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.”
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."