By LEO MALEY III and UDAY MOHAN
HISTORY NEWS SERVICE
Today marks the 60th anniversary of the atomic destruction of the Japanese city of Hiroshima during World War II.
Americans reflect on this event in sharply differing ways. Some Americans recall the event with shame and express their fervent hope that nuclear weapons never be used again. Others firmly believe that the use of atomic bombs saved American lives by ending the war prior to a bloody American invasion of Japan.
More challenging to consider is whether it was an unjustifiable act in a fully justified war.
Those who believe the bomb's use was justified often label their opponents "pacifists," "1960s radicals," "bleeding-heart liberals" or "revisionists." These epithets merely delay the day when Americans will consider the import of having used nuclear weapons.
We rightly expect Germany and Japan to confront painful episodes from their participation in World War II. Now it's our turn.
Conservatives today are the natural candidates to take the lead in confronting our most painful episode from the war, because they were once among the most vocal critics of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Consider the following: On Aug. 8, 1945, two days after the bombing, former Republican President Herbert Hoover wrote to a friend that "the use of the atomic bomb, with its indiscriminate killing of women and children, revolts my soul."
Days later, David Lawrence, the conservative owner and editor of U.S. News (now U.S. News & amp; World Report), argued that Japan's surrender had been inevitable without the atomic bomb. He added that justifications of "military necessity" will "never erase from our minds the simple truth that we, of all civilized nations ... did not hesitate to employ the most destructive weapon of all times indiscriminately against men, women and children."
Just weeks after Japan's surrender, an article published in the conservative magazine Human Events contended that America's atomic destruction of Hiroshima might be morally "more shameful" and "more degrading" than Japan's "indefensible and infamous act of aggression" at Pearl Harbor.
'Crimes against humanity'
Such scathing criticism on the part of leading American conservatives continued well after 1945. A 1947 editorial in the Chicago Tribune, at the time a leading conservative voice, claimed that President Truman and his advisers were guilty of "crimes against humanity" for "the utterly unnecessary killing of uncounted Japanese."
In 1948, Henry Luce, the conservative owner of Time, Life and Fortune, stated that "if, instead of our doctrine of 'unconditional surrender,' we had all along made our conditions clear, I have little doubt that the war with Japan would have ended soon without the bomb explosion which so jarred the Christian conscience."
A steady drumbeat of conservative criticism continued throughout the 1950s. A 1958 editorial in William F. Buckley Jr.'s National Review took former President Truman to task for his then-current explanation of why he had decided to drop an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima. The editors asked the question that "ought to haunt Harry Truman: 'Was it really necessary?"'
Could a demonstration of the bomb and an ultimatum have ended the war? The editors challenged Truman to provide a satisfactory answer. Six weeks later the magazine published an article harshly critical of Truman's atomic bomb decision.
Two years later, David Lawrence informed his magazine's readers that it was "not too late to confess our guilt and to ask God and all the world to forgive our error" of having used atomic weapons against civilians. As a 1959 National Review article matter-of-factly stated: "The indefensibility of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima is becoming a part of the national conservative creed."
But times change. In recent decades most American conservatives have become uncritical of America's use of atomic weapons and dismissive of anyone who holds a contrary view. Conservative publications now routinely defend Truman's atomic bomb decision. Critics of his decision, to quote from a representative National Review editorial from 1987, are "wrong, and profoundly offensive to all Americans and Japanese who died in that war, and to those Americans who still possess the ability to think."
X Leo Maley III has taught at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and University of Maryland, College Park, and Uday Mohan is director of research at the Nuclear Studies Institute, American University in Washington. They wrote this for History News Service. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services