Well, its that time of year again and folks on the Left are out there with their annual rants against the bombing of Hiroshima as a great crime against humanity.
All war is a crime against humanity by those who start them. And I am certainly uncomfortable that we let the atomic genie out of the steel casing in August of 1945. But I think much of what is written about Hiroshima strips the decision to drop the bomb from its historical context. A few thoughts:
- We loath the Hiroshima bombing because we in 2015 know of the nuclear proliferation that was to follow and the resulting cloud of fear that hung over the globe for decades as most everyone was forced to think about our new ability to destroy humanity. But all that was in the realm of science fiction in 1945. And even if they knew something of the Cold War and fear of the Bomb, would many have had sympathy, living as they were through a real war that represented possibly the worst self-inflicted catastrophe man has ever faced?
- Several other bombing raids, notably the fire-bombing of Tokyo, took more lives than Hiroshima. Again, we differentiate the two because we experienced the Cold War that came after and thus developed a special fear and loathing for atomic weapons, but people in 1945 did not have that experience.
- The ex post facto mistake many folks make on Hiroshima is similar to the mistake many of us make on Yalta. Lots of folks, particularly on the Right, criticize FDR for being soft on Stalin and letting him get away with Eastern Europe. But really,what were they going to do? Realistically, Russia's armies were already in Eastern Europe and were not going to leave unless we sent armies to throw them out. Which we were not, because folks were absolutely exhausted by the war. This war exhaustion also plays a big part in the decision at Hiroshima. Flip the decision around. What would have happened if a war-weary public later found out that the government had a secret weapon that might have ended the war but refused to use it? They would have been run out of office.
- I once heard a government official of the time say that it was odd to hear people talking about the "decision" to bomb Hiroshima because there was not a decision to make. We were in a long, horrible, bloody war. We had a new weapon. It was going to be used.
- The Japanese were not showing a willingness to negotiate. Yes, some members of the Japanese state department were making peaceful overtures before Hiroshima, but they had no power. None of the military ruling clique was anywhere in the ballpark of surrendering. Even after Hiroshima, and Nagasaki, and the Russian declaration of war, the government STILL would not have voted for surrender except for the absolutely extraordinary and unprecedented intervention of the Emperor. And even then, the military rulers were still trying to figure out how to suppress the Emperor or even take him hostage to stop any peace process.
- It is argued sometimes that the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs were irrelevant and that the Japanese surrendered when the Russians declared war. The Russian declaration was certainly an important part of the mix, but I find it hard to believe the Emperor would have taken his unprecedented actions without the atomic bomb attacks. Besides, even if the Russian declaration was critical, it could be argued the bombs played a huge role in that declaration. After all, we had tried to get the Russians to make such a declaration for years, and it suddenly came coincidentally a couple of days after the atomic bombs start dropping? I doubt it. A better theory is that the Russians were waiting for signs that the war was nearly won so they could jump in and grab some costless booty from defeated Japan, and the bombs were that sign.
- It is argued that the invasion of Japan would have cost fewer lives than the bomb. This is a crock. Sorry. There is absolutely no way to look at military and civilian casualty figures from Iwo Jima and Okinawa and come to any conclusion other than the fact that the invasion of Japan would have been a bloodbath.
- It is argued that we could have blockaded Japan to death. This is possible, but it would have 1. Taken a lot of time, for which no one had any patience; 2. exposed US ships to relentless Kamikaze attacks and 3. likely have cost more Japanese civilian lives to continued conventional bombing and starvation than the atomic bombs did.
- It is argued that we dropped the bombs on Japan out of some sort of racial hatred. We can't really test this since by the time the bombs were ready, Japan was our only enemy left in the field. Certainly, as a minimum, we had developed a deep hatred of Japanese culture that seemed so alien to us and led to atrocities that naturally generated a lot of hatred. For the soldier, the best simple description of this culture clash I ever heard (I can't remember the source) was a guy who said something like "for us, the war was about winning and going home. For the Japanese, the war just seemed to be about dying." In a time where racism was much more normal and accepted, I would say that yes, this cultural hatred became real racism. But I would add that it was not like we entered the war with some sort of deep, long hatred of Asians. If anything, we stumbled into the Pacific War in large part because Americans felt a special friendship and sympathy with China and would not accept Japan's military interventions there.