How I Learned to Start Thinking and Hate the Bomb

Our friend, C.J. Doyle, has written the first excellent installment of a two-part article on the bombing of Nagasaki, An Act of State Terrorism. It was intended that the piece would be published yesterday, the seventy-eighth anniversary of the event, but my whirlwind trip to visit Robert Hickson in Virgina make that impossible, though Joe got the article to me in time.

My first encounter with any moral objection to the American nuclear annihilation of two Japanese cities came from a source that some readers may find surprising. Before naming that source, let me confess that, as someone who came of age in the Reagan years (I was born in 1970), my idea of conservatism was tainted by the neoconnery that dominated the field in those days. As an idealistic young conservative Catholic, I had my own terrestrial “holy trinity” consisting of John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and Margaret Thatcher, whose feet of clay were concealed to me in those days.

The principled yet shallow anti-Communism of the day and a caricature of patriotism prevented me from asking the right questions about such matters as mutually assured destruction and the origins of that abhorrent doctrine in the twisted minds behind the Manhattan Project. To question the statist war machine crafted by wicked oligarchs would have been unthinkable to me.

While in seminary, in a flash, all that was incinerated. It was when I read this passage from The Loyolas and the Cabots, by Sister Catherine, M.I.C.M.:

One Thursday afternoon, at dusk, walking up to Harvard Square, I caught sight of the headlines in the evening newspapers. ATOMIC BOMB DROPPED ON JAPAN! I read about it and could not go on. I returned to St. Benedict Center, and told them that hundreds of thousands of women, children, and old men had been killed or injured by something called an atom bomb which had been dropped on a teeming Japanese city from an American airplane.

That evening, after Father’s lecture, St. Benedict Center stated that it was deeply grieved by the news of the atom bombing in the evening papers. We could not find it in our hearts to rejoice over the wholesale slaughter of innocent people. We had, months before this, been obliged to disagree with the officers who were in the Army Occupation courses, who had come into the Center and had told us that it was part of their teaching that the Japanese were sub-human. We were at a loss to understand what a “sub-human” being could possibly be, since all men were possessed of spiritual souls, and the Japanese were admittedly men. This “sub-human” theory seemed very much like the old attacks on the nature of man, against which the Council of Vienne pronounced, in 1311, when it condemned as erroneous any teaching which denied that the rational soul was by itself and by its nature the form of the body.

The atomic bombing of Japan, to our thinking, was un-Christian. The discussion which followed this announcement lasted a long time. The military personnel who were present explained the possible technical reasons for the dropping of the bomb. We reiterated our ethical and Catholic indignation. Actually, we said, we were fearful for Western civilization.

Later, I would study the Catholic just war doctrine and learn why such a principled response was the only position a Catholic could take, but those three paragraphs forever demolished my erroneous and smug certitude in this moral matter of historical and very present importance. Today, as a theological and philosophical disciple of Father Feeney and Brother Francis, I draw my political principles from our Catholic patrimony; eschewing the sacred cows of Anglo-American (Protestant) “conservatism,” I find in Spanish Carlism a beautiful synthesis of Christian political order and in Distributism a fine expression of a truly common-good Christian economic order.

In other words, I would like to conserve what is worth conserving, not the anti-Christian, post-Enlightenment refuse that many so-called “conservatives” cling to with all their might, as I stupidly did in the 1980’s.

Those who would like to read more on the subject of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are invited to ponder these offerings: