On Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Seventy years ago the war with Japan ended because of the bombing of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and Nagasaki on August 9. Although around 200,000 lives were lost in the two cities, far more lives were saved as Japan finally offered an unconditional surrender.

Those bombings were certainly controversial, and we have debated the military and moral merits of them ever since. I have tried to follow the debate somewhat over the years, and I remain convinced that as hellish as any such attacks might be, these two bombings were morally licit, and spared us far more bloodshed and destruction.

I just pulled out an old file of articles on this that I have collected over the years, and will here quote from a few of them. I can only focus on one main theme: the reality that the Japanese wanted to fight to the last man, and casualties would have been enormous but for these bombings.

hiroshima 2Let me start with some remarks by Michael Novak penned back in 1983:

The Imperial Army had pledged to defend the island home with suicidal, total war. Some 4.5 million troops were being assembled. Twenty-eight million old men, boys, and women were being mobilized and drilled – some with broomsticks, a lucky few with ancient muskets. Around Hiroshima, four thousand “suicide” boats had been outfitted with explosives and hidden along the coast for use against U.S. landing craft. Hiroshima had been chosen as the headquarters of one of the four Imperial Armies defending the nation’s four military zones.
The population of Hiroshima had been reduced (from about 400,000) by the evacuation of primary-school children and others to the countryside. High school students were mobilized for work in the war factories and for the sad task of tearing down thousands of homes, to create fire breaks and fire lanes in the densely packed city, against the expected incendiary attacks. Contrariwise, the population was swollen back to nearly 380,000 by the presence of at least ninety thousand officers and men of the Imperial Army.

In 1985 Andre Ryerson said:

“The Japanese view was close to the reverse of the American. Death in war was not to be avoided, but to be sought. The Shinto cult of radical self-sacrifice taught that suicide was glorious while surrender was unthinkable disgrace. So numerous were the suicide volunteers who spontaneously arose in the ranks of the Japanese armed forces that they were organised separately for routine training in the technique of air or naval kamikaze, the way other soldiers were taught to operate a radio or drive a jeep. One-man suicide submarines were specially designed and manufactured for the purpose, and human torpedoes or kaiten followed, employed by the hundreds against Allied shipping.
But it was in the air that the kamikaze ethos proved most effective; at Okinawa alone the Special Attack Corps sent as many as 1,500 volunteers against American ships. In addition to the spiritual satisfaction of a glorious suicide, the Japanese considered this an effective means of countering the American advantage in materiel. A lone suicidal airman could sink a whole destroyer.

In 1989 former U.S. soldier Paul Fussell wrote about the necessity of invasion:

On Okinawa, only weeks before Hiroshima, 123,000 Japanese and Americans killed each other. (About 140,000 Japanese died at Hiroshima.) “Just awful” was the comment on the Okinawa slaughter not of some pacifist but of General MacArthur. On July 14, 1945, General Marshall sadly informed the Combined Chiefs of Staff – he was not trying to scare the Japanese – that it’s “now clear . . . that in order to finish with the Japanese quickly, it will be necessary to invade the industrial heart of Japan.” The invasion was definitely on, as I know because I was to be in it….
When the atom bombs were dropped and news began to circulate that “Operation Olympic” would not, after all, be necessary, when we learned to our astonishment that we would not be obliged in a few months to rush up the beaches near Tokyo assault-firing while being machine-gunned, mortared, and shelled, for all the practiced phlegm of our tough facades we broke down and cried with relief and joy.

In 1995 Donald Kagan offered a summary statement:

It is, I think, clear that any strategy other than the employment of atomic weapons would have failed to compel a Japanese surrender short of an invasion of the home islands. Even at a low estimate, the two planned invasions would have brought 193,500 American casualties and, as Robert J. Maddox puts it, “only an intellectual could assert that 193,500 anticipated casualties were too insignificant to have caused Truman to use atomic bombs.” The Japanese, moreover, had plans to kill Allied prisoners of war as the fighting approached the camps where they were being held; so the swift surrender brought on by the bomb saved still more American lives.

He concludes his article this way:

An honest examination of the evidence reveals that their leaders, in the tragic predicament common to all who have engaged in wars that reach the point where every choice is repugnant, chose the least bad course. Americans may look back on that decision with sadness, but without shame.

And Adam Meyerson, writing in 1985, discussed the humane follow-up by the Allies:

The American policy of 1945 was the reverse of the Allies’ in 1918. It was to win the war against Japan (and Germany) decisively, and then to treat the vanquished with friendship and magnanimity. After Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese people could have no illusions about which side won the war, and they had been taught a terrible lesson about the consequences of their ruler’s militarism. But the surrender of Japan was followed by the most humane occupation in Asian history. American troops were severely punished if they so much as struck a Japanese. The Japanese economy was quickly rebuilt with American help….
Indeed, one of the advantages of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings is that, by ending the war when they did, they allowed Japan to be occupied by the United States alone, and not also by the Soviet Union. Stalin, who entered the war against Japan on August 9, 1945, had set his sights on Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan’s four islands, and it is likely that he would have landed there if war had been prolonged and the United States forced to invade Japan. How traumatic this would have been for Hokkaido can be judged by the experience of Japanese soldiers who surrendered to the Soviets in Manchuria: 35,000 of them were sent to slave labour in Siberia, while Manchuria’s factories were dismantled and shipped to Russia as war reparations. A Soviet occupation of Hokkaido might also have led to a permanently divided Japan on the model of Germany and Korea.
The decision to drop the atomic bomb, like all military decisions, must be evaluated in the context of the circumstances at the time and the information then available to President Truman. The bomb has, thankfully, never been used again. But compared with the alternatives available to Truman in 1945, America’s “first use” of nuclear weapons was humane and just.

Finally, writing just two days ago, John Hawkins concludes his piece with these words:

When people moan about the use of nuclear weapons in Japan, what they’re really saying is that they’d rather hundreds of thousands of American families had grown up without husbands, fathers and sons than see us use nuclear weapons on a genocidal nation bent on world conquest.
Like most people who second guess the hard choices that are made in war, critics of nuking Japan insist that everything would have just magically worked out. Japan would have just surrendered and everything would have ended without bloodshed.
Of course, back in the real world, Japan was putting all of its resources into fending off an invasion and refused to surrender even AFTER the first nuclear weapon was dropped. After the second nuclear weapon hit Nagasaki, there was an attempted coup designed to prevent that nation’s leaders from giving in. Happily it failed, but it gives you a sense of how determined the Japanese were to keep fighting.
The Japanese weren’t the victims in WWII; they were the bad guys. They were perfectly willing to create a Hell on earth as long as their Emperor got to share time with Hitler in the infernal palace and they were allowed to be his little worker demons torturing the rest of the planet. Don’t feel sorry for Japan because it got nuked; feel sorry for all the innocent lives that were lost because of that nation’s murderous lust for power.

War is hell, and never to be entered into lightly. But living under tyranny and oppression with millions of innocent victims is also hellish. Sometimes war is necessary, and sometimes a lesser evil is necessary to prevent a greater evil. As hard as it is to look back on these two bombings, they seem to have been the right course of action at the time.


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25 Replies to “On Hiroshima and Nagasaki”

  1. Thanks Bill – a few days ago I saw a BBC report on this topic. The report records that one historian claims it was the Soviet declaration of war on Japan on 8 August 1945 that was the main motive for Japanese surrender.
    The Japanese authortities feared that the Red Army (with NKVD) would invade and kill the Emperor and his family. That was of far greater concern than the loss of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

  2. Well said Bill.

    I wonder if those who object to the bomb would be willing to go to the “hundreds of thousands of American families … (who would have been) without husbands, fathers and sons” and tell them that they’d prefer that the men in their lives had died rather than those who would have killed the American families had they had the chance?

  3. As John Hawkins points out — the Japanese didn’t surrender after the first bomb, so three days later the US sent Japan a message in the way of another bomb — surrender or cease to exist.

    The US undoubtedly saved many many lives.

  4. Thanks Stephen. But it strikes me as more than a bit interesting that most of those running with the revisionist version of events (the BBC, the ABC, the NYT, etc) are all rather leftist media outlets.

    Moreover we were told what ended the war. The Japanese Emperor told us quite clearly why the Japanese surrendered: He said this on August 15, 1945: “Moreover, the enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb, the power of which to do damage is, indeed, incalculable, taking the toll of many innocent lives. Should we continue to fight, it would not only result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization. Such being the case, how are we to save the millions of our subjects, or to atone ourselves before the hallowed spirits of our Imperial Ancestors? This is the reason why we have ordered the acceptance of the provisions of the joint declaration of the powers.”

    See his full talk here: http://ww2db.com/battle_spec.php?battle_id=13

  5. Dear Bill

    Thank you for this ‘fresh’, for me, take on the bombing and the almost certain consequences of death and destruction of the innocents if the bombs had not been dropped. The truth of what you say and of those from whom you quote rings out loudly.

    This is the story of judgement and wrath, something that we forget in God’s design. The horrors of Japan’s treatment of those it captured and enslaved both of native populations and also of the fighting men of its opponents, in itself speak volumes of why such ‘swift and surgical treatment’ as the two atomic bombs was totally necessary.

    My own school headmaster was a former Japanese prisoner of war and although he survived, the horror of what he was subjected to at the hands of these “little worker demons torturing the rest of the planet” destroyed his sanity and ultimately his life”. He committed suicide.

    Warmest regards in Christ

  6. Theodore Van Kirk, the last surviving crew member of the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, died in July 2014. He said that the only way he knew how to win a war was to subdue the enemy as quickly as possible. He defended the use of the bomb up until his death.

  7. A good article Bill, for which I thank you. I get sick of the usual twisted history spouted by the leftist media that paints the United States as the big ‘baddie’ for dropping the bombs on Japan. My family were living during the height of the Second World War and they often said how terrifying it was for the Australian people at the time when Darwin was attacked by the Japanese and how grateful and assured they were when the American army arrived in Australia. It saddens me a lot that the truth of what really went on during the Second World War is so constantly altered to the sneering view of the left. It was a terrible decision for President Truman to have to make but he knew there was no other choice. It would have been a bloodbath of horrific proportions if America had invaded Japan on both sides and I think, Bill, that if that had been the case, you’d have the leftist brigade accusing the United States today of making a wrong choice and how it should have done it differently. Unless you lived in the time no one today can really appreciate the real fear people endured here in Australia when faced with the possible invasion by Japan.

  8. Sorry, Bill, the fact that the US tried two versions of the bomb says it all for me that it was a satanic exercise.

    The US government should have been tried for crimes against humanity for dropping those bombs on civilians. Are you aware that Hiroshima and Nagasaki had large Christian populations?

  9. Thanks Antonia, but sadly it is clear that you have not bothered to read this article, and are just emoting with kneejerk reactions. Sorry, but when an action brings to a swift end a horrific war, puts an end to diabolical atrocities committed by the Japanese, and saves millions of lives in the process, I will never fathom how that can be said to be satanic or the subject of war crimes. In my moral universe, saving as many lives as possible is always a moral good, while seeking naïve perfection in a fallen world resulting in far more suffering and death is hardly moral – or Christian. Just the opposite.

    And Japan has never had ‘large Christian populations’. Germany did however, but by your reasoning, we should not have opposed Hitler because some Christians may have died in the process. The Allied actions, while not perfect, saved millions of innocent lives over all. If you find that morally repugnant then your moral system differs greatly from mine I am afraid.

  10. Antonia,

    There were many morally repugnant acts committed by the allies during WW2. Dresden is but one such example. However, in each case, the decision was made because the people in charge thought it the lesser of two (or more) evils, the least bad decision of a long list of bad options, yet did so anyway on the belief that doing so would ultimately save more lives and bloodshed than it would cost at the time.

    Was the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki horrific? You bet, and no-one is claiming otherwise. But the alternative – invasions by both the USA and the Russians – would be far worse, both in terms of lives lost and in the suffering of innocent civilians. The Russian invasion would have been particularly barbaric, as it was when they swept through eastern Europe en route to Berlin.

    No, the invasion was best avoided altogether to reduce the amount of deaths and suffering. As it stands, the Little Boy and Fat Man were the least bad option of those available to the Allied Command, and President Truman.

  11. Graham,

    An excellent watch, 15 minutes and the leftist arguments are completely destroyed by Bill Whittle, for the lies and deceptions and fabrications that they are. The lives of incalculable numbers of US servicemen and others were saved.

    Thank you,

  12. The very same news outlets that try to conceal the torrent of sickening truth about Planned Parenthood have been filling up their websites with stories criticising the U.S. Bombing of the Japanese.

    Two hundred thousand dead draws their tears but fifty seven million babies cut to pieces doesn’t raise an eyebrow?!

    Somehow, I don’t think they give a damn about the loss of life in Japan because if they did, the infanticide occurring on home soil during peacetime might be worth a mention.

    If the left proclaim it, then it’s part of their anti-Christian, anti-West agenda, just the same as proclaiming the gospel makes their ears bleed – when will Christians figure this out already and stop agreeing with them and voting them into power in our nations?

  13. All I know is…every WWII vet I ever met told me the bomb ended the war. I was also told the military leaders had to lock the Emperor up in a room and force him to sign the surrender. He was not going to stop. This seems far more evil to me than using a weapon that did do as intended – and scared the world so much no one wants to actually use them.

  14. Antonia,

    What about Japanese atrocities, such as the rape of Nanjing, the death marches, the use of slave labourers and comfort women, and the horrible conditions in POW camps? Japan’s military leaders were blinkered fanatics who wanted to go down fighting.

  15. To use an analogy, the bomb could be seen like an amputation which, dreadful as it is in itself and apparently without purpose if seen in isolation, but is in fact a mercy when seen in conjunction with the facts preceding it, blood poisoning which threatens the life of the whole man and the anticipated outcome, the saving of that life. Also, surely many mistakes on the side of those who meant well have occurred, just proves that man even in all his good intentions still makes blunders, just proves we are not God or saviour, but need Him who truly is both.
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  16. It may also seem cruel to say this but populations of people are not entirely free of the moral implications of their leader. Even if the dictatorship wasn’t elected, the population may be sympathetic or indifferent to the evil leadership. The people still bear *some* culpability.

  17. War often comes down to simple maths. Maths never shows a human face. There was always a danger in using atomic release that a new standard would be set. We should remember that Japan was being fire bombed before the atomic bomb, no doubt if these attack had continued then the human toll would have piled up anyway. There are no winners. Bills position is sound.
    Thanks for reading

  18. All those screaming about the suffering of the Japanese forget the people who were suffering at the hands of the Japanese.

    My father was among those who continued to serve after the war to help people re-build their lives after they were freed from Japanese occupation. I know what he thought of the decision to nuke Japan and thus bring the suffering of their victims to quicker end.

    Good article Bill.

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