Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Least Abhorrent Choice

Forrestal, Stimson, Marshall and Truman Holding the surrender document signed aboard the Missouri, Sept. 2 1945 

The Least Abhorrent Choice

The decision to use the atomic bomb was a decision that brought death to over a hundred thousand Japanese. No explana­tion can change that fact and I do not wish to gloss it over. But this deliberate, pre­ meditated destruction was our least ab­horrent choice. The destruction of Hiro­shima and Nagasaki put an end to the Japanese war. It stopped the fire raids, and the strangling blockade; it ended the ghastly specter of a clash of great land armies.

Henry L. Stimson, 1947



We are now 70 years removed from the summer that ended WWII. In May of 1945, Berlin was overrun by Russians, Hitler killed himself and Germany capitulated. Three months later, as the U.S. and allied forces grimly prepared for invasion of the home islands of Japan, a new bomb was tested, and used twice. Much to the surprise and relief of servicemen slated to be among the millions that would take part in the invasion[1], and the equally strong relief of leaders who had the heavy burden of ordering them into action, Japan surrendered. In the years that have passed, among the moral debates over the end of the war much if not all focus has been placed on the decision to use the “gadgets,” the atomic weapons.  This essay is a moral defense of that use, utilizing contemporaneous data and projections, as well as moral arguments based upon the concept of supreme emergency and reflective of the nature of Imperial Japan.  As well, it addresses historical and ethical objections as to the viability of non-nuclear options, these coming from various philosophical/ethical perspectives.

The flow of the essay is roughly as follows: It first addresses the question of whether development of the bomb was morally defensible. After addressing that question and answering in the affirmative, it moves on to the question of use. By examining some counterfactual scenarios, involving Nazi Germany, it argues that there are permissible uses of atomic weaponry in ‘dire’ circumstances, that is; situations identical to, or in certain morally relevant respect, sufficiently similar to ‘supreme emergencies.’[2] In that section it is argued that use against Nazi Germany would have been justified in three particular scenarios, two of which are sufficiently similar to the state of affairs in the Pacific toward the end of the war. The next section makes that case more explicitly with Japan in mind, with reference to the similar states of emergency brought on by the two Axis states.  It presents a primarily Utilitarian defense of the use of the atomic bombs for mixed purpose (military objectives and shock). It undertakes this defense by examining the alternatives, and arguing that each is more morally untenable than the course actually taken, the mixed-purpose atomic option indeed being, as Stimson aptly described, the ‘least abhorrent choice.’  The last sections address a miscellany of objections from several other philosophical/ethical perspectives, including Natural Law Theory, Kantian and Aristotelian perspectives.

The Case

The basic questions: Was the U.S. choice to develop and incorporate the use of atomic weapons a morally defensible choice? Was the particular use [that of mixed (shock and destruction) purpose] defensible?  The questions require to be broken down into several component questions.  The questions fall into two groups clustered around firstly, development and secondly, incorporation/use of the atomic bombs.

Question concerning Development (there is only one)

Question 1:  Was the choice to research and develop atomic weaponry morally justified?

Answer: It is crucial to consider the context. European physicists (Fermi, Szilard, Einstein, and others) familiar with the theory, and research, as well as the status of German efforts toward atomic weapons, warned the U.S. of Hitler’s interest and work toward that end.  He was securing sources of uranium, conducting heavy water experiments and had many prominent German physicists, including Heisenberg, leading up efforts.[3] The German military was also well known to be open to innovation in tactical and technological aspects of war fighting. It was also the case that Germany had evidenced a level of perfidy and industrialized barbarism that hardly needs review. Its global ambitions were apparent.  Mein Kampf gave a clear blueprint of Hitler’s goals. He had the means to achieve a great deal, even if not the entirety of his goals, and could expand the reach of threat to most of the globe. Given these facts, if Germany were to develop ordnance orders of magnitude greater than any extant weaponry, and had the ability to deliver it, either by bombers or missiles, it would have done so. Given this fact, it would have been irresponsible of allied nations to refrain from taking steps to block the development or defend against it. At the time, blocking was not a realistic option, while the only feasible form of defense was to develop the same capability first, and either threaten or use it.

Japanese nuclear efforts were not as well developed, but they had developed what were in essence, feasibility studies, and were quite familiar with the theory and practical difficulties in production of weapons grade uranium. The Japanese regime also evidenced a level of barbarism hard for civilized nations to comprehend, but one unfortunately, that does need review, as knowledge of this is not as common as the knowledge of Nazi barbarity.  One must keep squarely in mind the Japanese record of atrocities as it rolled over China, Manchuria, Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines and other areas. Where Hitler caused the deaths of 6 million civilians over the course of the war, Japan caused from 5 million to 20 million, at a minimum. Torture, rape, medical experimentation including vivisection of human beings, biological warfare research and implementation, slave labor, sex slavery, mass killings, the list of atrocities and the scale boggles the moral sense. At its root was a racialist view similar to that of the Nazi regime. Imperial Japan was no “ordinary” state pursuing ‘ordinary geopolitical goals’ through warfare.[4] It was an evil militarist/fascist state, and just as much a menace to civilization as Nazi Germany.  We must also keep in mind the obvious point that these two states were allied. Even if Japan was not pursuing atomic research itself, its alliance with Germany could have resulted in its acquisition of nuclear weapons. If that were to have occurred Japan would have used them. Indeed, when considering the possibility of atomic weapons, Japanese military leaders imagined an attack on the West Coast of the U.S. This is important to keep in mind as we answer this question concerning research and development, and equally important when we come to consider implementation, during the later stages of the Pacific war.

For now, we can see that two barbarous and powerful nations, with which the Chinese, British and Americans were in mortal combat, were capable of the research and technology necessary to build, share and use atomic bombs.  The leaders of the two Western allied nations were aware of that capability. The allied leaders had a responsibility to protect their homelands, and combatant forces. This required that they make defensive efforts against possible future innovations in nuclear threat emanating from those hostile states. The only feasible defense against nuclear weaponry available at the time was the capability to deliver similar blows. Therefore, the U.S. and Britain were morally justified, and indeed obligated, given the situation and the nature of the states in question, to make the efforts they in fact initiated in 1939. We now move to the most extensive part of the essay. First dealing with the more general question of use, next, handling questions dealing with the Pacific War in particular:

Questions Concerning Use of Atomic Weapons

Question #2: Is it ever permissible to use atomic weapons?

This question harbors a certain ambiguity that colors discussion of nuclear arsenals as they have subsequently grown in power and size. Large thermonuclear devices are of such power as to be massively indiscriminate.  Most developers argued that this rendered them morally illicit as first strike, strategic or tactical weapons, but rendered them effective deterrents. Some even argued that it would be wrong to use them in retaliation, if a nation had first been struck by similar weapons, due to the massive indiscriminate carnage this would produce. This tended to be a minority view, but was argued.[5]

Contrast this with the relatively small yield of the two “gadgets” or smaller devices; the equivalent of many megatons of TNT as compared to five to twenty-thousand ton yields. The casualty and damage level of Little Boy and Fat Man were comparable to that created by extended nights of conventional bombings such as the raids on Tokyo in March 1945. [6] From the vantage point of General Marshal, at least, the smaller yield weapons were distinct possibilities for tactical use. As his misgiving grew about Olympic, he asked General Groves about the prospects of using nuclear weapons that were in the pipeline as a component of the bombardment that would precede the invasion of Kyushu. He would have used them in efforts to clear beach defenses, and was seriously contemplating moving troops through bombed areas very soon after the attacks. This is striking evidence of the naivety that existed with regard to the radioactive hazard.

But, the important takeaway here is this: Given the right circumstances, and the smaller scope of effect, one can envision scenarios that would have a better chance of passing moral muster for utilization of smaller nuclear devices. A simplistic example: An invasion force lands in San Francisco, attempts a beachhead.  The area has been evacuated. Only enemy combatants are there. Do you drop a smaller yield bomb knowing that it would remove the threat? It seems an easy answer.

Again, contrast this with another simplistic (and bad) use. Consider the same scenario, but using the B-83 weapon, at 1.2 megatons (the largest yield in the present U.S. arsenal).  Just to put a fine point on it, assume the USSR’s truly monstrous 50 MT Tsar Bomb. Would this be an immoral use? Probably so, given that the scope of the weapon’s effects would be much larger, and involve much high numbers of non-combatant casualties.   This brings us to the next question:

Question #3: Is it permissible to use atomic weapons with foreknowledge of collateral damage?

  (To be clear, the presupposition of this question is that there is foreseen but not directly intended collateral damage. Consider this a sort of way station on the way to the argument considering permissibility of mixed purpose use.)

There are two possible answers, only one of which is plausible. Answer number one, the implausible option, is that such use is never permissible due to something uniquely detrimental about nuclear weapons. However, if you agree that scenarios involving tactical small yield weapons are foreseeable and defensible, then, you do not take this position. Blast effects are common to all bombs. So, if there is something uniquely sanctioning about nuclear devices, it must be the scale of these effects and/or the radiation produced. Analogically, biological weapons are generally forbidden because of their horrendous, indiscriminate and potentially widespread effects. The analogy breaks down however, for the radiation produced by nuclear devices is localized, dissipates, and in smaller yield weapons, areas become habitable after a relatively short period of time. What is more, the radiation is not transmitted from person to person, or across large swathes of land as people move. The blast effects for the smaller weapons is within the scale of conventional bombings, even if it does happen within shorter time periods (minutes instead of hours or days), as the Tokyo raids demonstrated. Given all this, it is hard to make a case that they should under no circumstances ever be used.

In the second invasion scenario described above, utilizing megaton yield devices, even if the radiation does dissipate, we can easily imagine the blast and radiation effects would cause a much higher number of non-combatant casualties, assuming evacuees are in the vicinity. Fallout would expand the reach of the radiation.  This would be out of proportion to the military end, where the reduced effects of the smaller tactical weapons would not be.

This leads us to take the second and more plausible answer to our question: Use of smaller yield nuclear weapons is sufficiently similar to use of conventional weapons as to make the restrictions upon usage similar to those that exist for conventional warheads even if more restrictive. Given the aiming and targeting technology available, these can be used as long as sufficient efforts are made to be precise and limit non-combatant casualties to the lowest level commensurate with the military goal (be it tactical or strategic). There is nothing new in this approach to utilization of weapons. The allied powers thought like this during most of the war. We still think like this with conventional air power, drone strikes, and conventional missile technology, but due to advancement in technology, and history (including WWII) tend to place much greater discriminatory and proportionality restrictions on allowable collateral damage.

Before we move on, we have to reinforce that much of the attraction of the atomic option was that it offered a plausible psychological mechanism by which to decisively end the war effort of Japan, in the minds of those most familiar with it (the physicists leading up the effort, General Groves and Sec. Stimson.) Additionally, the trend of the War had been toward using conventional bombing raids for this mixed purpose. Axis powers had done it first.[7] Others were more doubtful of the effect, or doubted whether the devices would function (Leahy for instance).  The considered opinion, one held by Roosevelt, and Truman, reflected the novelty of the weapons. We, with the benefit of hindsight, tend to distort their point of view when discussing the atomic option. It is misleading to think of the atomic option in terms of exclusive disjunction.  For Truman, the decision on implementation was not so much an either/or proposition between using the gadgets OR invading/blockading/continuing with conventional air war.  Rather, he and his advisors thought, pragmatically. The war was so costly as to morally demand that as many means as possible be used toward ending the war. Given the grave prospects for invasion, they believed all available means to force surrender should be placed ‘online’ as they became available.  There was no certain foresight that the bombs would function let alone work some sort of psychological magic, ending things quickly, obviating need for invasion.  There was a plausible hope this would occur, born of the projections of Groves Oppenheimer and a few others as they contemplated the power of nuclear fission. But, this was by no means held as a certainty. In this connection, it is interesting to note the ups and downs in Truman’s own words from Trinity to Aug. 14. While in Potsdam he had high hopes when he received word of the Trinity test, yet on the very day of Japanese surrender, voiced to a representative from Britain, his resignation to the necessity of having to bomb Tokyo with a third device. It seemed the shock had never materialized.  At that point, eight agonizing days had passed since Hiroshima.  August 10 had produced a surrender offer, but one that smacked of conditional surrender. The allied response, basically a reiteration of the unconditional demands, did not receive an immediate positive response.  

All of the principals fully expected to invade, even after Hiroshima. The above mentioned plans of Marshall to use atomic bombs tactically were seriously considered after August 9. He had asked Groves about the possibility in late July.  No planning for demobilization was started until after August 15. One would think, if Truman knew invasion had become otiose after the two bombs, that he would have set those wheels in motion before Hirohito’s rescript. Yet nothing of the sort occurred. The decision, which had actually been taken well before Truman took office, was to incorporate atomic weapons into the larger effort, as one means among several, if they could be produced. Truman did not change that tack, established by Roosevelt.  The ‘gadgets’ were conceived not so much as a vastly different and new technology destined to change international relations, but rather more as being really big bombs of a more or less conventional nature, that may have the additional exploitable of shock potential.  This is important to keep in mind. They were never clearly envisioned as being something that could be used in the stead of conventional warfare, but as components of such warfare.  Yet, as events unfolded, it was precisely this possibility that was the driving factor in the emperor’s decision to surrender. He and the peace party (Togo, Kido, Yonai and Suzuki (sometimes)) having been apprised of the results of the bombings, came to the conclusion that the bombs were of such power as to render a land invasion unnecessary.[8]  That knocked out a fundamental assumption of Ketsu Go. The emperor had bought the plausibility of Anami’s plan to offer negotiated settlement only after a painful blow had been dealt to the invaders on Kyushu.  He changed his mind. He now envisioned extended strategic atomic bombing, which would probably include Tokyo, as something the allies would continue, without need of invasion, in order to attain their ends. There would be no dealing of painful blows to the allies.

So, given this contemporaneous view of the yield and shock potential for atomic weapons, we have to ask whether the use of the weapons against Japan in August of 1945 was morally justified. Arguments have been presented that maintain it was not, due to the fact that Japan was defeated, and the end of the war was inevitable anyway.  This position must be examined. It is instructive to do so through a counterfactual lens, one that asks whether similar atomic attacks would have been justified in the case of Germany. I believe an examination of the Japanese question that begins here will eventuate in a judgment that the mixed purpose use of the atomic bombs was morally justified. We now move to questions looking through that counterfactual lens:

Question #4: Would it have been permissible to use ‘gadgets’ against Germany, if the occasion had arisen? If so, when?

We begin with this first of three German counterfactual scenarios:

Scenario 1, 1940-41: It is the height of German expansion, extermination camps are running. Britain is under siege. Conventional attacks on military and industrial targets in Germany have yielded mediocre results. Bombing raids have been costly for allied bombers.  The war looks like it not only will drag on for years, but the outcome is very much in doubt.  Russia is abiding by its non-aggression pact with Germany. You are Roosevelt and Churchill. You’ve been informed that Manhattan has produced enough material for two, possibly three bombs with projected yields of between 5 and 20 thousand tons of TNT. Do you use them? Modified bombers can be made available. Consider, as you answer, that you can use them against cities, Schweinfurt, Hamburg, Cologne, Dresden, or Berlin itself, all of which provide material of war. There will be civilian casualties due to the proximity of industrial installations to civilian areas. Be that as it may, you can cause, in one bombing the sort of damage that waves of bombers create over greater periods of time, and at considerably greater risk. You are being told by Szilard, Oppenheimer and others, that the potential for psychological impact, “shock” or loss of morale is high. That offers a tantalizing possibility of a quick end to the war.  You are not sure how seriously to take the physicists, but you hear them out. You realize German air defenses are such that foreknowledge of the mission would allow the Germans a good chance of shooting down the bomber, even with escort. So, you have to weigh whether or not to inform and warn Hitler’s government, give an ultimatum. The likelihood that he would negotiate is certainly negligible.  What would you do?

If you were to give Hitler an ultimatum, he would no doubt ignore it. Not only that, but his behavior arguably forfeited his right to such forewarning. Most importantly, a warning would also tip the German forces of the oncoming attack. It would be irresponsible to elevate risk for allied airmen. Should the bombers be shot down, AND the gadgets somehow survive, that would place in Hitler’s hand a terrible gift. If the gadgets failed, this would be a boost to Germany as well. 

A morally significant concern would be, of course the civilian non-combatant casualties in Germany. However, because the nature of extant bombing precluded precision of any great degree, and because such bombing was already happening, most pressingly, and obviously for allied leaders, against allied cities, such as London, I suspect that the calculus would deem utilization regrettable but justifiable. Given the potential for a near instantaneous series of knockout blows, with potentially great psychological effect, bringing about a quicker end to the war and the industrialized carnage of the death camps, leaders would feel compelled to order the attack. It would have loomed large in Roosevelt’s or Churchill’s mind that the yield of the bombs could do in a moment the damage that usually took nights, and could be carried out with only one bomber. Surely either man would have considered this a tremendous boon. Even if the physicists and Groves were proven incorrect about the psychological impact upon Germany, the military effects would be indisputable. In short, given the circumstances and allied responsibilities, it would be morally permissible to use the gadgets in this scenario. One may object, though, that to take actions that are, at least in effect, targeting of non-combatant civilians for shock effect is simply morally unacceptable in this or any circumstance. Is this true?  This will be considered in the next two counterfactual scenarios, one located two to three years later in the war, another more plausibly with regard to the progress of the Manhattan project, at the end of the war, January to March/April of 1945.

Scenario 2: It is closer to the end of the war, December 16, 1944. The Ardennes offensive has just begun. Alarmed, you think the war is going to last much longer than you had thought just the day before. You are presented with the ‘gadgets’ as above.  Do you use them?

This presents an interesting dilemma. You have two or three gadgets, and would not be sure they would work. Do you risk using one to cut off the Bulge in Ardennes? What do you do with the others? Should you use them in Germany, against industrial/military targets, all of which would have been mixed targets?  A compelling case can be made that this would be the best way to quickly end hostilities, when compared with continuation of conventional means. With hindsight, we see that conventional means had not induced Hitler to surrender. He waited to commit suicide until the enemy was quite literally in his neighborhood. That occurred nearly 6 months later. All that time, German depredations continued apace in occupied territories. The crematoria worked at ever greater speeds. 

Would it be ethically defensible to forgo use of the atomic option, in order to spare the German civilians that would be lost, if by choosing so, one were to consign to death an equal or greater number of civilians who would be victims of German predation? Why, one needs to ask, would we feel impelled to cede to them what would essentially be a more protected status than we would those others in Poland, France, the camps, etc.? What principled reason could be given for doing so? It seems there are two possible avenues of approach when giving such reasons: either their status as non-combatant civilians gives them immunity, something we should respect, even if the Nazis did not reciprocate, or there is something uniquely odious about atomic weapons that precludes their use.  Considering the latter disjunct, in terms of casualties, the effects of use of the smaller yield atomic weapons is within the range of the effects of conventional bombing raids of the time. It might be that the radiation effects are so bad as to be prohibitive, even if numbers are similar.

As to the former disjunct, it must be recalled that Germany did not give especial concern to civilians in England, Poland, France and other areas where strategic bombing was concerned, nor did they give them any sort of consideration when conducting mass killings in retribution for resistance activities, nor when they carried out their genocidal intentions.  So, for the victim nations, or those fighting with/for them (U.S. armed forces) to refrain from use of atomic means that would kill German civilians would not only be to consign to death these thousands of others that would lose life in the resultant extended campaign (civilian and combatants), but to do so by actions that amounted to giving a special immunity to German civilians, a special immunity not reciprocally extended to allied civilian populations. One has to ask if German civilians were deserving of this special treatment, or more precisely, any more deserving of it than their counterparts.  The answer I think is negative. So, all things considered, if a solid case can be made that nuclear attack resulting in these civilian deaths would have significantly raised the probability of a hastened end to the war, then they would have been morally permissible, if there was no other plausible route to that end.  To use Walzer’s terminology, at this point in the war, such a case could be made on the grounds of there being a supreme emergency for the occupied European nations and captive citizens involved.  Evidently, in the minds of the physicists, civilian and military men that started the Manhattan project, reasoning along these lines occurred. This is most poignantly evinced in the writings of some of the European physicists who urged the project. Szilard stands out. His case is all the more striking, in that he changed his mind quite drastically later when Germany was on the verge of defeat. Nevertheless, his earlier argument is hard to gainsay. 

Now, one may concede all this, but argue that this is a narrow and unique window, which in ethical terms, was not mirrored in August of 1945 in the Pacific Theater.[9] In Europe and the Pacific a state of supreme emergency did not exist later in the war. So, if the atomic bombs had been available sooner than July of 1945, but at later stages of the European war, one should not have used them.  I think this reasoning is probably true in the case of the last week or so of the European war, but would not hold up even a few months or weeks before. I believe the situation was sufficiently dire to allow use, even if it did not technically fit the concept of ‘supreme emergency.’  To make that case, consider this last scenario, placed in that timeframe:

Scenario 3:  Closer to the end of the war, January through March/April of 1945. It is now beyond doubt that Germany cannot possibly recover and win. It is defeated, but has not shown any sign of surrender. Germany’s air defenses are a shell. The death factories run, now at a higher pace.  The Russians have liberated Auschwitz, but camps in Germany continue their killing and have upped the pace. This hastening began once Hitler recognized defeat. He wanted to complete his genocidal mission against the Jews before Germany lost the ability to do so.  So, given this situation, should you continue with conventional means of warfare or do you incorporate the atomic weapons in the hope that the shock will hasten capitulation?

Again, this is an interesting case from the perspective of Walzer’s conception of supreme emergency. Even if Britain was no longer under the Damoclean sword of existential threat, even if Poland itself had been removed from that same shadow, many thousands of civilians from formerly occupied countries, and many thousands of civilians in areas still occupied remained under existential threat.  The vile regime still existed, and still retained the power to murder on a mass scale, even if it could no longer pose such a threat to political entities; states. Given this circumstance, it seems arbitrary to claim that a supreme emergency did not exist because civilization was not under threat any more. In short, there can be supreme emergencies, even in this sort of circumstance, even if civilization does not hang in the balance. This is because large swaths of civilian population are still under that Damoclean sword, still subject to death. If that is correct, then utilization of atomic weapons would still have been morally permissible, perhaps even obligatory, at these later stages of the European war. Just so long as there was a reasonable chance of halting the mass killing, the option is morally allowed as long as the casualties are proportionate. This is the reason for my arguing that this atomic option would not have been morally acceptable the last few days of the war in Europe. Utilization would have had no significant impact on halting the barbarity at that point, and the casualty balance would have been out of proportion to the lives saved.

January of 1945 the carnage continued, and despite the fact that the threat to civilization would not continue to exist, I maintain it would still have been permissible to take the atomic option, just so long as the number of lives saved would outweigh those lost from the bomb, and just so long as there was no other plausible alternative that would have the same results without the casualties. Once again, all civilian lives are equally valuable here, and if you do have to choose, those from the aggressor nation have no more of a claim of immunity than those of the victim states. The latter have in no way forfeited their rights to their lives. If the only plausible way to save massive numbers of them is by actions that take a smaller number of the former’s lives, it is permissible when the scale of the loss of life would be quite large and disproportionate if we were to refrain from the course of action. One cannot allow them to die if one is in a position to prevent the deaths. Being in that position, under those dire circumstances, one does indeed have to make the hard choice. This is a paradigmatic case of the ‘lesser of two evils’ approach.

An analogous hypothetical case shows the same thing.[10] Most people will say it is permissible to take action in the case, which amounts to targeting of non-combatants. The scenario has us imagine a German passenger liner of some sort transporting in its hold, unbeknownst to the civilian passengers, the components of a German atomic weapon. The liner is in German waters heading toward dock.  An allied sub is informed, as is allied command. Should the liner be torpedoed? As I said, most would answer ‘yes.’ Yet doing so is to intentionally target a vessel carrying German civilian non-combatants.  Why is it permissible? Clearly, it is due to the grave consequences of NOT targeting the liner. One might say that this case passes the venerable doctrine of double effect, where our atomic shock scenarios do not. Because of this, the former is permissible, the latter is not. 

There is a double effect here, dead civilians, and destroyed nuclear device. But do we not have a deliberate and direct targeting of these civilians? It is arguable that we do. One might say it’s a fine bit of sophistry to say otherwise. Someone impatient with philosophical logic chopping about intentions might say something like: ‘It simply won’t do to say that we have in mind some image or conceptualization of the torpedo hitting the bomb makings, this alleged psychological event counting as our intention to merely destroy said parts.’ Perhaps. But, one can respond that the civilian deaths are a foreseen and unavoidable side effect of the intended effect. There is a disanalogy with the atomic cases we have been discussing, for all of them involve an element of “shock,” which, of necessity involves targeting. More on this, and more on the principle of double effect later in the paper. For now we must pause, linger and make an admission:

Something else is going on when using atomic weapons for shock. We know our military targets are mixed and the extent of the damage the gadgets can cause. So, we know, going in, that non-combatant casualties will result. We also know, going in, the much larger amount of lives that can be saved by taking the action. And, getting to the bone of contention with the bombs, we use the atomic bombs with serious hope that they will ‘shock,’ the enemy into early capitulation. In so far as we aim at this, we are deliberately targeting, non-combatants to get that shock effect. We must admit this. The early capitulation would not occur without the shock effect, this in turn not being possible without the targeting of cities. While it is true that we are also targeting military installations, munitions works, factories, and in the case of Japan, are also targeting a large network of “cottage parts industries” weaving through around 20% of civilian households[11], we have to admit, if ‘shock’ is part of our intent, that we are also targeting those civilians. They are not foreseen but unintended casualties.

But, to admit this is not to say that we should never in any circumstance undertake such acts. Some rare occasions permit it. Walzer believes the first of our three German scenarios presents such a case. I believe all three of these German scenarios satisfy the condition.

Relevant to all these scenarios, as a possibly less problematic solution, is the claim that there is always the alternative of negotiated surrender. In the German cases this would be negotiation with Hitler. Should allies have been pursuing a negotiated end to the fighting in Europe as they were prosecuting the war? Put yourself in the shoes of the policy makers as I have asked you to do. Is this a plausible project for a quick end to the war? A more morally pertinent question: Is it something we owed to the Germans?

In terms of plausibility, one need only examine Hitler’s track record with regard to agreements to see that he deserved no such trust or consideration. His perfidy cost millions of Russian lives on the Eastern front. His perfidy cost Poland its very existence, and snuffed out millions of its citizens. He regularly turned on those with whom he entered non-aggression agreements. This does not bode well for success.

What is more, to offer negotiated settlement would be to settle for rapprochement with a vile regime, giving it a continued lease on life.  This would allow Nazism to continue to exist. Undoubtedly, this would have carried with it uncomfortable compromise with respect to conquered territories and reparations, just as similar concessions were allowed the equally vile state of Stalinist Russia during the war and post war periods. A requirement of unconditional surrender was in fact a morally proportionate response to the nature and actions of the Nazi regime. It simply could not be allowed to continue in any form. To tolerate it in any form would have been an act of moral degradation of its victims, treating with indignity those millions butchered by the regime, both inside and outside of Germany.  This holds even if it is suggested that a negotiated end state could allow Hitler or someone of his choice to remain in some capacity as was suggested for Hirohito, a constitutional or figurehead “monarch,” or more precisely, “Fuhrer.” The short pithy response, one suspects Roosevelt, Truman or Churchill might have tendered to such a suggestion might have been “not only ‘no.’ but ‘hell no.’” And that would have been exactly right.

Additionally, if we owe such an attempt at negotiation to the civilian population of Germany, the attempt would be exactly futile in any case, and would end up prolonging and extending not only their wartime suffering, but that of the conquered nations.  Furthermore, even if they did not completely understand his intentions, the German populace did enthusiastically welcome Hitler’s rise to power. So, they shared some level of culpability, and might have forfeited some rights, even if not right to life. Perhaps they forfeited a right to equal protection as war is waged. In any case, all things considered, competing allied obligations outweighed any obligation owed them to attempt the negotiation. And none of this sufficiently gainsays what was said directly above about what is not owed Hitler and Nazism.

In short, the closest one can reasonably come to arguing for negotiation during the war would be attempting secret negotiations with other Germans in an effort to undermine the Nazi state and Hitler, working with those in civilian or military power who were making attempts to either oust or kill him. It obviously goes without saying that this would have been extremely difficult and time consuming, even impossible, and prospects would not have been good. Because such efforts would have been protracted, the deaths from German depredations would have continued apace, as would German deaths both combatant and non-combatant. So, in short, there is no good case to be made for negotiated settlement as the best or least bad option. The probability of success is low, and it allows wholesale carnage to continue for too long.

To summarize, I believe that in all three of these scenarios, it would have been at least morally permissible to use atomic weapons against Germany in a similar fashion as was used against Japan, even though this would necessarily entail significant German noncombatant casualties. This is justified due to the unique nature of the situation. I believe in each case the situation is quite dire, even if it is not an exact fit for the concept of supreme emergency. Because the situations are sufficiently dire, and no other reasonable means existed to hasten lifesaving capitulation, these are among those rare cases that allow intentional targeting of civilians.

It is with a fair amount of unease that I concede these arguments render permissible deliberate targeting of civilians in order to end dire circumstances or states of supreme emergency. I fully admit that this opens the door for attempts at similar lines of moral justification by terrorist groups or present day barbarous states for their actions.  I am also fully aware that this runs counter to lines of reasoning derived from ethical philosophy. I will look at these objections after first extending and completing the argument with regard to Imperial Japan. For now, putting things briefly, I can say to the former point, that terrorist organizations and barbarous states are vile, morally illegitimate things, and as such, have no moral right to exist in the first place. They can place no obligation on others to respect their demands. Evidence of this is that they use targeting of non-combatants as measure of first resort, in circumstances that are decidedly not dire, nor supreme emergencies. In this particular aspect, they are much more similar to Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany, than they are the allied nations during WWII. Even if the propaganda spouted by Japan talked of supreme emergencies or dire threat from China or allied nations, they used this to mask and attempt to rationalize naked aggression. From the beginning both Japan and Germany targeted non-combatants on a massive scale, killing, brutalizing or enslaving millions in lands they overran and conquered. Tellingly, and in marked contrast, the allied strategic bombing campaigns, which targeted military installations or industrial concerns located within civilian population centers, occurred late in the war, and with serious misgivings, indicative of a general feeling amongst allied personnel and leaders that it was a necessary but regrettable and abhorrent method of last resort. So, if such entities as ISIS or Al Qaeda attempt to justify their actions by pointing to Hiroshima, or strategic allied bombing, claiming no moral difference, we do have a response. Their use of terror against civilians is a method of first resort and in service to an aggressive expansionist intolerant, inhumane order, or way of life while ours was of last resort and in service to a generally humane inclusive and tolerant civilization or way of life, and only indulged under the deepest of duress, occasioned by the actions of vile states.

On the latter set of objections, those springing from seedbeds of ethical/philosophical theory, I can say for now, that they can be answered in this way: If considered judgment clashes with the deliverances of these theories, then so much the worse for the theories. It is at least possible that they are in error, or that the interpretations or applications are just incorrect. What is more, considering these theories and their deliverances, when applied, more as a set of disparate tools, useful, but not necessarily in accord, one fully expects that some will conflict with others, and that one must weigh them with considered judgment and the actual circumstances in mind. Some circumstances will bring some considerations to the fore as more weighty, while other circumstances will bring other considerations to the fore with greater weight. In this particular circumstance, I believe the utilitarian considerations come to the fore. More on this later. Continuing the main thread:   

This brings us to the ultimate matter at hand:

Question #5: Was it morally permissible to use atomic weapons against Japan in August of 1945?  If not, when (if ever) would it have been permissible?

The short version of the answer:  Yes, it was morally permissible at that stage of the war, to use the gadgets, due to the fact that there was a state of supreme emergency, or, otherwise put, a situation existed which was sufficiently dire for the occupied areas, dire enough that action needed to take place to end the hostilities sooner rather than later. The situation was in fact very similar to that in scenarios #2 and 3 in the discussion of Nazi Germany.  In some ways, primarily due to systematic Japanese food confiscation in occupied Asia, the situation was even direr than the European situation at late stages of the war. What is more, due to the depredations in China, the Philippines, Indonesia, Manchuria, and other areas earlier in the war, utilization of atomic weapons would have been as morally justified at those earlier stages of the Pacific War as it would have been at earlier stages of the European war (akin to German scenario #1). The situation was particularly acute when we consider China’s vulnerability.

In all morally relevant respects the state of Imperial Japan was just as untrustworthy and odious as Nazi Germany. It had fascistic views[12] and posed a similar, if not greater existential threat to Asia as Germany did to Poland, France, Russia, and other parts of Europe. Its level of threat to the U.S. was comparable to that of Germany, and in fact it had attacked non-combatant U.S. Naval forces instigating our entry into the conflict.  For these reasons it would have been at least as morally suspect to negotiate something less than unconditional surrender with Japan as it would have been to negotiate the same with Nazi Germany.  In what follows, I develop this case, I then respond to objections:

First, we need to be very clear about the nature of the Japanese state, and the strategic situation at the end of the war.

[13]All told, the carnage from Imperial Japan’s wars of conquest from 1931 to 1945 took approximately 150 times more Asian lives than did the atomic bombs, or 75 times the toll from the atomic bombs and the strategic bombing campaign combined. Japan conquered and occupied a greater amount of territory than Germany and Italy held at the height of their predation. Depending on which estimates you cite, Japan killed between 5 and 20 million civilians during its wars, Germany, and its local allies approximately 6 million. In occupied Asia there was an ongoing equivalent of the European Holocaust, large scale confiscation or destruction of property and systematic enslavement and killing of target classes.[14]

When one takes into account not only deaths but overall casualties, the scale is truly staggering. Japan invaded countries which held one third of the world’s population at the time. Japanese aggression killed approximately 24 million combatant and non-combatant from allied countries.  Not all victims died. There were approximately 100 million casualties in the following categories; wounded, raped, tortured, forced labor slaves, refugees, homeless, brutalized POWs and civilian internees, victims of gruesome medical experimentation. Most casualties were non-combatants. To give perspective, the total casualty count, 100 million, is only 39 million short of the total U.S. population in 1945, and nearly a third of our present population (approximately 320 million).

Imperial Japan’s treatment of conquered territories was akin to that of Nazi Germany. Allied war crimes trials provided countless harrowing accounts: From the beginning, Japanese forces routinely used torture, murder, rape and other inhumane cruelties as methods of control. In China, for instance, pictures had been smuggled out that were taken as Japanese soldiers rounded up scores of Chinese, and herded them together to use for bayonet practice.  In other areas 50 at a time were tied up in bundles using wire, and then bayonetted. Slaves were worked to death, and then cremated. This was routine behavior.

Not only is the scale of atrocities telling but so are the proportions. Chinese, and other occupied Asians totaled 87% of all deaths during the war. 12% were Japanese. Less than 1% were Western allies. Japan, densely populated and dependent upon imports, saw expropriation and empire as its only means to survival. Like Germany, it was driven by a sense of racial superiority over its neighbors. There was a toxic brew of state Shinto religion and Bushido doctrine to which the military adhered. The Japanese army and navy code of conduct required that officers and those they commanded fight to the death, for the Emperor and nation, the Emperor, being the living descendent of the Sun God Ameterasu.  Surrender was considered with such revulsion that any allied personnel that did surrender or did not fight to the death were considered beneath contempt, and treated harshly. Japan had never lost a war to another nation and had sometimes won against the odds. The most fanatic of the militarists believed in a sort of spiritual and racial superiority, that demanded a refusal to halt fighting which would, if carried to the extreme, overcome all allied advantages in technology or material. Divine forces would not allow Japan’s defeat. She only need demonstrate an iron will to fight to the finish. The emperor either acquiesced in this philosophy or believed it himself. In either case he explicitly ordered or approved the actions of his Army and Navy through the duration of the war.

Japan invaded Manchuria, China and other areas in order to acquire a Helot slave population, most of which were to be worked until they died. Many were moved great distances to war factories and so used and then disposed of. Others were to be used in medical experimentation, others killed for practice or simply fun. Similar treatment was meted out to POWs. Western prisoners were forced to labor on railroads and industry, endured death marches and arbitrary torture and killing, while they were being systematically starved to death. They were moved around the empire in unmarked “hell ships,” under incredibly crowded and hot conditions, allowed no food or water, only to be attacked by unsuspecting allied airmen.[15] The death rate for allied POWs in Japanese internment was 27%, German internment 2%.  All of this was carried out by explicit order of the Emperor, or with his approval.

For most of the war Japan suffered military losses, but few civilian casualties. Only as the vice closed, during 1944 and 1945 and allied forces took Saipan, Iwo Jima and Okinawa allowing the U.S. to move its bombers within range did the home island experience the sort of death, and destruction as had long been dealt by the Japanese themselves on the mainland and other parts of Asia. However, to keep the numbers in perspective the allied strategic bombing campaign targeting Japanese cities in 1945 cost in Japanese lives amounted to 2% of all Allied civilians killed by Imperial Japanese forces.

Consider this analogy. In a territory about the size of the U.S., the population had, since 1931 lost on average 2 to 3 thousand souls to Japanese aggression each day.  Many thousands of others slaved for their masters, while they endured the numerous insecurities of a capricious occupation. On a regular basis people were rounded up and moved for the purposes of the Japanese.  Occupying troops amused themselves by bayonetting, killing, raping, burning, cutting living babies from mothers. The monsters of the notorious unit 731 and other vast complexes spread throughout the conquered territories and Japan proper indulged in biological warfare and other forms of research using human subjects drawn from the supposedly racially inferior conquered nations. These studies involved intentional infections, exposure to cold, high pressure, vivisection, including scooping brains out of living POWs skulls, dismemberment, intentional starvation, suffocation and drowning.

All the while, there was systematic expropriation of wealth, infrastructure, technology and, most critically, foodstuffs.  Korea and the former Dutch East Indies, along with other areas faced acute food crises as the Japanese forced them to grow and turn over rice. Even as they attempted to make up for domestic shortfall by these means, the daily caloric intake of the Japanese themselves fell dangerously below subsistence levels in 1945. This was due to a combination of weather and effective allied blockade and bombing of the rail system.

By August 1945 each week the war continued would reap at least 100,000 Chinese and allied nation deaths. An estimated 50,000 Japanese lives would also be lost.  For comparison, the two atomic bombs took a total of between 100 and 200 thousand lives. Allied plans and projections for the war had it continuing well into 1946, with a two staged invasion, the second stage slated for Honshu, and the Tokyo plain around March or April of that year. If, as maintained by the Strategic Bombing Survey Group, the Japanese would have surrendered even without the bombs or Soviet entry into the war, by November of 1945, that would entail 450 thousand lives lost in the interim between August and November 1.[16] That’s a net negative balance of 300 to 250 thousand lives. If, as is probably more realistic, the fighting went into 1946, say to March, the loss would have been 2 million lives, a net negative of 1.85 million.

All of this establishes that Imperial Japan was as odious as Nazi Germany. It had to be completely and utterly defeated. This brings us to the strategic situation. Given this moral imperative, what options were there, and was any option that did not include use of the atomic bombs preferable to the least bad atomic option?

We can begin with the negotiated surrender option. Something about this has already been said in connection with the parallel counterfactual German scenario. I repeat here very quickly that the odious nature of the regime seems to be to morally preclude such engagement. But, equally important here is the plausibility of the option as a means to cut the war short. Among the so called ‘revisionist’ historians it is argued that we could have insured a quick capitulation if we had compromised on the demand for unconditional surrender. If we had relaxed our demand for unconditional surrender and had guaranteed the retention of Emperor Hirohito, as a figurehead, the war would have ended without the bombs. Some revisionists claim the Japanese were actively seeking such surrender, and that we deliberately downplayed or ignored this with purposes of intimidating Russia through “atomic diplomacy.”[17]

The reality was that the Japanese leadership was deeply divided on any sort of negotiation, Anami, Umezu and Toyoda dead set against, while Suzuki, Togo and Yonai, along with Kido, the Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal were in favor. (Suzuki actually vacillated even to the very end, to the dismay of the others). Anami wanted a final battle on the home islands before he would consider any negotiations. He maintained, to the day of the surrender that Japan should not countenance any sort of negotiated surrender unless it met four conditions: The retention of the Emperor and his political system; no allied occupation; no allied war crimes tribunals; and self-disarmament by the Japanese.    This, no doubt was because he truly believed in the Ketsu Go strategy, but he was also motivated by his desire to protect himself and the military and limit his and his institution’s risk in the post war world.  No doubt he also had the emperor’s post war fate in mind.

Now, what is important to note here, is that even the so called peace party did not favor an unconditional surrender as was demanded in the Potsdam Declaration, nor did they ever seriously consider offering such. The closest approach came from Ambassador Sato as he went back and forth with Foreign minister Togo in his misbegotten attempt to rope the Russians into mediating a negotiated surrender.  It was apparent to U.S. intelligence from intercepted MAGIC (diplomatic) and ULTRA (military) communications that Japan was not seriously speaking or acting like it was considering surrendering on conditions approaching those demanded in the Potsdam Declaration.  Late July, Sato in Russia cabled to Togo that the only realistic option to quickly end the war was to offer unconditional surrender. Togo balked in response, with a strong ‘no.’ Sato revised, saying he meant no conditions except retention of the Emperor and political system (kokutai).  The response from Tokyo was the same clear and blunt NO. This was an unacceptable offer. Togo would not make it, and clearly considered this kokutai retaining option but a species of ‘unconditional surrender.’ “..We are unable to consent to it under any circumstances whatsoever. Even if the war drags on and it becomes clear that it will take much more bloodshed, the whole country as one man will pit itself against the enemy in accordance with the Imperial Will so long as the enemy demands unconditional surrender…” This puts the lie to the revisionist contention that the Japanese were desperate to end things in any fashion and that the allies could have accomplished surrender if they had offered the Japanese retention of the Emperor as a mere constitutional monarch or symbolic figurehead. [18]

To be clear, the possibility rejected by Togo as the official voice of the government was one that demanded a more robust condition than the supposed ‘constitutional monarch’ magic bullet. If the Big Six would reject this more substantive kokutai preserving alternative, then surely they would have rejected the ‘Emperor Lite’ proposal, which would have made Hirohito into an analog of George VI.  Additionally, the allies, being quite well aware of the state of the debate due to MAGIC intercepts, knew the futility in attempting any sort of negotiated armistice. At the very least it would take time, and absent a shock to convince leadership of the futility of Ketsu Go, would probably fail. Indeed, intercepts indicate the offer to negotiate would have been seen as a sign of flagging allied resolve, and would have encouraged Anami’s strategy. During that time, 150,000 to 200,000 lives a month would be lost.

One also cannot forget the moral case against such settlement. It would have been morally perverse to negotiate a settlement with Nazi Germany. So, why seriously consider such an option for the equally depraved and perfidious state of Imperial Japan? No, just as morality demanded the eradication of Nazism, so too, it demanded the eradication of the Imperial System. Imperial Japan should not have been allowed to continue to exist after cessation of hostilities. A case can be made that the Emperor should not have been allowed to survive. That he was retained is a testament to prudence. His retention gave the best chance for an organized and rapid surrender of Japanese forces in Asia.  In short, it is more than likely that the negotiated surrender option would have cost considerably more lives than the atomic option.

But, would not a negotiated settlement along lines favored by Japan have been the quickest way to preserve those lives? While it is no doubt true that a quick acquiescence to Anami’s view would have ended allied operations, consider what this would have meant: No occupation, retention of the imperial political system, war crimes trials (such as they would have been) held only by Japan, and self-disarmament.  This would have greatly increased the likelihood of a resurgent Japan.  The allies had seen something similar occur with Germany after the Versailles treaty. A myth grew up that allowed Hitler to manipulate an injured sense of national pride. Something similar could happen with Japan. There would have been great resentment and continued antagonistic relations with China/Russia and Asia.  More importantly, justice would not have been served, and the loss of combatant and civilian lives in the ‘charnel house’[19] that was Asia and the Pacific would have been in vain, and would likely continue in any areas Japan retained. Finally, this would, in effect, have been a most morally egregious surrender by the Allies when they were in a position to do otherwise!

Finally, if a negotiated settlement along allied favored conditions were pursued sans ‘atomic diplomacy’[20] it takes no great feat of projection to see that the fighting would have continued during the course of slow negotiations, and Russian military and diplomatic involvement would have eventually occurred, as it had been demobilizing in the West and moving east after VE day. No doubt Stalin would plunder under the banner of reparations, even if he had not shouldered the lion’s share of the burden, as he arguably did in the West. All the time negotiations dragged, 100,000 to 250,000 lives per month would be lost in the struggle. This would have flipped enough calendar pages to bring the planned invasions, the next option we should consider.

What were the other non-nuclear options?

Invasion with blockade and other conventional means.

The blockade had been tightening a noose around the home islands, reducing food levels. This would have brought Japan to starvation levels, if continued into November. Assuming capitulation did not occur and the planned invasion of Kyushu, operation Olympic, were undertaken on that day, we have to keep in mind several things as we project the likely effects:

1. The fact that fighting would still have been going on in other areas of the theatre, as, for instance, British forces planned to take on the Japanese in the interim (Operation Zipper in early September, was a planned effort to recapture Singapore).

2. The situation on Kyushu was developing in a quite alarming direction for allied planners late July and August, and would have been extremely alarming by November, even if intelligence would have brought valuable finer grained detail of Japanese positions. According to a June 18th estimate presented to President Truman, Marshall expected 6 combat divisions of Japanese defenders in southern Kyushu, and projected about 31,000 allied casualties in the first thirty days of the operation.  By August the number of Japanese combat divisions stood at around 13, and more would undoubtedly pour in the three month run up to X-Day. Additionally very large numbers of suicide aircraft and watercraft were being deployed, in preparation for an overwhelming attack on invasion forces. Operation Olympic and Cornet would have each been considerably larger than the Normandy invasion. ULTRA let us know that the Japanese were preparing tunneled defenses comparable to those that had been encountered on Iwo Jima and Okinawa. This was to be coupled with overwhelming attack on invading forces as they attempted to land, undertaken by air and sea suicide forces of alarming size.  The ratio of attackers to defenders was likely to be nearer 1 to 1 than Okinawa, and was threatening to flip, with defenders outnumbering invaders. Like Okinawa, there would be civilian fighters. All of this entailed an even greater percentage of casualties in Kyushu than had occurred in that very costly battle.  The casualty percentages for U.S. forces at Okinawa stood at 37% of attacking forces. Leahy, taking this as a reasonable number thought that this entailed a casualty count of approximately 270,000, from the 767,700 total American forces committed to Olympic.  If the proportionate amount of Japanese casualties are taken into account as well, (110,000 of the 130,000 combined combatant forces on Okinawa died, an astounding 84% toll) that would entail approximately 470,000 dead Japanese from the (low end) 560,000 defenders. At the rate of loss on Okinawa, American forces could expect approximately 40,000 dead. These numbers were considered to be at the low end of possible results. Overall casualty estimates ranged from 250,000 to 2 million allied, and similar ranges, with upper ends at 4 million for Japanese. Of these, it is reasonable to expect that several hundreds of thousands would have been civilians, as the invasion moved inland, after having chewed up southern Kyushu.  By U.S. estimates, Okinawa was home for 300,000 civilians, of which 196,000 survived. If we were to use this 65% loss rate for the total civilian population of southern Kyushu (2,400,000) losses would have numbered 1.55 million. Taking just half of that, we still have the astounding figure of 755,000. These would not be casualties, but deaths. It is important to keep in mind that the Japanese had guessed correctly that we intended to invade southern Kyushu, and had mobilized a great fraction of the civilian population. They drafted all males aged 15 to 60 and all females 17 to 40, except for those physically unable to perform. These civilian combatants were trained with hand grenades, swords, staves, farm implements fire hooks, and bamboo spears. They were to be attached to army regular forces, and used as guerilla units mainly at night, forming patrols armed with light weapons and tank demolitions material. Also, the Japanese did not plan for evacuation of civilians, nor did they intend to intentionally abandon any cities, removing defenses, and declaring that fact to allied forces (so called “open city” declarations). They fully intended a tenacious fight to the finish using the citizenry.[21]  

In light of Ultra intercepts outlining all of this, things became so alarming that King, Nimitz and Marshall balked at the invasion prospects just as the Japanese leadership decided to surrender. Nimitz was going to back out of it altogether, while Marshall wanted to change invasion from Kyushu to locations north, forgoing Olympic, and undertaking the even more massive Coronet invasion after a delay.  If not for the surrender, a major inter-service conflict would have ensued, and Truman would have had to deal with it. He could have gone forward with Olympic or Coronet, perhaps with tactical use of atomic warheads.  In any case, we see that the range of casualty projections significantly outstripped the civilian and combatant losses from Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is not anywhere outside the realm of plausibility that such operations would have eventuated in casualty rates orders of magnitude greater than what occurred with Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the strategic bombing campaign of Roosevelt’s tenure.  Similar things can be said about the option Marshall considered, invasion with tactical nuclear weapons.

If one considers a blockade/bombing campaign, with no invasion, things look no better. Due to the developing food crisis, it is very likely that capitulation would come only after famine had claimed hundreds of thousands or millions of lives in Japan and elsewhere. It is not unusual for blockaded countries or besieged cities to resist for much longer times than expected. One need only consult history to see evidence of this. If a population is convinced that the enemy is a savage intractable race, it will consider holding out to be the lesser of bad options, and hang on. The resulting famine would have been truly horrific in the case of the Japanese islands, due to her reliance on imports. A final consideration: After the home island had fallen, capitulation of Japanese forces in Asia might not have moved as quickly and efficiently as it did in the actual case. 

One might consider the route of lifting blockade in order to prevent starvation, but continuing with allied bombing, that is; a conventional air campaign, and nothing more. The Japanese might have seen this as a sign of lagging resolve, and the militarists would no doubt be encouraged to hang on, hoping that war weariness would bring on negotiations favorable to them.  Would this be a better option than the least bad atomic option? Consider that we would still be bombing areas of civilian population, and rail systems, because these would obviously be supplying the war effort. In fact, plans were afoot to resume precision bombing, while halting incendiary bombing, with the goal of completely hobbling the Japanese economy and infrastructure.  So, even if foodstuffs were to arrive from other areas in sufficient quantities (as is very unlikely to begin with) they would not have been effectively distributed.  The end result again would be a more lengthy war, with the attendant 150,000 or more casualties a month. I suspect this option would have had the war dragging through most of 1946, perhaps into 1947. Famine would have likely inflated the death rate alarmingly. Again, the numbers do not pan out, and if negotiation had settled on something more in line with the militarists’ goals, in order to forestall a humanitarian catastrophe, justice would not have been served.

In all scenarios involving the lengthening of the war, we also have to take into account Russian involvement. They inflicted great levels of casualties upon the Japanese in Manchuria, and many of those were civilians. On the home northern islands this would have been repeated. As nearly as possible I’ve made efforts to exhaustively consider the non-nuclear options. We now move to those that involved use of the gadgets:

Alternate Nuclear Options

The first option is Marshall’s, invasion on X-Day using atomic weapons tactically. It is more than likely that by November 1, there would be Russian involvement. As well, there would have been continued fighting in Asia. The unrealistic naivety with regard to dangers to invasion forces moving in so soon after use of atomic weapons would have subjected thousands of allied soldiers to radiation death and poisoning, as it would Japanese. The overall casualty rates for invasion would probably be augmented, not diminished, by use of the weapons, including, of course, civilians, both combatant and non-combatant. Again, the option is not better than the strategic bombing option actually employed, when this is considered.

The next option is in fact basically the option that was used; early (well before X- day) use of atomic weapons on militarily important target with non-specific warning as to nature of weapon, time and place. (This is in essence what Potsdam declaration produced). We needn’t rehearse the outcome, but can note that the July and early August leaflet drops, which warned a set of cities that highly destructive bombing raids were to come on some subset of those cities, did give civilians the time to evacuate/prepare. The lack of specifics, as to the nature of the weapons preserved the shock potential’s promise to cut off hostilities before the Russian war in Manchuria fully developed, or before invasion of the home islands became necessary. Failure of the devices would not have been noticed, and publicized by Japanese.  

Contemplation of this option does naturally lead to questions about similar options, in particular the option of an equally early use, in the first week of August, but on a militarily important target with specific warning either as to nature or time/place. Again, warned civilians could evacuate or prepare, but failure would be publicized and POWs would be moved in, for hostage and propaganda purposes if not already present.[22] The Japanese government could make efforts to inoculate the populace against the shock effect.  It is likely that at least two bombs would have been required here again, as one was not in actuality sufficient, with the full surprise in place.  Again, with specific warning, the shock would be moderated; the Japanese would know what was coming.  Overall, casualty levels would have probably outstripped the actual case.

Before moving to other options, I must note here, if anyone protests that there was the option of use against purely military targets, not merely “militarily important” ones, that this is simply not true. It was not possible to attack a purely military target without also involving civilian casualties, unless one were able to find some remnant of the Japanese fleet sufficiently far out to sea. At this late date, there was not enough of a functional naval fleet for the Japanese to send such a contingent. Most of what remained of its fleet was in port, damaged. Realistically, at this point in the war, military targets were in effect mixed targets. Even assuming a pure target, it would have been, in practical terms, a demonstration, something that has also been suggested as being morally better than the actual choice. A demonstration would necessarily have to be arranged as to time and place, or it would not be seen. It would also likely not have made a strong enough impression to compel surrender. After all, if the all too real and grizzly “demonstration” at Hiroshima did not compel it, an offshore show, or high atmospheric blast would likely not have done so.  This would necessitate the follow through, and with it carnage at least as high and most likely higher than that from Hiroshima and Nagasaki. One must keep in mind that the Hiroshima bombing was, by itself, not enough. Indeed both bombings and Russian initiation of war in Manchuria nearly did not do the trick. The capitulation was a near run thing in actuality. A demonstration would have only delayed a similar course of events by weeks. Again, numbers don’t add up.

This brings us to the last available option; use of the atomic option only after having tried, for a sufficient period of time, the most plausible of the non-nuclear options.  Clearly, this would have eventuated in casualty counts much higher than the actual, and the troubling involvement of Soviet Russia in post war Japan.

So, all in all, we see that, in terms of casualties at least, the course initiated by Roosevelt and later taken by Truman, Stimson, Marshall and the others was, as Stimson put it, in all probability the least abhorrent of a distressingly abhorrent set of options.  Again, no matter what choice was made, appalling civilian casualties would ensue. The only virtue the least abhorrent option had was that it was precisely that; the least abhorrent when it came to casualties. Be that as it may, one may protest that this is to take the utilitarian aspects of the case as paramount, when we should not. To use Stimson’s word again, perhaps the extra-utilitarian aspects of the acts were simply too abhorrent to take despite the utilitarian justification. The intentional targeting for mixed purposes makes it such as to be unacceptable. How might such arguments run?

A good way to begin to answer this is to sketch the ethical landscape of the case for decision makers. What were their responsibilities, and what limitations did the circumstance present? What moral restrictions existed? One obvious moral constant: Civilian deaths were present in every option available, whether caused by blockade or military action. No matter what option was taken, decision makers would have knowingly chosen to put into motion events that resulted in civilian and combatant deaths.

What is more, when focusing on Truman, and military command, they had certain unique responsibilities or obligations in those roles. Truman’s obligation as CNC was to his country, the armed forces and civilians (all citizens) to protect them, exercise competent stewardship of the lives of the armed forces, a large majority of which were conscripts, saving as many as possible, as soon as possible, by ending the war. He also had a responsibility to ensure the long term threat from Japan was eliminated.

He also had a general obligation to humanity in the person of all involved people (Japanese, Asian allied nations, American, British, etc.) to take the option that preserved and respected lives to greatest extent possible given the circumstances, not only over the short term, but over the long term. As a world political leader he had an obligation to work toward a peaceful and humane world order.

A quick overview of the predominant ethical or moral theories through which this set of obligations can be seen allows us to expand upon them, show up internal tensions that make for the moral challenge Truman faced, and allows us to see several ways that the argument to the moral impermissibility of Truman’s option might run. We will, in the course of presenting these arguments, answer them:

Utilitarian considerations

This paradigm has us take the option which minimizes the level of harm, all things considered, over the long and short term. It looks like Truman’s option fit this bill, having preserved, to the greatest extent possible, the lives at risk, removed the threat of Japan, and, in concert with other decisions, started a period of relative peace we still enjoy. Granted, he did not see that far ahead, but certainly the shorter term case can be made for him.  Overall, that is the purpose of the first part of this paper. So, enough said about this outlook, save perhaps some Rule Utilitarian arguments based on worries about precedent setting. These actually will be addressed in this next section, so we move to others:

Kantian Considerations

One formulation of the Categorical Imperative is this: Avoid options that use persons as mere means to desired ends. The targeting of civilians for shock at the cost of their lives clearly does violate this formulation. This is a definite strike against Stimson’s ‘least abhorrent option.’ Even if one would like to make an argument that the adults in question chose their governments in Japan and Germany, thus forfeiting such consideration, one cannot make this case for children.

Another formulation of the Categorical Imperative is this: Take only those options that you could consistently will as universal laws that all must follow.  Clearly, we want a universal law that does not forbid war when it is truly necessary (cases of evil regimes, uncontained and pervasive carnage, severe despotism or genuine supreme emergency). But, Kant would have us question the feasibility of narrower scope universalized maxims that allow for intentional targeting of non-combatants in supreme emergencies. One might suspect that such a universal law, precisely because it would allow such acts in dire circumstances, would be open to abuse, or open to a slippery slope hazard, because people could exploit the vagueness of the term ‘supreme emergency.’ This is one strike against such allowances. One could argue, on the other hand, that the narrowness of scope, restricting such actions ONLY to supreme emergencies, would allow for such actions, and would not open up to slippery slope, if objective truly dire conditions were truly respected. In any case, a slippery slope worry is not a strictly Kantian reason for not allowing intentional targeting of civilians. It is an objection that comes more from the Rule Utilitarian camp. The rub for Kant would come if such a universal law involved itself in a deep or fundamental irrationality and institutionally sanctioned disregard for the notion of respect for persons.

Along these lines we might ask: Is there an inherent contradiction or self-defeating consequence of a universalized maxim allowing for shock targeting in dire circumstances or supreme emergency? Does the law become impossible to follow in a world that allows states to act by it? It is by no means clear that this would be the case. Contrast this with Kant’s own lying promise case. It is very plausible in that case to see that a world governed by a universal law that allows for lying promises in order to survive dire circumstances, is one where lying would in fact become impossible, because the trust that is essential for a lie to find purchase, would not exist.

On the other hand, it seems like no analogous self-defeating circumstance would eventuate in a world that allows escape from supreme emergency via shock attacks against civilians, or more precisely and narrowly, shock attack against civilians, only in such circumstances. It is quite likely that ours is near such a world, and obviously, such attacks remain possible in our world. They also remain effective means to their goals; cessation of the supreme emergencies.  Still, we need to look at other parts of Kant’s discussion of the categorical imperative. He might have some other way of establishing the impermissibility of attacks such as those against Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

There are other examples he uses. Perhaps this case is more like Kant’ suicide example, a case he describes as being an instance of the impulse to save life or preserve quality of life in fact taking life, making quality of life non attainable, this being a more subtle form of self-contradiction on the part of the impulse toward life.  One suspects the correct response to this is one that reflects the correct response to the suicide case: There are circumstances where quality of life is impossible to obtain, and only miserable life is available. In such circumstances the choice of not living is preferable, on a qualitative basis, over the continuation of miserable life. This is a rationally defensible choice. So, the option of suicide can be maintained with the attendant provisos included in the covering law. No self-contradictory maxims need result.  

In a like fashion, one might allow a narrowly constrained universal law that allows for attacks against vile and belligerent nation civilians in supreme or dire emergencies, in order to save larger amounts of victims. There are circumstances where victim quality of life or life itself is impossible due to the actions of vile states. For victims either life will cease or it will be miserable. Yet, the cause of this circumstance is not only external, but removable for the victim, without fatal results, unlike the terminal case suicide. In such circumstances, a maxim could be formulated to allow victims or third parties to attack that vile state to bring it to cease its actions. It will allow that if circumstances are such that the only plausible way to end the dire circumstance is to attack its citizenry by lethal means, this is an open option. But, in so doing, the maxim arguably serves life, or quality of life, not only in the specific case of the victims protected, but in general, by deterring actual and future actions of a like nature by the offending state or others. It is those actions by those agents that are deeply contradictory of life. The sheepdog’s actions, guided by this maxim are not contradictory of life. Quite the contrary; this sort of defensive act is permissible if the attack against the vile aggressor state’s citizenry is the only means to preservation of victim life. So, unlike Kant’s suicide example, this is not a case of ‘one and the same living thing making the choice of attacking itself, taking its own life in the service of life,’ but rather, a case that is more analogous to the self-defense exception to the general moral rule against homicide, something that Kant accepts as generally serving life, and as universalizable. There is more than a tincture of rule utilitarianism in this argument, something I had earlier mentioned. In that connection I would like to briefly consider a related objection, one that worries about precedent setting:

To use atomic weapons against civilians for shock effect is to open a nation or the world to moral blackmail. Vile states or non-state actors can purposefully set out to commit atrocities in order to compel decent nations to target non-combatants and civilians in order to force an environment where their tactics become a norm.  It would be analogous to a hostage taker threatening to kill his hostage unless police kill some other innocent that he or they choose. The objection has it that we should not take actions that lead to a furthering of such an international environment, and the sort of propaganda from civilization’s enemies that draws moral equivalencies between themselves and civilized nations. We can see that modern terrorist tactics, carried out by ISIS, HAMAS and other such groups engage in precisely this behavior.

There is no easy answer to this objection outside the one that patiently outlines the differences that exist between such vile groups or states that resort to these sorts of things early and often (in decidedly less than dire circumstances) and contrasts them with the reluctant and rare use of such tactics by more humane nations.

 In any case, this section of our argument shows that Kantian considerations, when looked at through the universalizability and mere means formulations of the categorical imperative, lend at best ambiguous support to the mixed purpose use of atomic weapons.  It also brings to the fore not only the centrality of the value of life, but the import of the sheepdog’s intentions, something that leads us into looking at Natural Law theory. We move to that perspective next:

Natural Law

In general, this theory tells us to undertake actions that support things that are by nature inherently valuable for human flourishing in any and all of its aspects. If an action supports life itself, either by maintenance or propagation, it is good. If an action furthers human knowledge or healthy social organization, it should be undertaken. If actions do not support these, they should not be undertaken. Natural law theory looks very closely at intentions, and does not focus our moral evaluations upon consequences of acts, but rather upon the agents who act. In this way, it is more akin to Kantian theory than utilitarianism.

We realize that there will be circumstances where it is not possible to honor all of these natural values or commitments at the same time. A case relevant to ours is self-defense using lethal means. If someone is attempting to murder you, no matter how you react, you will be undertaking a course that will eventuate in the loss of life. So, at least prima facie, you cannot help but do wrong. Another example: As a component of the naturally valuable practice of institutional or social life, property is important. If we imprison a thief, we obviously limit his ability to interact with society, acquire and possess property, again, in order to serve society. If we let him run wild, property is still lost. It looks like we do wrong, no matter what course we take. How does Natural Law theory help us here? How does it mediate such conflicts, and how does it provide moral cover or justification for intentions or actions that run counter to a natural value? 

It holds that there are two qualifying principles or conditions, either of which if met, provides a justification for specific courses of action that run counter to natural values. Using these principles we can run a decision procedure, sifting permissible from impermissible actions. These two qualifying principles are the principle of forfeiture, and double effect. Both have already been mentioned in earlier sections. 

According to the first, when an agent knowingly undertakes actions that violate the natural values of others in a way that is not deserved, he has in fact forfeited his expectation of our respect for the equivalent rights of his own. Actions can be taken that violate those abrogated rights. A simple pair of examples shows how this works.  The first is our self-defense scenario above. The assailant has put you in a position where no reasonable non-lethal alternative exists for you. He has therefore given up or forfeited his right to his own life, and you are morally permitted to take his in protecting your own. Similarly, if someone kidnaps you, takes you prisoner, he himself will have forfeited his right to free and unfettered mobility, and can rightly be jailed in response.  However, it would be “overkill” to take his life in this second circumstance if he poses no threat to yours. Why? An aspect of Natural law theory’s second discriminatory principle explains why. This second is the venerable principle of double effect.

According to this principle, in cases where the principle of forfeiture does not apply, and it is the case that an action has two consequences, one of which is supportive of natural values (is beneficial, to put it briefly) and another does not (is bad), one is nevertheless allowed to undertake that action if it meets four conditions:

1. The act under consideration is not inherently bad (bad in itself)

2. The bad effect is unavoidable if the good effect is to be achieved.

3. The bad effect is, not intended as a direct means to the good effect, and

4.  Proportionality exists between the good or beneficial effect and the bad effect, such that the latter does not outweigh the former.  (It is in this third condition that we see an explanation of the “overkill” in the kidnapper case.)

What do these two principles tell us about the use of atomic bombs for shock effect in dire or existential circumstances? The principle of forfeiture applies more obviously to decision makers in the aggressor nations than to anyone else. Hirohito, Tojo, Anami, and others of the hard line party had arguably forfeited right to life. In terms of combatants, in so far as they attacked allied forces or civilian non-combatants, they too were covered by the principle. But, how about the Japanese civilian populations of Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, had they forfeited life? This is less plausibly maintained, even in a democratic society, and even in a society that actively supports or celebrates such aggression, in ways less than material. Even in cases of material support, such as aircraft factory workers, it is more plausible to say that they have forfeited something less than life, than it is to say that they have forfeited life. These individuals do not personally attack or threaten to attack enemy forces. These considerations hold more so for citizens that merely pay taxes, or contribute to the overall economy of an aggressor nation. So, in short, the principle of forfeiture does not allow shock bombing in supreme emergency.  What does the principle of double effect give us?

The first condition gives us a red flag. The act under consideration, targeting of civilian population centers with mixed purpose (shock and destruction of materiel) is ‘bad in itself’ due to the former component. Yet, for the sake of thoroughness, let’s look at 2-4:

Two first: The good effect intended is going to be attained via the shock to be delivered to decision makers. This is the hoped-for trigger to a quicker end to the war.  The bad effect is the civilian casualties. Given there were no certainties, nevertheless there was a consensus among the experts that there was a decent chance that the shock effect could be effectuated and that the atomic option was the best and only option in that regard. By process of elimination, other means to that shock had failed, up to and including horrendous battle casualties in recent campaigns (Saipan, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa) and the incendiary campaign of March-April. Given that these had made it clear to Japanese decision makers that their combatants and civilians would die by the droves, the worst case or pessimistic reading of the lack of movement on their part would be that no shock was possible. However, with regard to atomic weapons, those in the know on the Manhattan project argued that a shock-effectuated near term capitulation was plausible enough to pursue due to the unprecedented yield of the new inventions. So while it was not plausible to claim a highly probable connection of one with the other, as the first condition of the doctrine of double effect requires, it was plausible to claim a significantly likely causal connection. Count this as a borderline to middling ‘pass’ on the second condition. How about the third? 

This is an obvious fail, and in fact fails for reasons similar to the failure in condition (1). The civilian deaths were not foreseen-but-unintended collateral killings, but part of the direct means to the psychological impact desired, even if there were substantial military targets and justifications for the same raids. Again, a clear “fail.”

Lastly, condition four, I think, is much more arguable. The shock itself is not the primary end, but an intermediate, serving in fact as a means to the end of causing a quick and complete surrender of Japan (with all the resultant allied nation and Japanese lives saved). So, if we focus on that primary end it is not at all obvious that the casualties from atomic bombings were wildly out of proportion with the strategic purpose of the bombing, even if it might be more plausibly argued that it was out of proportion with the immediate military purpose. (Hiroshima and Nagasaki both did have significant military presence and infrastructure, vital to the defense of Kyushu, but it can still be argued the proportions were not acceptable if you focus on the immediate tactical impact, as opposed to the larger strategic goal. This thinking, in concert with those considerations concerning condition (2) actually drove Oppenheimer to recommend use). I would give this condition a weak to middling “pass” for these reasons.

But, because the forfeiture condition and the first and third conditions of the double effect test are clear fails, while the others are weak to middling passes, I am inclined to read this as an overall failure of the policy for Natural law theory, as the Double Effect principle requires a pass on all four conditions.

To knowingly cause deaths of innocents as the direct means to saving the lives of other innocents simply will not survive this decision procedure, and renders any such action morally forbidden if it is treated as deciding. I now pass on to a theoretical outlook that is less frequently applied to this case:

Virtue Ethical considerations:

Aristotle considered the primary moral question to be how best to form character, dispositions to behavior, in such a way as to attain not only individual but social integration. He means us to take the word integrity in Plato’s dual sense of that word, a sort of mental/moral health, a unified, well balanced and integrated state of our complex appetitive, emotional, moral, rational/cognitive psychology that allows a parallel flourishing and integration of ourselves and others in the polis, the social matrix. Man is, for Aristotle and the Greeks, an essentially social and rational animal one imbued with a moral sense, empathy and a fellow feeling. He is designed for, or well suited to a lifestyle that relies on reason to balance these various components. Plato and Aristotle held this, the Stoics and other later schools held this.  All gave extensive advice on how to form character, much of it effectively summarized in the maxim, ‘you are what you repeatedly do.’ Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics is a high water mark of this school.  

It is with this overall duty to self-as-reasoning moral/social animal in mind that he elaborated the doctrine of the mean. According to this doctrine there is associated with almost every conceivable action and affective state, an appropriate response that exist somewhere between two extremes, each of which is destructive of personal and social integrity. The examples he uses are quite telling. From courage in battle, to magnanimity of giving, his examples have to do with man in a social/political context. The overall goal of character formation is to mold virtues; that is behavioral and affective dispositions, in such a way as to have us hit his mean states, states which are integrative in both senses.

..[M]oral virtue is a mean…between two vices, the one involving excess, the other deficiency, and…it is such because its character is to aim at what is intermediate in passions and in actions, has been sufficiently stated. Hence also it is no easy task to be good. For in everything it is no easy task to find the middle, e.g. to find the middle of a circle is not for everyone but for him who knows; so, too, anyone can get angry- that is easy- or give or spend money; but to do this to the right person, to the right extent, at the right time, with the right motive, and in the right way, that is not for everyone, nor is it easy; wherefore goodness is both rare and laudable and noble. 

So, not only is there a duty to form moral character, or the virtues, but there is a duty, once virtues are attained, to refrain from taking actions that degrade that hard won moral integrity. There is a duty to maintenance. There are like duties toward others in support and maintenance of character.  There is a duty to refrain from actions that tend to degrade the moral integrity or character of those with which one interacts, or more relevant to our case, those over which you have moral or legal authority.  Subordinate individuals are likely to take such acts as precedent and approbatory.  Aristotle uses the paradigm case of parent and child here, but we can see similar concerns in military discussion of command climate and other similar matters.

In general, this then requires, among other things, that we avoid repetitive instances of activities that would tend to deaden or warp character. In the case of warfare this leads to an interesting dilemma, something shared by other professions, such as law enforcement. These professions provide essential service or protection to the body politic, and as such are to be promoted.  Yet, it is unavoidable that these professions involve use of coercion and violence in order to protect, often including the taking of human life. In order to be able to do so, individual soldiers and policemen require a certain level of desensitization to the import of killing and use of violence, this for two reasons: In order to make it possible for soldiers or police to undertake violent or lethal acts in the process of protecting; and to prevent one form of what we can call moral harm; a debilitating guilt or revulsion at self for undertaking such acts. If it were not for training that desensitizes, we would not have protection; we would have no ‘sheepdogs.’ Yet, we as a society, owe it to these sheepdogs to protect them from moral harm, we are their stewards.

There are two ways to achieve this desensitization, ways in fact exemplified in history. The first is morally perverse, the second acceptable, yet hazardous. The first way is to force individuals into the sorts of acts required, making them repeat the acts frequently for an extended period of time, this with little or no acknowledgement of the fact that the acts injure or kill victims or agents themselves. This is usually paired with dehumanization of victims. This will eventually make the agents immune to moral harm, because they will have become morally dead.[23]

The second way is to avoid dehumanization, provide moral justification for the coercive and violent actions, discussing the possible personal impact, while providing mentoring ‘in the field’ as men and women experience the inevitable emotional/moral internal backlash. In this second method, such counselling continues well after service. It intends to preserve moral sensitivity and moral life in the individuals charged with protective functions of society.

In fact you can see that in practical terms, what often happens is that the second method is mixed with the repetitive element of the first, in that combatants are thrown into battle after some mental/moral/emotional preparation, which continues at varying levels during and after service.

The moral hazards are clear, even in the most carefully wrought cases of the second type. Some combatants will emerge damaged, less sensitive to injury or killing than they were, or want to be. There will be guilt, nightmares, and remorse.  On the other hand, instances of the first type produce monsters and sociopaths at a greater rate, killers without conscience.

So, a morally responsible command, be it military or civilian, will avoid to the greatest extent possible given the circumstances, means which tend toward the first type of desensitization, and will utilize methods that mesh well with the second type; combat will be undertaken within moral strictures that we are in the midst of describing through the various moral paradigms.

It is easily argued that Imperial Japan’s approach to warfare was clearly and unambiguously in the first camp. It is true that there were atrocities on the allied side, and some dehumanization of Japanese in the popular culture, but atrocities were not systematic and were not considered as standard or matter of course by command. They were certainly not ordered or required by civilian and military high command. On the other hand, dehumanization and atrocity were integral to Japan’s expansion. The command required and expected it, Hirohito either explicitly approved or implicitly approved with silence. The distinction between civilian and combatant, did not matter as they mauled Manchuria and China. All were targets of terror and opportunity, to be used, humiliated, starved, experimented upon, and ultimately disposed of.  Hitler’s SS is also a clear example of this first approach to desensitization.

The allied powers, while closer to the second more ideal approach, were, at the time, less attentive to the mentorship and counselor components than they should have been. Indeed, the same holds true today, for veterans of more recent wars. Yet, even with this shortcoming, and the racial aspects referenced above, when compared, the approaches are quite starkly different in moral merit. Imperial Japanese practice is perfectly repulsive, condemnable; Nazi conduct equally so. The same cannot be said of U.S. practice, even admitting its failings. Both Axis states were nakedly aggressive, using violence against civilians from the beginning, as part of policy. Allied powers did not start the war, and did target civilians only under duress and with misgivings.

So, one may argue that for allied powers to use means (such as strategic bombing) that approach the indiscriminate nature of these paradigm cases of malignancy is to inflict the sort of moral harm to allied combatants, command and civilian populations that this Aristotelian view disallows.  It really makes no difference to moral harm if the indiscriminate carnage is dealt at ground level by troops with bayonets or from the air via B-29s.  To choose to use these methods is in effect choosing to respond in kind “sinking to the level of the enemy” as the cliché puts it. This coarsens those who undertake it, those who require it, and the citizens of those nations that back the fight.  In the long run, the states themselves internalize this coarseness and become morally worse for it. 

These sorts of arguments can be made against the use of atomic weapons, from this Aristotelian perspective. To put it in terms of his ‘golden mean,’ when we use these we are too close to the extreme of aggression and disregard for person exemplified by Japan and Germany, and not close enough to that other extreme of pacifism and respect for life. We need to walk our reaction downrange toward that other end. Otherwise a coarsening of character ensues, a coarsening that is not in line with our national character, and the broadly liberal values of the West.

In response to this line of critique from the Virtue Ethics perspective, several things can be said, from that same perspective.  The first is a point that can be called the ‘bystander objection.’ In bystander situations, particularly cases where intervention is possible at little or no risk, yet not undertaken, bystanders will experience guilt and feel themselves falling into desensitization, or something very like it. This negatively impacts character. Thoughts that one could have intervened but chose not to, either from fear for self or for other reasons, will haunt this particular sort of ‘survivor.’ In the case of use of atomic weapons, one can argue there was a sin of commission. Stimson thought so. This is why he labeled the option “abhorrent.” Yet, it is also true, that a refusal to use that option would have been an equally grave bystander’s sin of omission. Stimson also thought so. There is a clear moral hazard here.

One can see, in the post war reflections of Stimson and Truman, precisely this dilemma, when they considered counterfactuals. Both men say they could not have lived with themselves had they not utilized the atomic bombs. Why? They would have in effect stepped back and either allowed the invasion to go forward on Kyushu, November of 1945, and Honshu April of 1946, with all the attendant casualties (very likely 250,000 to 500,000 dead Americans, 1 to 4 million overall allied casualties) or would have necessarily had to take other similarly grievous options.

It was no mere political consideration when they said they could see no way they could look the American public in the eye and tell them they had a weapon that could obviate the need for invasion, or these other options, but chose to shelve it. No. It was a quite pressing moral obligation they felt. To do otherwise would have been deeply irresponsible stewardship toward a largely conscript armed service. It is quite telling that there is no contemporaneous record of a major military leader voicing misgivings about the atomic option; neither King, Leahy, MacArthur, Marshall, nor Eisenhower, despite what they said and wrote well after the fact. Why?  They felt compelled by this same moral obligation.

The same can be said when we consider that Truman’s choices impacted the fate of thousands of POWs, and millions of civilians in what had become an Asian “charnel house” under Japanese occupation.[24]

The point here is that no matter what course would have been taken, guilt or coarsening of character would likely ensue, on Aristotle’s view, and leaders must take on that yoke, as their particular burden in the role of stewards and decision makers holding matters of life and death in their hands. Indeed, if the post war testimony of Truman and Stimson is to be believed, the decision had a decided and lasting moral impact upon them. But, they also report that the impact on their character would have been so great had they abstained, as to cripple their ability to live with themselves. That is saying something.

Yet, we can broaden the scope here, taking into account not only the character of leaders but of the armed forces they lead, and civilian population they protect. There is a moral responsibility to avoid tactics or strategies that coarsen these broader categories of person, especially if you, as Aristotle and the Greeks do, view man as essentially social. A morally warped polis envelops and warps its citizens, probably to a greater extent than is possible sans society.  So, given the amplifying effect of social feedback, the moral danger posed by using abhorrent options only intensifies.

Perhaps, but one must keep in mind that an informed military and public will be aware of the exigencies of the fight, will be aware of whether or not the tactic or strategy is terrorism of first resort. It will be cognizant of whether or not its state is an aggressor or defender, whether or not enemy civilians are targeted and dehumanized as a matter of regular course. To the extent that a force or public is aware that its government obeys civilized laws of war as standard, and parts with them only in extremis, one can imagine that the public character will suffer less damage, less national guilt or coarsening. In fact a clear eyed recognition of the exigencies and the difficult choices forced by them often is the engine for moral and technological improvements that obviate or render less likely the need for repeat performances. There is empirical evidence to that effect in the post war world.  The U.S. and others have significantly strengthened moral, political and legal restrictions against targeting of civilians, for shock or any other purposes and, they have at the same time accelerated technological development in intelligence, targeting and munitions that make such restrictions not mere ideals, but plausible constants.

So, to the extent that there is moral injury in Aristotle’s sense, at least in these sorts of circumstances, it leads to improved national and individual character in the longer term. Getting back to the advice Aristotle might give, it is repeated instances of morally forbidden acts, in non-extreme circumstances that run the much greater risk of degrading character. And, getting to our examples, the U.S. did not repeatedly and with great frequency resort to attack of civilians during the four year course of the war. The U.S. did not surprise attack millions of Chinese, nor did it resort to widespread barbarism and carnage as standard. It did not enslave and starve on a massive scale. Japan did. Because it resorted to shock attacks only in the dire circumstances that had evolved over the course of that war, the U.S. shouldered considerably less risk of moral injury.

It is also possible, in the case where a nation chooses not to utilize some normally forbidden course in extremis, that a citizenry and government could suffer the moral hazard/injury or bystander effect above mentioned, exactly in what form, we may not be able to predict, but it may be some apparent national flaw, perhaps a ‘blind spot’ in some way relevant to the particulars of the choice.  Perhaps the nation would tend to retreat from the world, or be less sensitive to casualties. Counterfactually, we can ask what effect on the U.S. psyche would have occurred if the bombs were never used, and it came to light that they could have been, and could have cut short the war before a very costly invasion of the Japanese home islands occurred. Many would have felt this was an error of omission.

In connection with this notion of moral injury and bystander effect, it is interesting to contrast the responses of Germany and Japan to their WWII era histories. One can argue that moral injury and the bystander’s effect had greater impact upon Japan than Germany, due to the nation’s reticence to come to terms with the actions of Imperial Japan. In both cases the citizenry had to come to terms with national past, but Germany faced it more squarely, apologized, paid reparations, outlawed the Nazi party, faced the sordid past in detail in its educational systems, etc., while Japan engaged in denial, underplayed the atrocities, even engaged in revisionism when it came to Nanking, ‘comfort women’ and other dreadful things.  To the extent that we enabled this in the post war years, we are morally blameworthy. The key thing here, though, is that bystander effect errors of omission can be as debilitating as errors of commission.

In summary, it looks like Aristotelian ethics cuts both ways when it comes to the decision to use the bombs for shock. While it is true that leaders must consider the risks of moral injury involved in their strategic and tactical decisions, it is also true that such injury will happen come what may, and can be tempered with well-reasoned, open and frank discussion, as well as a determination to resort to such actions only in dire or emergency circumstances. Nothing in this view precludes use of normally forbidden measures in true cases of supreme emergency.

We now move to Just War tradition, looking at concepts from that portion of the tradition that looks at the ethical restraints that should be respected during the fight, the so called jus in bello conditions:

Just War (In Bello)

The first concept is one we discussed earlier in connection with Natural Law theory’s Double Effect test; the notion of proportionality. We can briefly expand here: 

With Little Boy and Fat Man, it could be argued (even assuming there was no direct targeting for shock effect), that the ratio of civilian to military casualties was simply too high given the value of the immediate military objectives. While there were significant strategic reasons for targeting Hiroshima, the plausible casualty projections in undertaking the direct tactical goals should have prohibited use.

Best estimates are that Japanese Army casualties at Hiroshima were 3243, from out of the approximately 40,000 Japanese Second Army personnel present. With a population of between 300,000 and 400,000 in August, too many of Hiroshima’s civilians were directly in harm’s way, while it was nonetheless true that the city had targets of both industrial and military significance.  It housed the headquarters of Hata's Second General Army. This was in fact the command for defense of Southern Japan, including Kyushu. He commanded around 400,000 men on Kyushu, prepping for the allied invasion. Also present in Hiroshima were the Headquarters for the 59th Army, the 5th Division and the 224th Division. The city was defended by three anti-aircraft regiments and two battalions. It was well known that Hiroshima had large stockpiles of military supplies, was a communications center, a major port and an assembly area for Japanese forces. 

Nagasaki was home to a major port, and major wartime industry, manufacturing ships, ordnance and other supplies at Mitsubishi Shipyards and various other facilities. Manufacture was mixed among the population houses as well, as had been the case in Tokyo. Approximately 90% of the population was employed by war industry.

Despite all this, the projected casualty rates for non-combatants ranged from 50,000 to 100,000 for each attack, and arguably outweighed the immediate possible tactical benefits.

The response: The ratio is acceptable from the strategic perspective, quite aside from the reasonable belief that the shock effect would take. In combination with invasion, the planned concerted attack on Japanese rail, mining of the ports, and continued blockade, this would have accelerated the end of the war, having had the militarily desired effects more quickly.  However, when contrasted with the war shortening potential of the shock, this would have been a second best alternative, examined through the lens of proportionality. Although by no means a certainty, the targeting committee and those that had designed and built the bomb were convinced there was a reasonable probability of ending the war many months (perhaps years) earlier than anyone had anticipated using conventional means. When you factor in all the hundreds of thousands to millions of lives potentially saved in allied forces, Japan and Asia, the proportionality in the two strikes is much more defensible. One may maintain that one cannot act upon mere probabilities in such cases due to the utter certainty of large number of non-combatant fatalities that will result from the atomic attacks, but this would require further argument, in light of the opposing case. There are no certainties in any of the non-atomic options either. To argue that we must freeze in the face of such uncertainties is to counsel inaction, and acquiescence to Japanese depredations. This discussion of proportionality actually hinges upon a feature of the weapons that accounts for the larger proportion of casualties; their power. This brings us to the next concept from Just War theory:


Con: The yield of the weapons renders them too indiscriminate to ever pass this test. To use them is necessarily to use a very highly indiscriminate weapon. It is never permissible to use these. For similar reasons biological weapons are forbidden. (In fact, during the post war years a similar attitude toward nuclear weapons has formed, arguably because of the attacks upon Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and because of the much larger yield of ensuing weaponry.)

Pro: Given the ordnance and targeting technology of the time if the cumulative effect (casualties) from the lack of discrimination of conventional bombing over a period of days or weeks is comparable to the instantaneous effect in casualties from use of atomic bombs the size of Little Boy and Fat Man, then the following would seem to be true, at least in the context of WWII: If the former is acceptable, within a reasonable time-frame for cessation of hostilities, then so too is the later if the likelihood of victory is significantly increased by their use, ceteris paribus.

One need only recall the casualty levels of the incendiary campaigns, typically carried out in nightly raids, to see that the two atomic bombs were not out of the range of the technology of the time.

Contrast this with the case of megaton yield bombs.  Given the proximity of civilian centers to military targets, and the congestion of Japanese urban areas, the instantaneous effect of a megaton device would be equal to many months, perhaps years of conventional bombing. This would produce a total of civilian casualties well beyond that produced by conventional means in the reasonable time-frame of cessation of hostilities. Therefore one could argue, using this principle, that use of these larger yield weapons remains a moral problem not only in terms of discrimination, but proportionality.

In short, something like this appears to have been at least implicit in the thinking of Roosevelt, Truman, Stimson, Groves, Marshall, Leahy (during the war) and others. The thinking seems to have been something like this: If you consider atomic attacks, the necessary heuristic is to consider them as surrogates for conventional bombing attack. In doing so one must determine whether the casualty levels produced are substantially greater than the likely casualty level that would be produced by using the conventional means for which they substitute, within a reasonable time frame for the conflict (a reasonable period of time in which to attain victory). If the casualty projections are indeed substantially greater from the one time use of the nuclear weapon, than they would be from use of conventional means within this reasonable time frame for victory, then you are not morally allowed to use the nuclear weapons. If, on the other hand, the projected casualty rate from use of the atomic option is well below that projected for conventional means during the reasonable time frame, then it is at least permissible to use them. If the amounts are close to equal, one should use them, if you have good reason to think the quickness of the effect, and likely impact would have a marked effect on the will of the enemy to continue the fight, or upon his material ability to do so. Given the principals believed something like the latter two of these broad conditions to be the satisfied, they felt justified in moving forward with the plans. This brings us to the last of the in bello criteria:

Probability of Success

At the late stages of the war, there was a high probability of eventual capitulation, but great uncertainty as to the time-frame.  It was the considered opinion that conventional means (invasion, blockade, conventional air attack, negotiation, or some combination of these) would be slow in taking hold and costly in allied, Japanese and Asian lives. To unnecessarily end the war with higher levels of these would not have been a success, but a failure.  When the atomic option was added, the considered opinion was that there was a reasonable prospect of an effective shock effect, which would hasten the end of the war, shortening it by at least three months, more probably, many months. This obviously increased the perceived odds of success in the project of saving the hundreds of thousands to millions of lives at stake. It then became a question of whether to continue to fight with that additional tool, and knowingly using it for that shock effect, or not. No one in authority believed he could responsibly forgo that tool, when he considered the responsibilities he had toward American servicemen. What is more: No one could seriously maintain that the probability of success in saving lives was diminished by introduction of the atomic option. At the implausible worst the atomic option would have had no discernable effect on that probability. More reasonably, it was projected to at minimum, hasten the crisis in Japans material ability to wage war. In addition as we have maintained throughout, it was seen as having a good prospect of inflicting a psychological shock that would hasten capitulation even before material means had been exhausted. As we have seen, this is precisely what happened. The Emperor was brought to the realization that the fundamental tenant of Ketsu Go had been kicked out from underneath him. It is hard to visualize any alternative scenario that would have brought this change of mind about so quickly. The accelerated timeline of entry of the Soviets into Manchuria is evidence that they too saw the bombs as having fundamentally altered things. Stalin wanted spoils, as he had acquired in Germany, and evidently realized if he waited even another week, that he would perhaps miss out.[25]

Summary from the Ethical Perspectives and Conclusion

So, as we have seen in this section examining the case from the various philosophical/ethical perspectives, that there are conflicting messages from them. Some viewpoints or tests deliver a clear ‘no’ others a clear or plausible ‘yes,’ yet others ambiguity.  I had said earlier that I believed this was to be expected, and that in this case, due to its particulars, the broadly utilitarian argument that had been made in the first portion of the paper would find precedence. I now need to explain that claim briefly.  I say it for two reasons:

Firstly, we are looking at the case from the point of view of the decision makers, in their roles as military and political leaders, leaders of large institutions (governments) that are charged with stewardship, that is; protection of large citizen populations, including conscripts. As such, they have to make decisions that are best for these populations considered in the aggregate. This is what policy makers do.  In effect, the allied leaders each had particular obligations to their own citizens and armed forces, primarily, but as agents of world civilization, also held duties to foreign nationals secondarily, including, first, allied personnel, then axis civilian and combatants. Because they had a sworn duty to consider things in this way, that had to look at the aggregate effects of the various options and weigh them in terms of these primary and secondary obligations. Given the dire circumstances introduced by Japanese depredation, this ultimately reduced to the task of saving lives, removing the large scale threat to life as quickly and humanely as possible, as the immediate and most pressing responsibility. This is to take up a stance that is primarily utilitarian, in that aggregate number of lives saved becomes the weightiest concern. It is simply a matter of practical limitations that this could only be done in ways that could not save all affected lives, and invariably took some innocent lives in the process. Again, something like the doctrine of double effect or proportionality calculus was in play, as a component of the overall utilitarian goal of preventing as much death as possible. The plausible projections for the set of alternatives pointed the way to Stimson’s ‘least abhorrent choice’ as being precisely that, the least bad of bad options.

The second reason I think the broadly utilitarian justification weighs most heavily is, I suspect more convoluted or abstract, but consider it: From the point of view of each of the perspectives that delivers a clear ‘no,’ upon application to Stimson’s ‘least abhorrent choice’ this seems to obtain: If one were to respect the stated principle that exemplifies that perspective, to the hilt, in the circumstance of supreme emergency, this would probably spell the doom of the very way of life that the principle enhances or preserves in the aftermath of the war. For, each of these values is a value that was not respected by Japan or Germany.  To take an example; if one were to rigorously adhere to the course that the ‘mere means’ formulation of the categorical imperative requires, then, at the very least, one would be ensuring the greater probability of survival and success of the vile states and their war aims. In so doing, one will have succeeded in creating or allowing an environment that has no place for respect of that very imperative, dooming many millions to death or slavery at least for a more protracted period. Similarly, if one were to adhere to the strict letter of the law with regard to the doctrine of double effect, and refuse to undertake any action that made direct use of shock in order to bring about the preservation of the millions of lives at risk, one would have at least increased the life span of a regime and possible world order that doesn’t give a damn about that very principle, as a matter of course. Again, millions would pay the price, millions would be potential targets of routine terror.

Paradoxically, there are cases where preservation or maintenance of civilizations that honor these moral principles will require violations of those same principles. Supreme emergency during war is such a circumstance. When in supreme emergency, in order to preserve the way of life which includes respect for those principles, one must remove the threat to the continued existence of that way of life. But in order to do that, again you have to look toward preservation of the aggregate, and sometimes must take actions that do not concur with a universal and rigorous following of the very principles that constitute the moral center of that way of life.

To put this in Kantian terms, one may either feel it is ones duty to always and in every case act by the set of rules that a fully enlightened and moral society would live by or one may feel the correct course is to do ones best to create such a society or preserve any elements of it that already exist. This latter may require that we ‘dirty our hands.’ As Rae Langton puts it when she considers the ‘kingdom of ends’ formulation of Kant’s categorical imperative:

How should we think of Kant's ideal: is the Kingdom an ideal to be lived by, or a goal to be sought? If it is ever the latter, then sometimes - in evil circumstances - it will be permissible and even required, to act strategically for the Kingdom's sake.[26]

Bringing this back to the end of the Pacific war, the United States and its major allies had every moral reason to insist on terms of surrender that stripped Imperial Japan of all power. Clearly this made any concessions to the war party’s four conditions ethically untenable and further has the result that that prudential compromise which allowed Hirohito’s continued purchase on life a much more difficult and questionable Allied decision.[27]  Given the moral urgency of ending the war as quickly as possible Truman and Stimson realized that hands would be dirtied come what may. It is not merely possible, but quite probable that their chosen course was indeed the least dirty available to them. In our imperfect world, we necessarily must build and preserve against the darkness, and this sometimes forces us to take the least abhorrent option.


[1] See Paul Fussell’s classic reflection of the infantry officer’s or  GI’s perspective on the quick end to the war: “Thank God for the Atom Bomb” The New Republic - August 1981
[2] The term, introduced by Walzer, in his seminal Just and Unjust Wars, (1977) Basic Books, has become a term of art in ethics. Part of the essay’s discussion involves an analysis of the conception.
[3] For an excellent narrative of this history, see the first few chapters of Pandora's Keepers: Nine Men and the Atomic Bomb by Brian VanDeMark, Back Bay Books (2005)
[4] This is reference to the contention of Michael Walzer in Just and Unjust Wars, pages 267-68, that there was a substantial moral difference between Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. For him, Japan was involved in a “more ordinary kind of military expansion,” which did not morally require complete conquest.  For him, the form of its domestic government was only of import for Japan itself. Evidence overwhelmingly suggests he is simply wrong about this. Walzer allows for the moral permissibility of Britain attacking German cities, inflicting civilian deaths, during the height of the Blitz, due to Britain’s circumstance satisfying the conditions for ‘supreme emergency,’ the emergency due both to the vile nature of Nazi Germany and its direct major attacks upon London and other cities. The prospects for England, given defeat, were sufficiently dire: German forces would treat Britain as it had Poland, or worse. At this same point in the discussion, Walzer argues that Stimson and others had no such dire circumstance in view when defending their decisions, but defended the use of atomic weapons by contrasting use of the weapons with the dire non-nuclear alternative actions the Allies themselves would have to take against Japan in order to force unconditional surrender (blockade, invasion and continued conventional/incendiary bombing raids). (Indeed, the Stimson quote that opens this paper bears this out.) Walzer argues his two conditions were not met: There was no immediate risk to the U.S. proper and Imperial Japan was not a threat to civilization. He argues the war aim (unconditional surrender) was not justified, given the ‘ordinary’ nature of Imperial Japan. This couldn’t be more wrong. If the vile nature of Germany created a threat to civilization, and a moral imperative to remove that state from existence, so too did the vile nature of Imperial Japan. One can, of course, respond to this by taking the other horn, pointing out that a supreme emergency did not exist for the continental United States. Perhaps, but one must ask in response, where the million plus conscript Marines, sailors, soldiers and airmen came from who were grimly preparing for invasion? Finally, the supreme and immediate emergency most certainly did exist for the millions in occupied Asia. For years, there was massive exploitation, expropriation, barbarism and carnage, just as heinous as that undertaken by Nazi Germany. What is more; occupied Asia could not adequately defend itself. Was the U.S. to holster its might, negotiate surrender less than unconditional, and leave these vulnerable populations under the thumb or in the shadow of a less than humbled Japan? What would have been the result in Manchuria, China, the Philippines, Korea, Indonesia and other areas? Should the U.S. have offered compromise and negotiated settlement? That seems morally problematic, especially when one considers the scale of the inhumanity and the considerable time negotiations would undoubtedly have taken. Would similar lenient diplomatic courses have been acceptable in the German case in March or April of 1945? Should we have offered Hitler something less than unconditional surrender? Should he have been given the option of staying on as a mere figurehead Fuhrer? If not, then why not? And, more importantly, what material moral difference can be pointed to between Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany in this regard? I believe none.  The principals were quite well aware of Imperial Japan’s nature, just as much as they were aware of Nazi Germany’s nature, Stimson in particular, who was Secretary of state in 1931 as Japan invaded Manchuria. This awareness is in fact the best explanation for the insistence on unconditional surrender. A final point: if one objects that Japan was near defeat, and no longer posed an existential threat to civilization, thus obviating the need to take atomic measures, one is also saying that one is morally comfortable with the resultant extended war and all the terrible consequences of such not only in Japan, but in Asia.
[5] Again, see Pandora’s Keepers for interesting narratives of these debates amongst the physicists responsible for the Manhattan Project and thermonuclear devices.
[6] Richard B. Frank’s Downfall provides a harrowing account of these incendiary raids in its opening chapter. Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire. New York: (Random House, 1999).
[7] Japan, in particular had bombed Shanghai as early as 1932, killing tens of thousands.
[8] For a good discussion of the Big Six reactions and debate, see Sadao Asada “The Shock of the Atomic Bomb and Japan’s Decision to Surrender – A Reconsideration,” in Hiroshima in History, The Myths of Revisionism, Ed. Robert James Maddox.
[9] It is quite plausibly argued that the ethical window for Germany had in fact closed by the time of the Ardennes offensive, if one means by this that Germany had passed beyond the point of having a reasonable expectation of success. To use a term, it was defeated even if it did not admit it and was not contemplating surrender. On those grounds it might be argued that it would be impermissible to use atomic weapons or, as Walzer maintains, strategic bombing of cities, in order to hasten the end of hostilities. To take this position is to imply or argue that one accepts the higher level of casualties and deaths that result from such reticence as morally preferable to the lower amount of casualties that would have resulted from the quicker end, due to the fact that the higher level casualty scenario does not include any casualties that were intentionally targeted German civilians, even if it does include higher numbers of French, Polish, Russian, & etc. civilians that were intentionally targeted by Germany. Accordingly, it is implied by this line of reasoning that it is of such import that the allies not intentionally target civilians that it is worth the higher cost in intentionally targeted civilian deaths by Axis powers. That’s the rub. 
[10] This scenario is a variation on one from Jonathan Glover.
[11] This was the case in Tokyo, found amongst the burned out ruins of residences were large numbers of drill presses, lathes and other sorts of machinery, used to machine parts that would be taken to the nearby factories for use in manufacturing material of war.  See Richard B. Franks Downfall
[12] A harrowing if somewhat polemical book length presentation of the fascistic nature of Imperial Japan is Saburo Ienaga’s The Pacific War, 1931-1945.
[13] The following several paragraphs draw from the work of Werner Gruhl, Imperial Japan's World War Two: 1931-1945. See also “It's Time to Acknowledge that Hiroshima Followed Imperial Japan’s Decision to Launch a Terrible War on Its Neighbors”
[14] A definitive account of one small part of this depredation is contained in Iris Chang’s The Rape of Nanking.
[15] A particularly harrowing account of one of many such incidents, aboard three consecutive ships including a passenger ship Oryoku Maru, can be found on pages 204 to 215 in Ghost Soldiers, by Hampton Sides, Anchor Books, (2001).  That this treatment of POWs was widespread and routine, see Daws Prisoners of the Japanese. As well, see:
[16] For a good discussion of the shortcomings and internal contradictions of the Survey, see “Advocacy or Assessment? The United States Strategic Bombing Survey of Germany and Japan,” Gian Peri Gentile, in Hiroshima and History, the Myths of Revisionism, Ed. Robert James Maddox, University of Missouri Press.
[17] The most famous, if not seminal, book relating this narrative is Gar Alperovitz’s Atomic Diplomacy, Hiroshima and Potsdam, Vintage Press, 1966.
[18] This exchange, dating from July 14  to July 22, 1945, and can be found in Kort, Michael, The Columbia Guide to Hiroshima and the Bomb, Columbia University Press, 2007
[19] The term comes from Gavan Daws, Prisoners of the Japanese, 1996, page 363.
[20] Here I most decidedly do not mean what is usually meant by this phrase, but rather refer to the atomic bomb’s demonstrated potential to push the Japanese into diplomatic action!
[21] For an excellent and succinct summary of the Ketsu Go plans as well as allied invasion plans, and the controversy over casualty estimates see Marine Amphibious Corps Planning for Operation Olympic and the Role of Intelligence, Major Mark P. Arens, USMCR [MCIA], as well as “Intelligence Forecasting for the Invasion of Japan: Preview of Hell, Edward J. Drea, in Hiroshima in History: The Myths of Revisionism, University of Missouri Press, (2007). The discussion here of the civilian guerilla forces is derived from Arens. Another excellent and thorough strategic and tactical level review comes from D.M Giangreco’s Hell to Pay: Operation Downfall and the Invasion of Japan, 1945 to 1947.
[22] As was the case in Hiroshima. Allied airmen were held there.
[23] Iris Chang chillingly describes just such a regimen in the Imperial Japanese military educational system during the years leading up to WWII in The Rape of Nanking.  Saburo Ienaga gives a lengthy and chilling account from inside Japan of the internal security apparatus and indoctrination methods used upon the Japanese population in his The Pacific War. This started in the Meiji era (1868) and intensified over the decades.
[24] Again, the term is Gavan Daws’ Prisoners of the Japanese, page 363.
[25] For a thorough presentation of Stalin’s rapaciousness in Europe after the German surrender one can do no better than read the narrative in Stanley Weintraub’s  The Last Great Victory: The End of World War II, July/August 1945, Dutton Books, 1995
[26] Rae Langton, “Maria von Herbert's Challenge to Kant”
[27] This was one among several morally dubious choices to forgo punishment for war crimes, a particularly egregious case being a bargain struck with the vile General Ishii Shiro, commander of Unit 731, which granted him immunity from prosecution in return for data he had gleaned from barbaric human experimentation. Similar deals were made with German scientists.

Further Reading/Works used and cited

Stimson, Henry L., “The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb,”  Harper's Magazine, 194:1161 (1947:Feb.) p.97

Double Effect, Double Intention, and Asymmetric Warfare, Steven Lee

“Terrorism and the Philosophers: Can the ends ever justify the means?” Jim Holt

Justified? An Analysis of Ethics Concerning the Nuclear Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, David Miloscia (2015)

Noncombatant Immunity and Truman’s Decision, Richard Schoonhoven

Rae Langton, “Maria von Herbert's Challenge to Kant”

“Thank God for the Atom Bomb” The New Republic - August 1981, Paul Fussell

Marine Amphibious Corps Planning for Operation Olympic and the Role of Intelligence in Support of Planning. Major Mark P. Arens, USMCR [MCIA]

Operation Downfall: Planned Invasion of the Islands of Japan in World War II

The Abiding Significance of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Christopher O. Tollefsen               

The Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima: A Reasonable and Just Decision, Montaniel  S. Navarro

The Final Months of the War With Japan: Signals Intelligence, U.S. Invasion Planning, and the A-Bomb Decision

Hiroshima and ethics, Oliver Kamm

Still Waiting for an Apology, Review of Gavan Daws Prisoners of the Japanese: POWs of World War II in the Pacific

“US prisoners of war had parts of their brains and livers removed during WWII, new Japanese exhibit shows”  The Independent, UK

A list of Japanese Hell Ships, used to transport Allied POWs

Potsdam Declaration

Liberation Of Major Nazi Camps, 1944-1945, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

Researching Japanese War Crimes, Drea, Badsher, Hanyok, Lide, Peterson, Yang. Published by the National Archives and Records Administration for the Nazi War Crimes and Japanese Imperial Government Records Interagency Working Group


Allen, Thomas B. and Norman Polmar. Code-Name Downfall. (Simon & Schuster, 1995).

Gavan Daws Prisoners of the Japanese: POWs of World War II in the Pacific, 1996

Drea, Edward J. "Japanese Preparations for the Defense of the Homeland & Intelligence Forecasting for the Invasion of Japan". In the Service of the Emperor: Essays on the Imperial Japanese Army (University of Nebraska Press, 1988).

Miscamble, Wilson, The Most Controversial Decision: Truman, the Atomic Bombs, and the Defeat of Japan (Cambridge Essential Histories), 2011

Robert James Maddox, Hiroshima in History: The Myths of Revisionism, University of Missouri Press, 2011

Spector, Ronald H., Eagle Against the Sun: the American War with Japan. (Random House, 1985).

Spector, Ronald H., In the Ruins of Empire: The Japanese Surrender and the Battle for Postwar Asia. (Random House)

Skates, John Ray. The Invasion of Japan: Alternative to the Bomb. (University of South Carolina Press, 1994).

Gruhl, Werner, Imperial Japan's World War Two: 1931-1945, Transaction Publishers (2007)

Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars Basic Books (1977)

Brian VanDeMark, Pandora's Keepers: Nine Men and the Atomic Bomb, Bay Books (2005)

Iris Chang, The Rape of Nanking, Penguin Books, (1997)

Ienaga, Saburo, The Pacific War, 1931-1945, Random House, 1975

Bix, Herbert, P. Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, Harper Collins, 2000

Kort, Michael, The Columbia Guide to Hiroshima and the Bomb, Columbia University Press, 2007

Weintraub, Stanley, The Last Great Victory

Giangreco, D.M. Hell to Pay: Operation Downfall and the Invasion of Japan, 1945 to 1947. Naval Institute Press, 2009

Alperovitz, Gar, Atomic Diplomacy: Hiroshima and Potsdam, Vintage Book, 1966

Franks, Richard B, Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire, Penguin Books, 2001