Mazzuca: Aug. 6, 1945: The day the atomic bomb changed the world forever (column)
Seventy-three years ago today, on Aug. 6, 1945, the United States became the first and only nation in history to use atomic weaponry during wartime when it dropped an atom bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima.
The bomb blast was equivalent to the power of 15,000 tons of TNT. It reduced four square miles of that doomed city to ruins and immediately killed 80,000 people. Tens of thousands more died in the following weeks from wounds and radiation poisoning.
Historians suggest the bomb had a two-pronged objective. First, of course, was to bring the war with Japan to a speedy end and spare American lives, and secondly, given the political realities of the day, it was to send an unequivocal message to the Soviet Union, whose armies in Europe could, by 1945, have marched all the way to the English Channel.
But time has a way of diminishing the realities of war, and today many people around the world, including many Americans, condemn the United States and President Harry Truman for his decision to use an atomic weapon on a civilian population.
While many Americans are familiar with the term Kamikaze, literally translated as “Divine Wind,” i.e., those pilots charged with the suicidal mission of crashing explosive-laden aircraft into American targets, few Americans are familiar with the term Ketsu-go, which was epitomized by the Japanese slogan during the summer of 1945, “The sooner the Americans come, the better. … One hundred million die proudly.”
By the summer of 1945, Japan’s ability to continue the war was negligible despite its 4 million men still under arms. Nonetheless, due to a culture of Ketsu-go, fanatics within its army wanted to fight on.
Ketsu-go was about not losing face. In its folly, Japan’s military deemed Ketsu-go more important than the hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of civilian lives that would assuredly be lost if the war continued. As for the Japanese citizenry itself, i.e., those who had the most to lose, there was nary a word of protest. In essence, continuing the war was no longer a military question; it had become a matter of Japanese psychology and culture.
In retrospect, with the horrors of war 73 years removed, it’s easy to make moral judgments. Those who feel that it was immoral to drop the bomb argue that using the atomic bomb created the arms race with the Soviet Union, that Japan’s cities had already been devastated and such a weapon would kill thousands of civilians needlessly. And while these are strong arguments, they fail to take into account Ketsu-go.
There’s no question the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was horrific. But another argument can be made that the decision to use the atomic bombs actually saved lives. Predicated upon its fanatical defense of the islands of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, U.S. military planners conservatively estimated it would have taken an invasion force of approximately 20 divisions (1,000,000 men) 40 air groups and a fleet of warships larger than that of D-Day to successfully invade the Japanese homeland.
The moral debate will rage because of the stigma attached to the use of weapons of mass destruction, even though the carpet fire-bombings of Japanese cities exacted a far greater toll on both property and human life.
It’s not unreasonable to accept the argument of U.S. leaders at the time; namely, that not using the atomic bomb would have forced the United States to launch a full invasion of Japan’s home islands, which in their pre-invasion estimates would have resulted in up to a million American dead, and as many as 10 million Japanese dead. http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/ battles_okinawa1.html
The debate will go on, and regardless of one’s feelings on the matter, the fact is that on this day in history, the world was forever changed.
Quote of the day: “For every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction, plus a social media overreaction” — Unknown.
Butch Mazzuca, of Edwards, writes biweekly for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at email@example.com.