Saturday, August 06, 2005

A Day to Mourn, A Day to Remember

60 years ago today the world was changed. The US dropped a fairly primitive (by modern standards) nuclear device over Hiroshima and the world learned that it had entered the atomic age.

It is easy to chastise the US for this action. Certainly it would count as a war crime, being aimed at the civilian population of the city, but in the end it is the winner who decides what war crimes get punished (and I have no desire to try to list the many possible war crimes from either side in WW2). And certainly it seems that it was a dastardly thing to do. But what if Truman had chosen not to use the bombs of Hirsoshima and Nagasaki but stuck to the naval blockade and amphibious landing plan that had carried US forces to Okinawa and Iwo Jima? Most definitely the US would have won eventually, that was no longer in doubt. But imagine the outcry if thousands of US lives had been lost in an assault on Japan itself (which would have happened) and then the public learned that it could have been avoided with this new weapon.

This is not to say that Truman's decision was right or justified, but it was understandable. In war you do what it takes to win. You do what it takes to win at the least cost to your forces, and that has some good to it. But decisions in wartime always come at a price. In this case the price was not only the thousands killed during and as a result of the blasts but the arms race which followed. An arms race which diverted billions of dollars from more humanitarian causes and so, in its own way, killed thousands as well.

In a preface to LOTR, Tolkien states very clearly that the War of the RIng is not an allegory for WW2 (although it is easy to see how it could be). If it were, he says, the Captains of the West would have used the Ring, not destroyed it. I have no doubt that the bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are what Tolkien had in mind here. The War of the Ring is only won because the forces of good choose not to follow the logic of Sauron. To use the Ring would have possibly vanquished Sauron but only set up another power of evil in his place, a rather hollow victory. In LOTR we see a complete victory because they find a way to get off the treadmill of "might makes right". The wars on earth seldom find that ending. And so it is a day to mourn, not only for the dead of Hiroshima but for a world that can't break free of the pattern of war and violence.

God of the ages, stay with us yet. Lest we forget, lest we forget.

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