1945, 70,000 lives were ended in a flash. To the American people who
were weary from the long and brutal war, such a drastic measure seemed
a necessary, even righteous way to end the madness that was World War
II. However, the madness had just begun. That August morning was the
day that heralded the dawn of the nuclear age, and with it came more
than just the loss of lives.
According to Archibald MacLeish, a U.S.
poet, “What happened at Hiroshima was not only that a scientific
breakthrough . . . had occurred and that a great part of the
population of a city had been burned to death, but that the problem of
the relation of the triumphs of modern science to the human purposes
of man had been explicitly defined.
” The entire globe was now to live
with the fear of total annihilation, the fear that drove the cold war,
the fear that has forever changed world politics. The fear is real,
more real today than ever, for the ease at which a nuclear bomb is
achieved in this day and age sparks fear in the hearts of most people
on this planet. According to General Douglas MacArthur, “We have had
our last chance. If we do not devise some greater and more equitable
system, Armageddon will be at our door.” The decision to drop the
atomic bomb on Japanese citizens in August, 1945, as a means to
bring the long Pacific war to an end was justified-militarily,
politically and morally.
The goal of waging war is victory with minimum losses on one’s
own side and, if possible, on the enemy’s side.
No one disputes the
fact that the Japanese military was prepared to fight to the last man
to defend the home islands, and indeed had already demonstrated this
determination in previous Pacific island campaigns. A weapon
originally developed to contain a Nazi atomic project was available
that would spare Americans hundreds of thousands of causalities in an
invasion of Japan, and-not incidentally-save several times more than
that among Japanese soldiers and civilians. The thousands who have
died in the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were far less
than would have died in an allied invasion, and their sudden deaths
convinced the Japanese military to surrender.
Every nation has an interest in being at peace with other
nations, but there has never been a time when the world was free of
the scourge of war. Hence, peaceful nations must always have adequate
military force at their disposal in order to deter or defeat the
aggressive designs of rogue nations. The United States was therefore
right in using whatever means were necessary to defeat the Japanese
empire in the war which the latter began, including the use of
superior or more powerful weaponry-not only to defeat Japan but to
remain able following the war to maintain peace sufficiently to
guarantee its own existence.
A long, costly and bloody conflict is a
wasteful use of a nation’s resources when quicker, more decisive means
are available. Japan was not then-or later-the only nation America had
to restrain, and an all-out U.S. invasion of Japan would have risked
the victory already gained in Europe in the face of the palpable
thereat of Soviet domination.
Finally, we can never forget the maxim of Edmund Burke: “The
only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do
nothing.” The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor brought us into a war
which we had vainly hoped to avoid.
We could no longer “do nothing”
but were compelled to “do something” to roll back the Japanese
militarists. Victims of aggression have every right both to end the
aggression and to prevent the perpetrator of it from continuing or
renewing it. Our natural right of self defense as well as our moral
duty to defeat tyranny justified our decision to wage the war and,
ultimately, to drop the atomic bomb. We should expect political
leaders to be guided by moral principles but this does not mean they
must subject millions of people to needless injury or death out of a
misplaced concern for the safety of enemy soldiers or civilians.
President Truman’s decision to deploy atomic power in Japan
revealed a man who understood the moral issues at stake and who had
the courage to strike a decisive blow that quickly brought to an end
the most destructive war in human history. Squeamishness is not a
moral principle, but making the best decisions at the time, given the