Ever since the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August, 1945, ending the war in the Pacific and the Second World War, there has been a constant dull litany of liberal guilt over those events. When the Enola Gay, the B-29 Superfortress, dropped its payload on Hiroshima, the world changed forever.
The recently concluded international commemoration of Hiroshima Day, marking the use of atomic weapons against Japan, has resulted in an uncritical chorus of criticism concerning those events. Some historians, ethicists, physicians, and peaceniks have been especially afflicted by this angst. But is such a reaction warranted and historical accurate?
The Japanese have historical amnesia, and so-called revisionist historians and too many well intentioned peace activists, are wrong in defending the Japanese. Having visited the memorial at Hiroshima, and studied its signage, as well as having talked to high school students, most are completely ignorant of the Second World War and its causes, Pearl Harbour, the Rape of Nanking (with 300,000 civilians killed) and the thousands of Korean sex slaves.
The Second World War is still a very sensitive and neglected subject in Japan and most high school history text books, and politicians, gloss over the subject. The Japanese killed 15 million people during the Second World War. The use of nuclear weapons to end the Second World War was regrettably necessitated. It probably saved the lives of up to one million U.S. servicemen, as well as Allied POWs held in Japan. The Japanese junior officer corps attempted a coup to prevent the Emperor from surrendering. To this day all Japanese governments have refused to issue an apology to China for its invasion.
About 110,000 people were killed in the conventional firebombing of Tokyo, compared to the 140,000 immediately killed in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. With grim numbers like this the type of weapon used hardly matters. When my (late) wife was a young child she spent two years in a Japanese internment camp in Vietnam outside of Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) and only survived the Second World War because it was brought to an end when the U.S. used atomic weapons against Japan. I for one make no apologies.
Yet it is critically important to put these historical and military events into perspective. During the Second World War in the order of 45 million people died, including 20-25 million Soviets, 15 million Chinese, six million Jews, half a million to 1.5 million Gypsies, tens of thousands of committed Red Army political officers and communists, trade unionists and homosexuals. All these nationalities and groups were singled out because of their “racial, political, or cultural” characteristics and were systematically exterminated by the fascist barbarians.
In the post-Second World War period, there have been at least 25 recognized genocides around the world, from Biafra to Vietnam to El Salvador to Rwanda to the Balkans. No one ethnic, religious or political group can claim to be the sole and exclusive victims of state-sponsored genocide and democide, nor can any one group claim special victimhood status.
Genocide is, sadly, integral to world history, from the Old Testament (Torah) to the headlines of our daily newspapers. All the victims of history’s various genocides should be remembered. And nuclear war is no longer a viable option for resolving international disputes and conflicts.
Richard Deaton, Ph.D., LL.B., of Stanley Bridge, taught Military Ethics and Law at the Royal Military College of Canada (RMC), Kingston.