Friday, August 05, 2005

Hiroshima: 60 Years Later

For 60 years the United States has agonized over its unleashing of the world’s first nuclear weapon on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. President Harry Truman’s decision to explode an atomic bomb over an ostensible military target — the headquarters of the crack Japanese 2nd Army — led to well over 100,000 fatalities, the vast majority of them civilians.


Postwar generations argued over whether the two atomic bombs, the fire raids, or the August Soviet invasion of Manchuria — or all three combined — prompted Japan to capitulate, whether Hiroshima and Nagasaki were a stain on American democracy, or whether the atomic bombs were the last-gasp antidote to the plague of Japanese militarism that had led to millions of innocents butchered without much domestic opposition or criticism from the triumphalist Japanese people.

But our own generation has more recently once again grappled with Hiroshima, and so the debate rages on in the new age of terrorism and handheld weapons of mass destruction, brought home after an attack on our shores worse than Pearl Harbor — with more promised to come. Perhaps the horror of the suicide bombers of Japan does not seem so distant any more. Nor does the notion of an extreme perversion of an otherwise mainstream religion filling millions with hatred of a supposedly decadent West.

The truth, as we are reminded so often in this present conflict, is that usually in war there are no good alternatives, and leaders must select between a very bad and even worse choice. Hiroshima was the most awful option imaginable, but the other scenarios would have probably turned out even worse.

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