Is it right to do one monstrous wrong in order to produce a world-changing positive impact on all deprived, desperate, deformed, diseased, and dying people of the world? The Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky, in perhaps the world’s greatest novel The Brothers Karamazov, seeks to answer that question.
The character Ivan Karamazov, a flaming atheist, blames God for permitting the innocent to suffer (Don’t they all?). Then Ivan asks his brother Alyosha, a professed believer if he would do a bad act if it resulted in the eternal happiness of mankind. His required act would be to torture an innocent child, after which this eternal happiness would come into existence.
Ivan asks, “Would you consent to be the architect under those conditions? Tell me honestly!” “No, I wouldn’t agree,” said Alyosha quietly.
Neither would I. The basic premise doing evil that good may come of it is flawed.
It is tempting to do one act of cruelty that would give sight to every blind person, permit the crippled to walk, and eliminate all deadly diseases in the world. However, my refusal would not be a lack of concern for others, but because of personal honor, responsibility, and accountability. Every person on earth must give an account for his or her own actions.
I am not responsible for decisions made by world leaders; however, I must give a personal account for what I do and my motives for doing it. Even if doing wrong would result in much good, I cannot do it—no matter how strong my altruistic desires may be.
That now brings me to a very practical, personal, and problematic decision made in a time of war. What are my obligations before God for actions in the time of a national emergency?
I have often silently questioned the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (neither was a vital military target) to end WWII and restore relative peace, permanency, and prosperity to the world. After much thought, I would not have dropped those bombs nor done the bombings of Hamburg and Dresden!
It has been long recognized that bombing of enemy barracks, communication centers, railroads, airports, and fuel depots was acceptable, but never targeting civilians. Churchill changed that followed by Hitler’s nightly bombing of London.
No, I am not a pacifist. I believe in personal defense, and I believe a nation must defend itself. Japan attacked us; we had to respond. Roosevelt had cut off Japan’s oil supply, basically a death blow to an oil-starved nation, so the Japanese leaders retaliated; however, they did attack us. But was there justification for dropping the atomic bombs, killing 185,000 innocent civilians?
The experts told us that up to a million American lives would be lost if an invasion of Japan were launched. Moreover, the argument was made that in killing so many people in nuclear blasts, it would drive Japan to the negotiating table; however, Japan had been willing to surrender but not “unconditionally” as required by the Allied Powers. That is what continued the war.
If I had been a soldier during WWII, I suppose I would have been a pilot since I later became one and a plane owner. I would have had no problem being a fighter pilot since that is a one-on-one fight between two soldiers in defense of their nation’s objectives. However, if I had flown over Hamburg with a load of bombs knowing there were thousands of innocent people below that had nothing to do with the war, I could not have pushed a button and released the bombs on innocent people. From 42,000 to 45,000 people died in the destruction of Hamburg with more people dying in that bombing alone than in the entire German bombing campaign against England!
Many would call my refusal to bomb German civilians treason to my country, but I’m convinced it is faithfulness to God; however, this is one time I must not be too hard on my critics. I might be, notice I said, I might be wrong, but my Bible-based conscience says I’m right.
During the closing stages of the war in 1945, Churchill reveled in bombing the German populace and refugees as they tried to escape from Germany. He knew terror worked. Churchill revealed his desire to use terror bombing in a memorandum in November 1942 in which he declared that “all the industrial cities should be attacked in an intense fashion, every effort being made to terrorize and paralyze the population.” Yes, Churchill was a terrorist, but he was “our” terrorist, and President Roosevelt agreed with his decision to terrorize and kill civilians. Stalin was delighted.
Dresden was an old city with few military targets (and not one anti-aircraft gun) and was crowded with refugees from Breslau fleeing the Russian advance into Germany. Breslau had experienced a killing field that cost the lives of 170,000 civilians. The refuges and Dresden citizens, thinking they were relatively safe were shocked on the night of February 13, 1945, to see 800 RAF bombers dropped more than 1,400 tons of bombs and more than 1,100 tons of incendiaries over the city creating a massive firestorm that incinerated an estimated 25,000 to over 300,000 civilian deaths!
The Dresden bombing was the most controversial and tragic bombing of the war. Even a certified butcher would have difficulty defending it.
About six months later, President Truman decided to end the war by using the atomic bomb against Hiroshima and Nagasaki; but contrary to what most people think, it was not a universally approved decision. However, it was a popular decision in America at the time.
Under Secretary of the Navy Ralph Bird, General Curtis LeMay, Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, former President Herbert Hoover, and President Truman’s chief of staff Admiral William Leahy had voiced protests about using the bomb, but their protests had no impact on Truman’s decision.
The President, no doubt thinking it was the wise decision, ordered the Japanese cities to be bombed in August of 1945. In 1946, Truman ordered U.S. Bombing Survey to be done a few months after the two Japanese cities were bombed, and it decided, “Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated.”
The use of nuclear bombs killing 185,000 innocent people within a few days and injuring 135,000 more was unnecessary; furthermore, the nuclear genie was released from the bottle.
It was discovered years later that many famous, powerful American officials disagreed with the decision to use the Bomb.
Norman Cousins, a famous author, editor, and aide to General MacArthur, asked the general about dropping the bomb, and “He replied that he saw no military justification for the dropping of the bomb. The war might have ended weeks earlier, he said, if the United States had agreed, as it later did anyway, to the retention of the institution of the emperor.”
General Eisenhower confessed, “The Japanese were ready to surrender, and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing” (Newsweek, 11/11/63).
Soon after the bombing of Japan, Admiral William F. Halsey, commander of the Third Fleet, was publicly quoted as stating that the atomic bomb was used because the scientists had a “toy and they wanted to try it out …The first atomic bomb was an unnecessary experiment…It was a mistake to ever drop it.”
Concerning the war in Europe, Hitler said, “Terrorism is the best political weapon for nothing drives people harder than a fear of sudden death.” The definition of terrorism is “the targeting of innocent civilians to achieve a political goal.” Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin used terror against a German terrorist with a bad haircut and funny mustache who had grandiose military ambitions.
The Allies, ostensibly taking the high ground in all matters, decided to become temporary terrorists!
Only God requires and deserves unqualified obedience. However, to quote Alyosha, the youngest of the Karamazov brothers, “If God is dead, everything is permitted.” But God is not dead. He’s not even sick. And it is He to whom each person is responsible.
The dropping of atomic bombs on Japan and the unnecessary bombing of civilians was wrong, but then only a fool or fanatic says military leaders always make the right decisions.
There is nothing wrong with resisting an authority to obey a higher authority though unpleasant human consequences may follow.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of thIs publication.