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If by “most experts” opposed to the Hiroshima bombing Alperovitz meant leftist idealogues, surely he is correct. Not among them is Father Wilson Miscamble, Professor of History at Notre Dame, who defended the U.S. atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in his 2011 book The Most Controversial Decision. “I believe Truman pursued the least-harmful course of action available to him to end a ghastly war, a course that resulted in the least loss of life,” Miscamble argues, relying on both exhaustive historical scholarship and his own theological expertise. He is Australian by birth and perhaps conscious of what would have happened to his land had, absent American power, Japan occupied it with the same murderous brutality it inflicted on the rest of its Asian empire. He notes that critics admit not dropping the bombs might have facilitated even “greater suffering” without offering a tangible alternative. “I have always thought that moral reflection wrestles with the awful and painful realities,” he notes. “If someone can present to me a viable and more ‘moral way’ to have defeated the Japanese and ended World War II, I will change my position.”
Among the countless other horrors of the war Japan unleashed, Father Miscamble cites the Battle of Manila in 1945, where 100,000 Filipino civilians died. Even though U.S. victory there was certain, Japanese militarist honor forbade surrender. The almost psychotic Japanese resistance on Okinawa and Saipan, where even thousands of Japanese civilians committed suicide rather than accept U.S. occupation, was a tiny foreshadowing of what a U.S. invasion of Japan might have resembled.
As to the likelihood of Japan’s surrendering absent atomic weaponry, even after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan’s ruling military council was evenly divided over seeking terms. Only the unprecedented intervention of the Emperor allowed surrender, and he fully expected a military coup against him, which nearly happened. The Japanese militarists fully envisioned national suicide. By comparison, the Germans, even under Nazism, were considered rational. Individual Germans and whole German armies surrendered when defeated. Even so, Hitler also preferred national suicide along with his personal suicide. And Germany did not surrender as a nation until the Soviets overran Berlin, themselves expending over 80,000 lives. It’s absurd to think Japan, which still had several million under arms, would have surrendered any more readily than Germany without U.S. nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, every single day the war was prolonged, as Miscamble notes, meant tens of thousands of Asians and others would die under Japanese occupation. World War II, history’s most murderous war, had already consumed over 50 million, nearly half of them thanks to Japan.
Miscamble faults the war’s horrible end on the “twisted neo-samurai who led the Japanese military,” themselves guided by “stupidity and perfidy,” and who “geared up with true banzai spirit to engage the whole population in a kind of kamikaze campaign.” Nothing less than two terrible bombs could extinguish the unquenchable blood thirst of Japanese militarism.
It’s always very hard for the Religious Left to fault any force other than American power for the world’s horrors. But in the case of the U.S. atomic attacks of 1945, as Father Miscamble carefully concluded, the terrors they ended vastly exceeded the terrors they inflicted.
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