VDH Tackles "The Big One"

Tomorrow's feast of the Transfiguration happens also to coincide w/ the 60th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, so of course the question, "Should We Have?" is on people's minds. It's the cover of the current WeeklyStandard, although I haven't read their take yet. VDH does his usual impressive job tackling the matter --by showing what was at stake and drawing out some parallels with our own situation in Iraq.
I don't suppose 100,000 mostly civilians incinerated in a flash --or being the only nation to actually drop an atomic weapon on another-- ought ever to sit easily on a nation's conscience, so I am happy to revisit the question. But before we reach for the easy pieties, did you know Hiroshima wasn't the worst single-day loss of life in military history?
About a month after Okinawa was finally declared secure came Hiroshima. Americans of that age were more likely to wonder not that the bomb had been dropped too early, but perhaps too late in not avoiding the carnage on Okinawa —especially when by Spring 1945 there was optimism among the scientists in New Mexico that the successful completion of the bomb was not far away. My father, William Hanson, who flew 39 missions over Japan on a B-29, was troubled over the need for Okinawa — where his first cousin Victor Hanson was killed in the last hours of the battle for Sugar Loaf Hill — when the future bomb would have forced Japanese surrender without such terrible loss of life in 11th-hour infantry battles or even more horrific torching of the Japanese cities. Hiroshima, then, was not the worst single-day loss of life in military history. The Tokyo fire raid on the night of March 9/10, five months earlier, was far worse, incinerating somewhere around 150,000 civilians, and burning out over 15 acres of the downtown. Indeed, “Little Boy,” the initial nuclear device that was dropped 60 years ago, was understood as the continuance of that policy of unrestricted bombing — its morality already decided by the ongoing attacks on the German and Japanese cities begun at least three years earlier.
Americans of the time hardly thought the Japanese populace to be entirely innocent. The Imperial Japanese army routinely butchered civilians abroad — some 10-15 million Chinese were eventually to perish — throughout the Pacific from the Philippines to Korea and Manchuria. Even by August 1945, the Japanese army was killing thousands of Asians each month. When earlier high-level bombing attacks with traditional explosives failed to cut off the fuel for this murderous military — industries were increasingly dispersed in smaller shops throughout civilian centers — Curtis LeMay unleashed napalm on the Japanese cities and eventually may have incinerated 500,000.
The Catechism's summary of just war theory (#2309) strangely does not mention a duty to avoid targeting civilians to the extent possible; it simply says the use of arms must not produce evils graver than the evil to be eliminated. You can't answer "Should we have?" until you grapple with two prior questions. Is it moral to avoid using a nuclear weapon and use conventional weapons instead, thereby causing many more innocent civilian lives to be lost in horrible firebomb deaths? And is your answer a matter of prudential judgment or a categorical judgment? Talk amongst yourselves.
And P.S. Horror at Hiroshima & Nagasaki and the desire to avoid civilian casualties was the driving force behind the development of "smart bomb" technology. So do "smart bombs" represent an unwarranted expenditure of money for arms or a laudable effort to ensure that future wars will be "just"? Or to put it another way, if you think Reagan's huge arms development budget was illegitimate, does that mean it would have been better to drop old-fashioned, indisriminate a-bombs on Kabul & Kandahar after 9-11?