Hiroshima Day

I meant to post this yesterday, but somehow it got lost in all my travels back to Utah from DC. Yesterday, August 6, was the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. In that nuclear blast, over 60,000 non-combatant men, women, and children were killed.

The tragedy that occurred on this day never should have happened. It never needed to happen.

Because we are nationalists, we are quick to defend our nation when it is accused of wrongdoing. However, we must avoid the “it’s not wrong when we do it” mentality. If any other nation had dropped the nuclear bomb, I suspect that we would have unanimously condemned the act as a war crime. However, because our own nation did it, we struggle to rationalize the act and explain away our guilt. We invent historical narratives, based in unproven (and in many cases discounted) hypotheticals, that try to explain why it was necessary to do what we did.

Here is what President J. Reuben Clark of the First Presidency said about the event in General Conference in 1946:

Now do not forget that all of the nations had prepared before World War II to use aircraft; they had already used submarines in World War I; and we in this area know we were prepared to use poison gases. Then as the crowning savagery of the war, we Americans wiped out hundreds of thousands of civilian population with the atom bomb in Japan, few if any of the ordinary civilians being any more responsible for the war than were we, and perhaps most of them no more aiding Japan in the war than we were aiding America.

Military men are now saying that the atom bomb was a mistake. It was more than that: it was a world tragedy. Thus we have lost all that we gained during the years from Grotius (1625) to 1912. And the worst of this atomic bomb tragedy is not that not only did the people of the United States not rise up in protest against this savagery, not only did it not shock us to read of this wholesale destruction of men, women, and children, and cripples, but that it actually drew from the nation at large a general approval of this fiendish butchery. …

[W]e in America are now deliberately searching out and developing the most savage, murderous means of exterminating peoples that Satan can plant in our minds. We do it not only shamelessly, but with a boast. God will not forgive us for this.

If we are to avoid extermination, if the world is not to be wiped out, we must find some way to curb the fiendish ingenuity of men who have apparently no fear of God, man, or the devil, and who are willing to plot and plan and invent instrumentalities that will wipe out all the flesh of the earth. And, as one American citizen of one hundred thirty millions, as one in one billion population of the world, I protest with all of the energy I possess against this fiendish activity, and as an American citizen, I call upon our government and its agencies to see that these unholy experimentations are stopped, and that somehow we get into the minds of our war-minded general staff and its satellites, and into the general staffs of all the world, a proper respect for human life.

On the anniversary of this tragic, savage act of violence, I would like to join my voice with J. Reuben Clark, and invite everyone to condemn this act. I have heard far too many Americans make excuses for our dropping the bombs. Let’s not rationalize atrocity, simply because America is the perpetrator. Let’s not excuse the needless killing of civilians. Let’s mourn this event not as a “necessary evil,” but as the brutal act of savagery that it really was.

66 thoughts on “Hiroshima Day

  1. My grandfather’s life was in all likelihood saved by the use of that terrible weapon, so I think I’ll pass on joining you and President Clark in your outrage, and save it for the fiends who started the war instead of the men like Truman who ended it.

  2. Japan was asking for peace, and preparing for surrender, before we even dropped the bombs. The war would have ended anyways. Dopping the bombs was more about sending a message to the Soviet Union than inciting surrender, since Japan was already preparing for it. So I don’t believe it saved your grandfather’s life. And even if it did, it doesn’t justify the savagery of willfully targeting tens of thousands of unarmed men, women, and children.

  3. Ldsphilosopher, I have had this debate over the decades, and I go back and forth on this issue. Anybody truly interested in this should read Ralph Raico’s book “Great Wars and Great Leaders,” which touches on all issues related to FDR, Truman and the decision to drop the bomb.

    If we really want to understand why we dropped the bomb, we need to go back to 1916 and understand why we got involved in World War I. It was the fateful decisions of that time — which solidified the US rejecting its policy of neutrality in European wars — that led to World War I. And was our involvement in World War I that led us to being dragged into the second world war.

    You cannot analyze history without recognizing that crucial decisions lead to paths that would not otherwise be taken. So, what would have happened if we had never been involved in World War I? The British, French and Germans would have eventually arrived at some peace agreement. That peace agreement would have had more favorable terms for the Germans, and Germany would have enjoyed the inflation of the 1920s and the humiliation of Versailles. Would an Austrian corporal have been able to convince a more prosperous and stable Germany to adopt his project of national socialism? Probably not. So, you can easily paint a scenario where American neutrality benefits the world in many unforseen ways.

    But beyond this, it is clear that in the late 1930s and even until late 1941 the American public wanted nothing to do with another European war. It was Roosevelt who wanted to drag us into that war. What if we had made a peace treaty with the Japanese in 1939? What if we had decided not to embargo Japanese oil? What if we had kept on trading peacefully with the Japanese? Well, they would have done tremendous harm to Korea and China, but perhaps they would have stopped there and eventually the Koreans and Chinese would have pushed them out on their own.

    So, I think you can make a very, very strong argument that both world wars would have been much smaller affairs — *if the United States had maintained a policy of neutrality, which is what the Founders warned us about again and again.*

    But of course after Pearl Harbor we *had* to get involved. It is noteworthy that FDR concentrated most of his forces in Europe even though Japan was presumably the worst aggressor and the one who had actually attacked U.S. soil. And then the massive carpet-bombing of cities began, with hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths in Dresden, Frankfurt, Berlin and all Japanease cities. Satan indeed reigned “with blood and horror on this Earth” during those horrible times. Compared to the deaths in Dresden and Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were similar. So, the A bomb was not particularly horrible by that standard.

    It is also true that the invasion of Iwo Jima and Okinawa had shown that the Japanese population would defend the homeland to the death. Tom O was probably right — his grandfather’s life probably was saved by the A bombs. I had a teacher in high school who was on a boat headed for Japan when the Japanese surrender was announced. His life was also probably saved. It is also true that there were about 50,000 US POWs starving in Japanese POW camps — their lives were also probably saved. I am not convinced by the claims that Japan was preparing to surrender. All communications in August 1945 were that the Japanese would NOT surrender and they would defend the homeland to the death, precisely because they feared what would happen to the Emperor. This only changed when Marshall finally signaled after dropping the bombs that unconditional surrender did not mean imprisoning the emperor.

    It is worth noting that dropping our unconditional surrender claim and signaling earlier that we wouldn’t touch the emperor might have destroyed Japanese will and saved a lot of lives. It is also interesting to speculate what would have happened if we had dropped the bomb on an uninhabited island in front of Japanese observers. (But then you say: what if it didn’t work?).

    At the end of the day, there are two big lessons to be learned, in my opinion.

    1)Modern-day prophets have warned us about the horrors of war, and we have seen this play out in front of our eyes.
    2)The Book of Mormon makes it clear that only defensive wars are justified, and we need to change our attitudes towards war entirely.

  4. My very first trip to Hiroshima, in the early 1990’s, I arrived in the city on the evening of August 6. I walked with my traveling companion from the ANA Hotel to Peace Park, not far away. Earlier in the evening the residents of Hiroshima had floated lanterns in the park in remembrance of those who died in the bombing. Within a year or two, we were living in Hiroshima and I had many opportunities to go back to Peace Park and to contemplate the events of that day.

    The destruction man is capable of is awful, to be sure.

  5. From what I understand, there wasn’t the slightest indication that the Japanese were prepared to surrender when either atomic bomb was dropped – negotiate maybe, but not surrender.

    From a law of war (not targeting civilians) standpoint, aerial bombing in general during World War II was a disgrace, if not a crime.

    However, the general rationale for dropping atomic bombs on Japan was that they had shown during the fight in Okinawa that they were prepared to fight to the last man, and projected fatalities for the Americans in a land invasion of Japan were something in the 700,000 range, and for the Japanese in the five million range. Needless to say, far fewer Japanese died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    As a consequence, it would be perfectly reasonable for a Japanese civilian to take the position that the use of the atomic bomb may very well have saved their lives.

  6. Chief OSS officer who intercepted communications from Japan: “‘On July 20, 1945, under instructions from Washington, I went to the Potsdam Conference and reported there to Secretary [of War] Stimson on what I had learned from Tokyo – they desired to surrender if they could retain the Emperor and their constitution as a basis for maintaining discipline and order in Japan after the devastating news of surrender became known to the Japanese people.’

    According to Frederick Veale, “Belatedly it has been discovered that seven months before it [the atomic bomb] was dropped, in January 1945, President Roosevelt received via General MacArthur’s headquarters an offer by the Japanese Government to surrender on terms virtually identical to those accepted by the United States after the dropping of the bomb: In July 1945, as we know, Roosevelt’s successor, President Truman, discussed with Stalin at Bebelsburg the Japanese offer to surrender.”

    Japan offered to surrender at least twice before the bombs were dropped. Why do we ignore the documented evidence of this? Because we need to rationalize why we dropped the bombs, because we’re uncomfortable with the thought that they were unnecessary. That makes Americans the bad guys in this incident, and as nationalists, we can’t stand that. I think it’s a dishonest approach.

    Frankly, I think most people are just uninformed about the evidence. Documents clearly indicate that Truman was aware of at least two offers to surrender from the Japanese. But the myth that we had to kill 60,000 civilians to get them to surrender is so popular that most people don’t even know the truth. Because the truth hurts.

  7. The problem was the _terms_ of Japan’s offer to surrender. Though the US was generous at the time of, and after, the actual surrender, Japan had to be brought to the point of “ok, whatever you say” and not be allowed to dictate terms of their own surrender.

    The Japanese people had to be broken, their society re-made, and their government had to be completely re-invented in order to prevent a recurrance of their atrocities to the Chinese, Koreans, Filipinos, and other conquered people and POW’s.

    Had the Japanese not committed such atrocities before and during the war, the terms that they offered for surrender may have been accepted. But due to their atrocities, and their attack on Pearl Harbor, nothing less than _unconditional_ surrender was both politically and practically acceptable. Nothing less than _unconditional_ surrender could have allowed the US to remake Japan into something that would not repeat the atrocities.

    Sorry, lds-p, but you’re the one re-writing history here, or have been swayed by those have. This thing “the Japanese would have surrendered anyway” is BS, because it’s only PARTLY true. The key fact that the revisionists are missing is that the Japanese offered _conditional_ surrender, on _their_ terms.

    I think the revisionists are too far removed from the barbarism of Imperial Japan to realize the importance of unconditional surrender.

    Even in the Book of Mormon, Alma chapter 44, when Zerahemnah tried to dictate the terms of his own surrender, Moroni ordered his soldiers to kill the Lamanites when they refused to agree to his terms. The Lamanites were willing to stop fighting and go home, but that was not enough for Moroni. I see a parallel there to the war with Japan. It wasn’t enough for the Japanese to say “Okay, we’ll stop and we’ll all go home.” Sorry, that just wasn’t enough.

    Another thing on the mind of the US government leaders at the time were the lessons of the failure to remake Germany into a less militarily aggressive society at the end of WW I.

  8. Two more points:

    1) Weren’t both Hiroshima and Nagasaki war-materiel manufacturing towns, and had military garrisons, adding to their legitimacy as military targets?

    2) In any agression or conflict, the side that sinks the lowest first is the one that generally determines the level on which the conflict is carried out. This is another reason why Japan’s history of the slaughter of civilians (Rape of Nanking, etc.) brought on the US’s willingness to bomb urban areas

  9. Bookslinger, I’m ok with conditional surrenders and cease fires, if the alternative is the slaughter of tens of thousands of innocent men, women, and children.

    Also, the Nephites didn’t go and pulverize the Lamanites. As SOON AS they were willing to not fight anymore, and promise never to fight again, the Nephites let them go home. That is hardly what the US did. If the Nephites did what the US did, they would have chased the Lamanites back to their home towns, and began slaughtering women and children until the Lamanites gave up their king and became a occupied state. Rather, the Nephites just let them go home, and let them keep their government. That’s all that Japan was asking for. They just wanted to keep their emperor and their constitution. Instead, we insisted on dismantling their government. WAY different from the Book of Mormon story.

    We should have followed the Nephite’s example, and let the Japanese return home as soon as they promised not to fight anymore.

    Also, the “they were barbaric first” argument doesn’t hold sway with me. It actually just makes me cry inside.

    This “the United States can do no wrong” attitude that I see in my fellow Latter-day Saints is really saddening. Defending the butcher of innocents is not Christian.

  10. And, as J. Reuben Clark’s comments were made in General Conference (from what I understand), an official meeting of the church, I do feel duty bound to follow his counsel, just as I would if he said it today. Bookslinger, would you hold to your opinion if you were there in General Conference? Would you tell President Clark he was wrong?

  11. The fact that we have not dropped a similar weapon since WWII is telling. The general public would not stand for indiscriminate weapons. Look at the recent conflicts over the last two decades and it is clear that our leaders, military and civilian, have learned their limits under the general principles of the law of armed conflict.

    LDS-P, you are quick to condemn those who believe the US can do no wrong, and yet you seem firmly planted in the academic camps that want to go back and have the US apologize for all of its misdeeds, perceived or otherwise, over the centuries. I am one to let history speak for itself, but your feigned-prostrating above is bound to get some responses from folks.

    Most of us have moved on. I have lived in Japan for four years. I spent the better part of Saturday at multiple “Friendship Day” festivities between the Americans and Japanese. We played games. We ate each others food. We sang songs. We wrapped the day up watching a phenomenal fireworks display, side by side. My kids were having a blast playing with Japanese kids. From my anecdotal experiences, wounds have been healed.

  12. I’m not asking for anyone to apologize. I’m asking for people to stop rationalizing. It may be all “water under the bridge.” But I hear people say on a regular basis that we were perfectly justified in dropping the bombs, and that we did no wrong in doing so. That attitude strikes me as barbaric, and little different from a scenario in which German might still rationalize and defend his/her nation’s wrongdoing during WWII.

    I believe that the Japanese have forgiven and moved on. But I don’t believe that we as a nation have properly repented, so long as we continue to insist that we didn’t do anything wrong.

  13. I have heard the WWII story from the lips of Germans who lived it. Theirs is often a different story than ours.

    So I think I see your point.

    I am a daughter of a military man. I have seen the reality of many of the soldiers, and I have seen their hero-worship. That is not something I have ever tried to address with civilians, because there would be no benefit in it.

    There will always be rationalization. There has to be. Just talk to any criminal, they ALWAYS have a good reason for breaking the law.

  14. Thank you for the post and your comments ldsphilosopher. I think the attitude that we can do know wrong because of who we are is damaging. It doesn’t hurt us to feel bad for the things we have done that are wrong, but it is still difficult for many of us.

  15. I would like to also thank you for this thought-provoking post. We need to examine these issues. Is there any doubt the Lord wept when he saw the horro of all the people killed during the world wars?

  16. I am not aware of these peace overtures by Japan that ldsphilosopher refers to. They don’t come up in David McCullough’s Truman biography, but there is a bit of attention in that volume that Truman’s main aim going into the Potsdam Conference was to get the Soviet Union to follow through with its promise to enter the war against Japan. Thoughout its war with Germany, the Soviet Union had maintained a neutrality pact with Japan. At Yalta, Stalin had promised to join the war against Japan three months after Germany was defeated. While at Potsdam, Truman received word that the Trinity test had been successful. This was good news, but nothing to depend upon to win the war for us. Truman still wanted the Soviet Union to fight Japan.

    The July 26 Potsdam Declaration was ignored by Japan.
    On August 8, exactly three months after Germany surrendered, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan and invaded Manchuria. This was two days after the Hiroshima bombing and one day before Nagaski. On August 15, Japan surrendered.

    I believe that facing the Soviet army was as least as big a factor tipping the balance to surrender as the atomic bombs. I am also skeptical of claims that Japan was trying to surrender, but the United States wouldn’t let it.

  17. Moroni insisted on unconditional surrender by the Lamanites in his battles with them. They had to accept the concept that God was on the Nephite side and the Lamanites were maliciously attacking. When military commanders refused Moroni’s demands, the war continued. So I don’t think LDSPhilosopher’s claim that the Nephites were always willing to accept any kind of surrender as plausible.

    Second, Japan attacked first. It was feared that retaining the Emperor as head of Japan (remember, they regarded him as God) would only allow the Japanese to fight another day. WWII, after all, was only a continuation of WWI. We needed to ensure total control over the Axis Powers, and so we fire-bombed Dresden (no one seems to protest the fact that we killed more German civilians with firebombing than with two A-bombs in Japan). War is ugly. There is no such thing as a sanitized war. There was no Geneva Convention at the time, and if there were, the Japanese wouldn’t have honored it in their torture of Allied prisoners of war.
    If we were forced to invade, millions of Japanese would have died. Neither is a good choice. Truman selected the lesser of two evils. Allowing Japan to have a conditional surrender before they were soundly defeated was not thinkable. It would have allowed Japan to retain China, Korea, and many islands. Instead, we were able to enter Japan and change them from a North Korean style Emperor/God worship to a democracy.
    Why have we lost in Iraq and Afghanistan? Because we didn’t execute extreme and overwhelming force as we did in Hiroshima and Dresden. Only when you break the enemies will entirely, can you get them to avoid war at all costs. Germany did not learn that in WWI, but did in WWII.

  18. LDS philosopher: My first paper in graduate school covered the decision to drop the Atomic Bomb. The peace overtures you cite were completely impotent and the U.S. was correct when they disregarded them. Even the Emperor’s decision to surrender after the atomic bombings was challenged and almost reversed by a military coup. Plus American willingness to negotiate would have emboldened the Japanese to think that more fighting would have gotten them more concessions.

    The sad truth is that the Japanese would not surrender without the atomic bomb dropping or millions (of Americans, Japanese, and Chinese)dying from an invasion. (An estimated two hundred thousand Asians a month were dying at this point in the war. After an invasion that figure would have sky rocketed.) The decision to drop the bomb was moral and justified. In fact, ending the war for 60,000 deaths (actually about 170,000 when both boms are included) compared to the abject blood bath that awaited all sides is the reason why the allied leaders considered this weapon a godsend. Its why Truman said he never lost a nights sleep over it.

    And its why I agree. The other options were far worse. There was the option not to fight which would have left China and much of Asia in the hands of a regime as bad as Hitlers. You also have to wonder how long they would have felt comfortable with the U.S. in Hawaii so they would probably have attacked us again anyway.

    The U.S. could have continued to bomb them. The fire bombing of Tokoyo and conventional attacks actually caused more deaths than the nuclear bombs so that couldn’t have been a better option.

    The U.S. could have blockaded the country. Kenneth Hagan argues the U.S. had already destroyed much of their shipping and merchant marine by August 1945, but then they would have to wait for the country to starve to death. That would have caused more deaths and been worse than two nuclear bombings. It also would have given the Japanese time to kill more Chinese soldiers and civilians. So between deaths from famine and deaths from the Greater East Asian War that option would have killed millions more. Even then, any peace offering from the Emperor would have faced a coup just like the surrender after the atomic bobmings.

    We could have invaded to finish them off. As already mentioned, the blood bath at Iwo Jima suggests this would have caused millions of casualities as well. It also would have allowed the Soviets time to invade and take Japenese territory. We saw how well Eastern Europeans were treated (show trials, mass deportations to the gulags, the Soviet armies refusal to help the free Poles in the Battle of Warsaw etc.) so that wasn’t a good option. You can easily argue that the Japanese Constitution and rebuilding under MacArthur was far preferable to Soviet occupation.

    Thus, every other aleternative was far worse but you have your pacifist, blame america, soldiers are barbaric nazis storyline. As bookslinger correctly said, THAT is the made up history. Again, considering every option and the context of their war the dropping of atomic weapons was justified and neccesary. I just hope when you need the military to protect your rights you won’t be so quick to throw them under the bus as war criminals.

    I also have to point out that a March 2007 statement on lds.org points out that statements from church leaders are simply opinion. Official binding doctrines are found in official declarations and the four standard works. So its nice you found a pacifist church leader to support your opinion but that doesn’t make it doctrine for this Marine.

    If this subjests interests everybody there is a volume being published by Kofford Books tentatively title “Mormon Perspectives on War”. It is a collection of essays from the recent conference on the same subject and looks very interesting. (And not just because I have an essay in it.)

  19. #8 Morgan D, does that 2007 statement mean that everything said in General Conference is just the opinion of the speakers and does not represent the voice of the church? If so, I suppose we can stop studying the addresses of the brethren.

    I don’t view President Clark’s statement as a repudiation of the military action, but the use of the particular weapon — as the latest (at the time) in a long line of escalating terror and destruction. This statement from Clark seems to condemn the ever escalating search for more effective ways to destroy human life: “[W]e in America are now deliberately searching out and developing the most savage, murderous means of exterminating peoples that Satan can plant in our minds. We do it not only shamelessly, but with a boast. God will not forgive us for this.”

  20. Thanks for the question Paul. I study general conference addresses for personal benefit. But I don’t make them binding doctrine upon other people or turn them into cudgels with which to beat my opponents. Prophetic opinion is nice and respected but for every quote from Clark or Kimball I can raise you one from Hinckley or Benson. And when we are done prophet bashing using our respective favorite quotes we are left with the same opinions but arguably farther away from being like Christ.

    For reference here is the May 7th 2007 release from the church news room:…A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church. With divine inspiration, the First Presidency (the prophet and his two counselors) and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the second-highest governing body of the Church) counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications. This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith.

  21. I’d love for you to find one quote from Pr Hinckley or Benson (while in the first presidency) that supports the use of nuclear weapons. I can’t think of one in my lifetime.

    Yes, President Hinckley made a statement about the justification of war, and yes, President Benson (when an apostle) made many statement opposing communist forces. But I’ve never heard one condone the use of nuclear force.

    Further, President Kimball famously stuck his toe into the debate when he very publicly opposed the implementation of the MX missles in Utah.

  22. Jeff, I don’t think the situation is as clear cut as you describe.

    The Japanese government wasn’t ready to negotiate terms of surrender based on the Potsdam Declaration before the bombs were dropped. See here.

  23. “Let’s mourn this event … as the brutal act of savagery it really was.”

    Yes, it was a brutal act of savagery, much like when one of the Nephite soldiers bludgeoned a Lamanite to death. Brutal and savage. No one is happy about the dropping of the bombs except for maybe General Leslie Groves, but the use of the atomic weapons has to be understood in the context of the alternatives, as others have so well pointed out.

    Even at the time, as is still debated today, is whether a first bomb should have been dropped in an unpopulated area as a demonstration. There was not really any doubt it would work; the only thing they they were unsure of was whether the configuration of the plutonium bomb would work, at those concerns were allayed with the Trinity test. There was no doubt the uranium bomb, the one dropped on Hiroshima, would work. It is my belief that if the US had had a stockpile of four or more nuclear bombs, they might have opted for the “demonstration” route. As it was, with only the two bombs essentially ready to go (with all of the support needed from a properly fitted plane, trained bomb squad, etc.) they opted for the big punch route.

    Certainly the war would have come to an end eventually without the dropping of the nuclear bombs, but at what cost? Massive air raids over Tokyo were to be the next step in the conflict had it not been for the nuclear bombs.

  24. I find it disturbing how easily and callously people rationalize evil, so long as it is the American flag that authorizes it. This thread has demonstrated to me that we as a nation have ignored Clark’s warning, and have not repented.

  25. I think you are tossing out strawman attacks now, ldsphilosopher.

    I doubt any of us here like the idea we dropped the atomic bomb. I doubt any of us here like the idea we ever had to go to war in the first place, or for anyone to die.

    That said, we do not live in Utopia. Sometimes people must be killed. Moroni never had to deal with killing men, women and children, because the Lamanites invaded. Yet at the same time, he DID drive innocent Lamanite men, women and children from their homes in the borderlands with the Nephites, and then populated those areas with Nephites. When some Nephites sought to defect with their families, Moroni was quick to stop them and engage them in war. While the scripture does not state it (it was after all written by Nephites), it is very possible that innocent women and children were killed in such attacks, as well. I could go on discussing such things, but you get the idea.

    Moroni hated bloodshed, yet still ran the war machine. He threatened to take the war among the Nephites and Lamanites where there were many innocent women and children. He even armed women and children with weapons. Why? Because there are some things more important than life that have to be defended sometimes.

    None of us like the idea that we dropped bombs on Hiroshima or Nagasaki. We don’t relish the fact that more died in the firebombings of Dresden than in both Japanese cities combined. But it was necessary to prevent additional deaths.

    Hirohito was raised to believe he was deity. His generals believed they had heaven on their side. Like Moroni, it wasn’t a war we could walk away from with a compromise. It required assassinating both Lamanite brother-kings and the deaths of many soldiers on both sides to end the war. Moroni could have reached a bargain anywhere along the way, and only given up some Nephite sovereignty probably. But at what cost? Loss of religion? Loss of culture? Loss of identity and freedoms?

    Any war is bad. Any death, regardless of being a soldier or bystander is tragic. For most nations do not have volunteer armies, but rather draft people in. Was it a tragedy at the end of the European war when Hitler was sending in 13 year old boys to battle? Yes. But the Allies had no choice to but stop them from killing our soldiers.

    Sometimes there is no good choice. Sometimes there is only a choice between several bad choices. Dropping atomic bombs and killing 150,000 people was better than firebombing Tokyo and killing 1 million innocents.

  26. Regarding #26, I would like to reiterate that it was the horrible decisions of 1916-1917 that brought us to the situation where we were left with only bad options in 1945. This is exactly what the Book of Mormon reminds us of. If people turn away from God, and stop supporting only defensive wars, it will bring dead-end decisions so that it appears to the Nephites and the Jaredites that the “only acceptable option” is all-out war. But if people had made different decisions 100 years earlier, or even 40 year earlier, they would not be forced into the dead-end situation of all-out war.

    What lessons can we learn today? Turn to God. Stop supporting materialism. Help the poor voluntarily. Support personal freedom against tyrants. Oppose all wars unless they are purely defensive wars. Pro-choice, pro-free market, anti-war, anti-state.

  27. Geoff is right that we sometimes paint ourselves into a corner. But we were painted into the corner long before WWII started.

    I’m not sure we can avoid all wars, but we can avoid most by being defensive in nature. Just look at Switzerland and how it has avoided wars along the way by being completely defensive.

  28. I agree, but it has to be pointed out that Switzerland has a unique geography that makes it possible for them to be completely defensive.

  29. And from what I understand, Hitler’s plans were to turn to Switzerland after he had conquered the rest of Europe. So if others had not fought Germany, Switzerland would likely have also been conquered.

  30. Switzerland still only does defensive wars. Yet, aircraft and nukes make them easy to penetrate and destroy now. We can use the threat of nukes and massive destructive force on our enemies to be protected, as well. And our oceans help protect us better than the mountains of Switzerland.

  31. Part of Switzerland’s protection is their value. There isn’t much value in conquering Switzerland. And there is a lot of value in leaving them to their neutrality (read, Swiss banks.)

  32. LDS-P says “…I find it disturbing how easily and callously people rationalize evil, so long as it is the American flag that authorizes it…” Evil? Sorry I can’t buy that. I would be willing to discuss whether dropping the bombs was right or wrong tactic, but it certainly was not evil. The 170,000+ people that were killed by the two atomic bombs aren’t deader than if they had been killed by incendiary bombs. Do you want to know what evil is? When I was in Iraq, a group of men came into a town we occupied, pour gasoline on a five year old boy and set him on fire. Their point was that if they would do that to an innocent boy; think what they would do to adults that aided the American forces. That is what evil is.

  33. Kent, that is a very sad story. I’m sorry. But the willful killing of innocent civilians is something that WE did when we dropped those bombs, so I think it was just as evil.

    And sure, they’re just as dead as if they were killed by incendiary bombs. Which would have been just as evil.

  34. Think of how many 5 year old boys were incinerated at Hiroshima, who had committed violence against no one. And we did it to send a message to Japanese forces. I see no difference.

    What I get from your comment is, “We killed tens of thousands of men women and children? That’s not evil. Some guys killing a five year old boy is evil.” Huh?

  35. Part of the moral problem I see with the atomic bombs specifically is that we really had no idea what we were doing when we did it. The effect goes far beyond who was killed.

  36. Suppose this came to a some sort of post-war tribunal. According to the law of war, President Truman committed an extremely grave violation. No one can deny that. The only possible defense is an affirmative one, and in my opinion that is relatively weak.

    If we followed our principles, half a million more Americans and ten million more Japanese would probably die. But strictly speaking, that is probably what we should have done. I feel the same way about area bombing of German cities – no one can be proud of that.

  37. My point was that those men wanted to kill that boy. I do not believe that the pilots that drop the A-bombs wanted to kill civillians even though they knew it was going to happen. The killing of civillians was going on all over the world at that time, not just in japan. The tactics and technology of the time did not allow for anything else. By your standard, the only way America could have ended the war without killing civillians would have been to surrender after Japan atacked Pearl Harbor. From your comments, I can see that you have never had to make a life or death decision. Must be nice

  38. Kent . . . I can see from your comment that you haven’t met many soldiers. Or you have only met them when they were not fighting a war.

    Sure, we have genuinely good people for soldiers. But we also have a lot of bullies.

  39. SR, Actually, LDS-P has condemned any and all of us who have stated that the USA was justified in dropping the atomic bombs on Japan. He said that we need to repent, even as Pres Clark stated.

    Personally, I view things differently. Pres Clark was a good man. He was also a pacifist. His views were very different than other GAs, however. He was against the entire war, that we should have remained isolationists, for which there are arguments for being isolationist during wars.

    It is always easy to look back and judge people according to our own “higher and loftier” standards. Pres Truman did not get us into WWI or WWII. He didn’t even know anything about atomic bombs until just weeks before he ordered it dropped. He had seen 1/2 million American troops die in battle over 5 years. He had seen 20 million Russians die at the hand of Hitler. He killed 6 million Jews, and millions of others. The Japanese had slaughtered 30 million Chinese, Koreans and islanders.

    Now, compare all of that intentional slaughter of true national innocence (China, Korea, Malyasia, Phillippines, etc., never attacked Japan) of men, women and children, to our dropping two bombs against a people known to torture, rape, and kill their subjects.

    The Japanese people were innocent in one sense, but not in another. All had been raised to worship the Emperor. All had been raised, ready to fall on the sword for their Emperor. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were military complex cities. Men and women both worked in building armaments to slaughter not only American soldiers, but also innocents in occupied territories like Japan and Korea.

    In 1985, the Air Force had me stationed in South Korea. While there, I got to know many of the Koreans. Many could remember the Japanese occupation. They still hated and distrusted the Japanese, even though the Japanese were now a peaceful trading partner. I’ve heard women explain how they were forced into prostitution, raped, and brutally tortured until they could not bear children.

    Justice would require we turn Japan over to Korea and China for just retribution. We didn’t do that. We offered terms of surrender on many occasions. They refused every time. To invade Japan as we did Germany would have killed millions more Japanese and a million more of our own troops.

    With all this evidence, I can understand why Pres Truman would consider dropping the two bombs as his most merciful and best choice. Every day the Japanese continued in power, they were slaughtering innocents intentionally – not from the air with an atomic bomb, but on the ground with brutality. We were merciful to the world in dropping those bombs. The war ended swiftly. Yes, 150,000 were killed, and that is sad. But we saved millions more from death at the hands of the Japanese.

    And I do not believe we need to repent of that.

  40. Correction: “in occupied territories like Japan and Korea.” should have read “in occupied territories like China and Korea.”

  41. Oh, and I’ve had the opportunity once to speak to one of the airmen on the Bockscar, the plane that dropped the bomb on Nagasaki. Their intent was to end the war. After hearing of the many deaths, they were saddened. But they still knew it was the right thing.

  42. As a child, I heard my dad express gratitude for Truman’s decision, explaining that it probably saved his father’s (my Grandpa) life. As a result, I too have felt gratitude.

    I don’t remember ever defending the dropping of the atom bomb to anyone, although I probably would have if I’d had the chance. Since my childhood, I’ve spent plenty of time reading about that event, along with any other interesting event in history I can find a good book about (not a historian, just someone who enjoys non-fiction reading).

    Do I think the killing of an innocent via atomic bomb is a good thing? No. Do I think killing an innocent via any other means is a good thing? No. Do I think killing an aggressor via any means is a good thing? Not really, although I may cede the point that it may be justifiable under certain circumstances.

    Do I think it’s easy to evaluate the morality of Truman’s decision, given the nuance and complexity of interpreting history, not to mention trying to understand the political/strategic/tactical implications of the time? Absolutely not!!

    So how to I feel about the atomic bombing of Japan? I’ll admit I don’t have all the possible facts, and even with all the facts, there would still be a lot worth debating. But generally, I feel pretty good about it. It may not have been the best option, but it seems to have been one of the better options of those available.

    I guess that makes me guilty of callously rationalizing a great evil, as lds-p points out.

    I can see good points on both sides of the argument, so I’ll not judge Truman and other leaders of the time too harshly on this one. Just as I’ll try not to judge at all any of those who come down on either side of this debate…

  43. Rameumptom, perhaps. My personal opinion is that I don’t know and can’t know whether or not it was justified. I acknowledge the possibility, knowing what I know of warfare and human nature, that it was not.

    But the “point” I was referring to was not the OP, but the specific point of which action—killing a five year old by lighting him on fire, or killing via atomic bomb—was “more evil.”

  44. And, I might add, that if it WAS justified, it still is nothing we should feel good about. Grimly resolved, perhaps. But not good on any level.

  45. SR, we can totally agree with that. No death in war is a good thing, whether an innocent or aggressor. There are no good choices in war. There are only choices that can make things worse, or hopefully end the conflict.

    I can understand some not accepting the justification of dropping the bomb. It is another thing to call people to repentance, who see it as a justified, though tragic, event. For me, Harry Truman made a very important decision that saved millions of innocent lives in Japan, China, Korea, Malaysia, and many other places. If I were in his place, I would also have done the same.

  46. Rameumpton, I do not think that J. Reuben Clark is as isolated in his opinions as you believe. It is easy to dismiss the opinions of church leaders by calling them aberrations, but J. Reuben Clark was not an aberration. Spencer W. Kimball famously spoke out against the use and development of nuclear weapons. Ezra Taft Benson considered himself an isolationist and a pacifist. And, David O. McKay, Heber J. Grant, and J. Rueben Clark all signed their names, on behalf of the church, to a letter to the Department of the Treasury, from which this excerpt is taken:

    Returning to our your original letter and our reply thereto regarding the selling of Defense Bonds. The Church as a Church does not believe in war and yet since its organization whenever war has come we have done our part. Our members served in the war with Mexico, not such much in the Civil War because we were so far away, but our members went into the Spanish-American War and they went into the World War, and the records will show that they acquitted themselves honorably. But, nevertheless, we repeat, we are against war. We believe that international difficulties can and should be settled by peaceful means, and that America’s great mission in the world is to bring this about. We believe that our entry into this present war by sending our men abroad (and this seems now to be deliberately planned) would constitute not only a mistake but a tragedy. We believe that the present war is merely a breaking out again of the old spirit of hatred and envy that has afflicted Europe for a period of a thousand years at least. We do not believe that this war will settle anything when it is over because we believe that the peace, whoever dictates it, will be primarily the outgrowth of hate, and hate never settled anything righteously.

    However, we do thoroughly believe in building up our home defenses to the maximum extent necessary, but we do not believe that aggression should be carried on in the name and under the false cloak of defense.

    Here we have a letter, signed by the First Presidency on the behalf of the church, declaring to the Federal government that they believe that our entry into World War II was a mistake. Now, this isn’t official doctrine, but I think it’s compelling evidence that J. Reuben Clark wasn’t isolated in his views among the brethren.

  47. Not sure if my previous post went successfully, so I’ll try again: LDS-P I did not say that Pres Clark was isolated in his statement or beliefs. I did say he believed in isolationism. That is a very different issue altogether. I also said that other GAs differed in their belief.

    The LDS Institute manual on Church history helps clarify this somewhat. While the Church leaders preferred a fully defensive war, they officially remained neutral on the war (to protect members on all sides from retribution). But the noted that those soldiers who fought, as long as they did it without hate in their hearts, were obeying the laws of the land and therefore not at fault for being in any engagement.

    The First Presidency stated, “The members of the Church have always felt under obligation to come to the defense of their country when a call to arms was made.” Obviously, they felt that this was an issue of defending the country. Perhaps Pres Clark’s concern was over the methodology of sending troops overseas or about the hatred some had against Japanese or Germans, rather than the fact that it was a justified war.

    Institute Manual on Church History – WWII

  48. I didn’t misunderstand your comment. My point is that Clark was not isolated in his belief in isolationism. David O. McKay and Heber J. Grant both signed their names to a letter than called our entry into World War II a tragedy. Ezra Taft Benson was explicitly an isolationist of sorts. And I don’t see any evidence that other GAs disagreed with Clark on the bombing of Hiroshima.

  49. SilverRain says: “Kent . . . I can see from your comment that you haven’t met many soldiers. Or you have only met them when they were not fighting a war.”

    I just retired from 24 years in the Army so I have met a lot of Soldiers both during peace time and during war (I served in both Afghanistan and Iraq). I have seen the horrors of war first hand and have lost friends in both countries. The military is a cross section of the country and reflects both the good and the bad , however 99% of the people I knew and served with were good people who loved their families and were proud to serve. I have been a member of the Church my entire adult life and have met bullies and jerks who were members too.

    The point of my post was that I do not believe that dropping the atomic bombs were evil acts. Rameumpton did a better job of explaining how I believe than I could have so I won’t go over it again. I certainly don’t believe that everything this country has done is right or justified such as our treatment of the Native Americans or slavery, but in this case dropping the bombs was the best of alternatives that they had at the time. Trying to clear Tokyo door by door would have made Stalingrad look like a walk in the park.

  50. Kent, if one can’t win a war without deliberately targeting innocent civilians, then it is better to pray for divine deliverance or die with dignity.

  51. Ldsphilospher, how do you feel about the United States’ roles in the Battle of the Philippines (1941-1942) and in the Philippines Campaign (1944-45)? In the first the Philippines were American territory that was invaded and conquered by Japan. In the second roles were reversed: the Philippines were Japanese territory that was invaded by the United States.

  52. LDS-P Are you saying that the US should have surrendered to Japan on December 8, 1941? That would have been the only way end the war without killing civillians.

  53. Kent, perhaps you didn’t hear me. Here’s what I said:

    “If one can’t win a war without deliberately targeting innocent civilians, then it is better to pray for divine deliverance or die with dignity.”

    So, we could fight the war without deliberately targeting innocent civilians. And if we can’t win that way, we pray for divine deliverance. And if God doesn’t grant it, then we die with dignity.

  54. Kent—Well, perhaps soldiers look different to a teenage girl than they do to one of their buddies. I have seen plenty of evidence that many are a touch more . . . sadistic . . . than most Americans would like to believe. And I don’t really wish to continue this line of discussion, so please let me concede the field to you at this point.

  55. Kent, are you not listening to me? We can and should fight defensives wars, so long as they don’t require us to deliberately target innocent civilians. If they do, then we should put our lives in the hands of God. I don’t see how defending ourselves against Al-Qaeda requires us to deliberately target and kill innocent civilians. If you keep putting words into my mouth, this discussion is over.

  56. The only way we can accomplish wars as LDS-P suggest is to only engage in entirely defensive wars here at home. When Al Qaeda attacked us, we should not have attacked Afghanistan, because that means we knowingly put civilian lives at risk. We should not have gone into Pakistan and killed Osama Bin Laden, because it risked the lives of the women and any other innocents in the building.
    That is what this ends up coming down to. Any war risks civilians. Especially when the majority of targets are in civilian areas. Personally, I think it is ridiculous to avoid civilian deaths, even in a defensive war – because civilians will be used as shields by the enemy. You may as well tell the world that we are going to surrender right now.

    Or do you draw the line somewhere on this? Just what is acceptable when it comes to civilian deaths, because virtually any military action intentionally risks civilians. The most we can do, even with today’s intelligence and technology, is reduce the number of civilians that may be harmed. But we cannot prevent it without fully pulling out of war. And if it is on our own soil, then it only means that innocent American civilians will die. So, to play this game to its logical conclusion, we must therefore renounce all war, bury our weapons of war as did the Ammonites, so if we’re ready to be complete pacifists, then okay. Otherwise, we need to find a compromise somewhere around here.

  57. There’s a throwaway line in a David Byrne song that sticks with me: “Battles are fought between families and nations.” The combatant/non-combatant division of the world into innocent civilians and guilty soldiers who it’s OK to kill is a nice convention for those who can agree to it, but silly if taken too seriously, producing notions like defending military installations with civilian shields or keeping military forces hundreds of miles away from those they are ostensibly defending lest our virtuous rivals should be forced against their better judgment into the position of conquering our cities.

  58. I think you are all missing the point. Unless I’m the one misunderstanding, there is a vast difference between risking innocents and deliberately targeting innocents.

  59. If the enemy begins to use civilians as shields, then perhaps they are monsters that we cannot righteously kill without divine, miraculous assistance.

    But let me emphasize: my point is that we should not intentionally target civilians. Those two words, emphasized several times in my comments, don’t necessarily rule out risking the lives of civilians in the process of taking our military targets. But it would rule out means of war that include deliberately targeting and killing civilians in an attempt to coerce surrender.

  60. And having been in the military for 20 years, I see a very fine line between saying “intentionally” versus accepting the fact that those innocents are human shields that are sadly in the way. With that, I yield the field because I think I’ve said more than enough.

  61. I think the message of my post and discussion is that the citizens of HIroshima were innocent civilians, and that Truman as confessed he deliberately targeted them as civilians. As such, the bombings were wrong. They weren’t human shields, so that scenario doesn’t even apply.

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