FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

An Open Letter to Nicholas Kristof on Hiroshima and Nagasaki

You are one of the few journalists I have seen note the anniversary of the atomic bombings. (Only marginally less attention than on the 50th anniversary.) But are you seriously suggesting in your column “Blood on Our Hands?” that there is a developing consensus in Japan that the atomic bombing was a good thing, or at least necessary, and that, because some Japanese see it as justified, it was justified?

That some Japanese see an after-the-fact justification for the bombings is not equivalent to saying the U.S. should have bombed Hiroshima (and Nagasaki, which merits only the briefest mention in your essay.) Nor does it say anything of actual American intelligence, motives, etc, at the time. There can be no doubt that the bombings occurred in a context of revoltingly racist sentiment towards Japanese (raising the question of whether the U.S. would have used the bomb against Germany if it had been ready.) If there is a prevailing view in Japan, it is that the U.S. still needs to admit that the bombings were morally reprehensible, even while Japan has yet to fully confront its own atrocities.

There is certainly no suggestion in Japan (and little in the U.S.) that either Hiroshima or Nagasaki were military targets. “Hiroshima and Nagasaki were chosen as targets because of their concentration of activities and population,” according to the official report of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey. The United States deliberately bombed civilians, something now recognized internationally — even by the U.S. — as a war crime.

Today, people recognize a distinction between combatants and non-combatants They did then, too, but you don’t. After the fire-bombing of Dresden, members of Parliament condemned Air Marshall Harris (“Bomber Harris”). And after the war, Churchill conceded that the bombing of civilians had gone too far. (That despite the fact that the British had faced total loss to the Germans, something that cannot be said of the United States with respect to the Japanese.)

You seem to concede that even if Hiroshima was justified, Nagasaki was not. At the least, you equivocate on this: “The atomic bombings broke this political stalemate… [plural and ambiguous]” but “We could also have waited longer before dropping the second bomb….” Are you claiming the second bombing was necessary, just further down the road. You must claim this to maintain your case. But the evidence suggests that the second bombing was planned in advance, in which case it could not have been a response to a perceived failure of Hiroshima to have the “necessary” effect.

Your defense of the atomic bombing appears to amount to nothing more than a reassertion of the standard American defenses of the past fifty-eight years, with a smattering of Japanese testimony to make Americans feel better. If there is an emerging consensus among U.S. historians, there is none among Japanese. For that matter, what work is your Japanese testimony intended to do? It doesn’t balance, by quantity or quality, the American accounts.

There are two general features I find interesting in arguments like yours, whether about Hiroshima and Nagasaki or Iraq. First is the sudden turn to purely instrumental reasoning. Moral thought, such as it is in the U.S., routinely appeals to rights — the right to property, to life, etc. Rights are taken to trump the instrumental or utilitarian thinking (especially of “socialists” and the like). Suddenly, to justify war, rights fly out the window.

Second is an undercurrent of near-religious fervor in the defense of American actions. It is taken as axiomatic that the U.S. acts out of good intentions. Undesirable consequences are accidental, and ultimately outweighed by good consequences. Contrary views, especially from “the left” are obviously false and thus require no substantive response.

In service of this defense of the U.S., you do a kind of juggling act with those accounts you accept and those you challenge. You lump American historians together as revisionist (and outside the mainstream) while claiming a consensus has emerged here. So the consensus is revisionist? Then you take as accepted Japanese accounts which might just as legitimately be called revisionist. (But why do you say “revisionist” at all? It’s a term now widely and vaguely used to condemn through guilt by association with actual revisionists about the Holocaust, or Japanese revisionists about Japan’s wartime atrocities.)

I recommend an essay by the late philosopher John Rawls (“Fifty Years After Hiroshima”, Dissent, 1995) — not one of his great essays, but illuminating on the ethical issues and reasoning surrounding the bombing.

Finally, I have to ask whether your essay is intended as an extended metaphor for the war in Iraq? In a “complex and brutal world,” the alternatives to war were worse than the loss during and following? I took that to be Bill Keller’s line. Is it yours also?

HUGH SANSOM lives in Brooklyn. He can be reached at: sansom@gravitylens.com

More articles by:

Weekend Edition
December 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
A Tale of Two Cities
Peter Linebaugh
The Significance of The Common Wind
Bruce E. Levine
The Ketamine Chorus: NYT Trumpets New Anti-Suicide Drug
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fathers and Sons, Bushes and Bin Ladens
Kathy Deacon
Coffee, Social Stratification and the Retail Sector in a Small Maritime Village
Nick Pemberton
Praise For America’s Second Leading Intellectual
Robert Hunziker
The Yellow Vest Insurgency – What’s Next?
Patrick Cockburn
The Yemeni Dead: Six Times Higher Than Previously Reported
Nick Alexandrov
George H. W. Bush: Another Eulogy
Brian Cloughley
Principles and Morality Versus Cash and Profit? No Contest
Michael Duggin
Climate Change and the Limits of Reason
Victor Grossman
Sighs of Relief in Germany
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Robert Fantina
What Does Beto Have Against the Palestinians?
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Sartre, Said, Chomsky and the Meaning of the Public Intellectual
Andrew Glikson
Crimes Against the Earth
Robert Fisk
The Parasitic Relationship Between Power and the American Media
Stephen Cooper
When Will Journalism Grapple With the Ethics of Interviewing Mentally Ill Arrestees?
Jill Richardson
A War on Science, Morals and Law
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Evaggelos Vallianatos
It’s Not Easy Being Greek
Nomi Prins 
The Inequality Gap on a Planet Growing More Extreme
John W. Whitehead
Know Your Rights or You Will Lose Them
David Swanson
The Abolition of War Requires New Thoughts, Words, and Actions
J.P. Linstroth
Primates Are Us
Bill Willers
The War Against Cash
Jonah Raskin
Doris Lessing: What’s There to Celebrate?
Ralph Nader
Are the New Congressional Progressives Real? Use These Yardsticks to Find Out
Binoy Kampmark
William Blum: Anti-Imperial Advocate
Medea Benjamin – Alice Slater
Green New Deal Advocates Should Address Militarism
John Feffer
Review: Season 2 of Trump Presidency
Rich Whitney
General Motors’ Factories Should Not Be Closed. They Should Be Turned Over to the Workers
Christopher Brauchli
Deported for Christmas
Kerri Kennedy
This Holiday Season, I’m Standing With Migrants
Mel Gurtov
Weaponizing Humanitarian Aid
Thomas Knapp
Lame Duck Shutdown Theater Time: Pride Goeth Before a Wall?
George Wuerthner
The Thrill Bike Threat to the Elkhorn Mountains
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Selfhood and Her Ability to Act in the Public Domain: Resilience of Nadia Murad
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
On the Killing of an Ash Tree
Graham Peebles
Britain’s Homeless Crisis
Louis Proyect
America: a Breeding Ground for Maladjustment
Steve Carlson
A Hell of a Time
Dan Corjescu
America and The Last Ship
Jeffrey St. Clair
Booked Up: the 25 Best Books of 2018
David Yearsley
Bikini by Rita, Voice by Anita
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail