Atomic bomb controversy lives on

Every special anniversary of the historic nuclear bombing of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, brings out criticism of the inhumane action taken to end World War II.

As a potential victim of the inevitable invasion of the mainland of Japan, I take offense to those critics who fail to realize what a bloodbath would have been created with further military action against Japan.

Of course, the death of thousands of civilians was a tragedy. However, to put it in perspective, it was Japan that provoked the war that took 111,600 American lives in the Pacific battle area. Judging by the 2.5 million Japanese military plus reserves waiting to defend the homeland, the U.S. chiefs of staff estimated 267,000 American lives would be lost on the shores of Japan.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki three days later were proper military, political and humane decisions to use the nuclear weapon to stop further deaths on the beaches of the Pacific.

Several other factors for using the nuclear weapon that are not often discussed include obtaining Japan’s unconditional surrender. Historians generally agree that the enemy leaders would not accept the terms of a truce without the guarantee that the emperor would continue to rule and not be considered a war criminal. In the Japanese culture, Emperor Hirohito was considered a deity.

The other consideration for the use of the atomic bomb was to end the war promptly before the Russians invaded Japan to claim a joint victory and reclaim the territories they lost in 1905. The use of the bomb was also a warning to the Soviet Union leaders that the United States was a force to be reckoned with.

The bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, followed by the surrender on August 14, 1945, are reminders why these events are important to me. August 14, 1945, coincides with my entry into the U.S. Army two days later.

It seems that 70 years after the fact creates a wave of outrage that the United States could be so ruthless in killing thousands of civilians. Most of these critics that I have read were not around in 1945 and were not subject to losing their life on the shores of Japan, as I could have been.

Therefore, I continue to disagree with the critics who object so vehemently to the use of the atom bomb to end the war and save my life and thousands more.

An unnamed commentator is quoted that the United States need not have dropped an atomic bomb except to impress the Soviet Union. The quote continues that the bomb could have been dropped on unoccupied land rather than two cities and suggests it was a war crime. Ironically, four of the top ranking U.S. Navy officers in the Pacific also considered using the bomb as barbaric and unnecessary.

The reality was the Japanese government in August 1945 was a very long way from accepting unconditional surrender.

Included in the recent press coverage was a profile of Herbert York, one of the developers of the first atom bomb, later director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory for atomic studies and the first chancellor of the new campus at UC San Diego.

I was privileged to have had several conversations with him in his last years as a member of the Faculty Club where we shared a lunch roundtable with other faculty members.

York was a strong advocate for controlling nuclear weapons. He never felt like he needed to apologize for working on the creation of the weapon, his daughter Rachel said. You have to think about the context of the time, she explained.

Press and television coverage in 1991, on the 50th anniversary of the Japanese attack on American soil, proclaimed the intention to exclude the Japanese from the ceremonies at Pearl Harbor.

As the event drew near, documentary programs about Japanese war brutalities in China and the Philippines were aired. Then Senate hearings began to investigate unfair Japanese competition, creating a deficit in the balance of trade.

I was particularly concerned that the Japanese were denied the opportunity to honor their dead, so I wrote my first commentary for the San Diego Daily Transcript in January 1992.

Some opposition groups even demanded an apology from Japan for the Pearl Harbor attack. As expected, the Japanese retaliated with demands for our apology for Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Will verbal combat solve our current U.S. problems in the world trade deficit? I don't think so. Instead, why not rekindle the traditional American spirit to compete in a free market?

Many historians claim that Pearl Harbor was really only one more skirmish in the century-old trade war with Japan. It is happening again in Asia with China.

The war in the Pacific in the 1940s was partially due to trade restrictions imposed by the United States as retaliation against Japan ravaging China. However, the military powers of Japan also wanted to remove the U.S. presence in the eastern Pacific.

It cost the Americans dearly in the loss of 111,600 young lives and the wartime shortages for civilians. The Japanese suffered even more, but surely would not have surrendered easily until the atomic bomb was used.

Ford is a freelance writer in San Diego. He can be reached at

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