The period between August 6 and August 9 always calls for revaluations of President Truman’s decision to drop the Atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That took on an added dimension this year when the Obama Administration dispatched our Ambassador to Japan, John Roos, to attend the ceremonies in Hiroshima for the first time.

Does this constitute an apology of sorts? Well, officials are quick to say, “No”, but it is probably being interpreted as a prelude to such. This dispatch of the Ambassador, coupled with Obama’s “body language” (bowing) during his visit to Japan, might encourage the Japanese to expect a more formal apology. After all, some will argue, wasn’t the dropping of the bombs themselves an immoral act that would justify an apology?

I think not. While there have been no shortage of “revisionist historians” who have argued that using atomic weapons against Japan, especially “civilian targets”, was not necessary and had a racist impetus (W.A. Williams, Howard Zinn), I remain unconvinced. In fact, I still hold to the view that dropping the bombs saved lives (Japanese as well as American), shortened the war, brought a more successful outcome than any other option, and was more moral than the alternatives.

First, before the United States considers any kind of apology, I think it necessary for Japan to apologize to us, and to China, and to many other Asian nations trampled by its imperialistic march. After all, it was Japan that launched the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, and Japan that conducted such atrocities as the Bataan death march, the rape of Nanking, and the pillaging of SE Asia. Some have put the total Asian deaths due to the Japanese occupation and war machine at more than 17 million!

We should remember that even with the dropping of the A-bombs and the Emperor’s decision to surrender unconditionally, there was considerable, deep opposition to doing so, and it took several days for the country’s elite to finally acquiesce. This gives sufficient support to the estimates prepared by Washington that an invasion of the islands would cost the U.S. and its allies a million casualties! We know that the Japanese military, and most citizens, were prepared to defend the homeland to the death.

Also, we should not forget that we had already inflicted severe damage on Japan by other means, including incinerating more than 100,000 citizens by napalm, leaving another 500,000 homeless (in comparison, the atomic bombs probably caused the deaths, ultimately, of 200,000). Between March and August of 1945, air raids (including firebombing) continued to wreak havoc. Indeed, the initial firebombing of Tokyo in March was more lethal than either Hiroshima or Nagasaki! Would continued aerial devastation by these and other non-nuclear means been any more humane?

And Hiroshima and Nagasaki (actually not the primary target that day, but cloud cover prevented hitting the designated city) were major centers of war production and the site of key military facilities.

If we chose instead to blockade Japan, we likely could have starved the country. That would have led to hundreds of thousands of Japanese deaths.

It is doubtful that the U.S. could have continued to conduct a war with seemingly unattainable objectives. With the end of WWII in Europe in May, the country was war weary, broke, out of talent to enlist in the ranks, and headed by a weak, inexperienced President. Consider this—if President Truman decided against employing atomic bombs when they became available, and instead opted for a blockade, an invasion or a prolonged standoff, I believe he would have been summarily impeached.

No, that was not a good idea to send AMB Roos to the Hiroshima commemoration, and it is not time for the U.S. to consider issuing an apology for dropping the atomic bombs. It is, however, high time for Tokyo to finally do so.

•  Tyrus W. Cobb

August 8, 2010