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Bombings of Hiroshima and NagasakiEssay

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War Morality

The author of this report has been asked to offer an essay based on some questions that center on the work of Jonathan Glover. The first question that will be answered will be what the principal psychological processes through which moral identity is neutralized or negated when it comes to "war at a distance." Further, it will be exampled how these psychological processes could or should be looked at when it comes to the actions of the United States during World War II, most notably the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Based on Glover's principles, it is asked whether the use of the atomic bomb was consistent or inconsistent with the ideas of a just war. It will also be identified why this is or is not the case. The position enumerated by the author of this report shall be explained and expanded so that a thoughtful person posing the question and waiting for an answer can take in the information despite being skeptical. While the main purpose of a war is to win it, there is something to be said for the use of atomic bombs on civilian targets and drone strikes in general being worthy of further analysis.


As Glover notes in his text, war conducted at a distance is a different animal. Specifically, he says that the entire psychology of war at a distance is different. He says that he moral resources are not threatened by the "ecstasy which overwhelms them in close combat" (Glover, 2000). Indeed, the notions of respect and sympathy are very detached from someone who initiates or is otherwise involved in a situation where anyone, innocent or not, is killed due to the actions of a strike that was done from afar. To be certain, the actions of the United States when it comes to the Enola Gay and the atomic bombs that were dropped fall under this category. The fact that the targets were intentionally civilian in nature makes it a lot more potentially or actually unseemly, depending on one's perspective and worldview (Glover, 2000).

Glover continues his thoughts by saying the "conflict with moral identity is reduced if killing civilians seems justifiable" (Glover, 2000). Indeed, this was a huge part of the calculus when it came to the dropping of the bombs in Japan. It was deemed that continued combat with the Japanese would lead to a lot more lives being lost and that the bombing of the two cities would be a way to "shock" the Japanese into surrender. While the plan worked as was intended (although the threat of the Soviets also played a part), the weapon that was used and the target it was used on is too much to swallow for many people (Herken, 2015). Some would say that "better them than us" while others would say that targeting civilians like that is never acceptable. It is probably not lost on people that no such attack like that, at least not on such a scale, has been levied by one country against the other since the United States did it during World War II. One can say that 9/11 was more severe and more soulless but the casualty amounts were much less than the atomic bombs dropped by the United States and the people piloting those planes surely knew their fate beforehand and they faced it anyway. What Al Qaeda did not do is what they did the first time when they planted a bomb in the World Trade Center and left it to explode. The 9/11 attacks targeted not just the World Trade Center yet again but also the Pentagon and wherever the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania was headed. Further, there were nearly twenty people involved that gave their lives to complete the mission and they were mostly successful. As savage and brutal as that was, many would say the United States was much more vicious when it came to the targeting of Hiroshima and Nagasaki using the atomic bombs due to the civilian nature of the attacks and how much damage was rendered as a result of those bombings (Glover, 2000).

Coming back to the target at hand, Glover makes some interesting points. He notes that the moral difficulty in waging wars from afar is a lot easier to navigate when civilians are not the target. It remains much easier when there is a modicum of civilian casualties but it comes in matter of degree and is more collateral and incidental in nature as the civilians are presumably the main target. The cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were absolutely not chosen by accident but there is no question that those two bombs were even close to primarily being military strikes. It was surely known that the bombs would annihilate those towns and kill a lot of innocents and it was done anyway. Even if the intention was to save American lives in general, that fact remains unquestionable and true. Scorched earth attacks are not the only kind of attack, though, that can lead to moral questions even if those other methods are less overt and severe. Glover speaks about this when he mentions blockades. Indeed, blockades can kill people but it usually due to lack of food or water rather than a bullet to the head or a bomb being dropped on someone (Glover, 2000).

The bombing of Japan was not the only morally questionable bombing during World War II. The British were trying to target military targets only with bombs but had a hard time doing so during the day because the Germans had fairly formidable defenses against such activity. This led to night bombing raids instead. The problem with that was that hitting only military targets was difficult to impossible at night so the British instead shifted to area and carpet bombing of areas and there were civilian and other non-military areas affected by these campaigns. In this situation, the British were overcoming a limitation on the timing and types of bombing raids they could do. Nonetheless, civilian targets ended up getting hit and this greatly compromised the moral justness that the British could claim as a result. This moral dilemma was aggravated by the revealing of a 1941 report by David Butt that revealed that a lot of the bombs were missing their targets by up to five miles. This led to a choice ... continue to bomb in an indiscriminate manner (intentionally or not) or call off the bombs entirely. As was evidenced by British attacks on Berlin, Hamburg and the Ruhr, it became crystal clear what Britain had decided to do. Even the Soviets were taken aback by this if the press was any indication (Glover, 2000).

It is noteworthy that much of the civilian bombing came about because precision bombing was simply not possible and grinding out war on the ground was obviously going to be much more bloody. By 1944, the Allies were able to have command of the air and this included during the day. As such, a return to precision bombing of military targets was possible and was indeed executed. Even so, some argued that continuing the area bombing was effective because it was more devastating to the enemy. For example, many asserted that it disrupted German industry and was a killer for morale in the country. Even with that, the damage to civilian populations was rather massive. Indeed, area bombing in Germany seems to have killed at least 305,000 people and some estimates from the Germans themselves put that number at more than half a million. For people that are not part of the German government or part of the military complex, that is a lot of innocents to die as a means to lessen morale and disrupt the country's operations (Glover, 2000).

One common justification for bombing at a distance or any behavior that involves the killing of civilians comes from the beliefs of the Catholic Church and Judeo-Christian beliefs in general. It is commonly held that killing an innocent on purpose is never acceptable but that some activities that would (or will) lead to at least some civilian deaths are acceptable if the greater good is restored or upheld. However, attacks on civilians that are known to be predominately civilian-affecting and not military mostly are deemed to be wrong. Glover uses the example of taking out a ball bearing factory. Glover says that as long as the number of civilian deaths are "not disproportionately large," then doing the bombing is alright. However, the mass bombing of civilians would not be morally permissible. However, there is also what is known as the doctrine of double effect. Even if an act is very bad, it can be considered whether the net effect of executing the act is good in the long run. As stated by Glover, "a merely foreseen bad effect may be permissible, so long as the badness is not out of proportion to the good being pursued (Glover… [END OF PREVIEW]

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