At the tail end of the day — actually, tale end would work just as well — a moment’s pause to acknowledge the Hiroshima anniversary.
On one of the bike club email lists I subscribe to, one mostly for Berkeley folks and our ilk, one member sent out a mildly worded note that he planned a ride out to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory today to reflect on “human intelligence and human stupidity.” Good for him. Then, to underline his feelings, I guess, he appended a simplistic screed copied and pasted from someplace on the Web that declared that the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the “two worst terror acts in human history.”
That set off a chain reaction of responses that fell into two familiar camps:
–It was essential to use the bomb to avoid the slaughter that would have attended a U.S. invasion of Japan’s home islands. And besides, war is hell. And here were similar or worse atrocities and mass deaths during the war, some due to Allied bombing.
–Japan was about to collapse. The argument about preventing mass casualties is a myth. The bombings were entirely avoidable and amount to mass murder, plain and simple.
At one point, I would have veered toward the second camp. And I still can’t accept there was no acceptable alternative to dropping the bomb on a virtually defenseless civilian target. That being said, it’s disappointing that the discussion is reduced to such absurd oversimplifications and dominated by the need for an uncomplicated answer.
Easy for us, most of whom have no direct experience of the magnitude of violence unleashed in modern warfare to try to justify or condemn the bombing. The reality was terrible, and terribly complex. Just one example: The immediate backdrop to the bombing was the battle of Okinawa. Three months. Two hundred fifty thousand killed; 100,000 civilians killed. There was good reason to dread the next step in an invasion of Japan.
As I said, I can’t buy that dropping the bomb was the only option. But what did the decision really come down to? Callous disregard for life? Desire to avoid sacrificing U.S. troops in a bloody invasion? Reckless use of a lethal and perhaps imperfectly understood technology? Lasting animosity for a nation that hit us with a sneak attack? Underlying racial and cultural hatred? Desire to show the Soviets what would be in store for them if they got out of hand? Impulse to do something, anything to finish off a fierce and much-feared enemy?
I choose all of the above.