The Atomic Bombing of Japan – A Necessary Evil?

Certain events in American history are generally considered “untouchable”, meaning that the reigning interpretation is not allowed to be challenged. How can you determine the reigning interpretation? See how a historical event is taught in public schools. However the State mandates that history be taught in public schools is the reigning interpretation.

Challenging the reigning interpretation is difficult. Many people do not like to hear the reigning interpretations challenged. One such interpretation, for instance, lies in the American Civil War: that Lincoln was a saint, and the War itself was a righteous mission against the evils of Slavery in the south. Challenging the paradigm by saying that St. Lincoln was anything less than righteous and that the Civil War was anything less than righteous (on the part of the Union) is a big no-no in the public sphere.  Another example: Openly charging that Harry Dexter White, U.S. Treasury official in the post-WWII era, was a Soviet spy. White was one of the premier architects of post-WWII international finance and U.S. monetary policy, and he was a Soviet spy. History classes never mention this. By this point, even the Establishment grudgingly acknowledges that White was a spy; but you cannot mention this in mainstream historical discussion of the international finance system, lest you be labeled a “right-wing kook”. The reigning interpretation ignores Harry Dexter White.

The most untouchable of reigning interpretations are often related to America’s wars. This is because wars are so odious and miserable, people want some way to justify what happened in the aftermath otherwise they’ll feel really bad about what happened. Americans especially are brought up on a steady educational diet of wartime victories and conquests; the State, which uses wars to expand it’s own influence and control, needs to find ways to justify these things in retrospective so that it can convince people to allow the same thing again in the future. After all, if it was OK once, why not again?

A hardcore reigning interpretation is this: that the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were justified. The only people who openly challenge this interpretation are left-wing college professors, and libertarian nutjobs like myself. Most others in the political spectrum see the bombings as justified. Terrible, but justified. You would be hard-pressed to find any politicians in Washington willing to admit that the bombings were unjustified.  The same can be said of public intellectuals who want mainstream credibility.

Most people generally agree that the bombings were terrible, but a necessary evil in order to end the war. Fact: There’s no such thing as a justified “necessary” evil. Evil is just evil. This “necessary” stuff is flim-flam. Were the atomic bombings evil, or not? If so, do you want to support something evil, or not?

When I was in the 10th grade, I did a research project on the creation of the atomic bomb. My first inkling that maybe the bombs weren’t so necessary was when I saw the photos of the Japanese bomb victims: wretched souls covered in burns from head to toe, with internal organs melting from radiation poisoning and brains slowly rotting into induced dementia. Of course, there were the thousands of people killed from the blast itself as well, and the total leveling of society in these cities. In general, suffering on an unbelievable scale. “Good Lord,” I recall thinking, “This is awful. I know we were at war and all, but… wow.”

The key argument is this: Was the indiscriminate killing/maiming of hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians justified? The reigning interpretation says that the Japanese were fanatical to the end, would fight to the last man, and that the bombings were necessary lest even more destruction reign in a blood-soaked U.S. invasion of the Japanese mainland. The unspoken assumption is that the U.S. ultimately needed to invade and occupy Japan. My counter-argument: An invasion of Japan was not necessary. It may well be true that the Japanese were willing to fight to the last man, but that doesn’t automatically mean that the U.S. had to fight them to their last man.

By the spring of 1945, there was a consensus amongst numerous high-level U.S. government and military officials that the Japanese Empire was already, for all intents and purposes, defeated. The Japanese Navy was all but obliterated; the rest of the Japanese military was poorly manned, poorly equipped, and disheartened. They were running out of resources, fast; by this time, they had been largely booted from mainland Asia, losing their vital supplies of oil and raw materials from the conquered regions in China. With the resurgent Chinese closing in from the east, the Soviet Union closing in from the north, and the U.S. closing in from the West and South, Japan was totally blockaded. With manpower and resources dwindling to nearly zero, there was no way that Japan any longer posed a threat to anyone.  As Fleet Admiral Leahy, the senior-most active duty military man of WWII, later commented in writing:

It is my opinion that the use of the barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan … The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons … My own feeling was that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.

Leahy was not alone in those sentiments. As Dwight Eisenhower wrote in his 1963 memoirs:

During his [Stimson’s] recitation of the relevant facts, I had been conscious of a feeling of depression and so I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. It was my belief that Japan was, at that very moment, seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of “face.”

The Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing … I hated to see our country be the first to use such a weapon.”

Echoing these views was General Douglas MacArthur, commander of the Army forces in the Pacific:

“My staff was unanimous in believing that Japan was on the point of collapse and surrender.”

MacArthur maintained until his death that the atomic bombings were not only unnecessary, but acts of unspeakable barbarism. His adherence to this belief even played a role in his eventual dismissal during the Korean War.

None of the aforementioned were fringe wackos. These were head honchos. One was later a President. These are views worth taking seriously. They said Japan was already defeated. The U.S. military just needed to wait. The anticipated bloody invasion of Japan wasn’t inevitable. An invasion of mainland Japan was not even necessary, much less the atomic bombings. Japan may have been willing to fight to the last man, but that didn’t mean the last man needed to be fought. The “last man” in Japan was a tired, ill-equipped, and demoralized teenage conscript that posed no threat to anyone.

So why did Truman order the bombs to be dropped? To beat the Soviets to the punch. By 1945, as it became clear the Axis was going to lose, the American Establishment was already looking ahead to future tensions with Russia. To counterbalance Communist influence in Asia, the U.S. wanted total control over Japan. After the war in Europe ended in May of 1945, the American Establishment knew that the Soviets, as per the Potsdam Agreement, would soon declare war on Japan and head forward to invade. The Americans wanted the pressure of a prospective Soviet Invasion to be placed on Japan, without the nation actually falling into Soviet hands. As the Soviet invasion was days away in August of 1945, Truman made the choice to drop the bomb in an attempt to hurriedly blow Japan into submission and produce an unconditional surrender before they had to give Russia a piece of the Japan pie. Also, the bombings were a show of force to Russia, meant to intimidate them out of any post-war territorial ambitions they might have had. Little did Truman know that the Soviets were already nearing completion on their own atomic bomb project.

To step back a little to an earlier point, can the killing/horrendous maiming of thousands of civilians be justified? Did everyone in Hiroshima and Nagasaki deserve to face the horrifying wrath of the bomb?  Did all the women and children deserve the bomb? Did all the men deserve the bomb? A strictly military target is one thing, but a city of civilians? I say “No”. It was a terror bombing, and nothing more. If Japan developed the bomb first and lobbed a nuke on San Francisco to protect themselves from American domination, we would call it a war crime. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were no different.

Deep down, I think most people agree with me in that the atomic bombings were immoral and should not have occurred. But it is a legacy that many people find difficult to accept. It requires repudiating the saintly interpretation of American involvement in WWII, which is drilled into our brains from day one.


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