It is easy to believe that the US should not have dropped the bomb. Many civilians were killed or injured, and civilians are off target according to the Just War theory promoted by the Catholics and many others. It rests on the idea that civilians are noncombatants, innocents, and should be safe from the traumas of war.
Yet William Buckley, the famous conservative writer and himself Catholic, suggested that perhaps that no longer applies. In the modern world with modern warfare, are civilians actually noncombatants? It's simple enough to see that in Imperial Japan during World War II, civilians were often encouraged to participate in the war effort. Some estimates claim that as many as 70% of the civilian population of Okinawa were injured or killed during the 82 day battle where the Allies occupied the island. To be sure, many were pressed into service. But many fought the invaders voluntarily just the same. Either way, they were not innocents.
Buckley's idea hardly singles out Japanese intentions. Across the sphere of total war, can it be argued that those who work in munitions factories are noncombatants? That those who organize and participate in scrap metal and scrap rubber drives are wholly innocent, or even those who merely buy war bonds? Still, there are true innocents involved, mostly the children. Therein we find the greatest tragedy of human warfare: that it has become so terrible that children are involved at all. But worse: that organizations such as Hamas and the Viet Cong, even the Japanese and Germans, have been heinous enough to use them as shields as well as actual fighters. This certainly isn't the fault of the children, but a reality that must be dealt with just the same.
The picture isn't pretty. Yet it seems be the face of modern war, and even though (by and large) the bad guys started the practices, it is still the reality we must live with. It is small comfort but we may just have to content ourselves, so much as we can, that it is not our fault. Even so, we must never forget the cost of war. That it leaves a bad taste, as it should, is a reflection of our humanity.