I'm Here Because We Bombed Hiroshima
Saturday is the 71st anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The culmination of the greatest science project in the history of the human race incinerated tens of thousands of Japanese and left thousands more with fatal radiation poisoning.
Widely considered at that time a necessary measure to finish the war with Japan, opinion on the bombing is mixed today. With the brutal reality of all-out global conflict a distant memory, many view the bombing as a tragic mistake.
I'm writing today because President Truman made the right decision in 1945. Millions of other so-called millenials can count the same blessing.
Historical facts strongly support the decision to bomb. The two atomic bombs killed roughly 200,000. Japanese military officers estimated that as many as 20,000,000 Japanese would have lost their lives in defense of the Japanese mainland. America estimated its own deaths to number in the hundreds of thousands. Wounded would have been in the millions on both sides.
But there is another angle to this story. It's very personal to me.
Beside my desk is an old leather case with leather handles and a brass catch. Gently easing open the worn top reveals a large pair of metal binoculars. The lenses are still clear; a careful focusing procedure brings into relief tiny reticles etched onto the glass for measuring distances. They are painted a dark green color, maybe to provide some meager camouflage in the high bows of a tree.
My grandfather was a forward observer. His job was to go in to the beach first, climb a tree, and call in directions for the artillery that would bombard the defenses at the Japanese landing beach. In front of the invading army, these binoculars were made to resolve the targets of the first artillery barrages to soften its arrival on the beachhead. Picture the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan; the planned invasion of Japan would have been an amphibious assault on the scale of D-Day.
Artillery spotters like my grandfather had just about the lowest life expectancy of any troops in ground combat. He very likely would have died up in that tree, calling artillery directions into his radio.
Thankfully, he never had to go in first, to face the 2.3 million defending Japanese. The US command at the time made the right decision: finish the war as quickly as possible, with the fewest deaths on both sides.
All-out war is often a choice between something horrific and something even more horrific. Making these decisions surely weighs upon the consciousness of wartime leaders. Harry Truman struggled with the decision but ultimately believed he had made the correct call. Oppenheimer, the physicist who headed the weapon design lab at Los Alamos during the war, was a staunch leftist who later became a peace activist. Yet, he too went to his grave supporting the creation of the bomb.
Today, looking back at history from a privileged position as beneficiaries of the bombing, many who grew up only in its aftermath wish that Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been spared. This is a fantastically naïve thought; yet it is held by even some of our most prominent leaders today.
Earlier this summer our President minced words with the Japanese Prime Minister at Hiroshima. While stopping short of apologizing, he expressed sadness about the event. How quickly we forget our history and our blessing never to have faced such a difficult choice.
Fortunately, we made the right decision. Without that momentous blast shaping human history I might not be alive today. Millions of you can count the same blessing. Remember that.