Saturday, August 06, 2005

Al Mohler on the Morality of Nukes

Dr. Albert Mohler is one of my favorite public figures. A theologically literate Southern Baptist--no, that isn't a contradiction--Mohler is the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He also manages to find a few moments to write on worldview issues for hoi polli such as myself through his commentaries and weblog.

In his latest commentary and an August 5th blog entry, Dr. Mohler considers the moral issues at stake in the debate over the use of nuclear weapons during WWII.

Unfortunately, this concern is not merely an historic curiosity. Numerous "Christian conservatives" seem to believe the American military is God's instrument, and can do no wrong. A few seem to celebrate the shedding of blood and advocate slaughter on a massive scale. Former Moral Majority poohbah Cal Thomas, to take one egregious example, wrote a particularly repellant column defending the use of "tactical" nuclear weapons:

President Bush should consider emulating his predecessor, Harry Truman, and employ the use of at least tactical nuclear weapons against the Taliban should it be concluded that such a weapon might produce better results than the current bombing campaign. If this is war, why pull any punches?

Perhaps nothing short of nuclear weapons will deter for another generation the enemies of freedom. Like the fanatical Japanese of Truman’s day, the fanatical Taliban will not be dissuaded from murdering as many Americans as they can. This is not a time for diplomatic or political niceties. It is a time to wipe them out before they wipe any more of us out.

That’s the kind of fanaticism the United States faces in Afghanistan and in countries like Iraq. If we show them that our sword is bigger than theirs and, more importantly, that we will not shrink from using it to defend our people and our values, the likelihood we will have to do so again in the near future will be diminished.


Meanwhile, down at the ranch, word has it that Dick Cheney has cooked up a scheme to hit the Iranians with nukes in the event of another terror strike--even if Iran isn't implicated! Writing in The American Conservative, Phil Giraldi writes:

The Pentagon, acting under instructions from Vice President Dick Cheney's office, has tasked the United States Strategic Command (STRATCOM) with drawing up a contingency plan to be employed in response to another 9/11-type terrorist attack on the United States. The plan includes a large-scale air assault on Iran employing both conventional and tactical nuclear weapons. Within Iran there are more than 450 major strategic targets, including numerous suspected nuclear-weapons-program development sites. Many of the targets are hardened or are deep underground and could not be taken out by conventional weapons, hence the nuclear option. As in the case of Iraq, the response is not conditional on Iran actually being involved in the act of terrorism directed against the United States. Several senior Air Force officers involved in the planning are reportedly appalled at the implications of what they are doing--that Iran is being set up for an unprovoked nuclear attack--but no one is prepared to damage his career by posing any objections.


One would expect a man of Biblical discernment and wisdom to clarify matters. But instead of citing Scripture or Aquinas, Mohler cites a Weekly Standard article by Richard Frank as "a compelling argument" that the Japanese were not ready to surrender. Mohler concludes with this little dose of Benthamite utilitarian nonsense:

In the final analysis, there is good reason to believe that the deployment of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki may well have saved more Japanese lives in the end, as well as the lives of unnumbered American soldiers and sailors.


Mohler leaves several questions unanswered. First, is it then OK to kill 200,000 civilians? Mohler says, "When military assets are deeply embedded within civilian populations, the issue becomes even more troubling," and besides, "catastrophic bombing of populations had already taken place in both the Pacific and European theaters of the war." The problem is that Hiroshima was a CITY containing few military elements. It was such an insignificant military target that it had remained unmolested throughout the war.

Mohler is forever raging about moral relativism, but here he is engaging in the most grisly sort of cost-benefit analysis. Is there not an over-arching moral principle within traditional Just War Theory that says innocent civilians should not be targeted and that every attempt should be made to minimize noncombatant casualties?

Second, was it necessary to drop the atom bombs to compel Japan's surrender? In fact, it seems quite likely that the Japanese were prepared to surrender, but were unwilling to see their emperor--whom they regarded as divine--dethroned, put on trial, and hanged.

Mohler says this is all pish posh, after all, "the majority of Americans living at the time saw the use of the weapon as beyond question, believing it to have been necessary in order to force a Japanese surrender and to save an even greater death toll in Japanese and American lives."

Vox populi, vox dei?

Instead of public opinion polls, Wall Street Journal editorials, and Bill Kristol's publication--which isn't worthy of the bottom of the bird cage--let's consult the opinions of military and political leaders of the time. In Mandate for Change, Dwight Eisenhower wrote:

"In [July] 1945... Secretary of War Stimson, visiting my headquarters in Germany, informed me that our government was preparing to drop an atomic bomb on Japan. I was one of those who felt that there were a number of cogent reasons to question the wisdom of such an act. ...the Secretary, upon giving me the news of the successful bomb test in New Mexico, and of the plan for using it, asked for my reaction, apparently expecting a vigorous assent.

"During his recitation of the relevant facts, I had been conscious of a feeling of depression and so I voiced to him 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 that very moment, seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of 'face'. The Secretary was deeply perturbed by my attitude..."


And in an interview in 1963, Ike said, "...the Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn't necessary to hit them with that awful thing."

Truman's own Chief of Staff, William Leahy, wrote:

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 because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons.

"The lethal possibilities of atomic warfare in the future are frightening. 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 not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children."


Writing on August 8th, 1945, former president Hoover wrote, "The use of the atomic bomb, with its indiscriminate killing of women and children, revolts my soul."

Douglas MacArthur, who led the war in the Pacific, was not even consulted about dropping the bombs. MacArthur's biographer, William Manchester, described MacArthur's reaction to the issuance of the Potsdam Proclamation to Japan:

"The Potsdam declaration in July, demand[ed] that Japan surrender unconditionally or face 'prompt and utter destruction.' MacArthur was appalled. He knew that the Japanese would never renounce their emperor, and that without him an orderly transition to peace would be impossible anyhow, because his people would never submit to Allied occupation unless he ordered it. Ironically, when the surrender did come, it was conditional, and the condition was a continuation of the imperial reign. Had the General's advice been followed, the resort to atomic weapons at Hiroshima and Nagasaki might have been unnecessary."


The 60th anniversary of the end of WWII should spur Christians to consider the morality of warfare and the reality of sin. In an era of seemingly perpetual war, Christians have a special obligation to provide answers to life's big questions. Unfortunately, most Christians have either adopted a reflexive pacifism or are hiding behind Romans 13 and have yielded unceasing fealty to the state--confusing the two kingdoms.

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