From the historical record, it's becoming increasingly clear that these atomic bombs—which killed more than 200,000 people immediately—were unnecessary.
Now I know a lot of old vets will tell you that the bombs saved hundreds of thousands of lives by forestalling a bloody invasion of the island.
My uncle was a commander in the Pacific, and he always made that argument.
But the argument is no longer holding.
First of all, if the United States had detonated a demonstration bomb on an unpopulated island and proved to Japan how lethal these weapons were, it's possible that the Japanese government would have surrendered.
And secondly, the event that had the most to do with that ultimate surrender was the Soviet Union declaring war on Japan on August 8, two days after the Hiroshima blast, argues Professor Tsuyoshi Hasegawa in a new book entitled Racing the Enemy.
The Japanese had long understood that once the Soviets joined the battle, the war was over. They were looking for assurances that Emperor Hirohito would remain in power, and if they got such assurances, they were prepared to surrender. The last thing they wanted was the Russian army, a historical enemy, to be occupying the country, writes Hasegawa.
For a while, the United States wanted the Soviets to join the effort against Japan. But once the U.S. came up with the bomb, Washington felt it no longer needed the Soviets to enter the war. In fact, it wanted the Soviets to bug out, historian Gar Alperovitz contends.
The Hiroshima bombing on August 6 was therefore as much an effort to preempt the Soviets, and to scare them into a submissive position at the dawn of the Cold War, as it was to bring the war to a speedy conclusion.
Anyone who argues for the utility of the Hiroshima bombing has to come to terms with Nagasaki three days later, which appears utterly senseless and sadistic.
"I knew a single word that proved our democratic government was capable of committing obscene, gleefully rabid and racist, yahooistic murders of unarmed men, women, and children, murders wholly devoid of military common sense," wrote Kurt Vonnegut in Timequake. "I said the word. It was a foreign word. That word was Nagasaki."
Or, as the Onion put it in Our Dumb Century, "Nagasaki bombed ‘just for the hell of it.’"
Now, 60 years later, the possibility that the United States would once again recklessly use nuclear weapons cannot be discounted. We have leaders in Washington who view atomic weapons as just another hammer in the toolbox.
Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld are dead set on "modernizing" our nuclear weapons, and they are preparing scenarios for their use.
Bush's national security doctrine allows him to drop nuclear bombs on any nation that possesses weapons of mass destruction. The Administration has been contemplating the "tactical use" of nuclear weapons. And, according to a recent article in the American Conservative, Cheney has instructed the Pentagon to come up with a plan for "a large-scale air assault on Iran employing both conventional and tactical nuclear weapons."
During the Manhattan Project, the nuclear scientists were aware that they were playing with the worst kind of fire imaginable. General Dwight D. Eisenhower himself argued against using the bomb, and after the war he famously said: "It wasn't necessary to hit them with that awful thing."
Such awareness does not seem to have registered with Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld, who are well on their way to making this another dumb century.
And we're the dumb ones if we let them do it.
© 2005 The Progressive