I am receiving a considerable amount of feedback from readers regarding my article “Hiroshima and Nagasaki Were Shameful War Crimes.” Not surprisingly, some readers agree with my position and others disagree. In this follow-up article, I will address the arguments of those who express disagreement with my position.
My critics make the popular, standard argument that has long been used to justify the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They say that but for the bombings, an invasion of Japan would have been necessary, which would have cost, they say, the lives of countless U.S. troops. Therefore, they maintain, it was morally and legally permissible to target the people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki with nuclear bombs in order to bring a quicker surrender from Japan, which, in turn, saved the lives of the soldiers who would have been killed in an invasion of Japan.
Of course, there are those military experts who maintain the opposite. They hold that Japan was on its last legs and that it was already reaching out to the United States to explore a surrender. The obstacle, these experts say, was President Truman’s “unconditional surrender” demand. If Truman had made it clear that U.S. forces would guarantee that they would not execute or torture the Japanese emperor, who was considered to be a deity by the Japanese people, Japan would have been willing to surrender, if for no other reason than to avoid being conquered and occupied by America’s wartime partner and ally, the Soviet Union.
Given that the bombs were dropped and Japan surrendered, it is impossible to prove beyond a reasonable doubt whether an invasion would have been necessary or not.
However, it is worth pointing out that no one forced Truman into adopting President Franklin Roosevelt’s policy of “unconditional surrender.” That was a policy of Truman’s own choosing. If an invasion of Japan became necessary and if Truman decided that there was going to be an extraordinarily high casualty rate, he could have instead have tried to negotiate a peace treaty that involved something less than “unconditional surrender.”
Nonetheless, I wish to emphasize that that particular issue set forth above was not the central point of my article, which was this: It is immoral and illegal to target women, children, seniors, invalids, and other non-combatants in war.
Some of my critics fervently disagree with this. They say that war is “nasty” and, therefore, that anything goes, including the targeting of non-combatants.
Interestingly, when I responded by asking them if they supported Lt. William Calley’s killing of women, children, seniors, and other non-combatants at My Lai, they immediately wrote back to make it clear that they opposed that massacre. Thus, it is obvious that while they support the atomic bombings of the women, children, seniors, and other non-combatants at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, they do not want to be associated with Calley’s killing of women, children, and other non-combatants at My Lai.
Yet, what’s the difference? If it’s okay for a pilot to target non-combatants with bombs, why isn’t it equally okay for an infantryman to target non-combatants with bullets? If the “nastiness” of war justifies one, why doesn’t it justify the other?
Some of my critics brought up the firebombing of Dresden and Japanese cities to justify their position. They said that since it was okay to kill non-combatants in those cities with firebombing, then it was equally okay to kill non-combatants at Hiroshima and Nagasaki with nuclear bombs.
I hold the opposite. I hold that since it is illegal and immoral to target non-combatants in wartime (which is why Calley was prosecuted and convicted), it is just as illegal and immoral to target non-combatants with firebombing and nuclear bombs.
In fact, here is an interesting question: What do the defenders of the attacks on Dresden and Japanese cities say about Germany’s attacks on English cities? Do they say that Germany was acting within its “rights” when German pilots bombed those cities? Or are they saying that this principle applies only to the United States and not foreign nations?
Here is another question: Let’s assume that Nazi Germany got the bomb first and that it dropped it on Washington, D.C., which brought a quick surrender by the U.S. government, thereby saving the lives of countless German soldiers who would have been killed in a German invasion of the U.S. What would defenders of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki say about that?
Indeed, what if Russia decides that dropping a nuclear bomb in Kiev would bring about the quick surrender of Ukraine, which thereby would save the lives of countless Russian soldiers (as well as Ukrainian soldiers). What do defenders of the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki say about that? Would they support Russia’s “right” to do drop a nuclear bomb in Kiev for the same ostensible reason that the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Or would they say that only the United States has the “right” to target women, children, seniors, invalids, and other non-combatants with the aim of bringing a quick surrender from the opposing side?