Father Wilson Miscamble
By July of 1945, the Japanese had undergone months of devastating attacks by American B-29s. Their capital and other major cities had suffered extensive damage, and their home islands were subjected to a naval blockade that made food and fuel increasingly scarce. Japanese military and civilian losses had reached approximately three million, and there seemed to be no end in sight. Despite all this, Japan’s leaders and military clung fiercely to notions of Ketsu-Go: a plan that centered on inflicting such punishment on the invader in defense of the homeland that he would sue for terms. In fact, even after Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the Soviet attack in Manchuria, the Japanese military still wanted to pursue that desperate option, but Emperor Hirohito broke the impasse in the Japanese government and ordered surrender. He came to understand that the atomic bomb undermined (as the brilliant historian Richard Frank has noted) “the fundamental premise” of Ketsu-Go “that the United States would have to invade Japan to secure a decision” in the war. Ultimately, the atomic bombs allowed the emperor and the “peace faction” in the Japanese government to negotiate an end to the war.
Of course, the United States eventually could have defeated Japan without the atomic bomb, but all the viable alternate scenarios to secure victory—continued obliteration bombing of Japanese cities and infrastructure, a choking blockade, the likely terrible invasions involving massive firepower—would have meant significantly greater Allied casualties and higher Japanese civilian and military casualties. These casualties would likely have included thousands of Allied prisoners of war whom the Japanese planned to execute. Notably, all of these options also would have indirectly involved some “intentional killing of innocents,” including the naval blockade, which sought to starve the Japanese into submission. Hard as it may be to accept when one sees the visual evidence of the terrible destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japanese losses probably would have been substantially greater without the A-bombs.
Moreover, the use of these awful weapons abruptly ended the death and suffering of innocent third parties throughout Asia. Rather surprisingly, the enormous wartime losses of the Chinese, Koreans, Filipinos, Vietnamese, and Javanese at the hands of the Japanese receive little attention in weighing the American effort to shock the Japanese into surrender. The losses in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were horrific, but they pale in comparison to the estimates of seventeen to twenty-four million deaths attributed to the Japanese’s hideous rampage from Manchuria to New Guinea. The thoughtful scholar Robert Newman explains that “the last months were in many ways the worst; starvation and disease aggravated the usual beatings, beheadings and battle deaths. It is plausible to hold that upwards of two-hundred-fifty thousand people, mostly Asian but some Westerners, would have died each month the Japanese Empire struggled in its death throes beyond July 1945.” Surely these persons also are “innocents” deserving of some concern in our moral calculations?
Bluntly put, the atomic bombs shortened the war, averted the need for a land invasion, saved countless more lives on both sides of the ghastly conflict than they cost, and brought to an end the Japanese brutalization of the conquered peoples of Asia.
Subsequent to their use, Harry Truman maintained that dropping the bombs had been necessary, having ended the war and saved numerous lives. This conviction, however, did not stave off his own serious moral qualms about the action. He never again spoke of the atomic bombs as military weapons to which the United States could make easy resort. He rightly indicated some retreat from his pre-Hiroshima view that the A-bomb was just another military weapon.
Father Wilson Miscamble, a professor at Notre Dame, brings us this news, that, in morally saner times, would be regarded as a bad attempt at a joke:
Notre Dame’s Board of Trustees gathers on campus this week. Committee meetings will be held on Thursday, followed by the full board meeting on Friday, and then the much-anticipated football game against Stanford on Saturday. Not much is expected to emerge from the meetings themselves. It will be appear to be business as usual. But in fact, something deeply troubling will have happened.
Sadly, at Notre Dame – as indeed at many other Catholic universities – many board members are essentially passive bystanders selected mainly for their “giving potential,” as it is delicately put, rather than for their qualifications to fulfill the serious responsibility mandated for them in Ex Corde Ecclesiaeto maintain and strengthen the Catholic identity of the university.
Board members are usually not deeply familiar with Catholic higher education. They are easily “guided” by the administration to desired decisions. Whatever their limitations, however, many are no doubt committed Catholics who genuinely want Notre Dame to be an authentically Catholic institution. And most trustees have not damaged Notre Dame’s mission as a Catholic university.
This is about to change at the October meeting, when Ms. Katie Washington will take her “junior trustee” position on the board, to which she was elected last May. Ms. Washington was Notre Dame’s 2010 valedictorian and is now enrolled at Johns Hopkins Medical School.
In 2012, she joined several of her medical school colleagues in authoring an op-ed piece in the Baltimore Sun criticizing the Catholic Church’s position on the Obamacare contraception/abortifacient mandate. She revealed her belief that all religious employers should be required by law to provide contraception and abortifacient coverage whatever their religiously grounded objections.
Her op-ed singled out “national Catholic leaders” for reproach, and specifically criticized then Cardinal-designate Edwin O’Brien of Baltimore. Her animosity to the Church’s position – the very one which Notre Dame has embraced in its lawsuit against the Obama administration – was clear. She has not subsequently qualified or retracted her statement.
She presumably favors the continued federal coercion of those like the Little Sisters of the Poor whose conscience forbids them to agree to morally objectionable Obamacare provisions. Nonetheless, this supporter of the Obama Administration’s assault on the religious liberty of institutions like Notre Dame has gained appointment to the governing board of the university.
Regrettably, this appointment was made upon the initiative of University President Fr. John Jenkins and by vote of the twelve-member Board of Fellows, made up of six Holy Cross priests and six laypersons. It happened, however, without their being briefed on Ms. Washington’s hostility to religious liberty and Notre Dame’s claim of conscience. Continue reading
We have discovered the most terrible bomb in the history of the world. It may be the fire destruction prophesied in the Euphrates Valley Era, after Noah and his fabulous Ark.
Harry Truman, Diary entry-July 25, 1945
A bit late for the annual Saint Blog’s August Bomb Follies, but here is a new Prager University video by Father Wilson Miscamble defending Harry Truman’s decision to use the atomic bombs to bring World War II to a rapid conclusion. I will repeat here what I wrote back on July 24, 2012 after Father Miscamble made an earlier video on the subject:
Getting the annual Saint Blogs August Bomb Follies off to an early start. Father Wilson Miscamble, Professor of History at Notre Dame, and long a champion of the pro-life cause, defends the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the video above. The video is a summary of the conclusions reached by Father Miscamble in his recent book, The Most Controversial Decision. Go here to read a review of the book by British military historian Andrew Roberts. Go here to read a review of the book by Father Michael P. Orsi. Go here to read a review by Michael Novak.
I echo the conclusions of Father Wilson Miscamble and appreciate his heroic efforts to clear up the bad history and inane American self-flagellation that has distorted a very straight-forward historical event. I also appreciate his willingness to take the heat that his position has caused him. Go here to read his response to a critique by Professor Christopher Tollefsen. This portion of his response is something I have noted in regard to many critics of Truman, an unwillingness to address the consequences of not dropping the bombs:
It is when one turns to alternate courses of action that the abstract nature of Tollefsen’s criticisms becomes apparent. He criticizes Truman’s actions as immoral but offers no serious proposal regarding a viable alternative. Elizabeth Anscombe had naively suggested that Truman alter the terms of surrender, but such an approach only would have strengthened the hand of the Japanese militarists and confirmed their suicidal strategy. Tollefsen concedes that “it might well be true that greater suffering would have resulted from a refusal to use the atomic weapons in Japan,” but he backs away from any genuine discussion of what Truman should have done and of what that “greater suffering” might have involved. He provides no evidence that he has considered this matter at all. But should philosophers be able to avoid outlining what they would have done in the demanding circumstances that Truman confronted? I have always thought that moral reflection wrestles with the awful and painful realities. Tollefsen seems to want to stand above the fray, to pronounce Truman’s actions as deeply immoral and to leave it at that. It would have brought greater clarity to this discussion if he had confronted the alternatives seriously.
If Tollefsen were to engage the military issues involved in the war in the Pacific, I suspect he would be forced to raise further objections to the American military practices pursued well before the Enola Gay flew toward Hiroshima. Take as but one example the early 1945 Battle for Manila, in which approximately one hundred thousand Filipino civilians were killed. Some were killed by the Japanese, but many of this large number were killed by aggressive American air and artillery bombardments used, without particular regard for civilian casualties, as the American forces sought to dislodge an established enemy that refused to surrender. These harsh tactics could not meet Tollefsen’s criteria with regard to means. Given his unbending approach on moral absolutes, I assume he would condemn the action; but just what military means would he support in trying to defeat a foe that considered surrender the ultimate disgrace and who fought accordingly? Similarly, Tollefsen could hardly approve of the military force utilized in the taking of Okinawa and the high number of civilian casualties that resulted.
I suspect that Professor Tollefsen would be willing to say that it would be better to do absolutely nothing and to live with the consequences, if I may use that word, than to use morally questionable tactics. But the decision not to act undoubtedly would have incurred terrible consequences. Surely such inaction would carry some burden of responsibility for the prolongation of the killing of innocents throughout Asia, in the charnel house of the Japanese Empire. Is it really “moral” to stand aside, maintaining one’s supposed moral purity, while a vast slaughter is occurring at the rate of over two hundred thousand deaths a month? Isn’t there a terrible dilemma here, namely, which innocent lives to save? Would Tollefsen really have rested at peace with the long-term Japanese domination of Asia? Would that be a pro-life position?
Let me confess that I would prefer that my position had the clarity of Professor Tollefsen’s. It is a large concession to admit that Truman’s action was the “least evil.” Arguing that it was the least-harmful option open to him will hardly be persuasive to those who see everything in a sharp black-and-white focus. Yet this is how I see it. If someone can present to me a viable and more “moral way” to have defeated the Japanese and ended World War II, I will change my position. I suppose my position here has some resonance with my support for the policy of deterrence during the Cold War. I could recognize the moral flaws in the strategy but still I found it the best of the available options, and the alternatives were markedly worse. Interestingly, I think the author of Veritatis Splendor thought the same thing and he conveyed that view to the American bishops as they wrote their peace pastoral letter.
I trust that my pro-life credentials will not be questioned because I refuse to denounce Truman as a “mass-murderer.” Unlike Tollefsen, I do not think that my position initiates the unraveling of the entire pro-life garment. I believe Truman pursued the least-harmful course of action available to him to end a ghastly war, a course that resulted in the least loss of life.
Harry Truman knew that if he ordered the dropping of the bombs, a very large number of Japanese civilians would be killed. He also knew that if he did not drop the bombs it was virtually certain that a far larger number of civilians, Allied, in territory occupied by Japan, as well as Japanese, would be killed, as a result of the war grinding on until the war ceased due to an invasion of Japan, continued massive conventional bombing of Japan, or a continuation of the blockade which would result in mass famine in Japan. He also knew that an invasion of Japan would have led to massive, almost unthinkable, US military casualties, to add to the 416,000 US deaths and 670,000 US wounded that World War II had already cost. The morality of Truman’s dropping of the bombs has been a subject of debate since 1945. Comparatively little attention has been paid to the practical and moral consequences of Truman failing to act. Father Miscamble is to be congratulated for examining this facet of Truman’s Dilemma. Continue reading
Father Wilson Miscamble, not content to stir the pot by defending Truman in regard to the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in the above video attacks the myth that there is a shortage of able Catholic scholars to fill academic positions at Notre Dame and other Catholic colleges and universities. This speech I assume was given as a response to this resolution of the Notre Dame faculty senate on April 9, 2012: The University should not compromise its academic aspirations in its efforts to maintain its Catholic identity.
The Sycamore Trust, a group seeking to preserve the Catholic identity of Notre Dame, and which sponsored the speech of Father Miscamble, has published this charming rant from an unnamed Notre Dame professor in response to criticisms that a Notre Dame department has listed pro-abort organizations as potential employers of Notre Dame interns: Continue reading
Getting the annual Saint Blogs August Bomb Follies off to an early start. Father Wilson Miscamble, Professor of History at Notre Dame, and long a champion of the pro-life cause, defends the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the video above. The video is a summary of the conclusions reached by Father Miscamble in his recent book, The Most Controversial Decision. Go here to read a review of the book by British military historian Andrew Roberts. Go here to read a review of the book by Father Michael P. Orsi. Go here to read a review by Michael Novak. Continue reading