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Only A Few Americans Oppose Nuclear Warfare

Yesterday was the 64th anniversary of dropping of a nuclear bomb on the city of Hiroshima. Just a few days before, the results of a related poll were released by Quinnipiac University.

The question, Which country would be insane enough to actually use a nuclear weapon? was not asked. The answer to that question was, however, made quite clear by the results.

When asked, “Do you think the United States did the right thing or the wrong thing by dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki?”, only 22 percent of respondents said that the United States did the wrong thing.

So, which country would be crazy enough to actually use a nuclear weapon? As history shows, that country is our own.

16 comments to Only A Few Americans Oppose Nuclear Warfare

  • John Stracke

    I’m afraid I have to take issue with your reporting here. You report that 22% said the bombings were wrong; you didn’t mention that only 61% said they were right. Also, your headline is misleading: it is entirely possible for someone to oppose nuclear warfare, while simultaneously believing bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki was the right thing—or at least the least wrong alternative.

    The problem is that the morality of the atomic bombings isn’t so cut-and-dried. The US expected that invading Japan’s Home Islands would mean about 100,000 deaths—most of them civilians, since Japan had been training its people to go to the beaches and fight off the Americans with bamboo spears. The atomic bombings killed more than that, about 220,000. That’s worse, but there are some mitigating points.

    First, I don’t think the US leaders expected the bombs to kill that many. The bombs were more destructive than they’d expected, and about half the deaths were due to radiation poisoning, which was badly understood at the time. (There’d been only one death of radiation poisoning, the researcher who accidentally set off a critical mass in the laboratory.) Without that, the deaths in the two scenarios would have been about equal—and the bombing scenario would have been better, if the Japanese had surrendered after Hiroshima, instead of waiting to see if we could do it again.

    Second, invading would have cost more American lives. There’s a whole lot to say against this point, but at least it’s easy to understand the position.

    Third, the bombs delivered an overwhelming defeat. Japan at the time was still infected with a warrior ethic that made surrender almost impossible; the only way to end the war definitively was to deliver a blow they couldn’t ignore.

    Finally, Truman tried to avoid dropping the bomb: he invited the Japanese to send observers to the test explosion in Arizona. He hoped that, if they saw the explosion, they would realize that they had to surrender. It didn’t work, though; the Japanese refused to come.

    I can’t say definitively that the bombings were right. I will say that there’s enough room for argument that we can’t call people insane for believing they were right.

    • qs

      General Curtis LeMay and Admiral William Leahy thought that an invasion of Japan would not be necessary. According to the United States Strategic Bombing Survey, “the eventual decision to surrender would have been made, certainly by the end of 1945 and probably before November, the month set for the initial invasion of the home islands, without the additional persuasion of the atom bomb, Russia’s entry into the war, or amphibious invasion”

      Beyond that, terrorizing civilians is an unacceptable form of warfare. We shouldn’t even have entered the war in the first place.

  • John, I vigorously disagree with your contention that it is a coherent position for someone to say that engaging in act of nuclear warfare is the right thing to do, but then to turn around and say that they don’t support nuclear warfare. The headline isn’t flattering, but I don’t think it’s misleading at all.

    There has been one instance of nuclear warfare in history. If support for that instance isn’t a good test of support for nuclear warfare, then nothing is.

    Your arguments are based upon a huge amount of supposition, supposing that America would have had to invade, supposing that there was no other option, supposing that Japan wouldn’t surrender right away, supposing that a certain number of people would die as a result.

    Your arugments also depend upon the pretense that the qualitative difference between civilian deaths in wartime and soldier deaths in wartime does not exist. Maybe you don’t agree with this concept, but I don’t think you’ll find many people who believe that a military campaign that kills two civilians in order to save the life of one soldier is an ethical enterprise.

    The insanity of supporting nuclear warfare rests at the level of the collective, as I write about it in this article. As a nation, we’re the only one crazy enough to actually drop nuclear bombs rather than just threaten with them. I write this in the context of debate over whether the nations of Iran and North Korea are crazy enough to actually use nuclear weapons.

    I don’t think that individuals who support nuclear warfare are necessarily insane, though some of them might be. What I do think is that these people are morally depraved.

    People can come up with excuses for sadistic violence. That doesn’t make the sadistic violence the right thing to do.

    Are you not in the least bit shocked that fewer than one in four Americans are willing to say that bombing Hiroshima was the wrong thing to do?

  • John Stracke

    John, I vigorously disagree with your contention that it is a coherent position for someone to say that engaging in act of nuclear warfare is the right thing to do, but then to turn around and say that they don’t support nuclear warfare.

    You’re conflating two positions. One position says, “Truman’s decision to drop the bombs was justified, based on what he knew at the time.”. The other says, “Starting a nuclear war would not be justifiable today, or any time in the future.”. The main difference lies in how much we know about nuclear bombs.

    supposing that America would have had to invade, supposing that there was no other option,

    Sure there were other options. For example, we could have walked away from the fight. But there is a good case to be made that Japan would have come back to attack again in 10-20 years. (Remember, all I’m saying is that it’s a coherent position, so “a good case to be made” is good enough.)

    supposing that Japan wouldn’t surrender right away,

    That’s not much of a supposition: they didn’t surrender when Hiroshima was bombed; why would they have surrendered to an infantry invasion?

    supposing that a certain number of people would die as a result.

    Actually, now that I dig deeper, I’d say that more than 100,000 people would die. Japan had just under five million soldiers left, and the US was planning to invade with 2.5 million. In fact, by the time the atomic bombs were dropped, the US had already killed 100,000 Japanese soldiers, in taking Okinawa. Taking the main islands would have been even worse.

    Your arugments also depend upon the pretense that the qualitative difference between civilian deaths in wartime and soldier deaths in wartime does not exist.

    That is a good point—but does a civilian with a bamboo spear count as a soldier? That’s most of what a US invasion would have been facing. To me, those deaths that were avoided would have been civilian deaths.

    Are you not in the least bit shocked that fewer than one in four Americans are willing to say that bombing Hiroshima was the wrong thing to do?

    No, because there were no good options. Frankly, I suspect most of the “it was wrong” group were simply parroting a different line than the “it was right” group. For a change, the ones that get my respect are the “I don’t know” group, because it suggests they’ve thought about the problem enough to realize it’s hard.

  • John Stracke

    You’re conflating two positions.

    Sorry, that’s badly put. Those are the two positions that you say are in conflict. I’m saying that, if you look more closely at the “it was right” position, you can see that there’s no conflict.

  • Tom

    i firmly believe war to be a defect of humanity. We’ve failed to learn this lesson and it keeps killing innocent people (as well as the combatants). It doesn’t matter the weaponry – people have killed people with sticks, stones, their bare hands, poison gas, oh sure guns galore, bombs of all kinds, mines, etc.

    We keep coming up with gifts for humanity through our great minds and then turn them against each other because of the primitive aspects we never learned how to control. We never learned to share, cooperate, solve problems through reasoning, learned to control ourselves, etc. as a nation (any nation – they all suck) so out of frustration, we fight and kill. It’s the improper use of mathematics and science.

  • ReMarker

    War is more than immoral, it is dumb. How to sell stuff if the potential customers have been killed off?

    That doesn’t change the fact that there are/were people that will kill and cause killing on a variety of scales, for all sorts of reasons. That fact begs the question; How to stop the killing?

    IMO, John’s comment and responces of addressing the dichotomy of the right v wrong of America’s use of nuclear weapons, AT THAT TIME, are impressive and articulate.

    Do I think it was right? I don’t know. Do I think it was wrong? I don’t know.

    I expect if America hadn’t “stopped the killing”, we and many other countries, would likely have non-democratic governments. Whether that is good or bad is a good subject for another debate.

  • Kevin

    I’ve read a lot about WWII. There was a racial hatred quality to the war in the Pacific that was missing from the ETO. The “Jap” or “Nip” was the object of de-humanizing propaganda that was less obivous vs the germans.

    and yet the Brits had no problem burning down german cities and incenerating hundreds of thousands of civillians. at the time of final prep for the invasion of Japan, the US had taken to burning down their cities as a matter of strategy. The problem was that it was expected that a million kamakazi volunteers in mini-subs or planes or just wth grenades were waiting for us. The Japanesse were deploying suicide bombers and we can’t control them even now.

    So at the time, after the bloody battle for Okinawa, with the prospect of no surrender, the A-bomb was viewed as just a bigger conventional weapon. I don’t think there was much discussion on whether it was a good idea or not. we had it and we were going to use it.

    and it helped scare the russians for a while. it demonstrated we were willing to use it and that was an important factor in the cold war.

  • Kevin

    “and we can’t control them even now”

    well I meant them generically not that we now have Japanesse bombers. If we invaded we would have people hiding in holes with grenades waiting for a soldier or two to walk by and then attack, ending in certain death.

    In Iraq we found out how that works…

  • ROGER

    Don’t forget that the japs had advanced tech. in airplanes, helicopters, unmaned guided bombs, and yes, a nuke was tested during the days between our two bombs, by the japs. If that is not good enough, how about a clay bomb set to break apart just before hitting the ground, filled with flees that had been tested on chineese with biologic war fare. The bomb was ready and the sub to launch it, with sealed doors and a rail used for launch, the small plane with folding wings was also ready, just waiting on the engine to be installed. If we had waited for two more weeks it would have been terrible. I don’t think we would have lost, but the war would have been much longer and even more death.

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