harrison.

Operation may be possible any time from August 1 depending on state of preparation of patient and condition of atmosphere. From point of view of patient only, some chance August 1 to 3, good chance August 4 to 5 and barring unexpected relapse almost certain before August 10.

Truman “said that was just what he wanted,” Stimson wrote in his diary,” that he was highly delighted….”

Page 448:

Late on Monday, July 30, another urgent top-secret cable to Truman was received and decoded…

The time schedule on Groves’ project is progressing so rapidly that it is now essential that statement for release by you be available not later than Wednesday, 1 August….

The time had come for Truman to give the final go-ahead for the bomb. This was the moment, the decision only he could make.

The message was delivered at 7:48 A.M., Berlin time, Tuesday, July 31. Writing large and clear with a lead pencil on the back of the pink message, Truman gave his answer, which he handed to Lieutenant Elsey for Transmission:

Suggestion approved. Release when ready but not sooner than August 2.

On July 25, Truman had written in his journal, McCollough quotes on pages 443-444:

We have discovered the most terrible bomb in the history of the world… This weapon will be used against Japan between now and August 10th. I have told the Sec of War, Mr. Stimson, to use it so that military objectives and soldiers and sailors are the target and not women and children. Even if the Japs are savages, ruthless, merciless and fanatic, we as the leader of the world for the common welfare cannot drop this terrible bomb on the old capital [Kyoto] or the new [Tokyo, where the Imperial Palace had been spared thus far].

He and I are in accord. The target will be a purely military one and we will issue a warning statement asking the Japs to surrender and save lives. I’m sure they will not do that, but we will have given them a chance.

McCollough notes that Truman knew that it was “only partly true” that the bomb would be used only against military targets. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the sites of military installations, so they were legitimate military targets, but of course we know that many civilians perished. The morality of the atomic bomb is not the subject of this post, but I’d like to mention that at this point more than 50,000 American soldiers had been killed in just four months of island hopping and that 100,000 Japanese had died in a single night of firebombing.

On page 457:

On August 9, the papers carried still more stupendous news. A million Russian troops had crossed into Manchuria–Russia was in the war against Japan–and a second atomic bomb had been dropped on the major Japanese seaport of Nagasaki.

No high-level meeting had been held concerning this second bomb. Truman had made no additional decision. There was no order issued beyond the military directive for the first bomb, which had been sent on July 25 by Marshall’s deputy, General Thomas T. Handy, to the responsible commander in the Pacific, General Carl A. Spaatz of the Twentieth Air Force. Paragraph 2 of that directive had stipulated: “Additional bombs will be delivered on the above targets as soon as made ready by the project staff.” A second bomb–a plutonium bomb nicknamed “Fat Man”–being ready, it was “delivered” from Tinian, and two days ahead of schedule, in view of weather conditions.

 

There are no doubt additional relevant quotes, but I’ll limit it to these.  Does anyone else have insight into this momentous decision?

Published in General
This post was promoted to the Main Feed by a Ricochet Editor at the recommendation of Ricochet members. Like this post? Want to comment? Join Ricochet’s community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Join Ricochet for Free.

There are 152 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    MiMac (View Comment):

    Manny (View Comment):

    On this finer point of Catholicism, you’re missing the point. In Catholicism you cannot do an evil act to justify a good outcome. So any justification that would say it would have saved American lives is a non-starter. Now at what point did the civilians of Hiroshima and Nagasaki become combatants? I don’t have the expertise to know, but I find it hard to believe that the majority of the civilians were directly supporting the war. After all there were women and children there. What I don’t understand is why was a populated area targeted as a starting pointy? Why not some remote area first used to demonstrate its immense destructiveness? Over my lifetime, I’ve moved 180 on this. I no longer think it was the right thing to do. Of course in the fog of war, I can see how it was the path chosen, and I might have done the same thing at the time, but in retrospect it was a grave sin.

    1) Hiroshima was the HQ of the army group tasked with defending against the up coming invasion & was a major transportation hub & arms depot.

    2)Nagasaki was a major harbor and naval weapons manufacturing site.

    3) Japanese industry was typically spread thru out cities and much work was outsourced to civilian homes-so it was near impossible to target industry w/o catching civilians in the destruction.

    the advocacy for a demonstration overlooks the fact that we had 2 bombs & needed to use both to convince Japan to surrender (and even then there was an attempted coup to prevent surrendering AFTER both bombings). I definitely recommend listening to Fr Miscamble on the issue- he is both a Catholic priest and a history professor. The issue is definitely difficult to resolve and it is to easy to moralize from safety & comfort decades later- I am glad I didn’t face Truman’s decision.

    We killed more people in the conventional firebombing of Tokyo. 

     

    • #61
  2. Jim Beck Inactive
    Jim Beck
    @JimBeck

    Afternoon,

    Concerning the choice of using the bombs VDH had a super review of alternative choices in this podcast a few weeks ago.

    https://ricochet.com/series/the-classicist/

    Here is a sketch of what he said, we could do 

    As background VDH notes that there were 5 mil Japanese soldiers in China and 2 mil in Indonesia China and that they were killing 20K per day, or over one atomic bomb a week, so if we care about limiting Chinese death doing nothing is harsh.

    1. Nothing, isolate Japan and starve them out.

    2.  Have an armistice, like Gulf War 91, this does not break the back of the militaristic cult.

    3. Invade, but Okinawa cost 50K wounded and killed, what would an invasion cost

    4. Curtis LaMay says we could put between 5K and 7K bombers on 2twice a day missions and using napalm incinerate the rest of Japan.  We had already incinerated 70% of the industrial base of Japan.

    Also as VDH noted in “The Second World Wars”, quoting, “The March 9-10, 1945, napalm firebombing of Tokyo remains the most destructive single 24 hour period in military history…Probably more persons lost their lives by fire at Tokyo bush a 6 hour period than at any time in the history of man.  Over one hundred thousand civilians likely died……My father, who flew on that mission, recalled that the smell of burning human flesh….that the fireball was visible for nearly fifty miles at ten thousand feet.”

    5. Do a demo drop in Tokyo Bay,  problems what if it doesn’t work ( the plutonium bomb) what if demo in water is nothing

    My point of view is that to destroy a militaristic culture, it must be totally and humiliatingly and publically beaten, and the bombs succeeded in bringing a complete surrender with no conditions.

    • #62
  3. Max Ledoux Coolidge
    Max Ledoux
    @Max

    MiMac (View Comment):
    the advocacy for a demonstration overlooks the fact that we had 2 bombs & needed to use both to convince Japan to surrender (and even then there was an attempted coup to prevent surrendering AFTER both bombings)

    And there was at least some worry that the bombs wouldn’t even go off or would not inflict as much damage as expected. That would have been a disastrous demonstration to the Japanese.

    • #63
  4. MiMac Thatcher
    MiMac
    @MiMac

    Jim Beck (View Comment):

    Afternoon,

    Concerning the choice of using the bombs VDH had a super review of alternative choices in this podcast a few weeks ago.

    https://ricochet.com/series/the-classicist/

    Here is a sketch of what he said, we could do

    As background VDH notes that there were 5 mil Japanese soldiers in China and 2 mil in Indonesia China and that they were killing 20K per day, or over one atomic bomb a week, so if we care about limiting Chinese death doing nothing is harsh.

    1. Nothing, isolate Japan and starve them out.

    2. Have an armistice, like Gulf War 91, this does not break the back of the militaristic cult.

    3. Invade, but Okinawa cost 50K wounded and killed, what would an invasion cost

    4. Curtis LaMay says we could put between 5K and 7K bombers on 2twice a day missions and using napalm incinerate the rest of Japan. We had already incinerated 70% of the industrial base of Japan.

    Also as VDH noted in “The Second World Wars”, quoting, “The March 9-10, 1945, napalm firebombing of Tokyo remains the most destructive single 24 hour period in military history…Probably more persons lost their lives by fire at Tokyo bush a 6 hour period than at any time in the history of man. Over one hundred thousand civilians likely died……My father, who flew on that mission, recalled that the smell of burning human flesh….that the fireball was visible for nearly fifty miles at ten thousand feet.”

    5. Do a demo drop in Tokyo Bay, problems what if it doesn’t work ( the plutonium bomb) what if demo in water is nothing

    My point of view is that to destroy a militaristic culture, it must be totally and humiliatingly and publically beaten, and the bombs succeeded in bringing a complete surrender with no conditions.

    Your point on the need to destroy the militaristic culture was well understood by the senior US leadership in WW2- almost all had been junior leaders in WW1 ( and junior leaders see the horror of war up close & personal) and were determined to not repeat the mistake of seeking an armistice thereby allowing the defeated armies to march home ( and no widespread occupation by foreign armies) and later claim the fiction that they weren’t defeated but stabbed in the back. In late 1945 every civilian in Germany & Japan was well aware that they decisively lost the war- the mounds of rubble & occupation made it undeniable.

    • #64
  5. Paul Stinchfield Member
    Paul Stinchfield
    @PaulStinchfield

    Manny (View Comment):

    Peter Robinson (View Comment):
    Those who now sit in judgement on Truman could do worse than ponder that. And the moralists among my fellow Catholics?

    On this finer point of Catholicism, you’re missing the point. In Catholicism you cannot do an evil act to justify a good outcome. So any justification that would say it would have saved American lives is a non-starter….

    I think that’s not quite right. From the Wikipedia article on Just War Theory:

    The just war doctrine of the Catholic Church found in the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church, in paragraph 2309, lists four strict conditions for “legitimate defense by military force”:

    (1) the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
    (2) all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
    (3) there must be serious prospects of success;
    (4) the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated (the power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition).

    Jean Bethke Elshtain wrote a book after 9/11 on Just War Theory which you might find interesting.

    • #65
  6. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    CurtWilson (View Comment):

    Manny (View Comment):

    Peter Robinson (View Comment):
    Those who now sit in judgement on Truman could do worse than ponder that. And the moralists among my fellow Catholics?

    On this finer point of Catholicism, you’re missing the point. In Catholicism you cannot do an evil act to justify a good outcome. So any justification that would say it would have saved American lives is a non-starter. Now at what point did the civilians of Hiroshima and Nagasaki become combatants? I don’t have the expertise to know, but I find it hard to believe that the majority of the civilians were directly supporting the war. After all there were women and children there. What I don’t understand is why was a populated area targeted as a starting pointy? Why not some remote area first used to demonstrate its immense destructiveness? Over my lifetime, I’ve moved 180 on this. I no longer think it was the right thing to do. Of course in the fog of war, I can see how it was the path chosen, and I might have done the same thing at the time, but in retrospect it was a grave sin.

    These are very difficult questions, of course, but there are many additional factors involved that you don’t mention. Estimates of civilian deaths under Japanese occupation are up to a half million per month, a quarter million per month in China alone. Dropping the bombs ended that quickly, probably saving several million civilian lives.

    As to a demonstration in an unpopulated area, if the destruction of Hiroshima did not persuade the military leadership of the need to surrrender, and the destruction of Nagasaki still did not — the emperor’s intervention was required — I don’t see how blasting an unpopulated island would have done the trick.

    I strongly recommend Richard Franks’ book “Downfall” on these subjects. It thoroughly documents US intercepts of Japanese communications to illustrate the mindsets of the crucial period.

    So that’s one priest.  The majority of Catholic ethicists disagree.  I strongly recommend Christopher Check at Catholic Answers in a very long and detailed essay titled, “Dropping the Atomic Bomb Was Wrong. Period.”  It’s a long essay taking you through a number of ethical issues and addressing all the arguments put forth in this post.  Make sure you read to the end.  

    And Catholic Answers is the very best site on Catholic apologetics and totally conservative.  They are most definitely not liberals.  In fact, Christopher check has great record set of tapes on Lepanto and the Islamic threat.

    • #66
  7. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    Paul Stinchfield (View Comment):

    Manny (View Comment):

    Peter Robinson (View Comment):
    Those who now sit in judgement on Truman could do worse than ponder that. And the moralists among my fellow Catholics?

    On this finer point of Catholicism, you’re missing the point. In Catholicism you cannot do an evil act to justify a good outcome. So any justification that would say it would have saved American lives is a non-starter….

    I think that’s not quite right. From the Wikipedia article on Just War Theory:

    The just war doctrine of the Catholic Church found in the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church, in paragraph 2309, lists four strict conditions for “legitimate defense by military force”:

    (1) the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
    (2) all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
    (3) there must be serious prospects of success;
    (4) the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated (the power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition).

    Jean Bethke Elshtain wrote a book after 9/11 on Just War Theory which you might find interesting.

    Regarding item #4, read up on some of the [stuff] the Japanese did during the war.  The Rape of Nanking, the Battle for Manila in 1945, the treatment of POWs and civilians in occupied territories.  In a lot of ways the Japanese were worse than the Nazis.

    They earned the Atom bombs…

     

    Edit:  My dad was in the Philippines after the war (Nov 1945- April 1946).  He told me he never again in his life saw hate like the hate the Philippinos had for the Japanese.

    • #67
  8. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Manny (View Comment):

    So that’s one priest. The majority of Catholic ethicists disagree. I strongly recommend Christopher Check at Catholic Answers in a very long and detailed essay titled, “Dropping the Atomic Bomb Was Wrong. Period.” It’s a long essay taking you through a number of ethical issues and addressing all the arguments put forth in this post. Make sure you read to the end.

    And Catholic Answers is the very best site on Catholic apologetics and totally conservative. They are most definitely not liberals. In fact, Christopher check has great record set of tapes on Lepanto and the Islamic threat.

    So, “Thank God For The Atomic Bomb” has already been written, I guess maybe I should write “Thank God The US Was Not Run By Catholic Ethicists In WWII.”

    • #68
  9. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    MiMac (View Comment):

    Manny (View Comment):

    On this finer point of Catholicism, you’re missing the point. In Catholicism you cannot do an evil act to justify a good outcome. So any justification that would say it would have saved American lives is a non-starter. Now at what point did the civilians of Hiroshima and Nagasaki become combatants? I don’t have the expertise to know, but I find it hard to believe that the majority of the civilians were directly supporting the war. After all there were women and children there. What I don’t understand is why was a populated area targeted as a starting pointy? Why not some remote area first used to demonstrate its immense destructiveness? Over my lifetime, I’ve moved 180 on this. I no longer think it was the right thing to do. Of course in the fog of war, I can see how it was the path chosen, and I might have done the same thing at the time, but in retrospect it was a grave sin.

    1) Hiroshima was the HQ of the army group tasked with defending against the up coming invasion & was a major transportation hub & arms depot.

    2)Nagasaki was a major harbor and naval weapons manufacturing site.

    3) Japanese industry was typically spread thru out cities and much work was outsourced to civilian homes-so it was near impossible to target industry w/o catching civilians in the destruction.

    the advocacy for a demonstration overlooks the fact that we had 2 bombs & needed to use both to convince Japan to surrender (and even then there was an attempted coup to prevent surrendering AFTER both bombings). I definitely recommend listening to Fr Miscamble on the issue- he is both a Catholic priest and a history professor. The issue is definitely difficult to resolve and it is too easy to moralize from safety & comfort decades later( a point strongly made by P Fussel)- I am glad I didn’t face Truman’s decision.

    Read my response to CurtWilson and the essay I sited from Catholic Answers.  You’re giving me the same argument of an evil act was necessary to have a good outcome.  That violates Catholic doctrine and frankly it violates St. Paul himself: And why not say (as some people slander us by saying that we say), ‘Let us do evil that good may come?’ Their condemnation is deserved” (Rom. 3:8).  Meaning the answer is no, you cannot do evil so that good may come of it.

    • #69
  10. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    MiMac (View Comment):

    Manny (View Comment):

    On this finer point of Catholicism, you’re missing the point. In Catholicism you cannot do an evil act to justify a good outcome. So any justification that would say it would have saved American lives is a non-starter. Now at what point did the civilians of Hiroshima and Nagasaki become combatants? I don’t have the expertise to know, but I find it hard to believe that the majority of the civilians were directly supporting the war. After all there were women and children there. What I don’t understand is why was a populated area targeted as a starting pointy? Why not some remote area first used to demonstrate its immense destructiveness? Over my lifetime, I’ve moved 180 on this. I no longer think it was the right thing to do. Of course in the fog of war, I can see how it was the path chosen, and I might have done the same thing at the time, but in retrospect it was a grave sin.

    1) Hiroshima was the HQ of the army group tasked with defending against the up coming invasion & was a major transportation hub & arms depot.

    2)Nagasaki was a major harbor and naval weapons manufacturing site.

    3) Japanese industry was typically spread thru out cities and much work was outsourced to civilian homes-so it was near impossible to target industry w/o catching civilians in the destruction.

    the advocacy for a demonstration overlooks the fact that we had 2 bombs & needed to use both to convince Japan to surrender (and even then there was an attempted coup to prevent surrendering AFTER both bombings). I definitely recommend listening to Fr Miscamble on the issue- he is both a Catholic priest and a history professor. The issue is definitely difficult to resolve and it is to easy to moralize from safety & comfort decades later- I am glad I didn’t face Truman’s decision.

    We killed more people in the conventional firebombing of Tokyo.

    So two wrongs make a right?

    • #70
  11. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Manny (View Comment):

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    MiMac (View Comment):

    Manny (View Comment):

    On this finer point of Catholicism, you’re missing the point. In Catholicism you cannot do an evil act to justify a good outcome. So any justification that would say it would have saved American lives is a non-starter. Now at what point did the civilians of Hiroshima and Nagasaki become combatants? I don’t have the expertise to know, but I find it hard to believe that the majority of the civilians were directly supporting the war. After all there were women and children there. What I don’t understand is why was a populated area targeted as a starting pointy? Why not some remote area first used to demonstrate its immense destructiveness? Over my lifetime, I’ve moved 180 on this. I no longer think it was the right thing to do. Of course in the fog of war, I can see how it was the path chosen, and I might have done the same thing at the time, but in retrospect it was a grave sin.

    1) Hiroshima was the HQ of the army group tasked with defending against the up coming invasion & was a major transportation hub & arms depot.

    2)Nagasaki was a major harbor and naval weapons manufacturing site.

    3) Japanese industry was typically spread thru out cities and much work was outsourced to civilian homes-so it was near impossible to target industry w/o catching civilians in the destruction.

    the advocacy for a demonstration overlooks the fact that we had 2 bombs & needed to use both to convince Japan to surrender (and even then there was an attempted coup to prevent surrendering AFTER both bombings). I definitely recommend listening to Fr Miscamble on the issue- he is both a Catholic priest and a history professor. The issue is definitely difficult to resolve and it is to easy to moralize from safety & comfort decades later- I am glad I didn’t face Truman’s decision.

    We killed more people in the conventional firebombing of Tokyo.

    So two wrongs make a right?

    What did the Catholic Ethicists have to say about firebombing Tokyo?

    Not that I really care, but it would be interesting to know if they were even consistent.

    • #71
  12. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    Manny (View Comment):

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    MiMac (View Comment):

    Manny (View Comment):

    On this finer point of Catholicism, you’re missing the point. In Catholicism you cannot do an evil act to justify a good outcome. So any justification that would say it would have saved American lives is a non-starter. Now at what point did the civilians of Hiroshima and Nagasaki become combatants? I don’t have the expertise to know, but I find it hard to believe that the majority of the civilians were directly supporting the war. After all there were women and children there. What I don’t understand is why was a populated area targeted as a starting pointy? Why not some remote area first used to demonstrate its immense destructiveness? Over my lifetime, I’ve moved 180 on this. I no longer think it was the right thing to do. Of course in the fog of war, I can see how it was the path chosen, and I might have done the same thing at the time, but in retrospect it was a grave sin.

    1) Hiroshima was the HQ of the army group tasked with defending against the up coming invasion & was a major transportation hub & arms depot.

    2)Nagasaki was a major harbor and naval weapons manufacturing site.

    3) Japanese industry was typically spread thru out cities and much work was outsourced to civilian homes-so it was near impossible to target industry w/o catching civilians in the destruction.

    the advocacy for a demonstration overlooks the fact that we had 2 bombs & needed to use both to convince Japan to surrender (and even then there was an attempted coup to prevent surrendering AFTER both bombings). I definitely recommend listening to Fr Miscamble on the issue- he is both a Catholic priest and a history professor. The issue is definitely difficult to resolve and it is to easy to moralize from safety & comfort decades later- I am glad I didn’t face Truman’s decision.

    We killed more people in the conventional firebombing of Tokyo.

    So two wrongs make a right?

    I’m saying people get exercised about the atom bombs but not about the firebombings.  Maybe it’s about something other than the ethics of the act.

     

    • #72
  13. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    Paul Stinchfield (View Comment):

    Manny (View Comment):

    Peter Robinson (View Comment):
    Those who now sit in judgement on Truman could do worse than ponder that. And the moralists among my fellow Catholics?

    On this finer point of Catholicism, you’re missing the point. In Catholicism you cannot do an evil act to justify a good outcome. So any justification that would say it would have saved American lives is a non-starter….

    I think that’s not quite right. From the Wikipedia article on Just War Theory:

    The just war doctrine of the Catholic Church found in the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church, in paragraph 2309, lists four strict conditions for “legitimate defense by military force”:

    (1) the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
    (2) all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
    (3) there must be serious prospects of success;
    (4) the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated (the power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition).

    Jean Bethke Elshtain wrote a book after 9/11 on Just War Theory which you might find interesting.

    That is a complete misreading of CCC2309.  Look at what you skipped over, especially the very first sentence: “The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration.”  It is outlining justification for going to war, not individual acts within war.  The very section you are quoting is titled “Avoiding War.”  

    look then to paragraph CCC2414 which outlines the morality of individual acts within war:

    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 [cf. Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, 80 §3]. 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.

    That’s the paragraph you should have been looking at.

    • #73
  14. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    Let me summarize the justifying of doing evil for a hopeful good in this way.  Satan said to Adam and Eve, “Eat the apple and you will gain knowledge.”  That was the doing the evil (not permitted by God) for an outcome that was to be good.  When you argue in kind, you are speaking Satan’s words.  

    • #74
  15. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Manny (View Comment):

    So that’s one priest. The majority of Catholic ethicists disagree. I strongly recommend Christopher Check at Catholic Answers in a very long and detailed essay titled, “Dropping the Atomic Bomb Was Wrong. Period.” It’s a long essay taking you through a number of ethical issues and addressing all the arguments put forth in this post. Make sure you read to the end.

    And Catholic Answers is the very best site on Catholic apologetics and totally conservative. They are most definitely not liberals. In fact, Christopher check has great record set of tapes on Lepanto and the Islamic threat.

    So, “Thank God For The Atomic Bomb” has already been written, I guess maybe I should write “Thank God The US Was Not Run By Catholic Ethicists In WWII.”

    Oh there are plenty of Protestant and Jewish ethicists who agree with that argument.  I brought up Catholicism because I was rebutting Peter, who specifically brought up Catholicism.  Read my first comment and to what I was replying.

    • #75
  16. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Manny (View Comment):

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    MiMac (View Comment):

    Manny (View Comment):

    On this finer point of Catholicism, you’re missing the point. In Catholicism you cannot do an evil act to justify a good outcome. So any justification that would say it would have saved American lives is a non-starter. Now at what point did the civilians of Hiroshima and Nagasaki become combatants? I don’t have the expertise to know, but I find it hard to believe that the majority of the civilians were directly supporting the war. After all there were women and children there. What I don’t understand is why was a populated area targeted as a starting pointy? Why not some remote area first used to demonstrate its immense destructiveness? Over my lifetime, I’ve moved 180 on this. I no longer think it was the right thing to do. Of course in the fog of war, I can see how it was the path chosen, and I might have done the same thing at the time, but in retrospect it was a grave sin.

    1) Hiroshima was the HQ of the army group tasked with defending against the up coming invasion & was a major transportation hub & arms depot.

    2)Nagasaki was a major harbor and naval weapons manufacturing site.

    3) Japanese industry was typically spread thru out cities and much work was outsourced to civilian homes-so it was near impossible to target industry w/o catching civilians in the destruction.

    the advocacy for a demonstration overlooks the fact that we had 2 bombs & needed to use both to convince Japan to surrender (and even then there was an attempted coup to prevent surrendering AFTER both bombings). I definitely recommend listening to Fr Miscamble on the issue- he is both a Catholic priest and a history professor. The issue is definitely difficult to resolve and it is to easy to moralize from safety & comfort decades later- I am glad I didn’t face Truman’s decision.

    We killed more people in the conventional firebombing of Tokyo.

    So two wrongs make a right?

    What did the Catholic Ethicists have to say about firebombing Tokyo?

    Not that I really care, but it would be interesting to know if they were even consistent.

    I haven’t read anything specifically on that, but as you can deduce from my comments and what I quoted it would be equally wrong.  The whole 20th century (and now I guess 21st) bombing of cities with civilians is an immoral act, no matter who it’s done by.

    • #76
  17. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Manny (View Comment):
    I haven’t read anything specifically on that, but as you can deduce from my comments and what I quoted it would be equally wrong. The whole 20th century (and now I guess 21st) bombing of cities with civilians is an immoral act, no matter who it’s done by.

    As was pointed out previous, the Japanese were using their cities and “civilian” populations to produce weapons etc.  Rather like the Islamists do by turning schools and hospitals and mosques into military installations.  As Major Kira said on Deep Space Nine, if they know you won’t attack anything like that, you’ve already lost.

    • #77
  18. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    Max Ledoux (View Comment):

    MiMac (View Comment):
    the advocacy for a demonstration overlooks the fact that we had 2 bombs & needed to use both to convince Japan to surrender (and even then there was an attempted coup to prevent surrendering AFTER both bombings)

    And there was at least some worry that the bombs wouldn’t even go off or would not inflict as much damage as expected. That would have been a disastrous demonstration to the Japanese.

    We knew the first one would work. That is why that design was never even tested. The second was the same type as the Trinity test. 

    • #78
  19. JosePluma Thatcher
    JosePluma
    @JosePluma

    Instugator (View Comment):

    Max Ledoux (View Comment):

    MiMac (View Comment):
    the advocacy for a demonstration overlooks the fact that we had 2 bombs & needed to use both to convince Japan to surrender (and even then there was an attempted coup to prevent surrendering AFTER both bombings)

    And there was at least some worry that the bombs wouldn’t even go off or would not inflict as much damage as expected. That would have been a disastrous demonstration to the Japanese.

    We knew the first one would work. That is why that design was never even tested. The second was the same type as the Trinity test.

    We “knew” it would work without testing?  No, I think they used it because every delay was costing American (and British, Dutch, Chinese and Japanese) lives.

    • #79
  20. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Instugator (View Comment):

    Max Ledoux (View Comment):

    MiMac (View Comment):
    the advocacy for a demonstration overlooks the fact that we had 2 bombs & needed to use both to convince Japan to surrender (and even then there was an attempted coup to prevent surrendering AFTER both bombings)

    And there was at least some worry that the bombs wouldn’t even go off or would not inflict as much damage as expected. That would have been a disastrous demonstration to the Japanese.

    We knew the first one would work. That is why that design was never even tested. The second was the same type as the Trinity test.

    Instugator’s got a strong point. In fact, the assumption all along was that the uranium bomb could be counted on for 5-15 kilotons explosive force, whereas the Trinity test–and the Nagasaki bomb, and almost all subsequent ones–would come in at somewhere between a disappointing 500 tons and an optimistic 5 kts.  They got something closer to 20. 

    Hiroshima’s executioner was pretty much what the British laid out for us in 1941. They were also right about the kind of industrial buildup it would take to refine that much uranium. They did underestimate the cost widely, as would happen with projects as diverse as color television, the manned space program, the IBM 360, and the Boeing 747. But the 1941 concept worked.

    For years after 1945, the government kept implosion as a secret. Plutonium was extremely expensive to create, but unlike U-235, you could actually create it in reactors; it didn’t have to be extracted from raw material. One scientist said later that Los Alamos wasn’t about Hiroshima, a “sure thing”, but about the implosion bomb. Without implosion, we couldn’t have had plutonium weapons. 

    • #80
  21. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    I’d like to call attention to a feature of the OP: It’s not a discussion about whether Truman was justified in using the atomic bomb, although it’s a legitimate side issue that isn’t thread-jacking to bring up. The post is really about veracity: is it possible, is it in fact probable, that David McCullough’s sympathy with his bio subject, Harry Truman, leads him to take Truman’s possibly self-serving later accounts too easily? That’s a different question. You don’t have to believe that Truman was a liar to believe that it’s likely that some of his memories are defensive ones. 

    I’m 68. I think my memories of what I did and the times I lived through are honest ones. But if every other person who preceded me on Earth obviously bent the prism of their memories to reflect better on themselves, what are the chances that I’ve escaped the universal, timeless pull of human nature? And defending himself against doubts that he did the right thing in not stopping the war machine from reaching a victorious end as quickly and bloodlessly as possible, wouldn’t Truman be as subject to those internal pressures as well? 

     

    • #81
  22. CurtWilson Lincoln
    CurtWilson
    @CurtWilson

    Manny (View Comment):
    So that’s one priest. The majority of Catholic ethicists disagree. I strongly recommend Christopher Check at Catholic Answers in a very long and detailed essay titled, “Dropping the Atomic Bomb Was Wrong. Period.” It’s a long essay taking you through a number of ethical issues and addressing all the arguments put forth in this post. Make sure you read to the end.

    Manny: I’m sorry, but I have seldom seen a more poorly argued piece. One gem really stood out:

    ” A negotiated peace with Japan would have prevented the dropping of the bomb, just as a negotiated peace with Germany after the First World War likely would have prevented the outbreak of the Second.”

    NO!!! There WAS a negotiated peace with Germany after the First World War, and it LED TO the outbreak of the Second! (A key argument of the Nazis was that Germany did not really lose the First — it was “stabbed in the back”.) It was precisely this eventuality that led the Allied decisionmakers in the Second World War to realize they needed an overwhelming victory.

    I am still astounded by the arguments that keep coming that it would have been more ethical to leave the Nazis in power in central Europe and the Japanese military fascists in power in East Asia than to pursue total victory. It makes absolutely no sense to me.

    The article quotes just war doctrine: “The use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.”

    Given what we know about the magnitude of the ongoing civilian deaths throughout Japanese-occupied Asia at the time, the dropping of the atomic bombs falls well within this just war doctrine.

    • #82
  23. Paul Stinchfield Member
    Paul Stinchfield
    @PaulStinchfield

    CurtWilson (View Comment):

    I am still astounded by the arguments that keep coming that it would have been more ethical to leave the Nazis in power in central Europe and the Japanese military fascists in power in East Asia than to pursue total victory. It makes absolutely no sense to me.

    . . .

    Given what we know about the magnitude of the ongoing civilian deaths throughout Japanese-occupied Asia at the time, the dropping of the atomic bombs falls well within this just war doctrine.

    I believe Victor Davis Hanson discusses these points in his recent book The Second World Wars–and in earlier writings.

    • #83
  24. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    JosePluma (View Comment):

    Instugator (View Comment):

    Max Ledoux (View Comment):

    MiMac (View Comment):
    the advocacy for a demonstration overlooks the fact that we had 2 bombs & needed to use both to convince Japan to surrender (and even then there was an attempted coup to prevent surrendering AFTER both bombings)

    And there was at least some worry that the bombs wouldn’t even go off or would not inflict as much damage as expected. That would have been a disastrous demonstration to the Japanese.

    We knew the first one would work. That is why that design was never even tested. The second was the same type as the Trinity test.

    We “knew” it would work without testing? No, I think they used it because every delay was costing American (and British, Dutch, Chinese and Japanese) lives.

    How about, they were “confident” it would work without testing?

     

    • #84
  25. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    We knew the first one would work. That is why that design was never even tested. The second was the same type as the Trinity test.

    Instugator’s got a strong point. In fact, the assumption all along was that the uranium bomb could be counted on for 5-15 kilotons explosive force, whereas the Trinity test–and the Nagasaki bomb, and almost all subsequent ones–would come in at somewhere between a disappointing 500 tons and an optimistic 5 kts. They got something closer to 20.

    I just read the book a few weeks ago, but I’m going from memory here – the Hiroshima blast was something like 20% stronger than anticipated.   don’;t quote me – I’ll try to find the cite.

    Edit:  Had it backwards:  Nagasaki bomb was stronger:

    As surveyors collected data from both atomic bomb sites, it was soon clear that the Nagasaki bomb had packed a bigger punch. Fat Man’s yield was about 30 percent greater than Little Boy’s, and the bowl-shaped topography of the Urakami Valley had amplified the force of the explosion. The second bomb had done considerably more damage to comparable structures at a comparable distance from the hypocenter.

    Toll, Ian W.. Twilight of the Gods: War in the Western Pacific, 1944-1945 (Vol. 3) (Pacific War Trilogy) (p. 718). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

    • #85
  26. MiMac Thatcher
    MiMac
    @MiMac

    Manny- I encourage you to listen to the talk by Fr Miscamble- ( a Notre Dame professor of history and a Catholic priest) he addresses the consequentialism argument. 
    https://providencemag.com/video/christian-conversation-on-hiroshima-nagasaki-anniversary/

    • #86
  27. Barry Jones Thatcher
    Barry Jones
    @BarryJones

    JosePluma (View Comment):

    Instugator (View Comment):

    Max Ledoux (View Comment):

    MiMac (View Comment):
    the advocacy for a demonstration overlooks the fact that we had 2 bombs & needed to use both to convince Japan to surrender (and even then there was an attempted coup to prevent surrendering AFTER both bombings)

    And there was at least some worry that the bombs wouldn’t even go off or would not inflict as much damage as expected. That would have been a disastrous demonstration to the Japanese.

    We knew the first one would work. That is why that design was never even tested. The second was the same type as the Trinity test.

    We “knew” it would work without testing? No, I think they used it because every delay was costing American (and British, Dutch, Chinese and Japanese) lives.

    Don’t agree with this observation. The physicists involved in the Manhattan Project had a high degree of confidence in the uranium bomb as the bomb was far less complex and easier to implement. On the other hand the plutonium bomb design used a MUCH more complex design that required a near simultaneous detonation of the focusing explosives and there was a lot of doubt as to whether the design would work well or at all. Hence the NEED for a test…   

    • #87
  28. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    There’s a fascinating story, very little known, about the “Thin Man”, the original design for a plutonium bomb. Plutonium’s neutron cross section was so great–so loaded with explosive potential–that the components to be fired into each other had to be separated much more widely, resulting in a bomb that would have been 17 feet long. Supposedly the problem here was it would have had to have been carried in a Lancaster, a British bomber, and allegedly that would have been intolerable for proud Americans. Baloney. The UK was already a full partner in making the bomb, and getting ahold of a Lancaster would have been easy. 

    The problem was, even at 17 feet, they couldn’t fire the thing fast enough to avoid pre-detonation; a fizzle. So that led to the quest for implosion. 

    Trivia note: The Thin Man and the Fat Man were both characters created by Dashiell Hammett–a Communist. 

    • #88
  29. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    There’s a fascinating story, very little known, about the “Thin Man”, the original design for a plutonium bomb. Plutonium’s neutron cross section was so great–so loaded with explosive potential–that the components to be fired into each other had to be separated much more widely, resulting in a bomb that would have been 17 feet long. Supposedly the problem here was it would have had to have been carried in a Lancaster, a British bomber, and allegedly that would have been intolerable for proud Americans. Baloney. The UK was already a full partner in making the bomb, and getting ahold of a Lancaster would have been easy.

    The problem was, even at 17 feet, they couldn’t fire the thing fast enough to avoid pre-detonation; a fizzle. So that led to the quest for implosion.

    Trivia note: The Thin Man and the Fat Man were both characters created by Dashiell Hammett–a Communist.

    “Little Boy”, not “Thin Man”.

     

    • #89
  30. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    There’s a fascinating story, very little known, about the “Thin Man”, the original design for a plutonium bomb. Plutonium’s neutron cross section was so great–so loaded with explosive potential–that the components to be fired into each other had to be separated much more widely, resulting in a bomb that would have been 17 feet long. Supposedly the problem here was it would have had to have been carried in a Lancaster, a British bomber, and allegedly that would have been intolerable for proud Americans. Baloney. The UK was already a full partner in making the bomb, and getting ahold of a Lancaster would have been easy.

    The problem was, even at 17 feet, they couldn’t fire the thing fast enough to avoid pre-detonation; a fizzle. So that led to the quest for implosion.

    Trivia note: The Thin Man and the Fat Man were both characters created by Dashiell Hammett–a Communist.

    “Little Boy”, not “Thin Man”.

    Not the same. No Thin Man was ever built or tested, though the 17-foot bomb shape was modeled. Attempts to make a gun-type plutonium bomb ended in mid-1944. Little Boy was little because it used U-235. 

     

    • #90
Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.