The Truth about Hiroshima

President Obama, being a realist politician, did not apologize for dropping the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during his recent visit to Japan. I, for one, wait for the day when Americans are strong enough and brave enough to acknowledge our own atrocities. Alas, we still mistake concession and repentance with weakness.

I have repeated this point time and again: the argument that dropping the bombs was necessary is nothing but emotionally-driven propaganda. The Japanese leadership had already begun considering options for capitulation and hoped to work through the Soviets to negotiate the end to hostilities. It was the Soviet declaration of war, followed by their swift victory over the last major Japanese army in Manchuria, that finally precipitated surrender.

Besides, I’ve never understood why an invasion of Japan would have even been necessary, apart from the Allied insistence (for what reason?) on unconditional surrender. The Japanese home islands have almost no natural resources for agricultural and industrial purposes. By August 1945, they didn’t have enough oil to run what was left of their navy and air force. A blockade would have been sufficient to contain the runt of the Japanese military and prevent resupply until the leadership chose to acquiesce, and all this without sacrificing the lives of American servicemen or Japanese civilians.

The United States has signed international agreements declaring the intentional targeting of civilians as a war crime. And a war crime is a war crime, no matter who commits it and no matter what rationale. Even if the Japanese “started it” by attacking Pearl Harbor. Or are we going to argue like 2-year-olds?

A surprise attack on a civilian population aimed at causing maximum hurt, shock, disruption, and terror: there comes to seem very little difference in principle between the RAF’s Operation Gomorrah [the fire-bombing of Hamburg], or the USAAF’s atom bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York by terrorists on 11 September 2001…All these terrorist attacks are atrocities, consisting in deliberate mass murder of civilians to hurt and coerce the society they belong to. To say that the principle underlying 9/11, Hamburg and Hiroshima is the same is to say that the same moral judgement applies to all three.

A.C. Grayling, Among the Dead Cities, p. 278f.


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