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More on the Bomb

My friend Paul Gustafson responded to my blog entry yesterday, in which I wondered whether a demonstration of the atomic bomb would have sufficed with the Japanese, or if not, whether we could have found purely military targets:

I once saw a tape of a retired Harry Truman being asked these questions. As I recall, the reasoning went something like this (the following memory is probably also laced with the opinions of my father, who, having survived Normandy, was on a boat headed for the Pacific when the bomb dropped):
  1. Allied (read American) lives were Truman's first priority -- and the casualty projections for a land assault on Japan were staggering. Drained from the victory in Europe, the Americans needed a victory in the Pacific -- fast.

  2. The bomb was new. No one was absolutely positive it would work in production. To waste it on a demonstration was not a credible option (see #1 above).

  3. They only had two (or three) bombs ready. The next few were weeks, if not months, away. If one or two didn't stop the war... a land invasion was going to be necessary (see #1 above).
I share your admiration of Japan -- but you and I only know the post-WWII Japan -- the one rebuilt by the US. Japan, prior to the bomb, was a very different place.

Given the circumstance, I'd have to say the terrible decision Truman made was the right one.

Thanks for the insight, Paul.

On reflection, I think I understand why Truman made the decision he did, and I don't hold it against him. Having said that, I think other options existed. If another bomb was a month away (I don't know the actual figure), was it worth a month's more war to try to save so many lives? The Hiroshima blast alone is estimated to have killed 200,000 people over time.

I worry that I'm projecting current sensibilities onto past times. The targeting of civilians seems to have been common practice by all major powers during World War II. The Japanese killed between 200,000 to 370,000 people in and around Nanking in a four-month period. The Germans killed nearly 40,000 people in the UK during the first year of the Blitz. The British and Americans killed an estimated 25,000 people in Dresden in a three-day period near the end of the war. In this context, is it right of us of me to second-guess the decision to use atomic weapons to end the war in Japan?

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