Hiroshima has been in the news this past week, as President Obama traveled to Japan to lament our “shared responsibility” for the horrors of August 6, 1945. This, of course, represents dangerously shallow thinking on his part, as if starting a war is morally equivalent to ending one.
The death toll in Hiroshima was around 114,000, and three days later, Nagasaki suffered over 60,000 deaths. These are sobering totals.
Yet the dropping of these two atomic bombs brought a brutal and bloody war to a close, and neutralized an evil empire that was responsible for the Rape of Nanking, the Bataan Death March, and an almost endless string of other war atrocities.
The sole alternative to bombing these cities was a land invasion of Japan, which our military leaders estimated would have cost anywhere from 100,000 to 800,000 American lives due to the fierce warrior spirit which animated the Japanese.
As the Allied effort to take islands in the Pacific demonstrated, Japanese soldiers would fight to the last ditch and the last cave without entertaining the thought of surrender. The last Japanese soldier, in fact, didn’t surrender until he came out of the jungles of the Philippines in 1972. The civilian toll among the Japanese from such an invasion was estimated at between 5 million and 10 million lives.
The Japanese emperor had ignored repeated appeals to surrender, including one in late July. It became evident that Japan would have to be compelled against its stubborn will to lay down arms.
A Christian nation must ask and answer the question as to whether dropping these bombs was justified. It must be noted first of all that Christianity is not a pacifist religion. God himself is described as a “man of war” in Exodus 15:3. He repeatedly sent the nation of Israel into battle and often delivered strategy and battle plans to his kings through his prophets.
The death tolls in some God-directed battles was huge. We’re told in 2 Kings 19:35, “And that night the angel of the LORD went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians.” This, you will note, was a total that exceeded the combined death totals in HIroshima and Nagasaki. This result sent the Assyrian king slinking back to Ninevah in abject surrender and full retreat. Sometimes the infliction of mass casualties is tragically necessary in order to repel invaders, subdue enemies, and ensure liberty.
When soldiers came to John the Baptist, he did not tell them to lay down their arms and go to work for the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors. He rather told them not to abuse their power, to be content with their pay (Luke 3:14), and, by implication, to soldier on.
We’re told in Romans 13:4 that God-ordained civil government “does not bear the sword in vain.” A sword, obviously, is an instrument of lethal force and a weapon of war. There is a place for just war even in a New Testament world.
When Jesus returns at the end of the age, we are told that he will return with a “robe dipped in blood” and with “a sharp sword” coming from his mouth which he will use to “strike down the nations” and “rule them with a rod of iron” (Revelation 19:13,15). Not exactly “gentle Jesus, meek and mild.” Christ is both a sacrificial Lamb and a warrior King.
This is not, of course, to say that all wars are just. Christian theologians over the centuries developed a sophisticated just war theory to help Christian rulers determine which wars are morally justified and which are not.
The military’s campaign against Japan was clearly a just cause. Our nation without any provocation had been mercilessly attacked on December 7, 1941 with thousands of American casualties. A sure and resolute response was not only just but was required to defeat the enemy and ensure security, peace, and stability for the American people. Our cause was just and requires no apology.
The bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved millions of lives, both American and Japanese. One of them may have been the life of my own father, who was on a troop ship headed to the Pacific Theater for the invasion of Japan when word came that the enemy had surrendered.
It must be added that the moral culpability for the 174,000 deaths in Hiroshima and Nagasaki does not rest on the heads of the American people but rather on the heads of the Japanese government. If there had been no Pearl Harbor, there would have been no Hiroshima. And Japan could have avoided the carnage altogether by surrendering in time.
War is a brutal and unhappy business. We should work and pray for a military that is so strong that our enemies dare not attack us, and work and pray for a national moral fiber that will not shrink from the task when a day of attack does come despite our best efforts.
War is often tragically necessary to make peace. It was on August 6, 1945, and it will be again. May this Christian nation be ready for that day.