Christians, Just War and the Hiroshima Bombing

There are three ways of looking at war.

  1. Realism holds that war amoral; it is “collective killing for a collective purpose,” and is simply “politics by another means.”
  2. Just-war Tradition holds that war is evil, but it is an evil that can be justified to a certain extent under certain circumstances
  3. Pacifism holds that war is evil, and that participation in war cannot be justified.

Realism takes its name from the fact that the just-war tradition and pacifism are both forms of idealism, in that they elevate certain ideals above the political “realities” of the world.  In this sense, the just-war perspective and the pacifist perspective are variations on a single perspective toward war.  It is this single perspective that the church has always embraced, at various times assuming one of the two must justify itself as truly belonging to the idealist perspective.  I am quite convinced that it is believers in just-war tradition who must justify from scripture and tradition that they are in line with the perspective of the church; others feel just-war is the default idealist stance and pacifists must justify themselves scripturally and rationally.  But just-war and pacifism are of a sort, while political realism, or realpolitik, is of another sort.

Today is the 65th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.  For Christians in America, this serves as a chance to reflect whether we truly hold to the Christian faith’s understanding of war, or whether we embrace a realism that has no room for Christian theology.  For the just-war tradition, the atomic bombing is not justified.  The killing of civilians, even in order to save several times as many soldiers’ lives in the long run, is never a justified option in war, according to the just-war tradition.  As such, the just-war tradition requires both sacrifice and faith to adhere to.  But for faithful Christians, there are no other options.  Today is, accordingly, a day of mourning, a day of repentance and a day of dedication.  In short, a day that will set Christians at odds with patriotic America, to whom Hiroshima was (perhaps) regrettable, but necessary and right.


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