On this date 67 years ago, The United States dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. This (plus the nuclear bombing of Nagasaki that followed 3 days later) precipitated the unconditional surrender of the Empire of Japan and the close of World War II. Over the course of those 4 days 2 bombs killed over 200,000 Japanese noncombatants; thousands more died later of radiation sickness and other causes owing to dispossession and exposure.
Many will breathlessly say that these attacks were necessary to end the war. It may have been necessary to attain Japan’s unconditional surrender, which was established Anglo-American policy for Axis powers at that late stage of the conflict. It’s true that a staged invasion of the Japanese main island of Honshu would have killed more people–American combatants, Japanese combatants, and Japanese noncombatants in the long run. But whether that unconditional surrender justified indiscriminate mass killing is another matter. We know that President Truman was eager to demonstrate (not just to Japan’s fascist government, but to Stalin) what an atomic bomb could do–and that once he actually saw the destruction caused by the 2 bombs, he swore off using them again regardless of the Japanese response.
A limited Japanese surrender, including Japanese withdrawal from all its colonies and occupied territories, may have been a worthy alternative. I see the reasoning that “Japan should have been punished” for starting the Pacific War and the brutality of its occupation and treatment of prisoners of war, but mass killing is not “punishment,” it is just mass killing. Japan in the context of the Cold War would probably have had to align itself with the United States, or become isolationist. Leaving it in a state of dictatorship might seem deeply-dissatisfying, but Spain and South Korea among other nations emerged from their own dictatorships during the Cold War–without anyone having to take the measures our own government took at the end of World War II.
Lots of prejudiced assumptions about an alleged Japanese “hive-mind” factor-in to explanations of why this had to happen. These are bunk; when we invaded Okinawa more civilians killed themselves than took-up partisan activities; civilians were never given as much of an opportunity to support fascism as the Germans in the Wiemar period were, yet we hear strangely-few references to German popular fanaticism in the context of widespread support for the obviously-monstrous Hitler. This August 6, I ask people consider whether we could not have attained our strategic goals in defeating Japan without destroying 2 cities. I don’t ask this as a pacifist or an advocate of nuclear disarmament–I am neither–but out of a belief that for a government to seek to defend its people’s safety and its strategic interests with the least bloodshed possible is the cause of justice. Those who insist there was no way to end the war without killing over 200,000 civilian bystanders are not guilty of planning or perpetrating such an act themselves, but they have obviated themselves of the call to think of how our conduct, even in times of war, can be made more-virtuous. War–even a long war–is not a legitimate excuse to abandon ethics, it is the time when the most is at stake in ethical judgment. When we ask ourselves, Can we achieve our ends in this war through means that shed less blood? we are asking if we have the means to contribute less waste and suffering to the World.
This is the most-fundamental way to ask: How can we be more-just?