Tomorrow is the fifty-third anniversary of the dropping of an atomic bomb on Nagasaki by an American B-29 bomber.
Today I was browsing CNN.com as I often do, and I came upon a story about an annual remembrance service which is held in Nagasaki’s Peace Park. First off, I have to say CNN is one of the best web sites on the net. I have probably learned more from reading articles on their site and following links from CNN.com than I did during four years of college. That may be a testament to how great CNN is, or how bad my alma mater is. Perhaps both.
Anyway, I followed one of the “Related Links” from that article to a site built in 1995-96 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the bombing. It’s simply called “Remembering Nagasaki”, and I must have spent two hours looking at it. Almost everyone who survived Nagasaki has since died or is suffering greatly from residual effects of the nuclear blast (or, if nothing else, the fact that they are aging), so it’s hard to get a first hand living account from a survivor.
Enter “Remembering Nagasaki”. The day after the blast happened, a Japanese Army photographer named Yosuke Yamahata started taking pictures of what was left. His photographs can be found on this site, and are no less powerful than the words of a Holocaust survivor I heard at the Museum of Tolerance.
Today we tend to be a bit desensitized to violence, especially on-screen violence. But these were real people, not actors. Speaking of actors, the site contains a lot of feedback from internet users from 1995-96 about the bombing, and I was surprised to see the recurring references to the TV movie The Day After and how it opened their eyes to the devastating potential of The Bomb.
I remember seeing The Day After, a film about a U.S.-Soviet nuclear war and the aftermath, the first time it aired on television. I must have been about thirteen years old. I was home alone that night, and it scared the heck out of me. Remember, this was 1984 or so–the absolute pinnacle of the Cold War. The Berlin Wall was still up, glasnost and peristroika were nyet, and thousands of nuclear ballistic missiles were pointed at the U.S. and U.S.S.R.
Today there is no way to add your own thoughts to the “Remembering Nagasaki” site. It has been frozen in the state it was in on the 50th anniversary of the bombing. So I decided to add my thought on the subject here.
I found the most acrimonious debate to be over the actual decision to use the bomb. Many people thought it needn’t have been. The war was over, they say. There wasn’t going to be any invasion of Japan. The Japanese were just looking for an excuse to surrender. And the U.S. is nothing but evil anyway. Here is a quote from one person who decried “viewing the decision to drop the bomb through the distorted racist rhetoric”:
“I am not proud to be part of the “America” that unnecessarily dropped two atomic bombs on an already defeated nation, that put Japanese Americans in concentration camps, that denied entry visas to a hundred thousand Jews, effectively killing them all, the country that tried and still tries to turn men into slaves, my country that segregated even the army’s blood plasma during the war so that if an African American soldier was bleeding to death, he would die as “white blood” stood ten feet away from him. I am not proud to be the America that will not admit to its faults, I am not proud of America the lie, America the distorted history textbook, America the damned. I grew up in this country singing “My country tis of thee…sweet land of liberty…of thee I sing.” But my heart was broken when I found that this country is a lie. The bomb was unnecessary. The wonderful Roosevelt put my aunties and uncles in concentration camps because of their race. How could I be happy about that? Only the blind could be proud of this America. Only the blind are glad about the bomb. May I find compassion for the blind.”
There is factual truth to what he writes. The U.S. did deny entry visas to Jews. There were segregated camps where Japanese-Americans were forced to live during the war. It’s easy to sit here fifty years later and Monday-morning-quarterback things. In my own opinion, dropping the bomb was the best way to end the war quickly. That doesn’t mean I think it was anything less than an unspeakable horror. But what about World War II wasn’t?
If one wishes to accuse Truman of placing more value on the lives of Americans that those of the Japanese when making the decision, I would agree. But that was his job. I often wonder, if the Japanese were so badly beaten, why did they not surrender after the first bomb was dropped? I don’t believe Nagasaki was bombed because anyone thought it would be fun. And it’s important to note that much of what we now know about radiation and the long term effects of exposure to atomic energy was not known in 1945. Atomic weapons were still being detonated above ground domestically.
Also, comparing the camps Asian Americans were forced to live in to concentration camps is a non-sequitor. I don’t recall millions of Asian Americans being worked to death or losing their lives to Zyklon gas, starvation, disease, random execution, and inhuman medical experiments within a few short years.
Contrary to the person quoted above, I believe America does admit most of it’s faults. No, not all of them, and not always in the timely fashion I would hope for in Leibnitz’s ‘best of all possible worlds’. But it does happen. I do not believe America “still tries to turn men into slaves”. Men do that to themselves far more often today.
And as for what happened in 1945? I recall the words of General Douglas MacArthur, who, speaking to a joint session of Congress on April 19, 1951, concluded fifty one years of military service with the following words:
“I know war as few other men now living know it, and nothing to me is more revolting. I have long advocated its complete abolition, as its very destructiveness on both friend and foe has rendered it useless as a means of settling international disputes…. but once war is forced upon us, there is no other alternative than to apply every available means to bring it to a swift end. War’s very object is victory, not prolonged indecision. In war there is no substitute for victory.”