Nagasaki bombing: Remembering - and starting to forget - its legacy

Nagasaki bombing: Sixty-eight years ago, the US dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city, just three days after the attack on Hiroshima.

By , Correspondent

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    Nagasaki bombing: Mayor Tomihisa Taue reads out a peace declaration in Nagasaki, Japan, during a ceremony to mark the 68th anniversary of the world's second atomic bomb attack, made upon the city during World War II.
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Today marks the 68th anniversary of the dropping of an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Nagasaki. The bomb, named “Fat Man,” was the first plutonium bomb ever to be deployed, and followed the Aug. 6 dropping of the uranium bomb “Little Boy” on Hiroshima.

But even after 68 years, both the history of nuclear weapons and their future are still the subject of debate. 

Speaking at the memorial ceremony in Nagasaki, Mayor Tomihisa Taue publicly condemned Japan’s government for failing to push nuclear disarmament. Mr. Taue spoke out against the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe – who was present – for failing to sign a UN disarmament agreement in April, according to the Japan Daily Press. Taue said the refusal to sign meant Japan was “betraying the expectations of global society.”

Recommended: Think you know Japan? Take our quiz to find out.

The nonproliferation agreement – which asks that the signatories pledge to never use a nuclear weapon – was meant to be largely symbolic, as none of the signatories has a nuclear arsenal. Japan refused to sign because of its relationship with the US, and its prior agreement to allow the US to use Japan as a launching ground in the event of a threat from North Korea, reports The Washington Post.

Japan does not have nuclear weapons and has pledged not to produce any, although some hawkish members of the ruling party say the country should consider a nuclear option.

Taue said that as the world’s only victim of atomic bombings, Japan’s refusal to join the initiative contradicts its non-nuclear pledge.

The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki resulted in the deaths of more than 200,000 people, and while some argue that they helped end the war, many today regarding it as a stain on the US's moral history.

In a piece for the Huffington Post, Greg Mitchell, a writer and blogger for the Nation, called the bombing of Nagasaki a war crime:

After all, by this time, Truman (as recorded in his diary and by others) was well aware that the Japanese were hopelessly defeated and seeking terms of surrender--and he had, just two weeks earlier, written "Fini Japs" in his diary when he learned that the Russians would indeed attack around August 7. Yet Truman, on this day, did nothing, and the second bomb rolled out, and would be used against Nagasaki, killing perhaps 90,000 more, only a couple hundred of them Japanese troops, on August 9. That's why many who reluctantly support or at least are divided about the use of the bomb against Hiroshima consider Nagasaki a war crime--in fact, the worst one-day war crime in human history.

According to a separate report from the Japan Daily Press, American film director Oliver Stone, who currently is visiting Hiroshima and Nagasaki and whose films about key historical events have attracted their share of controversy, criticized the US bombing of Hiroshima.

“If the Nazis had dropped the bomb, they’d lost the war, the bomb would be seen as a monstrosity, and the Nazis would be condemned forever,” Mr. Stone was quoted as saying.

Dissent over the use of the bomb is not new. Albert Einstein – whose work led to its development and who wrote a letter to then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt urging him to pursue the project – eventually came to deeply regret the bombings. "Had I known that the Germans would not succeed in producing an atomic bomb, I would have never lifted a finger,” he said, according to the Atlantic.

However, at the time, the bombs were seen as necessary by many Americans. After all, the atomic bombs had brought a brutal war to an end, and many thought their use possibly saved more lives that would have been lost had it continued. As Henry Stimson, the wartime Secretary of War, wrote in Harper's in 1947:

Two
 great 
nations 
were 
approaching 
contact 
in 
a 
fight
 to
 a
 finish
 which
 would 
begin 
on 
November
 1,
 1945.
 Our
 enemy,
 Japan,
 commanded
 forces
 of
 somewhat
 over
 5,000,000
 men.
 Men 
of 
these
 armies 
had 
already 
inflicted 
upon 
us, 
in 
our 
breakthrough 
of 
the 
outer 
perimeter 
of 
their 
defenses, 
over 
300,000
 battle
 casualties.
 Enemy 
armies 
still 
unbeaten 
had 
the 
strength 
to
 cost 
us 
a 
million 
more. 
As 
long 
as 
the 
Japanese 
government 
refused 
to 
surrender, 
we
 should
 be 
forced
 to 
take
 and
 hold 
the 
ground, 
and 
smash 
the 
Japanese 
ground 
armies, 
by
 close‑in
fighting
 of
 the 
same
 desperate
 and 
costly 
kind
 that 
we 
had
 faced
 in
 the 
Pacific 
islands
 for 
nearly
 four 
years.

...My 
chief 
purpose 
was
 to 
end
 the 
war 
in 
victory 
with 
the
 least 
possible 
cost 
in 
the
 lives 
of 
the 
men 
in 
the 
armies 
which 
I 
had 
helped
 to
 raise. 
In 
the 
light 
of 
the 
alternatives 
which,
 on 
a 
fair 
estimate,
 were
 open
 to
 us
 I
 believe
 that
 no
 man
 in
 our
 position
 and
 subject
 to
 our
 responsibilities,
 holding
 in
 his
 hands
 a
 weapon
 of
 such
 possibilities
 for
 accomplishing
 this 
purpose
 and
 saving
 those
 lives,
 could
 have
 failed
 to
 use
 it
 and
 afterwards
 looked
 his
 country men 
in 
the
 face.

He continued by noting that, in his opinion, the use of the atomic bombs was "the least abhorrent choice," as it put to an end the fire bombings – which caused massive casualties – of Japanese cities, and would cause fewer casualties in Japan than a ground invasion.

As time went on, however, many scholars and public figures began to question whether or not the bombs were necessary to end the war, and whether that rationale was worth the devastating toll the bombs took on civilian lives. In an interview with Education About Asia, MIT historian John Dower, who wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning book "Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II," challenged that line of thinking and raised questions about the moral implications of targeting civilians in wartime:

As the history of Hiroshima and Nagasaki recedes further into the past, it is becoming more difficult to create a sense of urgency around these questions. Writing in the New Yorker this week about the documentary "Things Left Behind," about a major art exhibit devoted to Hiroshima, Roland Kelts, the author of "Japanamerica," says that "... sixty-eight years later, the story of Hiroshima, its possible meanings and emotions, are fast becoming dead artifacts, especially in Japan, where the platitudes and memorials are broadcast live once every year, dominating the airwaves with about as much salient impact as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade."

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