Last week the president of the United States visited Japan and laid a wreath at Hiroshima, the site of the second atomic bomb drop in World War II.  Many speculated that he would apologize for the use of the nuclear bomb that ultimately ended the war with Japan.  I held my breath as he spoke and was relieved as he did not apologize but used the moment to state that the world must never use the weapon again.  A noble gesture without humiliating a great nation.

Many people around the world have criticized the United States for the use of this horrific weapon.  While Japan is today one of America’s staunchest allies, a great trading partner and possesses open doors that allows the free exchange of ideas; it has not all ways been that way.

In 1939 Japan was feeling the economic crunch of many countries around the world.  Free trade was not prevalent and the individual countries were protective of their own natural resources.  Japan needed oil, rubber and other natural resources to grow and where better to find it than the South Pacific.  Japan invaded China and there was nothing more despicable than the Rape of Nanking.  Why the brutality had to take place is not understood.  Captured Chinese prisoners were blindfolded, tied to posts and used for bayonet practice.  The female atrocities are unspeakable.  The final death toll inflicted on China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Korea and other countries across the Pacific is estimated at six million.

On the quiet Sunday morning of December 7th, 1941 in a quiet part of paradise the Japan fleet attacked the American fleet at Pearl Harbor.  The purpose was to stymie American support of the Pacific as Japan continued its’ expansion.  What happened was that the attack awakened a sleeping giant and America was at war.  For four years America slugged it out as it island hopped across the Pacific.  One thing was clear, the Japan military machine was not the traditional military force that the Americans was used to fighting.  The Japanese used a creed known a Bashido, the way of the warrior.  It dated back to the Samurai warrior and the creed glorified dying in battle and did not allow to be taken prisoner.  Many captured allied airmen were admonished for allowing to be captured, were blindfolded, forced to kneel and were beheaded.  This was no army the American military had ever faced and islands such as Tarawa, Iwa Jima, Guadal Canal and many more proved that the Japanese military practiced the warrior creed.  Then it was time to invade part of the Japanese home land, the island of Okinawa.

It was apparent that the Japanese were fiercely protective.  Japanese pilots flew suicide flights to destroy the American fleet.  Soldiers would not surrender and were hiding in caves around the island.  Civilians jumped from cliffs to their deaths instead of being subjected to the terrors of the American soldiers that had been relayed to the civilians by the Japanese soldiers.

It was apparent that an invasion of Japan was required to end the war.  Japanese cities were being bombed with traditional bombs and there was no sign of surrender.  Military planners estimated that 500,000 Americans would die and a like number of Japanese would also die.  The price was enormous.  But there was an alternate solution and it would take a decision to be made by the new president of the United States to execute this solution.

On August 6th, 1945 the Enola Gay flew over Hiroshima and dropped the first of two atomic bombs to fall on Japan.  Ten days later the war ended without the loss of any additional Americans.  The war was over.

Many say that Truman made the toughest decision of his life.  To me it would have been one of the easiest decisions.  In an effort to save the lives of 500,000 American military members, the decision was simple; drop the bomb.

In 1963, former President Harry Truman broke his silence and sent this letter to a reporter of the Chicago Sun Times.

 

August 5, 1963

Dear Kup:

I appreciated most highly your column of July 30th, a copy of which you sent me.

I have been rather careful not to comment on the articles that have been written on the dropping of the bomb for the simple reason that the dropping of the bomb was completely and thoroughly explained in my Memoirs, and it was done to save 125,000 youngsters on the American side and 125,000 on the Japanese side from getting killed and that is what it did. It probably also saved a half million youngsters on both sides from being maimed for life.

You must always remember that people forget, as you said in your column, that the bombing of Pearl Harbor was done while we were at peace with Japan and trying our best to negotiate a treaty with them.

All you have to do is to go out and stand on the keel of the Battleship in Pearl Harbor with the 3,000 youngsters underneath it who had no chance whatever of saving their lives. That is true of two or three other battleships that were sunk in Pearl Harbor. Altogether, there were between 3,000 and 6,000 youngsters killed at that time without any declaration of war. It was plain murder.

I knew what I was doing when I stopped the war that would have killed a half a million youngsters on both sides if those bombs had not been dropped. I have no regrets and, under the same circumstances, I would do it again — and this letter is not confidential.

Sincerely yours,

Harry S. Truman

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