Some time back, I read an article about the bomb dropped over Nagasaki in August of 1945, in which the writer compared it to the nazi holocaust. On this Memorial Day weekend there are other apparent attempts by a few people, in and out of public office, to kindle blame in need of apologies for a decision that ended the Second World War. For many, the discussion is an academic exercise in self-contrived moral and ethical positioning. For many others, myself included, it is a little more personal than that.
My father was a field artillery officer in the Army’s 98th Division, one of the several divisions scheduled to make the final assault on Japan, code-named Operation Downfall and Operation Coronet. The overall casualty projections were extreme, possibly as many as a million Americans, and Dad said the part of the strategy that included his outfit was pretty much a suicide mission. The ships were loaded and preparing for departure from Hawaii, and my dad’s belongings were on board ready to go. Then, suddenly, the two bombings changed all that.
Hiroshima and Nagasaki are not a comparison to the holocaust, as the writer of that article attempted to posit, but rather a contrast - the difference between a difficult decision by an American leader to defeat an enemy that was not going to surrender under any other conditions, as opposed to a calculated strategy by a Nazi to kill an entire race of people, and others, one person or one roomful at a time after exacting as much suffering as convenient. That writer missed the stark contrast between a premeditated investment of killing innocents in the pursuit of a war, and the inevitable cost of innocents in the struggle to end a war.
Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended the war. The noncombatants are always the unacceptable cost of war, in those days and now, but wars are nevertheless waged, and innocents nevertheless pay the price. The essential difference is in the driving cause.
Some obliviously choose the self-righteous luxury of believing hard decisions, made by burdened leaders, don't need to be made at all. Those same folks should pause to understand they are free today to speak out, or to act in compassion toward humankind, because of the terrible cost of those decisions.
It is said that the anticipation of Operation Downfall's casualties resulted in, among other things, the production of so many Purple Heart medals, they are still being issued today from that production run.