A reflection on Hiroshima

James Martin writes:

Millions of Americans have a personal or family connection to World War II. One is Salon columnistCamille Paglia who, in answering a letter from a reader in her April 21 column, mentioned her father’s service during the war, explaining how he and his Army unit, which was slated for an invasion of Japan, were “spared from certain decimation by the two atomic bombs and Japan’s surrender.”

Paglia’s father was among many thousands spared because of President Harry Truman’s decision to launch a nuclear strike against Imperial Japan. His order to attack on August 6, 1945, was carried out in no small part by my uncle, Maj. Tom Ferebee. He was the bombardier aboard the Enola Gay, the B-29 that dropped the first atomic bomb, and that in doing so, ushered in the nuclear age.

As President Obama prepares for his visit to Hiroshima May 27, I recall my uncle’s personal reflections. As the bombardier, peering through his Norden bombsight, he was the last man to see Hiroshima in any detail before it was leveled, making his perspectives on the event somewhat unique.

Definitely a unique perspective.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff estimated as many as 134,556 dead and missing Americans. A study for the office of War Secretary Henry Stimson put the figure at 400,000 to 800,000 dead GIs, with Japanese fatalities reckoned between five and 10 million military personnel and civilians. In addition to combat casualties, the more than 27,000 American POWs held by Japan were subject to immediate execution should the United States invade.

The nuclear attack on Hiroshima was terrible. All warfare is. The power unleashed by the splitting of the atom was monumental. But tragic as the bombing of Hiroshima was, it was also necessary. The alternative to Hiroshima would have been one of the bloodiest, if not the bloodiest, slaughter in human history.

An invasion of the home islands would have been terrible for everyone – military on both sides, and Japanese civilians.

No apology is necessary for sparing Japan the unspeakable horror of an invasion to end the war. No contrition is needed for an act that preserved hundreds of thousands of lives. One can thoughtfully reflect on the awful destructive power of the atomic bomb while understanding the indispensable role it played in world history. Maj. Ferebee never lost any sleep over the bombing of Hiroshima, and neither should President Obama.

Hard to disagree.

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