The bombs that spoilt our victory
The Catholic Herald’s leading article of August 11 1944 eloquently expressed the anguish of the Christian conscience after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. “Those who have fought this war with a serious Christian purpose,” it began, “are beginning to have grounds for very genuine misgivings.” Although the end of the struggle was in sight, the paper noted, “the fears grow that after all the war never had much to do with the moral ends originally put before the people and the world. That the long-awaited victory should be so spoilt for millions is a terrible thing.”
Sixty years on, the reverberations from the bomb dropped by the Enola Gay continue to be felt. The argument over whether the unprecedented destruction of civilian lives was justified to end the Second World War continues to blaze in our newspapers. As Catholics, we belong to an ethical tradition that shuns the notion that the “end justifies the means”. The Second Vatican Council clearly affirmed that the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities was “a crime against God and man”.
The Catholic Herald of August 1944 did not flinch from drawing a moral parallel between the Allies and the Nazi regime. “The cost of destroying Nazism,” it said, “is rapidly turning into an acceptance in practice of the Nazi ideals of conquests, aggression, force and the despising of those weapons of the spirit recourse to which is the final moral test of the Christian man and woman.”
While these words undoubtedly reflect weariness and low morale at the end of an unthinkably long war, they should cause us to reflect. As we face up to a new enemy that is prepared to murder civilians indiscriminately we cannot be content with military triumph. We must win the moral victory too.