By: Phillip Hadden, Holy Apostles College
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A recent article by George Weigel on First Things titled “Truman’s Terrible Choice, 75 years ago,” rehashes the ‘consensus’ school of historiography view just after World War II. In this particular article, Weigel tries to justify the use of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Weigel writes, “Original American estimates of Japanese homeland casualties during Operation Olympic (the invasion of Kyushu scheduled for November 1945) and Operation Coronet (the invasion of the Tokyo Plain in March 1946) ranged from five to 10 million; some later estimates put the anticipated death toll at 20 million, including perhaps 10 million who would die of starvation as food supplies evaporated during the fighting.” Naturally, after reading the article, I was struck by the fact that Weigel didn’t apply the teaching formulated by St. Augustine of Just War Theory.
Weigel’s assessment of this issue begs the question of whether or not evaluating this issue in terms of Just War Theory would elicit a different conclusion. It is an important question to ask because, as a historian myself, I simply detect that Weigel is writing this piece not as a Catholic Theologian, but rather someone who has assented to the ‘consensus’ school of historiography that promotes Americanism as its highest good, typical of Neo-Conservatism. I want to be clear, so readers do not misconstrue by thoughts, “consensus” history does not equate a lack of truth in its historical assessments, but rather paints an incomplete picture of said events.
Again, I suspect that Weigel doesn’t take The Catholic doctrine of Just War Theory approach because his conclusion on the justification of the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan would not hold against the conditions of this particular Catholic doctrine. In particular, since the war was already ongoing, the doctrine of Just War Theory falls under the category called Jus in Bello, which deals with specific actions in the conflict. The Catechism of the Catholic Church lists these conditions:
2313 Non-combatants, wounded soldiers, and prisoners must be respected and treated humanely.
Actions deliberately contrary to the law of nations and to its universal principles are crimes, as are the orders that command such actions. Blind obedience does not suffice to excuse those who carry them out. Thus the extermination of a people, nation, or ethnic minority must be condemned as a mortal sin. One is morally bound to resist orders that command genocide.
2314 “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.”110 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.
The estimates that Weigel cites are merely predictive forecasts dealing with the future decisions of the Japanese leaders and the complicit behavior of the Japanese both conditioned on the projection that the will of all parties would not be affected during any point of the conflict. Since Truman, Weigel, and other ‘consensus’ historians cannot predict how the dominoes precisely would fall in the continuation of the war, this cannot be used as means to justify the single act of dropping the atomics bombs. The single decision of that particular action cannot be justified on estimated casualties because the information deals with something that is both unknown, and perhaps may not have ever occurred.
Weigel’s overall assessment of the justification of the dropping of the atomic bombs is flawed due to his reluctance to apply Catholic teaching to the issue and his reliance on using predictive forecasts that cannot really be known. When assessing this particular event, both the historian and theologian, can only use the available information of what actually occurred 75 years ago. Therefore, applying those particular facts to the Jus in Bello formula, the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were relatively non-military targets whose bombing primarily targeted civilians and resulted in unnecessary casualties. The act of dropping the atomic bombs with what historians actually know is simply not justified. The atomic bombs were neither upright due to their destruction on civilian lives and they were not proportional due to the fallout caused by that modern weapon.
 Weigel, G., 2020. Truman’s Terrible Choice, 75 Years Ago | George Weigel. [online] First Things. Available at: <https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2020/09/trumans-terrible-choice-75-years-ago> [Accessed 1 October 2020].
 Vatican.va. 2020. Catechism Of The Catholic Church – The Fifth Commandment. [online] Available at: <https://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s2c2a5.htm> [Accessed 1 October 2020].