A brief comment in hopes of clarifying some of this discussion on the
bombing o Hiroshima. I'm not sure any if what I write below really affects
the question of morality during wartime--or adds much to what has been
written before--but perhaps a few new facts might assist some in making up
there mind about this intriguing debate that has been going on.
It is true that there was a Japanese army base on the outskirts of
Hiroshima--it was a major staging area for the invasion and occupation of
Southeast Asia. But historians have questioned the claim that the
existence of the military base made Hiroshima a "military target." The
only text I have on the bombing handy is Lifton and Mitchell, _Hiroshima in
America: Fifty Years of Denial_--not the most objective source--but the two
most prominent historians who have written on the development and use of
atomic weapons, Richard Rhoades and Gar Alperovitz, agree on many of the
On the military nature of the bombing: It is doubtful that the bomb
dropped on Hiroshima was intended for any of the military bases. The bomb
was dropped in the center of the city, miles from either the army or navy
base. Given that the destructive capability of the bomb was not fully
known, it is doubtful that the air force would have targeted the center of
town if the bases were the intended targets. But few historians have ever
argued that the bombing of Hiroshima was intended as a strategic, tactical
strike on a particular target.
Hiroshima was bombed for several reasons, all in hopes of bringing about an
"unconditional surrender"--a goal that Truman and his advisers refused to
stray from even when some suggested that the Japanese would give in if the
Emperor remained in some symbolic fashion. Hiroshima was almost untouched
during the war, primarily because of its limited military significance but
also because of its religious and cultural significance. Bombing the city,
it was thought, would send the message that no city would be safe if the
Japanese forced the Americans to continue the fight. Also, the devastation
would seem all the more apparent--a city one day, rubble the next. This
would also help the military determine the true power of the bomb since
bomb-impact studies are so much easier on pristine targets--never
underestimate the importance of such considerations in military or
political decision-making. The need for a massive psychological impact
arose out of our ignorance of the Japanese and out of our many racial
assumptions concerning their willingness to fight to the bitter end--see
John Dower's _War Without Mercy_. Truman told the American public that
half-a-million, maybe even a million American soldiers would die in the
initial invasion of the Japanese home islands. No one knows where this
number came from, but it had a significant impact on the immediate reaction
to the bombing--and on revisionist historiography since.
It should be remembered though, that all of this pertains only to the
bombing of Hiroshima, since the bombing of Nagasaki is not as well
documented. Some have suggested that General Groves made the final
decision to bomb the second target, an example of decision-making inertia.
What worked well as a message to the Japanese might also work as a message
to the Soviets, who were mobilizing to enter the war in Asia. I believe
the old saying goes, "Hiroshima was bombed at the end of WWII, but Nagasaki
was bombed at the beginning of the Cold War."
On the morality question,my thoughts are that the bombings of Hiroshima
and Nagasaki suggest a few important points about both WWII and the Vietnam
War. The first concerns the uncontrolled use of technology. Many have
argued that the trick is to know when not to use technology, yet we
continue to celebrate its creation. Does anyone really think that the US
would have decided not to use the bomb after spending millions to develop
it? The bureaucratic and military inertia continued in the post-WWII
period. The use of napalm, Agent Orange, et al., seems to me an example of
the fetishization of technology. The second point concerns the importance
of race in our foreign and military policies. In the post-WW II period,
our involvement around the globe has been based on racist assumptions; our
ignorance of other cultures never allowed us to see beyond the bogeyman of
Soviet Communism during the Cold War. And that ignorance continues to lead
us by the nose today--why do we get involved in the Balkans yet shy away
from the conflicts in Africa and Asia? The phrase "American interests" is
most abused as a justification for both action and inaction.
Sadly, we have never learned any real lessons from our military escapades.
And that is perhaps the most immoral thing of all. Successful or
unsuccessful, American never learn the lessons that wars might teach. As
much as we think war memorials are about remembering, they are in fact
Not saying anything new here, though.
At 12:20 PM 6/24/00 -0700, you wrote:
>jo grant wrote:
>I do not; however, I recall charts of the destroyed areas of Hiroshima
>and the military and industrial, along with the naval facilities--to the
>best of my recollection--were either spared or suffered only moderate
>Pentagon and Defense Dept public relations painted a convincing
>picture--to the general public--that the bombs "saved millions of
>American lives." but those were the acts of a terrorist government.
>I agree with your thought that "those were the acts of a terrorist
>government." There was no military need to invade Japan in 1945, a
>naval blockade would have been sufficient although political pressure
>may have been applied for a more decisive action.
>As for the military aspect of Hiroshima, in my recollection it was a
>major army headquarters and I have no idea how the command, supply,
>communications and intelligence functions were spread throughout the
>city, and I wonder if the US really knew what kind of damage one bomb
>would do. I am assuming that they were not thinking of it as some sort
>of precision weapon. The naval facilities were (and are) at Kure across
>the bay. How much destroying Hiroshima affected Kure, I have no idea.
>There was also a naval air base at Iwakuni, about 30 miles south and out
>of the blast range. What effect cutting the cord at Hiroshima had on
>the air base is also something which I do not know. Destruction in
>central Hiroshima on the delta was massive.
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Craig M. Kind email@example.com
Department of History Grad Program
University of California, Irvine
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