75 Years of controversy

And, the controversy continues. The argument against the use of the first atomic bomb runs on set rails. Should such a weapon of mass destruction have been used, or even made? The dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima was undoubtedly a terrible act. The impact on human life was beyond imagination, causing the death of an estimated 70,000-126,000 civilians and 20,000 military personnel. The military personnel were killed mainly outright, while about 50% of the civilian deaths were as a result of the blast.

Three days later a second bomb was unleashed on Nagasaki causing a further death toll of 80,000. What is not so well known however, is that the USA had an additional seven weapons in preparation with the intent of using them to make the invasion of Japan easier. The invasion plan, operation Downfall, was scheduled to start by 1 November 1945, and the bombs were to be used before the start of the invasion.

So was there a plan to drop the next bomb? Yes, there was, and the next weapon was to be deployed on 19 August 1945, though the final target had not been determined. Japan’s surrender on 15 August halted another nuclear disaster.

While the death toll is deeply lamentable, it is the injuries to survivors who evoke such passion. Their injuries were grotesque, and I do not want to see an atomic weapon used on this planet ever again.

At the time, President Truman was racked by a relatively straight forward calculation. A study of casualties for the invasion of Japan, for the American Secretary of State for War, Henry Stimson, conducted by Quincy Wright and William Shockley, estimated that the invading Allies would suffer 1.7-4 million casualties. Of these between 400,000-800,000 would die, while Japanese fatalities would be between 5 to 10 million. The timescale to bring a surrender of Japan by conventional military means puts the end of the conflict at an estimated 1946 or early 1947.

Today, the focus on the ethical use of atomic weapons rests on the number of Japanese civilian casualties, especially the burns, radiation sickness and the emergence of cancer in the years following. Whilst these effects are truly horrendous and make us squirm today at the sheer horror of it all, President Truman was focussed on the casualties of the Wright and Shockley report.

To the President, using the bomb brought the war to an end by almost two years, and spared at least 5 million lives, Americans and Japanese. What would any of us do? Save lives by sacrificing 150,000 lives at Hiroshima and 80,000 at Nagasaki or let millions die in the invasion of Japan, or do nothing?

On 25 July 1945, President Truman authorised the use of the two weapons already built and two more, then under construction, one more in August and a second that would be ready by early September if the surrender of Japan was not forthcoming.

In the aftermath of the use of the weapons, the Soviet Union (1949), Great Britain (1952), France (1960) and China (1964), developed nuclear weapons. The Cold War brought about a situation where atomic arsenals soon were capable of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). The proliferation of nuclear warheads remains an issue, though two treaties exist to deter aspiring countries from gaining nuclear weapons. Despite this effort to restrain nations building bombs, Israel, Pakistan, India and North Korea have acquired them. South Africa is the only country that has developed the bomb and voluntarily dismantled its stockpile and renounced any nuclear weapons intention.

According to the Arms Control Association, the USA and Russia deploy approximately 1,400 weapons each, and Great Britain has about 120 warheads. To date, there around 9,500 are in active military service and a further 4,500 missiles in the process of dismantlement. What started as a means to end World War Two has escalated, something not foreseen in 1945. We are only ever a few minutes away from some presidential idiot twitching his finger over the launch button. Pray for sanity, wisdom, and peace.