Sixty-four years ago, on August 6th, 1945, the US dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, Japan. Approximately 70,000 Japanese were killed immediately, with many thousands to die later of radiation poisoning and radiation-induced diseases such as cancer (by some estimates, a total of between 150,000 and 200,000 deaths by 1950).
(Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)
The debate over whether the use of nuclear weapons against Japan was militarily and/or morally justified has raged ever since. I'm firmly on the side of those who argue that the use of two nuclear weapons against Japan saved up to a million Allied casualties, and countless millions of Japanese, which would necessarily have been incurred in an invasion of the Home Islands.
explosion, taken from seven kilometers away by Seizo Yamada. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)
Those who argue that Japan would have been starved into surrender without the need for either the use of nuclear weapons, or an invasion, ignore the fanatical determination of the militarists then in power to fight unto death, even if it meant the extinction of the nation. Indeed, so fanatical were they that they even attempted to seize the Emperor's pre-recorded broadcast accepting the terms of the Potsdam Declaration, and thereby surrendering to the Allied Powers. They were prepared to kill their own Government Ministers and members of the Imperial Household to thwart what they regarded as a disgraceful betrayal. (Many of them would commit suicide in the days to come, rather than live with the shame of surrender.)
There's another factor, of course. Today the existence of racist sentiments is considered shocking, evil, unacceptable: but in 1945, the Japanese were regarded in the most racist way possible by most of those fighting them, and by many American civilians as well. Their 'sneak' attack on Pearl Harbor had been neither forgotten nor forgiven. Admiral Halsey's savage outburst, on learning of the attack, that by the end of the war "the Japanese language would be spoken only in Hell", had struck a resonant chord among many, and that remained the case even after three-and-a-half years of war.
The cathedral's dome was blown off by the blast, but remained intact.
(Click for a larger view. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)
I've spoken to many veterans of World War II (including my father). To a man, they adamantly maintain that not to use the Bomb would have been a monstrous betrayal of themselves as fighting men by their leaders. Why should they have to face death and destruction in an invasion of Japan, when the means existed to render that invasion unnecessary? You can bet this factor weighed decisively in the balance when the politicians considered whether to use the Bomb. I can't blame them.
now known as the Atomic Bomb Dome or Genbaku Dome,
left in place as a permanent memorial to those who died in the atomic bombing of the city.
(Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)
Nevertheless, let's remember that since Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed, no other nuclear weapon has been used in war. Perhaps the example of their total destruction has persuaded aggressors that the cost of using such weapons isn't worth the risk of retaliation in kind. May that state of affairs forever continue!