• Kenneth R. Himes Boston College
Keywords: Atomic Bomb, Innocence, Just War Tradition, Proportionality, Non-combatants, Unconditional Surrender


August of this year is the 75th Anniversary of the first and only use of atomic weapons in war, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The essay recounts the changes in the historical account of the bombings since then, and the evidence suggesting that the bombings were unnecessary to end the war. Using the revised history, there is a moral assessment of the decision to drop the bombs. Employing norms that are common to the just war tradition, the author argues that the decision to attack the Japanese cities was morally flawed. Based on the standards of innocents being immune from direct attack, the inappropriateness of a demand for unconditional surrender according to right intention, and the idea of proportionality in causing harm, there is a serious case against the justice of the atomic bombings. The essay concludes by noting evidence that many Americans continue to uphold military practices that violate basic ethical norms.

Author Biography

Kenneth R. Himes, Boston College

Kenneth R. Himes, OFM is a Franciscan friar and a professor of theological ethics in the Theology Department of Boston College (U.S.A.). He is a former president of the Catholic Theological Society of America and the author of four books, most recently The Ethics of Targeted Killing (Rowman and Littlefield, 2016). He is also co-editor of four books, including Modern Catholic Social Teaching: Commentaries and Interpretations 2nd rev. ed. (Georgetown University Press: 2017). In addition, he has written over one hundred scholarly and popular essays for journals and book chapters. He was awarded the PhD in religion and public policy from Duke University in 1981.


McGeorge Bundy, Danger and Survival: Choices About the Bomb in the First Fifty Years, New York: Vintage Books, 1988, 54.

Harry S. Truman, Memoirs by Harry S. Truman, vol 1 Years of Decisions, Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co, 1955, 419.

Francis, “Address of the Holy Father at Peace Memorial (Hiroshima),” Sunday, November 24, 2019.

Peter Moore, “A-Bomb Legacy: Most Americans Negative about the Invention of Nuclear Weapons,” Redwood City, CA: YouGov, July 22, 2015, https://today. yougov.com/news/2015/07/22/a-bomb-legacy/.

Uri Friedman, “Hiroshima and the Politics of Apologizing,” The Atlantic (May 26, 2016), https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2016/05/obama-hiroshima- apology-nuclear/483617/.

Scott Sagan and Benjamin Valentino, “Revisiting Hiroshima in Iran,” International Security 42, 1 (2017) 41-79 at 42.

Ward Wilson, “The Winning Weapon? Rethinking Nuclear Weapons in Light of Hiroshima,” International Security 32, 4 (2007) 162-79, at 162-63.

Gareth Cook, “Why Did Japan Surrender?” Boston Globe (August 7, 2011), http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2011/0807/why_did_japan_surrender/?page=full

Remarks by Navy Minister Yonai, Lord Privy Seal Kido, and Cabinet Secretary Sakomizu all speak of dissembling in order to disguise the real reasons for surrender and to shift blame away from the emperor or the military. See Wilson, “The Winning Weapon?” 175-176.

Wilson Miscamble, “Was It Wrong to Drop the Atom Bomb on Japan?” PragerU.com, https://assets.ctfassets.net/qnesrjodfi80/3LwwBWbg4MwWEqQsGo 22Cs/764c5d02a0a39079aa368e8a79434d1c/miscamble-was_it_wrong_to_drop_the_ bomb-transcript_0.pdf

Barton Bernstein, “The Atomic Bombings Reconsidered,” Foreign Affairs 74, 1 (Jan-Feb 1995) 135-52 at 149.

Bernstein, “The Atomic Bombings Reconsidered,” 149.

Perhaps the best known revisionist account that focused on the Russian motive was Gar Alperovitz, Atomic Diplomacy: Hiroshima and Potsdam, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1965.

Barton Bernstein, “Why We Dropped the Bomb,” History News Network (July 31, 2005), https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/13531

Bernstein, “Why We Dropped the Bomb.” Bundy’s assessment is even more forceful; with regard to the claim that, “the desire to impress the Russians with the power of the bomb was a major factor in the decision to use it. This assertion is false, and the evidence to support it rests on inferences so stretched as to be a discredit both to the judgment of those who have argued in this fashion and the credulity of those who have accepted such arguments.”

Brandon, Siris, http://branemrys.blogspot.com/

Francisco de Vitoria, a Spanish Dominican, was the founder of the Salamanca school of Thomist thinking. Among his important writings was On the Law of War, which influenced both Francisco Suarez and Hugo Grotius and the origins of international law on war. See F. Vitoria, “On the Law of War,” in A. Pagden & J. Lawrance, ed., Vitoria: Political Writings, Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991, 293-328.

Richard S. Hartigan, “Noncombatant Immunity: Reflections on Its Origins and Present Status,” The Review of Politics 29 (1967) 204-20, at 218.

John Ford, SJ, “The Morality of Obliteration Bombing,” Theological Studies 5 (1944) 261-309 at 281.

Elizabeth Anscombe, “Mr. Truman’s Degree,” was a privately published pamphlet by the author in 1957. Anscombe wrote her essay to protest Oxford University’s decision to grant an honorary degree to President Truman. Anscombe opposed the award on the basis of Truman’s decision to drop the A-bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The essay was re-published in Elizabeth Anscombe, Ethics, Religion and Politics: Collected Philosophical Papers, vol. 3, Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 1991, 62-71 at 67.

For the full list, see Ford, “Obliteration Bombing,” 283-84. Ford also pointed out that categorizing as war participants, and therefore legitimate targets, any and everyone who plays a role in a nation’s war effort means, “that the civilian population of neutral countries are also aggressors on this theory—for they supply food and raw materials to the enemy—and so on ad infinitum” (see 284, note 52).

Bernstein, “The Atomic Bombings Reconsidered,” 140; also see Bundy, Danger and Survival, 63-68 for a more detailed narrative of how the bombing of innocent civilians at the outset of the war was seen “by American leaders to be both moral wickedness and military folly” and by the end of the war civilian deaths were “simply taken for granted or ignored” as the goal was to shorten the war (63, 65), https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/08/hiroshima-nagasaki-atomic-bomb-anniversary/400448/

Paul Ham, “The Bureaucrats Who Singled Out Hiroshima for Destruction,” The Atlantic (August 5, 2015).

Lisa Sowle Cahill, Blessed Are the Peacemakers, Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2019, 295.

John Courtney Murray, SJ, We Hold These Truths, Kansas City: Sheed and Ward, 1988, 265.

Jonathan Tullock, “When Little Boy and Fatman Brought Hell to Japan,” The Tablet (August 10, 2019) 6-7.

How to Cite
Himes, K. R. (2020). HIROSHIMA AND NAGASAKI: 75TH ANNIVERSARY REFLECTIONS. Asian Horizons, 14(2), 507-524. Retrieved from http://dvkjournals.in/index.php/ah/article/view/2886