It is safe to suggest that the events of August 1945 in the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki left an enduring question mark over what the term ‘progress’ entails. The ‘progress’ of human history, some would argue, has been largely measured by developments in science and technology and rightly so. However, when the United States decided to drop atom bomb on an already shattered nation at the fag end of World War II, deep questions began to emerge about the nature of such ‘progress’ and how it could be used for the wrong reasons. Of course, this is not to suggest that one should paint the entire range of scientific progress with the single brush stroke of the atom bomb. However, the events of August 6 and 9, 1945, did leave an enduring scar, both real and perceived, on an entire nation.
Developments in science and technology had come to such a point where the human race had figured out a way to annihilate itself. Was this progress? Moreover, as historians continue to debate, was it really necessary to drop the atom bomb? On the first question, unfortunately, humanity has failed to learn its lesson. With the exception of events such as the formulation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the recent US-Iran nuclear deal, humanity has not learned a great deal. The argument that the possession of nuclear weapons prevents war for the fear of complete annihilation is a tenuous one at best, especially with the entry of radical non-state actors like ISIS. The fundamental argument, however, used by sympathizers of US policy in Japan was that the atom bombs helped end the war. Had it not used the bomb, the US would have been forced to invade Japan, which would have led to more deaths.
In an insightful interview to Newsweek in 1963, Dwight D Eisenhower– Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces during WWII and later, president of the US –categorically said that he was against the use of the atom bomb in Japan for two key reasons. “First, the Japanese were ready to surrender, and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing. Second, I hated to see our country be the first to use such a weapon,” he said. Even the argument that the use of atom bombs was the definitive factor in forcing Japan to surrender is a tenuous one, according to some. Noted historian Gar Alperovitz argued that Japan had virtually assured the Allied Forces that it was ready to surrender, with only the terms to be worked out.
Truman, though, was not ready to accept certain terms like not trying the Japanese Emperor for war crimes. After he dropped the bomb, however, those conditions were granted. Moreover, according to Alperovitz, “The United States rushed to use two atomic bombs at almost exactly the time that an August 8 Soviet attack had originally been scheduled: Hiroshima on August 6 and Nagasaki on August 9. The timing itself has obviously raised questions among many historians. The available evidence, though not conclusive, strongly suggests that the atomic bombs may well have been used in part because American leaders ‘preferred’—as Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Martin Sherwin has put it—to end the war with the bombs rather than the Soviet attack. Impressing the Soviets during the early diplomatic sparring that ultimately became the Cold War also appears likely to have been a significant factor.” The Japanese had already given up the ghost after Russia declared war on them, with an invasion scheduled for August 9, 1945. Despite suffering incessant bombing at the hands of the Allied Forces, Japan could not escape the horrors of the atom bomb.