Reflections on The Bomb

Today is the 62nd anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The action effectively ended the Second World War although at a terrible cost. 70,000 Japanese men, women, and children as a direct consequence of the explosion; another 30,000 succumbed to the wounds they had received over the next several months.

I’ve written, briefly, before on this subject and I’m still roughly in the same place.

I don’t think we should fool ourselves into thinking that there was some other, better way to bring the war to a close. If we had simply withdrawn our forces, there’s every reason to believe that the Japanese would have recovered and counter-attacked. That just wasn’t on option.

The alternatives that were on the table were either to maintain a naval blockade and embargo of Japan with continued bombardment (favored by the Navy) or to mount a full scale ground assault on the main Japanese islands. In either of these cases millions of Japanese would have died along with who knows how many Americans.

I sincerely wish that the U. S. had not been the only country to have used atomic weapons in war, that atomic weapons had never been used at all. You must choose from among the alternatives you have rather than from those you wish you had.

The picture above is taken from the annual commemoration of the attack in Japan.

Please also take a look at Shaun Mullen’s fine reflection on the event.


Zenpundit quotes Harry Truman’s announcement that the bomb had been detonated. If you’re not already familiar with it, read it.

7 comments… add one
  • PD Shaw Link

    I am probably biased because my grandfather was an American soldier in China when the bomb dropped.

    Still, I think its completely ahistoric to believe that anything less than total and unconditional surrender would end the war, given the fiasco of the negotiated resolution of WWI. And the alternatives were no less deadly to civilians.

    Since Americans (except the South) have little experience with being the locus of war, some of the discussion gets to be pretty naive. I recommend the Grave of Fireflies, an animated movie about the effect of the war in Japan (and that has nothing to do with the bombs).

  • Grave of the Fireflies is a really lovely work. One of the best demonstrations about the sorts of stories that can be told through animation.

  • Wow. Thanks for the pointer to Truman’s speech.

  • ME Link

    The only problem I have with it is that the Japanese were trying to negotiate a surrender through the Russians, and the US was well aware of it.

    I had a right-wing poli-sci prof. who used to argue that it didn’t matter, we had to show the rest of the world we had the bomb in a dramatic way… he also used to talk about how, in a democracy, it’s necessary to get the country “in the mood” for war (propaganda, fear, lies), and that pearl harbor was a perfect example of that. Even if we had known they were going to attack, he’d argue, it wouldn’t have necessarily been wrong to let it happen, given that it would mobilize the nation into WWII. He also had us read PNAC documents….a true neocon.

    Makes me wonder about 9/11 and Iraq, given the similarities.

  • “The only problem I have with it is that the Japanese were trying to negotiate a surrender through the Russians, and the US was well aware of it.”

    If by “surrender” you mean grandiose ideas of Japan being permitted to maintain a Fascist-militarist state with a powerful Army and Navy and a sphere of influence in Korea and Manchuria, then yes, the Japanese were looking to surrender. They weren’t looking too hard though.

    Even after Hiroshima, the Japanese Cabinet refused to surrender, at least half of which was unmoved even by the possibility of further atomic bombs.

    Read _Hirohito And the Making of Modern Japan_ by Hebert Bix ( Bix incidently, is a leftist and he pretty clearly illustrates the attitudes of the key players in the Japanese government at the time)

  • I think that Americans, in particular, are inclined to misunderstand the Japan of the period between 1900 and 1945. It wasn’t anything like a modern democracy or even a European-style fascist system. The Japanese Army and Navy were more like contending samurai clans. Think of it as rival gangs.

    Not only couldn’t they back down from fighting the foreign devils for nationalistic reasons, they couldn’t back down from fighting for reasons of clan loyalty and position.

    Only the direct action of the emperor could stop it. There was no purely political solution. And that could only happen at a time of national emergency.

  • PD Shaw Link

    The firebombing of Tokyo on Feb. 23, 1945 killed over 80,000 to 100,000 Japanese. That was a single raid among many. In comparison, the Hiroshima bomb killed 70,000 on August 6, 1945. The significance of the strategic breakthrough in technology sometimes obscures the larger context of what was happening in Japan and what that government was willing to suffer.

    Somewhat recently a plan to gas the mainland was discovered that would have killed five million Japanese.

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