Ryo Hisatsune was a relatively unknown golfer from Japan just over a year ago. But come next season, the 21-year-old will have opportunities to go toe-to-toe against the planet’s best golfers on the PGA TOUR on a weekly basis.
The news of sister city agreement between Pearl Harbour Memorial and Hiroshima Peace Museum in Tokyo on 29 June 2023 in Tokyo following the mutual understanding reached between the two sides at the G-7 summit in Hiroshima in May sparked immediate opposition from the survivors of the nuclear bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. In a petition to Hiroshima City, the hibakusha, as the survivors are known, submitted that no prior discussions with them were made. They further argued that the meaning of such a pact was unclear and it should be put on hold until further debate and clarity emerged.
This sparked a debate if the bombing was necessary as Japan was already on the verge of defeat in 1945 and surrender was imminent at any moment. This issue has again hogged the limelight when a film on the father of the atom bomb, Julius Robert Oppenheimer, was released recently and several opinions reignited the controversy on whether using atomic bombs was even necessary. There are critics on both sides of the fence either endorsing or condemning the US action. Some critics say the two events are fundamentally different. One version holds the view that the Pearl Harbour attack targeted a naval base only, while the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki indiscriminately killed large numbers of civilians.
The other version argues that the US never wanted to drop the bomb in cities to kill civilians originally but to cripple Japan’s lifeline to fight the war by destroying the places manufacturing weapons to meet the military’s needs. The US strategy was to clip Japan’s wings by destroying the cities where civilians were in a minority. When the planes carrying the bombs and the pilots tasked to destroy Japan’s capability left from the base, the inclement weather made it difficult for the pilots to spot the targets. In the process, the bombs were dropped in Hiroshima and three days later in Nagasaki, leaving the two cities as part of a dark chapter of history.
Others argue that the use of atomic weapons did not end the war and save the lives of American soldiers, as the US claimed. As the US actions in many regions of the world during the post-war years have been questionable, so was the US action in Hiroshima and Nagasaki as the dropping of the bombs were a part of its strategy to anticipate how it would lead the post-War world. Though China and South Korea continue to question Japan’s excesses during the War years and demand apology and compensation, it is reasonable to support the Japanese who feel aggrieved and who justifiably criticise the US decision to bomb the two cities killing civilians. Their grievances are wellfounded. Conservative estimates of the death toll in the Hiroshima bombing suggest 66,000 died instantaneously.
By the end of the year the figure had gone up to 140,000. Three days later the second bomb in Nagasaki killed another 64,000. This was a heinous crime on the part of the US. While Japan’s then Prime Minister Tojo and others were tried by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East after Japan’s surrender and some hanged on the charge of war crimes, the US leadership was left scot free. It was sham justice by the victor over the vanquished. That is a different matter to be discussed elsewhere.
For example, Michael Walzer, a foremost authority on the just war theory, argues that before the decision to drop the atomic bomb was taken in August 1945, the Americans failed to give an opportunity to Japan offering to negotiate. In his book Just and Unjust Wars, Walzer argues that the US owed the Japanese people an experiment in negotiation but to use the atomic bomb, to kill and terrorise civilians without even attempting such an experiment, the US committed a double crime.
As it transpired, except the sole dissenting opinion of the Indian judge Justice Radha Binod Pal at the military tribunal, the trial was a sham and a verdict was already arrived at before even the trial began. One sees many strands of such US policy in many regions of the world even today. History will not judge the US so kindly despite the fact it boasts to be the sole superpower and the world’s policeman today.
True, the devastating effect of the nuclear bombing in Hiroshima and Nagasaki led to the movement to find institutional mechanisms and agreements binding nations not to develop or acquire nuclear weapons/bombs. Though the US was the leader of this move and arms control measures such as the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) were floated, the US has remained as the biggest culprit, making all these nuclear disarmament initiatives toothless. The US itself has lacked a commitment to reducing nuclear stockpiles.
That is a matter of concern and shame. According to the Federation of American Scientists, the US has the second most active nuclear warheads after Russia. The promise to achieve global disarmament has just remained a lofty slogan as American leaders have failed to carry out the promise. Former US President Barack Obama took the initiative as reflected in his Prague speech of April 2009 for elimination of nuclear weapons and held three nuclear summits to discuss the way to take this forward. But success proved to be a half-measure. His administration reduced the nuclear arsenal by the smallest number compared with other post-Cold War presidents.
Then another former president Donald Trump even considered encouraging other states to acquire nuclear weapons. This suggestion sparked debate both in Japan and South Korea in revisiting the nuclear option as a viable alternative to remaining protected for its security under the US nuclear umbrella. There seems to be no genuine commitment on the part of the US and those who plead for a world without nuclear weapons.
(The writer is former Senior Fellow, both at NMML and MP-IDSA, and ICCR Chair Professor Reitaku University, Japan)