18 March 2022

Doctor Harricus Truman, War Criminal?

Today is the Birthday of one the most outstanding philosophers of the last century, Elizabeth Anscombe (1919-2001); Fellow of Somerville and pupil and friend of Wittgenstein. She was a strongly conviction convert to the Catholic Faith and a doughty warrior for truth and logical precision. Cuius animae propitietur Deus.


I have been reminded of an episode in her life by some recent talk about War Criminals. Prosecuting people for War Crimes seems to me a very good idea, except for the fact that what it really ... in the real world ... ends up meaning is "Victors' Justice". We half-educated peasants might simply cry "String the bastards up", but our pompous middle class intelligentsia craves fancy terminology.

Some of the issues involved in discussion about War Crimes came up in Oxford during the weeks before President Harry Truman was due to receive the honorary Degree of DCL at the Encaenia on June 20 1956 (rather endearingly, Mr Public Orator referred to him as 'Harricus'.)

Anscombe decided to oppose this honour in Convocation. "I determined to oppose the proposal to give Mr Truman an honorary degree here in Oxford. ... I informed the Senior Proctor of my intention to oppose Mr Truman's degree. He consulted the Registrar to get me informed on procedure. The Vice-Chancellor was informed; I was cautiously asked if I had got up a party. I had not; but a fine House [of Convocation] was whipped up to vote for the honour. The dons at St John's were simply told "The women are up to something in Convocation; we have to go and vote them down". In Worcester, in All Souls, in New College, however, consciences were greatly exercised, as I have heard. A reason was found to satisfy them: It would be wrong to try to PUNISH Mr Truman! I must say I rather like St John's."

The opposing speech, favouring the granting of the honour, was made by Alan Bullock, later Lord Bullock, one of our British Great and Good (a generally mucky lot). He was author of a still-famous book on Hitler, based largely on the Nuremberg Trials. He

" had an odious task. He must make a speech which should pretend to show that a couple of massacres to a man's credit are not exactly a reason for not showing him honour. He had, however, one great advantage: he did not have to persuade his audience, who were already perfectly convinced of that proposition. But at any rate he had to make show.

"The defence, I think, would not have been well received at Nuremberg. ..."

Yes; Anscombe was, like many very clever and very principled people, not a little waspish. "a quite mediocre person can do spectacularly wicked things without thereby becoming impressive ...". And here is a nice little praeteritio; "I will not suggest, as some would like to do, that there was an exultant itch to use the new [nuclear] weapons ... We can now reformulate the principle of doing evil that good may come: every fool can be as much of a knave as suits him. I recommend this history to undergraduates reading Greats as throwing a glaring light on Aristotle's thesis that you cannot be or do any good where you are stupid."

BTW: since this is a Catholic blog, I shall not enable comments arguing that a good end can justify an intrinsically evil means. Anscombe upholds "the idea that ... actions, such as murder, may be absolutely excluded." When the Great Catholic Restoration happens, S John Paul's robust and cogent Encyclical Veritatis Splendor should inevitably hold centre stage. And Elizabeth Anscombe will make a fine supporting figure to its paragraph 80

I resume my quotation of her pamphlet about what happened in Oxford:

"I vehemently object to our action in offering Mr Truman honours, because one can share in the guilt of a bad action  by praise and flattery, as also by defending it. When I puzzle myself over the attitude of the Vice-Chancellor and the Hebdomadal Council, I look around to see if any explanation is available why so many Oxford people should be willing to flatter such a man."

 She concluded her pamphlet:

"It is possible still to withdraw from this shameful business in some slight degree: it is possible not to go to Encaenia; if it were embarrassing, to someone who would normally go, to plead other business, he could take to his bed.

"I, indeed should fear to go, in case God's patience suddenly ends."

Wow! What a woman!




william arthurs said...

On a related subject. There have been cases where recipients of honorary degrees awarded by UK universities have been deprived of them later. Maybe best known, Mugabe's honorary doctorate from Edinburgh, awarded 1984, deprived 2007.

I just read the current Statutes of the University of Oxford and I cannot find any power to deprive someone of a degree (by a vote). I would love to be told that I am wrong and that I missed it because I have spent too long staring at a computer screen.

B flat said...

Dear Father, You always write well, and when you write of praiseworthy people and their actions, as in this case, it is truly edifying. I really have no quibble with this article at all. I usually contain my distress because universally the climate of expression is so restricted and alien to traditional thought. But now you have contributed to the trend. Forgive my presumption in remarking this.

St John Henry Newman preached a sermon, for the Nativity of St John the Baptist I think, but I cannot verify this at present. He stated that the Church only celebrates the birthdays of three people: Our Lord Jesus Christ, The Mother of God and ever Virgin Mary, and St John the Baptist. He explains why, and You know this very well, I am sure.
Every other member of the Church who dies, is remembered on that day by those who remember at all, either by prayers for Eternal Rest, or by public celebrations if the reposed is recognised as a Saint.
In Catholic Europe, the custom was to keep one's Namesday, the feast of the Saint with whose name one is baptized, because our sharing in that sanctity, judged at the time of our death is the focal point of our life. This is still the case among Catholics in Europe.
But we anglophone Faithful, habitually in an alien and now hostile milieu, erode that clarity of focus, and distract the consciousness of our purpose in life, by looking back at a birthday as significant, as those who have no hope beyond death do.
You have done a pious thing in the memory of a great lady, but how much better an offering if it had nudged us to prayer for her soul, on the anniversary of her repose in The Lord?

phaedruscj said...

Question: Truman a war criminal? Answer: No

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Father, Many Americans alive remember Ronald Wilson Reagan (Hmmm six letters in each name) claiming America is that city shining on the hill.

Yes, POTUS and many of its citizens think America is the Church as one of its early Puritan ministers, John Winthrop, claimed as he was sailing to the colonies (His City on a hill sermon is odd).

Separation of Church and State?

Not in a Puritan Empire which thinks God has chosen it to change the world by any means necessary not by persuasion..

Cornelius a Lapide: A city set on an hill, &c. Christ here compares His Apostles, 1. To salt. 2. To light. 3. To a city conspicuous on a mountain. The Church, that is to say, the prelates of the Church. are often compared in the Psalms to the same thing, as Ps. xlvi. and xlviii. and lxxxvii; also Is. lx., lxv., and Ezek. xl. As, therefore, a city upon a mountain cannot be bid, but strikes the eyes of all beholders, so do apostles, prelates, and priests come before the eyes of all men, that if they discharge their office rightly, and preach the gospel more by their lives than by their words, they will attract many to Christ, and have praise of all: but if they do otherwise, they will turn many away from the Saviour and be blamed by all.

America is a universal Puritan Church, its leaders are Christ's Apostles, and no matter what they appear to do objectively, as always being guided by Him, they can not and do not commit war crimes.

I mean do you think that Josue was a war criminal?

armyarty said...

In defense of President Truman:
He was much LESS culpable than Bomber Harris, who knew exactly what he was doing.
While it is true that many of the Admirals and Generals in the U.S. forces were appalled by the decision to drop the two atomic bombs, the people who were in on the secret were all ardent supporters of air power. Truman was being advised that there would be a mllion American casulties if he refused to use nuclear weapons. It was a preposterous claim, but Truman had never been an insider in FDRs administration. He made a bad decision, but it was made on bad advice. Little by little, as he shed FDR's inner circle of communists and assorted maniacs, Truman changed US policy to a much more justifiable series of decisions. The Morganthau plan was replaced by the Marshal Plan, and the original policy of genocide against Germany was scrapped.

Albrecht von Brandenburg said...


Separation of Church and State is a pernicious evil.

The fact that the puritans abused the concept is neither here nor there: abusus non usum tollit.

WRT current affairs, you'd be amazed how many commenters at a certain trad newspaper become consequentialists when US interests demand chucking moral principles out the window.


Albrecht von Brandenburg said...


As E. Michael Jones explains, the Marshall plan, while not as murderous as the Morgenthau plan, was just as evil - only it was more devious. It involved grafting US/Lockean liberalism onto German culture, with utterly disastrous results (i.e., the proliferation of pornography). The US has still not paid its debt in this, and other regards, to divine justice, but it seems that this reckoning is fast approaching.


Howard said...

Does Uriah the Hittite count as a war crime? I suppose it was only one murder, and it was not repeated, so maybe it still meets with the approval of this woman I never heard of before and will never hear of again to honor King David. It might be harder to get her approval for honoring Joshua.

Both are saints. If Oxford cannot honor them, so much for Oxford. (Actually, so much for Oxford in either case.) If we cannot honor them, so much for us. God honors them.

If the standard for honor is not accomplishment but perfection, the list of those honored will be very short indeed.

coradcorloquitur said...

And let us not forget two pertinent facts concerning the atomic atrocity in Japan:

1) Nagasaki was the Japanese city with the largest concentration of Catholics, the bomb being dropped near the location of the Roman Catholic cathedral
2) Hiroshima also had significant number of Catholics by Japanese standards
3) Harry Truman was a fervent Mason, one who insultingly referred to Pius XII as Mr. Pacelli rather than by his ecclesiastical office, as decency and diplomatic decorum generally dictate

Any ideas as to what the logical conclusion to this syllogism might be?

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Because Americans have been propagandised to think like the way a popular tee shirt reads Back-to-Back Undefeated World War Champscitizens are loathe to identify any WW2 era political as a war criminal.

OK, then - consider The Korean War. Truman did not get authorization from the Congress to send troops there and, as Chief Executive of the country, he should have prevented American technology from being sold to the Russkies who then transferred it to the Vietnamese and they used the armaments to kill America soldiers.

In Korea we have direct killing of Americans with Soviet weapons. The American casualty roll in the Korean War was 33,730 killed and 103,284 wounded… The 130,000-man North Korean Army, which crossed the South Korean border in June 1950, was trained, supported, and equipped by the Soviet Union, and included a brigade of Soviet T-34 medium tanks (with U.S. Christie suspensions). The artillery tractors were direct metric copies of Caterpillar tractors. The trucks came from the Henry Ford-Gorki plant or the ZIL plant. The North Korean Air Force has 180 Yak planes built in plants with U.S. Lend-Lease equipment. These Yaks were later replaced by MiG-15s powered by Russian copies of Rolls-Royce jet engines sold to the Soviet Union in 1947.”

“By using data of Russian origin it is possible to make an accurate analysis of the origins of this equipment. It was found that all the main diesel and steam-turbine propulsion systems of the ninety-six Soviet ships on the Haiphong supply run that could be identified (i.e., eighty-four out of the ninety-six) originated in design or construction outside the USSR. We can conclude, therefore, that if the State and Commerce Departments, in the 1950s and 1960s, had consistently enforced the legislation passed by Congress in 1949, the Soviets would not have had the ability to supply the Vietnamese War – and 50,000 more Americans and countless Vietnamese would be alive today

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

How many times have we heard about our heroes yet how rare is the reference to observation that "War is the health of the State "(Randolph Bourne) and that he military industrial complex loves wars because wealth.

How can that racket be stopped? A highly decorated Marine has the answer:

The only way to smash this racket is to conscript capital and industry and labor before the nations manhood can be conscripted. One month before the Government can conscript the young men of the nation -- it must conscript capital and industry and labor. Let the officers and the directors and the high-powered executives of our armament factories and our munitions makers and our shipbuilders and our airplane builders and the manufacturers of all the other things that provide profit in war time as well as the bankers and the speculators, be conscripted -- to get $30 a month, the same wage as the lads in the trenches get.

Let the workers in these plants get the same wages -- all the workers, all presidents, all executives, all directors, all managers, all bankers -- yes, and all generals and all admirals and all officers and all politicians and all government office holders -- everyone in the nation be restricted to a total monthly income not to exceed that paid to the soldier in the trenches!

Let all these kings and tycoons and masters of business and all those workers in industry and all our senators and governors and majors pay half of their monthly $30 wage to their families and pay war risk insurance and buy Liberty Bonds.

Why shouldn't they?

They aren't running any risk of being killed or of having their bodies mangled or their minds shattered. They aren't sleeping in muddy trenches. They aren't hungry. The soldiers are!


Jhayes said...


When Amy Coney Barrett, one of the six Catholic Justices (of nine) on the U.S. Supreme Court, was questioned in
the Senate before her appointment was approved, the New York Post reported this exchange:

“when Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) asked when it would be “proper for a judge to put their religious views above applying the law,” Barrett answered, “Never.”

“It’s never appropriate for a judge to impose that judge’s personal convictions, whether they derive from faith or anywhere else, on the law,” she added.”

Which follows from the country’s decision to provide in its Constitution that it would have no established religion.

Quite different from the days of Cuius regio, eius religio where people who did not want to follow the Prince’s religion needed to move to the territory of a Prince of their own religion

PM said...

Incidentally, I was one told by someone who seemed to know that St John's was, until the 1970s, a stronghold of Freemasonry. Costin as president was supposed to recruit favoured students into the lodges. That ended in the 1970s, partly because of meritocracy in the choice of dons and pupils, and partly because of Sir Richard Southern's influence.

Banshee said...

One is reminded of the late great Joe Desch of NCR, who created a mechanical Enigma solving computer, the so-called bombe.

He was under the supervision of one of the world's worst security officers, who lived in his house, took the best bedroom, and also made himself unpleasant to Alan Turing when he visited.

This guy told Desch that every moment that the decryption computer was not finished, Joe Reach was murdering thousands of other Americans and Germans and so on.

But at the same time, Desch felt that every day, his decryption was an act of the murder of thousands of Germans.

Which is why Desch suffered from guilt and depression for the rest of his life, despite working with confessors, leaving the Church, and eventually coming back to the Church in old age.

Edgcombe seems to be the sort of judge who finds everyone guilty of everything. Guilty if you do, guilty if you don't, and stealing lines from St. John and Irenaeus to find you guilty. Lovely.


Bfbpuzzled said...

Scottish universities recently removed honorary degrees from the immediately previous President of the USA. As he said himself “I am the evidence”

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear AvB The fact that the puritans abused the concept is neither here nor there

Of course it is relevant because I was writing about the Puritan Empire, but just because I made mention of it does not mean I support the Puritan Empire (see Charles Coulombe's book) or the separation of church and state which is an Americanist heresy.

If you are interested in pursuing the question further, a great place to star is "Liberty, The God that failed" by Christopher Ferrara

TJM said...

LOL - but that for that "war criminal" you all might be speaking either German or Japanese!

OreamnosAmericanus said...

It's fun to do moral autopsies about war crimes from a safe and comfortable distance, untouched by consequences.

I am far more concerned with peace crimes, eg. the mass invasion of Europe and North America by tens of millions of Third World aliens.

This is a world-historical and unprecedented crime against which the churches say nothing at all and, on the contrary, act as validators and cheerleaders, ignoring the destruction of ancient and settled lands out of some kind of recently concocted "social justice" blather and joining with the UN and other deeply anti-Christian bodies in anathematizing anyone who objects, or even notices, as a "racist."

THAT is a crime against humanity that I hear nothing about from the sanctified.

coradcorloquitur said...

Nothing but the harrowing truth in your contribution above, OreamnosAmericanus. Blessings.