Hiroshima and Nagasaki: the End of the Carnage

Mushroom cloud over Nagasaki, Japan

Mushroom cloud over Nagasaki, Japan

Seventy years ago, American aircraft dropped an atom bomb over Hiroshima, Japan, adding another horror to the train of horrors that was World War II. The hand-wringing over the decision to deploy the atom bomb, which resulted in roughly 250,000 deaths in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, continues to this day.

I’m not one of the hand-wringers.

Seventy years ago, my father was inducted into the U.S. Army immediately after graduating from high school. His likely destination: Japan. Americans had just suffered 50,000 casualties in the Battle of Okinawa, and there was every reason to believe the toll would be far worse in the struggle for the Japanese homeland. The Japanese had stripped China and Manchuria of soldiers in preparation for the final battle. They were fortifying the coastline and organizing squadrons of kamikaze-like, human-guided torpedoes (kaiten). Americans would have suffered hundred of thousands of casualties — the Japanese millions. The detonation of the two atomic bombs ended the carnage. My father never had to fight the Battle of Japan. He went on to raise a family and is living to this day.

Hiroshima was a tragedy and should never be forgotten. It serves as a reminder of how horrifying nuclear war can be. But do I regret the decision to drop the bomb? Never.

— JAB

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29 responses to “Hiroshima and Nagasaki: the End of the Carnage

  1. It was a terrible decision for President Truman to be required to make. But I believe he made the right decision that ended the war and saved millions of lives on both sides. An invasion of Japan would likely have been the bloodiest event in human history. Let’s all hope and pray no American president ever faces the same decision as Truman did.

    My dad was in the Navy, and my Uncle Jim was in the 24th Marines.

  2. I don’t know that it’s easy to be so glib about Nagasaki. While I’m generally supportive of the decision to use atomic weapons in WWII, because they did bring about a quicker end to the war and saved countless lives on both sides, the decision shouldn’t be treated so lightly. Both Hiroshima and Nagasaki were of limited military value, and the casualties suffered were almost exclusively civilian. To call the deliberate killing of hundreds of thousands of civilians as anything less than horrific is, quite simply, a disgrace.

    Even granting that, in the long run, the bombing of Hiroshima saved more lives than would have been lost in an invasion, the subsequent bombing of Nagasaki may have been unnecessary and the result of the US being too hasty in its actions. There was significant confusion in the Japanese military hierarchy in the immediate aftermath of Hiroshima, another day or two may have obviated the need to drop a second bomb.

    In short, I am glad your father survived the war Mr. Bacon. I just wish you had a bit more compassion for the literal hundreds of thousands of Japanese fathers, mothers, sons and daughters that had taken no more part in the war than your own father, but were still consigned to oblivion.

    • Like I said, “Nagasaki was a tragedy and should never be forgotten. It serves as a reminder of how horrifying nuclear war can be.”

      Perhaps dropping a single bomb would have ended the war. We’ll never know. What we do know is that dropping two bombs did end the war.

    • LH raises an important question even though I strongly believe Truman was correct. Should the United States have waited longer before it dropped the second bomb on Nagasaki? Would two or three more days wait after Hiroshima have resulted in surrender? Would those in the Japanese military determined to fight to the death of the last person have abandoned their opposition to the reported views of the Emperor to surrender?

      However, I’ve read where the federal government had plans to convince the Japanese government that the U.S. has an “endless” supply of atomic bombs on the belief the dead-enders would remain in control. Some believe the third bomb would have been dropped on Sapporo. Fortunately, that decision never had to be made.

      I appreciate the seriousness of this discussion.

      Like many

      • Of course, there’s the added wrinkle in that Truman and others also had to contend with trying to keep the Soviet Union out of the Pacific war (and thus unable to make territorial claims). There is some evidence to suggest that one of the motivations for ordering the dropping the second bomb was to force Japan out before Russia could get in. Of course, it didn’t work as the Soviet Union declared war on Japan, in fulfillment of its promise at Yalta, on August 8th, two days after Hiroshima and one day before Nagasaki and proceeded to make a land-grab in east Asia.

        • LH – Your point on adding the potential involvement of the Soviet Union is well taken. Stalin was clearly a wildcard. While I cannot prove it, I’ve always had the impression Truman was more suspicious of Stalin than either Roosevelt or Churchill. If so, ending the war before the Soviets could become involved heavily may well have motivated Truman to make the decisions he did.

  3. Pretty powerful commentary from Mr. Bacon and Mr. Hutz.

  4. My father was 1st Calvary on a boat ready to attack the home islands. He believed that more would have died in a land attack on the home islands than in the nuclear attack on the Japanese cities.

  5. The war should not have been fought as won demanding unconditional surrender. Japanese forces killed 2,500 Americans at Pearl Harbor and wounded others. Does this really demand the fire-bombing of cities by “conventional” high-explosive and phosphorous bombs in additon to atom bombs? I don’t think so. Nor, with the Japanese fleet mostly sunk, and Japan totally dependent on outside raw materials, did we have to invade Japan. So, I think both of the atom bombings of Japan were wrong, and there should never have been an “Operation Olympic” to conquer them. We won the war militarily, rendering Japan a broken power. Isn’t that enough? Apparently, our leaders at the time felt some of “deterministic urge” to invade, and thus endanger American troops, when they could have just sat back and let the Japanese junta fall from internal opposition to continuing a war where “face saving terms” might have existed.

    • Quoting Lionel Hutz:

      “Both Hiroshima and Nagasaki were of limited military value, and the casualties suffered were almost exclusively civilian.”

      Quoting Fleet Admiral Ernest King, Commander US Naval Forces worldwide in WWII:

      “War has changed little in principle from the beginning of recorded time … machines are as nothing without the men who invent them, man them, and give them life. War is force … (breaking the enemies will to fight). War is men against men. Mechanized war is still men against men, for machines are masses of inert metal without the men who control them – or destroy them. Any man facing a major decision acts, consciously or otherwise, upon the training and beliefs of a lifetime. This is no less true of a military commander than of a surgeon who, while operating, suddenly encounters an unexpected complication. In both instances men must act immediately, with little time for reflection and if they are successful in dealing with the unexpected it is upon the basis of past experience and training.” (See Fleet Admiral King, Naval Record, by Ernest King and Walter Muir Whitehall, W. W. Norton & Co. 1952).

      How to translate these statements to the dropping atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? The fit is not easy. Difficult questions and unknowns on many fronts intervene.

      Perhaps, however, one can with more that a little assurance say that the horrible events at Hiroshima and Nagasaki achieved the foregoing:

      Most importantly, it irrevocably broke Japan’s otherwise implacable and unalterable will and determination to fight to victory or death.

      Thus, it lead directly to Japan’s otherwise unimaginable agreement to “unconditional surrender”, a circumstance that many think was critically necessary to breaking the Fascist Regime woven deep into Japan’s culture and to building out of the ashes of that sick culture today’s modern Japan, a successful, peaceful democracy that has lasted now 65 years.

      Hence too, it can be strongly argued that:

      These atomic bombs saved perhaps more than a million lives, and indeed many more millions of lives, American and Japanese, civilian and military people alike, that would have perished absent these two bombs. And this saved of tens of millions of lives who otherwise would not have been born.

      And hence too that these bombs substantially shortened and greatly limited the untold suffering that would have been left in the wake of another year or two or several or more years of the most vicious war on soldiers and civilians alike that the world had seen up until that point in time –

      And hence that those two bombs avoided the killing, maiming, starvation, and slow death of untold millions, and a humanitarian disaster throughout all the Japanese islands of incalculable dimensions.

      Indeed, it may be argued that absent these two atomic bombs, Japan as a nation was culturally incapably of surrender. Rather that Japan was a nation built on the culture of death and suicide, whereby its citizens gained their glory through victory for or death in the defense of the emperor.

      So that Japan absent the atomic bombs was a nation committed to its own extermination though the rule of the Kamikaze culture writ large. A culture, tradition, and way of life borne out of the Samuri life and Bushito code then mixed into the tenets of the modern 20th century Fascist state with the result that the glory of the state could be achieved only through its victory over its enemies or through the death of its citizens in defense of the nation. These were the only paths open to the people to avoid the shame and dishonor of a citizens capture and/or surrender, in lieu of victory or death.

      Hence, perhaps only these two atomic bombs could achieve the absolute victory and the unconditional surrenders required, and achieve it at the lowest cost to human lives and human suffering possible. And leave in its wake the destruction and opportunity for a change that brought the greatest success imaginable. Far better than Eastern Europe and Soviet Union for example.

      • Dear Reed, But why was there no insistence on unconditional surrender of the Soviet Union rather than the Japanese Empire? Sincerely, Andrew

        • Andrew –

          The Soviets were our allies against both Germany and Japan. Inexplicably, as the war in Europe wound down, FDR failed to act on the basis of the fundamental difference between Britain and the Soviet Union as allies after the war, one the genesis of representative government, the other as an emergent malevolent empire of evil.

          Indeed, FDR near wars end went out of his way to humiliate Churchill in front of Stalin so as to pander to Stalin. Why? One explanation for that behavior might be that FDR could not resist his infatuation with the shift of raw power from Britain to the Soviets near that war’s end.

          Perhaps too FDR was simply spent and exhausted. This was the easy way out. So, for example, recall how General Patton was later demonized because he saw and made public the terrible evil of the burgeoning Soviet Empire, how it would enslave half of Europe after the WII was “won” by the Allies. Some victory! It enslaved half the European continent for most of the rest of the 2oth century.

          American historians have yet to fully come to terms with that. Although Truman to his ever lasting credit did step up to the plate, taking the very hard steps towards confronting squarely a hugely difficult problem, thanks again in substantial part to Churchill.

          Churchill, tossed away by FDR and his own people at war’s end, had his second finest hour in his March 1946 Iron Curtain Speech in Fulton, Missouri. Here he again transcended the instincts of the cheap politician, to reveal the bedrock character of a great statesmen. (Churchill too had his own huge blind spots, his refusal to see India beyond its colonialism within a British Empire, for example.)

          History is tricky. The trail left in the wake of fallen men struggling against their own dark sides to right sinking ships up into the light.

          FDR, a great moral leader in the harshest of times at the opening of the War, including Britain’s darkest hour and desperate days from Pearl Harbor through opening months at Guadalcanal, during these terrible times, FDR matched Lincoln as a War President.

          Yet FDR’s moral sense had its own appalling and inexplicable gaps – his turning away of Jewish refugees afloat off US shores, his chronic failure to recognize an ongoing German holocaust in Eastern Europe, and later his embrace of Stalin as the Soviet armies began there own holocaust in Eastern and Central Europe as a follow up to Stalin’s murder of millions of his own people and others in the 1930s.

          So this brings us back to your original question that (as so often proves to be the case) proves itself to be far wiser than it might first appear, namely:

          “Dear Reed,

          But why was there no insistence on unconditional surrender of the Soviet Union rather than the Japanese Empire?

          Sincerely, Andrew”

          • Andrew Roesell

            Dear Reed,

            Rather than being “wise” I was seeking to be “annoying” since my question was more on the order of: EVERYTHING, and more, that you leveled at Imperial Japan is true, and truer, of the Soviet Union, and Roosevelt knew it, based on the killings by Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin of millions? So, the real question I am asking, is why did the U.S. goad into fighting a war against Japan when the Soviet Union was even worse, and even, become the ally of that WORSE power? I would suggest, to partially answer my own question, it was to protect the British and other European Empires, and the American one, that of the Philippines and Hawaii, which in the Pacific were threatened by Japan. Sincerely, Andrew

        • Andrew –

          You say that:

          “Rather than being “wise” I was seeking to be “annoying” since my question was more on the order of: EVERYTHING, and more, that you leveled at Imperial Japan is true, and truer, of the Soviet Union, and Roosevelt knew it, based on the killings by Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin of millions? So, the real question I am asking, is why did the U.S. goad into fighting a war against Japan when the Soviet Union was even worse, and even, become the ally of that WORSE power?”

          Andrew, I don’t consider your question annoying. I still consider it wise. As to some of the particulars, you ask:”

          “Why did the U.S. goad into fighting a war against Japan when the Soviet Union was even worse, and even, become the ally of that WORSE power?”

          To answer in reverse order:

          One reason FDR allied the US with the Soviet Union was likely because he did not consider the Soviet Union the “Worse Power” even on ideological terms, much less strategic war fighting terms.

          That is amazing statement, but consider this from Doris Lessing, a reformed communist when she made statement:

          “Anyone who reads history at all knows that the passionate and powerful convictions of one century usually seem absurd, extraordinary, to the next. There is no epoch in history that seems to us as it must have to the people who lived through it. What we live through, in any age, is the effect on us of mass emotions and of social conditions from which from which it is impossible to detach ourselves. Often the mass emotions are those that seem the noblest, best and most beautiful. And yet, inside a year, five years, a decade, five decades, people will be asking, “How could they have believed that?” because events will have taken place that will have banished the said mass emotions to the dustbin of history.

          People of my age have lived through several such violent reversals. I will mention just one. During the Second World War, from the moment the Soviet Union was invaded by Hitler and became an ally of the democracies, that country was affectionately regarded in popular opinion. Stalin was Uncle Joe, the ordinary chaps friend, Russia was the land of the brave, liberty loving heroes, and Communism was in interesting manifestation of popular will that we should copy. All this went on for four years and then suddenly, almost overnight, it went into the reverse. All these attitudes became wrong-headed, treasonable, a threat to everybody. People who had been chatting on about Uncle Joe, suddenly, just as if all that had never happened, were using slogans of the cold war. One extreme, sentimental and silly bred by wartime necessities, was replaced by another extreme, unreasoning and silly.

          To have lived though such a reversal once is enough to make you critical for ever afterwards of current popular attitudes.”

          From Doris Lessing, Prisons We Choose to Live Inside.

          Hence, Andrew, I suggest that FDR’s alliance with Stalin’s Soviet Union was an extremely easy and popular thing for FDR to do.

          In FDR’s mind, a US alliance with the Soviet’s was also essential to save western civilization from a German Nazi dark Age. It was critical to Britain’s survival. By late 1940, that was deemed critical to US survival for many reasons. The British Fleet was bulwark to German threat posed to the Western hemisphere, said US military at time.

          This issue is discussed at length in Footnote 1(G) under section titled “America’s Undeclared War in the Atlantic Turbo-charges Preparation for Amphibious Assault, which Footnote is found at my website:

          http://2ndarmoredamphibianbattalion.com/

          ALSO ANDREW:

          I do not fully agree with your suggestion that: “to partially answer my own question, it was to protect the British and other European Empires, and the American one, that of the Philippines and Hawaii, which in the Pacific were threatened by Japan. Sincerely, Andrew.”

          FDR took a very dim view of the British Empire. I was the major bone of contention before, during, and after WW 11 between the two parties to the Grand Alliance, most particularly during FDR’s time.

          I do agree that FDR in substantial measure goaded Japan into war. In some cases, this goading was quite blatant, including for example his sending a small unarmed naval force for into the direct path of the Japanese fleet in the South China Sea on their way to start world war 11 in the Pacific.

          FDR likely knew that only a war with Japan could jump start the American people into a War against Germany, a war that by the summer of 1941 FDR considered critical to America’s survival.

          For some discussion of the Goading of Japan see the Onslaught section of my website: http://amphibiouslanding.com/

    • Andrew, I’m afraid I don’t understand your comment. Do you contend that the bombs were dropped only to gain retribution for Pearl Harbor?

      • Dear Rowinguy, American public opinion was decidedly against war until the attack on Pearl Harbor, hence the “Remember Pearl Harbor!” sentiment. I think that the attack while probably one of genuine surprise, though some claim it was not, also was foreseeable. Sanctions on Japan, again, heavily dependent on imported raw materials was likely to lead to war with Japan. Had Prince Konoe been able to prevail against Tojo, then perhaps the war could have been avoided. In any case, Churchill was overjoyed at Pearl Harbor because he had at last gained American involvement, following Hitler’s declaration of war on the U.S. Empires come and go and we, Americans, do not need to fight each and every one. Remember, too, in all of this, for those who would love “moral clarity” in grand politics: The U.S. aligned itself with mass-murderer Josef Stalin to slay another mass-murderer, Adolf Hitler. This is not moral relativism, it is the selective morality and political calculations of world leaders. As the son of a German Jewish refugee I am glad that Hitler and his regime are no more, but as an Orthodox Christian I recognize the great evil of Stalin’s Soviet Bolshevism, too.

        • Thanks for the amplification of your point. The war did not, of course, start on one day with the bombing of Pearl and end the next with the bombing of Hiroshima, there were years of bloody conflict between. As I mentioned below, my father was in the South Pacific for several years of this. The US suffered hundreds of thousands of casualties in the Pacific theater at the hands of the Japanese and the Chinese and Koreans suffered millions in the years both preceding and including the US entry into the war.

          I do agree that we cannot fight every empire, but this was one that we did have to fight and did have to conquer.

  6. I tend to agree with misters Eisenhower, MacArthur, Einstein and Szilard on this matter. The dropping of the atomic bomb was both unnecessary and immoral. In this country we rightly accept that a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor that killed 2,000 members of the US military and 68 civilians was an act of unjustifiable horror. How, then, is a bombing attack that resulted in the deaths of a at least 140,000 civilians; 20,000 soldiers and the sacrifice of 20 Allied POWs even close to acceptable? Because it MIGHT have meant the war ended sooner, even though Russia was knocking on Japan’s back door and terms of surrender were already being discussed?

    As Eisenhower himself said, Japan was looking for a way to end the war that would save face. We offered an unconditional surrender that included removing the Emporer, which was unacceptable to the Japanese people and like MacArthur has said would have made the post-war transition a logistical nightmare. Two weapons on mass destruction later we accept Japan’s surrender with the Emporer still in his place.

    The only thing we might have gained by dropping those bombs is shocking Japan into surrendering to us alone without Russian involved in the bargaining process.

    I’m happy your father was spared the horror of war. My grandparents (including my grandmother who is now resting in Arlington national cemetery) were not as fortunate. I would not wish what they experienced on anyone, especially not hundreds of thousands of civilians who were just trying to make it through the day.

  7. Maybe lots of different ways to think about this – and to acknowledge all the pieces and parts that most of us don’t know that went into the decision.

    Would we have done the same to Germany to save the slaughter at Normandy? Did we not .. simply because we did not have the bomb yet?

    Sometimes, timelines can be informative:

    Normandy was June 6, 1944.

    Roosevelt died , April 12, 1945

    Trinity was July 16, 1945

    Hiroshima was in August , 6, 1945.

  8. My dad was in the Pacific theater during the latter half of WWII, in places with such exotic names as Kwajalein and Eniwetok. I don’t know if he’d have been part of a landing party on Honshu, but I’m certainly glad that he wasn’t.

    • U.S. casualties were high for those involved in island hopping. My Uncle, who is on his last legs, told me that, after Iwo Jima, his Marine company of 250 was down to fewer than 30, even considering replacements who came after previous battles. He also told me that, unless you were a rifleman, you really didn’t understand combat especially against an enemy instilled with the Bushito creed. I still have trouble processing that information. A fight between the Allies and the Japanese on Honshu would have been unimaginable. I’m glad it never happened.

      • Yes, the heavy combat experience of the front line fighters, most notable the infantry, is universally described by those who have endured it as beyond all description, ineffable.

        And, making it far worse, it often goes on day after day, night after night, wearing down nerves long after one’s sense of immortality is long gone.

        One of the best descriptions of this experience that I have come across is found in a recent talk on the subject by General Mattis found at:

        http://www.hoover.org/research/meaning-their-service

  9. I don’t think we “suddenly” entered the war based on one or more events – it takes months and years to build up enough war material, ships and planes, and trained soldiers so we were engaged in doing that long before we actually “officially” entered. It was planned.

    Our ties with Russia were more along the lines of what would Stalin had done if we had not allied with him? What would have been the worst option?

    Anyone looking for comfort and satisfaction with all of our actions during wars is probably being unrealistic.

    Wars are, by their very nature, monstrous and brings out the worst instincts of humans – on both sides.

    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allied_war_crimes_during_World_War_II

    Some say there was no way we did not really know about the death
    camps…

    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auschwitz_bombing_debate

    why did we bomb cities ? the military would never quit – not as long as they had a soldier or a weapon…that’s their mission – civilians stop wars.

  10. World War I ended with an allied victory memorialized through a lop-sided armistice. After the war the unbroken Germany rebuilt. It took about 25 years for the shouldering embers of the First World War to ignite into the Second World War. The american decision to drop the bomb on Japan was to help ensure there would be no Third World War. I find it odd that to read the hand wringing over America’s decision to drop two atom bombs. Oddly, there is no sentiment that Japan should have surrendered given the absolute and obvious hopelessness of their situation.

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