Aug 6 and Aug 9 marked the 65th anniversaries of the dropping of the atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These events not only brought about the surrender of the Japan and an end to World War II, but they also helped shaped the nature of international politics for the next six decades.
Today, despite the fall of the Soviet Union 19 years ago in 1991, the issue of nuclear arms, besides terrorism, remains one of the chief security concerns in the contemporary world. Accordingly, the following issues concerning nuclear arms remained unresolved security concerns.
• The six party talks, aimed at disarming the nuclear arms of North Korea, are making snail’s progress.
• Iran is still actively pursuing its nuclear program, in spite of negotiations and considerable international interference from the West.
• India and Pakistan, two mutually hostile and nuclear armed nations, have yet to come to terms over the Jammu and Kashmir problem, despite improving diplomatic relations.
• The dreaded possibility of terrorists getting their hands on and using nuclear weapons for some diabolical purpose.
With regards to contemporary nuclear issues, one great controversial question of history remains until today – can the use of the atomic bombs on Japan ever be justified? The debate is an old one, in which exponents of the Truman decision to drop the atomic bomb claimed that the total death toll of at least 237,000 civilians was a small price to pay as an alternative to the number of lives lost on both sides had the Pacific War dragged on.
The atomic bomb is the crudest form of a series of powerful nuclear weapons to be eventually developed and come into existence. Both superpowers, the United States of America and the Soviet Union, eventually built massive stockpiles of nuclear weapons during the Cold War. This escalation of nuclear arms possession led to an arms race between both camps. Other nations such as Britain, France, Russia, Israel, Pakistan, India and North Korea also eventually developed nuclear weapons.
Had the U.S. maintained monopoly in nuclear arms possession, becoming the only nation to possess nuclear weapons, as it briefly did achieve in the years 1945 to 1949, there would have been no nuclear arms race in the Cold War, no Cuban missile crisis, no present predicament in nuclear negotiations with Iran and North Korea today, and no issue about nuclear arms proliferation as well. The nuclear weapon will be reduced to the status of just another weapon in the state’s military arsenal, albeit a very powerful one.
However, dynamics driving political and international events do not necessarily follow a rational or logical process all of the time. The U.S. decision to drop the atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945 can be argued to have been made on the gamble that the Japan would have reacted the way the U.S. wanted. In essence, the destructive capabilities of the atomic bomb were used to make a point to the Japanese high command carrying on the war would be futile and that there was no alternative but unconditional surrender.
One speculatively nightmarish question remains - what if the Japanese will to fight did not break after the dropping of the two atomic bombs and the military government decided to fight on until defeated utterly, just as Germany under the Nazis did?
Firstly, Nagasaki and Hiroshima were not major strategic cities that could have made a significant impact on Japanese military power. At the time of the atomic bombing, U.S. troops had not landed on the Japanese mainland yet. Bombing these two cities would not have brought the U.S. any significant military advantage for its troops. Instead, contrary to bringing an abrupt end to the war, the atomic bombings could have been exploited by the Japanese military to exalt the Japanese population to yield even more stubborn armed resistance, no doubt ending in the loss of more human lives for both sides.
Secondly, in such a make-believe scenario of alternate history, even in the event of inevitable victory, the U.S. would have to bear the moral stigma of having used a terrible weapon against humanity for a futile purpose. In that case, the victims’ lives claimed by the atomic bombs would have been futile, since it was force of arms by conventional armies, and not the might of a novel super-weapon, that enabled the victors to prevail.
Nonetheless, history has demonstrated that a global war on the scale of the first two world wars did not take place, in what would have been termed “World War Three” by the historians.
After Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the modern world did see another 46 years of relatively uneasy peace between two great opposing groups of nations led by the U.S. and the Soviet Union, barring a number of largely localized conflicts on a much smaller scale, such as the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Soviet-Afghan war. Hence, proponents of the Truman decision enjoy the status of vindication, in that nuclear arms helped to play no small part in preventing the resurrecting of world wars and therefore maintain world peace in general.
It is fitting that the world should remember the momentous event of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The debate over the justifications of dropping of the atomic bomb could not erase the fact that for the first time in the history of mankind, man has achieved the power of taking hundreds of thousands of lives in an instance. Only in a major natural disaster such as the Indian Ocean tsunami wave disaster in December 2004, which claimed more than 280,000 lives, did any world event approach Hiroshima and Nagasaki on a similar scale of massive destruction. In all present and future dealings on any nuclear issues, the morality behind this historical event on the atomic bomb should always be given first consideration and priority before any policy is decided or decision made.
The writer has a M.Sc in Strategic Studies and is a member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), London. He currently writes commentaries and analysis articles on international affairs, security issues and terrorism for newspapers. The views expressed here are his own and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org© Japan Today