There probably isn’t a more explosive ethics event, literally or figuratively, than the dropping of the first atom bomb on Hiroshima on this date in 1945.
My father attributed this date to the fact of my existence. Dad had received word that he was to be part of the first wave invasion force to take the Japan mainland, and estimated casualties were as high as 1 million. He said that he had fully expected to be killed. But on August 6, in 1945, the Enola Gay changed all of that. I suppose you could say that I have a strong bias in favor of President Truman’s decision.
Hiroshima was one of the first historical topics I wrote about on this blog. Ethics Alarms had been around for less than a year in 2010, when I wrote this post, “The Ethics of Commemorating Hiroshima”:
I missed it, but apparently the son of the commander of the Enola Gay told Fox News that for America to send a diplomatic delegation to Japan to memorialize the 65th Anniversary of the bombing was a de facto apology that for a necessary wartime action.
Over at Popehat, Patrick (some day I’ll figure out how to get these guys’ last names) offers an articulate and precise explanation of why James Tibbets is wrong, historically and ethically. An excerpt:
“…And so, to me, it seems proper that we send a representative to Japan to mark a tragedy in living Japanese history, even if it was a tragedy of the Japanese government’s making. That government is gone. Its leaders died on the gallows. Japan is not an enemy nation. 65 years after Hiroshima, Japan is a friend to America.
To memorialize a tragedy is not to apologize for wrongdoing. Another American virtue, at least in the America where I live, is that we are a forgiving people. Old enemies, such as Britain, for over a century the greatest threat to this country, become friends. As has Japan. As have almost a third of the American population.
If you visit the town of Gettysburg Pennsylvania, and drive a little distance into the battlefield, you will see many monuments…There is no doubt that soldiers who fought under the flags of North Carolina and the Confederacy posed a greater existential threat to the United States than the soldiers of imperial Japan ever did. Yet the field of battle on which they were beaten contains multiple monuments to North Carolina’s war dead, as well as to those of other Confederate states. And visitors to the Gettysburg cemetery and battlefield show those dead as much respect as they do to Union dead, even when the visitors come from Wisconsin or Massachusetts.
Similarly, though Japan isn’t part of the United States, we should respect the innocent who died or were ruined at Hiroshima, for innocent they were. It isn’t an apology to respect the dead, and one of the ways that governments show respect is to send diplomats to memorial ceremonies.”
I can’t improve on the analysis or the post, and won’t attempt to do so. You can read Patrick’s entire post here.
- I never did learn Patrick’s last name. Popehat, meanwhile, is dead; primary writer Ken White has succumbed to the substack siren call.
- As I have made clear many times in the 12 years since that post was written, I believe that the decision to drop the bomb was ethical (as ethical as any fatal action during wartime can be, which is a topic by itself) and necessary. I am not so certain about the second bomb, at Nagasaki.
- Amazing, isn’t it? Patrick’s analysis of the respect due to the Confederate dead at Gettysburg was absolutely uncontroversial in 2010. Today, he would be attacked as a racist.