War, Huh, Good God!

The following is a passage from an essay that I wrote for a first year history course at the University of Guelph:


The atomic bombing of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945 essentially ended World War Two. The total casualties from the two bombings added up to over 200,000 (most of which were civilians).[1] Arguments persist today as to whether or not dropping the bombs was necessary in order to end the war. The truth is, that the use of atomic weapons on the state of Japan brought a direct end to a brutal war that had already claimed approximately 50 million lives.[2] While it is entirely true that the destruction following the bombings was truly horrific, and also that 200,000 people died a truly horrendous death, the outcome of the bombings was far better in the long run than continuing the war would have been.

By no means was the destruction of the two cities considered to be a great military success. It is not regarded today as a proud moment in American history. However at the time that it occurred, dropping the bombs appeared as the lesser of two evils. The choices in 1945 were either to force a Japanese surrender through the use of the nuclear weapons, or to launch an invasion on Japan. Neither choice was desirable, however the estimates indicated that an invasion would not be the correct route to follow:

A study done in August 1944 for the Joint Chiefs of Staff projected that an invasion of Japan would “cost a half-million American lives and many more that number in wounded,” while a memorandum from Herbert Hoover to President Truman in May 1945 estimated that a negotiated peace with Japan would “save 500,000 to one million lives.” There is every reason to believe that such round, frightening numbers lingered in the minds of Truman and Stimson long after they were first received, and that they haunted all future deliberations.”[3]

The numbers given in the study far exceeded even the highest estimate for casualties in the two cities as a result of the bombing. Given these numbers, it is easy to see that many human lives (not only on the American side, but also on the Japanese side) were saved as a result.

[1] Michael S. Sherry “Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Atomic Bombing of” The Oxford Companion to United States History. Paul S. Boyer, ed. Oxford University Press 2001. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. University of Guelph. 16 November 2007 <http://www.oxfordreference.com/views/ENTRY.html?subview=Main&entry=t119.e0698&gt;
[2] J. Garry Clifford, John W. Jeffries “World War II” The Oxford Companion to United States History. Paul S. Boyer, ed. Oxford University Press 2001. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. University of Guelph. 16 November 2007 <http://www.oxfordreference.com/views/ENTRY.html?subview=Main&entry=t119.e1688-s0004&gt;
[3] Kagan, Donald. “Why America dropped the bomb.” Commentary 100.n3 (Sept 1995): 17(7). CPI.Q (Canadian Periodicals). Gale. University of Guelph. 15 Nov. 2007 <http://find.galegroup.com/itx/start.do?prodId=CPI&gt;.

It is interesting, every once in a while, to go back and look at some of the work you’ve done in your life – from kindergarten finger painting, to grade 6 poems, to university papers. Charting the evolution of your own education is a cool thing to be able to do through reading.

I take a few points away from this passage above:

  1. I seemed to have a relatively realistic view of war and its horrors, even at a time when I hadn’t seriously considered the ravages of war, nor visited anywhere beyond the Plains of Abraham that a battle of any significance had been fought.
  2. I wasn’t nearly as critical then as I was today – which is something that I definitely learned over the next 4 years of university. Today, I would never argue that the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima was good because it saved Japanese lives in the big picture. I would also today give them separate treatment, as they were distinct events that occurred several days apart.
  3. Overall, the passage serves as a stark reminder of what is at stake when the world peace we have largely enjoyed since 1945 seems to teeter on the edge of a knife or on the twitter handle of a world leader – nuclear warfare is not something to play political football with, and those who speak lightly of it show their lack of true understanding. For those looking for another reminder of this very seriousness, I urge you to get out to see Dunkirk – an incredible film on this very topic.

Thanks for reading – I promise that I will return tomorrow with more content that is both a) fully original, and b) a little lighter and more accessible/engaging than parliamentary democracy and nuclear warfare (haha!).

Good night to all!

This post is the fifth installment in my month-long project, “500 in 28”. For the next 28 days, I’ll be spending 28 minutes a day writing 500 words. See here for my first post explaining the project. #500in28

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1 comment
  1. For those of you considering whether or not the movie Dunkirk is for you, I went to see it with Geoff and would highly recommend seeing it. While it is obviously a tough subject, it doesn’t go out of its way to shock and upset people with gory shots, etc.

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