Hiroshima: war or terrorism?

Was Hiroshima a legitimate military target or was the nuclear bomb a terrorist act on a civilian population? Discuss.

What’s your opinion? Discuss.

It was an evil act, so I guess the rest is just semantics. No, it wasn’t terrorism mainly because it was an act of war in a “real” war by a “real” country.

In terrorism, on the other hand, you have acts perpetrated by “private” groups and not in a declared war.

Targeting civilians is always wrong.

It was a ‘legitimate’ target (by the standards of the day) in the fact that WWII was a total war (hopefully the LAST such war we ever fight on that scale)…civilian populations were not exempt at that time. Its revisionist history to claim otherwise when ALL the major combatants targetted civilian population centers. Nor were any of the major combatants prosecuted for direct targetting of civilian population centers after the war…the losers were prosecuted for other crimes (direct murder, torture, abuse of prisoners, etc), but afaik not for the bombing of population centers.


By who’s standards? Certainly it would be seen as an evil act TODAY for a major power to indiscriminantly target population centers…but then much of human history would be considered ‘wrong’ by todays standards, no? You have to measure such acts by the yard stick of the day, not by todays yard stick, or human history is meaningless…its ALL evil.


War is never the ideal moral choice. But IMO it is sometimes the best choice at the point at which the choice has to be made, thanks to errors of judgment committed long before, or several other reasons.

Given that assertion as a presumption, so that we don’t get hijacked into discussing whether there is such a thing as a “moral war” or whether WWII was one, let’s add a second presumption: attack on “military targets” is moral; attack on “civilian bystanders” generally is not. (This gets into a lot of hairy definitions – my intent is to distinguish a bomber-producing aircraft factory from a hospital or orphanage. Granted the men working in the factory are civilians, etc.

Now, if your degree of precision and domination of the air is such that you can destroy a significant part of the warmaking potential of your enemy, but not sufficient to pinpoint-target munitions factories in a city with cathedrals, orphanages, etc., are you justified in bombing that city with as much precision as you can achieve?

Further, what if, in the information available to you at the time you make your decision, such a bombing effort would cut the war short, therefore minimizing the amount of deaths on either side yet to be inflicted?

My dad survived Okinawa. He would have gone in with Coronet, most likely – God isn’t giving out answers to whether he would have survived it. I’m an only child because the war lasted as long as it did. I’m here today at all because it ended when it did, and Dad survived to come home.

Insofar as Truman knew – and this goes for his advisors as well – Japan’s leaders were prepared to fight a Gotterdammerung defense – but there was enough of a peace party, and enough fence-sitters, including the Emperor, that the threat of A-bomb destruction would end the war.

It doesn’t matter what we know now about what would have happened without the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs, unless you have a way to demonstrate that Truman knew or should have known it. Like all men, he’s held accountable for what he decided with what he did know, or what he ought to have known.

I think it was a proper act of war – in that particular set of circumstances. It might not have been, in a different time and place. And, as noted, I have a personal stake in the answer, so my views could be slightly prejudiced.
However, let’s raise a second question: Based on your views on Hiroshima, was the second bomb, on Nagasaki, moral? Why or why not?

Hiroshima had substantial military installations and industrial infrastructure for war production.

People forget that by the time the A-Bomb was ready, most of Japan’s cities had been burned to the ground by incendiary bombing. The Japanese knew they were beaten, but the fanatics of the Japanese Army would not hear of surrender. Truman had to wind up the war QUICKLY (becuase the Russians were busily occupying the former Japanese territories in NE China. So I don’t blame Truman at all-the japanese leadership was to blame.
In truth, I think the atom bomb DSAVED many lives (japanese and American).
Had I been president Truman, I would have done the same…except I would have bombed Tokyo first.

Targeting civilians is always wrong. That is my apprehension of the morality of war. It was wrong in 1558, 1945, and 2001. It’s still wrong and always will be.

There are two parts to the Hiroshima argument. First is the point that Hiroshima really wasn’t worse than any other major civilian bombing–not morally. The US didn’t know about the radiation poisoning that would occur.

The second part is convincing people that civilian bombing is wrong. Or otherwise killing or harming civilians.

The 9/11 attacks and the ME suicide bombers, if you want to know the truth, are really no different than the bombers who bombed the hell out of Dresden, Berlin, Guernica, Warsaw, Nagasaki or wherever. They have a goal and they think they’re justified. They’re wrong, just as we were wrong when we bombed Hiroshima. Or when Nixon did “Rolling Thunder.”

One argument I always find a little curious is that bombing Hiro/Naga was justified because it ended the war and saved both American and Japanese lives. Well, what if Japan had had the bomb in 1945 and started nuking LA, San Diego, Honolulu, etc.? They could have used the same reason! It will save lives in the end.

War is never good, but it should be limited to the destruction of armies, weapons, and the facilities needed to wage war.


I think this perfectly describes what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Now, of course, all sides in WWII may have done similar things, but that doesn’t mean that nobody can be accused of committing terrorist acts, it means that all sides committed terrorist acts.

I’m not 100% certain about the always wrong part ( given most commmon definitions of ‘wrong’). However, I am certain that the default decision on any plan that involves the slaughter of unarmed civilians should be ‘against’.
On a human level, the only justification to create an epidemic of human suffering and misery is to prevent a pandemic of human suffering and misery.
Additionally, in this case it is especially unacceptable to argue that the default position on slaughter of civlians is anything other than ‘against’ because otherwise the definition of ‘terrorism’ goes all woogedy.
The obvious remaining sound routes to make a case is demonstrating that the bombing either did or did not prevent more suffering.

Like you, I too hope that in this regard our present is not excluded. More humane humanity been a human dream off and on for some time now. It comes highly reccomended from all the right people.

Well put.

“We” have a goal and the only way to achieve it quickly is by killing a bunch of civilians, so it’s OK.

“They” have a goal and the only way to achieve it quickly is by killing a bunch of civilians, so they are a bunch of barbaric cowards. :rolleyes:

In your calculus here, did you allow for the difference between aggression and defense?

This whole argument is based on the assumption that America’s surrender would have ended the war of Japanese conquest in Asia. This assumption is very clearly wrong. America would have surrendered under such conditions, and Japan would have continued to conquer territory and target civilians for many years afterwards.

So in short, America’s bomb ended the war, but if the roles were reversed and Japan had gotten it first, Japan’s bomb would have escalated the war.

Doubtful, as the US isn’t concentrated like Japan is. Targetting west coast population centers wouldn’t have necessarily shortened the war, or forced the US to surrender. Unless you also posit an alternative universe where the US was being losing badly, bombed regularly by Germany and Japan, etc, its a completely unrealistic scenerio. The US was by no means close enough to the brink that targetting a few of our cities would have done more than completely piss us off…certainly not in '45. Japan on the other hand needed to be convinced that they had ALREADY lost and should have sued for peace in '44…even if said peace required ‘unconditional’ surrender.

Remember something in your calculations…the US didn’t WANT to go to war. We were neutral and would most likely have remained so.


Al Qaeda thinks it is acting in defense of the Arab/Muslim world. Should that justify it?

Well, maybe not. Since we’re all being hypothetical here:
If America surrendered after suffering a few nuclear bombings, then maybe all of the Asian countries targeted by Japan would simply surrender out of fear (“If America surrendered, what chance do we have?”). So, it would have saved lives.

When we start making hypothetical arguments, we can “predict” that any number of things could have happened.

Let’s concetrate on what *did * happen: The U.S. specifically targeted and killed hundreds of thousands of civilians in an instant, with the goal of terrorizing the Japanese people and/or government into surrender.

That is terrorism. Maybe it was justified according to some people. But it is terrorism. So, the only real question is: is terrorism sometimes justified?

Its probably slipped your mind, but we live in a different age than those folks did in WWII…with different standards. In addition, at the time of 9/11 the US wasn’t actively ‘at war’ with AQ…or even seriously going after then in any meaningful way. So, to answer your question (admittedly to SimonX)…no, there was no justification to what AQ did. You MIGHT have been able to make a case for quasi-justification if AQ had limited their attack to just the Pentagon…but to go after the WTC with civilian airliners in THIS day and age…monsterous.

Now, using the standards of earlier ages, you could probably come up with something to justify it. Its inaccurate to attempt to judge an act that happens in one age by the standards of another. People are formed by the times they live in…they have no fore-knowledge of how things will be in the future. Perhaps in the future gay marriage will be acceptable and our times will be looked upon as ‘barbaric’…or perhaps in the future gay marriage and homosexuality will be completely taboo, and our age will be looked upon as ‘barbaric’ because we even toyed with the idea.


But that is assuming each goal is of equal value. If you are trying to say that the goal of the US in WWII(in the Pacific) - stopping the expansion of a brutal empire from conquering eastern Asia is morally equivlant to the eventual goal of Al Qaeda - spreading extreme fundamentalist Islam worldwide - then there is no way I can have any sort of meaningful discussion with you.

Nice attempt at sarcasm, but you’re wrong in one crucial aspect: Do you doubt for a minute that many Americans today and/or the U.S. government would not want to act the same way, if a similar situation happened today?

That is, if there is some trouble with North Korea and it has to be conquered to stop a major disaster, and millions of U.S. soldiers would be killed if they attempted a conventional invasion of North Korea, and the North Korean government could be “persuaded” to surrender if a couple of its cities are nuked, killing several hundred thousand civilians, do you doubt that the US government would nuke the cities, or that the U.S. population would support the action?

I’m not saying that they shouldn’t (since it would be saving millions of American lives), but I’m saying that the same could definitely happen today, and so the “it happened a long time ago” is not a valid criticism in this case.

People would still support it, and not consider it terrorism, even though civilians would be specifically targeted, because it’s millions of OUR guys’ lives on the line, versus “only” a couple hundred thousand lives on their side.

If you think this would never happen, why do you think the U.S. still has all the nukes it has? For striking at military targets only?

I don’t know if you are aware of this, but Al Qaeda *was * at war with the U.S.

Just because the U.S. wasn’t “going after them in any meaningful way”, does not mean the two parties were not at war.

I think we can definitely judge people from other ages. Just because it happened a long time ago, it doesn’t mean I can’t consider the people who attended gladiator fights in the Colliseum as barbaric assholes.

They may have been “nice people” by the standards of their time, but who cares? They went and saw people get killed for entertainment. They were barbaric assholes.