Will Anybody Ever Apologize For Truman's Nuclear Horror? (Investor's Business Daily)

August 5, 2015


The pattern of a female survivor’s kimono is burned into her back following the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Japan. Newscom View Enlarged Image

Was Harry Truman a war criminal? Seventy years after ordering the atomic incineration of two densely populated Japanese cities — Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, and Nagasaki three days later — America’s 33rd president remains the only world leader to have unleashed the horror of nuclear hellfire on civilians.

“I regarded the bomb as a military weapon and never had any doubt that it should be used,” Give ‘Em Hell Harry said in 1945.

Though estimates vary, the number of people killed in both attacks totaled over 200,000. The count includes those who perished from radiation poisoning and several thousand Korean “guest” workers. Twelve U.S. Navy fliers languishing in a Hiroshima jail also died.

Those who survived the atomic blasts became known as the hibakusha, hideously mutilated monstrosities. In “Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War,” Susan Southard describes these wretched souls: “Hundreds of field workers and others staggered by, moaning and crying. Some were missing body parts, and others were so badly burned that even though they were naked, Yoshida couldn’t tell if they were men or women.”

American occupying forces made certain to censor or confiscate any and all photographs, films and medical data of the Dantesque inferno, lest critics draw a parallel between the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings and Nazi Germany’s death camps.

This was not what Italian physicist Enrico Fermi envisioned when he produced the world’s first controlled, self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction on a University of Chicago squash court on Dec. 2, 1942.

Yet Truman was unrepentant, insisting that his swift act of retribution against Japanese “military bases” ended the war and saved countless American and Japanese lives: “The Japanese began the war from the air at Pearl Harbor. They have been repaid many fold.”

Indeed, the fanatical military of the Land of the Rising Sun had cut a wide swath of savagery across Manchuria, Nanking, Korea and much of Asia. And Missouri’s favorite son came upon the world stage in media res. Having ascended to the presidency following the sudden death of FDR on April 12, 1945, the erstwhile vice president was hurriedly briefed on the Manhattan Project and America’s new super weapon by Secretary of War Henry Stimson.

Roosevelt essentially kept Truman in the dark about war planning and the A-bomb. But now the fate of the free world hinged on the decision-making acumen of a failed haberdasher.

Besides agonizing over the prospect of Stalin’s Soviet Union joining the fray against Japan — and upending the post-war international order — what weighed most heavily on Truman’s mind was the prospect of the Okinawa-like carnage that might ensue if the U.S. went ahead with Operation Downfall and invaded Japan via Kyushu and Honshu.

But once the Japanese leaders rejected the Allies (July 1945) Potsdam declaration calling for Japan’s unconditional surrender, the president chose to let slip the dogs of nuclear warfare .

Ironically, more than a few found Truman’s decision to attack Hiroshima and Nagasaki morally indefensible and militarily unnecessary: Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Adm. William Leahy, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Adm. Chester Nimitz, Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold and Adm. William “Bull” Halsey.

After Potsdam, believing that Japan was “already defeated” and seeking to surrender “with a minimum loss of ‘face,'” Eisenhower actively urged Truman and Stimson to “avoid shocking world opinion” by using such a wicked weapon.

Leahy found the entire scenario obscene: “My own feeling was that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages.”

Former President Hoover wrote in 1945 that “the use of the atomic bomb, with its with its indiscriminate killing of women and children, revolts my soul.”

War theory’s concept of ius in bello holds that when nations wage war on non-combatants, use disproportionate or unreasonable force or violate norms of civilized conduct, they commit acts that are tantamount to murder.

To date, no American president — Democrat or Republican — has ever broadly or formally apologized for Harry Truman’s cold-blooded atomic annihilation of Japanese civilians at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

• Iaconis, adjunct professor of political science at Briarcliffe College on Long Island, N.Y., is writing a novel about Truman.

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