Saturday, August 06, 2005


Today is the 60th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. It was followed three days later by a similar terrorist attack on the Japanese city of Nagasaki. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed in these attacks, either immediately or over time through the effects of radiation. Although both cities had installations of military value, the fact that the bombings were intended to obliterate the cities in their entirety, including their civilian populations, means that these must be counted as acts of terrorism, possibly the largest and most egregious individual instances of terrorism ever. (I discussed the definition of terrorism in an earlier post.)

Many U.S. officials and scientists were opposed to dropping the bombs on civilian populations. Among the opponents was General (later President) Dwight Eisenhower. In its extensive article on the bombings, Wikipedia quotes Leo Szilard, one of the scientists involved in the development of the atomic bomb, as writing:
If the Germans had dropped atomic bombs on cities instead of us, we would have defined the dropping of atomic bombs on cities as a war crime, and we would have sentenced the Germans who were guilty of this crime to death at Nuremberg and hanged them.
The Japanese surrendered almost immeditely after the Nagasaki bombing. Although several factors were at work, including the Soviet Union's declaration of war against Japan on August 8, there can be little doubt that the obliteration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki played the main role. It was argued by proponents that the bombings resulted in a net saving of tens or hundreds of thousands of lives, lives that would have been lost if the war had continued. Indeed, one must consider whether, were it not for the horrifying images of the two blasted cities and the "never again" peace movement that resulted, a full-scale nuclear war might have broken out at some later time between the United States and the Soviet Union. In other words, had it not been for those bombings, perhaps none of us would be here today.

Since President Harry Truman and his advisors did not drop the bombs in order to engender revulsion against nuclear terrorism, they can hardly take credit for the anti-nuclear movement that followed in the wake of August 1945. Unfortunately, that revulsion may be on the wane. A piece in last Saturday's Globe and Mail reported that the invitation of Japanese survivors to speak to an Atlanta high school in 2002 was cancelled at the last moment, with the guests being labelled opponents of George Bush; when they joined a peace march in Washington they were met with taunts of "Go home!" and "Remember Pearl Harbor!"

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