On the Morality of the Atomic Bombing of Japan

The 70th anniversary of the use of the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, has prompted a round of discussion about the morality of the bomb, with discussions of varying quality. While with every year there seem to be more nd louder voices of condemnation, I personally find the arguments against the use of the bomb rather… lacking.

Thank God for the Atomic Bomb, an essay by Paul Fussel I consider essential to understanding not just the facts and figures, but the emotional impact the atomic bomb had. Read the whole thing, but a fine pull quote;

When the atom bombs were dropped and news began to circulate that “Operation Olympic” would not, after all, be necessary, when we learned to our astonishment that we would not be obliged in a few months to rush up the beaches near Tokyo assault-firing while being machine-gunned, mortared, and shelled, for all the practiced phlegm of our tough facades we broke down and cried with relief and joy. We were going to live. We were going to grow to adulthood after all.

In the Wall Street Journal Brett Stephens adds his own version of Thank God for the Atomic Bomb;

In all the cant that will pour forth this week to mark the 70th anniversary of the dropping of the bombs—that the U.S. owes the victims of the bombings an apology; that nuclear weapons ought to be abolished; that Hiroshima is a monument to man’s inhumanity to man; that Japan could have been defeated in a slightly nicer way—I doubt much will be made of Fussell’s fundamental point: Hiroshima and Nagasaki weren’t just terrible war-ending events. They were also lifesaving. The bomb turned the empire of the sun into a nation of peace activists.

When people question, “how can you be thankful for such a terrible thing?” Point out the following;

During the closing phase of the Pacific War, average monthly deaths, military and civilian, in Japanese held-territories in China, southeast Asia, Indonesia, and the Philippines, from disease, starvation, atrocities, or combat, was about 400,000 men, women, and children.

400,000 men, women and children dead per month at the hands of the Japanese: in other words, more then 10,000 dead per day.

Put aside all the American GIs that would not be killed in the invasion. Put aside all the Allied POWs that were not killed by the Japanese, who held their lives hostage against an invasion of the home islands. Put aside all those hundreds of thousands and you still have the Atomic bomb saving more than 10,000 lives for every day it shortened the war.

It’s a funny thing, in the discussions about how the US owes the Japanese an apology, I rarely hear about the hundreds of thousands of Chinese, Korean, Filipinos and others that were being killed by the Japanese even as they were “about to surrender”. Not a lot of talk about the tens of thousands of women, abducted for service in rape camps. Not allot of talk about attempted coupe that occurred when the Emperor finally gave the surrender order.

To put all those numbers in perspective, 400,000 dead per month is roughly equivalent to 13,000 dead per day, 556 dead per hour, just under 10 dead per minute.

Let that sink in for a moment: even as the bombs were being dropped on Japan, the Japanese were killing one Chinese soldier, one Filipino woman, one Korean child every 6 or so seconds.

It is an incontestable fact that bringing the war to an even just slightly earlier by dropping the bombs saved lives. Not just American lives that would have been lost in the invasion. Not just Japanese lives that would have been spent resisting the invasion. But civilians by the hundreds of thousands in Japanese occupied territories.

Funny how rarely that gets mentioned…

As for myself, I find my thoughts best reflected by the statement of Britain’s Air Chief Marshal Arthur Harris, regarding the fire bombing of Dresden, Germany;

I … assume that the view under consideration is something like this: no doubt in the past we were justified in attacking German cities. But to do so was always repugnant and now that the Germans are beaten anyway we can properly abstain from proceeding with these attacks. This is a doctrine to which I could never subscribe. Attacks on cities like any other act of war are intolerable unless they are strategically justified. But they are strategically justified in so far as they tend to shorten the war and preserve the lives of Allied soldiers. To my mind we have absolutely no right to give them up unless it is certain that they will not have this effect. I do not personally regard the whole of the remaining cities of Germany as worth the bones of one British Grenadier.

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When Pictures Tell Half the Truth

Imagine that I showed you a picture: corpses, men, women and children all piled up. A great heap of them, stacked like so much trash, limbs broken, eyes vacant, all about them the look of violent death.

Let me be so bold as to assume you would think this the evidence of a terrible crime, one no civilized nation could commit and no civilized man could countenance.

Suppose then that I showed you a picture of the piled casualties of the February 1945 bombing of Dresden;

“Bundesarchiv Bild 183-08778-0001, Dresden, Tote nach Bombenangriff” by Hahn. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0-de via Wikimedia Commons –

No one disagrees that the bombing of Dresden was a terrible thing, but by the same token no one (well, no one serious) imagines that the Bombing was simply an act of opportunistic murder undertaken for the sake of bloodthirst. Serious people understand that moral clarity cannot come without an understanding of all of the facts.

Less then a month before Dresden was bombed the Auschwitz Death Camp had been liberated.  The horrors of  Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen and Dachau would continue for weeks after Dresden. From September 1940 to May 1941 London and fifteen other British cities had faced bombardment by air, with tens of thousands of civilians killed. Dresden cannot be understood without Aushwitz and the Blitz of London, nor Hiroshima and Nagasaki without Pearl Harbor and Nanking. Put another way, you cannot look at the piled dead of Dresden without the memories of other images in mind…

London Blitz

It is the practice of the enemies of the West to deceive with half truths. As William F. Buckley observed,

To say that the CIA and the KGB engage in similar practices is the equivalent of saying that the man who pushes an old lady into the path of a hurtling bus is not to be distinguished from the man who pushes an old lady out of the path of a hurtling bus: on the grounds that, after all, in both cases someone is pushing old ladies around.

Today more then ever the enemies of the West, and of Israel particularly, take every opportunity to tell the world that we ought to pay no attention to who is pushing the old lady out of the way of the bus and who is pushing her into the path of the bus. Today so many in the media, either through ignorance or malice, would have you believe that the conflict between the State of Israel and the Terrorist group Hamas that controls Gaza simply sprang from the ground, a fit of pique on the part of the Israelis.

For example, this imagine, chosen to accompany an Associated Press article;

MOHAMMED ABED / AFP/GETTY IMAGES

A heart-wrenching albeit fascinating image. (As others have noted, it’s a curious thing that a small boy would be writing on a blackboard in the ruins of s school, even more so for a child that presumably speaks Arabic to be leaving graffiti in English. An uncharitable person would think the shot staged, but that would be silly…) But that picture, like so very many images and language choices made in covering the ongoing conflict in Gaza, is intended more to inflame then inform. To understand that picture, after all, one must understand it in the context of a broader set of images and statements, such as;

Israel is a pluralistic, western democracy locked in a struggle with nihilistic death cult, which freely and openly states that there can never be a peaceful resolution to the conflict. For all that, the IDF has engaged in the most restrained and merciful military actions in the history of modern (or, for that matter, ancient) warfare. Yet this is war, and no amount of care can prevent civilian casualties when one side seeks to armor their munitions with the bodies of their own children.  So Israel must continue, understanding what the British understood in World War II, as stated in the words of Air Chief Marshal Arthur Harris (by way of Wikipedia);

I … assume that the view under consideration is something like this: no doubt in the past we were justified in attacking German cities. But to do so was always repugnant and now that the Germans are beaten anyway we can properly abstain from proceeding with these attacks. This is a doctrine to which I could never subscribe. Attacks on cities like any other act of war are intolerable unless they are strategically justified. But they are strategically justified in so far as they tend to shorten the war and preserve the lives of Allied soldiers. To my mind we have absolutely no right to give them up unless it is certain that they will not have this effect. I do not personally regard the whole of the remaining cities of Germany as worth the bones of one British Grenadier.

The IDF has a responsibility to do what it does because it must be done. It is incumbent on all who have the luxury of being informed second hand not to fall into the trap of half-truths being laid out to snare the goodhearted but under informed.