On the 70th Anniversary of the Hiroshima Bombing


Seventy years ago today, an American bomber called the Enola Gay flew over the city of Hiroshima, Japan, and dropped the first of the only two nuclear weapons ever used in anger. Since that morning, many arguments have taken place over the morality of the attack, the military and political necessity, and countless other aspects of the nuking of a city. Just as many myths have arisen. A legion of lessons may or may not have been learned. However, a few thoughts cannot go unvoiced.

One wonders just what it is about atomic fission as a weapon that enrages so many people when conventional strategic bombing can achieve the same result, if somewhat less efficiently. The firebombings of Tokyo and Dresden killed mostly civilians and the death toll rivaled the death tolls at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Precise figures are hard to discern, and over the years, estimates have undergone revisions, both upward and downward. However, it is safe to say that in all four attacks, the proper order of magnitude is tens of thousands. That one airplane (or missile) can deliver such damage rather than dozens or hundreds doesn’t really matter.

At the same time, neither a fission or fusion bomb has been used since the end of World War II, despite the facts that thousands of such bombs exist and those in possession of those bombs have been in conflicts where their use was, at least, possible. Mutually Assured Destruction as a policy or some other reason has kept the use of such weapons in check. Perhaps, humanity’s fear of nuclear war has outweighed is desire for aggression. That is not a bad thing.

Another interesting point in that nations, and the people who compose them, seem to have a capacity for forgiveness. Seventy years ago, the idea that the US and Japan would be close allies in East Asia seemed laughable. While many of the nations Imperial Japan victimized bear a great deal of resentment to this day, America and Japan appear to have buried the ill-will. Pearl Harbor and Nagasaki seem to book-end the matter.

Civilians remain at greater risk during war than those in uniform. Part of the horror that goes with the Hiroshima bombing is the fact that most of the dead and injured were non-combatants. Under the rules of war, they aren’t supposed to be targeted, and so the term “collateral damage: arose. The theory that only those in uniform fight and die is disproved on almost a daily basis. While the deliberate killing of civilians remains a war crime, the facts merely illustrate that war crimes are commonplace.

Finally, the very nature of conflict has changed. The nation-state is no longer at risk from another nation-state. Countries don’t conquer one another any more, and going to war over territorial disputes is considered old-fashioned. A nation with nuclear weapons is largely immune to attack from another, and nations without them are not considered fair targets for fission devices as they are not a proportional response to an attack launched by a non-nuclear power.

Instead, the threat now comes from non-state actors like Al Qaeda and from internal forces that threaten to shatter fragile nations — resulting in failed states. In addressing these threats, nuclear weapons are completely useless. Taking the Al Qaeda murders of September 11, 2001, as an example, America’s nuclear arsenal simply didn’t have a target to attack.

Nuclear weapons in the hands of nihilistic terrorists remains a grave concern, but nuclear weapons for use among nations are as obsolete as cross-bow and war chariots.