August 7, 2002


A mistake and a crime (James Carroll, 8/6/2002, Boston Globe)
Today marks the anniversary of the American atomic bomb falling on Hiroshima. The unfinished debate about whether that attack, and the subsequent bombing of Nagasaki, were justified has always focused narrowly on the question of the war with Japan. Didn't the atomic bomb, in effect, spare the lives of all the leathernecks and GI's who would otherwise have landed on the beaches of the die-hard island nation? What else could Truman have done? These questions have stymied the American conscience, making it impossible to seriously reckon with that crossing of the nuclear threshold, which in turn inhibits our moral reckoning with our present nuclear arsenal.

But what if the invasion of an all-but-defanged Japan was, and remains, a red herring? What if, just as the Nazi threat fell by the wayside, the Japanese threat was not the real issue by then either? What if, by the summer of 1945, the overriding purpose of the atomic bomb was not to end a conflict against Japan, but to control the shape of an anticipated conflict with the Soviet Union? What if it was not Emperor Hirohito we were mainly trying to terrorize, but Premier Stalin? Not a last shot against the Axis powers, but a first shot against the Kremlin?

In war and politics, there are never one-factor answers to complex questions. In truth, the atomic bomb was a last shot and a first shot both. The point of my asking is simply to suggest that, as a people insisting on a narrative in which Hiroshima marked the end of a conflict instead of the beginning of one, we have given ourselves a pass on a far more troubling question.

If we used the nuclear weapon as much to send a signal to the Soviet Union as to end World War II, then all the wickedness unfolding from that use - not only the arms race, but the demonic new idea that national power can properly depend on the threat of mass destruction - belongs to us.

It comes as no surprise that Mr. Carroll asks the wrong question here. The real question that we should face is whether we made one of the great strategic blunders in history by not dropping the second (or even the first) bomb on Moscow. By not terminating the USSR at that moment, when it could have been done relatively easily, don't we bear some responsibility for all the death and destruction that flowed from fifty years of Cold War?
Posted by Orrin Judd at August 7, 2002 10:07 PM
Comments for this post are closed.