I am so tired of arguing about whether the atomic attacks on Japan were necessary for ending the war, or whether they might have saved the lives of thousands of American soldiers who would have otherwise had to invade the Japanese mainland, or indeed, whether the attacks were unnecessary and primarily aimed at the Soviet Union. It doesn’t matter. They were morally wrong and a horrendous crime either way, no matter what policy-makers believed at the time; no matter what cause they were in support of. This is because, as our politicians so frequently remind us about terrorism, there is no cause, no belief, that justifies deliberately targetting civilians. This is the crux of it: nothing justifies incinerating hundreds of thousands of civilians. Nothing. It might have been different if they had bombed the Japanese fleet or a military camp. But they didn’t. They targetted a city of civilians, which hadn’t been bombed already, and which was flat so they could determine the subsequent damage. And when the weather wasn’t quite right, they chose another city to obliterate. A case of randomly choosing who will die.
Whether you deliberately kill hundreds of thousands of civilians by instantaneously burning them to a cinder (followed, of course, by months and years of radiation poisoning for thousands of others), or whether you slowly load them into cattle trucks and send them to gas chambers and then incinerate them in furnaces, it is still wrong to deliberately murder civilians. If instead of using a massive bomb dropped from the skies, America had dropped killer squads into Hiroshima to round people up, slaughter them with knives and burn their bodies until Japan surrendered, that would have been equally immoral. The method of killing doesn’t mean very much, although it could be argued that an atomic bomb is more immoral than many others because it precludes civilians from any chance of escape. At least if America had sent killer squads into Hiroshima, most civilians might have had a chance of escape or resistance. With a nuclear bomb, there is no escape, no chance of survival. The point is, there is no legitimate justification for deliberately killing hundreds of thousands of civilians. None. No matter what method you use – atomic bombs, conventional bombs, bullets, machetes or gas chambers – it is still wrong.
One of the biggest problems with the continual political and academic attempts to try and justify this horrendous attack on civilians is that it opens the door to future attacks on civilians. It’s a slippery slope to moral nihilism and indiscriminate slaughter. If it’s legitimate to kill 200,000 Japanese civilians to save the lives of American soldiers in the war, or end a terrible war, then why not a few thousand Iraqi or Afghan civilians to prevent another terrorist attack like 9/11? More importantly, if it’s legitimate for America to kill enemy civilians to potentially save the lives of its citizens, then why shouldn’t other nations take the same attitude? And why stop at states? Why not terrorist or militant groups? Why couldn’t terrorist groups argue that killing a few enemy civilians now could save more lives in future? What if a few bomb attacks on the London Underground helped to prevent the invasion of Iraq and thereby saved over a hundred thousand Iraqi civilians? Wouldn’t that be the same justification?
In fact, this kind of moral calculation, following the American example, is exactly what we have witnessed ever since. In Osama bin Laden’s statements he frequently referenced the atomic attack on Hiroshima as justification for his own group’s actions. If America can deliberately target civilians to achieve their goals, then why shouldn’t bin Laden? Is it just that some people – the evil ones – are forbidden from deliberately killing civilians, but others – the good guys – can kill hundreds of thousands of civilians as long as it is in a good cause? In some ways, the 9/11 attacks represent the same twisted logic as the original ground zero: deliberately trying to kill thousands of civilians is justified by the rightness of your cause. The real question posed by these continued attempts to justify Hiroshima is: can atrocity against civilians ever be justified, even if the perpetrator believes it’s in a good and noble cause? The answer is, no! Emphatically, no! From this perspective, 9/11 and ground zero Hiroshima are the twin bastards of the same perverted moral logic.
Until America – and all of those who continue to offer legitimacy to its atomic attacks – admit that it was an immoral horrendous atrocity, instead of trying to whitewash it out of history, the belief that targeting civilians is sometimes justified will never be eradicated. Owning up and making a commitment to never deliberately targetting civilians again is crucial because America is an opinion leader – an example to the rest of the world. And if America refuses to apologise for deliberately killing hundreds of thousands of civilians and demonstrating real repentance for this horrific act, then why should any other government apologise for similar acts? Why should China ever apologise or indeed stop attacking civilians in Tibet? Why should Russia repent of its attacks on civilians in Chechnya? Indeed, why should al Qaeda ever apologise, or the IRA, or ETA, or any group that has deliberately attacked civilians?
In the end, if indiscriminately killing civilians is inherently wrong, and if America should apologise for its horrific attacks on Japan, then it must also give up its nuclear weapons, because such weapons can only ever kill hundreds of thousands of civilians. They are indiscriminate. They cannot be used in a war between armed opponents. They are civilian-targetted weapons. At present, America and the other nuclear powers have enough nuclear bombs to kill every man, woman and child on the planet several times over. Threatening to deliberately kill millions of civilians is immoral, and hypocritical. If it’s wrong for terrorists to threaten to kill civilians, and if no cause or belief justifies terrorist targetting of civilians, then the same is true for nuclear weapons. It’s that simple.
Never again. Abolish nuclear weapons now.