Today’s Los Angeles Times contains a letter to the editor from a North Hollywood person named Dave Simon, which states in part the following: “To this day, I have no regret that President Harry Truman saved many American lives as well of thousands of others all across the globe by ordering the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”
Simon’s sentiment has always been the popular justification for the U.S. atomic bombings of the people in those two Japanese cities. The idea has been that without the bombings, it would have been necessary for the U.S. to have invaded Japan to secure its defeat, which would have necessarily entailed the deaths and injuries of thousands of U.S. soldiers.
Therefore, the argument goes, by killing and maiming hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians with the atomic bombings, and, equally important, implicitly threatening to continue doing so against other Japanese cities, the Japanese government was forced to surrender, thereby bringing a quicker end to the war, which thereby saved the lives of U.S. soldiers.
I have always opposed that reasoning. Targeting civilians is a war crime. That’s why Army Lt. William Calley, Jr., was charged with a war crime after he and his troops massacred civilians during the Vietnam War. Targeting civilians with an atomic bomb is no different from shooting them with an M-16. The bombing simply kills more people.
Would thousands of U.S. soldiers have died in an invasion of Japan? Of course. But that’s the nature of war. Soldiers die in war. To say that it is legitimate to kill women, children, and seniors in order to protect soldiers is highly illegitimate, from both a moral and a legal standpoint.
But as many people have point out, Japan was ready to surrender anyway. All that Japanese officials needed was an assurance that their emperor would not be executed, tortured, or abused. The U.S. refused to provide that assurance, pursuant to President Roosevelt’s policy that demanded “unconditional surrender.” It was a ridiculous policy, especially since after Japan’s surrender, the U.S. did not execute, torture, or abuse the emperor anyway.
Moreover, there are commentators who make a persuasive case that the real reason that President Truman ordered the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was to send a message to the Soviet Union, which was already being converted from WW2 partner and ally to the new official enemy of the United States.
There are also commentators who argue that Japan surrendered to the United States not because of the atomic bombings but rather to prevent the Soviet communists from taking control of Japan.
In any event, let’s jump forward to the current war between Russia and Ukraine or, as some contend, the current war between NATO and Russia.
Let’s assume that Russia is familiar with the popular U.S. justification for nuking Hiroshima and Nagasaki — the justification that Dave Simon sets forth in his letter to the LA Times. Let’s assume that Russia drops an atomic bomb on Kiev, the capital and the most populous city of Ukraine, in order to shorten the war by securing Ukraine’s immediate surrender. By shortening the war, the lives of thousands of Russian soldiers would then be saved.
What would Simon and other supporters of the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, including U.S. officials, say then? Would they defend Russia’s dropping an atomic bomb on Kiev on the same basis that they defend the U.S. bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Or would they declare that Russia’s atomic bombing of Kiev constituted a grave war crime for targeting and killing civilians, even while continuing to justify the U.S. targeting and killing the civilian populace in Hiroshima and Nagasaki?