In the wake of the movie “Oppenheimer,” it’s worth assessing whether America’s atomic bombs should have been dropped in World War II.
Those who say “no” often forget that, just like Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan believed in absolute racial/spiritual superiority.
On that basis, their soldiers had brutalized China, Korea, the Philippines, Manchuria and everywhere else they conquered. From the invasion of China in 1937 to the end of World War II, the Japanese regime murdered between 3 million to 10 million people, including Chinese, Indonesians, Koreans, Filipinos, and Indochinese.
So many innocent people were dying daily in Japanese-occupied territories that not dropping the bombs would have been a much greater moral travesty; many more innocents than died at Hiroshima and Nagasaki would have died by holding back.
Moreover, Japan’s fanatical leadership believed in preordained “supremacist” victory so thoroughly that they wanted to lure the U.S. into an invasion of Kyushu, where they believed we would get so badly bloodied that we would thereafter leave them in place.
That was the entire point of Ketsu-Go, their strategy for the invasion — to use Japanese civilians and nearly 600,000 soldiers in Japan as fodder for a battle that would have made Okinawa look like a walk in the park and force the Americans to negotiate on Japan’s terms.
The only way to break that spell was to demonstrate an ability to destroy Japan entirely without an invasion. And even with the atomic bombs, the imperial army nearly conducted a coup in order to keep fighting, which Hirohito only narrowly defeated with his radio address to the nation. It took nearly a week after Nagasaki for Japan to surrender, and that surrender was necessary to ensure an end to fighting in other theaters, especially in China.
The use of atomic weapons was undoubtedly horrific. But there is no doubt that the two bombs dropped on Japan in August 1945 shortened the war by several months at least, and saved millions of lives in Japan, in occupied Asia, and among American forces.
The bombs also saved millions more lives during the Cold War by keeping it cold.
President Harry Truman made the right call.