Posts tagged Atomic bomb

Wartime Logic

Suppose that you have — somehow or another — conclusively proven that there is just no way to have a modern war without bombing cities and massacreing innocent people.[1] That leaves you with a hard incompatibility claim between moralism and militarism — so if you go around morally condemning military tactics (like the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, say, or the firebombing of Tokyo) because they killed innocent people, then you’d end up having to condemn any modern war at all as immoral, no matter who fought it or how it was fought.

Many people, when they reach this point in the argument, want to shove it at you as if the incompatibility made for an obvious reductio ad absurdum of any kind of moralism about military tactics — Oh, well, if it’s always immoral to bomb cities then you couldn’t have any wars. That’s why it must not always be immoral to bomb cities. I honestly don’t know why so few of the people who give this argument ever even seem to have imagined that their conversation partner might take the incompatibility as an obvious reductio ad absurdum of any kind of militarismOh, well, if it’s always immoral to kill innocent people, you can’t bomb cities, and if you can’t bomb cities, you can’t have any wars. And that’s precisely why you shouldn’t have any wars.


  1. [1] Actually, I think this has been more or less conclusively proven. And that’s precisely why you shouldn’t have any wars.

We knew that the world would not be the same.

This is a clip from a 1965 interview with J. Robert Oppenheimer, the brilliant theoretical physicist who became the director of the Manhattan Project’s secret weapons laboratory, one of the men most responsible for the creation of the atomic bomb. Oppenheimer learned Sanskrit in 1933, and studied the Bhagavad Gita in the original. Oppenheimer was asked to recall how he felt when he watched the Trinity test, the world’s first detonation of a nuclear weapon.

We knew the world would not be the same… A few people laughed; a few people cried…. Most people were silent.

I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita… Vishnu is trying to persuade the prince that he should do his duty; and to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form, and says Now I am become Death; the destroyer of worlds. I suppose we all felt that, one way or another.

— J. Robert Oppenheimer (1965), The Decision to Drop the Bomb

This is from a story about Hayao Miyazaki’s new film Kaze Tachinu (The Wind Rises), which is an animated bio-pic (the first that Miyazaki has ever done) about Horikoshi Jiro, a brilliant engineer, and one of the most gifted minds in Japan during the 1920s and 1930s. Horikoshi dreamed of flying and threw himself into designing aeroplanes; he designed the plane that would later become infamous as the Mitsubishi A6M Zero. The film has been a huge success in Japan, but its anti-militarist themes have attracted some Patriotically-Correct furor from Japanese nationalists.

In the words of Concordia University Japanese history professor Matthew Penney, Kaze Tachinu is “a film about war but…not a war film.”

“What Miyazaki offers is a layered look at how Horikoshi’s passion for flight was captured by capital and militarism, and the implications of this for thinking about the history of technology [in Japan],” Penney wrote in a recent article for Asia-Pacific Journal.

. . .

My wife and staff would ask me, Why make a story about a man who made weapons of war? Miyazaki said in a 2011 interview with Japan’s Cut magazine. And I thought they were right. But one day, I heard that Horikoshi had once murmured, All I wanted to do was to make something beautiful. And then I knew I’d found my subject. . . .

— Jeremy Blum, Animation Legend Hayao Miyazaki under attack in Japan for anti-war film
South China Morning Post (August 16, 2013)

Over on Facebook, I posted a clip from the Oppenheimer interview earlier this month; in reply, Ryan Calhoun writes:

One of the underlooked tragedies of the Manhattan Project, and the State in general, is how it takes the brilliance of individuals like Einstein, Oppenheimer and Feynman and uses it to absolutely destroy humanity. There’s no doubting the State’s successes. The Manhattan Project is statism at its best.

— Ryan Calhoun, Re: J. Robert Oppenheimer
Facebook (August 9, 2013)