Trying to put nuclear genie back in the bottle
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In recent years, debate about America’s use of atomic weapons, the only use in history, has gathered energy and focus. A Huffington Post piece noted that President Harry S. Truman knew that Japan was defeated two weeks before the bombings. An entry in his diary reads, “Fini Japs.” Yet he did nothing to stop the plans to destroy two enemy cities. Filmmaker Oliver Stone, who spoke out against the bombings in Japan two weeks ago, said that the claim that they ended the war is “a big lie.” He said, “We lost our moral compass.”
Even Albert Einstein, whose work led to the development of the bombs, expressed regret that his efforts led to such devastation. He wrote that he would not have participated in the making of an atom bomb if he hadn’t believed that the Germans were capable of producing a weapon of mass destruction.
Others, including military leaders at the time, insist that the bombings brought about victory with the least cost of Allied lives.
When I visited Nagasaki, there were a number of World War II veterans in our group. To a man, they said they believed the bombings were necessary, that thousands more Americans would have died if the war dragged on. As we know, Japan surrendered two weeks after the Nagasaki attack.
Truman wrote, “I realize the tragic significance of the atomic bomb . . . It is an awful responsibility which has come to us . . . We thank God that it has come to us, instead of to our enemies; and we pray that He may guide us to use it in His ways and for His purposes.”
It troubles me when leaders evoke God in justifying mass killing. There was nothing divine in the decision-making that led to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was a military decision that placed the preservation of American lives above Japanese lives. If I had lived at that time and I was facing the possibility of a Japanese victory, I would have viewed the attacks as necessary. I might have had a father or brothers or sisters in the armed services. I might have lost loved ones at Pearl Harbor.