Saturday marks the 66th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima – devastating acts that helped bring World War Two to a close. (Three days after Hiroshima, Nagasaki was similarly battered).
The attacks – the only time nuclear weapons have ever been used in world history to date – killed tens of thousands of people and shocked the planet with the scale of their destruction.
There has been much controversy over the decision to bomb Japan and some speculation that it might have been racially motivated (given that the U.S. military did not drop such weapons on European civilian targets).
Anti-Japanese discrimination was widespread in the United States long before the war, as exemplified by immigration restrictions the government imposed upon the Japanese (as well as other Asians).
However, the bombing of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii by the Imperial Japanese military threw that animosity into overdrive that lasted well after the second world war.
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About 120,000 Japanese-Americans were rounded up into internment camps during the war, while propaganda was mass- produced that depicted the Japanese as subhuman and extremely cruel and depraved.
Admiral William F. Halsey told a news conference in 1944 that "the only good Jap is a Jap who's been dead for six months."
However, it must be noted that America’s principal enemy in the war, Germany, had surrendered three months prior to these bombings and the first successful test of the weapons occurred in July 1945 (two months after Germany surrendered).
Also, it should be noted that U.S. and allied bombs killed tens of thousands of German civilians during the final stretch of the war, particularly in cities like Dresden, which were practically obliterated off the map.
Major Myron L. Hampton refuted the notion that the decision to bomb Japan was racist in a document he wrote entitled ‘Racism and the Atomic Bomb’ in 1990.
“The effects of the bombing raids on Hamburg and Dresden were just as devastating as the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” Hampton wrote.
“The destruction of the cities and the numbers of people killed were comparable. The shocking factor was that one bomb caused the destruction in Japan, whereas in Europe, continuous bombing raids and multiple assets were used.”
Hampton conceded that Japanese-Americans were treated far worse than their German and Italian counterparts during the war and before.
“There is no doubt that the Japanese and everything that reminded the American public of Japan was greatly despised,” he wrote.
“[The] Japanese were considered to be less than human. Although racial discrimination was blatant, the fact still remains that the United States was equally committed to defeating both enemies and with Winston Churchill's urging, had established a ‘defeat Europe’ first policy. If the atomic bomb had been available prior to the surrender of Germany, it would have been used in Europe, with the blessing of both England and Russia.”
In addition, after Germany had surrendered, the U.S. issued Japan an ultimatum to follow suit – Tokyo refused and kept fighting on.
U.S. President Harry Truman, who must take ultimate responsibility for the atomic bombing, said his reasoning was that by taking such drastic actions against Japan, the war would have been shortened, and countless more lives would have been saved.
Indeed, at the time much of the world reacted favorably to the US bombing of Japan – much relieved after six years of a murderous global war.
Still, the nagging questions that remain – would the U.S. have unleashed atomic weapons against white Europeans – can never really be answered.