Thursday, August 6, 2015
Don't forget why we dropped the bomb
Today is the 70th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The debate over the morality of the bombing seems muted this year, perhaps by the renewed bellicosity of Japan, which, having whitewashed its history, seems hellbent to repeat it. I wrote this 10 years ago, reminding my lefty friends that, as ethically satisfying as it might feel to flagellate their country over the A-bomb, the decision was the right one.
Saturday is the 60th anniversary of the United States dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. A doubly tragic anniversary in that, with the obliterating grind of decades, a significant number of U.S. citizens no longer realize what a miracle the atomic bomb really was. Instead, they view it as yet another awful moment of shame in a history studded with offenses, whether subjugating Native Americans, supporting apartheid Israel or, on Aug. 6, 1945, murdering 160,000 civilians in Hiroshima for no particular reason beyond our own venality.
That isn't how it happened. People forget. Japan was a brutal aggressor in World War II, whether it was the invasion of China, the unprovoked attack on Pearl Harbor, or atrocities across the South Pacific. They killed with a guiltlessness that lingers to this day, in the bland, mistakes-happened shrug Japan extends toward its own history, a second crime that makes Germany, with its subsequent apologies, seem like Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.
To ask if it was necessary for the United States to drop the atomic bomb is to display an unfathomable ignorance of history. The Japanese showed no inclination toward surrender. The firebombing of Tokyo, which cost 100,000 lives and took place all around the leaders of that nation, did not prompt them to even discuss giving up. Nor did the bombing of Hiroshima -- it took a second bomb, dropped on Nagasaki, to do that.
Yes, we might have defeated Japan, eventually, at the loss of 500,000 or a million lives. But we had this awful technology, wrought from the can-do spirit of America. We should be proud of the atomic bomb, and any lingering doubts should be dispelled by honestly answering one simple question: Had Japan the capacity, in early August 1945, to drop 100 atomic bombs on the 100 largest American cities, would they have done it?
No one with any honesty can pretend to doubt the answer to that.
HUMANITY FINDS A WAY TO ENDURE
Odd. When I flopped my fingers on the keyboard, the above wasn't what I wanted to say. Oh, I believe it, in spades. But what I meant to point out was one of my favorite pieces of obscure historical trivia.
We tend to think of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as separate events, because they took places three days apart. But the cities are nearby, and there were people who fled the bombing of Hiroshima only to be killed in Nagasaki, plus a handful who survived both. It says something terrible about the hand of fate -- you escape one a-bomb, and here comes another. But also something wonderful about the tenacity of the human vessel. We worry about sharks. But there are people who were in cities hit by atomic bombs, twice, and lived to tell the tale.
—Originally published Aug. 5, 2005