Truman, A-Bombs, and the Killing of Innocents

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Today marks the 72nd anniversary of U.S. President Harry Truman’s atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan. The atomic bombing of Nagasaki took place three days later in 1945. Some 90,000-166,000 individuals were killed in Hiroshima. The Nagasaki bombing killed 39,000-80,000 human beings. (It has come to my attention that the U.S. military bombed Tokyo on Aug. 14–after destroying Hiroshima and Nagasaki and after Emperor Hirohito expressed his readiness to surrender.)

There isn’t much to be said about those unspeakable atrocities against civilians that hasn’t been said many times before. The U.S. government never needed atomic bombs to commit mass murder, but it dropped them anyway. (Remember this when judging the official U.S. moralistic stance toward Iran.) Its “conventional” weapons have been potent enough. (See the earlier firebombing of Tokyo.) Nor did it need the bombs to persuade Japan to surrender; the Japanese government had been suing for peace. The U.S. government may not have used atomic weapons since 1945, but it has not yet given up mass murder as a political/military tactic. Presidents and presidential candidates are still expected to say that, with respect to nuclear weapons, “no options are off the table.”Mario Rizzo has pointed out that Americans were upset by the murder of 3,000 people on 9/11 yet seem not to be bothered that “their” government murdered many more Japanese civilians in two days. Many more died as a consequence of the bombings.  Conservatives, ironically, were among the earliest critics of Truman’s mass murder. It’s also worth noting that the top military leaders of the day opposed the use of atomic bombs.

As Harry Truman once said, “I don’t give ’em hell. I just drop A-bombs on their cities and they think it’s hell.” (Okay, he didn’t really say that, but he might as well have.)

Some people still see the A-bombs as the only alternative to invasion, which would have cost many more civilian lives. Now there’s the fallacy of the false alternative in dying color. Why couldn’t the U.S. military have called it a day and gone home? Why the assumption that the state must destroy and conquer its “enemy”? Why demand unconditional surrender? (To back up a step, why go to war against Japan at all? Pearl Harbor was the result of systematic, intentional provocation — as Herbert Hoover and others pointed out at the time) — perhaps with Roosevelt’s foreknowledge. A government less concerned with a rival for its and its allies’ colonial possessions might have not gotten involved.)

Rad Geek People’s Daily has a poignant post here. Rad says: “As far as I am aware, the atomic bombing of the Hiroshima city center, which deliberately targeted a civilian center and killed over half of the people living in the city, remains the deadliest act of terrorism in the history of the world.”

Other things to read: Anthony Gregory’s “Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the US Terror State,”  David Henderson’s “Remembering Hiroshima,”  and G.E.M. Anscombe’s “Mr. Truman’s Decree.”

Finally, if you read nothing else on this subject, read Ralph Raico’s article here.

[A version of this post appeared previously at Free Association.]

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Read Scott Horton's new book Fool's Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan

1 COMMENT

  1. If I recall, in your book you referred to Churchill’s justification of the Dresden firebombing as a means to “evoke the terror” which I think underscores how seemingly normal it was back then to commit atrocities against civilians in plain sight. In my view, America goes to great lengths to hide these atrocities now, including discouraging potential “leakers” of atrocities with excessive jail time. Perhaps this is a little too “silver lining”, but I consider it progress. It’s sort of like when a 2 year old begins to realize that pooping in his pants is not an accepted norm and he tries to do it in private. It’s the first reluctant step toward changing his behavior.