Sixty-four years ago today, on the morning of August 6, 1945, a B29 named Enola Gay took off from an airfield on the island of Tinian in the Marianas Islands.
A few hours later, the world changed forever.
A lone bomb dropped from the bomb bay of the aircraft, and detonated over the city of Hiroshima, instantly killing ten of thousands and setting off the nuclear arms race. Since that day, human beings have had the ability to obliterate themselves from this planet, and on more than one occasion have come frighteningly close to doing so.
Some believe the act of dropping the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were criminal acts. Some believe they were a warning to the Soviet Union. Secret talks had been ongoing with the Japanese for months seeking an end to the war. But the United States demanded on unconditional surrender, and the Emperor refused.
So was the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima a criminal act by President Truman? I don’t believe so. Yes, it's true the Japanese has been trying to surrender since 1944. But the US insisted the Emperor had to step down, an absolutely vital step for a post-war Japan, and the Japanese remained stubbornly unwilling. Even after the first bomb, there were still internal arguments among the government and military officers to continue fighting.
The only alternative to the bomb was an invasion of Japan. The casualty estimates were staggering – hundreds of thousands of American lives would be lost, along with many hundreds of thousands of Japanese, mostly civilians.
The government of Japan, all but bankrupt of resources but determined to fight nonetheless, was training young boys to crawl under tanks and blow themselves up, like the kamikazes which had stricken many of our ships. They were teaching young women, equipped only with bamboo spears, to hurl themselves at our soldiers, inviting mass slaughter. People at home were tired, sick of receiving letters from the War Department telling them their sons had died. Truman knew his generals were not enthusiastic about invading. Everyone involved knew the price which would be paid in blood.
And let's not forget Japanese atrocities either, against Koreans, Chinese, and the Filipinos, not to mention our POWs.
History requires a balanced view. History demands it.
We should not exult in this day. It should be a somber remembrance, not only for the lives lost but also those saved - on both sides. I personally believe that Hiroshima and Nagasaki are one of the reasons we're still living on this planet. Without that example, the Soviets and Americans might have been more willing to push that button and kill us all.
This day should be a reminder to us how fragile we really are, and how quickly we would still be able to destroy ourselves if - unthinkably - we chose to do so.