About 70 years ago, a B-29 Superfortress bomber named the Enola Gay took off from the Mariana Islands and dropped a 16-kiloton nuclear bomb dubbed “Little Boy” on the city of Hiroshima in Japan, killing around 70,000 people…20,000 were soldiers. Another 70,000 people were injured by the attack, with many dying later of the radiation set off by the bomb. A few days later, another B-29 named the Bockstar dropped a bigger bomb (dubbed “Fat Man”) on the nearby city of Nagasaki. 40,000 people were killed in the blast, with about another amount being affected by the radiation and dying later on. The two attacks led to the unconditional surrender of the Empire of Japan a few days later aboard the USS Missouri, effectively bringing an end to World War II. Many claim that the attack, though crude, was justified due to the trouble that could have befell American soldiers if they tried to invade the Japanese mainland, and the idea that having a weapon that could effectively end the war should be used. Is such an argument valid?
It is sometimes difficult to use hindsight statements in regard to events that occurred in history. One could only imagine what was involved in the minds of those who had struggled through the horrors that World War II harbored for 6 long years…especially when following what was, at the time, the largest unprovoked attack on American soil in history. However, the act of setting off two nuclear bombs upon whom were mostly civilians reeks of inhumanity and tragedy. It brings to question whether President Truman and others really understood the gravity of the weapon they were about to unleash, and how it was fundamentally different than other measures of war beforehand. Robert Oppenheimer, who had worked on the crafting of the bomb during the Manhattan Project, had expressed some excitement when tests were successful…but even then could respect the power of what he had unleashed. He became visibly despondent and advocated for severe restraint after the end of the war, but by then the damage was done. The United States could have used a demonstration of such a bomb on a harmless track of land, rather than over a civilian population, as a demonstration to the Japanese government of what was possible, and if not could have attacked military strongholds with it. By attacking Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we gave away any sense of moral superiority that we might have felt ourselves as having. Then again, the Allies had their share of atrocities during the war (air raids of Dresden and Cologne being among them) so perhaps that isn’t too surprising.
Some, like author Ethan Fishman, propose that Mr. Truman should have shared the nuclear technology with the Soviets and the world community to establish world peace instead of an arms race, but it is hard to believe that the politics of the time would have allowed such a thing to happen. The Soviets were an ally of circumstance for many of the Allies, including the United States, and therefore were rightfully understood to not be trusted. Indeed it was known that Soviet spies had infiltrated the Manhattan Project, but to believe that such tech should be shared willingly would have been unthinkable. In the end, there isn’t much to believe that the outcome of what took place after the war would have been much different. However, when it comes to prudential leadership, there is no reason that our leaders had to go through with the bombings as they did. Indeed it is understandable why it occurred, but in the end, it offered little solace to the apparent cause we were fighting for.