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above: the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan. Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945 (left), and Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945 (right) (Wikimedia)

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Dropping the Ball on the Bomb

There is still a remarkable amount of confusion about one of the last acts of World War II: the use of the atomic bomb. The destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was horrible, but not more so than many other episodes of the war. To keep things in perspective, it is worth noting that all Allied bombing of both Germany and Japan, including both atomic bombs, was responsible for about 2 percent of the total deaths in World War II.

That is not to say that the atomic bombs, or the conventional bombings preceding them, should not be subject to criticism; but they should be seen in their true dimensions. Most people killed in World War II were killed in the fighting on the ground, or by Axis and Soviet occupation policies, not by Allied bombing.

But most other aspects of the war do not touch on later fears the way Hiroshima and Nagasaki did.

Before we assess the arguments of the critics and counter-critics of the U.S. government’s decision to use atomic weapons, a look at the historical context is in order, including an examination of the Japanese side. 

In 1945, Japan was clearly defeated, but far from giving up. Most of her fleet and merchant ships had been sunk, and access to the vital resources of Southeast Asia lost. Japanese cities were steadily being destroyed by air attacks. The Japanese faced slow starvation. Despite all this, and despite the defeat of its German ally, Japan’s government seemed unmoved.

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