Commentary: Hiroshima bombing still stirs debate

The 'Journey of Repentance" to be staged in Japan this summer by a handful of Tacoma-area anti-nuclear folks seems little more than moral preening.

But the big, angry response it's gotten from this newspaper's readers (see opposite page) shows that American feelings about World War II remain raw 64 years after the war ended. What's mostly overlooked in this latest dispute over Hiroshima and Nagasaki is the wartime context of the nuclear strikes on those cities.

Each time someone condemns the atomic bombings, someone else snarls back about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the Bataan death march. But the issue is more complex than Pearl Harbor vs. Hiroshima. The bombs reflected the industrial nature of the conflict – a "total war" that drove attacks not only on enemy forces but also on enemy homelands.

Opponents of the nuclear bombings tend to see them as unique moral horrors. But in terms of their killing power – far less than later nuclear warheads – the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were simply more efficient ways of visiting death on cities and factories. Conventional bombers had already killed vast numbers of noncombatants before the atom bombs fell.

A single American bombing raid on Tokyo, in March 1945, burned much of the city and killed at least 100,000 people – probably more than the bombing of Nagasaki. The main difference was it took 334 bombers to incinerate Tokyo and one bomber to incinerate Nagasaki. Yet the noncombatants in Tokyo were just as dead.

To read the complete editorial, visit The (Tacoma) News Tribune.