Here is a guest post by Greg Mockeridge:
It should go without saying that readers of TAC are familiar with the work of Fr. (soon to be bishop) Barron. His presence on You Tube is ubiquitous. He has also produced the Catholicism series, featured not only on Catholic media outlets like EWTN, but also on secular outlets like Pbs. In and of themselves, using outlets such as these to get the message of the Church out are commendable. And certainly Fr. Barron has done some good work along these lines and has earned a rather immense popularity as a result. Again, in and of itself, being popular is not a bad thing. But popularity can be just as dangerous in Catholic circles as in secular circles. In fact, I would say it is even more dangerous in Catholic circles than secular, given that it is done under the aegis of Catholic orthodoxy.
Any honest Catholic who has paid attention to what has gone on in popular orthodox Catholic circles cannot deny that there are serious problems with the way many Catholics, clergy and lay alike, prominent in orthodox circles have conducted themselves over at least the last decade. For example, we have seen the mean spirited and calumnious treatment by Mark Shea of those, Catholic and non-Catholic, who take views on geopolitical matters that conflict with his. It doesn’t matter to Shea that such views are both consistent with Catholic teaching and factually compelling. Even worse is the manner with which bishops like Archbishops Chaput
speak on matters such as capital punishment, going to the extreme of falsely asserting that the death penalty system is administered in a racist manner against minorities. We have also seen Cardinal Timothy Dolan engage in race baiting calumny against the state of Arizona over SB 1070
, which allows, pursuant to what has been federal law since 1940, for local law enforcement to inquire about the immigration status of those they have reason to believe are in the country illegally. We also have the scandal of the USCCB, in their annual Fortnight for Freedom campaign, listing certain state immigration laws as violations of religious liberty
equal to that of the Obama Goonsquad (err Administration) forcing employers to provide coverage for contraception in their health insurance plans, despite conscience objections baed on religious conviction. Equating these two things cannot by justified by any stretch of the Catholic imagination.
Although I wouldn’t say Fr. Barron has gone to the lengths of the examples listed above, he is not without his serious problems. I first saw problems with Fr Barron when he gave a glowing review
of Ross Douthat’s book Bad Religion. This book was bad in its own right, bad research methodology and some bad religion of its own. Douthat nakedly misrepresents Catholic teaching with regard to socio-economics as well as misrepresenting Michael Novak. Douthat’s portrayal of the torture issue is no different in substance than that of Mark Shea, sans the snark. How any respectable orthodox Catholic, much less one who is an influential cleric, can give a glowing review of such a dishonest piece of work is beyond baffling.
Then Fr. Barron, in this article
for the National Review of all publications, draws parallels between the anti-Catholic sentiment of many of the American Founding Fathers and the pro-abortion movement of today. To be sure, many of our founders did harbor anti-Catholic sentiment, but to draw the parallels Fr. Barron did is not only without merit, but downright appalling. No such parallels are anywhere close to existent. I would say that the pro-abortion movement is not anti-Catholic as an end in itself, but sees Catholic opposition to abortion as a threat. In fact, these very same people are very favorable to the elements of Catholicism they think comports with their “social justice” worldview and often invoke it in an attempt to buttress their views.
So, it should be of no surprise that when Fr. Barron deals with an issue like the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (the 70th Anniversary of which passed a few days ago), his analysis would be woefully devoid of Catholic moral principles and a real good faith attempt to accurately present the circumstances within which President Truman made the decision to drop the atomic bombs.
Recently, I came across a video
he did last year where he deals with the subject. In it, he confirms that hunch. And in the same manner he juxtaposes the anti-Catholic sentiment of our Founders with the pro-abortion movement of today, he does the same with drawing parallels with support for the bomb drops with rejecting Catholic sexual teaching. First of all, his assertion that “very few” wars in human history were just vis-a-vis Catholic moral teaching is a matter of opinion, namely his, not of fact. He repeatedly says “clearly” that things like carpet bombings as well as the atomic bombings did not comport with the principle of proportionality. Well, clearly
, he is either ignorant of the circumstances within which these actions were taken or he is counting on the ignorance of his viewers. And, unfortunately, counting on the ignorance of many orthodox Catholics on issues like this is a well-founded assumption. Proportionality has do with the bad effect being avoided being greater than the bad effect inflicted. And in the cases he discusses, especially with regard to the atomic bombings, the case for the principle of proportionality being met is compelling. I would say it is incontrovertible. He says nothing about the principle of double effect and how it may apply to this situation.
Here’s the way Fr. Heribert Jone, considered a gold standard amongst orthodox Catholic moral theologians, outlined the moral principles regarding the use of atomic weapons:
The fourth condition required for positing an action that has an evil effect that there be a sufficient reason, i.e., a proportionate resulting good, to permit the evil effect. The morality of using either the atomic or hydrogen bomb as a weapon of war is therefore, not a question of principle, which remains unchangeable, but a question of fact, and the fact questioned is whether there can be a military objective so vital to an enemy, the destruction of which would be a sufficient reason to permit the death of a vast number of civilians who at most contribute only remotely and indirectly to the war effort. We think this proportion can exist 1) because today’s concept of “total war” has greatly restricted the meaning of the term “non-combatant”; 2) because in modern warfare the conscription of industry, as well as manpower, greatly extends the effort on the home front; and 3) because it is difficult to set limits to the defense action of a people whose physical and even spiritual existence is threatened by a godless tyranny. Therefore, while use of atomic weapons must be greatly restricted to the destruction of military objectives, nevertheless, it may be justified without doing violence to the principle of a twofold effect. (Moral Theology #219 pp. 143-44 1961 Edition)”
Looking at the circumstances Truman faced in 1945 through the lens of the above-stated principle will give us a sense of what a Catholic moral analysis of the atomic bombings should look like.
In his biography of Gen MacArthur, author William Manchester gives us a snapshot of the situation Truman faced:
Hirohito’s generals, grimly preparing for the invasion, had not abandoned hope of saving their homeland. Although a few strategic islands had been lost, they told each other, most of their conquests, including the Chinese heartland, were firmly in their hands, and the bulk of their army was undefeated. Even now they could scarcely believe that any foe would have the audacity to attempt landings in Japan itself. Allied troops, they boasted, would face the fiercest resistance in history. Over ten thousand kamikaze planes were readied for “Ketsu-Go,” Operation Decision. Behind the beaches, enormous connecting underground caves had been stocked with caches of food and thousands of tons of ammunition. Manning the nation’s ground defenses were 2,350,000 regular soldiers, 250,000 garrison troops, and 32,000,000 civilian militiamen, a total of 34,600,000, more than the combined armies of the United States, Great Britain, and Nazi Germany. All males aged fifteen to sixty, and all females ages seventeen to forty-five, had been conscripted. Their weapons included ancient bronze cannon, muzzle loaded muskets, bamboo spears, and bows and arrows. Even little children had been trained to strap explosives around their waists, roll under tank treads, and blow themselves up. They were called “Sherman’s carpets.” This was the enemy the Pentagon had learned to fear and hate,a country of fanatics dedicated to hara-kiri, determined to slay as many invaders as possible as they went down fighting. [American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880-1964, pp. 510-511)]
Clearly, in this scenario, the term non-combatant was not only “greatly restricted” but rendered completely meaningless by the Empire of Japan. The entire country was turned into one large military base. This actually made it impossible, even with today’s weapons technology, for the U.S. to target non-combatants.
As to the issue of proportionality, the only viable alternatives, a land invasion and/or complete blockade, would have resulted in millions of Japanese deaths and hundreds of thousands of American deaths. Anything less than complete unconditional surrender would have left the militarists in charge of the Japanese government that would have been free to collude with the Soviet Union, setting in motion an unimaginably dangerous post WWII and Cold War scenario.
This is not to say non-combatants weren’t killed in the bombings and that untold suffering wasn’t visited upon innocent Japanese as a result of the atomic bombs. Oftentimes in war, innocents bear the brunt of even just military actions, particularly when an enemy cares little to nothing for the innocent. Terms like “collateral damage” and “double effect” sound like callous ways to describe justifying such actions, but they are the most correct. This is the tragic reality. The good must sometimes be cruel in its conquest of evil. And any Catholic moral analysis of situations like these that either misrepresents or ignores these principles is not worthy of being called a Catholic moral analysis. Such distortion are what make blanket condemnations of the atomic bombings by people like Elizabeth Anscombe and those who quote her so appalling. Anyone who quotes that woman as a credible source on the subject of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is admitting to you, albeit unwittingly, that they don’t know what they are talking about.
This is not to say that opposition to the bombings have no room in a Catholic conscience. I myself do not believe Truman had any morally viable alternative. But that’s just my view. I am not the Magisterium. Nor is any one single person, not even the pope, when merely giving his own private view. But any opposition must include an accurate understanding of circumstance itself and a thoughtful analysis in light of Catholic moral principles. I have yet to come across such opposition.
In my opening remarks, I placed this problem within the larger context of the problematic conduct of many prominent orthodox Catholics. This is something that has been a deep source of pain for me for many years. These people have garnered popularity for being committed to the truth. To be sure, many of these same people have done great work in that regard. And that is what makes their betrayal of the truth on serious matters like this all the more harmful. This problem is only compounded by the indifference of orthodox Catholics who are either their colleagues or those who look up to them.
In Luke 6:26, Our Lord warns “Woe to you when all men speak well of you…”. He doesn’t qualify that with, “Unless those men are in Church circles.” It is a warning we cannot fail to heed, especially in the times within which we live. If we are not willing to hold fellow Catholics to a Catholic standard, we have no business holding the world to it.