Tuesday, August 16, 2005

 

Morality of Hiroshima bomb

When I was a student who had also seen the film Hiroshima mon Amour, I thought the decision to drop the bomb was a great crime; for killing a hundred thousand civilians and establishing the precedent of use. I was happy then, along with many others of my generation, to condemn the US military and political figures who had decided to drop the bomb. Recently anniversaries of the event and Japan's surrender shortly after the second bomb obliterated Nagasaki, have encouraged me to reconsider the morality of America's action. Such matters do not lend themselves to certainty, except for the unthinking or the bigoted, but I now tend to think the decision was justified, despite its horror and associated slaughter of innocents. I offer three basic arguments to support such a position.

The first reason is purely pragmatic: by ending the war then US troops did not have to invade the Japanese mainland and suffer incalculable losses as the Japanese soldiers fought to the death. Experience in taking Pacific islands like Okinawa as well as the phenomenon of suicide bombers suggest the end game was going to be both protracted and bloody. Add to that the argument that the purpose of the war was to defeat a dangerous set of ideas which were subversive of life and freedom plus to minimise casualties on the allied side and the decision seems unavoidable, though still tragic.

The second reason is that Japan was also seeking to build nuclear weapons and, it seems, would have had no qualms about laying waste our cities should they gain and use them before we did.

Finally, there is the folly of hindsight application of values. Viewed from our present vantage point, the deadly flight of Enola Gay might seem unjustified. But if one projects oneself back to the time it seems perfectly logical. The second world war saw standards of morality deteriorate fairly quickly so that bombing civilians became par for the course as erosion of home morale was deemed a valid objective. It was hard for decision makers to think morally 'out of the box of war'; indeed it was hard for them to think morally at all. Previous air attacks on Japanese cities had wrought damage to human life similar to the death toll at Hiroshima so it was not so unnatural to think in terms of blitzing cities. Anything which reduced home casualties was held to be justified. After so many deaths- went the argument- why worry about the enemy in saving the lives of battle exhausted allied troops?

The second line of argument- that the Nagasaki bomb was in no way justified- is much more difficult to defend and I don't think I would try, as, while the above arguments all apply, the initial explosion was surely sufficient to achieve Japan's surrender.

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