Dropping atom bombs on Japan may have saved lives

It is a sad fact that most Americans are ignorant of history and geography. And so it is doubly sad that Gerald Cavanaugh, a retired history professor, would contribute to that ignorance. He states in his guest opinion of Aug. 6, "Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 64 years later," that "we know" that the use of the atomic bomb "was unnecessary for the winning of the war against our enemy." But I know no such thing.

What I do know is that we were fighting an enemy in some ways much like today's Taliban, an enemy eager to commit suicide rather than surrender, as long as by doing so he could take with him as many of the foe as possible. Mere weeks before the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, during the battle for the island of Okinawa, the Japanese forces, as they had done all throughout the conflict, fought to the death rather than surrender. They lost more than 100,000 troops in this one battle, and one-fourth of the civilian population of the island perished with them, many of them by mass suicide. Middle school children were recruited to fight the Americans, and 90 percent of the buildings on the island were destroyed. And this island, 340 miles from the Japanese mainland, was just a preview of the expected invasion of Japan to come, tentatively scheduled for October 1945.

One can only speculate how many millions would have perished in that catastrophe.

What I also know is that World War II was a total war, and that the indiscriminate bombing of civilian populations was commonplace. Single raids using conventional weapons on Hamburg and Dresden rivaled the civilian casualties from the atomic bombs. And the firebombing of Tokyo on March 10, 1945, killed more people than the immediate casualties of Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.

I know too that, while there certainly were some in the Japanese command structure who counseled peace, they were no more relevant than those at the Pentagon who tried to prevent Bush and Rumsfeld from invading Iraq. In the days immediately after the Hiroshima bombing, Minster of War Korechika Anami ordered preparations to impose martial law, in order to stop anyone attempting to make peace.

Cavanaugh's contention that "no time was given" for the Japanese to surrender after Hiroshima is, frankly, laughable. Radio Tokyo itself reported to the Japanese people on Aug. 8 that "Practically all living things, human and animal, were literally seared to death."

Does Cavanaugh expect us to believe that the Japanese command was unaware of the level of carnage and destruction? If they were, as he states, so willing to surrender, why didn't they do so before the destruction of Nagasaki? No, Japan surrendered because the emperor finally realized that there was no glory in watching his country incinerated without being able to take any of the foe with him. And it took him three days after Nagasaki, and Russia's subsequent declaration of war on Japan, to come to that realization.

What might have occurred if the bombs hadn't been dropped is not known. Cavanaugh, like the rest of us, cannot know, he can only speculate. But my speculation includes millions of lives saved, on both sides, by us not having to invade Japan. So by that horrible metric, dropping the bombs was the only choice. A choice I'm sure that Cavanaugh joins me in praying that the world never has to face again.

David Wood runs a computer illustration business and has been an Ashland resident for 14 years.

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