Ex post facto moral judgements

My friend Chris linked to a interesting article over on Facebook about a sober anniversary that comes around every August 6: the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The author makes the point that, without that bomb and the one dropped on Nagasaki three days later, the defeat of Japan would have been achieved by a bloody invasion involving millions of American and Japanese casualties compared to the more than 200,000 dead from the bombs.

I do not deny that the use of atomic weapons to end the war with Japan was a shocking event that continues to resonate even today, nor do I deny that making that choice created decades-long consequences that very few people could have anticipated at the time, but I reject out of hand the moral revisionism practiced by far too many people today that claims that the actions undertaken 65 years ago today were wrong even if they achieved right results.

In order for anyone to make some sort of judgement, that person must ignore certain facts in favor of a narrowed view that takes into account only those facts that support their own world view. We are all guilty of that kind of relativism, no matter how hard we try, but the kind of relativism that settles on the idea that it was wrong to use atomic weapons even though they saved millions of lives is itself immoral.

War is a horrible and evil thing, yet any rational person can look at human history and realize, despite the best efforts of well intended people, war is sometimes inevitable. Once war happens, whatever its causes, the only moral way to prosecute it is to fight it by whatever means ends it most quickly. In the fight against the Japanese, using atomic weapons achieved that goal.

The end of the war against Japan is also a historical object lesson for our own time. Sometimes war is inevitable, no matter how well intended people might otherwise be. Once war happens, the only moral way to prosecute it is to fight by whatever means ends it most quickly. If we fail to do what needs to be done, we are no longer acting morally, and in doing so we lose whatever justification we might have had.

Imagine how different our view of the end of the war against Japan would be if today marked the first day of the invasion of the Japanese mainland. Now imagine how different our view of world events today may be if we fail to act with the same resolve.


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