On Point: 'Thank God for the Atomic Bomb'

by Austin Bay
August 2, 2005

The atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima (Aug. 6, 1945) and Nagasaki (Aug. 9) didn't end World War II -- at least not quite. The six days between Nagasaki and Japan's surrender on Aug. 15 were six more hideous days of war for U.S. and allied forces. Combat -- and Japanese atrocities -- continued in China, the Philippines and Southeast Asia.

They were also six days of vicious political intrigue and turmoil in Tokyo, as the so-called "peace" and "war" factions in Japan's high command struggled for control of the state.

In his classic essay "Thank God for the Atom Bomb," Paul Fussell (World War II vet and National Book Award-winner) observes, "Allied (Pacific) casualties were running to over 7,000 per week." After Nagasaki, "captured American fliers were executed (heads chopped off); the U.S. submarine Bonefish was sunk (all aboard drowned); the destroyer Callaghan went down ... and the Destroyer Escort Underhill was lost."

Fussell scorns Harvard prof and insistent anti-nuclear-nit John Kenneth Galbraith's twaddle that the A-bombs accelerated Japan's surrender by (quoth Galbraith) "at most, two or three weeks."

Galbraith's estimate of Japan's resiliency is a typical figment of ivory tower fevers -- military calculations at the time suggested Japan would fight for another year. But even accepting Galbraith's breezy guess, three more weeks of war with Japan meant another 21,000 Allied killed and wounded.

Fussell, a combat vet wounded while fighting the Nazis in Europe, was re-assigned to a division slated to assault the Japanese island of Honshu. Galbraith, Fussell says, "worked in the Office of Price Administration in Washington. I don't demand that he experience having his ass shot off. I merely note that he didn't."

Apparently, the moral facility to condemn the bomb is directly related to one's distance, in space and time, from actual combat.

Declaring that "Hiroshima was a war crime" has become an anti-American academic racket. One clique maintains Truman A-bombed "yellows" in order to impress Stalin. Truman was a calculating "racist-fascist." Such "opinions" deserve special damnation. They libel a genuine democratic populist and the president who desegregated the American armed forces.

Another clique absorbs itself in a debate over how "few" additional casualties the Allies would have borne had they invaded Japan sans A-bomb.

Many veterans find this argument morally repugnant. Assume, as the academic revisionists callously do, that there is some "X" number of additional GI and Japanese military and civilian deaths from "non-atom" warfare which is a "more morally acceptable loss" than 220,000 Japanese civilian and military killed by atom bombs. Who, 60 years on, can name that figure?

The critics' make much of a vague June 1945 estimate that the Kyushu assault would cost "only" 31,000 Allied casualties. This "best case" assumed the Japanese had 350,000 troops on Kyushu. In July 1945, the Imperial Army deployed 560,000 troops on the island. At least 5,000 kamikazes were available.

Okinawa, where 101,000 Japanese and 24,000 Americans died, confirmed in the minds of responsible Allied leaders the "worst case." Fanatic Japanese resistance was a battlefield fact. Truman speculated that atomic weapons may have saved the Allies another 500,000 dead and the Japanese at least twice that many.

A case can be made that nuclear weapons, since they represent a quantum boost in devastation, are different from "conventional" weapons. "Disproportionate destruction" suggests nukes are beyond the moral pale of Just War. This is a proposition worth debating, relevant during the Cold War, even more relevant in an era when religious terrorists seek weapons of mass destruction.

Truman's context, however, was World War II. Truman, like fellow veterans Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy, knew that for the front-line soldier, "better them than us" is life and death immediacy, not a matter of academic rumination -- and Truman valued American lives over an enemy's.

The shock effect of the atom super-weapon on all but the most hardened of Japan's high command allowed Tokyo's "peace" faction to finesse the militarist, suicidal zealots and surrender. To heck with conjecture. This Japanese decision, goaded by The Bomb, put an end to the mutual slaughter.

Read Austin Bay's Latest Book

To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.


On Point Archives:

On Point Archives: Current 2023  2022  2021  2020  2019  2018  2017  2016  2015  2014  2013  2012  2011  2010  2009  2008  2007  2006  2005  2004  2003  2002  2001



Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close