Dropping the atomic bomb was merciful, not merciless

Many feared that President Barrack Obama’s recent speech in Hiroshima would descend into just another stop on his worldwide “Apology Tour” of imagined grievances and revised histories.

Thankfully, our president stopped short of saying he was sorry for his predecessor’s decision to drop the atomic bombs on Japan and thus putting an end to World War II. But true to form, he did color the remarks with the left’s usual themes of moral equivalencies, multiculturalism, and self-loathing.

We were all just bad nations doing bad things, the speech seemed to imply, and dropping the bomb was probably the worst of it all.

In fairness, some on the left still criticized Obama for not offering a full throated apology.

“War crimes leave wounds,” wrote University of Norte Dame professor Daniel Philpott in the New York Daily News, attempting to lay the moral foundation for a presidential apology. “When a nation’s government places its patriotism and its policy behind a gravely immoral deed and continues to justify this deed, it invites both its citizens and future governments to commit further grave wrongs.”

A gravely immoral deed?

Tell that to those who were spared from the then-inevitable invasion of Japan, which estimates showed would have cost the lives of nearly a million Allied troops along with 10 million Japanese, who were all training to defend their god-emperor to the last man, woman, and child.

So what’s worse? Dropping the bombs and ending the war quickly and decisively, or allowing the battles to drag on, killing more and more with each passing day?

The president’s penitent tone and the left’s call for even greater remorse show how little they understand about the nature of war, especially about how to win one with the least amount of suffering. Truth is, if you try fighting a war on the cheap – in both blood and treasure – you’ll likely end up spilling more of both.

The willingness to inflict devastating blows in war may actually be a good measure of the war’s necessity to begin with. If it’s not worth fighting to win, perhaps it isn’t worth fighting at all, or else everyone may walk away bloodied with nothing settled and another war will loom.

War is always tragic, so this isn’t to say that dropping those atomic bombs and incinerating entire cities is something to joyously celebrate, but they’re certainly not actions to apologize for, be ashamed of, or allow to be rewritten by later generations.

But we’re in real danger of those things happening.

Obama’s speech is the closest an American president has come to apologizing for the atomic bombs, and younger generations aren’t being taught why they were dropped in the first place. A survey conducted last year by the Pew Research Center showed that while 70% of Americans over 65 believe that dropping the atomic bombs were justified, only 47% of 18- to 29-year-olds thought similarly.

A few weeks ago I took my grandchildren to celebrate their great-grandfather’s 92nd birthday. He was a paratrooper in World War II and would have been one of those to invade Japan, and possibly one of the expected casualties. I couldn’t help thinking as I listened to him recount his service while my children ate cake and ice cream: if those atomic bombs hadn’t dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, would these children even exist?

To recognize the necessity of some wars, and to accept that evil in the world must be fought honorably yet sometimes brutally, isn’t immoral. Sometimes it’s the only courageous thing one can do to ward off worse suffering in a terrible situation.

“War is brutish, inglorious, and a terrible waste,” wrote Mobile native Eugene Sledge, who captured life as a Marine in World War II in his bestselling memoir, “With the Old Breed at Peleliu and Okinawa.”

“We thought the Japanese would never surrender,” Sledge wrote, describing the moment they learned their war was over and they wouldn’t need to invade Japan. “Many refused to believe it. Sitting in stunned silence, we remembered our dead. So many dead. So many maimed. So many bright futures consigned to the ashes of the past.”

Yet so many more were saved, and we can thank the bombs for that.