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Russell Shaw Headshot

The Unspoken Lesson of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

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With the 60th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima coming up this Saturday, I've been examining my own moral compass to determine where I stand on this issue.

In my city, and most likely yours as well, many will gather on Friday night in the remembrance of the Hiroshima victims. The sentiment will be expressed that nuclear arms shouldn't have been used then, nor should they be in the future.

I, for one, don't have to stray too far from this keyboard to find an advocate for that stance. The stance that a nuclear response is too unthinkable a horror to ever be strategically contemplated.

I agree that nuclear arms should never be used again. But I have come to the conclusion that a higher purpose may have been served by their use 60 years ago.

My belief does not come directly from a reading of the informed military calculations. Dispassionate in their logic, these renderings point to two assumptions:

Many more Allied and Japanese lives would have been lost in an Allied invasion of Japan than by the attacks on Hiroshima
and Nagasaki;

Because evidence now shows that Emperor Hirohito overrode his generals after Hiroshima by ordering surrender, a "demonstration" bomb test would not have convinced the Japanese to surrender.

All the arguments above are plausible. But as I process these points, I come to a third way of looking at the morality of this issue.

The fact that we have not had a hostile nuclear exchange in 60 years speaks volumes. If the bombs were not dropped - with all requisite horror duly demonstrated - nukes would have been developed anyway. But the key difference is the world would not have had this atrocity and survivors thereof, to tell the tales of how nuclear weapons should never be used again.

Absent this living legacy, whose to say that caution would not have prevailed during the Cuban Missile Crisis, or several other conflagrations? Tens or even hundreds of millions might have died if Hiroshima and Nagasaki had not transpired to teach us these lessons.

So to me, it is cold, hard math. Plus, we have 60 years of hindsight to guide us.

Were the deaths of 250,000 mostly innocent civilians an act of unintended but communal martyrdom? Have their deaths- and the tortured testimony of many witnesses who survive to this day-actually been the most persuasive argument against nuclear arms?

Nuclear arms that if used again, would kill many multiples of those who had perished?