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Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children. Email
Friday, May 31, 2002 Were it not for the atomic bomb, I might not be here today
My father, a lowly seaman second-class, was in naval radar training in 1945 when the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki brought the Second World War to a close without the need for an invasion of the Japanese mainland that would have cost millions of lives – potentially including my father's.
I thought of this when reading Veritas' argument, supported by E. L. Core, that no case could be made for the use of atomic bombs against Japan in the war. Maintains Chris Burgwald: "I don't see how anyone who values innocent human life could endorse dropping The Bomb on Japan."
You could if it meant saving many, many more innocent lives while bringing a close to a conflict that had brought – and would continue to bring – untold suffering. The end, in these circumstances, would, in my view, justify the means. [Similar means had, in fact, already been employed: See the firebombings of Dresden and Tokyo.]
Consider the nature of the foe we opposed [Warning: You will likely want to avoid the photos here] and the dogged resistance – exhibited to the last man on Okinawa and elsewhere in the Pacific – with which an invasion of the Japanese mainland would have been met. Consider, too, the result had the Nazis or the Japanese won their race to build the bomb before we did.
The world would not have been a better place had the Axis prevailed. Had the enemy not been stopped, many, many more innocents would have suffered and died. This is not say the Japanese civilian population shared in the culpability of the imperialist warlords who started the war, and it is horrible and tragic that civilians by the hundreds of thousands died as a result of a war their leaders brought to their shores. Yet many Japanese civilians had been so thoroughly inculcated in the martial message of the Rising Sun that they were prepared to act as kamikazes or kill themselves rather than surrender, as did villagers on Okinawa. The number of civilians who would have died in a military invasion of Japan would have been staggering. Were I a sailor or Marine who had survived atoll-by-atoll fighting in the Pacific only to look forward to a planned invasion of Japan, I likely would have thanked heaven for anything that brought the whole ghastly war to a close.
As General Grant demonstrated in the Wilderness Campaign, a horrifying war of attrition described memorably by Bruce Catton, the willingness and capability to endure – and inflict – brutal force can be necessary to end greater and more prolonged brutality.
Not a pleasant fact of history – but a fact, nonetheless.