The Atomic Bomb: Justified or not?
Imagine, in the morning of August 6 1945, in an instant you were hurled towards the ceiling and then dropped towards the floor, as if you were some kind of ragdoll. After struggling to get up, your body aching, the wind knocked right out of you, you walk outside, and the only thing you see is an image representing close to hell. The sunlight gone, the city covered in smoke, buildings lit on fire, corpses scattered throughout the streets, this was the image of those who survived the Hiroshima & Nagasaki atomic bombing. So, the question is, was the dropping of the atomic bomb ‘justified’?
To answer this incredibly complex question, involves a multi faceted answer that not only looks at both players, but the general context these people were in. A little over a week before the dropping of the atomic bomb, the Allied Forces issued the Potsdam Declaration, an ultimatum for Japan to surrender or face “prompt and utter destruction” (President Truman, 1945). By this point, Japan was already in ruins. Little remained of their Navy forces, their cities were on fire, and the time was ticking for Japan to make a decision. It wasn’t as if the Japanese people didn’t want to surrender, but during this time, many Japanese people embodied the doctrine of the samurai. The way of the warrior: honor, and the sense of fight to the death were heavily engrained in the leaders of Japan. They didn’t surrender, because in their minds, the concept of surrendering never existed.
Popular opinions from supporters of the bomb (e.g. President Truman) would say that it forced a swift surrender by the Japanese, and prevented massive casualties on both sides. A study on June 15 1945 by the Joint War Plans Committee estimated an invasion would’ve resulted in 40,000 dead American soldiers and 150,000 wounded. On the other hand, within 2 weeks, 200,000 Japanese citizens would’ve been dead and upwards to 3 million had the war gone on for months (Skates, 2000). In contrast, approximately 250,000 were killed in the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Rezelman et al, 2000).
Conversely, many historians such as Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, would argue that the bombing was not the reason that Japan surrendered, but it was only an extension to the already fierce firebombing of Japanese cities, and that it was ultimately the Soviet Union declaring war on Japan that sealed their fate (Jenkins, 2005). Prominent scientists such as Leo Szilard criticized the bombing for being immoral, indefensible, a war crime, and an act of terrorism. Had the Americans not won the war, it would’ve been they who would be trialed as war criminals.
Knowing all of this, was the bombing of Hiroshima & Nagasaki justified? Did it have to happen? This is a subject that remains heavily debated even till today. It depends on which historian you talk to, and whether they think Japan was remotely close to surrendering prior to the bombing. The lives that potentially were saved still don’t take away the fact that many Japanese civilians were killed that day. Had it been an invasion instead, it would’ve been primarily soldiers; and following Soviet Union’s declaration of war, a surrender might’ve been imminent.
There is nothing as indiscriminate as an atomic bomb, where its sheer magnitude is something no country could’ve prepared for, could’ve hid away from; there are no reasons to allow these bombs to be dropped on any cities. It is weapons like the atomic bomb that could’ve spelt the end of the world. At this rate, it will not be a meteor, or a great flood that ends the human race, but humans themselves. Thus, we must take it upon ourselves to never use such genocidal weapons again, because already it was not only once but twice, did we risk going down the path of no return.
Jenkins, D. (2005). The Bomb Didn’t Win It. The Guardian.
Maddox, R. (1995). The Biggest Decision: Why We Had to Drop the Atomic Bomb. American Heritage 46(3)
Rezelman, D., Gosling F. G., Terrence R. (2000). The Atomic Bombing of Nagasaki. The Manhattan Project: An Interactive Hstory. U.S. Department of Energy
Skates, J. R. (2000). The Invasion of Japan: Alternative to the Bomb. University of South Carolina Press. p. 79.