Thursday, August 6, 2015


Eight years ago I wrote a controversial op-ed piece, which was published on the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. The point of the piece was two-fold: first, to remind people that second-guessing, Monday-morning-quarterbacking is a staple of political discourse in our country; no matter what decision is made, someone is going to question it after the fact and claim the alternative would’ve been much better. And second, to get folks, especially pacifists, to ponder whether it truly would’ve been more humane to avoid using the bombs.

Anyway, I don’t think I’m quite the callous, psychotic, war-monger that many claimed after the piece appeared in the paper. It was simply an exercise in “What if…?” 

Today, on the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, I’d like to reprint that essay:


By Bill Dunn

It is August 6th once again. This year, just like every year, there will be somber memorial services for the countless lives needlessly snuffed out. Also, just like every year, there will be expressions of outrage at the callous and cruel actions of the U.S. government during the final days of World War II.

As all students of history know, August 6th is a sad date. For it was on August 6, 1947—just three months after World War II ended—that the stunning news leaked out: the U.S. military possessed a weapon that could have ended the war much sooner.

For almost two full years President Harry Truman and top generals kept secret the fact that American scientists had developed the atomic bomb. While the nation’s leaders hid this information from the public, the gruesome Invasion of Japan continued month after deadly month.

Historians still argue about what the exact results would have been if atomic bombs had been used against Japan when they were first available in the summer of 1945. Some historians speculate the war would have ended by the spring of 1946, a full year before fighting actually ended. A small number of rather optimistic historians claim that if atomic explosions occurred in two or three key cities, the Japanese military would have surrendered within days. Oh, wouldn’t that have been a joyous outcome?

The majority of historians believe if the atomic bombs had been used, the war would have come to a close by the end of 1945. Most importantly, virtually all historians agree that the deadly Invasion of Japan would not have been necessary if Truman had only given the OK to use the atom bombs.

Just think how different the world would be today if Truman had shown some backbone. For starters, the name “Harry” would not be synonymous with the word “wimp,” as it has been now for six decades. And his memorable high-pitched, nasally plea, “But nuclear weapons are just so horrific!” would not have entered the popular lexicon—along with Neville Chamberlain’s, “Peace in our time!”—as one of the all-time milquetoast statements in history.

Also, Mr. Truman would have been spared the humiliating impeachment proceedings that took place during the first half of 1948. Although the Senate ultimately did not vote to remove him from office, Truman’s political career was effectively ruined, paving the way for President Thomas Dewey’s landslide victory in November of that year.

Of course, the greatest impact of Truman’s decision—or rather, his inability to make a decision—is the huge number of precious lives needlessly lost. The Invasion of Japan was simply the bloodiest and most costly military operation in all of human history. General Dwight Eisenhower, who was killed in a kamikaze raid in January 1946, said before his death, “The Invasion of Japan makes the D-Day invasion at Normandy seem like a weekend picnic.”

The American losses were staggering: 260,000 killed and over 700,000 wounded. But the Japanese losses during that campaign truly boggle the mind: an estimated 2.8 million killed and at least 5 million wounded. This does not include the vast number of Japanese who died from famine and disease in the years after the war, as the thoroughly shattered nation struggled to rebuild, a process not fully completed even to this day.

In comparison, if the atomic bombs had been employed, experts agree that the worst-case scenario would have been approximately 200,000 Japanese killed immediately, with another 100,000 dead from the effects of radiation, and virtually no American losses.

As the New York Times pointed out in a famous editorial at the time, an editorial faithfully reprinted each August 6th as a reminder to the world: “Cutting away a cancerous tumor is not without pain or cost, but it is much preferred to the alternative: the patient’s death.”

This year, just like every year, there will be candlelight services around the world on August 6th. There will be heartfelt mourning for those who never had the chance to live full and productive lives. There will be condemnation of the cruel and insensitive actions by the U.S. government. And there will be, just like every year, a vow never to let indecision or a lack of courage be the cause of needless death and destruction ever again. If nothing else, the memory of that fateful day, August 6th, reminds us that the world cannot long survive without courage.


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