WWII and the Atomic Dilemma

Thomas Griffin (8/6/20)

“If God does not exist, then everything is possible.” – Dostoyevsky 

If there was ever a just war to fight it was against the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler’s hatred of humanity. While there were surely imperfect intentions from varying parties, the move to defeat the atrocities and philosophies of the German Reich was an overall virtuous endeavor. How the war ended is what we commemorate each year at the very end of the first week of August. How did we get to a place where such destruction needed to be used? What sparked Hitler’s tragic reign of terror?

Adolf Hitler was truly inspired by the Superman of Nietzsche and ever-convinced that man is called to excel past any restrictions placed on him by the world. In one of his lesser known works by Fredrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, provides his famous words “God is dead!” However, he also continues in the not-so-well-known fashion saying “And we killed him…The holiest and the mightiest that the world has hitherto possessed has bled to death under our knife…Is not the magnitude of this deed too great for us? Shall we not ourselves have to become Gods, merely to seem worthy of it?”

This philosophy catapulted humanity down the road of rewriting its own reality and morality. The rise of Hitler threatened the entire globe because Nazi Germany claimed that Jews were not worthy of life merely because those in charge decided so. The Nazi’s determined the truth because they had the power. They issued consistent statements and crafted propaganda to brainwash an entire generation while Hitler’s lust for power knew no borders. 

To defeat the tyranny of evil the United States and the Allied Powers joined together for the most gruesome war that this earth has ever witnessed. Statistics vary, but there is agreement that the number of deaths ranged between seventy and eighty-five million people with civilian deaths marking at least half of that number. 

The Allies fought against tyranny, hatred, and evil but most of all they were at war with a mindset, a philosophy. That philosophy was founded upon and surrounded by the notion of the Superman given by Nietzsche. Hitler made himself a god in order to disintegrate the notion and reliance on the divine. In doing so, he was responsible for, along with his contemporaries, a destruction and loss of life that humanity has never experienced. To make God dead, men make themselves into gods. 

These evil forces needed to be halted in their tracks, and they were in May of 1945. Then America had to deal with a relentless Japan, but was the correct answer the use of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Many members of the armed forces, old and new, do not enjoy this question. Civilians do not understand what it is like to be inside the rapture of armed conflict. While this is true for the large percentage of humanity, there is still a capacity to investigate the morality of the atomic bomb.

In order to do so, let us turn our view to the facts of the act. In morality, there are three key ingredients which play a role in the judgment of the morality of an act: the object (what is actually done), the intention (why is the act being done), and the circumstances (the details which surround the action).

  1. The object (what is actually done)
    • The dropping of nuclear bombs on two cities which will inevitably result in thousands, if not millions of civilian deaths
  2. The intention (why the act is being done)
    • To end World War II and defeat the enemy of evil
    • To prevent the on-foot invasion of thousands of Allied soldiers into Japan and the regions of the Axis Powers
    • To prevent the death of countless American soldiers
  3. The circumstances
    • World War II had crushed Europe and was heavily inflicting its negative effects on the U.S.

If one of these details is evil then the entire act itself is evil. For one cannot act morally simply because he intends something good to come from it, nor can he act immorally simply because the circumstances were difficult. The act, intention and circumstances must be morally good for the act to be good.

Arguments stating that the Japanese civilians were not innocent are irrelevant because the use of these bombs, undoubtedly, killed innocent lives. Arguments for the saving of our ancestors are irrelevant because one nation’s humanity does not contain more dignity than another. Arguments stating that less lives were lost in the dropping of the bombs than would have been lost in an invasion of land are irrelevant because quantity of lost lives does not equal moral goodness. An evil act cannot be committed for an apparent good result. 

In 1981, Pope St. John Paul II visited the Peace Memorial in Hiroshima and shared this prayer: “To the Creator of nature and man, of truth and beauty I pray. Grant insight and strength so that we may always respond to hatred with love, to injustice with total dedication to justice, to need with the sharing of self, to war with peace.”

The best response to evil is not evil, but love and goodness. This is not the way of the world, but the avenue of Christ. This is not a doormat theology or a blindeye to our servicemen and women. This is a call to act better than average, and a mission to always fight for justice from a divine perspective. The logic of the cross is not nuclear and it may appear as foolishness to the world, but it’s victory conquered the epitome of evil: death itself. That’s something to pay attention to.

Thomas Griffin teaches Apologetics in the religion department at a Catholic high school on Long Island and lives with his wife. He received a master’s degree in theology and is currently a master’s candidate in philosophy. He writes for several Catholic media outlets.

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