I’m not sure there was a “right” decision. There was no clear, easy out. Any decision made would have resulted in unbearable loss of life. I think it’s entirely possible that if the bombs had never been dropped, today we’d be complaining that America has never apologized for the bloodbaths on Kyushu and Honshu, and if Truman had just dropped the bomb much of that could have been avoided. We’ll never know, of course. It’s also foolish to assume that if the U.S. had never developed the Bomb there’d be no nuclear stockpiles today.Being able to second-guess a military victory might be the epitome of inherited privilege.
My larger point, though, is that if we’re going to own up to something, we need to own up to how difficult a decision that was to make. Real-time, real-world moral decisions often are very, very difficult. Often, “moral clarity” is achievable only if we close our eyes to most of the facts. Often there’s no “good” solution. This is how it is. It’s childish to assume everything sorts itself into good and evil, and we can just choose good and remain pure.
This display, at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, shows what U.S. military planners were contemplating, had the Manhattan Project not worked first. That the planners didn't have to commit a thousand ships and nearly half a million troops suggests that generals, also, contemplate the morality of killing.
But to my mind, arguing about the morality of the bomb is the wrong argument. We should be thinking about the morality of killing, by any means, as an instrument of policy, period. That would be the better way to remember Hiroshima.Yes, and perhaps that's why the expression "collateral damage" is in the military's lexicon.