August 10, 2022
On August 6, 1945, Colonel Paul Tibbets, piloting an American B-29 Superfortress called Enola Gay, and acting on the order of the President of the United States, dropped the first of two atomic bombs on Japan.
I want to respond to an article by Hiroshi Inoue at Kyodo News about Professor Yuki Miyamoto and her work to "dispel [the] A-bomb 'myth' in U.S."
As we mark the seventy-seventh anniversary of the atomic bomb, simply put, its use against the people of Japan was a tragic necessity.
According to Inoue, Professor Miyamoto claims that her parents survived the atomic bomb. I have no reason to doubt this personal claim, and the anguish that it entails. More importantly, the Professor claims that it is a "myth" that the use of the weapon saved American lives by hastening the end of World War II. However there is little basis to regard this as a myth.
Overwhelmed and with most of its navy at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, the Imperial Japanese government was duly warned by the United States that continued resistance to the Allies would result in Japan's total destruction, the likes of which had never been seen in the history of the world up to that time, and thankfully has not been seen since.
The Imperial Japanese government steadfastly refused to surrender. It rejected President Truman's ultimatum to lay down its arms. It fanatically kept on fighting, killing Japanese and Americans, even though it recognized that victory was impossible. The United States could have invaded Japan. Estimates put the cost of invasion at one million American lives. But what about the cost in Japanese lives? Judging by the fierce resistance that Japan put up during the battles of Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima, it is likely that far more Japanese people — including civilians — would have perished in an invasion scenario than were killed by two atomic bombs. An American invasion of Japan really could have meant the end of Japan, as Japan was prepared to fight to the very last man, woman, and child.1
As an aside, it is perplexing that consideration of the cost in Japanese lives, were the United States to have mounted a full-scale invasion of Japan, seems to be absent from Professor Miyamoto's analysis.
While I object to singling out the United States for moral opprobrium while not applying the same moral standards to other nations, as an American, I don't generally take offense to criticism of the United States provided it is constructive and well-argued. Governments are human institutions, none are perfect, and all deserve just criticism — that is why in America we have the First Amendment. The use of the atomic bomb ought to be debated, and is debated, every year around this time, and we will never forget the horrific toll that the atomic bomb took on Japan.
While Professor Miyamoto's characterization of the media's portrayal of nuclear weapons as symbols of "power" and "control" is perhaps accurate, most in America do not regard them in this way. We regard the use of the atomic bomb against Japan as sui generis and the continued presence of these weapons in today's arsenal as totally unrelated to the events of 1945 — instead today's nuclear weapons serve as a force deterrent to totalitarian regimes such as North Korea, China, Russia, and Iran. Because of the existence of evil regimes, nuclear weapons, while never used, are necessary to sustain continued peace in the world.
According to the article the Professor next claims that the U.S. military provides "welfare" by subsidizing university tuition in exchange for enlistment. This is silly. I served four years in the United States Army. In an all-volunteer force, you serve because you have been called by your conscience to defend freedom — if you don't feel this calling, you shouldn't join the military. College tuition is a benefit among many other benefits that you receive from the government — and from a grateful nation — for being willing to make the ultimate sacrifice during your time in service.
Professor Miyamoto next claims that Americans regard our military as "unimpeachable" — but this is not so. During the Vietnam War many Americans held the military in contempt, believing, perhaps wrongly, that the Vietnam War was a mistake — soldiers were spat on by anti-war activists when they returned from Vietnam. But throughout the 1980s, President Reagan strengthened the military and succeeded in rehabilitating its image in the eyes of the American public.
While public attitudes toward the military and its civilian leadership have varied over the years, the key to understanding the American mindset is that we regard the military as a moral entity — a force for good. In fact, "A Global Force for Good" was the slogan of the United States Navy for a number of years before political correctness got the better of Navy brass and they changed the slogan to "Forged by the Sea" — a phrase devoid of moral meaning.
America has historically used the military for just causes: to secure ourselves and our allies, and to preserve, protect, and defend freedom — but not for material gain. For example, America had nothing to gain by fighting in Korea — the point of that war was to contain the spread of evil Communism. If the military were to stop being a force for good, condemnation of the military by good people everywhere would swiftly and justly follow.
Jade Ryerson, 23, a young student of Professor Miyamoto, is quoted by Inoue as saying, "I remember photographs of the medical impacts such as the severe burns one man sustained all along his entire back...I don't know how anyone could look at images like those and not believe that nuclear weapons are unethical." While this may be true, any weapon — from a dagger to a rifle to a grenade, from a machine gun to an atomic bomb — has the capability to do enormous damage to flesh and bone. Millions of men were unceremoniously cut down by machine gun fire during the trench warfare of World War I — does it follow that machine guns are unethical? Being run through with a sword or shot by an arrow is not exactly a bag of perks either. Does this make swords, bows, and arrows unethical? Is individual physical pain or death now the measure of the moral worth of a nation's military actions? This seems to smack of pacifism.
Sir Winston Churchill observed that any weapon may be used in an offensive or defensive capacity, to take lives or to save them. The moral agents of warfare are not weapons, nor the damage they cause — but those who wield them.
Saira Chambers, 39, also a student of the Professor, is quoted by Inoue as saying that the status quo based on nuclear deterrence is "too dark a world to live in." Since the close of World War II, it seems that nuclear deterrence has worked pretty well — at the least, World War III has thus far been avoided. What kind of world does Ms. Chambers wish to live in? A world where Iran, Russia, China, North Korea, and perhaps Islamic terrorist non-state actors possess nuclear weapons, but the United States, Japan, Australia, Britain, and perhaps Israel, do not? Why should good people should unilaterally disarm and allow evil people to threaten the world with destruction?
While I do not doubt Professor Miyamoto's knowledge or sincerity, she and her students argue from emotion and therefore deprive themselves of wisdom.
Sir Winston Churchill, perhaps the wisest man of the 20th century, also observed that, "the malice of the wicked is reinforced by the weakness of the virtuous."
Professor Miyamoto's quest to eliminate nuclear weapons, while no doubt well-intentioned, betrays moral foolishness and plays right into the malice of the wicked.
While no society is perfect, over nearly eighty years and with the United States as its chief ally, Japan has worked hard to transform itself into a good and beautiful nation. Japan of today is not Japan of 1945 — Communist China has far more in common with Japan of 1945 than does Japan in 2022. Japan must now renounce pacifism and quickly strengthen its military to combat the evil of Chinese Communism.
In closing, I would note that like Professor Miyamoto, I have a special connection to the atomic bomb. I had the privilege of meeting Brigadier General Paul Tibbets at an airshow when he was in his eighties. As I shook his hand, I looked him straight in the eye and I asked him, "If you had to do it again, would you?" I shall never forget his face as he replied, "Absolutely" — it was the face of tragic necessity.
1 Reader Comment — You are 100% correct about the Japanese people. They would have been wiped out. Japan was committed to throwing everything at the invasion including a fanatical civilian population. The Manhattan District had committed to providing up to 15 bombs. However, historically looking back this likely would not have been possible. Only three bombs were immediately available with the third being moved to Tinian in the lag time after Nagasaki and the surrender. Alternatively the US was also compiling mass quantities of chemical weapons. Neither the US nor Japan were signatories to the post World War I chemical weapons convention though Truman had ruled out initial use of the weapons. Would this have lasted past 500,000 US dead? I don’t think so. The US and in later waves the UK allies would have been forced to systematically destroy and eliminate the Japanese cities and people. —C. H.