VOICES: Nonsense! Dropping the atomic bomb was not a war crime

Note: This guest column by Dirk Q. Allen, the former opinion page editor of the Hamilton JournalNews, appeared on the Ideas and Voices page Tuesday, Sept. 1. Have an opinion you want to express, contact Community Impact Editor Amelia Robinson at edletter@Coxinc.com.

It is not a date that many people have seared into their memory, but Sept. 2, 1945 is certainly worth noting.

That day, World War II officially ended with a signing on the decks of the U.S.S. Missouri in Tokyo Bay.

When the interminable war ended, more than 400,000 members of the U.S. Armed Services had lost their lives. Many more – as many as 100,000, according to allied planners – were expected to die in a prospective invasion of Japan slated for Nov. 1 of that year.

The atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki ultimately eliminated the need for that invasion – and yet some revisionist historians insist on calling their use a “war crime.”

Let me cut to the chase on that thought: Nonsense.

American top brass weren’t even certain that the atomic bomb would work – but is there an acceptable number of additional allied casualties in order to not drop the bomb?

“In 1945, though, dropping the atomic bomb was not seen as a “war crime" but rather as a necessary means to an end – the end of a horrific war."

Who is going to the home of those Gold Star families and say, “We had a powerful weapon that could have ended the war, but we didn’t use it. So instead, your father … your husband … your brother … your son … is dead.”

No one who is writing today -- calling the bombs a “war crime” -- would have had to make that call, send that telegram or knock on that door.

Yes, the U.S. made mistakes – the internment of tens of thousands of Japanese-Americans during the war was an error the government has long conceded and attempted to rectify.

The fact that an atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki – a secondary target – was tragic for that city. There was cloud cover over the primary target that day and the B-29 carrying the bomb was not going to return to base without dropping it.

Yet even after two atomic bombs were delivered, some in the Japanese General Staff were reluctant to surrender. They were willing, according to some reports, to allow 20 million Japanese to die on the home islands to fight an allied invasion. The atomic bombs killed about 250,000.

But when Emperor Hirohito told the Japanese public via a secretly recorded radio broadcast – they had never before heard his voice – that it was time to cease hostilities, it was the two atomic bombs that had sent the persuasive message.

No one is contesting that dropping two atomic bombs was utterly devastating.

Today, 75 years later, we don’t want to see nuclear bombs dropped anywhere, anytime.

Indeed, we live in an age where we no longer even support testing of nuclear weapons. It’s why nuclear talks are ongoing and international efforts to halt proliferation of nuclear weapons a priority. Maybe the horror of the only two bombs that were dropped in war underscores that desire.

In 1945, though, dropping the atomic bomb was not seen as a “war crime” but rather as a necessary means to an end – the end of a horrific war. How many allied casualties are an acceptable number in the face of not dropping the atomic bomb? Here’s the correct number: Zero.

Dirk Q. Allen is a former opinion page editor of the Hamilton JournalNews. He is a regular contributor.

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