I couldn’t disagree more strongly with my Washington Examiner colleague Timothy Carney when he argues that we should not have dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. My reading of the history of World War II has convinced me that Japan would not have surrendered if the bombs had not been dropped; even after that some in the military tried to prevent the Emperor from surrendering. American military leaders predicted that an invasion of Japan would have produced 1 million Americans killed or wounded. The Japanese had fought fiercely in Okinawa in the spring of 1945; 100,000 Americans and Japanese died in this one small island.
It’s worth reading this 1981 New Republic article by literary scholar and World War II infantryman Paul Fussell, who was scheduled to fight in Japan. So was the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who had enlisted in the Navy in 1945. “Was going to be sent to Japan,” he once told me. “Would have died!”
Tim argues that it’s never acceptable to attack civilians. I disagree. In modern war against an evil regime attacks on civilians are regrettably necessary and indeed civilian deaths cannot be avoided. Civilian deaths are unfortunate, even tragic; but so are the deaths of those who have volunteered or have been conscripted into the military. Many, many more deaths, of Japanese as well as Americans, would have occurred if the atomic bombs had not been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
I have been to Hiroshima and have contemplated the horrifying impact of the atomic bomb there. Recently I’ve been reading Rana Mitter’s China’s War With Japan 1937-1945, which describes how fiercely the Japanese fought and the horrors they inflicted on literally millions of civilians. In visiting East Asia I have contemplated with horror the human and physical destruction that would ensue if war resulted from China’s disputes with Japan and other nations over islets in the East and South China Seas or from an attack by North Korea on South Korea. War is indeed hell.
One more thought on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I have long thought that the horror which contemplation of those bombings naturally inspires may have served to inoculate world leaders against using nuclear weapons again. Would nuclear tests or demonstration explosions have had the same effect if Harry Truman had decided not to order the bombs dropped on Japan? Maybe not. In which case the explosion of two (puny, by today’s standards) nuclear weapons that ended a war may have prevented the explosion of other nuclear weapons in the last 68 years.