From Opinion Journal WSJ.com Aug 5, 2005
Forwarded by VAdm Harold Koenig USN (ret) via BGen Bob Clements USAF (Ret)


Today — or August 6 in Japan — is the 60th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, which killed outright an estimated 80,000 Japanese and hastened World War II to its conclusion on August 15.

Those of us who belong to the postwar generations tend to regard the occasion as a somber, even shameful, one. But that's not how the generation of Americans who actually fought the war saw it. And if we're going to reflect seriously about the bomb, we ought first to think about it as they did.

In 1945, Paul Fussell was a 21-year-old second lieutenant who'd spent much of the previous year fighting his way through Europe. At the time of Hiroshima, he was scheduled to participate in the invasion of the Japanese mainland, for which the Truman Administration anticipated casualties of between 200,000 and one million Allied soldiers. No surprise, then, that when news of the bomb reached Lt. Fussell and his men, they had no misgivings about its use:

“We learned to our astonishment that we would not be obliged in a few months to rush up the beaches near Tokyo assault-firing while being machine-gunned, mortared, and shelled, and for all the practiced phlegm of our tough facades we broke down and cried with relief and joy. We were going to live.”

Mr. Fussell was writing about American lives. What about Japanese lives? The Japanese army was expected to fight to the last man, as it had during the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Since the ratio of Japanese to American combat fatalities ran about four to one, a mainland invasion could have resulted in millions of Japanese deaths — and that's not counting civilians. The March 1945 Tokyo fire raid killed about 100,000; such raids would have intensified had the war dragged on. The collective toll from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings is estimated at between 110,000 and 200,000.

Nuclear weapons are often said to pose a unique threat to humanity, and in the wrong hands they do. But when President Truman gave the go-ahead to deploy Fat Man and Little Boy, what those big bombs chiefly represented was salvation: salvation for young Lt. Fussell and all the GIs; salvation for the tens of thousands of Allied POWs the Japanese intended to execute in the event of an invasion; salvation for the grotesquely used Korean “comfort women”; salvation for millions of Asians enslaved by the Japanese.

Not least, and despite the terrible irony, the bombings were salvation for Japan, since they prompted Emperor Hirohito to intervene with his bitterly divided government to end the war, thus laying the groundwork for America's beneficent occupation and the country's subsequent prosperity. To understand the roots of modern Japan's pacifist mentality, so at variance with its old warrior culture, one need only visit Hiroshima's peace park.

The same can be said about nuclear weapons in other contexts. America's nuclear arsenal helped thwart Soviet expansionism and provided the umbrella under which Western Europe and the Asian rim countries became — and remained — free throughout the Cold War. For embattled Israel, nuclear weapons have not only helped guarantee its existence, they have paradoxically provided it with the margin of strength it needs to contemplate territorial concessions unimaginable for other states its size.

Of course, for every Pershing missile that helped keep Western Europe free, a Soviet SS-20 helped keep Eastern Europe captive. In the hands of democracies, nuclear weapons safeguard liberty; in the hands of dictatorships, they safeguard despotism. It's doubtful the Soviet Union could have survived as long as it did had it never developed nuclear weapons. That's true for North Korea today, and it explains why the mullahs of Tehran seek to bolster their faltering regime with an atomic bomb.

Also true is that the threat nuclear weapons pose today is probably greater than ever before. That's not because they're more plentiful — thanks to the 2002 Moscow Treaty (negotiated by John Bolton), U.S. and Russian arsenals are being cut to levels not seen in 40 years. It's because nuclear know-how and technology have fallen into the hands of men such as A.Q. Khan and Kim Jong Il, and they, in turn, are but one degree of separation away from the jihadists who may someday detonate a bomb in Times or Trafalgar Square.

Reflecting on this history, there's a tendency to wax melancholic about the dangers of letting the proverbial genie out of his bottle, and to suggest we stuff him back in. Thus the reflexive opposition by Democrats and some Republicans to developing new nuclear weapons such as the “bunker buster” and to the resumption of nuclear testing. The Senate has even zeroed out of the President's budget funding for a high-powered laser that would help gauge the reliability of the U.S. arsenal without testing. We also frequently hear calls for the U.S. to lead by example by further reducing its arsenal, and for the Bush Administration to “strengthen” the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty by agreeing to the useless Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Yet the notion that the nuclear genie can be willed out of existence through the efforts of right-thinking people is as absurd as it is wrongheaded. Just as guns and knives will be with us forever, so too will the bomb. We need bunker busters because North Korea and Iran are using underground facilities to build weapons that threaten us, and we must be able credibly to threaten in return. We need to have nuclear tests because the reliability of our principal warhead, the W-76, has been seriously called into question, and China must not be enticed to compete with us as a nuclear power. In neither case does the U.S. set a “bad example.” Rather, it demonstrates the same capacity for moral self-confidence that carried America through World War II and must now carry us through the war on terror.

Looking back after 60 years, who cannot be grateful that it was Truman who had the bomb, and not Hitler or Tojo or Stalin? And looking forward, who can seriously doubt the need for might always to remain in the hands of right?

That is the enduring lesson of Hiroshima, and it is one we ignore at our

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