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Saturday, May 28, 2016

Truman: War Criminal

Two videos are making the rounds, purporting to make the case that President Truman had to drop the atom bomb. The first is Father Wilson Miscamble's video for Prager University. Father Miscamble is a history professor at Notre Dame and a Catholic priest, so he really should know better.

The second video Truman apologists like to throw out is Bill Whittle's notorious AfterBurner apology for war crimes.

Before we discuss the videos in question, we must first establish a single fact: the US military deliberately targeted civilians for death in Japan, and arguably either targeted civilians in Europe or stood idly by while the British deliberately and indiscriminately targeted civilians in Europe.

This fact is uncontested by historians.

It is uncontested that the Allies engaged in Total War, targeting civilian populations with "morale" (read "terror") bombing intended to force the civilians to get so fed up with the bombing that they would spontaneously rise up and overthrow their government. This was Douhet's theory of aerial bombing, developed during the interwar period and championed by men like Walther Wever, Billy Mitchell and Sir Hugh Trenchard. The British adopted it early, the Americans had fully adopted it by January, 1945.

Miscamble's video

Miscamble doesn't deny the fact that civilians were targeted. Indeed, he acknowledges that we had already burned out entire cities, we had the islands under naval blockade, and the atom bombs were merely the next logical step in the chain. His entire argument revolves around the idea that Truman's use of the atomic bomb reduced American and Allied casualties, prevented much higher civilian casualties and was therefore acceptable. He said Truman chose "the least awful" (i.e., the least evil) of the alternatives.

While what he says about casualties is undoubtedly true, it doesn't change the flaw in the moral analysis. Miscamble is essentially saying we have the right to choose the lesser evil. We don't.

The moral act consists of three parts: the object (what is done), the intention (why it is done) and the circumstances (the when, where, how it is done). All three must be substantially good, or at least neutral, in order for us to undertake the act.

While the intention to avoid greater casualties is good, the "what" of doing it is the problem here. We are not allowed to have soldiers deliberately target, maim and/or kill unarmed civilians. But that's precisely what strategic firebombing does. The atom bombs were really nothing but exceptionally large firebombs.

If the atom bombs had been targeted at military complexes, that would be, possibly, acceptable. But at Hiroshima at least, the bomb was not targeted at the military industrial complexes on the edge of the city, instead, they were targeted at the civilian center, at the hospitals. That is immoral.

We cannot do evil that good may come from it. I cannot murder a civilian in order to prevent other civilians from being killed. Even less can I murder a civilian, a babe-in-arms, in order to prevent soldiers from being killed. But that's exactly what we did with the firebombing of Japan. We committed war crimes. Remember, Miscamble doesn't deny we targeted civilians. He says it was ok to do it because we saved more lives that way.

Bill Whittle's video

Whittle pursues a similar course, but throws in irrelevant asides, such as "the people of Hiroshima got more warning than our sailors at Pearl Harbor... you sneak-attacked us" (3:20, 5:20). Yes, the Japanese surprise-attacked a military installation. We burned down entire Japanese cities. The two are not comparable. We acted in much more evil fashion than they did.

Now we could throw in other atrocities, like the Rape of Nanking, the Bataan Death March, etc. But the question isn't whether the Japanese were committing atrocities. We know they were. The question is, does their atrocities give us the right to commit atrocities?

No, it doesn't.

Then Bill spends a long time talking about casualties and how the atom bomb saved casualties from piling up. This is identical to Miscamble's false argument. Whittle insists that women and children were being trained as suicide bombers. The correct answer is, so what? Cardinal Ratzinger was trained as an anti-aircraft Hitler Youth soldier, but he never fired a weapon at the Allies, He deserted, along with thousands of others.

He claims Hirohito';s decision to surrender was opposed by his military commanders, to the point of attempting to kidnap the Emperor to prevent the surrender. Again, so what?

American soldiers have the right to shoot anyone who shoots at them. American soldiers have no right to deliberately target and kill civilians.

Whittle pulls out Sherman's March to the Sea (15:45) as an example of the US doing such things in the past. It's true, we did. We were wrong then too. Can you imagine General Washington ordering his soldiers to burn an entire town to the ground and have all the citizens executed?  Washington never did such a thing. Truman commanded American troops to do exactly that.

If killing civilians in order to keep soldiers safe is an acceptable moral act, then we can have no quarrel with the Germans massacre at the town of Lidice in order to prevent further assassinations like Heydrich's. If that principle is acceptable, then we had no reason to go to war against Germany in World War I, for their rape of Belgium was actually not a rape, but a moral action, intended to protect the lives of their soldiers. Sure, the Germans executed ten civilians for every soldier that was sniped at from a town building, but that wasn't an atrocity. The WW I Germans were just implementing Truman's policies. Nothing to see here. Move along.

The Essence of the Argument
Essentially there are five arguments in favor of Truman's decision:
  • We saved American lives by killing civilians. The argument is that we may do evil that good comes from it. This is the only really substantial argument put forward by either Whittle or Miscamble. It is pure dreck. It is not Christian. To the extent that we accept such nonsense, we admit that Barack Obama is correct and America is not a Christian nation. 
  • They attacked us first/They bombed civilians first: Yes, they did. But their commission of unfair tactics or atrocities does not license us to imitate them. We cannot say, "If our enemy commits an atrocity, then we are cleared to commit the same kind of atrocities. Our morality is meant to be identical to that of whoever we are fighting. That's how we win, because our own moral code is too weak to survive on its own. We have to become the evil we fight." The very invocation of this principle hearkens back to kindergarten morals. Perhaps that is where we live now. If so, Barack Obama is correct and America is no longer adult enough to be a Christian nation.
  • Firebombing was necessary because our technology was not good enough to target military installations  This argument asserts that our morality is determined by our technology. If our technology is good, we can be held to a morally high standard, if it is low, we can only be held to a morally lower standard. People who propose this principle cannot, in principle, attack Osama bin Laden for knocking down the WTC on 9/11. He didn't have better tech, so he can't be held to a high moral standard. Is that really the argument we want to make?
  • It was Total War.   Yes, it was Total War. That's why it was evil. Just War is acceptable. Total war, in which soldiers can target any damned thing or one they please, is pure evil.
  • It ended the war, didn't it? That's good enough for me.  This argument is pure utilitarianism.  Instead of judging action according to the three Christian criteria above, we judge action only and solely by whether or not it produces the effect we want. So, according to this moral code, We can take everyone's guns in order to keep the bad guys from having guns, A university can accuse all male students of being rapists, and - if those accusations result in lower rape rates or even just raises everyone's consciousness about rape - then the result affirms the method, and the accusation was moral. When liberals use this logic, we mock them. When Truman supporters use this logic, we nod at the brilliance. It is crap. Don't buy it.
And, keep in mind, immediately after the war, NO ONE was making any of these five arguments. Dwight D. Eisenhower "expressed the hope that we would never have to use such a thing against any enemy because I disliked seeing the United States take the lead in introducing into war something as horrible and destructive as this new weapon was described to be.. He claimed that he had told the Secretary of War that 'the dropping of the bomb was completely unnecessary.' In an interview with Newsweek from later that year, Eisenhower stated bluntly that 'the Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing.' ”
The U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey of 1946, for instance, concluded that “Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated.” Admiral William Leahy, in his memoirs, called the bomb “barbarous” and said that it provided “no material assistance in our war against Japan,” since the Japanese were “already defeated and ready to surrender.”
Even Curtis LeMay, the man who advocated and directed the firebombing of Japanese cities, said:
The atomic bomb had nothing to do with the end of the war at all.
While Admiral Halsey stated the case quite clearly:
The first atomic bomb was an unnecessary experiment ... It was a mistake to ever drop it ... [the scientists] had this toy and they wanted to try it out, so they dropped it ...

Counter-Argument

Truman could have dropped the Hiroshima bomb on the heavy military industrial complex on the outskirts of Hiroshima. Same explosion, same shock and awe, and a legitimate military target. instead, he chose to bomb the civilian center of town. As a result, Hiroshima's military industry was essentially undamaged. So was her water reservoir and her electrical power. Her industry would have been back online in 30 days. The same is true in Nagasaki - he could have chosen a legitimate military target. He didn't. Instead, the designated bombing target chosen was Urakami Cathedral. 

Prior to WW II, the US condemned the Italians, Japanese and Germans for indiscriminately bombing civilians. We said it was a war crime.

After we entered the war, we not only overlooked British indiscriminate bombing of civilians, we actually went further and TARGETED civilians.

Morality isn't subject to change.

America, by her own standards, standards enshrined in our customs from the founding of the country until the 1930s, committed war crimes. Lincoln originally opposed burning towns and stealing from civilians, but by the end of the Civil War, he was fully behind the policy. He won the war but lost his character.

Just as Lincoln's morality changed, and changed the country, during the Civil War, our morality changed when we entered World War II. Not only did indiscriminate British bombing suddenly become acceptable, our decision to actually deliberately target civilians suddenly stopped being a war crime.  When they did it, it was evil. When we do it, it's ok.

Early critics of the bombings included Albert Einstein, Eugene Wigner and Leó Szilárd, who had together spurred the first bomb research in 1939 with a jointly written letter to President Roosevelt. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy, Chief of Staff to President Truman, Fleet Admiral William Halsey, Jr., and even Major General Curtis LeMay, head of XXI Bomber Command, the man who oversaw every bomb dropped on Japanese soil, all said the same thing: the dropping of the atom bomb contributed nothing to the end of the war. In fact, Szilárd, Einstein's protoge, who had gone on to play a major role in the Manhattan Project, argued:
Let me say only this much to the moral issue involved: Suppose Germany had developed two bombs before we had any bombs. And suppose Germany had dropped one bomb, say, on Rochester and the other on Buffalo, and then having run out of bombs she would have lost the war. Can anyone doubt that we would then have defined the dropping of atomic bombs on cities as a war crime, and that we would have sentenced the Germans who were guilty of this crime to death at Nuremberg and hanged them?

As Aishya told Mohammed, "it is a wonderful God you serve, who gives you everything you want."

FDR and Truman, Democrats both, were war criminals. America committed war crimes during WW II. We won the war, but at the price of losing our soul. Today's conservatives should be mourning Truman's actions, not celebrating them.

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