Hiroshima, mon horreur
In my judgment, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were huge evil mistakes. On the 60th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, editorials still debate whether the use of the atomic bomb was justified. I’m down on the side that it was a historic blunder. If he spoke French, President Truman should have said, “Hiroshima, mon errour.”
by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior Editor
The argument in favor of dropping the bomb is that Japan refused to surrender, and the US would have otherwise had to invade Japan at a huge cost of American lives. Japan still refused to surrender after the Hiroshima bombing of August 6, and a second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki on August 9, which killed 150,000. Japan surrendered on August 14.
But if the aim was to demonstrate the power of the bomb, the US could have dropped a demonstration in the ocean near Tokyo. That would have prevented the death toll from the bombing of Hiroshima of about 200,000. The US could have given the Japanese a few days to ponder their fate.
One credible reason for using the atomic bomb was to show the Soviet Union that the US had and was willing to use the bomb. This would enhance the influence of the US in dealing with the USSR. Indeed, President Truman delayed his meeting with Stalin until the bomb could be tested in the US. But this backfired, since the effect on the Soviet Union chiefs was to make them want the bomb too.
Many of the physicists who had worked on developing the atomic bomb were vehemently opposed to using it against Japan. Their motivation had been to target and deter Nazi Germany, which had sought to create an atomic bomb. After Germany was defeated, the physicists argued that it would be immoral to use the bomb on Japanese civilians. There were several petitions from physicists opposed to the use of the atomic bomb.
Truman himself did not fully accept responsibility for the effects of the bomb. In a radio speech on August 9, Truman declared that Hiroshima was a military base, which was bombed to avoid killing civilians, and only warn the Japanese of what could happen. When Truman spoke, the second bomb had already dropped on civilians in Nagasaki. Truman obviously misled the American public, since both bombs did target cities, not just military bases.
The US military was already using incendiary bombs on Tokyo and other Japanese cities, causing massive fires. Moral concerns about killing civilians gradually diminished during the war as the fierce battles with Japanese, who fought to the death, killed thousands of Americans.
One reason the Japanese did not wish to give up was that the Americans were demanding unconditional surrender. If the US had offered terms similar to what the peace treaty later specified, including the honorable preservation of their emperor, the Japanese would have most likely been willing to negotiate.
The petitions against the use of the bomb were led by Leo Szilard, a Hungarian-born physicist. The memorandum was meant to be presented to President Roosevelt. It warned that the use of the bomb would start an arms race with the USSR. But President Roosevelt died before the petition could be presented to him.
Truman would later provide contradictory statements about his decision to use the bombs. Truman referred to the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor and the “only language” the Japanese understood was force. He claimed Hiroshima was an industrial center, but in fact most of its industry was not destroyed. He knew the main target was civilians.
The worst-case scenario for a US invasion of Japan was an estimated of less than 50,000 American deaths. Those who defend the atomic bombings, including in history textbooks, often use grossly inflated numbers of potential casualties.
In reality, American chiefs of state have been ashamed of the atomic bombing, and perhaps in self-delusional denial. A film on the effects of the bombings was suppressed by the US government until recently. The chiefs of the US occupation did not allow photos and reports of the aftermath to be published.
Most Americans have readily swallowed the propaganda that using the atomic bombs were necessary to end the war against Japan. It is not pleasant to admit that America, champion of human rights, committed a colossal immoral historic blunder.
The consequences of using the atomic bombs on Japan extend beyond the nuclear arms race with the USSR to the proliferation of nuclear weapons and now to the Levantine terrorists’ use of the bombings to justify their own threatened atomic attacks on the USA. The anti-American terrorists say that just as the US justified killing hundreds of thousands of Japanese during World War II, so too the violent jihadists justify killing thousands or million of Americans in their war.
This first of all presumes that the American use of the atomic bomb was morally justified, and the evidence seems to me to be overwhelming that it was immoral and militarily unjustified. Secondly, even if the American use was justified, a mass murder of American civilians could spur massive angry retaliation rather than surrender. The military and political circumstances of the US war on terror is utterly different from that of the US-Japan war of the 1940s.
Nevertheless, these arguments are made and endorsed by some terrorists under the guise of religion and perceived grievances. The US use of the atomic bomb is coming back to haunt us. Those who live by the sword risk having it used against them.
Bertrand Russell on Nuclear Testing
Nuclear Weapons -- Moral for Us, Immoral for Them?
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