Atomic Bombings at 75: Criticizing With No Consequences
On August 6, 1945, a single bomb known as Little Boy destroyed Hiroshima, the headquarters of the Japanese Second General Army. On August 9, another single bomb, Fat Man, destroyed Nagasaki. The bombings led the Japanese government to conclude that the Americans could obliterate their country without the decisive battle they craved and thus they had to terminate the war. Emperor Hirohito’s address to the nation highlights this point:
Moreover, the enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb, the power of which to do damage is, indeed, incalculable, taking the toll of many innocent lives. Should we continue to fight, it would not only result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization.
Such being the case, how are we to save the millions of our subjects, nor to atone ourselves before the hallowed spirits of our imperial ancestors? This is the reason why we have ordered the acceptance of the provisions of the joint declaration of the powers.
In 1945, 85% of Americans supported the use of atomic weapons against Japan. In 2015, 70 years later, the percentage that said the bombings were justified had dropped to 56%.
Such a drop is due to multiple factors, the top one being that today we know what nuclear weapons are and can do, but back then civilian and military leadership viewed them as just another weapon and were ignorant of things such as the effects of radiation. We know that strategic nuclear weapons exist to destroy not tank formations, but cities and cities are populated with civilians and since civilians are non-combatants, their intentional killing is immoral and illegal, therefore the U.S. decision to drop the bombs was at the very least immoral, or so goes the argument.
This argument has allowed many people to claim the moral high ground on a now controversial matter, but without any of the consequences. Critics want to focus on question of whether it was right to drop the atomic bombs, but they ignore the logical consequences for their beliefs. Critics should ask themselves:
Do You Know The History of the Pacific War?
Another reason for the dip in support for the bombings is the lack of emphasis on military history in our education system. Ask the average American what they know about the Pacific War and they could probably tell you that it started with Pearl Harbor and ended with the atomic bombings. Ask the average person the connection between the atomic bombings and the Battle of Saipan and they’ll ask “Sai-what-now?”
People who oppose the atomic bombings say it was unnecessary and that the Japanese were moving to surrender and that the bombings were just an gratuitous excuse to show the Soviets who was in charge. Of course there was no surrender faction in the government, although there was a “fight so we can get better terms” faction, even if there was, the existence of a faction was not going to be sufficient convince the militarists go along and seek peace with the Allies and contrarily to the anti-Soviet thesis, the U.S. was actively supplying the Soviets with vessels needed to make war on Japan at sea.
Would You Have Agreed to a Premature Termination of the War?
We know that the Japanese leadership preferred extinction to surrender, so the question to critics is would you have agreed to a negotiated peace. For President Harry Truman, and pretty much the entire country, this was a non-starter. A settlement would have left the current ruling ideology intact and Truman believed if the U.S. settled with Japan, then another, more horrible war would have to be fought sometime down the road.
Truman had good reason for that belief, this of course was 1945, it was not that long ago when the Allies signed a peace with Germany, only to find themselves in another, more horrible war with that country.
If Not, What Would You Have Done Instead
If total victory was to achieved, but without the atomic bombings, what would be done instead?
One option was Operation Downfall in late 1945 to be followed up by Operation Coronet in 1946. Even if everything went perfectly, such as the weather cooperating, which if history played out, it would not have, the war would have continued for years, that’s years with an ‘S.’
Casualty estimates for the invasion of Japan are hard to quantify because they are completely speculative because there are multiple estimates, each with their own set of assumptions, but one thing is clear: it would have been ugly, at six figures in terms of deaths at the minimum.
The number of Japanese deaths would be even higher and civilian deaths would have been even higher than the estimated 100–200,000 from the atomic bombs, assuming one could tell the difference between combatant and non-combatant on the mainland where civilians, including women, were being trained to resit any invader.
Concern over Downfall was so prevalent, that Admiral Ernest King, going on the word of Admiral Chester Nimitz, on the day of Nagasaki, was prepared to withdraw his support for the operation, which would have caused a inter-service confrontation with the Army and thrown the entire war effort into the great unknown.
That would have left the blockade and the continuation of the bombing campaign? The fire bombing of Tokyo had already killed roughly 100,000 and continued bombing and death by starvation as the result of a blockade strategy would have killed more. Is that really morally better than what happened?
The Japanese Empire had conquered and enslaved most of the Asia-Pacific region. They started the war, they are responsible for the deaths and suffering that resulted from their foreign policy misadventures. They committed crimes on the same level with that of their Nazi allies. The atomic bombings ended the war and the ideology that started it. It’s fine to oppose them from the comfort of your couch 75 years later, but if you do, you should realize the totality of your position.