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I’ve been surprised a few times in the past week as I have seen many libertarians claiming that the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were justified. Of course, they can use the word libertarian all they wish, but the fact is that they are not friends of private property rights.
You cannot be in favor of the mass killing of innocent people and then claim to be on the side of the private property ethic without being caught up in a contradiction.
The first rebuttal to that, typically, is that they, the Japanese, weren’t innocent.
Here are two problems with this rebuttal:
A collective is not an actor, and thus is not a moral actor; only an individual is a moral actor.
“They” didn’t do anything. Those who went to fight in the war did something, but not those who stayed home. Those that were killed by the a-bombs were mostly, if not nearly all, non-murderers and non-attempted-murderers. It cannot be argued consistently that it was justifiable to bomb them.
The second rebuttal (sometimes the first rebuttal, but is always a response either way), is that it would have required more deaths to invade Japan than what it did cost blowing up two cities. There are also three huge problems with this rebuttal:
Utilitarianism is fundamentally flawed. It aggregates “utility,” “happiness,” etc., i.e., it tries to aggregate something that is subjective and not objective. There is no non-arbitrary way that we could measure and compare utility. This breaks down utilitarianism completely.
Even if we assume we can compare utility, it’s impossible to prove that it would have required more deaths to stop Japan by invading rather than by a-bombing them. It’s impossible because the alternative didn’t happen.
- It assumes the U.S. had to attack the Japanese mainland. The Japanese were already weak because they were a country that was not yet rich and couldn’t keep up with the 8 years of damage the war had taken on their military. They were ready to surrender, but the Allies insisted on unconditional surrender.
“The Japanese position was hopeless even before the first atomic bomb fell, because the Japanese had lost control of their own air.” – Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold, NYT interview on August 17, 1945
Some less popular but still widely used rebuttals include:
The war was decades ago, and we cannot make judgments about something that happened so long ago.
None of us were around during the time of the war, so it is easy to make a judgment about it.
War is war, and people die in war.
War is wrong, but if you are going to get in a war then you have to do whatever it takes to win it.
Here are the problems with these rebuttals.
There are two issues with the first rebuttal. The first issue is it is purely arbitrary to say that any person can’t judge before year X. The second issue is reason and logic applies to all situations throughout space and time; the passing of time does not suddenly make the two inapplicable to past situations.
It might be a fact that it is easier to pass judgement on an action some time after it occurs, but that does not render those judgments invalid.
War is war, but it does not in the least justify property rights violations. If a person violates another’s property rights, then the aggressive action can never be justified.
Those who use the last rebuttal get the first part correct, war is wrong, but somehow reach a horrible conclusion. Again, if somebody violates another’s rights, then the aggressive action can never be justified, and that doesn’t stop being the case when there is war.
Furthermore, the justifiability of the private property ethic, i.e., the libertarian conception of property rights, isn’t based upon feelings, but is rooted in the a priori of communication and argumentation. The validity of the private property ethic can only be denied with performative contradiction, and as such the ethic must be valid.
If you are going to be a supporter of the private property ethic, then you cannot view the atomic bombings of Japan in a favorable light. It would simply be contradictory to do so.
 Raico, Ralph. “Harry Truman and the Atomic Bomb.” Mises. November 24, 2010. https://mises.org/library/harry-truman-and-atomic-bomb You also had military leaders that were against the bomb or saw it as unnecessary. You can see in these two articles where they have some examples of exactly that.
 Kinsella, Stephan. “Argumentation Ethics and Liberty: A Concise Guide.” Mises. May 27, 2011. https://mises.org/library/argumentation-ethics-and-liberty-concise-guide.
 Kinsella, Stephan. “Hoppe’s Argumentation Ethics and Its Critics.” StephanKinsella.com. August 11, 2015. http://www.stephankinsella.com/2015/08/hoppes-argumentation-ethics-and-its-critics.
 Here’ another great article that also has other dissenting voices from that time:Ike and Leahy Were Right: The Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki Were Wrong