The birth of 'mere terror'
Hiroshima wasn't uniquely wicked. It was part of a policy for the mass killing of civilians, writes
Geoffrey Wheatcroft in the Guardian.
During the recent Kosovo "war", a French officer asked bitterly if this was to be the first war in history in which only civilians were killed, and yet we had long since begun to go down just that road. It is sobering to compare the 300,000 British uniformed servicemen who died in 1939-45 with the 600,000 German civilians killed.
Making war on civilians took a further turn in the Far East, and not only because of the Japanese army's own atrocities towards conquered peoples. Before August 1945, very many Japanese had already been killed by "conventional" bombing. On one night in Tokyo in March, American bombers killed 85,000 civilians - more than would die at Nagasaki - and at least 300,000 were incinerated in great fire raids over the following months.
And so it was that, as Evelyn Waugh put it when writing about Knox's book in 1948: "To the practical warrior the atom bomb presented no particular moral or spiritual problem. We were engaged in destroying the enemy, civilians and combatants alike. We always assumed that destruction was roughly proportionate to the labour and material expended. Whether it was more convenient to destroy a city with one bomb or a hundred thousand depended on the relative costs of production." Hiroshima was but one more step.
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