But tyranny is even worse. One might reasonably dispute the appropriate necessity of bombing Nagasaki (as opposed to some other target). One cannot reasonably dispute the appropriate necessity of defeating the Empire of Japan.
"The horror and perversity of war is immensely magnified by the addition of scientific weapons. For acts of war involving these weapons can inflict massive and indiscriminate destruction, thus going far beyond the bounds of legitimate defense. Indeed, if the kind of instruments which can now be found in the armories of the great nations were to be employed to their fullest, an almost total and altogether reciprocal slaughter of each side by the other would follow, not to mention the widespread devastation that would take place in the world and the deadly after effects that would be spawned by the use of weapons of this kind.The firebombings of Dresden, Hamburg, Tokyo, and other cities, along with atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were all immoral acts.
All these considerations compel us to undertake an evaluation of war with an entirely new attitude. The men of our time must realize that they will have to give a somber reckoning of their deeds of war for the course of the future will depend greatly on the decisions they make today.
With these truths in mind, this most holy synod makes its own the condemnations of total war already pronounced by recent popes, and issues the following declaration.
Any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities of extensive areas along with their population is a crime against God and man himself. It merits unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation."
Allowing the war to continue would also have been an immoral act.
War is not fair. God does not always give us clear moral choices when he puts us to the test. In 1945, we had the choice between doing evil and doing evil, and I like to think we chose the lesser of the two, but for the sake of the innocents who died let's be honest enough to admit that the lesser of two evils is still evil.
Rationalization is for moral cowards. A hero faces up to his choices squarely and accepts the consequences. General Curtis LeMay was no coward. He was a real man who wasn't afraid to face the truth. "Killing Japanese didn't bother me very much at that time," he once said. "I suppose if I had lost the war, I would have been tried as a war criminal.... Every soldier thinks something of the moral aspects of what he is doing. But all war is immoral and if you let that bother you, you're not a good soldier1".
On one hand, LeMay's bombing campaign killed something like 500,000 civilians. On the other hand, the horrific death toll generated by the bombings -- and the atomic bombings in particular -- ended the war without need for an invasion, which would have cost many more lives. And on the Gripping Hand, if we had invaded Japan, Fukuoka would have been nuked, and my beloved Obasan (aunt), then age 10, would have been roasted, changing my entire life.
The guilt is not all our own, of course. We share it with the Japanese. The decision to drop the atomic bomb was not made in August of 1945; it was made in December of 1941, by the Japanese of the time. After Pearl Harbor, the development and use of the atomic bomb was as inevitable as night following day.
Even so, we had the final choice, and we chose to kill innocent civilians in order to end the war. There's no point in second guessing that choice. We did what we did, and God will judge us. May He have mercy on all warriors everywhere.