The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was apocalyptically awful. 70 years ago today, an estimated 90,000 people were immediately killed when Little Boy detonated 1,950ft above Hiroshima – 50,000 more would die by the end of the year. Two days later, Nagasaki was struck by ‘Fat Man’, killing approximately 80,000 people. It was, as the Allies threatened during the Potsdam Conference, ‘prompt and utter destruction’.
Just four months into his presidency, President Harry Truman was tasked with making one of the most important decisions in human history. He chose to put an atomic full stop on six long years of unprecedentedly bloody conflict – here are five reasons why he made the right decision.
Written by Jack Hawkins @Hawkensian for War History Online
1. Imperial Japan was fanatical and barbarous in the absolute extreme.
Imperial Japan was a militaristic and dictatorial theocracy whose generals had fatal contempt for their enemies and a total disregard for Japanese lives. At the root of the country’s fanaticism was Emperor Hirohito, the celestial figurehead whom the zealous masses were expected to worship and even die for. The true rulers of Japan, however, were the belligerent top brass of the military.
With a desire for natural resources and their own lebensraum, the Japanese colonized Manchuria, northeast China in 1931. In 1937, Chinese resistance led to the Second Sino-Japanese war, beginning a campaign of innumerable Japanese atrocities.
The most infamous of these atrocities occurred in China’s then-capital Nanking on 13 December 1937. In an appalling act of genocide, the Japanese murdered up to 300,000 people and raped tens of thousands of women over a six-week period.
There are dozens of eyewitness accounts and photographs that reveal the sickening details of the massacre. Two survivors reported that thousands of children, women and the elderly were bound with wire or rope, driven into four columns and then mown down with ‘about twenty’ machine guns. Once the bodies had ‘heaped like mountains’, the murderers then bayoneted the corpses en masse, eventually dousing the pile with kerosene and setting it ablaze. No one was safe from Japanese bayonets, not even infants, some of whom were brutally skewered like kebabs.
The suffering endured by Nanking’s women will leave many readers incredulous. One Chinese cook gave his account of seeing dozens of female corpses, the majority of which had ‘their abdomens cut open and their intestines squeezed out.’ Some of the women had been pregnant, lying ‘dead together with their fetuses covered with blood’, their breasts having been ‘either cut off or bayoneted into a mixture of flesh and blood.’
1300 miles to the northeast of Nanking was the ‘Epidemic Prevention and Water Purification Department of the Kwantung Army’, better known as Unit 731.
This ghastly facility was host to a range of lethal human experiments, including thousands of vivisections without anesthesia. Prior to the surgeons ruthlessly opening their victims up, they had infected them with various diseases, which ranged from the bubonic plague and anthrax to syphilis and cholera. As part of research into gangrene, some victims had limbs frozen and then thawed, all the while being conscious, of course.
Many experiments were entirely military minded. Victims would be restrained and exposed to the effects of grenades, flamethrowers and various chemical weapons, the latter of which they were readily using in combat against the Chinese.
In a similar manner to the Americans’ immoral Operation Ranch Hand programme during the Vietnam War, low-altitude Japanese planes spread plague-infested fleas over the cities of Ningbo and Changde, killing thousands of people.
This disagreeable form of warfare flouted the Geneva protocol, which officially prohibited the use of ‘asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases, and of bacteriological methods of warfare’ on 8 February 1928.
There is far too little space here to fully elaborate on the crimes of Imperial Japan, which can be reasonably deemed one of the most disgustingly immoral forces the world has ever seen. The bombs stopped them from perpetrating any further barbarity – some may say it was vindication.
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