Lesser of Two Evils


Is there are any Church teaching on this? I often discuss the dropping of the atomic bombs (on Japan) with other Catholics. I’m against the dropping of the bombs because the Church gives clear guidelines on this. But sometimes I hear other Catholics saying that whilst these teachings (must discriminate between military and civilian targets and the all the rest of it) are important, they are overturned if one has no other choice but to let evil happen and thus one should go for the lesser of the two evils.

Should I be saying here the the dropping of the bombs could never be called a lesser of two evils? Or is there some teaching on this?



Very few Catholics at the time objected to the atomic bombing of Japan. Some did object to the bombing of Nagasaki, the center of Japanese Catholicism.

It is easy to say, in hindsight, that the Japanese would have surrendered anyway. There is no way to know how long that might have taken. If you were at all familiar with the horrible atrocities committed by the Japanese against civilians and prisoners of war, you would understand the need to bring the war to an end as soon as possible. The bombing of Japanese cities undoubtedly killed more civilians than military personnel but the end of the war freed the Japanese people (and their hundreds of millions of victims) from their military dictators.


We are never to do evil. We are never to deliberately choose an evil act, even though it may have good effects.

This principle was given to us by St Paul in Romans 3:8...

And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some claim that we say), "Let us do evil that good may come "? Their condemnation is just.

The principle of double effect can allow us to act in a way that has unintended evil/bad consequences. But the good effect must outweigh the bad, and the good effect cannot be achieve directly via the bad effect, and the bad effect must be unintended/unavoidable.

In the case of dropping the bombs, the good effect can be argued (compelling so) to outweigh the bad. No one I think disagrees here. But the good effect is achieved *through *the bad effect. We have done evil that good may come of it.

The Catholic Church rejects consequentialism (where outcomes are the only determinant of moral choices) as the basis of morality. And any defense of dropping the bombs invariably amounts to consequentialism. It is understandable that people see things this way, but nonetheless an incorrect approach to morality.


I have often heard that the intelligence at the time suggested that More would have died if we allowed Japan to further their Imperial Campain. I have seen estimates upwards to 3.5 million American casualties. The thought being that saving 3.5 million casualties for bombing a military base with 150,000–246,000+ civilians killed as by-standards.

not endorsing this logic but attesting it exists


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