Sunday, August 07, 2005

Hiroshima and Nagasaki

The 60-year "anniversary" of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was yesterday. I blogged about the incident; I'm of the belief that the actions authorized by President Truman were wrong. But I'm the first to admit that I don't have a ton of knowledge about the situation at the time, so I'm interested in hearing your opinions. =)


Blogger W. said...

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3:12 AM  
Blogger W. said...

I have considered the arguments many times. I suggest you take a look at

Victor Davis Hanson has some good thoughts on the matter.

I am still of the opinion that the bombings were not wrong. The point about the Japanese will to fight to last man is stronger than you give credit for. Up to that time, the means of war led them to conclude that we will fight to the last man. Many Japanese (primarily those in charge) felt they could handle whatever was thrown their way and that any attempt to fight a land war on their soil would result in mass casualties for their opponent. They seemed to be correct in that assessment. E.g., Iwo Jima and so forth.

Once we bombed them as we did and they realized they could not withstand these types of bombings (which were new to modern warfare), they realized that their will to fight would result in mass casualties of their own and eventual defeat on a level that had been unthinkable (in their minds) before the bombings.

The bombings made them face the harsh reality that they were not as invincible as they once thought. It exposed their will to fight as not being absolute (as you say), but in doing this the bombings were not therefore unjustified but demonstrative of the reality that warfare involves undesired options quite a few times. The choices are not what we would prefer to have happen. However, the alternative(s) is much worse. Therefore, as the state's duty is to protect and defend its citizens, the state must find a way to defeat an enemy who has declared war on it.The state must find a way to crush their will to fight when that will poses a threat to the state's own safety and security. The force applied must be proportionate to the threat. Here, with their will to fight so strong, the force needed to crush it was something greater than they had seen or experienced before. That something was bombing on a new level, bombing on a mass level. This showed they could not withstand our use of force and that their will to fight would only result in mass casualties; however, with this type of bombing, the mass casualties would be of their own people and not ours (like they originally thought).

3:15 AM  
Blogger Steven Horwitz said...

You might also see the discussion here, espcially the comments:

5:31 AM  
Blogger Steve said...


Notice that even if the Japanese were as bent on "fighting to the last man" as you suggest, I still believe that President Truman was wrong.

I can't imagine a world in which intentionally targeting 200,000 innocent civilians would be justifiable.

Think about it. The Japanese citizens' worst crime was to happen to live in the same country that was (at least in part) run by a military who opposed United States interests. The civilians themselves were not guilty of war crimes, and were not fighting against the United States.

That's like killing half a murderers' family for the crimes of the murderer. Even if doing so were to get him to surrender himself, I would call it unjustified.

9:25 AM  
Blogger Katie said...

What would a consequentialist have to say......

9:31 AM  
Blogger See Jay run said...

Why the condemnation of the nuclear bombings for killing innocents? Wasn't the killing of innocents already taking place through other methods? And I don't mean by the gross regimes in Germany or Japan, or Russia; I mean the US and Britain. Wasn't this Total War, where far more civilians than military personnel were killed, killing innocents all over the world?

And regarding Japan, it has been said that we had been fire-bombing Japanese cities with as much devastation and death as was rendered from The Bomb.

It seems to me that, while I am in no way justifying the murder of innocents, or the targeting of civilian centers, which was nevertheless going on all over Europe, the condemnation of the atomic attacks has come to center around their being atomic, rather than their being unjustified because of innocents' deaths.

And today it may seem excessive to use nuclear weapons in warfare, but I suppose at the time of the nuclear bombings, much less was known about the long-lasting and debilitating side-effects, now deemed unacceptable. And this leaves me with two points: (1) In 1945 terms, why not with one (n) bomb get what with other (fire) bombs would take one week of bombing (allowing this hypothetical case for the sake of argument,) and in an attempt to answer Katie's question, (2) take into account the possibility that at least one consequence of the first use of atomic weapons in warfare has been that it is still the only use, I think.

And so while I may argue that the vitriolic displays made against the use of the atomic bombs is over-hyped, at least when considering the facts and circumstances of WWII warfare, one good thing is that those displays have contributed, at least in part, to a worldwide loathing of nuclear weaponry, which being prolific, has thankfully and surprisingly prohibited its use to this point.


10:15 AM  
Blogger W. said...

I strongly recommend you read the article by Victor Davis Hanson (VDH). I have it posted at my blog:

Do you realize that the Japanese were already killing their own citizens and forcing many of its women into being prostitutes (though without the financial benefits, thus sex slaves) to tend to the emotional and sexual desires of its soldiers? and that many of its citizens (now in the army) were involved in mass murder campaigns around the Pacific?

Do you recall that based on prior invasions (such as Okinawa where there were "50,000 American casualties and 200,000 Japanese and Okinawa dead") that the planned invasion would have resulted in about "a million American casualties and countless Japanese dead"?

A land war with Japan would have resulted in much worse than dropping the bombs.

Further, consider this from VDH:

"Hiroshima, then, was not the worst single-day loss of life in military history. The Tokyo fire raid on the night of March 9/10, five months earlier, was far worse, incinerating somewhere around 150,000 civilians, and burning out over 15 acres of the downtown. Indeed, 'Little Boy,' the initial nuclear device that was dropped 60 years ago, was understood as the continuance of that policy of unrestricted bombing — its morality already decided by the ongoing attacks on the German and Japanese cities begun at least three years earlier."

Lastly, let's keep in mind that war presents us with situations that tend to be full of bad and worse options. Quite often, there are scenarios that don't lend themselves to a good option (in itself). Rather, there is something that will result in bad consequences (with good too) and something else that will result in worse consequences (with probably some good too). The question is what to do. Do what achieves your objectives with as little as unintended bad consequences as possible. I leave you with these closing lines from VDH:

"The truth, as we are reminded so often in this present conflict, is that usually in war there are no good alternatives, and leaders must select between a very bad and even worse choice. Hiroshima was the most awful option imaginable, but the other scenarios would have probably turned out even worse."

10:17 AM  
Blogger W. said...

I guess what I am getting at is:

What do you think the US should have done instead of bombing that resulted in mass civilian casualties?

That said, do you then think the bombing that was going on (as Clyde and I have mentioned) prior to the atomic bombs was also wrong?

How would your solution be better?

Keep in mind the mindset at the time, both of the Japanese and of the US. Many years of war. Many casualties. No sign that the Japanese were going to be defeated by then-normal (as in what was then the norm) forms of military action and bombing. What were we to do? Continue losing thousands of our own men? Continue allowing the mass casualties of Japanese that would have resulted in final greater numbers (than actually happened) had we continued the fight in the same way? (Kind of verbose, but I hope you get the point.) Continue allowing the Japanese to mass murder around the Pacific without instilling any fear of defeat in them?

What were we to do that would have resulted in a better conclusion to the War?

10:48 AM  
Blogger Katie said...

I'd just like to emphasize one of the comments from the discussion Steve Horwitz suggested, in response to Clyde's proposition that because innocents were already being killed worldwide, dropping the bomb was ok:
"My take on it is: just because your government mass murders people in one country doesn't give the right of a government in another country to mass murder you and your neighbors."

10:52 AM  
Blogger W. said...


I agree and I hope my responses are not being reduced to that. I do not mean that to be the deciding justification for bombing Japan. Perhaps I will have to clarify moreso later. Off to tutor and then soccer practice after that. First day of practices. Yahoo!! Finally. I was beginning to go through withdrawals, as some of you might have guessed from the seminar.

11:23 AM  
Blogger See Jay run said...

Hello Katie,

Although the conclusion that the use of the atomic bomb was permissible to use can be made from my argument, that point is secondary to the one I wished to express. And I must respectfully take issue with the simple characterization of my position as: we are already killing innocent people so why not?

My point is that to condemn the use of the atomic bomb employs a very narrow view point. For if the murder of innocents is unjustified, then the entirety of our European and Pacific strategy was unjust. And this is the point that should be made. It hardly matters whether an atomic bomb or firebombs were used to massacre those in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Identifying the use of the first atomic bombs as horrendous is, while failing to condemn the thousands of bombing raids on civilian centers in Germany, etc., hypocritical or shortsighted.

----"It seems to me that, while I am in no way justifying the murder of innocents, or the targeting of civilian centers, which was nevertheless going on all over Europe, the condemnation of the atomic attacks has come to center around their being atomic, rather than their being unjustified because of innocents' deaths."----

4:56 PM  
Blogger Max said...

Does the condemnation of the bomb invalidate the strategy of the Allied forces in the Pacific?

I don't think so, especially, because the goals were different. While the US pacific strategy was containment in the beginning (until more support arrived) and roll-back later, it was never one of erradication of entire populations.

The bomb was a hard choice, because otherwise thousands of GI's might have died in the invasion. The will of the Japanese people wasn't broken, so leaving Japan at side was no option. If you don't want to send in thousands of US GI's and you know you can't leave Japan as it is, you have only one option left: A demonstration of superior power.

They didn't know all the facts, we know today. It is easier to condemn it from our perspective than to make the decision with limited information.

I don't feel well with the decision and the result was terrible, but I can understand the use of the atomic bomb.

The idea of striking with two bombs, however, was something that can be debate, imo.

4:04 AM  
Blogger Tony said...

I'm a little confused by the argument that goes: Hiroshima and Nagasaki weren't even as bad as the firebombings of Tokyo etc, so they weren't that bad. Just because we managed to slaughter more civilians somewhere else doesn't mean it was okay to do it later. I think the firebombings are not talked about or condemned often enough.

And as far as what a consequentialist would say... one of two options: (1) The consequences of this particular course of action was optimal, or (2) not.

11:05 AM  
Blogger Steve said...

ok, so I just got back from vacation and there are a ton of posts here.

William, all your points seem to be condensed into two major ideas:

(1) "We did worse stuff."

(2) "They did bad stuff too."

(3) "If we didn't do this bad thing, we would have done other bad things."

I have, essentially, one response to all of your analysis: None of what happened justifies what we did. Back to my "even if" analysis, EVEN IF 100% of the empirical claims you make are true, I still hold by my position.

Also, you say that if we didn't do what we did, we would've had to firebomb/continue the war and kill other civilians/etc. Well... no, we wouldn't have to. The type of warfare conducted by both sides is not "necessary"; it is never necessary to firebomb a city full of innocent civilians; it is a choice.

Tony, you are right that the firebombings are not condemned enough. One has only to look at the examples from Tokyo and Dresden to see how horrible these events were.

9:19 PM  
Blogger W. said...

I don't think that is how my thoughts should be condensed, but I am curious: What should we have done to defeat the Japanese?

Considering that all that was done up to that point was not changing their will to fight, especially their tactics, e.g., "kamikaze" pilots and willing to sacrifice mass number to death in any battle.

3:42 AM  
Blogger Tony said...

I'm still not at all convinced that conditional surrender wasn't an option.

10:15 AM  
Blogger Steve said...


As Tony mentioned, conditional surrender was an option. Also, at the point where the bombings took place, we were mainly on the offensive. It wasn't "necessary" for the Japanese to unconditionally surrender in order to safeguard the citizens of our country.

Even if it were, I still can't get past the fact that we essentially murdered a couple hundred thousand innocent civilians.

Doesn't it seem a bit ironic to you that our rationale for killing innocent civilians was to protect innocent civilians?

10:36 AM  

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