Coward Old Universe…

by Jeremy G.

Hiroshima, Decision Making and Dealing with the Future

Posted by Jeremy Ghez on August 7, 2007

hiroshima.jpg

 

Sixty two years ago today occurred one of the most terrible events of the twentieth century: the U.S. used an atomic bomb on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to put an end to a six year war.

The event is usually (over)used by U.S. critics to demonstrate how evil America has acted, and how displaced criticism towards such nations as North Korea and Iran is given this past behavior.  Perhaps these same critics would have preferred to see Japan‘s imperial power expand more, and allow the Cold War to take a much warmer, three-way turn.

Paradoxically enough, it’s in the Guardian – of all places – that was published the smartest and most relevant comment on the subject.  British writer Oliver Kamm writes:

Estimates derived from intelligence about Japan’s military deployments projected hundreds of thousands of American casualties.

and concludes:

Hiroshima and Nagasaki are often used as a shorthand term for war crimes. That is not how they were judged at the time. Our side did terrible things to avoid a more terrible outcome. The bomb was a deliverance for American troops, for prisoners and slave labourers, for those dying of hunger and maltreatment throughout the Japanese empire – and for Japan itself. One of Japan’s highest wartime officials, Kido Koichi, later testified that in his view the August surrender prevented 20 million Japanese casualties. The destruction of two cities, and the suffering it caused for decades afterwards, cannot but temper our view of the Pacific war. Yet we can conclude with a high degree of probability that abjuring the bomb would have caused greater suffering still.

Beyond the necessary caveats one must keep in mind when drawing historical parallels, there are two specific lessons to draw from such a tragic event.  The first one is that there are no perfect heroes in international relations, and that grey areas are a constant in history.  What makes the difference, in these grey areas, is the ability democracies have to accept a quasi-continuous debate on key questions and express doubts on the relevance of their past behavior.  No one is mentioning today what 1945 Japan was about.  Moral equivalence, in such circumstances, provides the human mind with easy shortcuts and allows one to avoid dealing with History’s complicated dilemmas.

The second lesson resides in the complexities of international relations and the way a single decision necessarily involves unanticipated or unwarranted consequences, given the limits of human abilities in terms of infinite calculations.  Such a point might appear as obvious, but tends to be forgotten by individuals who are satisfied with unqualified judgments and feel they have a monopoly of reason.  Informed comments are not what they used to be.

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One Response to “Hiroshima, Decision Making and Dealing with the Future”

  1. Jim said

    This is one debate I will have to remove myself from, due to a conflict of interest. My grandfather was getting ready to invade Japan when the bombs were dropped, and there’s a decent enough chance I would not be here today if it didn’t happen.

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