Looking Back at Hiroshima
Posted by Dan Draney on August 7, 2005
Yesterday’s anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima attracted a lot of commentary. Sixty years later argument still rages about whether or not it was the right thing to do. Having looked at it from both sides over the years, our view is that it was. We had been fighting for years in a bloody war with suicidal enemies, and the saving of American lives alone easily justifies it. When we add in the value of a quick, certain victory vs. the risk of giving the enemy more time to develop his own version, it’s no contest. Ultimately, Japanese deaths and economic devastation were also reduced by forcing a quick surrender, although of course the residents of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki paid the price for the rest of Japan.
PTG at Plains Feeder also believes it was the right decision. He recommends a book chronicling the experiences of some people who were on the ground in Hiroshima that day.
Glen at Nashville Truth is not so sure the bombing was justified. He provides a quote from Gen. Eisenhower, who believed the bombing was unnecessary, as Japan was already defeated. Ike was certainly in a position to have a well-informed opinion. Reportedly, Gen. MacArthur was also opposed, believing the Japanese would surrender anyway, if we allowed the continued rule of the Emperor.
The last link also has quotes from others who were opposed to the bombing, either before or later. Some of the alternatives suggested would have been more devasting to the Japanese even if they eventually worked: naval blockade (starve them); massive conventional/fire bombing of cities; etc.
Hindsight is golden. The Wall Street Journal provides some historical context in the form of opinions of the GIs who would have had to invade Japan. OpinionJournal:
“In 1945, Paul Fussell was a 21-year-old second lieutenant who’d spent much of the previous year fighting his way through Europe. At the time of Hiroshima, he was scheduled to participate in the invasion of the Japanese mainland, for which the Truman Administration anticipated casualties of between 200,000 and one million Allied soldiers. No surprise, then, that when news of the bomb reached Lt. Fussell and his men, they had no misgivings about its use:
‘We learned to our astonishment that we would not be obliged in a few months to rush up the beaches near Tokyo assault-firing while being machine-gunned, mortared, and shelled, and for all the practiced phlegm of our tough facades we broke down and cried with relief and joy. We were going to live.’
Mr. Fussell was writing about American lives. What about Japanese lives? The Japanese army was expected to fight to the last man, as it had during the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Since the ratio of Japanese to American combat fatalities ran about four to one, a mainland invasion could have resulted in millions of Japanese deaths–and that’s not counting civilians. The March 1945 Tokyo fire raid killed about 100,000; such raids would have intensified had the war dragged on. The collective toll from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings is estimated at between 110,000 and 200,000.
[…] Not least, and despite the terrible irony, the bombings were salvation for Japan, since they prompted Emperor Hirohito to intervene with his bitterly divided government to end the war, thus laying the groundwork for America’s beneficent occupation and the country’s subsequent prosperity. To understand the roots of modern Japan’s pacifist mentality, so at variance with its old warrior culture, one need only visit Hiroshima’s peace park.” [This is quite a good article, so read the rest.]
The long term value of breaking the warrior culture of Japan should not be underestimated. Would that have been achieved without the bombing or the massive loss of American lives a full invasion would have entailed? Probably not.
Update: In the comments Kira recommends this excellent article on the atomic bomb decision. The authors review recently declassified information about what Truman knew and when he knew it.