A Horrible Anniversary

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Monday, August 6th was the 62nd anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima; tomorrow, August 9th marks the anniversary of the dropping of the second bomb on Nagasaki. Over those 62 years, there has been a lot of ink spilled on the moral rectitude, or lack thereof, of the decision to drop those bombs, ending World War II,

I have always thought the decision to drop those bombs to be the right one, horrible as the destruction and loss of life that resulted was. I think there is ample evidence that American officials were convinced that, had they been forced to mount an invasion of the Japanese homeland there would have been even greater destruction and loss of life to both the Japanese civilian and military populations, as well as to the American invaders. It was estimated that it would take a million soldiers to undertake the landing and that a significant portion of them would be killed. The belief was reinforced by Japanese ferocity, even in the face of hopeless odds, in battles from Guadalcanal to Okinawa and Iwo Jima. These struggles clearly indicated that the Japanese would fight to the death of the last soldier, rather than surrender. How much worse would it be when the battle reached the homeland itself?

Many have insisted that the use of such a destructive weapon on a civilian population was, at best, immoral, at worst, criminal. The argument goes that Japanese refusal to surrender was brought about by the Allies insistence that both Germany and Japan surrender unconditionally. They argue that, absent the allies insistence on this, and by offering at least the opportunity for some sort of negotiation, the enemy would have been more willing to consider surrender, bringing an earlier end to the war. That may have been true of the Germans, I think it unlikely that it was true of the Japanese. In 1945, it was clearly an already foregone conclusion that Japan could not win the war. She had no navy, no air force to speak of, and her army was being destroyed on the aforementioned Pacific islands. She had little, if any, remaining industrial capacity to rebuild either the navy or the air force; she had little or no capacity to sustain the battle, and yet she fought on. In fact, Japan would not surrender after the dropping of first A bomb; it took another to bring about the end of the war.

I think one point in all of this is too often overlooked. The decision to drop the bomb was a presidential decision and the president, by virtue of his oath of office, had a moral obligation to bring the war to as swift and successful a conclusion as possible. He had a responsibility to the country, not to mention the soldiers being prepared to carry out the invasion, to do what he could to save American lives and avoid unnecessary bloodshed. I think he had a responsibility to use the weapons at his disposal to accomplish that goal.

I wonder what we would be saying about Truman now if, instead of ending the war as he did, he had withheld the use of the weapon and gone ahead with the invasion. What would we say if, after the death of three or four hundred thousand Americans in a prolonged and bloody battle on the Japanese mainland, we learned that the invasion could possibly have been avoided with the use of one or two bombs? What president could live with that knowledge? That was the decision Truman faced, and I believe he make the right one. Let’s pray no other American president ever has to make that kind of decision again.

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This page contains a single entry by Ron Moffat published on August 8, 2007 4:35 PM.

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