In August of 1945 the United States dropped two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The loss of life was incredible. The number of casualties is hard to determine due to the devastating effect of the blasts and the number of casualties due to radiation sickness and subsequent diseases. Estimates range from 130,000 to over 200,000. Pictures and books written about the bombing paint a very grim picture. The suffering was intense.
Some question whether the bombs should have been used at all. Their use ushered in a new age of warfare in which bombs much more powerful than either of the bombs dropped on Japan were constructed. The hydrogen bombs invented after the war would be far more devastating. The use of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs has been criticized because it supposedly led to the escalation of the nuclear arms race.
I have a different view, however, based on two factors.
Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson commissioned a study during the summer of 1945 on the potential casualties of an invasion of the Japanese homeland. This study concluded that American troops would suffer between 400,000 and 800,000 killed and the Japanese would lose somewhere between 5 million and 10 million killed. This doesn’t count the number of wounded.
The Japanese had their own study as well which estimated casualties in excess of 20 million Japanese alone.
The loss of life in the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings was terrible and the effects of nuclear weapons are horrific. Our leaders were faced with a gruesome decision. Should the Allies risk the lives of millions in an invasion or use atomic weapons and limit the number of casualties? When asked how he slept after ordering the use of atomic weapons, President Harry Truman replied, “Like a baby.” I can understand why given the casualty estimates he was given.
In 1945, my Dad was serving in the U.S. Navy. He was stationed on board the U.S.S. Helena, a heavy cruiser designed to protect our ships from other enemy ships and planes. The Helena was a new ship. She and her crew, Dad included, were training for the invasion of Japan. She was to be sent to the Pacific and join the invasion fleet as soon as her training was finished. Considering the number of casualties predicted it makes me wonder what would have happened to the Helena and to Dad. Would he have been among those 800,000 Americans that were predicted to die? It’s a sobering thought for me.
I’m glad Truman and the allies made the decision to drop those bombs. It was a difficult, but courageous decision, in my view. How many fathers were saved because of their courage? Would I have been born if those leaders had made a different call?
This Memorial Day Weekend I’m grateful to God for all those who sacrificed their lives protecting our freedom. We should remember and honor their sacrifice.
I’m also grateful to God, though, for those who led us through those conflicts and whose impossibly hard decisions saved lives of both Allied and Enemy forces. They are owed a debt of gratitude as well.
Rob Morton is minister of First Christian Church Middlesboro. Contact him at [email protected]