My Defense of the A-Bomb

The word is that Obama plans to stop by Hiroshima and apologize for the dropping of an A-bomb on that city. That dropping of A-bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (three days later) ended World War II. Like many others, I have defended the decision by President Truman to drop the bombs on utilitarian grounds. In this post, for example, I quote Richard B. Frank:

The critics [of the use of the A-bomb to defeat Japan] share three fundamental premises. The first is that Japan’s situation in 1945 was catastrophically hopeless. The second is that Japan’s leaders recognized that fact and were seeking to surrender in the summer of 1945. The third is that thanks to decoded Japanese diplomatic messages, American leaders knew that Japan was about to surrender when they unleashed needless nuclear devastation. The critics divide over what prompted the decision to drop the bombs in spite of the impending surrender, with the most provocative arguments focusing on Washington’s desire to intimidate the Kremlin. Among an important stratum of American society–and still more perhaps abroad–the critics’ interpretation displaced the traditionalist view….

[I]t is clear [from a review of the evidence now available] that all three of the critics’ central premises are wrong. The Japanese did not see their situation as catastrophically hopeless. They were not seeking to surrender, but pursuing a negotiated end to the war that preserved the old order in Japan, not just a figurehead emperor. Finally, thanks to radio intelligence, American leaders, far from knowing that peace was at hand, understood–as one analytical piece in the “Magic” Far East Summary stated in July 1945, after a review of both the military and diplomatic intercepts–that “until the Japanese leaders realize that an invasion can not be repelled, there is little likelihood that they will accept any peace terms satisfactory to the Allies.” This cannot be improved upon as a succinct and accurate summary of the military and diplomatic realities of the summer of 1945. [“Why Truman Dropped the Bomb,” The Weekly Standard, August 8, 2005]

Among the “countless lives” saved were those of Japanese as well as American nationals. I have in the past defended the dropping of the A-bombs because of the saving of “countless lives.” As a convert to the ranks of anti-utilitarianism, I now reject that argument. I cannot, in good conscience, assert with god-like authority that the killing of X people was worth the saving of Y lives, even where Y is vastly greater than X.

But I am nevertheless content to defend the dropping of the A-bombs because doing so very possibly saved certain lives. Six of my mother’s seven brothers served in the Navy during World War II. (The seventh had been in the Coast Guard several years before the war, and was ineligible for service because his skull was fractured in a civilian accident in 1941.) Had the war continued, a long and bloody invasion of Japan would have ensued. One or more of my uncles might have been killed or injured seriously. My grandmother, to whom I was greatly attached, would have suffered great emotional distress, as would have my aunts and many of my cousins. Their emotional distress and sadness would have become my emotional distress and sadness.

Beyond that, many Americans who had fought to defend the United States from the militaristic, authoritarian regimes in Tokyo and Berlin would have died. Their deaths would have affected many of my friends and their families, and would have made America a sadder and poorer place in which to live.

I empathize with the Japanese victims of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and with the Japanese victims of other attacks by U.S. armed forces. I hate the thought of death and suffering, unless they are deserved as punishment for wrong-doing, regardless of the nationality, religion, race, ethnicity, social class, or political views of the victim. But I do not equate the lives of those nearest and dearest to me with the lives of those distant from me. Liberals and left-libertarians like to pretend that they do, but they are either fools or liars when they say such things.

2 thoughts on “My Defense of the A-Bomb

  1. In militant Islam, western culture has an implacable enemy of nearly 1300 years and counting. This militarily weaker enemy has adopted asymmetrical war as its conflict of choice and has perfected the technique of using our own principles and institutions against us. One of these principles is that, to the extent possible, civilian casualties should be minimized, even if this places our military and civilian populations in greater jeopardy. Thus, our enemies hide among their civilian populations. But, when I look at these “civilians,” I see supporters, collaborators and, in the propagandized children, future warriors that are a mortal danger to our progeny. It is difficult for me not to view their collateral deaths as a degradation of the enemy’s future capability to harm us and our loved ones, and I have always rejected the notion that terrorizing and killing enemy noncombatants just breeds more enemies and greater resistance. After all, I lived through WWII, and aren’t the descendants of the carpet-bombed Germans and Japanese now our allies? Sorry to seem so bloody-minded, but as General Curtis LeMay said, “When you kill enough of them, they stop fighting.”


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