Thoughtful piece by Ramesh Ponuru on the problematic position conservatives have taken on the atomic bombing of Japan at the close of World War II:
[T]he question [remains] whether this type of military practice is (and was) justified. To the extent that the intentional killing of civilians had become a routine military technique Ã¢â¬â and Churchill’s qualms about it are among the reasons for refusing to endorse that view completely Ã¢â¬â that might mitigate Truman’s culpability for making the wrong choice (if it was the wrong choice). But it would not yield the conclusion that his choice was right. We might well conclude that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were part of a class of immoral, though understandable, acts committed by the good guys during World War II.
Some commentators Ã¢â¬â not Boot Ã¢â¬â have cited atrocities committed by the Japanese by way of justifying the bombings. But that can’t be right, at least as the point is generally made. The war crimes of Japanese soldiers are not a good reason to kill a child in Nagasaki. The barbarism of an enemy is an added reason to stop him, but whether any means of stopping him are acceptable is precisely what is at issue.
I truly find this issue troubling, both morally and practically. In reference to the Dresden anniversary, I once wrote:
I think in times of peace and reflection we can admit that even in an existential struggle certain actions should not be undertaken, and one such is the indiscriminate bombing of civilians under the aegis of modern, “total war.” This does not mean that the Nazi regime had any standing to complain, of course, nor the vast legions of Nazi supporters within that regime did not deserve their fate. That said, simply because we were on the right side of that war does not mean that there were no horrors or excesses that were objectively wrong and should not have been undertaken.
There is no need to adopt a consequentialist morality that says for any good goal any means may be pursued. The distinction between civilians and combatants is an essential Western concept. It’s the basis for our condemnation of terrorism. It’s regrettable that the strategic bombing of WWII did much to erase that distinction in our own behavior.
The Japan case is somewhat different, as the objective impact of the bombing was to end the war and save countless American and Japanese lives, in contrast to the gratuitous firebombings of German cities in late 1944 and early 1945. It should still trouble conservatives, however, who recognize that there are values that transcend our own nation’s interests, such as the distinction between civilians and combatants, a distinction worth risk ultimately to our own forces and, perhaps, our own survival.