We’ve had two dubious anniversaries in the past week. It’s been 60 years since the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Hiroshima was bombed on August 6, 1945. Nagasaki was bombed three days later and today is the anniversary of that second use of atomic weapons on a civilian population.
In the last four years Americans have been struggling to try to make sense of the 9/11/01 attacks on New York City and Washington. The question on the minds of most Americans is simply why. Why when we Americans generally regard ourselves as good people who do many good things throughout the world would someone decide to orchestrate attacks that resulted in the deaths of thousands of people (and that very easily could have killed many more than they did)?
The answer to that question is all about perspective. From the perspective of many people in the third world America seems monolithic and threatening. In school here we’re brought up seeing, for instance, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as the quickest way to bring an end to war in the Pacific in 1945. The Japanese, we are taught, were prepared to fight down to the last man, woman and child to defend their homeland and that an invasion would have led to the deaths of around 1 million US soldiers and countless more Japanese and that buy dropping two bombs and killing around 200,000 people in both cities that millions were spared and the war was brought to a swift end. This is and has been the American perspective on the use of the atomic bombs on Japan.
While it is undeniable that Japan’s military and political establishment behaved heinously throughout their militarist expansion and campaign of conquest in the Pacific in the 1930s and 1940s being the only nation on earth to have been the target of atomic weapons almost instantly transformed the Japanese from aggressors to victims. The act of using these horrible weapons on two Japanese cities has made the Japanese something like the world’s atomic conscience. No one else in the world can describe first-hand what it was like to experience an atomic attack. In the United States these are stories that one rarely hears.
Imagine for a moment how the story of the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki play in the third world and you begin to understand why someone might think the only way to deal with us would be to use our own jetliners as missiles on us. One of the legacies of the way WWII came to an end is the perception in a great part of the rest of the world that the USA is a dangerous thug. Before the end of the Cold War nations who feared the US or were in conflict with us aligned themselves with the Soviet Union and in so doing put themselves behind the USSR’s shield of nuclear weapons. The logic was (and it held up pretty well) that America would never use significant force against them out of fear that the Soviet Union would retaliate and that such retaliation would result in a nuclear exchange that would wipe out everyone on both sides – mutually assured destruction. With the Soviet Union gone and Russia largely an economic pawn of the west small nations whose objectives are in conflict with the US are turning to their own means of defense – some call it Fourth Generation Warfare, others call it terrorism.
The bomb ended WWII and ushered in nearly half a century of global stability and peace. But being in near sole possession of the bomb (the minor nuclear powers really don’t play into this dynamic much since none of them would ever be likely to use one of their bombs against the United States in order to force a political situation to turn in their favor) puts the United States effectively in the position of being the fastest gun in the west. Eventually some gunslinger’s bound to be a quicker draw.