Physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer’s role in the development of the atomic bomb is the subject matter of a recently released feature film that bears the physicist’s surname. The movie has once again raised the question of whether or not the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was morally justifiable. From a Catholic perspective, the unequivocal answer is, “No, the United States was not morally justified in using these nuclear weapons.” One may never do evil that good may come of it. And to directly target civilian populations for mass destruction is a gross moral evil.
It has often been said that dropping the bombs was necessary to end the war with Japan. In saying this, the impression is usually given that there was almost universal support among our political and military leaders for these immoral actions. But that was not the case. Many of our citizens would be surprised to learn that among those who opposed the bomb’s use were General Dwight D. Eisenhower (who disdainfully referred to the bomb as “that awful thing”), General Douglas MacArthur, and Admiral William D. Leahy (who served as Chief of Staff to Presidents Roosevelt and Truman). Admiral Leahy summed up the opposition well when he said: “It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons.”
Let us pray that such immoral weaponry will never be used again — either by our country or by any other nation on God’s good earth.