Still thankful for the bomb
By John Rossi Some years ago, Paul Fussell wrote a controversial essay titled "Thank God for the Atom Bomb." In it, he argued that dropping two nuclear bombs on Japan was necessary to end the war in the Pacific.
By John Rossi
Some years ago, Paul Fussell wrote a controversial essay titled "Thank God for the Atom Bomb." In it, he argued that dropping two nuclear bombs on Japan was necessary to end the war in the Pacific.
With today's 65th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima - followed three days later by Nagasaki - memories of the awesome event in world history are sure to appear. One question in particular will be raised again: Was it right for President Harry S. Truman to order the use of atomic weapons?
As Al Smith used to say, let's look at the record. By the summer of 1945, Japan was clearly beaten, and yet it fought on with unmatched ferocity and tenacity. The last two major operations of the Pacific war, the battles for Iwo Jima and Okinawa, were also the bloodiest.
Between February and June of 1945, more than 72,000 Americans were killed, wounded, or lost in action. Japanese losses were even worse: 21,000 dead on Iwo Jima and 94,000 killed in the battle for Okinawa. For Iwo Jima alone, an incredible 27 Medals of Honor were awarded. The growing use of kamikazes by the Japanese killed more U.S. sailors at Okinawa than were lost in the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.
While these bloodbaths were taking place, the main Japanese islands were being bombed daily. In March 1945, firebombing raids on Tokyo alone burned 16 square miles and killed 80,000. And still there were no signs of a Japanese surrender.
With the United States planning a two-stage invasion of Japan in the fall of 1945 and spring of 1946, the outlook was grim. The military expected American casualties of 250,000 to one million. The government ordered up about 50,000 extra Purple Hearts for the campaign.
It was against this backdrop that Truman ordered the use of the atomic bomb. He did it to end the war - not to intimidate the Russians or wreak vengeance on the Japanese.
It is often forgotten that even after Hiroshima, the Japanese military was unwilling to surrender unconditionally. It was seeking to keep the emperor and the right to disarm itself, while rejecting any American occupation. It took a second atomic bomb and the Russian declaration of war to persuade the Japanese to give up.
For those who argue that the Japanese would have surrendered in a matter of weeks or months regardless of the nuclear bombs, it should be noted that Allied (mostly American) losses were running at 7,000 a week. There were also more than 100,000 Allied prisoners of war in Japanese camps where their treatment was horrific. Japanese military authorities in some camps were even planning to kill all the prisoners if American landings in Japan took place.
This year's anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki will see the usual hand-wringing. But Japan has yet to truly accept its responsibility for atrocities such as the Rape of Nanking, the use of Korean "comfort women," and the Bataan Death March. Instead, the Japanese have used Hiroshima and Nagasaki to portray themselves as victims. Maybe there will be a little more balance and perspective on this anniversary.