Today is August 6th, 2010. The 65th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. In 3 days it will be the 65th anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki. Many claim these bombings should not have taken place, or been done in different locations, specifically that a demonstration on an empty island should have been done first. I disagree, I think that these bombings were necessary both to end the at-the-time current conflict, and to provide a warning to future generations exactly what it was we had developed.
I'm not unbiased in my opinion. My father and his family were held in Japanese concentration camps. My grandfather and many of my older uncles were forced into Japanese slave labor, mainly in mining. My grandfather and several uncles died in the mines. I remain convinced that greatly shortening the war saved several of the lives of other family members.
Did the bombings really shorten the war? I think the evidence is pretty clear on this. The Japanese didn’t give up anything without losing a lot of blood over it. Every island in the island hopping strategy was a fierce battle. I think how much worse the battle in the Pacific was is just coming out now, with HBO’s “The Pacific” being a good example.
Six months of continual fire-bombing of 67 Japanese cities had killed 500,000 people, with little apparent result to the Allies. The atomic bombs killed around 123,000 in the first day and 2x total. How many more months and more hundreds of thousands would’ve been necessary to bring the war to a conclusion? Would an invasion by the allies been required, how many lives would that have cost? Great Britain never surrendered to an aerial bombardment alone, would the Japanese have done so?
Would selecting a different target have had less of an impact? Would a demonstration have proved effective? We can never know for sure, but I think the indicators are pretty good that the emotional impact the bombs produced would’ve been greatly diminished.
Many say that more military targets should’ve been selected. World War I and World War II put an end to a clear delineation between military targets and civilian targets. All major cities were housing to military manufacturing centers, ports and rail hubs are vital to the logistics of war. Major military bases are located near cities. Hiroshima had a number of military bases by it, including the headquarters of the army in charge of the defense of southern Japan. Nagasaki was a major military manufacturing center and seaport. I don’t think locations of significant military importance, but not near a civilian city would have worked; they may not have even existed.
Finally, I think there is another aspect to these bombings that is important to consider – their impact on future generations. Serving as a warning to future generations is never a justification for using wepons of mass destruction. But these bombings brought the very real power of them to the forefront. If they hadn’t been used in WW 2, I’m convinced they would’ve been used in a later war – with far more powerful bombs, and with far less true military significance. Demonstrations just aren’t visceral enough for this. The first hydrogen bomb was detonated at Bikini Atoll. This bomb was orders of magnitude larger than the atomic bombs used on Japan. It pretty much wiped out an entire island and produced radioactive contamination over many more islands. Yet when speaking of the dangers of weapons of mass destruction we point to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The dead of Nagasaki and Hiroshima must be honored and remembered. The enormous power and ease of use of our greatest weapons must not be forgotten. But I remain unconvinced there was another or better way of achieving what was needed, as quickly and with a lower cost in lives (on either side).