When the atomic bomb went off over Hiroshima on Aug. 6th, 1945, 70,000 lives were ended in a flash. To the American people who were weary from the long and brutal war, such a drastic measure seemed a necessary, even righteous way to end the madness that was World War II. However, the madness had just begun. That August morning was the day that heralded the dawn of the nuclear age, and with it came more than just the loss of lives. According to Archibald MacLeish, a U.S. poet, "What happened at Hiroshima was not only that a scientific breakthrough . . . had occurred and that a great part of the population of a city had been burned to death, but that the problem of the relation of the triumphs of modern science to the human purposes of man had been explicitly defined." The entire globe was now to live with the fear of total annihilation, the fear that drove the cold war, the fear that has forever changed world politics. The fear is real, more real today than ever, for the ease at which a nuclear bomb is achieved in this day and age sparks fear in the hearts of most people on this planet. According to General Douglas MacArthur, "We have had our last chance. If we do not devise some greater and more equitable system, Armageddon will be at our door." The decision to drop the atomic bomb on Japanese citizens in August, 1945, as a means to bring the long Pacific war to an end was justified-militarily, politically and morally.
The goal of waging war is victory with minimum losses on one's own side and, if possible, on the enemy's side. No one disputes the fact that the Japanese military was prepared to fight to the last man to defend the home islands, and indeed had already demonstrated this determination in previous Pacific island campaigns. A weapon originally developed to contain a Nazi atomic project was available that would spare Americans hundreds of thousands of causalities in an invasion of Japan, and-not incidentally-save several times more than that among Japanese soldiers and civilians. The thousands who have died in the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were far less than would have died in an allied invasion, and their sudden deaths convinced the Japanese military to surrender.
Every nation has an interest in being at peace with other nations, but there has never been a time when the world was free of the scourge of war. Hence, peaceful nations must always have adequate military force at their disposal in order to deter or defeat the aggressive designs of rogue nations. The United States was therefore right in using whatever means were necessary to defeat the Japanese empire in the war which the latter began, including the use of superior or more powerful weaponry-not only to defeat Japan but to remain able following the war to maintain peace sufficiently to guarantee its own existence. A long, costly and bloody conflict is a wasteful use of a nation's resources when quicker, more decisive means are available. Japan was not then-or later-the only nation America had to restrain, and an all-out U.S. invasion of Japan would have risked the victory already gained in Europe in the face of the palpable thereat of Soviet domination.
Finally, we can never forget the maxim of Edmund Burke: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor brought us into a war which we had vainly hoped to avoid. We could no longer "do nothing" but were compelled to "do something" to roll back the Japanese militarists. Victims of aggression have every right both to end the aggression and to prevent the perpetrator of it from continuing or renewing it. Our natural right of self defense as well as our moral duty to defeat tyranny justified our decision to wage the war and, ultimately, to drop the atomic bomb. We should expect political leaders to be guided by moral principles but this does not mean they must subject millions of people to needless injury or death out of a misplaced concern for the safety of enemy soldiers or civilians.
President Truman's decision to deploy atomic power in Japan revealed a man who understood the moral issues at stake and who had the courage to strike a decisive blow that quickly brought to an end the most destructive war in human history. Squeamishness is not a moral principle, but making the best decisions at the time, given the circumstances, is clear evidence that the decision maker is guided by morality.
The atomic bomb was considered a "quick" and even economical way to win the war; however, it was a cruel and unusual form of punishment for the Japanese citizens. The weapon that we refer to as "quick" was just the opposite. On one hand, it meant a quick end to the war for the United States, and on the other hand, a slow and painful death to many innocent Japanese. According to a book called Hiroshima Plus 20 the effects of radiation poisoning are horrific, ranging from purple spots on the skin, hair loss, nausea, vomiting, bleeding from the mouth, gums, and throat, weakened immune systems, to massive internal hemorrhaging, not to mention the disfiguring radiation burns. The effects of the radiation poisoning continued to show up until about a month after the bombing. In fact the bomb also killed or permanently damaged fetuses in the womb. Death and destruction are always a reality of war; however, a quick death is always more humanitarian.
When this powerful nation called the United States dropped the bomb, we sent out the official "go ahead" for the rest of the world that nuclear weapons were a viable means of warfare. We unofficially announced that it was O.K. to bomb women, children, and elderly citizens. The thought that atomic weapons are needed to keep the peace is exactly the idea that fueled the cold war. Albert Einstein said in a speech, "The armament race between the U.S.A. and U.S.S.R., originally supposed to be a preventative measure, assumes hysterical character. On both sides, the means of mass-destruction are perfected with feverish haste . . . The H-bomb appears on the public horizon as a probably attainable goal. Its accelerated development has been solemnly proclaimed by the president."
In short, according to Hiroshima Plus 20, by now, the military has at least 50, 000 nuclear warheads in storage and ready with a handful of people in charge of them. In the words of James Conant, President of Harvard, "The extreme dangers to mankind inherent in the proposal wholly outweigh any military advantage."
Has the atomic bomb introduced "the fear of total annihilation ...that has forever changed world politics"? That seems to be the main point of the argument against dropping the atomic bomb on Japanese cities in August, 1945. Yet this judgment completely abstracts from the concrete circumstances in which the decision was made-a world exhausted by war; an implacable, cunning and ruthless enemy; hundreds of thousands of casualties in an allied invasion of Japan; permanent strategic considerations; and the like. In other words, the reply fails to meet the argument for dropping the bomb and changes the subject from "the immediate decision to the long-term consequences of the decision.
But even if one grants the point about fear of annihilation, it is not clear that the world has fundamentally changed nor that the whole world is always in danger of nations from time immemorial. For example, ancient Rome sacked Carthage, plowed it under and salted the earth. Medieval and modern religious wars have annihilated millions. More recently, there was Hitler's genocidal six-million-death "final solution to the Jewish problem," and the Communists' ten of millions of mass murders continue to this day. All this has been done without benefit of nuclear power.
Gen. MacArthur's comments came at the beginning of the atomic or nuclear age, and while the source and the judgment deserve respect, experience has shown that nuclear power in Western hands deterred a third world war and ultimately caused the collapse of the greatest threat to world peace since World War II, namely, the Soviet Union. But even during the much-decried "arms race" of the Cold War years, both East and West refined their crude nuclear technology to suit the requirements of waging war, e.g. targeting the enemy's missiles, aircraft and submarines, rather than putting all their eggs in the nuclear annihilation basket. War is a terrible thing but the fear of annihilation will curb even the greatest tyrants' bloodlust.
In short, fear is part of the human condition and those peaceful nations which learn to live with the destructive potential of nuclear power are capable of great good. Great evil is more likely to be the result of unchecked nuclear power in hands of lawless nations. As ever, peace and safety depend upon military power being in the right hands.
"Fifty Years Later"; Internet Document; http://www.sjmercury.com/hirohome.htm Finney, et. al. Hiroshima Plus 20. New York, New York; Delacorte; 1965