Vital Signs

Atomic Anniversary

Sixty-five years ago, on August 6, the United States dropped the first offensive nuclear weapon in history.  This bomb, code-named “Little Boy,” killed around 140,000 people in Hiroshima, Japan.  The U.S. military dropped the second and last nuclear weapon ever used in war, “Fat Man,” three days later on nearby Nagasaki, killing approximately 39,000 people.

Whether these bombings were justified is a matter of dispute.  As of 2005, only 57 percent of Americans approved of the attacks.  Although a Democratic president (Harry Truman) authorized the bombings, more Republicans (87 percent) than Democrats (47 percent) support his decision.

Some believe that the use of atomic bombs on Japanese civilians was unnecessary, if not downright immoral.  “If terrorism is the massacre of innocents to break the will of rulers,” Pat Buchanan once asked, “were not Hiroshima and Nagasaki terrorism on a colossal scale?”  Others contend that the bombings prevented further deaths (both Japanese and American), thwarted Soviet occupation, and unsettled Japanese nationalism, which was bound up with faith in the emperor’s divinity.  In the July 2009 issue of Chronicles, for instance, Roger D. McGrath argued  that the bombings were justified because they immediately ended Japanese fighting, which would have persisted for months and possibly years.  McGrath...

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