Are There Any Arguments for Nuking Hiroshima?
by Bretigne Shaffer: Remembering
I knew it was
only a matter of time before someone wrote in response to my recent
Mr. Miyamoto," to educate me as to why it is sometimes
right and just to slaughter innocent civilians. I was fortunate
in that the first person to do so was both articulate and raised
what I think is the strongest defense possible for such acts. His
letter, and my response, follow:
I read your
recent piece on the Hiroshima bombing and must say, that while your
peaceful sentiments are laudable, you have the luxury of looking
at it from the perspective of someone whose existence is not threatened
by war. A more rounded view might be gained by more research on
the actual fighting and nature of the war, and of the Japanese culture
at the time. Every day that fighting continued, 10-12,000 people
per day were being slaughtered by the Japanese in China, Korea,
Indochina, and the Philippines. The credo of the Japanese Army at
the time was "Loot all, burn all, kill all." Japan today
is not the same country, nor has it the same cultural values that
it did at the before the war ended.
A few books
that might give a more rounded view of the war are Goodbye
Darkness, A Memoir of the Pacific War by William Manchester,
Flyboys, A True Story of Courage by James Bradley, My
Helmet for a Pillow by Robert Lecke. Iím sure you have read
by John Hersey.
The point of
this is, it is easy to judge history retrospectively, with the certainty
of the outcome, but it is an entirely different proposition to be
facing your imminent demise or ask others to do so when you have
the means to bring a horrific bloodbath to a quick conclusion. To
judge the use of atomic weapons while ignoring the historical circumstances
and prevailing cultural attitudes in Japan AND the US at the time
is historically myopic. It would be more helpful to understand what
drove the decision to unleash these weapons if one were to account
for the unbridled barbarism unprovoked, unleashed by the Japanese
throughout the Pacific, on all of its neighbors. Iím sure that if
you were a woman living in Nanking during the Japanese occupation
your view of the Japanese would be different from yours today. If
you were lucky to survive, which would be less than certain.
to the contrary, Japan was not close to military collapse at the
end of summer of í45. Our experience during the Pacific campaign
was that the Japanese became more determined to sacrifice for their
emperor as the war came closer to their homeland.
is from someone who was stationed in Okinawa, love the Japanese
people, and am profoundly grateful that I was not born 40 years
Thank you for
writing. I am well aware of the brutality of the Japanese military
at that time. I am also aware of the culture that Ė much like that
in the US today Ė largely supported the militaryís aggression against
the people of other nations. However I fail to see how any of this
justifies the murder of innocent civilians.
presume that the mass slaughter of innocent people was the only
way to have ended this conflict. Yet there is ample evidence that
this was not the case. We can argue about the state of the Japanese
military at the time, but it is a matter of historical record that
the Japanese government was ready to surrender. All the US side
had to do was drop its insistence on unconditional surrender and
allow the emperor to keep his position (a point it later gave in
on anyway) and the barbarism you rightly condemn very likely would
was at least one other possible solution as well: The US government
could have opted to test a nuclear device in an unpopulated area
to demonstrate its power, and then threaten to use it against Japan.
Have you ever asked yourself why this was never done?
all of the above begs the question as to why, after already having
laid waste to much of Japan, the US government was prepared to mount
a full-scale invasion of an entire nation over nothing more than
its insistence on unconditional surrender Ė an insistence that helped
to prolong the war, and that was later revoked anyway.
Here is the
point that I think you are missing: When those who act on behalf
of the state choose to commit a crime like this, they do so with
the knowledge that as long as they are successful Ė that is, as
long as their side is victorious and they donít end up on the wrong
end of a war-crimes tribunal Ė they will face no consequences for
of Defense, Robert McNamara has
admitted as much, saying that the firebombing of Japanese cities
and the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki would have been
considered war crimes had the US lost the war. He has asked "(w)hat
makes it immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win?"
There is never
only one way to resolve a conflict. Ask yourself, if Truman had
declared that the only way to end the war was to nuke Toledo, would
you have accepted his reasoning so readily? Those who make these
decisions donít look for other options, because they donít have
to. They do not face the same consequences the rest of us do for
our actions. As long as the state has a monopoly on justice, and
on determining who gets to use violence and under what circumstances,
it cannot be held accountable in any real sense. And it therefore
cannot be effectively prevented from inflicting horrors like the
rape of Nanjing and the bombing of Hiroshima on the rest of us.
"Iím sure that if you were a woman living in Nanking during
the Japanese occupation your view of the Japanese would be different
from yours today."
to the mass murder of Japanese civilians is not for racial reasons
as you imply. Like you, I have lived in Japan, and I have nothing
but admiration and fondness for the Japanese people. But I do not
abhor the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki because
the victims were Japanese. I abhor them because the victims were
innocent human beings. As I said, I am well aware of the atrocities
committed by Japanese soldiers in China and elsewhere. I do not
defend their acts, nor would I oppose a violent response to them.
But you are not advocating violence in response to violence. What
you are advocating is the use of brutal violence against people
who had nothing to do with the violence you deplore. Quite simply:
I think you are confused.
understand. Lots of people are confused about this. Itís a big part
of why we keep having wars. The idea that people can be equated
with their governments is one of the most pernicious beliefs afflicting
humanity. It tells us that those who live under an evil or aggressive
state are somehow responsible for the acts of that state and that
it is therefore acceptable to kill them.
The point I
was trying to make in my article was that the real conflict in our
world is not between different nations or different peoples or cultures,
but between the institution of the state itself and the rest of
the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the grounds that it stopped
a belligerent state from committing more atrocities is to justify
every act of terrorism that has ever been committed against the
citizens of a violent state. You cannot simultaneously argue that
killing Japanese civilians was justified because it got the Japanese
government to end its belligerence, and also argue that terrorist
acts against American citizens Ė committed by those who wish to
end US aggression against their countries Ė is wrong. If the devastation
wreaked upon Hiroshima and Nagasaki (as well as a multitude of other
Japanese cities) are not war crimes, then there is no such thing
as a war crime.
Bretigne Shaffer [send
her mail] is a writer and filmmaker, and the author of Why
Mommy Loves the State. Visit
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