Today is the 64th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is, possibly now more than ever, a controversial subject. Warren Kozak of the Wall Street Journal sums it up nicely:
At the time of the event, 85% of the American public favored dropping the atomic bombs, according to a Gallup poll (10% disapproved). Over the years, that attitude has changed. By 2005, Gallup found only 57% of Americans thought the bomb was necessary, while 38% disapproved. Most of those polled were born after the event.
In August 1945, much of the world was exhausted after six long years of total war and tens of millions of deaths. Most people that summer didn’t quite understand the implications of Hiroshima. All they knew was that the atomic bomb was some sort of new, extremely powerful device that was the result of a top-secret project. It was a demonstration of the amazing technical superiority of the United States—not unlike the moon landing 24 years later.
But even before the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, doubts about its use surfaced within the group of physicists who created it. Albert Einstein, who first brought the atomic bomb to FDR’s attention, along with Leo Szilard, who was instrumental in building it, were both opposed to using it against Japanese civilians.
As time has passed, the army of doubters has grown. These critics argue that Japan was all but defeated by August 1945 and the bombs were unnecessary. The incendiary bombing campaign had already destroyed most of Japan’s cities, they say, and the mining of the inland waterway brought its war production down to practically nothing. Its citizens were undernourished and there was practically no fuel or any other raw material left in the country. Japan, according to this school of thought, was a spent nation just waiting for the best possible deal from the Allies. Much of this is true.
On the other side, those who believe the bombing was necessary point out that unlike Nazi Germany, which collapsed during its final days, the Japanese fought more ferociously as the Americans drew closer to the mainland. Almost all were willing to die for their emperor, having demonstrated this in each island invasion leading up to what would have been the largest amphibious landing of all time. Americans were growing weary of the death telegrams that came by the hundreds and thousands to cities and towns across the country. Gen. George C. Marshall, the Army chief of staff, worried that Americans would not be able to sustain their commitment to the war if the invasion of Japan proved to be a long, costly battle.
The Japanese were banking on this as well. At the time that the bombs were dropped, battle-hardened G.I.s were being rotated from Europe back to the U.S. and then sent on to staging areas in the Pacific. The first wave of the invasion under the command of Gen. Douglas MacArthur was scheduled to land in November 1945, with a second wave in March 1946. Hospitals were being quickly built in the Mariana Islands to accommodate the thousands of expected wounded. What Americans eventually found in Japan after the surrender more than proved that Japan was preparing to repel the invasion, not just with its military but with civilian suicide squads as well.
I will be the first to admit that I am not a historian, so I will not attempt to offer historically-based arguments in support of dropping the bomb. For me, as always, it is a question of the individual. The pertinent question is: which nation had violated the rights of the other? The number of lives lost by either side with either course of action (meaning: whether or not the atomic bomb had been dropped) is largely irrelevant. The germane fact to be considered is which side bore moral responsibility for the war. A government’s primary purpose is to protect its citizens from force. Any government, operating within its proper role, must never place the life of any foreigner above the life of one of its citizens – with “citizens” absolutely including military personnel.
The fact of the matter is that governments do not arise out of thin air, they are (most often) a product of the philosophical premises held and actions taken by the population of that government’s nation. So using “innocent” to describe civilians of an enemy country, is oftentimes a mischaracterization. To be sure, even the most committed enemy must certainly possess some truly innocent civilians, and it is abhorrent that these civilians should suffer at the hands of American forces for crimes they did not commit. However, our government must still place a higher value on American lives than the lives of these innocent civilians – and in doing so, America will not have acted immorally. The moral responsibility for the death of innocent civilians lies with the aggressor nation. Japan, without provocation, threatened the lives of American citizens. It was morally imperative for the U.S. Government to use whatever means necessary to end that threat. Any innocent Japanese deaths that resulted, were the moral responsibility of the Japanese government and complicit citizens – so says the law of causality.
A few years ago, responding to the Iraq War and the “Just War Theory” of self-defense, Dr. Yaron Brook published an article on war and morality. This article forms the basis of what I have written above. Below is an excerpt from Dr. Brook’s summary:
The civilian population of an aggressor nation is not some separate entity unrelated to its government. An act of war is the act of a nation—an interconnected political, cultural, economic, and geographical unity. Whenever a nation initiates aggression against us, including by supporting anti-American terrorist groups and militant causes, it has forfeited its right to exist, and we have a right to do whatever is necessary to end the threat it poses.Given that a nation’s civilian population is a crucial, physically and spiritually indispensable part of its initiation of force—of its violation of the rights of a victim nation—it is a morally legitimate target of the retaliation of a victim nation. Any alleged imperative to spare noncombatants as such is unjust and deadly.
That said, if it is possible to isolate innocent individuals—such as dissidents, freedom fighters, and children—without military cost, they should not be killed; it is unjust and against one’s rational self-interest to senselessly kill the innocent; it is good to have more rational, pro-America people in the world. Rational, selfish soldiers do not desire mindless destruction of anyone, let alone innocents; they are willing to kill only because they desire freedom and realize that it requires using force against those who initiate force. Insofar as the innocents cannot be isolated in the achievement of our military objectives, however, sparing their lives means sacrificing our own; and although the loss of their lives is unfortunate, we should kill them without hesitation.
Many will undoubtedly find this viewpoint to be extremely harsh. For any readers who do, I encourage a full reading of Dr. Brook’s article. You will find that this rational egoist view of war arises out of a commitment to reason and to individual rights, not unnecessary malice towards one’s enemies.
Man has an innate right to his own life, when another individual violates that right, that aggressor forfeits his own right to life. As Ayn Rand said “Pity for the guilty is treason to the innocent.”
Author’s note: I do not endorse the entirety of Objectivist thought as I am a person of faith and believe in a higher authority. I find common ground with Objectivists because I do not believe that such a higher authority exists in the form of any earthly government, and therefore will never sacrifice my life or reason to any temporal power.