The intense bombing of two populous cities, which caused the
deaths of more than a hundred thousand civilians along with an even greater
amount of casualties, cannot be readily justified regardless of the ultimate
outcome. Although over half a century has passed, a great deal of controversy
still hovers over the American decision to drop the atomic bombs “Little Boy”
and “Fat Man” on the respective Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
While some claim that the attack was an unequivocal act of terrorism, others
are hesitant to make such a bold claim.
Terrorism, which stems from the Latin verb
terree (to frighten), first originated during the French Revolution of the
eighteenth century. There has been great debate over the years when it comes to
defining terrorism. Many different legal systems and government agencies use
different definitions of terrorism in their national legislatures. Moreover,
the international community has had immense trouble coming up with a
universally accepted definition for the term. Whether an act
may or may not be defined as terroristic in an objective manner depends on the
specific definition of terrorism used. While certain definitions are to the
point and allow for a simple way to categorize an act (regardless of the moral
defense presented), others are a bit ambiguous and tricky to work with.
By US law terrorism is defined as
premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant
targets. Although there are many variations to this definition, some which add
that clandestine agents or subnational groups must perpetrate the violence,
this one captures the idea the best. The use of atomic bombs by the US on the
Japanese was clearly an act of war, but it also fits the category of an act of
On August 6, 1945 an American B-29 bomber
dropped the world’s first atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima. Only three days
later, another brutal bombing was carried out on the city of Nagasaki. The
devastation caused by these bombs paint a picture of pure agony and torture.
The shockwaves instantly demolished
everything within the bombing radius. Houses, buildings, trees, etc., were
leveled to the ground as if they were built from paper. The toll on the cities’
miserable citizens proved even more traumatic. The bombs took as many as two
hundred and fifty thousand lives—a great majority of that civilian. Only around
half that number were lucky enough to die on the same day. The intense heat and
pressure of the nuclear reaction squeezed the internal organs of the survivors,
causing their blood to boil. Those who managed to survive were often victims of
new illnesses that arose from radiation exposure. Many of the people that were
targeted had no part in the war effort, suffering merely because fate had not
been on their side.
Such a heinous act on a majority of the
noncombatant population cannot be overlooked by any means. The Catholic Church,
especially in the last century, has shown deep concern for condemning the
deliberate targeting of civilians. “Every act of war directed to the absolute
destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime
against God and man, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation” (May 34).
The beliefs held by the Catholic Church rest firmly on the principles of Just
War Theory, which states that the war must be fought in a fair manner. All
noncombatants, wounded soldiers, and prisoners must be respected and treated
humanely. By deploying the atomic bombs, the United States tilted the odds of
the war in its favor. Japan was still in the developing stages of the atomic
bomb, so such actions by the US were unfair. It is one thing to have the
ability to use such a destructive weapon, but it is another to actually follow
through with it. The cruelty of such an action is depicted through the inhumane
murder and suffering of thousands of innocent civilians. Those who managed to
survive had no home to return to and no way to rebuild their lives. The United
States was fully aware of the consequences of deploying such a deadly weapon. The
bombs were deliberate attempts to put burden on enemy governments by attacking
non-combatants. They were severe violations of God’s law, according to which the
direct and intentional slaying of an innocent human is always immoral.
Consequentialists often favor the decision to
drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, looking at the destruction
caused in a different light.
Consequentialism is an ethical theory that judges whether something is
right or wrong based off of the consequences. While most people would agree
that lying is wrong, consequentialists state that lying to save a person’s life
is the right thing to do. Following such an ethical theory can lead to
objectionable decisions. A specific branch of consequentialism known as
utilitarianism says that people should maximize human welfare. Those who
believe in utilitarianism claim that the bombings were acceptable because a
couple of lives were scarified for the majority. This claim is objectionable
since the number of deaths the ground invasion (Operation Downfall) may have
caused are all projections. It is possible in fact that the war could have been
ended in another way, for Japan was already at the brink of defeat.
Consequentialist ideals clash with the morally inclined ideology of the
Catholic Church, for the latter stressed the importance of human life.
From a military standpoint, the US
did not bomb strategic targets such as weapons,
factories, electric power stations, etc. If the main objective was to
demonstrate the power of the atom bomb, the US could have dropped them on central
military locations or desert areas. In reality, the bombs were targeted at
those who did not deserve to die—the Japanese civilians and the rest of the
world. The US wanted to reassert its power and make sure to keep other
countries in check. The US did successfully use the atom bomb as a deterrent to
keep the (sometimes uneasy) peace between the US and the USSR. The US
had in its hands a weapon that was capable of
bringing the war to a swift end, and they used it. This is a characteristic of terror – not directly attacking
the enemy, but rather murdering innocent people with the aim of instilling fear.
Some may claim
that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were chosen because there were Japanese military
bases within the cities. This argument holds no substance, for there were many
other cities that held concentrated military power. The United States treated
these two specific cities like a science experiment. Both Hiroshima and
Nagasaki were left out of the nightly bombing raids in an attempt to see how
much damage the atomic bombs could do alone. It was clear that thousands of
civilian lives were the sacrifice for performing this experiment. Although
there was a military purpose behind the bombings, they are comparable in nature
to dreadful events such as the Reign of Terror.
Maximilien Robespierre, the initiator of the
Reign of Terror, used a comparable approach to suppress differing opinions and
eradicate his opponents. Under his leadership the Committee of Public Safety
came to control the French government. Over three hundred thousand people
suspected of not favoring the revolution were murdered, many by the guillotine.
Similar to the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, many of those eradicated
were innocent. There were no trials or hearings, for the suspects were given no
chance to prove their virtue. Many were murdered in cold blood as the blade of
the guillotine shot down, leaving their heads detached. Families were torn
apart, and people lived under constant fear for their lives. The use of the
atomic bomb had a similar outcome, for it left the world stunned. The atomic
weapon had been unleashed for the first time (and the only time it has been
used until this day). The path of
destruction and bloodshed that it left was the price for the fear that it
created. The already crippled Japanese were completely wrecked, and the rest of
the world was more cautious when dealing with the US. The US purposely chose to
target the defenseless civilian population, knowing exactly what it was getting
The defense for
deploying the atomic bombs rests on the misjudgment that they were absolutely
critical to ending the war in the Pacific. The Japanese, having rejected all
opportunities to surrender, had pledged to fight until the end. Although this
was the case, Japan was mentally and physically exhausted by this point.
Secretary of War Henry Lewis Stimson was skeptical of using the bombs to reduce
the need of an invasion. He stressed that Japan had no allies; its navy was
near total destruction, its islands were under natural blockade and its cities
were victims of constant air attacks (Tanyor). President Dwight D. Eisenhower
seconded Stimson’s claims, stating that an atom bomb to the equation would only
create a larger mess.
efforts to push the decision to use the atomic bombs highlight the true
intentions of the US. The country was aiming for a quick and easy way to end
the war than avoiding ultimate suffering.
Moreover, overall attitudes in the US towards Japan were negative.
Soldiers often depicted the Japanese as yellow vermin, living snarling rats, or
monkeys. The dehumanization was such that the mutilation of Japanese soldiers
became widespread. US Servicemen frequently removed ears, teeth, and skulls as
trophies of valor (Tibet). These actions were by no means acceptable. Since the
Americans had no respect and value for Japanese lives, taking the easy way out
did not seem like an irrational approach. There is little disagreement that the
use of the atomic bombs constitutes war crimes, even among its architects. The
US Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara reflected: “If we’d lost the war, we’d
all have been prosecuted as war criminals” (Litto). The US overlooked all moral
and ethical values, eventually carrying out an act that inevitably fits the
category of terror.
ago a group of US rulers met in Washington and coldheartedly ordered the obliteration
of civilian populations. They refused to look at possible alternatives, set on imposing
the most extreme human slaughter possible. Almost fitting the definition of
terror perfectly, the bombings were a crime against humanity. The premeditated
invasion on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was successful from an American perspective,
for it gave the country worldwide recognition while bringing an end to WWII. The
politically motivated violence may have put other countries in check, but it
came at the cost of thousands of innocent lives. Ninety percent of physicians
and nurses were killed, while almost half the hospitals were destructed. The
victims who suffered from burns died form lack of care, suffering with every
last breathe. Radiation exposure negatively impacted those who managed to
survive, raising the risk of cancer and other diseases. Civilian deaths are
inevitable in war, but these deaths were no accident. The hundreds of thousands
of civilians that lost their lives were not part of collateral damage, but
rather were the end goal of the war.
President Obama was the first sitting president
of the US to travel to Hiroshima, the first city that fell victim to atomic
wrath. Often times it is difficult to make the right decisions under wartime
stress, so he issued no apologies. Just like the attack on Pearl Harbor, the
legacy of the atomic bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki will live on in infamy.
of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – 1945. (2014, June 05). Retrieved December 11, 2017,
J. (2009, February 12). Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Retrieved December
8, 2017, from
W. An Introduction To Moral Theology. Sunday Literature , 2001.
and the Terror. (n.d.). Retrieved December 10, 2017, from
L. (2005, August 03). Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Worst terror attacks in history.
Retrieved December 15, 2017, from https://www.greenleft.org.au/content/hiroshima-and-nagasaki-worst-terror-attacks-history
Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. (2017, December 01). Reign of Terror.
Retrieved December 11, 2017, from https://www.britannica.com/event/Reign-of-Terror
P. (2014, June 05). Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – 1945. Retrieved
December 9, 2017, from