Here's a perfect summary of World War II: even the good guys committed monstrous, criminal acts. That's the good war for ya, no matter how good it was that Hitler lost.
Today, if pausing to think about the first use of an atomic bomb on civilians, first and foremost, go read Anthony Gregory's post at the Independent Institute's Beacon blog. A sampling:
Even after the bombing of Nagasaki and the emperor said he would surrender, the U.S. firebombed Tokyo on August 14 with a thousand-plane bombing mission. Was this last mass killing necessary? We rarely hear about it at all, perhaps because it throws into question the entire morality of U.S. strategic bombing in the Pacific War.
Indeed, World War II featured a mass wallowing in collectivist slaughter on the part of both the Axis and Allied Powers. Japan's and Germany's brutalities, some of the most notorious in the history of humanity, are appropriately condemned, yet these evils have somehow come to obscure the evils committed by the United States, Britain, and even Stalin in the course of the war. The other side was guilty of unsurpassed inhumanities, but this should not give a free pass to the Allies for their own acts of barbarism, which by any sensible standard rank among the greatest war crimes of the modern era.
Gregory also questions the certainty of those who breezily claim certainty that the invasion of Japan would have cost 500,000 lives. Even if you disagree, the piece is well worth reading.
Also check out, via Lew Rockwell, the clip below from the 1983 anime Barefoot Gen. It is almost unwatchable in its brutality. (Did you think Grave of the Fireflies was the most soul-crushing anime about World War II? You were mistaken.) Interestingly enough, the most recent news from a search for that title says that a peace group in Hiroshima wants schools to stop using the original manga that the film was based off of… because it is "one-sided."The author, Keiji Nakazawa, was born in Hiroshima in 1939. He lost much of his family in the bombing.
This general peace over being pissed off about the atomic bombings attitude is reflected in the memorializing. Seventy countries were represented this year, in a ceremony that included 50,000 people. Harry Truman's grandson was there. The only hint of controversy seems to have come from anti-nuclear power protesters, what with Fukushima still a concern.
In 2010, Jesse Walker pointed Hit and Run readers to a fascinating artifact from a time when the bombings were the recent past. Walker wrote:
Sixty-five years ago today, the Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima. About a decade later, NBC marked the occasion by having a survivor of the bombing on This Is Your Life, a program that would surprise its guests by reviewing the events of their lives and reuniting them with important figures from their past. Including, in this case, one of the pilots who dropped the bomb.
A small clip for that episodes is below. The co-pilot, Capt. Robert Lewis, who famously wrote " My God, what have we done?" in the official logbook, after the Enola Gay dropped the bomb, seems emotional (he was supposedly trying not to be drunk, so nervous was he about meeting survivors). All in all, it's a bizarre, hard to watch piece of television. Further background on it can be found here. The bombing survivor on TV, Rev. Kiyoshi Tanimoto, was a minister traveling with the so-called "Hiroshima Maidens," 25 women who were taken to the states to be given free reconstructive surgery. Two of them appear on the show in silhouette.
Previous Reason musings on the bombings, including Catchy Young's argument against moral equivalency in World War II and David Harsanyi on the temptations of being simplistic about history. Just so you don't think I'm the world's biggest peacenik… Which I may be.
And I know things become shorthand, but let's not forget it was the bombing of Hiroshima and, three days later, Nagaski too. The latter being more forgotten and even less defensible than the former.
Addendum: Oh, and there are many fine songs about nuclear issues, but Charlie, Ira, and Jesus are the only ones who can save us from "The Great Atomic Power."
Addendum two: Less creepy-kitchy-country, the exceedingly eerie " Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima" by Polish composer Kriztof Penderecki.