An Alternate View on Hiroshima And Nagasaki
One of the benefits of operating a group blog is that a wide range of opinions can be expressed by our other editors, who are better writers and, frankly, probably have a better moral compass than I do. But when your name is the first name on the masthead, as it were, and you feel the need to respond with your own two cents on a subject or subjects raised by others, you have that opportunity and in this rather rare case I am taking it.
Pessimist has made an eloquent argument that Truman perpetrated an "act of wartime revenge rife with racism and nationalism" by dropping the bomb(s) on Japan. I, for one, am not up for second-guessing with moral absolutes what Truman did in the midst of a war, a war started when it was we who were surprise attacked on December 7th, 1941 by a nation state. Truman and his guys made a terribly difficult decision that this albeit terrible choice was superior to any continuation of our conventional and gradual march towards Japan, in that the alternatives would have either required a major campaign that would have dwarfed D-Day and cost tens of thousands of our forces for the next 12-18 months, or would have required a blockade to starve out the Japanese people, something also of questionable morality. Marie also rightly questions why our leaders didn’t find alternatives to incinerating 140,000 Japanese as a way to stop this war. The question itself leads to asking if it would be better to ask this country to suffer thousands more losses after four hard years of war and Pearl Harbor so that Japan could have more say in dictating its terms. We can talk about Dresden and these attacks, and ask why there weren’t more moral choices available that didn’t involve the large loss of civilians, but those of you far smarter than me can postulate as to what those choices might have been and then we can weigh them against the military realities and losses our forces had suffered up to that time to see if any of them in hindsight 60 years later were any better.
Of course revenge was involved in the decision to drop the bomb; this was war, a war started by the Japanese in a surprise attack. Of course it was about nationalism, for the same reason stated above: we were attacked and they declared war on us. There really isn't time for debates about moral absolutism and turning the other cheek when you survey the burning hulks of Pearl Harbor and the thousands killed and wounded in that attack, when you already knew what the Japanese did in Manchuria and China. In my adult life, I have had little soul searching about Truman's decision. If I had to make a choice between ending this war, knowing that the Japanese people were going to support their leaders no matter what until the end was near, or sending thousands more of our troops for the next 12-18 months on a campaign against the mainland that would have cost tens of thousands more of our troops, I frankly would be derelict in my duties as commander in chief to not find a way to stop this war and prevent the further loss of American and allied life. Arguments about blockades and starving them out so that they could sue for peace on their terms went out the window after December 7th.
On foreign policy I am closer to a Scoop Jackson Democrat than others around here. My thinking on Truman’s decision dictates to me that Bush was justified in what he did in Afghanistan for the same reasons. The Taliban were a known host and Afghanistan a known harboring state for Al Qaeda, and going after and toppling them was appropriate. Bush screwed up in not finishing the job at Tora Bora, and for not then confronting Iran, Pakistan, and even Saudi Arabia about their support for Islamic extremism and Al Qaeda (those who attacked us) when he had the smoldering ruins of the World Trade Center as a moral backdrop to do so. And then he made the mistake of the generation in killing our efforts to confront this threat by diverting into Iraq against those who had nothing to do with 9/11, but my views are known on that.
But to suggest that there was racism involved in what Truman decided to do, given his choices and how the United States got to that point is in my view to expect that Truman and his advisers operate in a vacuum in the midst of a war that was started against us. Racism was involved, just as there will be racism involved in acting against Islamic fanatics who mean us harm. This isn’t a lab experiment; it is a response by flawed human beings leading a nation-state against those who have already expressed their desire to harm us. I will not quibble with what Bush did against Afghanistan or the Taliban for the same reason, but I will forever challenge why he and his cabal were all too ready to expand that justified battle into achieving a long-sought bigger agenda by lying to us and attacking those who had nothing to do with 9/11, requiring a negligently managed occupation that has made us less safe than we were on 9/11.
For that same reason, I will not judge Truman harshly about the decisions he and his advisers made about dropping the bombs. The goal was to finish off the threat at hand and to deal with those who attacked us, by using the means which could prevent more American deaths from a war that we didn't start.
War requires imperfect choices made by flawed men and women, who sometimes don't have good options or the benefit of forward thinking. I don't think Truman had a range of good choices here, whereas Bush after the fall of Kabul did.