This week we recognize the 70th Anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and we celebrate the lives of the 2,390 Americans who died that day. The first bombs fell at 6:05 that morning, and less than 24 hours later Franklin D. Roosevelt declared war – a war that would end with the catastrophic explosions of “Fat Man” and “Little Boy” in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This “nuclear diplomacy” ordered by President Harry S. Truman has become the subject of great debate over the past 66 years, and for good reason. These two bombs killed an estimated 200,000 Japanese civilians, and devastated two of the island nation’s largest cities (Reference). In this post I will investigate Truman’s decision making process using the Dirty Hands problem and the fear principle.
We’ve all heard the saying “It’s all fair in love and war,” but have you ever thought about why? Every act of war is by part immoral, and therefore, no act of war can leave you without a little dirt under your fingernails. We simply hope that the immorality is outweighed by the greater good, and this brings us to the definition of dirty hands. Martin Hollis elucidates this principle using the Glencoe massacre. This massacre was carried out in 1692 against a rebellious tribe in Scotland called the MacDonalds. The MacDonalds were hosting warriors from Argyllshire who received orders through the chain of command to kill the entire MacDonald tribe that was hosting them. The reason for the massacre was to protect the remaining assets of the King by scaring them into submission. The Unites States’ nuclear attack on Japan carries many similarities to the MacDonald massacre, and as a result, can be enlightened by the dirty hands problem: that any unjust or immoral act is justifiable if done for the greater good. In this case, the bombing of Japan was necessary because it induced a treaty that would save countless American lives.
One historical fact that is often ignored is that Nagasaki was bombed 3 days after Hiroshima. During this time period Japan began negotiating for a possible surrender. This leads us to believe that the strategy and reasoning behind each bomb was different. Hiroshima was more of a strategic choice. The destruction of munitions factories there crippled the Japanese military. When the Enola Gay released its payload over Hiroshima, President Truman said “We have used it in order to shorten the agony of war, in order to save the lives of thousands and thousands of young Americans.” Then recent battles such as the devastating Battle of Okinawa proved to Americans that the Japanese were tenaciously devoted to holding their ground. More casualties were suffered on both sides of this battle than for any other battle in the Pacific theatre of WWII. Therefore, by isolating the suffering to the Japanese half of this equation, President Truman confronted the dirty hands issue for the Allies and saved countless American lives.
Motivations for dropping the “Fat Man” over Nagasaki were, in my opinion, less of a tactical maneuver and more of a passionate vendetta. Surveys taken after Pearl Harbor indicated that 33% of Americans would support the complete annihilation of Japan and its entire people (reference). These genocidal attitudes were brought on by the psychological warfare employed by the Japanese. Japan established early on that they were willing to throw conventional wartime conduct out the window. They proved this by attacking Pearl Harbor before America was even in the war and further by using American POWs as bayonet practice, “Some 50 men practiced on Lloyd for a half an hour under the supervision officers who demonstrated the proper technique” (reference). The fear that these actions instilled in Americans brought about a primal need to avoid “the danger of a violent death” as Hobbes puts it. This fear could have driven many Americans to revert to the inexorable tactics of psychological warfare coined by the Japanese. Decimating one of Japan’s most prized cities would certainly shake the nation’s collective psyche. In my opinion, this war came down to acts of terrorism, and in order to “avoid violent death,” Americans had no choice but to retaliate with a great and final force. Is the fear principle just cause for acting out in violence?
Nearly 80% of Americans today think that the bombing was justified (reference). Would you guess the Japanese would think otherwise? Was it possible for Truman to end this war without leaving his hands so dirty?