Saturday, September 15, 2007


Just War and Total War

Back in August Fr. Jim Tucker over at Dappled Things had some comments on the anniversary of Hiroshima. As might be expected he decried the bombing as immoral, and a violation of Just War doctrine. This raises some interesting questions.

The Just War theory apparently envisions armies fighting each other on the field of battle. Okay fine. No killing peasants or non-combatants. That was more or less the official doctrine till the 1860s. Sherman is widely credited as the inventor of the concept of total war. It was his insight, apparently as a result of the carnage at Shiloh, that by making war upon the industrial and agricultural capacity of the South that he could shorten the war, and save lives. So Uncle Billy and his boys promptly set about destroying railroad lines, and burning farms throughout Georgia. During this campaign Sherman killed far fewer people than Grant did during a comparable period from May to June of 1864. Now Sherman’s campaign was waged upon non-combatants, and Grant’s upon combatants, does that make Sherman less moral than Grant?

During WW II both sides waged war upon the industrial and mercantile capacity of the other, but of course, it is the bombings that stand out. Coventry, Dresden, Tokyo, and Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I don’t want to discuss the first three, or Nagasaki, but do want to give some context to Hiroshima.

Expected casualties for an invasion of the home islands ran to 500,000 or more. The battle of Okinawa alone saw 72,000 US casualties with 12, 000+ deaths.

Japan was a militarized society. Schoolgirls were expected to attack enemy soldiers.

The invasion was expected in late 1945 or early 1946.

Hiroshima had military installations and facilities, and no POW camps.

So it was a military target.

The bombing, combined with the entry of the Soviets into the war against Japan, forced Japan to surrender, and saved thousands of Japanese and American lives.

Now I’m told that including an argument about consequences, which makes one a consequencialist, is a bad thing, but can one really divorce consequences from moral theory? If the total war, brutal as it is, really shortens war, and causes less loss of life, both for the defeated enemy (military and civilian), and the victor, is it really less moral than those fought under the just war theory that are prolonged (The Thirty Years War, The Hundred Years War), and that leave both sides impoverished and exhausted?

If morality is about anything, isn’t about more than just feeling good because you adhered to some abstract theory that ended in killing thousands, or millions more than necessary? Isn’t it necessary really to somehow integrate the two approaches? Is it even possible?

>