The ethics of the A-bomb
Monday, August 6, 2018 at 6:28AM
Richard L. Cassin in Ethics, Hiroshima, Japan, Nagasaki, World War II

Seventy-three years ago today, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima.

The blast destroyed 90 percent of Hiroshima and killed at least 80,000 people. Around 60,000 more died from radiation sickness before the end of the year.

If America hadn't ended the war with Japan by bombing Hiroshima, and a few days later Nagasaki, U.S. forces would have invaded the Japanese mainland.

General MacArthur's staff expected 50,000 American casualties in the first days of the invasion, and many more during the long fight for the mainland.

Japanese casualties could have reached the millions.

"There was every reason to think that the Japanese would defend their homeland with even greater fanaticism than when they fought to the death on Iwo Jima and Okinawa," Karl T. Compton, an American physicist and the president of MIT, wrote in the Atlantic in 1946.

Was it right to nuke Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Ethicists and others still debate it.

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I have a small connection to the bombing of Hiroshima and it has shaped my own approach to ethics.

In August 1945, the man who eight years later would become my father, was then a 20-year-old acting chief in the U.S. Navy, serving in the Pacific.

With me, he almost never talked about the war or the action he had seen. But several times he mentioned the day orders came to pack his seabag and prepare for the invasion of the Japanese mainland. He always ended by saying, "I didn't think I'd make it back. But then we dropped the bombs."

So in my head and heart, I've always been . . . grateful  . . . for the A-bombs. They saved my father and made my life possible.

Of course the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were atrocious. Read John Hersey's disturbing book, Hiroshima, as I have done a dozen times.

But while my heart has always ached for the victims, I'm still glad to be alive. And I've always known that the atomic bombs America dropped on Japan are partly to thank.

What's that got to do with anything now? My small connection to the bombing of Hiroshima helped me see that the rightness or wrongness of an event is sometimes a matter of context and personal history. And if that's true for me, it's also true for others.

I don't always remember that lesson. But when I do, I have more room for other people's "ethics." And that's been a big help to me.


Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog.

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