Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

The Nagasaki Principle

Writing in the Boston Globe, historian James Caroll talks about “the Nagasaki Principle.” On 06 August 1945, the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. No matter whether we believe that act was justified or not, there was NO excuse or justification for dropping an additional nuclear weapon on Nagasaki three days later. We had seen what happened to Hiroshima. On 07 August 1945, 61 years ago today, we could have called off the strike on Nagasaki, but we went ahead as scheduled on 09 August 1945. Caroll refers to this kind of momentum in war, which we are seeing now in several wars around the world, as “the Nagasaki Principle.” Here’s a brief excerpt:

It is commonly said that war operates by the law of unintended consequences, but another, less-noted law operates as well. War creates momentum that barrels through normally restraining barriers of moral and practical choice. Decision makers begin wars, whether aggressively or defensively, in contexts that are well understood, and with purposes that seem proportionate and able to be accomplished. When destruction and hurt follow the outbreak of violence, however, and then when that destruction and hurt become extreme, the context within which war is begun changes radically. First assumptions no longer apply, and original purposes can become impossible. When that happens, what began as destruction for a goal becomes destruction for its own sake. War generates its own force in which everyone loses. This might be called the Nagasaki principle.

The Nagasaki principle comes in two parts. It can operate at the level of close combat, driving fighters to commit atrocities that, in normal conditions, they would abhor. It operates equally at the level of the commanders, leading them to order strikes out of desperation, frustration, or merely for the sake of “doing something.” Such strikes draw equivalent responses from the other side until the destruction is complete. After the fact, massive carnage can seem to have been an act for which no one is responsible, like the result of a natural disaster.

That’s when a second aspect of the Nagasaki principle comes into play — the refusal to undertake a moral reckoning with what has been done.

Read the rest of the essay here, before renewing efforts to work for peace. Call the White House Comment Line 202-456-1111 and urge them to try harder for an unconditional ceasefire in the Middle East and to call for a Middle East Peace Summit. We’ve seen the unintended consequences of the Nagasaki principle far too much recently.


August 7, 2006 - Posted by | nuclear weapons, peacemaking, the tragic

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