Hiroshima Legacy


am lucky to be at an age where I never had to go to war. I was born in the last year of the draft for the Vietnam war, but my number was low enough that I never had to go, even though I had to register with Selective Services, as all men in the US must. I suppose this is one reason why I cannot support any decision to go to war. I cannot support an action that places young men and women in harms way when I myself have never done so. That would be akin to saying, I support the Iraq war as long as it’s someone else going to fight it. I find this to be rather gutless. Those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan are truly brave souls.

War is–as far as I can tell from the safety of my own living room sofa–ugly and dangerous and certainly hazardous to one’s health. But it has always been something in history books and the evening news. As such, it is an intangible, abstract concept to me. So when I went to Hiroshima the first time, I was saddened and moved by the tangible traces intentionally left “intact” for later generations to see. The atomic dome in Peace Park. The pieces of rubble in the Atomic Museum. Reminders of the horrors of war.

It has often been stated that the atomic bomb may have killed over a hundred thousand Japanese, but it saved a million lives–American and Japanese–because it forced Japan to surrender, thereby avoiding a bloody invasion of the Japanese homeland. While this position is accepted by many Americans, it is not entirely true. The straw that broke Japan’s back was Russia’s decision to declare war on Japan two days later–one of Tsuyoshi Hasegawa’s conclusions in his book Racing the Enemy. A great war on two separate fronts was something the Japanese could not withstand. According to Hasegawa, the decision to drop the bomb was complex; besides Truman’s public position of saving American lives and bringing Japan to its knees, he also dropped it to warn Russia by showing America’s might and to prevent them from “sharing” Japan. Truman also viewed it as payback for Pearl Harbor.

I am no historian and so I am not so qualified to comment on Hasegawa’s conclusions, but even if partially true, it is a frightening representation of the American cowboy, wielding his power recklessly in an attempt to take revenge on his enemies and, worse, to show off US might to other potential enemies. It almost mirrors our curent situation. Bush attacks Iraq to get Saddam out of power, and the current war is a display of power and resolve to other would-be enemies, such as Iran and North Korea. The war does not go smoothly, but I hope he doesn’t pull a Truman and decide on an ostentatious display of US power, nuclear or otherwise.

Ironically, Truman’s position of bringing Japan to its knees by using a nuclear weapon also resembles Al Qaeda’s oblique remarks of using “dirty” bombs on US cities: blow one up in a major city and perhaps the US will meet their demands of withdrawal of the US/West from the Middle East. The thought, for me, is too scary to contemplate at any length.