On December 7th, 1941 Japan attacked a United States naval base located in Hawaii. This would be known forever as the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. At this point in time, the United States had not officially declared war against anyone. It caught America by surprise and exposed America’s unpreparedness for such a devastating assault. It’s likely this unpreparedness contributed to the United States’s rash decision of dropping two bombs in rapid succession in response to Pearl Harbor. The topic of the Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have been widely debated by historians across the world.
While both sides have their merit, it can be said the bombings were unnecessary and decidely cruel.
The inhumanity begins with atomic bomb usage itself. Bombs of any kind are destructive in nature. They can cause instantaneous, widespread death. Pearl Harbor is such an example. However, the toxic radiation present in atomic bombs makes them fundamentally immoral. To consider their usage without knowing the consequences, not just on the nation unfortunate enough to be a victim of its use, but the world has grave implications on one’s humanity.
It is said by Robert Oppenheimer, the scientist often referred to as the Father of the Atomic Bomb, “There is about 10 billions times as much toxic material initially in the bomb as is needed for a single lethal dose.” The atomic bomb is not a weapon of war, it is a weapon against humans themselves. With its creation and use, entire cities could become desolate plains of radioactive toxins, even those not originally targeted by the bomb.
One has to question Truman’s targets as well. It’s one thing to condemn a nation’s military, but another entirely to condemn a nation’s people. There was a staggering 6:1 ratio of civilian to combatant deaths. The bomb on Hiroshima killed 70,000 to 80,000 people instantly and of that number rough 60,000 of them were the deaths of civilians as opposed to military personnel. Tens of thousands more died of exposure from the aftermath and toxins of the bomb. Put in perspective, the bomb would have killed everyone living in Bloomington-Normal.
While Pearl Harbor was undeniably horrific and devastating, it was directed at battleships and airplanes. Women and children were not targeted by the attack. This is the stark difference between the atomic bombing of the cities and the assault on Pearl Harbor. It was a tactical military choice. It was not an act of terrorism. Men and women die in war on the battlefield all the time, but not at home. The attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki fits the standard definition of terrorism perfectly; The act of terrorism is the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.
It is believed by some the use of these bombs were used to send a message not just to Japan, but to the Soviet Union and contain the power they held over the east. There is also some speculation about it being a message to Germany as well. President Roosevelt who preceded President Truman was aware Germany was attempting to produce their own atomic bomb. However, they were unsuccessful in their attempts. President Truman was not made aware America was also making headway in nuclear warfare at a much faster rate and would soon have a functioning atomic bomb of their own until after he was in office.
Truman could not have been fully aware of the magnitude and consequences of his decision. If he had, one might like to think he would not have approved of dropping the bombs on heavily populated areas. It is not likely he knew the victims would still be suffering even sixty years later. He could not have imagined the discrimination and horrors the survivors have experienced first hand. The Pika-Don as the survivors are called are what some might call the Untouchables. “If we have kids, they may be deformed.” Another survivor has had seven miscarriages as a result of the radiation from the bombing while another went through early onset menopause. The women who survived feel they will never be beautiful again.
American citizens were bombarded with anti-Japanese propaganda. They were presented as primitive peoples who believed their emperor had the right to vanquish other nations. This is made even more tragic when it is likely the American people were ill-informed of their nation’s options. They were not informed about what dropping the bomb would do or told the bomb would be dropped on civilians. The Japanese were dehumanized because it is easier to harm others not perceived as people.
Many of America’s high ranking officials at the time were against dropping the bomb on the cities.
In [Author’s Name] [Title of the Article], Admiral William D. Leahy, America’s senior military officer at the time is quoted saying, “War is not to be waged on women and children… They went ahead and killed as many women and children as they could which was just what they wanted all the time.” This supports the reasoning of the atomic bombs being excessive. General Curtis Dwight Eisenhower talks to Stimson, “Dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary as a measure to save American lives. It wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing.”
The main defense for the bombing is many lives were spared as a result of Truman’s decision. This is hardly an argument. It is ludicrous to justify one’s actions on a hypothetical number. Furthermore, it is recorded by many historians that Japan was looking for an out. Truman declined Japan’s offers of a conditional surrender. Had he agreed to a conditional surrender, the war might have ended months earlier with both sides suffering fewer casualties in the long run.
Nothing speaks better about the bombings of the two cities than the victims themselves. In the documentary film White Light and Black Rain directed by Steven Okazaki, Kiyoko Inori talks about her survival of the attack. She lost her entire family and is the lone survivor of a school of 620 students. “Why did I survive when all my friends and family died?” Inori says, “Then when I ask this question, I realize I am alive to tell what happened, so people will understand.” Inori was in elementary school when the attack happened.
Sakue Shimohita, a survivor of the Nagasaki bombing, has trouble speaking about the event. She says, “I was in the first grade. The war dominates my mind every day. I have no happy memories and I cannot remember being with my family anymore. I carry this pain in my heart, so it’s hard to talk about. Even now, I can’t say my little sister’s name out loud. It hurts too much.” Shimohita’s life after the attack wasn’t a life at all. She remembers the fear and the hiding she had to do in order to survive.
It’s hard to imagine the horror of the survivors. Those in the immediate vicinity of the bomb were killed. Only a few people were able to see what it looked like from a safe distance. “Some people will call it a mushroom cloud, but it was not a cloud. It was a pillar of fire.” Shimohita also recalls the horrific sights that will forever live on in her memories, “I was knocked out from the impact of the explosion. When I woke up, I saw people with their eyes hanging out… People whose skin had just been shredded from the blast and was melting off their bodies covered in blood…”
The recounts of events from the survivors are all this gruesome. The survivors had been children at the time. It would be hard to justify the trauma, the mental scarring that comes with something like this. The survivors recall their siblings getting ready for school and their fathers getting ready for work, only to wake up after an explosion and find all their loved ones dead. Nothing could justify the use of such violent and dangerous weapons. Nothing could atone for the innocent lives lost for what many supporters believe to be a necessary evil.
Some historians might go so far as to say Japan wouldn’t have surrendered, but this can be discounted by the Japanese people themselves. Many of the survivors held the idea, the Japanese people knew there was no way for Japan to win. Even though their leaders were trying to come off as though Japan was winning, there was no way they could. Japan had nothing and needed everything. A Korean survivor tells of how Japan was holding all of Korea’s rice for themselves. “My family had one option, starve in Korea or go to Japan.” The move to Japan cost her everything.
The survivors are the ones now who are still paying for the consequences of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. [Survivor Name] is covered in wounds from head to toe. They are so bad the places where his skin has been are clearly visible. One can see through his body straight to his ribs and his beating heart, “I show you my wounds because I want the world to know, this can’t happen again.”
The Japanese people wanted their emperor to surrender. “Mothers were losing their sons one after another. A fool could see we were losing the war. As children, we knew.” Japan was going to surrender. Anyone with a background in Japanese culture would know how proud the Japanese people are. An unconditional surrender wasn’t an option for them, but they would have agreed to a conditional surrender as an attempt to save face. Appearances are quite important to the Japanese. They would have preferred to have bowed out of the war gracefully instead of groveling.
Morris Jeppson, a World War II veteran and former weaponeer, speaks of the bomb in the film. Jeppson was a part of the testing done in New Mexico. He was not allowed to speak about the magnitude of it with any of his comrades. “We knew it was going to be big,” Jeppson says. He was in the plane when the bomb known as “Little Boy” was dropped on Hiroshima. The bomb was supposed to detonate in forty-three seconds, but it exploded in forty-five. Jeppson remembers writing down in his notes “the bomb worked.” His comrades believed the war was over after the first initial bomb in Hiroshima.
None of the American veterans showed any remorse or regret for what they’d done. After watching the documentary, one could come to the conclusion they did not understand what they’d done.
America’s use of the atomic bombs gave rise to the modern day threat of nuclear warfare. It marked the beginning of a race of who could hoard and build the most atomic bombs. Nations without these powerful weapons live in fear of the countries that do for fear of becoming the next Nagasaki or Hiroshima. In a famous quote by Albert Einstein, “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” A man who is heralded as one of the most iconic geniuses believed the weapons used in a future world war would be so devastating, civilization as we know it would vanish.
The bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima are tragic events in history. Much controversy surrounds the event with those against and those who support Truman’s decision. Despite it being in retaliation for Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, the force used was excessive resulting in the loss of tens of thousands of civilian lives. The consequences of the bombings are still being felt to this day. Nothing could justify the act of terrorism brought on from America’s dropping of atomic bombs on civilian filled cities. Shimohita says in a final statement, “This hurt and pain that we survivors carry, it must end with us.”