The recent letter, “We must admit guilt, end this nuclear madness,” is an incomplete recollection of history and the assignment of guilt is wrong.
Culpability for the decimation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki can be traced to Japan’s decision to attack the U.S. naval fleet at Pearl Harbor. Japan’s culpability started in 1937 with their invasions of China and Korea. From 1937-1945, Japan was responsible for 20 million civilian deaths in China. Japan used chemical and biological weapons on Chinese soldiers and civilians during this time. In Korea over 500,000 civilian deaths are attributed to Japan’s forced labor camps there. Deaths in Japanese POW Camps were 27 percent, whereas in German POW camps it was 4 percent. Japan was brutal everywhere it invaded, and cared little about the lives and welfare of those it conquered.
By July 1945, we were routinely bombing targets in Japan’s cities. There was no doubt Japan would eventually be defeated. However, Japan began training all of its citizens in warfare skills to defend the nation against the expected invasion by the U.S.
Japanese soldiers willingness to die for their war effort are well documented. The battle for Okinawa was the ultimate indication of their willingness to sacrifice themselves. In this three-month battle, 100,000 of their 115,000 soldiers died before they surrendered. Based upon this, we estimated a traditional invasion of Japan’s homeland would result in over 1 million Japanese deaths, plus those of our own soldiers.
Eleven days after Japan rejected Truman’s July 26 Potsdam Declaration for surrender, he chose to bomb Hiroshima. Japan estimates 140,000 people died from this bomb. Truman warned it would happen again unless they surrendered. They did not, and another 75,000 died in Nagasaki. While this is a huge loss of life, it is far less than would have died in an invasion.
A compassionate emperor and military commanders would have recognized the futility of continuing the fight in July 1945 and surrendered. That didn’t happen.
We can mourn with Japan the loss of life that occurred as a result of the atom bombs, but the guilt for this loss of life belongs solely with the Japanese leadership of that time period.