Friday, August 10, 2007

Nagasaki Day

A few days ago, Christine at iMinister blogged about Hiroshima Day. It's a good piece, and worth reading before returning here. It's okay, I'll give you a few minutes.

Okay, that's enough time.

The legacy of the first usages of atomic weaponry is an almost incomprehensible one. I mean, we'll understand that, but I'm not sure if it will take more time, more generations of removal, or if we're already past the point of most valid critical analysis. On the off-chance that this moment is it, I'm putting forth (again) my opinion.

The atomic bomb dropped against Hiroshima was a necessary thing. Not because of the lives of American soldiers/Japanese soldiers it would have saved - I've never trusted that rationalization; after all, it is the soldiers place to fight and die in war, so that the civilian may live. The bomb was dropped instead to herald in a new era of limited war. Pre-1945, casualties in war seemed to grow exponentially. Post-WWII, casualties per year from war remained at around 1 million, which seems rather high but become more impressive when you consider that ever-growing population of the world.

The atomic bomb was such a force that nations that had previously been willing to sacrifice hundreds of thousands were now faced with the possibility of a war that cost hundreds of millions, and suddenly, no major power wanted to risk that devastating. Certainly, powerful nations waged war, but one-sided wars, and not at any cost. Not a particularly good thing, but much better than the escalating cycles of devastation that had previously existed.

Of course, this limit on war, this destructive potential was shown with the first bomb. One real, (practical?) application was enough. The second bomb, the bomb on Nagasaki, was Truman being arrogant and impatient. It hardly can be justified as "We needed to make sure it worked the same every time" , and there is no further, more valid reason necessary for it's use. Hiroshima Day is a grim reminder of the cost of an era of limited war. Nagasaki Day is a testament to the risk the existence this weapon contains, and perhaps its greatest potential for abuse.


LaReinaCobre said...

A demonstration of the weapon wouldn't have had the same effect?

And why not hit a military target?

Kelsey Atherton said...

A demonstration of the weapon would have a similar effect, and usage against a military target would have been more justified.

I think the preventative power of the atomic bomb and of nuclear weapons in general is that they make a war with low civilian casualties impossible, or highly unlikely, if both sides are armed with nukes. The amount of devastation a single bomb managed to unleash against a civilian target was something startling even for military commanders - had a single military base been destroyed, people would have noted the weapons effectiveness. When a civilian target is devastated, people were able to look back from the benefits of using that power and focus more on the unbelievable power that weapon could unleash. Civilian targets make everyone vulnerable, and by using an atomic bomb against a civilian target, Truman showed the world the risks that would come with major power war in the future.

The test had been done, and I don't think most world leaders would have been content without a 'field test', and so relying solely on that, the bombs use in a major power war seems to me to be much more likely.

As for a military target - destroying a military base wold only show the positive results that could come from usage of nuclear weaponry. Without the unthinkable level of civilian casualties, without the ruin of a city, and without the accompanying horror that went with usage against civilian target, world leaders might let the weapon just be part of their military arsenals, and not make it a weapon important enough to only be deployed at the behest of the foremost national leader.

Christine Robinson said...

arrogant, impatient, and above all, angry.

The fury against the Japanese knew no bounds in those days and is incomprehensible to those of us who have come after.

Kelsey Atherton said...

Also, as loyal reader John_fleck points out, there weren't any significant military targets left. Had there been, the military argued against it, saying it would be too hard to hit a target so small.

Also, the US did use Hiroshima's significance as an "army depot" to justify the bombing, but the significance must have been pretty minimal, and reason comes across as more rationalization than legitimate reasoning.

Kelsey Atherton said...

Christine - there is a fantastic exhibit at the D-Day museum in New Orleans, which has "racial portrayal in WWII comics and propaganda" as it's theme - while the US portrayals were what was expected, the Japanese comics were really interesting, with the benevolent Japanese soldiers as the liberators of all east Asia from "ABCD" - "America, the British, the Chinese, and the Dutch". Also, FDR was frequently drawn as a demon. Not to in any way say that anti-Japanese feeling were justified, but it is interesting to see how demoniacally the 'leaders of the west' were portrayed.