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Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Kristof defends atomic bombing of Japan -- from today's NY Times
Nicholas Kristof examines the evidence regarding the "necessity" of using A-bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It has long been claimed that many more would have died in an invasion of Japan, on both sides, than died in the bombings. I'll confess to having some sympathy, if you can call it that, for that argument, in part because my father probably would have been part of the invasion force. It's also true that the scale of killing at Hiroshima wasn't really much different from that caused by the fire-bombings of Coventry, Hamburg, Dresden and Tokyo, or in several battles on the German-Russian front earlier in the war. So, even as a dedicated peacenik, I'm not completely convinced that the bombing of Hiroshima was entirely unjustified. One more horrible escalation in a war filled with them. Maybe it did save lives, including my father's (thereby making my existence possible).

About the bombing of Nagasaki just three days after Hiroshima, however, I don't see how there can be any debate. Gratuitous violence, pure and simple. I remember reading that much of Japan had little idea what had happened at Hiroshima for days after it happened. The bomb destroyed all transportation and communications out of the city. Most eyewitnesses to the bomb were either dead or so sick that they couldn't tell what had happened. Given another week or two to fully understand what had happened, it seems very likely that Hiroshima alone would have been sufficient to trigger a Japanese surrender. Kristoff mentions the idea that the US might have held off on the second bomb, but basically rejects it without presenting any reasons.

One other question that I haven't seen asked--was an invasion necessary if Japan didn't surrender? They had been cut off from most of their resources and their military was largely destroyed, at least in terms of offensive capability. Why risk huge numbers of casualties in an invasion? Of course, Japan and Germany are about the only two countries the US has occupied in history that actually seem to have come out better off for it, although the benefit in Japan wasn't shared with the 200,000 or so killed by the A-bombs, nor would it have gone to those killed in an invasion. Like I said, while not necessarily agreeing with it, I can understand the argument for the Hiroshima bomb. I'm not familiar with any good argument for the Nagasaki bomb, nor can I imagine one.