Hiroshima 75 : The A Bomb and the Obliteration of the Moral High Ground.
‘‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds’’
At 08:15 (Hiroshima time) on 6th August 1945, ‘Little Boy’ was dropped from the ‘Enola Gay’ a B-29, named after the pilot’s mother. The bomb contained 64kg of uranium-235 and took 44.4 seconds to drop before it detonated 1,900 feet above the city of Hiroshima. I have to say I feel sick just writing this down. Even the naming of the bomb and the naming of the machine by which such murderous devastation would be wrought seems to be an attempt at denial. The denial of a war crime.
We have seen language used before in World War Two to deny and deflect from the real horror. The 16 foot wrought-iron sign at the entrance to Auschwitz is the quintessential example of the very banality of evil: ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ (‘work makes one free’). So they named the first and only two atom bombs used: ‘Little Boy’ and ‘Fat Man’? When you have become this desensitized to the killing in war, any war, then you are in a very, very, bad place, ethically and morally.
Yet, even more sickening of course were the consequences for those unprepared for these weapons of mass destruction. It is undoubtedly the most catastrophic single event that humanity has suffered in the last century. And of course the consequences still engulf humanity even today with the threat from nuclear destruction, an ongoing nightmare. It is this bomb that created the power imbalance in the world and led to a new arms race, not this time with conventional capabilities but with atomic weapons. We are here today because of ‘Little Boy’ and the decision to drop it on Hiroshima. But was it justified either strategically or morally? The jury is split. I am not.
There are those who argue in favour of President Truman’s decision, flaunting the same argument as his — destruction of the two major Japanese cities saved several million American soldiers’ lives. Nagasaki was bombed three days after Hiroshima. There had already been a bloody cost to the invasion of the Pacific Ocean Islands with thousands and thousands of American and Japanese soldiers dead and wounded and it was estimated that the Japanese would defend their homeland with utter ferociousness leading to a huge potential death toll.
It could be argued that this was an early example of ‘manufacturing consent’ for the dropping of the bomb which was used so effectively prior to the invasion of Iraq, by demonizing and overestimating the adversarial capabilities of the ‘enemy’ before proceeding to invade and occupy the country. This time they again indulged in crass euphemisms and named it ‘Shock and Awe’. Sickening. History is always repeating.
It has been argued that the dropping of both bombs forced a stubborn and arrogant Emperor Hirohito to surrender. Up until 9th August the Japanese war council were still prepared to fight on, even though defeat was most certainly, inevitable. The Soviet invasion was imminent. Hirohito wanted to preserve Japanese sovereignty known as kokutai by any means necessary and he was well aware that if the Soviets invaded, then Japan, would lose everything. The Americans were the only hope to preserve the national identity of Japan which was the basis for the Emperor’s sovereignty. Surrender was a small price to pay. The bombs were incidental to Hirohito’s realpolitik.
If Emperor Hirohito had been so concerned about his people and the devastation being reigned down upon them then why did he not sue for peace earlier? In fact between November 1944 and June 1945 assault by USAAF B-29 bombers on Tokyo destroyed an estimated 286,358 buildings, killed an estimated 100,000, more than the number that perished in the two atomic bombings, and injured 1,000,000. The Blitz upon London pales when compared to the sheer scale of destruction wreaked on Tokyo during those seven months. It was the fear of Soviet invasion and the loss of his status, that forced his bloody hand to write his name.
It has also been suggested that the reason for dropping not just one but both bombs on Japan was to send a very clear message to USSR in particular and to the world in general, that America had the ability, had the technological power, to inflict existential annihilation on any country not amenable or in downright opposition to American global hegemony.
The Second World War had bankrupted Great Britain and its Empire was now ripe for the picking. America would be filling the void now. It seems to be perfectly reasonable that, where once, gunboats had been used to dictate the terms of surrender and conquest then the use of, and threatened use of, atomic weapons, is just as acceptable in the minds of those who firmly believed in American ‘Manifest Destiny’.
According to General Eisenhower: “Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary … I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. It was my belief that Japan was, at that very moment, seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of ‘face.’”
This was echoed but with a far more morally charged denouncement by Admiral Leahy, Chief of Staff to President Truman who commented: “It is my opinion that the use of the barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan…The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender…My own feeling was that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.”
Up until then (with the exception to the rule being the bombing of Dresden in Germany which again resulted in a catastrophic loss of civilian life) the Allied war against the Nazi regime had been for most and still is a war that had a very good and worthy reason to be fought. Hitler came very close to winning. Although pure fiction but I have no doubt as good a vision of the world dominated by Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan is ‘The Man in the High Castle’ by Philip K. Dick. If you haven't read it then please read it. The world under their rule is an utter dystopian nightmare. Yet if the Japanese had not attacked Pearl Harbour in 1941 then it is doubtful whether America would have entered the war at a very critical time for Britain, who, with its Empire, stood alone, against the full might of Hitler’s war machine.
But enter it they did and the ‘Arsenal of Democracy’ saved the day along with the horrendous blood sacrifice of the very nation that would again become its mortal enemy, USSR. Yet all this was thrown away in August 1945. The decision made in August has scarred the world ever since. America went from a saviour to the devil in seconds on that infamous day in August. Not once but twice. And it created the ‘Cold War’ which once again uses language as a euphemism for something far hotter and far deadlier. A ‘Cold War’? A war that begun would have opened the gates of Hell. And all because one group believed that WASP’s should rule the world and felt threatened by an ideology bastardized to suit the megalomania of one charismatic and paranoid individual. Madness and M.A.D. The only thing good about M.A.D. is, that it is certainly not, a banal euphemism.
We have existed with the threat of nuclear annihilation ever since 08:15, 75 years ago to the very day. Prior to that the world was a safer place, but, after ‘Little Boy’ and ‘Fat Man’ (how grotesque a nomenclature) it was not. It is a near miracle that nuclear war has been avoided so far but escalation of the threat has continued due to the activities of some countries.The non-proliferation regime is skewed. How is it that Israel is allowed to have nuclear weapons whilst Iran is not? And Pakistan and India? North Korea? Britain? France? China? For defence? M.A.D.
Once America had built the bomb it was only a matter of time before Stalin would acquire the same capability. A modern nuclear arms race was initiated leading to near global annihilation on at least one very infamous occasion and as we now know on nearly half — a — dozen instances because of false alarms. Far from becoming a safer place the world after WWII became a more dangerous place and now faced, for the first time, an existential threat to every creature on Earth and the extinction of life on Earth.
This evil genie was most definitely out of the bottle. But could it be put back? Well after 75 years the answer is still a resounding: No. Even more powerful weapons are being created. Humanity never learns. If it does it generally is nearly always too late and the price it pays for this self-realisation is always too high.
Nuclear weapons should have been stopped by a non-proliferation agreement that had real meaning and moral authority. The moral authority that could have come from deciding NOT to drop both bombs. Surely an uninhabited target could have been chosen to show the power that America now possessed? But instead Hell was unleashed in August 1945 upon Japan and its civilians. The war criminals in Tokyo and Emperor Hirohito were untouched. All of America’s and the Allies moral authority was vaporised in an instant, and it has never been, recovered.
What price is humanity prepared to pay before the world can become denuclearised? It seems an incredibly high one, again.