August 1945: The Ignominy Of “Little Boy” And “Fat Man”

By Thomas L. Knapp

On August 6, 1945, the United States of America became the first – and, to this day, the only – nation to use atomic or nuclear weapons in actual hostilities (as opposed to testing). The unconditional surrender of Japan quickly followed, bringing an end to World War II.

For 70 years now, the anniversaries of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings have occasioned debate on whether or not those bombings were necessary, and whether or not they were justifiable.

Many World War II veterans – and others – stand on simple necessity to justify the bombings. A US invasion of Japan’s home islands, they argue, would have entailed a million or more US military casualties, and even more Japanese civilian casualties than are attributed to the atomic attacks.

The argument is facially persuasive. As of August 1945, my grandfather and my wife’s father were both serving in the US Navy in the Pacific. There certainly existed a nontrivial likelihood that either or both of them would have died in subsequent battles had the war not ended. For obvious reasons, we’re grateful they came home alive.

The persuasiveness of the argument fades when we consider the facts: Conditional surrender had been on offer since late 1944, the condition being that Emperor Hirohito remain on the throne. The US fought two of the war’s bloodiest battles – Iwo Jima and Okinawa, at a cost of tens of thousands of Americans killed – then unleashed Little Boy and Fat Man on Japan’s civilian population, rather than accept that condition. But once the war was over, Hirohito was allowed to remain Emperor.

That aside, words mean things, and neither our happiness at our ancestors’ survival nor any military argument for insisting on unconditional surrender and dropping atomic bombs to get it changes the character of what happened

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