June 14, 2008
There is a fascinating little British film from the middle of the century named “It Happened Here” which depicts life in Great Britain after the Nazis cross the channel and subjugate the island. Using not a single frame of archive footage, it was made by two British teenagers over the course of eight years before it was finally released in 1965. The cities, half destroyed, are fairly calm under the occupation of German soldiers and English SS troops, but partisan guerrillas roam the countryside.
The main character, a nurse, witnesses a traumatic partisan attack in which a number of civilians, including the young boy who lived next door, are helplessly killed. Moving to London, she visits an old doctor friend of hers who is part of the resistance and who is secretly treating a wounded partisan. The nurse does her best to help the wounded man, but tells the doctor she is appalled at his support for the partisans given their cruelty to civilians. “The appalling thing about fascism,” he answers her rebuke, “is that you’ve got to use fascist methods to get rid of it.”
That, my friends, is the old lie. To defeat the evil enemy, we must become evil like him. Lucifer himself could not have thought up a better recruiting slogan for the armies of darkness. But, owing to our fallen nature, it is often all to convincing to we poor, fickle human beings. So while the begining and origins of the Second World War seem to be the flavor of the month here at Taki’s Magazine, I thought I might revisit a relevant point concerning the end of that war: the atomic assaults on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. (A confession: most of what I’ve written below is simply re-hashed from a post I originally wrote a year or so ago at Armavirumque, the New Criterion’s blog, but it seems relevant to the discussion).
It is interesting, though not surprising, to me that most of the objection to our barbaric destruction of those two cities came from the men and women of the Right. It was only two days after the bombing of Hiroshima that the Republican former President Herbert Hoover wrote to a friend that “the use of the atomic bomb, with its indiscriminate killing of women and children, revolts my soul.” Leo Maley and Uday Mohan pick up on this over at the History News Network:
Days later, David Lawrence, the conservative owner and editor of U.S. News (now U.S. News & World Report), argued that Japan’s surrender had been inevitable without the atomic bomb. He added that justifications of “military necessity” will “never erase from our minds the simple truth that we, of all civilized nations . . . did not hesitate to employ the most destructive weapon of all times indiscriminately against men, women and children.”
Just weeks after Japan’s surrender, an article published in the conservative magazine Human Events contended that America’s atomic destruction of Hiroshima might be morally “more shameful” and “more degrading” than Japan’s “indefensible and infamous act of aggression” at Pearl Harbor.
Such scathing criticism on the part of leading American conservatives continued well after 1945. A 1947 editorial in the Chicago Tribune, at the time a leading conservative voice, claimed that President Truman and his advisers were guilty of “crimes against humanity” for “the utterly unnecessary killing of uncounted Japanese.”
In 1948, Henry Luce, the conservative owner of Time, Life, and Fortune, stated that “if, instead of our doctrine of “unconditional surrender,” we had all along made our conditions clear, I have little doubt that the war with Japan would have ended soon without the bomb explosion which so jarred the Christian conscience.” A steady drumbeat of conservative criticism continued throughout the 1950s. A 1958 editorial in William F. Buckley, Jr.’s National Review took former President Truman to task for his then-current explanation of why he had decided to drop an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima. The editors asked the question that “ought to haunt Harry Truman: “Was it really necessary?”” Could a demonstration of the bomb and an ultimatum have ended the war? The editors challenged Truman to provide a satisfactory answer. Six weeks later the magazine published an article harshly critical of Truman’s atomic bomb decision.
Two years later, David Lawrence informed his magazine’s readers that it was “not too late to confess our guilt and to ask God and all the world to forgive our error” of having used atomic weapons against civilians. As a 1959 National Review article matter-of-factly stated: “The indefensibility of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima is becoming a part of the national conservative creed.”
Meanwhile, George S. Schuyler, another prominent conservative (and later on a contributor to National Review) wrote in his Pittsburgh Courier column of August 14, 1945 that:
Not satisfied with being able to kill people by the thousand, we have now achieved the supreme triumph of being able to slaughter whole cities at a time. In this connection it is interesting to note that there is no longer any pretense that only military installations are targets. Skimming through in the skies over Hiroshima, one of our bombing planes dropped the fearsome atomic bomb to murder 200,000 or Japanese mothers, fathers and children indiscriminately. It seems that just yesterday we were bemoaning German barbarism in bombing Warsaw, Rotterdam, London and other industrial centers, and citing as evidence of the Japanese savagery the slaughter of a few thousand innocents in Shanghai.
In Great Britain, the prominent conservative philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe protested voiciferously in 1956 when Oxford, her place of study and employ, awarded an honorary degree to President Harry S. Truman.
Anscombe, of course, was a convert to Catholicism and it is naturally from Catholic conservatives that much ire is stoked in reaction to the destruction of the two cities. Bishop Fulton Sheen, the popular television personality, called it “our national sin” while Fr. James Gillis, a Paulist priest who was the editor of the Catholic World and a leading figure in the circles of the American Right, called it “the most powerful blow ever delivered against Christian civilization and the moral law.”
The conservative opposition came not just from Catholic circles, but from the military as well. Military historian Maj. Gen. J.F.C. Fuller wrote:
Though to save life is laudable, it in no way justifies the employment of means which run counter to every precept of humanity and the customs of war. Should it do so, then, on the pretext of shortening a war and of saving lives, every imaginable atrocity can be justified.
Admiral William D. Leahey, meanwhile, asserted:
the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. . . . 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 wars in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.
The splendid Richard Weaver (of Ideas Have Consequences fame) saw the bombings as “inimical to the foundations on which civilization is built” and attacked
the spectacle of young boys fresh out of Kansas and Texas turning nonmilitary Dresden into a holocaust . . . pulverizing ancient shrines like Monte Cassino and Nuremberg, and bringing atomic annihilation to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Yet, as Anscombe wrote, “it was the insistence on unconditional surrender that was the root of all evil.” The allied insistence on avoiding any negotiations to bring a quicker end to the war undoubtedly cost many American lives, not to mention thousands upon thousands of non-combatants who were killed in the mean time. It was a perennial discouragement for those German officers attempting to overthrow Hitler, and it was a continual encouragement to the Japanese to fight on to the bloody end, lest they risk seeing their sacred emperor hanged outside his palace by American, British, and Soviet judges. (The continual attempts to justify the atomic bombing of these cities beg the question: would our current enemies—the “global terror” against which we currently wage “war”—therefore be justified in employing a dirty bomb or even a regular nuclear device against New York or Los Angeles? I think not.)
Imagine how many lives might have been saved by announcing to the Japanese our guarantee that, firstly, we would not harm the person of the Emperor nor, secondly, deprive him of his throne—two courses of action we indeed took after Japan’s surrender anyhow. But no, when you’re a Big Boy like the U.S. of A. anything less than unconditional surrender is unthinkable, we have our pride to think of, and its not as if the Japanese were really human anyway.
The great (and much-neglected) conservative thinker Thomas Molnar once said that the Revolution would be complete when both the United States and the Catholic Church were won over to the revolutionary principle (the “non serviam”, if you will). Those who saw the Iron Curtain divide Europe and then the fall of the Berlin Wall forty years later have now lived to see the ideology of worldwide revolution preached from the White House. Those who wait to see it preached from the Vatican shouldn”t hold their breath.