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Warren Kozak: The Hiroshima Rorschach Test

[Mr. Kozak is the author of "LeMay: The Life and Wars of General Curtis LeMay" (Regnery, 2009).]

On this day 64 years ago, an American B-29 named the Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb over the city of Hiroshima. We know that as many as 80,000 Japanese died instantly. We know the city was pulverized, and we know that an estimated 100,000 additional people died later from radiation poisoning. We also are aware that the Hiroshima bomb, and the Nagasaki bomb dropped three days later, ushered in the atomic era....

...At the time that the bombs were dropped, battle-hardened G.I.s were being rotated from Europe back to the U.S. and then sent on to staging areas in the Pacific. The first wave of the invasion under the command of Gen. Douglas MacArthur was scheduled to land in November 1945, with a second wave in March 1946. Hospitals were being quickly built in the Mariana Islands to accommodate the thousands of expected wounded. What Americans eventually found in Japan after the surrender more than proved that Japan was preparing to repel the invasion, not just with its military but with civilian suicide squads as well.

The debate over the bomb reached a crescendo 14 years ago when the Smithsonian Institution produced a retrospective that veteran groups objected to because they believed it focused too much on the victims and not on the reasons for the bomb's use. The exhibit was ultimately cancelled. Then, this past spring, comedian Jon Stewart touched off his own firestorm when he labeled President Harry Truman a "war criminal" for ordering the bombs to be dropped. Mr. Stewart later apologized.

The fact that the quick end to the war allowed the U.S. to avoid a land invasion of the Japanese mainland, thus saving many more lives, is quickly tossed aside by some critics. They say there is no basis for the estimates of large numbers of casualties. But then there is the appalling number of Asians who were dying at the hands of the Japanese. Upwards of a quarter-of-a-million were dying each month. The fact that this orgy of death—17 million died in all—came to an abrupt halt when the Imperial Army was finally forced to go home is rarely mentioned.

Perhaps the simplest and most compelling argument for the bombs is the main reason President Truman decided to drop them in the first place: He hoped it would rattle Japan enough to force it to surrender. That is exactly what happened.

Today, Hiroshima has become a Rorschach test for Americans. We see the same pictures and we hear the same facts. But based on how we view our country, our government, and the world, we interpret these facts in very different ways...
Read entire article at Wall Street Journal