In the wake of President Obama’s recent trip to Hiroshima, Japan, fresh debates have erupted in regard to our use of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end World War II. Some conservatives interpreted Obama’s visit as a de facto ‘apology’ to Japan for the use of the bombs, although he was careful to not explicitly issue one. Others have used his trip as an opportunity to criticize the U.S. and then-President Harry Truman for the decision to drop the bombs. Some of those people have even gone as far as to call it a “terrorist attack.” Yikes!
To counter that argument, many others have claimed that the U.S. had no choice because an invasion of Japan would have resulted in an unacceptable number of American casualties. They argue that every Japanese man, woman, and child would have been willing to fight to the death to fend off a U.S. invasion, therefore it would have been a long, bloody slog. They are probably right, but who could blame the Japanese people for fighting tooth and nail with every ounce of their strength to defend their homeland? Wouldn’t we do the same thing if the U.S. were invaded?
However, lost in all of this back-and-forth is the fact that Truman, like many of his defenders today, allowed himself to fall victim to a False Choice in regard to Japan. He felt as if he had to choose between dropping the A-bombs and invading Japan, neither of which was a pleasant option. Therefore, he settled on what he thought was the lesser of two evils, and the majority of Americans still agree with that decision. But why did Truman and company assume that they only had two choices. There was a third choice that was never considered. Contrary to the conventional foolishness at that time, we did not have to force Japan into an Unconditional Surrender.
We had already driven them out of China, Okinawa, and the Philippines. They no longer occupied anyone else’s territory. Their military strength had been significantly depleted. We had them hemmed in on every side, just like we had Saddam Hussein’s Iraq hemmed in prior to our ill-advised decision to invade that country. We could have just stood guard over them in the region to make sure they never committed another act of aggression. In addition, we could have used an embargo to further keep them in check. Forcing them into an unconditional surrender was too costly – and completely unnecessary. The war could have ended without it.