I have a special place in my heart for our veterans. No matter if they served during wartime or peacetime, they deserve our gratitude and respect. My family has a long history of military service. I was rejected by the military, and my father chose a different path. Though there isn’t a tremendous amount known of my family’s history, I do know some things.
My great-great grandfather, James Lewis Pollard, served in the 31st Georgia Regiment in the CSA during the War Between the States. My great-uncle, Junior, received the Silver Star in World War II. My grandfather, James Lewis Pollard, retired from the USAF after serving in SAC (Strategic Air Command) as an engineer for the B-52. He served during World War II (in the Navy), Korea, and Vietnam. My uncle, Michael Pollard, served heroically in the USMC during Vietnam, receiving three Purple Hearts.
So I have a deep appreciation for our veterans. I take deep pride in my family’s service to this great country, as well. When discussing World War II, however, I do have one major disagreement with many Americans. World War II veterans are particularly sensitive about the subject. It regards President Harry Truman’s decision to drop the Atomic Bomb. My stance seems to be fairly unpopular.
I believe that dropping the Atomic Bomb on Japan was a great mistake. In fact, I think it was one of the worst decisions (and the most immoral decision) ever made by this nation. I have repeatedly heard the arguments for dropping the bomb.
“It ended the war quicker.”
“Our using the Atomic Bomb when we did showed the world the devastation nuclear weapons cause. This has deterred other countries from using them.”
“Using the Atomic Bomb saved probably hundreds of thousands of American lives by preventing the invasion of Japan.”
On the surface, these arguments do appear pretty sound. Yet it can not reasonably be denied that accepting these arguments is the equivalent of saying, “The ends justifies the means.” This is a flawed philosophy.
To hold such a belief is absolutely absurd. It is exactly the type of argument the Nazis used to defend their “Jewish Solution”. The Nazis blamed, rightly or wrongly, the Jews for many of the world’s problems. In their minds, the Jews were to blame for Germany’s defeat during, and humiliation after, World War I. The Nazis also held that the Jews would continue to hold Germany down, as long as they survived. So, the logical conclusion seemed to be to eradicate the Jewish race. This, the Nazis held, should be done with cold efficiency. Hence, the extermination camps like Auschwitz.
Again, although the Nazis admitted that exterminating the Jews was harsh, they justified it by saying they were purifying Europe, and aiding the German people. In other words, the ends (purifying Europe, especially Germany) justified the means (exterminating the Jewish race). If we hold that dropping the Atomic Bomb on Japan was justified because it ended the war quicker, and saved American lives, we must accept the Nazi defense of the Holocaust on principle, even if we disagree with the premise.
To argue that dropping the Atomic Bomb on Japan was justified because it saved American lives is to essentially place American lives on a higher plane than those of the Japanese. I understand the job of the American government is to defend its people first, but indiscriminately killing innocent people in the process can not be justified. In war, a difference between combatants, and non-combatants, must be recognized. Not all Japanese supported, or had anything to do with their country’s actions. A difference between such people must be recognized.
The problem is that nuclear weapons do not discriminate. They kill anyone in their path. Dropping the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki can not be justified. In part, because neither had any real military significance. America chose those cities as targets because they were densely populated cities. We incinerated hundreds of thousands of innocent people in an instant. Thousands of others wither died later from side effects or injuries that resulted from the bomb and its radioactive fallout, or they were permanently injured.
There us also the fact that nuclear weapons leave a radioactive “residue”, if you will, that affects the people of an area for generations. We see this in both Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The cancer rates among those in the cities spiked after the blasts. Nuclear weapons also affect areas some times as much as 200 miles away or more from the blast radius. This is from the radioactive fallout.
When a nuke is dropped, you can wind up inadvertently harming the citizens of a friendly country nearby. The stronger the nuke, the worse the effects, and the wider the area affected. How can this be justified?
We may have saved countless American lives by dropping the Atomic Bomb, but at what cost? We are responsible for the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women, and children. We can not justify it by saying that we saved a countless number of American lives. American lives are not worth more than the lives of Japanese, or anyone else.
The Allies began what was called “Strategic Bombing” during World War II. This was nothing more than the bombing of civilian populations. I have heard this attempted to be justified by saying that we were decreasing the supply from which our enemies could draw reinforcements. I have also heard this justified by saying this just countered the atrocities committed by our enemies.
Besides pointing out that we rounded up Japanese Americans, and placed them in “relocation camps”, I point out that bombing civilian populations can not be justified by claiming you are decreasing their pool of reinforcements. These people, if not directly involved in the war effort, can not be killed. You may kill enemy civilians by bombing a tank factory, for instance, that they happen to be working in. You can not, however, justify bombing their houses.
Similarly, saying that Strategic Bombing counteracts or retaliates for the atrocities committed by our enemies, is not a good justification. Any parent will tell you that they do not condone one of their children striking another, because the latter struck the former first. Such retaliation only breeds enmity, and can lead to an escalation in the violence. The one retaliated upon may seek retaliation himself.
The fact is, dropping the Atomic Bomb was a huge mistake. We cost hundreds of thousands of innocent people their lives. This is an action the United States should be seeking forgiveness for, not seeking to justify.
Peace in Christ,
David J. Pollard
American Catholic Solidarity