A reply to this post by James E. Miller at the Mitrailleuse. I don’t usually recycle a comment as a post, but I thought that this explained in a nice, pointed way, my thinking and my approach to a lot of issues beyond the one at hand:
I must respectfully, but profoundly, disagree that “we should still feel bad” about the atomic bombings. This is logically equivalent to “we should still feel bad about slavery” and child labor and witch burning and, and…
“We” didn’t do it. I don’t agree with the line of thinking that “the country’s history is my history. I own its triumphs and defeats.” Human history is also my history, and I could feel truly awful about every cruelty, every horrific killing and injustice ever perpetrated, Stalin and his torturers, Hitler and his extermination camps, Mayan’s cutting the beating hearts from children…
But, I don’t.
To get specific to Japan and WW II, the atomic bombs were functionally equivalent to the massive firebombing of Tokyo and other major Japanese (and German, for that matter) cities. Tens of thousands dead, “the melting the faces off of small children, the complete erasing of the future of hapless civilians,” and so on. One can plausibly argue that fallout was an additional horror, but in a strictly moral calculus the massive bombing and warfare inflicted on civilians by the Allies must be regarded as a whole, and weighed against the war, as a whole.
Nuclear weapons have in the years since 1945 acquired a particular mystique and legend as a kind of special tool of the devil, through media repetition and scary stories. They are indeed, terrible and their use again should avoided at almost all costs. But that’s all post facto to August 1945. I’ve read the biographies of most of the U.S. leadership at that time, those of the main scientist participants in the development of the bomb, Gen. Groves book, and much other WW II historical material; and for you in 2015 to blithely speak of “amoral monsters in our nation’s capital” is easy, but really, a gross oversimplification.
The finest resource I’ve found to understand the issues is Alex Wellerstein’s Restricted Data: The Nuclear Secrecy Blog at http://blog.nuclearsecrecy.com/. I’ve read most of it, and it’s a great and even-handed look by an historian at all the complexities, technical and moral, of the development and deployment of the atomic bomb.