Bad seeds and total war

Rick, at Brutally Honest, struggles with an agonizing question that always faces moral nations when they embark on a war:  What about the enemy’s civilian population?  Is there ever a justification for targeting women and children, as was done at Hiroshima and Nagasaki?  He links to an equally thoughtful Joe Carter post on the subject.

Before I get to the larger issue of whether there is ever a justification for attacking civilians directly, let me touch upon the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings.  When I was growing up, it was fashionable to say that the only reason America dropped the bomb was to show to Joe Stalin that America had the bomb.

The first challenge I ever met to this prevailing Leftist academic dogma came from Paul Fussell, in his book Thank God for the Atom Bomb.  In the eponymous first essay, Fussell argued that Truman’s advisers told him that, while the Americans would inevitably win against Japan, continuing traditional warfare would mean invading the Japanese mainland, and facing a citizen army of women and children.  The advisers estimated another 30,000-40,000 American military dead, plus Japanese dead in the hundreds of thousands.  That calculation made a couple of bombs seem like a reasonable alternative.  One would end up with the same number of Japanese deaths either way, but still save American lives.

As my mom was a POW in a Japanese concentration camp, and Truman’s decision did save her life, I’ve always been comfortable with that decision.  Incidentally, recently released records from 1945 show that it was Fussell, not the revisionists, who correctly nailed the 1945 analysis that led to the bomb.  (That is, we now know that (a) the Japanese were prepared to fight to the last infant and (b) that’s precisely what Truman’s advisers told him.)

The above is a pragmatic discussion, a numbers game, if you will.  I have a slightly different point to make, which is the bad seed theory.  It’s a theory that gets a lot of play in my house, because my young son (who hopes to enter the military one day) struggles with the notion of fighting people who embrace a bad idea because they don’t know any better.  He fully understands that your average Taliban fighter (not the Western-educated elites, but the guys on the ground) has never been exposed to ideas other than the virtue of sharia and worldwide Islamic domination.  His world view is a one way street.  My son therefore struggles with moral relativism as it plays out on the field of battle.

The problem for my son, as for all generations of fighters, is that the battle doesn’t always play out on the field.  Or sometimes, as the Civil War showed, the battle cannot be won efficaciously on the field.  It wasn’t until Sherman marched through Georgia, demoralizing the civilians, that the war finally ended.  As with the war against the Japanese, the North would have inevitably won, but at a much greater cost to the North, and a potentially greater cost to the South.  It seems that, in war as in love, sometimes you’ve gotta be cruel to be kind.

What we do know is that wars over values, as opposed to wars over borders, are always the most viciously fought.  One can compromise over a river bed.  One cannot compromise over people’s most deeply held beliefs.  Your beliefs are either right or they’re wrong.  God is on your side or he isn’t.  Once the battle has gone existential, there is no middle ground.

Also, even as we’re struggling with the morality of our own actions, they’re still trying to kill us.  The Underwear Bomber who tried to blow up an airplane full of people is busily arguing that he didn’t commit a criminal act, because, had he been successful, the slaughter would have fallen under the heading of religiously justifiable homicide.  The Koran is his book, and the Koran authorizes infidel killing.  It’s that simple.  Nor is this killing a subject of anguish and morality.  For those who embrace Islamism, it’s a sport — fun and totally reasonable because authorized by Allah.

It’s the young ‘uns that matter.  Yes, they are the future.  But the future they create will be determined by the values they embrace.  Sometimes, one has to demonstrate to that generation, resoundingly, that their God has failed.  Sadly, depending on the rot that’s corrupted the next generation — the bad seeds — the battle for hearts and minds cannot be won as long as they see a smidgen of hope.  The only way to prevail is to show that their God has failed, and then to educate them up again, as we did in the post-WWII era with Japan and Germany.

Having said all that, I’m opposed to targeting civilians as a general principle of war.  One fights the military.  Civilians become potential targets only when it becomes clear that there is no other way to destroy a much greater evil.  And of course, one of the hallmarks of a greater evil is a nation or ideology that deliberately puts its children in the path of war.

UPDATE:  By the way, the Left knows that it’s the young ‘uns that matter.  As I wrote years ago, sex is a powerful factor in Leftist control, something that Zombie points out in telling of the latest Leftist sexual outrages against young children.

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  • David Foster

    I’ve written two posts that are relevant to this issue:



    …also a book review: Trinity’s Child


  • 11B40


    Earlier today, I finished a re-read of John Costello’s “The Pacific War: 1941-1945” and would like to add a bit or two of my own. In the closing days of WW II in the Pacific, the casualties being suffered by American and Allied forces were increasing dramatically. As the Empire of Japan’s defensive perimeter began to collapse its soldiers more than ever fought to the death, Iwo Jima and Okinawa bring the two prime examples. If one were a US Navy aficionada, I’m quite sure she would be close to thunderstruck by the number of ships and sailors lost to kamikaze attacks during those two battles which went on for much longer than any of our military planners envisioned. There seems to have been a significant military consensus that the “home” islands of Japan would be defended with equal or greater determination.

    One of my failings as a Christian is perhaps attributable to my having grown up on the streets of the Bronx back in the ’50s and ’60s. It requires an enormous amount of psychic and spiritual energy for me to “turn the other cheek”. Regrettably, my military service did nothing to temper that part of my makeup. For me, a fight’s not over until one party knows that it is beaten. Ambiguity causes either continuation or repetition. My father, who came to this country in 1927, in time for the Great Depression and then to be drafted in 1942 at the age of 35, made stops on Saipan and Peleliu as an infantryman during his Pacific Grand Tour. When I asked him about the dropping of the A-bombs, he said the only thing wrong about it was that we only had two. (Historically, this seems to be inaccurate; we apparently had four.)

    As August winds to its end, I have once again endured the perennial performance of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki “grannies” at their annual “You-A-bombed-Us-athon”. And, once again, the Nanking and Manila “grannies” were nowhere to be seen. Perhaps they were elsewhere occupied or perhaps the Japanese had already sent them as they had sent millions and millions of other to their final rewards. That this performance art is repeated year after year and never challenged by our media is symptomatic of how far into the cultural dumpster we, as a nation, are.

    My mother used to have a favorite expression for those many times when my wise-guy nature got me into more of a fix than I could handle. It came to mind a while back when the subversives among us started pushing their “disproportionate force” nonsense. “So, Sonny Jim,” mom would intone, “it looks like you got more than you thought you had bargained for.” From mom’s lips to God’s ears.

  • Cynthia

    My father studied nuclear physics under Oppenheimer and Lawrence and was sent to Oak Ridge to work on the Manhattan Project during the war after getting his Ph.D. That’s where he met my mother, who was one of the Calutron girls. Dad has always told me that they knew they had to drop the atomic bombs because, as you quoted Fussell, every Japanese citizen from toddlers to grandmothers would be armed and expected to fight to the death. (If you would like to see my father, I set up a blog for him at <a href=””></a>.)
    Cynthia Yockey, A Conservative Lesbian 

  • Blick

    Book,  You are correct on the two types of wars — Borders or Values or Resources or Cultural. On fighting wars, the society/leaders/soliders that will defend its self/values the most aggressively will generally prevail. As Patton said, you are not to die for your country but to make the other poor sob die for his. We have proven that half way war victories are not sufficient. Korea, VietNam, Bosnia, Afganistan prove the point. Iraq may be the odd one out. In WWI, Germany was not defeated and the “peace” only added reasons to finish the war in WWII.  Targeting civilians, generally not a good policy if you can tell the difference. However, when muslim mothers are proud of their sucicide bomber children, the distinction in a Value war is slim to none. Until a culture is proven to itself that it is not superior it will not be defeated. This is the liberal strategy to tear down Western/USA values/culture; it will make its warriors and leaders doubt themselves and their values. Blick

  • Jose

    I was listening to NPR during a road trip in 1995, while they were doing a retrospective on the atomic bomb 50 years after the fact.  One interview was of a Japanese woman who had been in elementary school during the war.  She described how she and the other students were given spears and told they would defend against beach landings by the Allies.
    Would she be considered a civilian, standing on the beach with her spear?  It is likely that the A-bomb saved her life, and that of countless other children. 

  • suek

    When the issue of the torture of prisoners came to the forefront, I thought about the control that the prisoners had – or didn’t have.

    Saddam’s prisoners had no control. No matter what they did or said, they were tortured and killed in the most terrible ways possible. Their torturers themselves seemed to get pleasure from the acts of torturing and killing.

    Was that true of those who were accused of torturing or waterboarding? If so, then prosecution is certainly justified. I happen to think it was _not_ true, and the prisoners had control of the situation – that is, if they chose to give up the information required, then the treatment would stop. If they chose to _not_ give up the information, the treatment would continue. They themselves made the decision to talk or not to talk…to allow the waterboarding to continue or not.

    In a like fashion, the Japanese could surrender or not surrender. Now granted, the first bomb was dropped without warning. Even if they had been warned, would they have surrendered? I don’t think so. I may be mistaken, but I think I recall that surrender was offered after Hiroshima, and the Emperor refused. It was only after the second bomb was dropped that the terms of surrender were accepted. It seems to me that we may have to accept responsibility for dropping the first bomb without warning, but the second bomb was on their own decision. Had we been truly vicious, we could have dropped the other two bombs and left the nation to its own devices. Instead, we accepted the surrender, and helped rebuild Japan.

    And add to that, by the way, that I think that no one _really_ had any kind of an accurate idea of what the atom bomb was going to do. Now we know.

    I don’t disagree that nuclear war is a truly _bad_ thing – but evil? Not so sure about that. Are women and children “innocent” bystanders? Not so sure about that one either.

    As for evil…I think some of the most shocking things about the wars with muslims is the readiness to use children and the mentally deficient as suicide bombers (because that is the only contribution they’re able to make) and the fact that in the Iran/Iraq war, they would send their children out into the battle fields to deliberately explode the landmines they knew were there so they could send their soldiers across the same grounds without damage.

  • Caped Crusader

    War of a different nature and please allow me this aside, but don’t you just LOVE these stories showing we still have REAL American girls and boys who take matters such as these in hand right on the spot. A recent similar episode where some girls had a thief in such a bind he was begging for them to let him loose and to call the police to save him.

  • Mike Devx

    > I don’t disagree that nuclear war is a truly _bad_ thing 

    A justifiably cautious statement.  I always consider: How many Japanese died – burned alive – by the firebombing of Tokyo and other cities?  What makes the firebombing any less “bad” than a nuclear bomb?

    When you are in a “values” war, when you must defeat the entire nation and not merely its leadership, the “people”, who will fight you to the death, do appear to become legitimate targets.  It is ugly.  But war *is* hell on Earth.

  • Caped Crusader

    Wars are horrible affairs and should be entered into only when absolutely necessary. Once initiated the only orders should be, “go forth, lay waste and conquer”, and you set the rules for the enemy after it is over—worked very nicely in WW2 as those subdued are some of our best friends now and have caused no further problems. We have so many “weenies” now it makes it impossible and by having endless wars with no resolution causing far more casualties and treasure lost.
    Everyone is an addict of some sort. My addiction is history, outside my occupation and I am addicted to the History, History International, and Military channels since for the most part they are history. Jimmy Burns, former governor of SC,  and FDR and Truman confidant and advisor told Truman that if he did not use the atom bomb and we lost a million soldiers there would be such anger in the country he would be impeached, convicted and hung from the Capitol steps and he would be there to join the cheering.
    In my family in my own memory bank is a funeral for a cousin killed in the air over Germany piloting a B17, 3 cousins serving in the Navy with 2 surviving the Kamikaze attacks; my uncle serving as a doctor 3 years in Africa, Italy, Southern France invasions and being on his way to the Pacific when the bombs were dropped; next door neighbors son shot through the eye and brain but surviving; wife’s uncle shot through the lung in the Battle of the Bulge and surviving; ROTC instructor in HS shot in the buttocks in the Battle of the Hurtgen Forest. EVERYONE knew some killed or injured, much like present day Israel. People were in NO mood to be lenient with our enemies and rightfully so.
    At the end of a long life I have come to believe you have to “live it to understand it”. People today have no comprehension of the sacrifices made during all out war, having been pampered by a voluntary armed forces which causes then not the least discomfort. Boys in the forties and fifties expected to serve and every kid I ran around with in HS is a veteran and EVERY member of my med school class who had not already been to Korea is a veteran. IT was inevitable and a side benefit was it forced young men to grow up be more focused at an early age.

  • Ymarsakar

    The Weapon makes the hardest argument on this subject.

    That of targeting the infrastructure of an entire world to stop that world’s aggressive conquering army. This is militarily justified because it’s collateral damage and will shorten the war.

    What’s militarily justified or not really just depends on whether it works. If it works to achieve victory faster, then it is justified. If it is unnecessary for the victory or even detrimental, you should leave it alone. Looting, rape, and killing civilians, doesn’t really help one’s war effort. It actually harms it. Which is why both sides have an interest in seeing that these things do not happen. But of course, if one side gets desperate enough and sends their women and children to do the fighting, then the justified thing to do is to bring the war to a conclusion sooner, regardless of what that would take. If the two atom bombs failed to make Emperor Hirohito surrender Japan, then the US would have been wrong and that collateral damage would not have been justified. 

  • Ymarsakar

    People who give up easily probably shouldn’t be fighting wars any ways. They should just surrender. I mean if you see these guys go in a martial arts dojo and come out looking scared because they think they can’t cut, you’re going to trust these cowards and spineless wrecks with the fate of your nation and family in war? I don’t think so.

  • Peter

     My Pop made that little walk through the lagoon at Tarawa, made it to shore without a scratch only to get chopped up by a Nambu MG. He finally was returned to full duty and after a time in the States in a training slot he was sent to Okinawa toward the end of that fight.
     He never spoke to me of that time in his life until after my first tour in the Southeast Asian War Games. It was only then that I learned that he too thanked God for the atomic bomb. None of the men getting ready to invade the home islands planned on ever seeing the Golden Gate Bridge again.

  • Ymarsakar

    Japan, is considered by the Japanese, to be a pacifist nation. That’s how they self refer to themselves. On the one hand, the right wing or nationalist patriots don’t like this because it means Japan must rely on and thus remains in debt to foreign nations like the US. Okinawans are divided on this part, because Okinawans actually preferred to be under US administration if the option was to go back to Japan, but the US turned them over to Japan anyways, and this becomes a strange issue where the Okinawans think the Japanese government put the US base on Okinawa because Japanese don’t consider Okinawans to be real Japanese. It gets complicated.

    On the other hand, pacifists or “Leftists” in Japan want this protection, because even socialist Leftists know which side of the bread the butter is on. But like Code Pink, you can bet they’ll be protesting Americans anyways. They complain, because the security the US provides is free and they pay nothing for it. Then again there’s the centrists or moderates who recognize the importance of the Japanese-US alliance, while at the same time wanting to bolster Japan’s self-sufficiency (which is sorta why they sent troops to Iraq/Afghanistan even though their Constitution that MacArthur wrote prevents them from deploying combat capable forces overseas in a non self defense role) It gets complicated.

     Suffice it to say, not even the Japanese know what’s a real solution. Because I can promise you this. If the Japanese re-arm themselves, you better watch out. They’re actually crazy enough to go all the way. And their military would become powerful and dedicated enough, that only China or America’s would be even close of a match. The Japanese are that crazy when it comes to doing things completely. For the last 60 years they’ve invested this dedication and passion into robots, CGI, anime, manga, and exporting Japanese culture to the world. If Korea or China or the US forces the Japanese to self-mobilize and rearm themselves, ya’ll better watch out. There’ll be a nice looking war on the horizon soon.

  • Danny Lemieux

    Suek: “And add to that, by the way, that I think that no one _really_ had any kind of an accurate idea of what the atom bomb was going to do. Now we know.”

    As with Cynthia, my father worked on the Manhattan project, albeit in Los Alamos. Just before the first test explosion in the New Mexico desert, my father wrote a very cryptic farewell message to his family. He was to witness the explosion but nobody had any idea where the nuclear chain reaction, once unleashed, would stop.

    My father was very anti-war and definitely a man of the Left. However, he never had any doubt that the bomb shortened the war and saved many allied and Japanese lives.

    I think that one of the worst things American parents have done is teach their children that a life free from material want and violence is normal. Sometimes, as Book said, life is very hard and you have to be cruel to be kind. You certainly have to be realistic about the ways of the world and human nature. However, I see too few people to day capable of making the hard choices that confronted our ancestors. And that worries me. 

  • Moose

    This brings up an internal struggle I have regarding current events. As a pseudo “student” of WWII, I understood the use of atomic weapons to shorten the war. I also believe that we used it because we were the ONLY power that had it at the time. That brings me to current events. I have heard many with military backgrounds share that we should “just turn the Middle East into glass” and that would put an end to this whole “issue.” That could be true, just as events unfolded with Japan in WWII. BUT the U.S. is not the only power with a nuclear arsenal and the fear with unleashing that weaponry is a nuclear holocaust.
    Perhaps the time has come to consider the nuclear option to end the warfare raging in the Middle East, but the times are very different than they were in the ‘40’s.

  • Ymarsakar

    There’s no reason to believe Europe will do anything to protect the ME from nukes, let alone start a nuke war. Russia and China has never in their history used a nuclear weapon on a city, something they keep telling us.


  • Ymarsakar

    In fact, the more likely China and Russia are to believe in nukes, the better chances that they will do nothing to protect the ME from the US.

  • Charles Martel

    I still think that the Chinese, with their vaunted high regard for human life and utmost respect for Islam, will someday lob a nuke or two in the direction of Mecca. Just to make the Allahites back up a bit, like when a pitcher pushes back a batter who is hogging home plate.

  • Ymarsakar

    The Chinese are too regional to worry much about the ME, except in terms of fuel and economics. The Chinese are still an honor culture, thus they won’t take the risk of using a nuke and lose face in the world, except for perhaps Tibet or Taiwan. Local territorial issues that they would stand to gain much from, thus would be able to risk much for it.

    The rest of the world, is not something China has been interested in, historically.