A Not-So-Happy Anniversary

August 6, 2010

It was near the end of World War II, 65 years ago today, on August 6, 1945, that the US dropped the first nuclear weapon ever used in war on the Japanese city of Hiroshima.  (There is an article on this at Wired.)  The immediate death toll was about 70,000 people; many more died later from the after-effects of radiation.   Of course, another bomb was dropped on Nagasaki a few days later.  Japan surrendered shortly after that.

It’s fashionable in some circles to denigrate the US for introducing nuclear weapons.  Hindsight is always good, of course, but I am not willing to be too harsh with the President and other members of the US government who took that decision.  It was clearly the case that one of the Axis powers, Nazi Germany, was actively trying to develop nuclear weapons of its own.  And the decision to use the bomb came near the end of a very long and costly war, which had been started in the first instance by Germany and Japan.  The official US explanation has always been that the bomb was used in order to avoid the necessity of invading the Japanese Home Islands, a battle which would have resulted in horrendous casualties on both sides.  We should also remember that the US had recent and painful experience of the first suicide bombers, the kamikaze, in recent battles like Iwo Jima.

Of course there are many “what if” questions that can be asked — but probably most of them have no satisfactory answers.  For myself, I hope never to be in a position where I have to make such a decision.

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