By Hanna Kim
On August 6, 1945, the United States flew over the civilian city of Hiroshima and dropped the first atomic bomb, instantly killing 80,000 people. Since then, scholars have argued over whether World War II could have been concluded in a different way, using various historical accounts, such as the timing of the surrender, and ethical argument about the detonation.
The term “necessary” usually evokes the term “beneficial,” as we directly correlate an event’s necessity through the profits reaped. However, consequences do always follow. Though they spared the lives of countless soldiers, the Allies also knowingly humiliated an entire country that relied on a code of honor. And though they brought the war to a close, the ethics of war were lost upon them.
The benefits are clearer to see: the Allies ended a destructive war. The Japanese government had been refusing to surrender, forcing the weary Allies to continue fighting. Despite losing Okinawa, an essential island in the American invasion of mainland Japan as well as most of their army, they continued to fight and die for the war they knew they had already lost. In the Battle of Iwo Jima and the Battle of Okinawa, the Japanese claimed the lives of 26,000 and 50,000 Allies respectively, and, in doing so, lost a total of over 100,000 Japanese soldiers. It was obvious that an invasion of the mainland would only result in even more casualties on both sides.
The bushido, or the samurai code of honor, is the origin of the “death before dishonor” mindset evident in the Japanese fighting style. Although the days of the samurai were long over by the 1900’s, that mindset was passed down to the Japanese during WWII. Kamikaze pilots met death with the same brutality that their opponents did, and the citizens who lived under the Japanese militarist government maintained fierce nationalism. Although one could argue that the Japanese nationalistic tendencies were lengthening the war, it was perhaps the Allies’ fear of the war continuing truly led the Allies to choose such a drastic course of action. But is it so outrageous to believe that a nation’s people will defend their land? Americans praise patriotism every morning when students are instructed to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, yet somehow when the Japanese refuse to denounce their loyalty, they are seen as nationalists and have to be contained with a weapon of mass destruction.
Additionally, as stated in the Atomic Heritage Foundation, multiple Manhattan project scientists, the very people responsible for creating the atomic bomb, signed a petition begging the President to refrain from its application unless in the most extreme cases.
“If Japan still refused to surrender our nation might then, in certain circumstances, find itself forced to resort to the use of atomic bombs. Such a step, however, ought not to be made at any time without seriously considering the moral responsibilities which are involved,” the Szilard Petition said.
If the creators themselves discouraged the weapon’s use, they must have understood its destructive capabilities before the detonation. Whether the President heard these pleas or not, it is frightening to think that a group of people determined that the Japanese deserved all those decades of radioactive poisoning and traumatic shock waves.
In the end, the benefits, albeit important, are often misleading. Of course, the atomic bomb did save a hundred thousand lives. But focusing on the results too much can eclipse our view of the severity of the action itself, and we tend to forget how brutal the idea of of wiping out an entire city actually is.
Remember that the motive of war is to win, not to demolish, and that destruction should be the side effect, not the goal. Forget this, and we forget the very ethics we uphold to this day.
On the day the Japanese were punished for keeping their honor code, the Allies chose to give up theirs. Who does that benefit?