06 August 2005

Mushroom Jubilee

It was sixty years ago today that we demonstrated a practical means to destroy all (purportedly) intelligent life on the planet. With 20-20 hindsight, whether Truman was justified in dropping the Bomb on Hiroshima is a fairly close call. Nagasaki isn't at all a close call; there was no adequate military or politicomilitary justification for the second bomb, and asking even the arrogant monomaniac in command in the area would have disclosed that. The problem is how we get that 20-20 hindsight, and what it implies about certain other parts of Asia today.

What is most frustrating about the whole nuclear-weapons-usage debate is that we can rightly judge the decisions only against the standards of what the decisionmakers knew—or should have known—at the time. It's that latter qualification that presents the problem. Truman didn't really have reason to know more than he did personally; he hadn't been in office long enough to be responsible for the ignorance of his advisors. That said, the lack of advisors fully cognizant of the cultural meaning of "unconditional surrender" to Japanese men born in the 1860s through 1890s is by itself the inexcusable cause of Nagasaki, and a contributing factor to Hiroshima. That those who did have such knowledge were buried deep within the hierarchy, and had little access to decisionmakers and advisors, should remind us of Korea. And Vietnam. And the entire debacle in southwest Asia. In fact, the current administration has gone out of its way to alienate those who could best help it understand the Enemy's will, and hence how to defeat it (and how not to do so); at least such alienation was only negligent in the Roosevelt and Truman administrations.