DANIEL VAUGHAN: Oppenheimer Reminds Us that America Was Right to Use the Bomb

 July 28, 2023

Julius Robert Oppenheimer is getting his modern turn in the spotlight with Director Christopher Nolan's latest masterpiece biopic. Oppenheimer's position as the father of the atomic bomb brings the "should we or shouldn't have we dropped the bomb" discourse back to the forefront. It's easy to find the nuts arguing that the United States was evil for dropping the bomb, and it's not hard to guess their political persuasion.

I call them nuts on purpose. The United States was justified in dropping the bomb on Japan to end the war faster. The belief that a long, protracted battle with Japan was preferable is utter lunacy. When America turned its attention fully to Japan after the fall of Nazi Germany, everyone believed we were in the middle of World War II, not near the end.

US Military Expected Millions of Deaths on Both Sides.

Historian D. M. Giangreco wrote, "By July 1945, the US Army and Army Air Force had already suffered more than 945,000 all-causes casualties. As early as January that year the New York Times printed the dire warning of General George C Marshall and Admiral Ernest J. King that 'The Army must provide 600,000 replacements for overseas theaters before June 30, and, together with the Navy, will require a total of 900,000 inductions by June 30.'"

Military estimates pointed towards ten million dead Japanese in an all-out war and another 1.7 million dead American soldiers. The history of Imperial Japan was lost on no one. The Nanking Massacre in mainland China was known, where the Japanese military butchered hundreds of thousands and carried out two months of mass executions, rape, and brutality on the Chinese. The Japanese acted so horrendously a Nazi leader in China worked to save the Chinese. Japan sent kamikaze pilots to Pearl Harbor and fought to the last man in the Pacific islands.

America builds a reserve of Purple Hearts in Preparation for Japan Invasion.

In preparation for the invasion of Japan, the US military ramped up the production of Purple Heart medals. "In all, approximately 1,531,000 Purple Hearts were produced for the war effort, with production reaching its peak as the Armed Services geared up for the invasion of Japan. Despite wastage, pilfering, and items that were simply lost, the reserve of decorations was approximately 495,000 after the war."

The United States produced so many purple hearts in preparation for invading Japan that men and women have received Purple Hearts for service in the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan that were minted during that WWII buildup. We still have approximately "60,000 of the World War II production still spread throughout the system."

That's the reality of the situation when Harry Truman was given the option of Oppenheimer's atomic bomb. The world of 1945 had seen two brutal global conflicts drain resources, manpower, and willpower. The defeat of Nazi Germany had cost millions of American, Russian, British, and European lives, and the horror of the Holocaust was still being uncovered. Telling everyone that this was only half-done was a hard truth. Everyone understood it, but Truman had the power to end it.

Fear of Nuclear Weapons is a Good Thing.

And end it he did. The atomic bomb was horrific, and the fear it engendered from the Cold War for the next fifty years was hard. But it was necessary. There was no point in prolonging a conflict that had brought untold suffering to every country on Earth.

Peggy Noonan made a good point in her Oppenheimer column, "The world needs to be more afraid of nuclear weapons. We're too used to safety, to everything working. It's been almost 80 years of no nuclear use, a triumph, and we just assume it will continue. Those who were healthily apprehensive 50 and 25 years ago aren't so scared anymore; they think someone's in charge, it's OK. My sense is the world has grown less rigorously professional, the military of all countries included, and the leaders of the world aren't as careful. I guess I wanted a movie that puts anxiety in the forefront of everyone's mind."

She's right. People should be more scared of the danger and proliferation of nuclear weapons. When despotic regimes like Iran try to gain them, Oppenheimer is a reminder of why those governments can't be trusted with that power. The United States used the atomic bomb to end a brutal war and understood and appreciated the consequences of that decision. Countries like Iran want nukes to evade any form of control and threaten a second holocaust.

We Live in the Atomic Oppenheimer Age.

We need leadership that understands the threat of nuclear weapons and the danger of allowing them to fall into the wrong hands. Oppenheimer fretted endlessly over the result of his atomic creation. His invention thrust the world into a new age, a new form of combat. It introduced a way for nations to eradicate each other.

We haven't escaped the world that Oppenheimer built. The threat is still real, as is the reality of bad actors using that weapon for ill gain. The end of two global wars and America emerging from the Cold War without firing a bullet proves that the right decision was made in 1945. That doesn't make it a good decision, but it was right.

The reality of that uncomfortable truth is one that Oppenheimer reminds us of, and we'd be wise to remember it. We don't want to live through another age that requires the sacrifices of the Greatest Generation or their parents ever again. 

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