Continuation of Good Faith
By Matthew Castro
“Seventy-one years ago, on a bright, cloudless morning, death fell from the sky and the world was changed,” President Barack Obama said Friday, May 27th 2016, in the first visit by a sitting U.S. president to Hiroshima, Japan. On August 6th 1945, the United States dropped the first atomic bomb used in war on the city of Hiroshima, killing an estimated 140,000 people. Other reports estimate that 300,000 died, including those who have died from radiation-related cancers. Up to 90% of the city infrastructure was destroyed by the bomb. A second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki three days later. Within weeks, Japan surrendered, ending the war in the Pacific.
President Harry Truman, who was responsible for ordering the bombing in 1945, and Secretary of War Henry Stimson justified the decision to prevent the need of a bloody land invasion in Japan to end the war. It was believed that the bomb presented a lesser of two evils scenario. Causality prediction analyses for a land invasion of Japan were placed at a minimum of 500,000 combatant and non-combatant deaths.
President Obama took the opportunity to heal the wounds of the past, while attending the G7 Conference (joint meeting with seven of the largest economies in the world) in Japan. Many in America have seen the president’s actions as merely another attempt by him to apologize and make amends for past evils by American foreign policy. However, he never officially presented an apology to the people of Japan for the bombing. His purpose was to mourn the dead, and bring awareness of the devastating consequences of nuclear weapons.
However, as we look back to the devastation of the Hiroshima bombing, the question arises was the act just? It is important to start that the war fought by America against the Japanese was just. It fulfilled the just war theory laid out by St. Thomas Aquinas.
A Just Cause
After the Japanese unprovokedly attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, America had a just cause for declaring war to punish the evil perpetrated against them. Paul says in Romans 13:4, “He (the authorities) is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” He is affirming the utility of the government, which is the defense and judge of a nation against evil attacks. The American government was fulfilling their role as a servant of God by avenging the evil done to the American people at Pearl Harbor.
The actions by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor was morally wrong since they attacked to destroy and/or gain some strategic advantage over America in the region. The motive of war by the American government against the Japanese was morally right, because it was in response to evil done against them. The purpose of war was to protect justice and life.
It is clear that America had justifiable cause to go to war against Japan. However, the utilization of the atomic bomb on the Japanese people by the American government is another matter to consider. St. Aquinas also provided moral restrictions on how a just war should be fought.
No Greater Destruction Than is Needed To Win the War
If we consider the near total destruction caused by the atomic bomb in Hiroshima, it seems the decision by President Truman and Secretary Stimson went beyond what is necessary to win the war. Hiroshima was selected due to the presence of a military base in or near the city. The use of a bomb that was designed to destroy an entire city to eliminate a military target was superfluous.
Discrimination Between Combatants (military personnel) and Civilians
It is hard to justify the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, when you consider the large number of causalities directly caused by it. It seems the American government did not adequately prevent invoking harm to civilians. God instructed Israel through Moses in Deuteronomy 20:13-14 concerning the laws of warfare, “And when the Lord your God gives it into your hand, you shall put all its males to the sword, but the women and the little ones, the livestock, and everything else in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as plunder for yourselves.” Women and children were the non-combatants of the ancient world. Israel was instructed to refrain from killing them.
If we take into account the total deaths including those who died due to radiation causing cancer and the total destruction of the city of Hiroshima, the decision to drop the bomb was an unjust act. While it did bring to conclusion a devastating war, the end never justifies unjust means. Maybe more people would have died if America chose a land invasion strategy of Japan, or maybe the war would have ended soon without the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is impossible to know.
Continuation of Good Faith
While we can argue whether it was a just act or not, it is essential for Americans and Christians especially to celebrate the actions of President Obama. As St. Aquinas stated in his just war theory, a nation must have a genuine desire for restoration of peace and eventually seek living in harmony with the attacking nation. Jesus said in Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” This passage is not arguing for pacifism. War is a reality in the world.
As evil is done to people, national governments must seek justice. However, the continuation of good faith ought to be a reality as well. Paul says in Romans 12:18, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” May Christians take this opportunity to honor the president for his decision to pursue peace and healing with a former enemy.
We must be a people that celebrates peacemaking, because it is a reflection of our great God, who sought peace with us. We were enemies of God, who rebelled against him. Yet, God in good faith brought us peace through the body and blood of His son, Jesus Christ. Praise the Lord for giving us examples that remind us of the harmony established between us and God through Jesus Christ our Lord.