Saturday, August 13, 2005

Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Policy Implications

This 8-6 and 8-9 were 60th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki days. People discuss whether nuclear attacks to both cities were right or wrong. Regarding this pro-con debate, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists takes up a special edition in July/August 2005 issue. Essays by Pervez Hoodbhoy, Thomas Donnelly, and Robert L. Gallucci, are available on the web. Was it necessary to drop atomic bombs to end the war earlier? This debate is never-ending. However, it is important to learn lessons for the future.

When should the policymaker make the final decision to use nuclear weapons? Are there any ways to avoid nuclear attacks during the war? I am asking these questions because Hiroshima-Nagasaki bombing might have been unnecessary. More importantly, nuclear deterrence is getting less reliable in the post Cold War era. During the Cold War, nuclear diplomacy had been Russo-American bipolar, and the Big 5 oligopolized nuclear weapons. However, these weapons have been proliferating today. Even non-state actors like terrorist organizations may acquire nuclear bombs. In order to face these threats, the United States is developing smaller and more practical nuclear weapons. In a situation like this, American and other Big 5 policymakers may be more tempted to preliminary nuclear attacks against rogue states and terrorist bases. Speaking of the final decision for nuclear attack, let’s think again Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

People in the latter days can analyze critically on Harry Truman’s decision to use atomic bombs to end the war earlier. But wait. Did the president have enough information about Japan? It was not a TV war these days. No one got real time information as we do today. Also, Japanese leaders in those days did not hold press conferences with the Western media. In fact, Japanese government was exploring to make a deal with the allied forces to end the war. The entire Japanese nation was completely damaged and exhausted. But there was no ways for US leaders to know about it. In addition, I have to mention wartime psychology. Japanese soldiers seemed so fearless that the war appeared something endless to the allied forces. In such a circumstance, Truman had no choice but use atomic bombs. It was not a TV war today.

On the other hand, people overestimate the effect of atomic bomb to end the war quickly. It is one of the reasons why Japan decided to surrender. But don’t miss the following points. First, under the fascist regime, the government controls the information. They can hide the facts. Also, so many Japanese people believed that the divine and sacred emperor was invincible. In a case like this, the “shock and awe” strategy doesn’t work.

Remember. Japanese leaders were exploring to end the war. It was 8-15 when Hirohito declared ceasefire, just a week from 8-6 and 8-9. It is too quick.
There is no denying that nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki played some role to end the war. But don’t overestimate its effect. Through further analysis of Hiroshima-Nagasaki, we can learn more lessons for the future.