Thursday 26 Nov 2020 | 01:48 | SYDNEY
Thursday 26 Nov 2020 | 01:48 | SYDNEY

Hiroshima and Nagasaki still debated


Sam Roggeveen


14 November 2007 16:49

Tony Coady's op-ed in The Age today, which argues that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were acts of terrorism, got a strong response from Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt, who makes the familiar utilitarian argument that by sacrificing Japanese civilians in those two cities, the US saved perhaps twenty million more that would have died in an invasion of the Japanese home islands.

Looking at the way the US and allies like Australia fight wars today, it seems Coady's argument in favour of discrimination has won out decisively over the utilitarian ethic endorsed by Bolt. The US spends huge sums improving its ability to hit military targets without causing 'collateral damage' because it knows the high public cost of civilian casualties and realises that Iraqis and Afghans will eventually have to be won over by the quality of US mercy, not its military power. Guantanomo Bay, Abu Ghraib and the practice of extraordinary rendition are, of course, serious exceptions to this trend, but it is a trend nonetheless. The Western way of warfare has become far less destructive and more discriminatory since World War II, and prescribes ever more closely to the demands of the just war tradition. 

It is difficult to disown the past, but in their actions, it is clear that Western militaries and their political leaderships have cast aside the idea that it is acceptable to deliberately kill innocents in service of the greater good.

NB. Just to pre-empt angry 'What about Iraq?' emails, I'm referring very specifically to the manner in which Western militaries fight, not the moral grounds for going to war in the first place.