Shin-chan, as his family called the three-year-old, was doing just that on the morning of
Shin was about a quarter mile from the hypocenter of the detonation of the first nuclear weapon to be used in anger, the consequence of a frightening new technology that its creators were all too aware would change warfare -- and civilization -- forever by wreaking unimaginable death and destruction.A third atomic bomb was being readied, but by August 15 the conciliators in the Japanese government had won out over hard-line militarists who had had the tacit backing of Emperor Hirohito, who was not the pitfully manipulated figurehead the Japanese claim, and was the villian of this story. In any event, Japan capitulated and World War II finally was over after some 234,874 Americans had lost their lives in the Pacific theater alone.
Shin died that night, one of about 140,000 people to perish in the atomic bomb explosion and from associated effects, principally radiation poisoning. Three days later, a second bomb was dropped on
, taking about 74,000 lives. Nagasaki , the original target of the first bomb, was spared because the government officials and generals who were desperate to end the war were sensitive of its cultural significance. Kyoto
Those who have argued in favor of his decision offer these arguments:
* The bombs ended the war months sooner and saved an estimated half million American lives that could have been lost in an invasion of the Japanese mainlandThose who have argued against his decision offer these arguments:
* Millions of people under Japanese occupation in The Philippines,*
, New Guinea Borneoand elsewhere who faced starvation, including hundreds of thousands of POWs from the U.S., Britain, Australia, New Zealand and the Netherlands, were freed. hard-line militarists had adamantly refused to surrender although it was obvious that the war was lost. The
* The bombings were immoral, a crime against humanity and constituted genocide.
* In a contemporary context, they were an act of terrorism.
* They were militarily unnecessary because
was essentially defeated and ready to surrender. Japan
My second visit to Hiroshima included an extensive tour of the hospital and laboratories of the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission, which was established and funded by the U.S. in 1948 in an act both altruistic and a reflection of the need to better understand the horrors visited upon Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
For the next 36 years, the commission studied the latent effects of radiation among the bomb survivors, including the outcome of pregnancies one and two generations later. As sobering as the tour was, the trip ended on a delightfully memorable note: A side trip to an island in Hiroshima Bay where the famed oysters of the region -– the most delicious that I have ever eaten in a lifetime of world travels -- had just been declared safe to consume for the first time since the end of the war.I would have been unprepared for the gracious reception I received in
It was Hiroshi’s view that few Japanese felt enmity toward the
for the atomic bombings, as well as the firebombings that incinerated U.S. and so many other cities that Tokyo there were few relatively unscathed targets on the Japanese mainland by August 1945.
While I did occasionally experience hostility, usually in small villages well off the beaten track, Hiroshi was right. Although they would never admit it to a gaijin (foreigner), most Japanese were well aware that their government, in the thrall of those hard-liners, had started a war that brought out worst in them. The payback was a bitch, of course, but the Japanese who have toiled to remember the bombings -- from putting Shin's trike on display to working to try to insure that there are no more Hiroshimas and Nagasakis -- have brought out the best in them.
I happen to think that is a no brainer. Even using tactical nukes against terrorists is inane and should never be part of a counterinsurgency playbook (although it was considered in Vietnam). Hillary Clinton’s rejoinder that Obama should not rule out the so-called doomsday option was even sillier given the context.But that is not the point.
The point is that in my humble view, President Truman made the right decision in 1945 under circumstances so extraordinary that it is difficult to imagine them being replicated at some future time.As did Dame Edith Sitwell, that shock trooper of the poetic avant garde who wrote of
I pray that I am not wrong.
I leave you with an excerpt from the second poem, "The Shadow of Cain":
. . . there came a roar as if the Sun and Earth had come together--
The Sun descending and the Earth ascending
To take its place above . . . the Primal Matter
Was broken, the womb from which all life began,
Then to the murdered Sun a totem pole of dust arose
in memory of