Representatives of the American government are attending, for the first time, the Hiroshima Ceremony which this year marks the 65th anniversary of the use of fission weapons on Japanese cities. Democrat and Republican administrations alike have consistently refused to participate in this ceremony, which implicitly suggests American guilt. Some Japanese are now saying that attending without a formal apology (which Obama will not give) is inadequate. There is no reason for America to apologize at all for Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
War is Hell, and the Second World War was a particularly grisly reminder of that grim fact. Some governments began wars. Stalin conspired with Hitler to begin the war in Europe and both warred on weak neighbors before the fall of France. Mussolini gratuitously entered the war after France fell. Japan invaded Manchuria and then the rest of China long before Pearl Harbor. These aggressors are primarily responsible for the horrors that followed. Other nations like Britain, France, and America, went to extraordinary lengths to prevent war.
Some nations waged war with sadism which defies sane contemplation. The Holocaust, of course, is well known – although its true dimensions cannot be grasped. The Soviets not only continued to send its subjects to the Gulag while the war went on, but as the Red Army entered Europe its soldiers engaged in an orgy of rapine and mayhem which has few equals in human history. Japan at Nanking in 1938 may have committed the worst single incident of crimes against humanity in history. Beyond that, the Japanese treatment of captured Allied soldiers was much worse than the treatment meted out by the Nazis. America did not treat Japanese POWs the way Japan treated American POWs. Our nation did not vivisect captured Japanese under the pretext of medical research. After the war, some Japanese were tried for crimes against humanity, but like at Nuremberg, these were not kangaroo courts but actual trials.
Waging aggressive wars of conquest with incredible brutality is fundamentally different than resisting conquerors with every weapon available. Japan, like Germany and Russia, were ruthless totalitarian nations who murdered many millions of innocent people in wars which were not necessary for self-defense or any reason beyond conquest and domination. America fought back with every weapon and every strategy which would bring the war to a quick and victorious end, which was the only proper moral course.
If America had developed a fission bomb in 1943, rather than 1945, should we have used that weapon on Berlin? Half of those murdered in the Holocaust died in the last year. Those victims, along with all the soldiers on all the bloody fronts – and all the Germans who died in our strategic bombing campaign – would have been spared more death and misery.
Can anyone seriously argue that fighting the Nazis with conventional weapons would have been, somehow, morally superior to using an atomic bomb to quickly end the war? Was that better than allowing more victims of Nazism to suffer, more soldiers on all sides to be killed or injured, and more German cities to be bombed into rubble?
Would winning the war with conventional weapons have been more compassionate for the people of Japan than dropping two atomic bombs? Before Hiroshima, America had been firebombing Japanese cities. American submarines were starving the Japanese people to death with an iron blockade. Invasion of Japan, the next step in the war, would have cost millions of Japanese lives. Because the Soviet Union was now in the war against Japan, an invasion could easily have led to the occupation of part of Japan by rapacious Red Army soldiers. Japan by August 1945 had lost the war. It needed, desperately, to end the war too.
Does Hiroshima represent the ghastliness of atomic, and then nuclear, weapons? Yes, but that very ghastliness has prevented another world war for sixty-five years. The real lesson of the Second World War, the real lesson of Hiroshima, is this: the good guys, those who hate war and who love liberty, cannot afford to wait before building the awful engines of war. Time and space are too compressed in our world to allow conquering aggressors a season of triumph.
Was it better for America to build and use fission bombs before Japan or Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia could? Yes. There is a very real, very present, and very pointed example of the lessons of Hiroshima in our world today: the Iranian Bomb, which will be built unless we act. Those who hate, those who lust for the murder of others, cannot have the upper hand in war. When that happens – when Teheran feels that it can safely threaten or incinerate its chosen victims – then all the sad and painful lessons of Hiroshima will have been lost.