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Let Obama’s Hiroshima Visit Open Up Debate in the U.S. about the Nuclear Attacks


Let Obama’s Hiroshima Visit Open Up Debate in the U.S. about the Nuclear Attacks

Dustin Wright

Years ago, when I lived in San Diego, I saw a Cadillac with a homemade sign taped to the window that read “If there was not a Pearl Harbor, there would not have been a Hiroshima.” The car’s specialized license plate indicated that the owner was a Pearl Harbor veteran and recipient of the Purple Heart. The combination of messages perfectly encapsulated what is often the American understanding of the atomic bombs: necessary, just and, above all, uncomplicated.


Thank you, Mr. Wright. It’s always refreshing when a writer departs from the singular solution/culprit/factor analysis.

This certainly does make for the right debate ingredients:

“So why were the cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima attacked with atomic weapons? Was it to send a message to the USSR? Sure. Was it an act of revenge for the Japanese Imperial Navy’s attack on the military base in Pearl Harbor, as the homemade sign on the San Diego Cadillac said? Yep. Was it an effort to finally break the will of the Japanese imperial household and avoid an Allied land invasion? Absolutely. Was it because the bombs were so egregiously expensive and labor-intensive to produce that to not use them would have been seen as wasteful to Washington bean counters? Yes.”

It’s also GREAT to see the numbers (of those who think the bombs were necessary or a good idea) go down with each passing generation.


You want the debate to begin, Mr. Wright? Then how about marshalling your arguments and taking a stand?


I’ll take a stand: Dropping the bombs saved lives. They saved the further sacrifice of American soldiers, they saved perhaps millions of lives of Japanese civilians who were prepared to fight to the death for the Emperor. They saved the lives of Chinese, Korean, Philippine, Malaysian and other people in the territories occupied by the brutal and murderous Japanese forces. They probably saved the lives of thousands of Allied prisoners of war as they slowly starved to death in captivity.

The arguments that they were dropped to impress the Soviets, to exact revenge and to please the bean-counters in Washington are irrelevant. Saving lives was reason enough.

I suspect that the reason that younger generations are viewing the A-bomb attack less favourably over the generations is that they are further removed from that period of time and haven’t studied the history. Others will have an automatic response of revulsion against the use of such means.

Dropping the bombs saved lives on those two occasions. Lets work towards a sane and peaceful world order where we’ll never face such a decision again.


Nonsense. The Russians took the Kuriles and other islands in the North and the Japanese civilians did not throw themselves against the invaders.

The Russians defeated the Japanese army in Manchuria with a fraction of the casualties they took when they attacked Berlin and destroyed a Japanese army that was larger than the forces defending Berlin.

The claim that the Japanese all fanatics who would rather die for the Emperor them surrender is a myth made up by US historians to cover up their war crimes.

Japan tried to surrender several times prior and the US refused taking the fanatical position that the surrender must be unconditional. The fact that Japan surrendered after 2 bombs dropped discredits the claim they would fight to the last. The likelihood that the USA would have kept Nuking cities had the Japanese not surrendered shows clearly that the fanatics were in the US government.


You say that the Japanese mainland could have been taken with minimal casualties. The experience of the U.S. forces fighting to take the islands in the lead-up to the invasion of the Japanese mainland would argue otherwise. The battles of Guadalcanal, Saipan, Iwo Jima and especially Okinawa were characterized by suicidal Japanese resistance with over a hundred thousand Japanese soldiers killed, not to mention tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers. In Okinawa, between 77 thousand and 110 thousand civilians died, many committing suicide rather than face capture. These are facts and not myths.

Whatever the experience of the Soviet forces in the North, the U.S. had good reason to expect the same desperate defence in the home islands.

The idea that requiring unconditional surrender is “fanatical” is not well supported. A conditional surrender may have taken months of negotiations and maybe no agreement would have been reached. This was one situation where a quick “regime change” , the relief of prisoners of war and an immediate cessation of atrocities in the occupied territories was the best way to go. Dropping the bombs saved lives.


From a post WWII world of intercontinental missles and the like, it is easy for us to forget that throughout history Britain, Japan and other island nations have had a huge geographic advantage in preventing invasion compared to their continental brethren, a fact not lost on those planning the 1945 invasion of Japan…

In 1944-45 temporary hospitals were constructed (of wood to speed up construction) in many locations in the Western US solely to deal with casualties of the invasion of Japan, which (due to the secrecy of the Manhatten project) most Americans, including VP Truman (who was not advised of the project until FDR died) assumed was the only way to end the war. In retrospect, most historians believe that all those temporary hospitals would have fallen far short in handling the huge numbers of invasion casualties.

Upon learning of the nuclear option, Truman was faced with ZERO good choices.


Yeah, the article was wishy-washy in the extreme.


Wright’s comparing the nuclear bombing with slavery implies that both were American-centric when history confirms that the opposite is true.

Slavery was the rule, not the exception throughout most of what we would characterize the industrial world during the 300 plus years that slavery flourished on the North American continent. More slave traders were from continents other than North America during that timeframe. Although North America ended up being the destination of more slaves than anywhere else, the attention slavery in North America receives is out of proportion to the total number of slaves worldwide.

During WWII there was a broad conceptual understanding that whatever nation came up with a nuclear weapon would have a huge advantage in winning the war. Had the Norweigen resistance failed to foil Hitler’s wet water production in Norway, Hitler would have probably had the first deployable nuke.

Although slavery and nuclear bombing are both horrific and deplorable, no revisionist history is needed to communicate that message.


The Japanese lost 19000 at Guadacanal out of 60000 engaged.
8500 were killed in action. That is hardly “to the last man”

After that the US started killing prisoners and the number of Japanese willing to surrender dropped. The US Military in fact sent out groups of Officers imploring the US soldiers to stop killing prisoners.

Saipan saw 24000 Japanese killed in action.
OKinawa saw 74000 kia
Iwo Jima the japanese lost 17000 kia

Where is your hundreds of thousands killed?

Total US KIA in all those battles 30000.

Russia lost 81000 KIA just taking Berlin.

The Germans were far more fanatical than were the Japanese.

And any person who can justify dropping Nuclear bombs on a city is a fanatic.


I highly recommend Oliver Stones “The untold history of the United states” Eps. 3. The Japanese were looked upon as cockroaches that needed to be exterminated. They had no food, infrastructure, Navy or Air Force, they wanted peace. They only wanted reassurance we wouldn’t kill their God (The Emperor). We used that as an excuse to drop the bomb. To put it perceptive, it would be like the Christians asking them not to kill Jesus. We did everything in our power to make sure peace didn’t happen. We dropped the bomb to send a message to the Russians and tell the world “We’re in charge now.” Nothing to do with the war. He uses evidence, statements and facts to support his argument. https://vimeo.com/136256488


I stand corrected on the “hundreds of thousands” killed in those particular four battles. I’ve corrected my comment. Several sources give the number at between 150 and 200 thousand. In total, over 2.1 million Japanese soldiers died during the war. The argument that many died because the US stopped taking prisoners is all the more reason that an invasion of the home islands would result in a huge death toll.

I don’t understand the reasoning behind your statement, “And any person who can justify dropping Nuclear bombs on a city is a fanatic.” This would seem true on first consideration but if it saved many more hundreds of thousands of lives, was it not the humanitarian thing to do in this particular circumstance? What about the Allied soldiers? the Japanese soldiers? the Japanese civilians resisting invasion? the Allied prisoners of war? the civilians being brutally murdered in the occupied territories? Don’t their lives count, too? Wasn’t a quick end to the war the best way to save the most lives?


Your quote from the U.S. Strategical Bombing Survey that the Japanese would have surrendered by November or December of 1945 is not much comfort. Even if the Japanese had surrendered without atomic bombing by November 1 instead of August 15, people on all sides were still dying at a horrific rate. There can be no doubt that the number of dead resulting from the continuation of the war would far exceed the total dead of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The Chinese, alone, died at an average rate of about 200 000 per month over the period of their war with Japan. There were more than 300 000 allied prisoners of war starving to death in camps. Starvation and disease were rampant in many occupied areas. Waiting an extra three or four months was certainly not the humanitarian solution.

Your quote from Von Clausewitz leaves me scratching my head. It is so highly abstracted from the terms we’ve been discussing up to now that I don’t know what point you’re trying to make. How about a clarification for us ordinary mortals?


Please read Gar Alperovitz’s The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb, which accessed much archival documentation from the era. It shows that dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan was not necessary to end the war.

Also, General Eisenhower wrote in his memoirs that it “wasn’t necessary to drop those damn things.” General MacArthur also said it wasn’t necessary.


What is the difference in ethics between using the atomic bombs on Japan and the conventional deliberate and protracted fire-bombing of around 38 Japanese cities, Tokyo being one, that killed hundreds of thousands of civilians?

It was total war on both sides of the coin, and that is what total war leads to.




The use of nuclear weapons in Japan violates nearly all of the conditions of “just war theory” (a tendentious theory to begin with). End of debate. We were wrong and should apologize.


Non-believer, you are missing the point. By bringing a quick surrender, the bombing almost certainly saved a huge number of other Japanese lives, a huge number of lives of citizens in the territories occupied by Japan and a huge number of the lives of captured soldiers. As well as American lives. Yes, it was an awful and cruel thing to do. But it immediately ended a lot of awful and cruel things that were happening and were about to happen. It almost certainly saved lives. Is that not the better outcome?


There would have been no Pearl Harbour if the US had not been killing Japanese before Pearl Harbour. Japan was at war with China and the US gave China $100 million (in 1939) to fight and kill the Japanese. As well the US had sent American fighter pilots, war planes and money to shoot down and kill Japanese pilots. This military outfit was later called “The Flying Tigers”. The surrender of Japan was finalized when there was a change allowed to the Potsdam Agreement which had been made among the Allied Powers and which had called for unconditional surrender. The change allowed the Emperor of Japan, Hirohito to live and not be tried as a war criminal, which he certainly was. In a poll at the time in the US, 70% of American people wanted the Emperor hanged. The same kind of deal was made with the Italian Fascists, wherein war criminals were let off for full surrender.