70 years on: Was America right to drop the bomb? 132



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On this day, 70 years ago, the people of Hiroshima saw a white flash that threw them to the ground like a vengeful ghost. A split second later, the explosion reached them, razing buildings to the ground and setting everything alight.

Those who didn’t die instantly poured onto the streets in shock, desperate to get away from the fires; running towards the river and the temple on the hill past neighbours whose skin peeled away from their bodies.

They ran despite their injuries, they saw things they could never forget. They absorbed radiation that would randomly kill even more than the initial 70,000 that already lay on the ground.

We’re all familiar with the tale of Hiroshima and, three days later, Nagasaki. It ended the war, after all.

But did it?

Seven decades later, the clean, simple notion that “America dropped the A-bomb and ended the war” is being questioned. Was it the “bombs that had to happen”? What would have happened if America hadn’t done so? Would we all be eating sashimi today?

America believed the shock and awe of the devastating power of the new bombs would force Japan into surrender, but experts say inside Japan it was viewed differently.

The Americans had already destroyed 66 Japanese cities with a massive fire bombing campaign.

In just one night, 100,000 civilians were killed in Tokyo.

Speaking on the ABC’s Lateline, Tokyo’s Temple University director of Asian Studies Jeffery Kingston pointed out that the atomic bombs were part of a bombing strategy that was already taking place in Japan.

America had already fire-bombed Tokyo, resulting in 100,000 deaths.

“If you look at it from the perspective of the Japanese military, it doesn’t really make a big difference whether people are dying from fire bombing or atomic bombs … it is [just] two additional city centres that are destroyed,” said Dr Kingston.

And while the atomic bombings probably prevented a bloody ground invasion, saving thousands of US lives, historians like Dr Kinston say the bombs were also about sending a message to the Soviets: “We have this incredible new weapon, we have a monopoly on it and we are going to emerge as the strongest superpower.”

Some historians argue that the end to World War II was not the bombings, but the Soviet Union declaring war on Japan, which came as a greater shock.

It’s impossible to know what would have happened had the crew of the Enola Gay not released the A-bomb over Hiroshima.

In today’s world, an act like that is unthinkable – and terrifying considering the nuclear capacity of the world these days. Between the two bombs and the radiation victims that followed, it’s believed the US killed 1 million Japanese civilians. And, remember, they were civilians. The bomb was detonated 500 metres above ground to have maximum blast efficiency. And the target was the town centre, not some military base or port.

For at least three decades, the atomic bombings were viewed as heroes. Today, some survivors would like them to be known as war crimes.

Speaking to the BBC, survivor Keiko Ogura, who was eight at the time, describes travelling to Washington to see the unveiling of the Enola Gay at the Smithsonian Museum.

“Many American people said to me, ‘Congratulations, you could come here thanks to the bombing! Without the bombing you would have to do hara-kiri, you know, commit suicide’.

“That is a very awful excuse. We do not blame the Americans, but they should not say that thanks to the bomb so many people could survive,” she says.

Seventy years after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, do you think America did the right thing? 


Starts at 60 Writers

The Starts at 60 writers team seek out interesting topics and write them especially for you.

  1. Summing up Jeffrey Kingston’s view of the dropping of Bombs on Japan , “What goes around comes around”.

    1 REPLY
    • I totally agree, In the Shanghi massacre the Japanese killed 200,000 people, in Singapore they killed 50,000 or more, civilians, plus thousands of prisoners of war. War bombing Pearl Harbour a War Crime. Should Japan pay compensation to Singapore and the citizens of Hawaii. Was the Burma Railway a war crime. I quote one old WWII veteran who was in training for the invasion of the home islands “we did not care what sort of bomb it was, it finished the war and saved many of our mates who would have been killed in the home island invasion”

  2. They should pay compansation to Japan for their horrible deed without pause in the same way Germany is forced to pay Israel. There is NO excuse for what they have done :(.

    3 REPLY
    • Yes there is. They started it as did the Germans and what both Countries did to their fellow humans is inexcusable in a civilised world.

    • You wouldn’t be sitting there writing this text if they hadn’t dropped that bomb it would have been a very different world

    • Compensation to Japan? You obviously have no idea of the atrocities of the Japanese, and their cruelty to prisoners. I can say this knowing first hand as my father was a prisoner of war, starved and tortured in Changi and then the Thai Burma railway and then use as slave labour in the mines in Japan. His weight was four stone when he returned and he died at the young age of 39. He was one of thousands treated this way and received no compensation from Japan and not even have they ever said sorry.

  3. Yes for 2 reasons. Based on my reading the Japanese of the war generation were so fanatical that if the US had invaded the home islands, they would have fought to every man & woman, resulting not just in a greater loss of allied lives but & an even more catastrophic loss of Japanese lives. The 2nd reason is that the USSR army was coming east. If the Soviets had got to the home islands first not only would the Japanese be speaking Russian now but also most of the rest of Asia, Australia & North America. The bomb was the only weapon the USSR did not have. They had far greater manpower that Stalin had shown he was willing to expend mercilessly.

    1 REPLY
  4. so when do the japs pay compensation to all of those they butchered, in china, all through south east asia, the burma railway, how many died there under the japanes, the death march where hundreds of australian soldiers were slaughtered sorry but they got what they deserved, first one should have been on tokyo, learn history, the russians were aso developing the atomic bomb , are you neive to believe they would not have used it? how about compo for all the prisoners of war they worked to death

  5. Our way of life would be totally different if the Axis won WW2. Atomic Bombing of Japan definitely accelerated end of war

  6. So what about what the Japs did to people of other nations. They seen to think they did no wrong.

  7. Dropping nuclear weapons is never a good thing, it sets a precedents for other countries to do the same thing , the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki who died were civilians, it must have been terrifying. And you bother with any nasty comments to me , my father fought in WW2 both in New Guinea and was in Darwin when it was bombed

    1 REPLY
    • My father and 2 of his brothers fought against the Japs and Germans and they said the Yanks should have dropped more of them

  8. I wouldn’t like to see it happen again, however, at the time, and given the circumstances, I believe it was the right thing to do.

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