This week marks the 63rd anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and the beginning of the end of World War 2. As is usually the case every year, we have the stories of those who attack the incident as a ‘war crime’. These historical revisionists miss (or ignore) the fact that they are looking back with hindsight and applying modern attitudes to historical times.
These revisionists talk about how the Japanese were a peaceful people who would have surrendered without the dropping of the bomb. In doing so, they ignore a number of facts, beginning with the horrible brutality of Pearl Harbor, The Bataan Death March and the many other events during the war, going back to the Rape of Nanking in the 1930’s.
They also ignore the actual events of August 1945. The facts are that we dropped not one but two bombs (on Hiroshima and Nagasaki). The Soviet Union launched a massive invasion of Japanese forces in China during the same period. These events prompted a tie vote in the war council over surrender or continued war. Only the order of the Emperor broke the tie.
Even then, a group of military officers came very close to overthrowing the government to keep the war going. So the idea that they were ready to surrender is silly.
Equally wrong is the idea that there was some more compassionate alternative. Just to illustrate, let us consider the options.
1. Option One was to continue the strategic bombing campaign and try to destroy what little was left of the Japanese infrastructure. These nightly bombings were killing tens of thousands of people and some of the larger raids were killing hundreds of thousands in a single night.
2. Option Two was to focus on a blockade which would have sought to starve the people into surrender. Hundreds of thousands had already starved to death and the blockade could have sent the death toll into the millions.
3. Option Three was to combine the two efforts, both bombing and starving the Japanese.
Since none of these events had succeeded during 1944-45, it is debatable if they would have done so if they had continued and plans were underway for an invasion of southern Japan in fall 1945 and of the Tokyo area in spring/summer 1946.
So Option 4 would be to spend the summer bombing and starving the Japanese and then move to an invasion which would have resulted in horrendous casualties. The official war plans called for the entire population to join in the battle and fight against the invaders.
Given the propaganda that had been put forth, most Japanese who were alive at the time say they would have fought hard and long, so we could (according to modern estimates) add perhaps 1 or 2 million more civilian casualties.
So basically the options other than dropping the bomb involved continued months or even a year of bombing, starvation, disease and invasion. It is possible that eventually this would have compelled the Emperor to force surrender, but most observers say it took the shock of the bomb to force him to take the step.
In addition, while we certainly want our leaders to be compassionate, ultimately they are OUR leaders and they need to do what is best for OUR soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines. If you can end the war peacefully, that is wonderful. But if you have to choose between losing 10 of our men or 100 of theirs, you choose OUR men. It may not be nice, but life is not always nice.
Obviously the dropping of the bomb was a horrible thing, I am not arguing that at all. But as a wise man once said when arguing against war crimes laws, “All Wars Are Crimes”.
War is a horrible awful thing and should be avoided at all costs. But once you are forced to fight, you need to do what is best to stop the war and, in this case, President Truman was right.