Thursday, August 13, 2015

From Atlanta to Hiroshima

From Sherman to Truman

 My God, what have we done?
Robert Gray, in the log of the Enola Gay

August 6 marked the 70th anniversary the use of the first the atomic bond. Somewhere between 70,000 and 80,000 people, about 1/3 of the population of Hiroshima, Japan died immediately, about 20,000 of whom were military men. Another 70,000 people were injured. On August 9, 1945 the second, and so far the last, use of the bomb occurred, this time against Nagasaki. Estimates of deaths range from 39,000 to 80,000, 150 of them soldiers.

President Truman

In his official statement on August 6 President Harry Truman said: "The Japanese began the war from the air at Pearl Harbor. They have been repaid many fold. And the end is not yet. With this bomb we have now added a new and revolutionary increase in destruction to supplement the growing power of our armed forces. In their present form these bombs are now in production and even more powerful forms are in development....We are now prepared to obliterate more rapidly and completely every productive enterprise the Japanese have above ground in any city. We shall destroy their docks, their factories, and their communications. Let there be no mistake; we shall completely destroy Japan's power to make war." After the bomb was dropped on Nagasaki he invoked God, "I realize the tragic significance of the atomic bomb ... It is an awful responsibility which has come to us ... We thank God that it has come to us, instead of to our enemies; and we pray that He may guide us to use it in His ways and for His purposes."

Military Leaders

One of the notable things that came out after the War is the extent to which military men objected to or second-guessed the use of the bomb. Admiral William Leahy said, “It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender. My own feeling was that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was taught not to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.” Admiral Bull Halsey: “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. . . . It killed a lot of Japs, but the Japs had put out a lot of peace feelers through Russia long before.” 

General Dwight Eisenhower wrote: “I had been conscious of depression and so I voiced to (Sec. Of War Stimson) my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. It was my belief that Japan was, at this very moment, seeking a way to surrender with a minimum loss of ‘face,’" and, “Japan was at the moment seeking some way to surrender with minimum loss of ‘face’. It wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing.” 

Richard Nixon spoke about the view of General Douglass MacArthur: "MacArthur once spoke to me very eloquently about it, pacing the floor of his apartment in the Waldorf. He thought it a tragedy that the Bomb was ever exploded. MacArthur believed that the same restrictions ought to apply to atomic weapons as to conventional weapons, that the military objective should always be limited damage to noncombatants. . . MacArthur, you see, was a soldier. He believed in using force only against military targets, and that is why the nuclear thing turned him off." According to MacArthur's pilot: “General MacArthur definitely is appalled and depressed by this Frankenstein monster." According to Army-Air Force Gen. Hap Arnold's deputy: “Arnold’s view was that it was unnecessary. He said that he knew the Japanese wanted peace. There were political implications in the decision and Arnold did not feel it was the military’s job to question it.”

Total Warfare

However, while the atomic bombs brought about a new level of potential destruction and terror in warfare, their use was not by any means the only example of the waging of total war during World War II. For instance, on March 9, 1945 between 80,000 and 130,00 civilians were killed in the firebombing of Tokyo, the worst firestorm in history. Three months before the German surrender, February 13-15, Britain and the U.S. firebombed Dresden causing 18,000-25,000 deaths.

Origin of Modern Total Warfare

Who is responsible for the modern concept of waging of total war? William Tecumseh Sherman who after burning Atlanta began his March through Georgia to the Sea, culminating in the surrender of Savannah. Sherman's Army made war on civilians, their food, and their properties: "Sherman...burned or captured all the food stores that Georgians had saved for the winter months... Sherman believed his campaign against civilians would shorten the war by breaking the Confederate will to fight, and he eventually received permission to carry this psychological warfare into South Carolina in early 1865." The destruction in South Carolina was greater than that in Georgia.

John Marzalek of the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library at Mississippi State University writes, "And so, in Atlanta, Sherman instituted tactics later generations of American war leaders would use in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. In these later conflicts, largely through the use of air power, Americans attempted to destroy enemy will and logistics (a doctrine colloquially known as “shock and awe” in Operation Iraqi Freedom). On the ground and on a much smaller scale, Sherman pioneered this process, becoming the first American to do so systematically. He is rightly called the American father of total warfare, a harbinger of the psychological tactics of the next century." (Emphasis added.)


The arguments in favor of Sherman's total war and the use of the atomic bombs against Japan are remarkably the same: 1. Those who suffered deserved it. 2. War against civilians is necessary to remove the enemy's will to make war. 3. The war was shortened by the use of of total war. 4. Likewise, lives, at least for the victorious side, were saved, by employment of the policy. 5. Total war may be a deterrent to current and future enemies who see what the kinds of suffering and devastation they might experience. 

Just War?

There are some Christians who may seek to justify total war today by appeal to herem war in the Old Testament in which Israel engaged in total war against the Canaanites (Deuteronomy 7, 20). However, the wars against the Canaanites are not intended to teach "God's plan of warfare." Israel fought as the Old Testament form of the kingdom of God (a nation in covenant with God) against the enemies of God. God was at the same time executing his judgment against the Canaanites and giving his people the land he had long ago promised them. The church alone, not any nation, is the kingdom of God today, and God has not called his church to alliance with any state, nor given to the church any worldly instruments of warfare, nor authorized his people to execute his judgment on his or their enemies. The day will come when God will defeat and judge all his enemies and give his people the earth as their inheritance, but that will be accomplished by the coming in judgment and glory of his Son Jesus Christ. 

Christian theologians and philosophers from Augustine on have tried to construct a Just War Theory. There can be little doubt that total warfare violates the Principle of Distinction which is part of Just War Theory. According to the  Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: "Soldiers are only entitled to use their (non-prohibited) weapons to target those who are, in Walzer's words, 'engaged in harm.' Thus, when they take aim, soldiers must discriminate between the civilian population, which is morally immune from direct and intentional attack, and those legitimate military, political and industrial targets involved in rights-violating harm. While some collateral civilian casualties are excusable, it is wrong to take deliberate aim at civilian targets. An example would be saturation bombing of residential areas. (It is worth noting that almost all wars since 1900 have featured larger civilian, than military, casualties. Perhaps this is one reason why this rule is the most frequently and stridently codified rule in all the laws of armed conflict, as international law seeks to protect unarmed civilians as best it can.)"

Some questions occur to me: Does traditional Just War Theory have any relevance to the world in which now live? If the concept remains in principle, has its use been rendered impracticable and hence impossible since the institution of total war? We cannot put the nuclear genie back in the bottle; can we put the total war genie back in the bottle? If it retains validity, how does Just War Theory work in engagement against terrorists and Islamic movements such as ISIS? 

I am not an historian-philosopher-theologian-strategist. I don't have answers. Just questions. But I have to admit that the more I think about the dropping of the atomic bombs on those cities with their old, their sick, their children, and their women the less comfortable I am. And I've never liked Sherman. If there is any such thing as a "damn Yankee" he is surely one. 

1 comment:

Curt Day said...

Blogposts like this one is just one of the reasons why this blog is one of the best Christian blogs. Rather than blindly resting on the authoritarian escapist practice of merely quoting what was said in the past, to use the change in historical contexts to question the efficacy of what was said in the past is always wise and sometimes courageous.