Letter: Atom bombs were actually the least worst option

Posted 9/3/20

Those who seek to revisit history to in order to learn lessons from mistakes of the past should take care to understand the full historical context and its relevance before categorizing actions as …

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Letter: Atom bombs were actually the least worst option

Posted

Those who seek to revisit history to in order to learn lessons from mistakes of the past should take care to understand the full historical context and its relevance before categorizing actions as “shameful.” I refer to the letters of Aug. 13 and 27 published in this newspaper by Jean Sharac.

It’s not a matter of her “callous indifference,” but of an apparent need to sermonize when her understanding of the issues is demonstrably flawed. For example, the U.S. attacks with the atom bombs of Aug. 6 and 9, 1945, against Hiroshima and Nagasaki were by no means “unprecedented in their destruction” — not even close.

Indeed, firebombings of Tokyo (three times between March and May of that year) had been conducted by 800 B-29 bombers in each attack. By August, when the atom bombs were dropped, 62 of Japan’s 66 largest cities had already been firebombed, resulting in about 900,000 fatalities.

The Japanese had co-located military industries with civilian population centers constructed of light, combustible materials, resulting in the extraordinarily high casualty rates. This occurred despite the dropping of some 63 million leaflets across Japan warning civilians of air raids.

In August, Okinawa had been secured for U.S. use, but the butcher’s bill was high: for Japan, at least 110,000 soldiers and an estimated 100,000 Okinawan civilians perished. The U.S. suffered 49,000 casualties, of which 12,500 were fatal; 36 warships were sunk and another 368 damaged by kamikazes — the worst ship losses by far in U.S. Navy history.

Okinawa, however, was 500 miles from the Japanese homeland, while the B-29 launches had been from the Marianas Islands, some 1,500 miles away. General LeMay’s bomber force, augmented by British Lancaster bombers and others from the European theater, would have only a third as far to go, and could conduct hundreds — perhaps thousands — of more missions.

The Japanese army of over a million was still active in China at the time, where it had already massacred perhaps 15 million Chinese. Moreover, Japanese leaders had issued threats to over a hundred thousand allied prisoners of war held in the Japanese homeland.

Given all these facts, it was important for the U.S. to end the war as quickly as possible. Dropping the atom bombs to hasten the war’s end was by far the most humane course of action — hardly qualifying as “shameful.”

It must have occurred to President Truman that if he had not used the atomic bombs, prolonging the war and sacrificing the prisoners, condemnation from around the world would be harsh and unremitting.

As for the “Doomsday Clock,” psychologist Steven Pinker has trenchantly pointed out that it is anything but a scientific instrument; rather, the annual resetting of the clock is a publicity stunt that demeans the scientific community and makes the world seem more dangerous than it actually is.

Roger W. Barnett
Portsmouth

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