- The Washington Times - Friday, August 5, 2005

On Aug. 6, 1945, an estimated 80,000 Japanese were killed instantly in Hiroshima. Three days later, on Aug. 9, more than 100,000 Japanese in Nagasaki joined them. It was a tragic end to the bloodiest conflict in human history. The irony is that it would have been even worse had President Truman decided against using atomic weapons and instead authorized an invasion of the Japanese mainland. Estimates vary, but on the American side alone there would like have been between 200,000 and 1 million U.S. casualties. The Japanese toll would have been in the millions. And, as recent evidence reveals, the United States was not at all certain an invasion would have succeeded.

There was a time when Americans understood this context — that the atomic bombs saved lives. It seems that 60 years has a tendency to alter perceptions that were once so clear. As a March AP-Ipsos poll found, Americans are now evenly divided over the dropping of the atomic bombs. In 1945, 85 percent of Americans approved the use of atomic weapons. Now, only 47 percent approve, while 45 percent disapprove.

These statistics are troubling, but also misleading. Among Americans 65 and older, 57 percent approve of Truman’s decision and 33 percent disapprove. At the other end of the age spectrum — 18 to 29 — 38 percent approve and 59 percent disapprove. In fact, the older one is the more likely he or she is to approve of the bombs’ use.

What explains this generational difference? Could it be that the revisionists’ arguments — so prominent on university campuses in recent years — have successfully swayed the American public? Perhaps, but that is giving the revisionists too much credit. One possible explanation indeed concerns education, though not the sort that is politically motivated.

Younger Americans might simply not understand what was going on in the summer of 1945; others, such as the Baby Boomers, might have forgotten. It’s hard to appreciate these days that even after the fall of Germany American casualties in the Pacific were running to more than 7,000 per week. While Europe celebrated liberation, the United States lost nearly 20,000 soldiers on Okinawa between April and June 1945. Units that had just defeated Germany were in the process of being redeployed for what many considered the eventual assault on the Japanese mainland. But, as new evidence suggests, the invasion was not as inevitable as was once thought. This wasn’t, as the revisionists argue, because the Japanese were already defeated; rather, as Richard Frank in the Weekly Standard points out, it was because Japan was nowhere near the end.

In this age of so much uncertainty, Americans have a natural aversion to nuclear weapons. Let’s hope our enemies are as conscientious. The current shift in the public’s approval of Truman’s decision no doubt reflects 60 years fearing nuclear annihilation. This, however, is also why the context of August 1945, must continually be understood and taught in our schools. In the final analysis, it was America’s refusal to sacrifice so many that led Truman to do what he did.

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