Have We Become “Sin Eaters”?
or Catholic Answers on The Bomb

As a group, we’ve discussed more than once the morality of dropping The Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II. I don’t know that we’ve ever reached consensus on the topic. In our deliberations, I have tended to speak less and listen more, since most of you are better read in both history and moral theology than I am — but I tend to think that dropping the bomb was a bad idea. Some might call it a “necessary evil,” but my basic understanding of Catholic morality suggests to me that there is no such thing.

This past week, the Atomic Bomb debate made national headlines as President Obama became the first sitting U.S. President to visit Hiroshima, stopping short of apologizing for the bombing, but giving critics plenty to pan. I read two very different conservative op-eds that give a group like ours plenty to ponder.

  • The first, “The Obama Narrative Goes to Hiroshima,” is a critical dissection of his remarks that plays up the president’s tendency to remove context and equate very different things with each other in order to advance his own views. I found much of this article easy to agree with — and yet…
  • The second, entitled “Conservative criticism of Hiroshima bombing worse than Obama’s,” reminds today’s conservatives that at least two of the great conservative thinkers of the last century, Russell Kirk and Richard Weaver, were scathing in their criticism of the decision to drop The Bomb, calling it indefensible.

Kirk wrote, “Five months have elapsed since Hiroshima was destroyed…” and Americans had proven themselves no better than “little puppets.” Kirk said the dropping of the bombs was the “trump of doom; it was sounded, and the gulf yawning; and we got on listening to ‘the Hit Parade,’ striking, drinking, fornicating, cheating, hating.” Kirk wrote that Americans “are miserable animals in the shambles.” … Weaver was just as horrified and explicit: “And is anything saved? We cannot be sure. True, there are a few buildings left standing around, but what kind of animal is going to inhabit them? I have become convinced in the past few years that the essence of civilization is ethical (with perhaps some helping out from aesthetics). And never has the power of ethical discrimination been as low as it is today. The atomic bomb was a final blow to the code of humanity. I cannot help thinking that we will suffer retribution for this.”

[Blogger’s Note: The links within the quote above are worth a look, too.]

In the midst of these points and counter-points, I ran across something that purports to be both Catholic and definitive on the topic: this article by Catholic Answers president Christopher Check, entitled, “Dropping the Atomic Bomb Was Wrong. Period.” The tone of the article is at times at prickly as the title, but Check uses the Catechism, the words of our past popes, and Catholic morality to lay out a pretty convincing case. You can hear the Americanism targeted by Check in “The Obama Narrative Goes to Hiroshima,” and I fear my own equivocating on this topic is a result of judging by effects.

The clip above, from the film The Bourne Legacy, was chilling to me the first time I saw it, and in the context of this question, is even more troubling. Time and distance, perhaps, turn each of us into a “sin eater” of sorts — justifying immorality in war as necessary evil.

I have, more than once, said that Catholic Christians should be willing, like Jesus and His saints, to lose, to suffer, and even to die on principle. I find myself more convinced than ever that The Bomb should never have been deployed — that its use and our justification, is the result of sin upon sin upon sin, compounded; the actions of fallen men reacting, wrongly, to a fallen world. We can point to the reasons, understand the decisions — but nonetheless we must repent.

A final note: I will be reading, but haven’t yet, the pamphlet written by Anscombe and suggested by Check, protesting Truman’s honorary degree. Would love a robust online discussion on this topic!


  1. Timshel says:

    I have since read the pamphlet by Anscombe. It is witty, thought-provoking, and worth the read…

  2. […] I’m just not sure war, when it comes down to it, affords those things in any abundance. In ‘Sin Eaters’ Timshel invited discussion on the morality of dropping The Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I […]

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