North Korea's Bomb -- and the "Original Sin" of Hiroshima

06/26/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Many of the headlines greeting North Korea's nuclear blast yesterday carried the phrase "as big as the Hiroshima bomb" or words to that effect. But that's not the only reference point that Hiroshima should evoke.

Simply stated: The fact that the U.S. first developed, and then used - twice - the WMD to end all WMDs against heavily-populated cities, killing a quarter of a million civilians (and very few soldiers), has severely compromised our arguments against others building the weapon ever since.

Americans may not like to hear that but it happens to be true - as any review of statements from leaders abroad and media there shows, even in the many countries that have never had any interest in building such a bomb. Our view of Hiroshima (and Nagasaki) and the common world view is 180 degrees different.

In a nutshell, Hiroshima was our original sin.

Yes, the debate over whether the bombs should have been dropped continues to rage, with valid points on both sides. Believe me, I know and respect most of them. But the world doesn't see it that balanced. They see us continually demanding that others not build, or stop building, nuclear weapons when we have actually used them. And then (like the Soviet Union) built tens of thousands more warheads. And maintained a "first use" policy against others. And defended the idea of dropping these WMDs on two cities.

I wrote a book in 1995 with the great Robert Jay Lifton called Hiroshima in America which probed American reactions (political, cultural, psychological) to the atomic bombings since 1945. We happen to believe that the bombs should not have been used in August, 1945, as even conservatives like John Foster Dulles and David Lawrence, and Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, argued at the time. Besides the mass killing it produced, it also set a precedent for use of the bomb again by us, or anyone else arguing it was needed to try to end an war or "save lives."

But put that aside. I'm not saying that there is nothing scary about North Korea or Iran (or anyone else) getting the bomb. I'm just pointing out that it is almost impossible for us to work our will on this abroad given our, ahem...track record.

And that's the true meaning of the "Hiroshima" you see in the headlines.

Greg Mitchell's latest book is "Why Obama Won." He is editor of Editor & Publisher and his Twitter feed is @GregMitch.