*How To Speak of Hiroshima?

The liberal imagination has seldom clubbed Auschwitz and Hiroshima together.  Auschwitz was both a labor and extermination camp, and more Jews, Roma, and others deemed “undesirables” were killed at Auschwitz than in any other camp in the Third Reich’s vast machinery of death.  One of Auschwitz’s more remarkable survivors was the Italian Jewish chemist Primo Levi, whose 1947 memoir of his year in hell, If This is a Man, is a gut wrenching description of the arts of living in a place fashioned for death.  Auschwitz’s gate bore those words which are seared into everyone’s memory, “Arbeit Macht Frei” (“work gives freedom”).

The entrance to Auschwitz, with the 'welcoming' sign:  'Arbeit Macht Frei', "Work Shall Make You Free"

The entrance to Auschwitz, with the ‘welcoming’ sign: ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’, “Work Shall Make You Free”

But the sense of the macabre scarcely stopped there.  In one of the many priceless gems which adorn his inimitable book, Levi informs us that at one of the delousing stations appeared this distich:  “After the latrine, before eating, wash your hands, do not forget.”  It must be a certain kind of German fastidiousness which insists that one must go to one’s death after one has rendered oneself ‘clean’.

Dead Bodies Piled Up at Auschwitz

Dead Bodies Piled Up at Auschwitz

Auschwitz has become synonymous with unimaginable evil, and the German Jewish philosopher Theodor Adorno, in his equally if differently remarkable book Minima MoraliaReflections from Damaged Life (1951), sought to convey the unspeakable horrors of Nazi annihilationism with the aphorism that ‘there can be no poetry after Auschwitz’.  Not so curiously, Adorno had nothing to say of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, which took place a little more than six months after the Soviet Red Army liberated Auschwitz.  The Western imagination, even at its best, has balked at the notion that Auschwitz and Hiroshima are inextricably linked.  Auschwitz has no defenders—barring some Holocaust-deniers—and it provokes no “debate”, leave aside the questions that animate the amateurs who devour the smallest tidbits on Auschwitz.  Though most commentators in the United States and elsewhere in the West like to pretend otherwise, there isn’t much of a “debate” on Hiroshima either.  Those who live in the global South at least should not be fooled into thinking that a great many people in the West have been agonizing over the moral choices that faced the United States when it was galvanized into orchestrating the utter destruction of Hiroshima and later Nagasaki.  Like much else that has characterized the conduct of colonial powers and liberal democracies, Hiroshima has been digested as what Margaret Thatcher used to call TINA, ‘There is No Alternative’.

The inability to view Hiroshima and Auschwitz as bearing a close family resemblance tells us a great deal about the contours of the modern West and its genocidal instincts. The Guardian newspaper has characterized Auschwitz as “the largest mass murder in a single location in human history”, and similarly Hiroshima can accurately be described as the largest mass murder in something like an instant over the course of human history.  Nearly a million people were butchered at Auschwitz, which was established as a labor camp in May 1940; once the Nazi leadership had issued the call for the ‘Final Solution’, Auschwitz II was rolling in business as an extermination site.  “Little Boy”, the bomb carried by the “Enola Gray”, named by the pilot Colonel Paul Tibbets after his mother, no doubt in glorious celebration of the universal injunction to ‘honor thy mother’, killed around 50,000 people on contact or very shortly thereafter.

Zykon B Gas Canister

Zykon B Gas Canister

Zyklon B, the agent of death at Auschwitz, was first tried out on insects; the poisonous gas was then used on the Roma before it was deployed to kill Jews en masse.   The German literature of the period is rife with the invocation to kill Jews, the Roma, and the mentally unsound as those who were encroaching upon the living space of the superior race.  Yet the idea that vermin had to be stamped out was far from being distinctly German; indeed, eugenics, or the notion that the human race could be improved by weeding out undesirables, had its greatest advocates in the United States.  The Japanese were but “a nameless mass of vermin” and the “yellow dogs” were a drag on the human race.

Canisters of Zyklon B, used extensively at Auschwitz.

Canisters of Zyklon B, used extensively at Auschwitz.

The historian John Dower was, if anything, understating the gravity of the problem when, in his study War without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War (1986), he suggested of American officials and strategists that their “stereotyped and often blatantly racist thinking contributed to poor military intelligence and planning, atrocious behavior, and the adoption of exterminationist policies.”

Harry Truman, whose life is a testament to mediocrity triumphant, was charged with the onerous responsibility for framing the public discourse on the military use of the atom.  While aboard the cruiser Augusta, he was brought news of Hiroshima.  The obscene happiness with which he received news of the Enola Gray’s successful mission is signified by his words, “This is the greatest thing in history.”  The White House press release in Truman’s name on August 6th, the first official announcement of the bombing of Hiroshima, again celebrated the work of the scientists, headed by the Sanskrit aficionado Robert Oppenheimer, as “the greatest achievement of organized science in history.”  It was accompanied by a warning to Japanese leaders that if they did not accept “our terms they may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth.”  On land and air, Hitler had similarly declaimed, Germany would unleash the full force of its mighty military machine on its foes.  At least one senior American military official, Major-General Raymond Hufft, recognized that had Germany or Japan won the war, it would have been the Americans and the British who would have been put on trial for war crimes.   We may need many more such insights before we learn to speak, in a political and moral vein, of Hiroshima.

Nuclear Destruction:  Hiroshima after the Bomb

Nuclear Destruction: Hiroshima after the Bomb

22 thoughts on “*How To Speak of Hiroshima?

  1. One interesting aspect I have thought about while reading this piece is on the psychological damage this attack has done to the American people in terms of energy advancement. By no means do I intend to compare this to the damage done to the Japanese, as that is unarguable more significant; however, if the notion I suggest is true, it could be an rather ironic effect of the bombings.

    Nuclear power, by much evidence, is in many ways the most effective source of energy currently known to man in terms of how utilizable it is at the moment. Simply look to nuclear subs ability to only need to come back for supplies and new crew members; not that I am at all suggesting to make any argument for or against utilization of nuclear subs but nonetheless it has relevance. Currently, the US is one of the most hesitant and resistive countries of its nuclear capabilities upon the implementation of nuclear power as a main source of energy. My suggestion is that it may have a basis in the utilization of nuclear weapons on the Japanese.

    The word nuclear has a destructive connotation attached to it and instills fear in many when they hear of its involvement. Nuclear waste, nuclear radiation, and nuclear bombs—these are likely to first come to mind before nuclear energy. There is a profound fear of anything nuclear thorough much of the US. I would like to suggest its origins in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    The first experience of nuclear anything for the general population was the destruction of Japan. No matter ones opinion on their need, it is irrefutable that unprecedented devastation occurred and was now possible. This visualization of devastation coupled with the idea of mutual destruction of the cold war has thoroughly engrained the fear of nuclear in the American populace, and it remains taught by parent to children.

    I would like to suggest that this collective fear drives the US away from nuclear towards the nonrenewable energies that are fossil fuels. The eventual effect of this would be the lack of created renewable infrastructure leaving the US vulnerable to collapse at the inevitable shortage of oil.

    To conclude, I would like to add that this is purely speculative and does not have any research or hard evidence to support it.

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    • Hi Cameron,
      You have provided a different and interesting twist to this question by suggesting that one legacy of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is the reluctance on the part of the US (and some other countries) to deploy nuclear energy. Whether nuclear energy is the cleanest form of energy, and the most efficient, is something that would have to be studied carefully. However, the US is by far the largest generator of energy from nuclear power; see, for example, this: https://www.nei.org/resources/statistics/top-15-nuclear-generating-countries.

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  2. Hello Professor, I really enjoyed your article. I agree with what you said and have always wondered about the role that Hiroshima and other US war crimes play in the American public eye. In the American public school system we are indeed taught that there was no alternative, that it was the best solution for the world. I definitely agree that this narrative is not only harmful to the lives it trvializes, but also to the American struggle with its own past and deeds.

    I do have a question though, you mention Oppenheimer in this article as the head of the program. What do you think the American public think of Oppenheimer? Of course, he is well known for his Bhagavad Gita quote and is portrayed as a tragic hero in his bouts with McCarthyism, but I wonder if this is really the case.

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    • Hello Ethan, There are biographies of Oppenheimer which consider at some length his place in public opinion. As you may know, he was blacklisted for a while for his affiliation with the Communist Party and subsequently rehabilitated by Kennedy and LBJ.

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  3. Hi professor! I really enjoyed reading your blog post on this topic as I agree that we should view the tragedy of Hiroshima and the tragedy of Auschwitz through the same lens. Whereas Auschwitz is often viewed as one of the most tragic evils in all of history, Hiroshima is synonymous with being the only way left to bring an end to the war and save “countless American lives”. Hiroshima presents as the same tragedy as Auschwitz: a mass murder of a group of innocent people. Yet, the tragedy of the two droppings of the atomic bombs have been filtered through a Western lens and is taught as “there was no other way”. The decision to drop a weapon of mass destruction on top of countless of innocent civilians, killing up to 50,000 in one blast, should be synonymous with Hitler’s mass murdering death camp at Auschwitz. It is almost always overlooked how severely affected the citizens of Hiroshima were after the atomic bomb was dropped; similar to the people interned at Auschwitz, the residents of Hiroshima suffered horrendous suffering, PTSD, and the loss of their family and their people. Yet, one tragedy is viewed as a horrible genocide while the other is viewed as a necessary means to end a war. As you say in this blog, how the West has regarded the Hiroshima tragedy reveals their underlying genocidal tendencies.
    I noticed you compared Truman to Hitler, and it is easy to see the parallel between the two leaders. Reading Truman’s statement as calling the bombing of Hiroshima as “the greatest thing in history” is scary to say nonetheless. To call a mass murder of over 50,000 innocent lives plus the continuous suffering of thousands more one of the greatest things ever is similar language to that of which Hitler used to speak about the murder of the Jewish people. This combined with the statement released by the White House that should the Japanese not accept the US’s terms, they could expect to see a military might unleashed like never before parallels exactly to Hitler’s language about his blitzkrieg warfare when he threatened other countries to bend to his will. It is plain to see that Truman and Hitler’s way of thinking is almost one in the same, and one could say Germany and America were incredibly similar in ideals regarding this matter of a “vermin” people. However, one is painted as the villain whereas the other is painted a hero. For me, it just reveals the heavily filtered lens the West has put on top of its history, portraying themselves as the heroes rather than the problem. We often witness this when learning about the history of America’s discovery, the treatment of the Native Americans, the treatment of the Japanese in internment camps, and on and on and on.
    I also find your statement about how Truman’s life served as a “testament to mediocrity triumph” interesting. When I think of Harry Truman, the one thing that sticks out in my mind is the tragedy of Hiroshima and the decision he made to drop 2 weapons of mass destructions. For me, his other accomplishments and failures are overshadowed by this tragedy, and his name will always be synonymous with Hiroshima and Nagasaki. His life serves as a testament of, in my opinion, war crimes westernized to the term “TINA”. The so called triumph he achieved by ending the war is marked by the blood of over 150,000 innocent Japanese civilians, and his tenure as president as well as his life symbolize the global pull of the West and its ability to get away with high crimes.

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    • Hi Megha, Truman and Hitler are not quite the same person and they may have been quite unlike the other in some fundamental respects. But it is important to think of Hiroshima and Auschwitz together because both, in their own fashion, represent the notion of unmitigated evil and, as I have pointed out in many other places, the sickness that lies at the heart of Western civilization. Americans of that generation love to remember World War II as the “good war” but this is also a way of occluding the fact that genocide lies at the heart of the US and Europe alike. It is not an accident, for example, that the US (and ‘liberal California’ especially) was practically the world center of eugenics. The Nazis learnt a lot from the American wars against Indians (native Americans). One could go on in this vein.

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  4. I certainly agree with you that the tragedies of Hiroshima and Auschwitz are similar in nature. Prior to reading this article, I have never viewed this in this way. I believe that everyone can agree that the holocaust was a great tragedy, but not many recognize the magnitude of the Hiroshima bombings. Auschwitz was a tragic mass-extermination of the Jews, Roma, and other undesirables. It is the manifestation of one of Hitler’s racist ideologies outlined in Mein Kampf, specifically anti-semitism. The Germans wanted to weed out undesirables and establish their own Aryan “master race.” They used Zyklon B, a cyanide-based pesticide, to end the lives of those that enter the camp.

    The atomic bomb, however, was an advancement of military technology. Harnessing nuclear energy allowed the U.S. to obliterate Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In essence, it was an even more effective killing machine than the poisonous gas the Germans were using. The events in Pearl Harbor essentially gave the U.S. to unleash this weapon and end the lives of the countless Japanese with no mercy. What I found scary was that Harry Truman said that ”This is the greatest thing in history.” Truman does not even acknowledge that he just killed approximately 50,000 people with one bomb but instead celebrates his accomplishment. I believe that similar to the case in Auschwitz, race also has a part in this. Truman considered the Japanese as undesirable pests and was only doing pest control on them. This disregard of human life is what made Truman, from my point of view, an evil mass murderer.

    Something I thought about while reading this article, how were these people even capable of such acts? The soldiers complied with all these orders, including poisoning the Jews in Auschwitz and bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Does this mean that we are all capable of such acts as well if put under the control of an authority figure? If so, this reveals the scary truth that we might see unimaginable tragedies such as the holocaust and Auschwitz again someday.

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  5. The idea that if Germany or Japan had won the war, Americans and British individuals would have been put on trial for war crimes as the Germans were was extremely eye-opening. It is quite unsettling how much the historical narrative can be altered by those in higher positions of power. I grew up learning that Hiroshima was justifiable and not nearly as malicious as the Holocaust. However, I wonder what my history lessons would have consisted of if I were a citizen of Germany or Japan, or if Japan or Germany had been victorious, as suggested in this article.

    As pointed out by Professor Lal, people in the United States at the time of the bombing of Hiroshima often shared the same racial ideas as Hitler had during the Holocaust. Nonetheless, the bombing of Hiroshima is not nearly as atrocious in the passages of American textbooks nor is conveyed to the same extent of significance. In fact, if an effort is made to compare the two events, many people dismiss it and/or take offense to it. For as long as I can remember, I had always perceived Hitler as a man who shared no commonalities with any American individual. Yet, I was not aware that the threats used by American forces on Japan were extremely similar to those used by Hitler, which is truly unsettling.

    Historical narratives really do matter. Whoever tells the stories surrounding a culture or the world as a whole has total control over the terms and issues within that community. Because the United States largely held power over history during the time of World War II (and even continues to today), the heinousness of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was greatly undermined. It is unavoidable that those of higher influence select what they deem to be significant and insignificant when recounting events, but this becomes dangerous. Once a narrative is accepted, people tend to latch onto it and as time goes on, they do not want to confront the hidden historical events because so much of their identity was shaped by the previously altered accounts. When this happens, the intricacies of human experience deteriorate and people often cannot comfortably introduce new views on the past. Thus, weakening our abilities to learn from prior mistakes.

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  6. It is quite interesting that Hitler and more so Germany had looked to the US when they were creating the Jewish Ghettos and their version of Eugenics. After reading Mein Kramf, I was quite alarmed by the fact that segregation in the US heavily influenced the early stages of genocide of the Jewish people. Not only that, but it reminded me of when Hitler said he could get away with genocide because the world forgot about the Armenian genocide.
    When talking about Auschwitz and concentration camps as a whole, many Americans cannot believe that the German people allowed it to happen. However, it is ironic that the same exact situation was unfolding on U.S. soil solely towards the Japanese. Since the U.S. and its allies won the war, they were able to write the history; therefore, concentration and internment camps for the Japanese such as Manzanar disappeared from the textbooks. Auschwitz still stands today as a reminder and is a national shame on Germany, yet Manzanar has been torn down and hidden from the public consciousness for decades. Thus, I found it quite interesting that the U.S. would be on trial for countless war crimes against humanity if they lost the war.

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    • Hi Cesar,
      A small note to say that Manzanar hasn’t exactly been torn down. It is now a “National Park”. Nevertheless, the larger points you make stand. Around 4 years ago or so I took my son to Manzanar on the way to Yosemite and, barring another 2-3 visitors, we were the only visitors to this incarceration camp.

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  7. Hi Professor! It was very enlightening to read about the similarities between Auschwitz and Hiroshima because when we learn about both events in history classes, it is highly colored by the fact that the bombing of Hiroshima was not considered a genocide since it was by Americans, but few people doubt the extent of the atrocities of the Holocaust because it is easier to paint the Nazis with one brush and Americans with another. The narrative of history depends entirely on the perspective of who is teaching it and I was angered to learn that in many ways Americans held the same racist beliefs as Hitler had during the Holocaust, but I have never seen that comparison made prior to reading this blog post. The belief behind eugenics was prevalent both in America and Europe and had a great impact on the actions of both powers and we should not neglect to place the responsibility on America for also perpetuating racism and eugenics in similar ways to the Nazi regime.

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  8. This article made me consider the similarities between Auschwitz and Hiroshima in ways I had never noticed before, as I have learned about both events from an American perspective. In school, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had always been portrayed as necessary, not only to end WWII to get the Japanese to unconditionally surrender, but also as a show of power to threaten Russia in the upcoming Cold War. Race was never even mentioned as a factor in my past education.
    However, race was obviously a huge factor in America’s decision to drop the bomb. Japanese citizens living in America were put in internment camps and given little reparations afterward. Looking back now, it is heartbreaking and ironic to see how many tragedies were caused by American racism that are downplayed as “necessary” in the face of evil. I do think America was on the correct side in the war and fought for liberation, but it is immensely frustrating that we allowed for such hypocrisy and still learn it as “just and necessary.”

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  9. While I have learned about events in Auschwitz and Hiroshima separately, I had never thought to study them as comparable events, which made this post very interesting to me. I thought it was interesting to link the thought process of both the Nazis and the Americans as they both thought they were creating their own utopias in “weeding out the undesirables”. While the atomic bomb and the process of the Holocaust were drastically different, the point was to get rid of the Jewish citizens in Germany and to scare the Japanese citizens in America, to create a better country. The actions and initial thoughts of both the US and Germany were analogous, however the actions carried out by Truman and Hitler were very different and held different impacts. While the events in Hiroshima were inexcusable, the two parties involved were countries in the middle of World War II, fighting for victory and their safety; these actions were ordered as an act of war. The thoughts outlined by Hitler in Mein Kampf and carried out in the Holocaust were acts of hate directed to Jewish citizens; Jewish people lived among everyone else, however Hitler and the Nazis singled them out because of hatred. While the parallels in the leaders’ thinking is blatant, the situational circumstances of Germany and the US were not comparable as motives of war and pure hatred are indifferentiable.

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  10. Hello Professor Lal.

    I think many comments in this section raise a good point. Our current education system never dares to compare the atrocities of the Holocausts with what the US did to Japan. It is not only the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that need to be addressed, but all the other war crimes the US committed against Japan during the Second World War. Yes, we were the victors, that but fact alone should not allow us to forget human decency and compassion.

    In addition to addressing the crimes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the US education system should also tackle more the fire bombings of Japan along with Executive Order 9066, both in the context of racism and the lingering effects of eugenics. Not only is US history taught in a way that glances over Executive Order 9066 without fulling looking at the repercussion that exist today, the fire bombings of Tokyo are rarely mentioned, if at all. These bombing campaigns were undertaken to solely demoralize the Japanese people and resulted in horrible suffering and death.

    The racist foundations of these political moves and the decision to utilize the atomic bomb on the Japanese people needs to be examined in light of eugenics in America. History always seems to portray Nazi Germany as the only participant in these horrible thought experiments, but the US is guilty of these as well. For instance, not many people know that President Woodrow Wilson was one such supporter of “scientific” racism.

    I believe Vox makes a series about these dark passages in America’s history that are never taught, and Professor Lal’s enlightenment regarding these realities in a step in the right direction that we should all partake in.

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  11. America winning WWII granted the country immunity from war crimes or any sort of moral questioning. Thus, I agree with the article that if America lost the war, the narrative of the bombing would have been different, with the US as the antagonist, and the country facing punishment like Germany (Nuremberg) and Japan (Tokyo). However, I was most struck by President Truman referring to the massacre of 50,000 Japanese civilians as “the greatest thing in history” and the development of nuclear bombs as the “greatest achievement of organized science in history.” These statements contradict America’s justification of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: there was no other choice, to prevent further deaths, and quickly end the war. Moreover, nuclear bombs should not be considered the greatest achievement in science because they led to more issues like the Cold War, leaving victimized countries like Korea. As of today, nuclear weapons pose a great threat and issue to the international community. I believe that Hiroshima and Nagasaki served to bring America’s dominance in the world order and send a message to the growing threat of the communist Soviet Union. I was also intrigued by how the bombing of Japan could be seen as eugenics, or a racist act, because the United States was one of its greatest advocates. Japanese people were seen as a “mass of vermin” and “yellow dogs” that needed to be “weeded out.” Therefore, I acknowledge that there is a parallel between the bombing of Japan and the Auschwitz camp of Germany.

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  12. Hello Professor,
    The line about Hiroshima being the largest mass murder in the course of an instant in human history particularly struck me because I’d never actually considered it like that. In recent years, the Jewish identity has been somewhat folded into the overarching “white” identity, and I wonder if the atrocities committed against them are somewhat more highlighted because of this new adjacency to whiteness or if it is more of a “us versus them” situation to highlight American heroism. I think it’d also be interesting to look at whether modern techno-orientalism has partially allowed atrocities like this to be swept under the rug because Americans are less likely to view Asians as people who experience human emotion which may make it easier to see this atrocity through an emotionally detached lens.

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    • Hi Anna,
      It is the case that Jewish identity has been, as you put it, folded into “white” identity in many respects. The expression, Judeo-Christian traditions, reflects such an outcome. At the same time, there are distinctions, such as between Sephardic and Ashkenazy Jews, which have some bearing on the larger story of how Jews are located within the West. You have also offered an interesting observation that atrocities against Asian Americans might be viewed through “an emotionally detached lens” but the techno-Orientalism to which you advert cannot so easily be read back into the 1940s. This techno-Orientalism has some relationship to contemporary views about Asian Americans in the US and may certainly be invoked in an attempt to understand how Americans think about the atomic bombings today.

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  13. I feel like this is a universal issue with writing history. In high school, I had a history class where the teacher made us dissect the textbooks themselves because no history can be subjective. I think the American narrative on Hiroshima is a perfect example. In an effort to erase the atrocities we inflicted on innocents, Americans write and read about Hiroshima as if it is a heroic event. Which it obviously was not. This is why history needs to be consistently analyzed as you have done so, always searching for the hidden narrative.

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  14. Wonderful article. Unfortunately, Hiroshima and Nagasaki are yet another example of that all too familiar phrase “history is written by the victor”. Indeed, I am of the opinion that the only reason the U.S. hasn’t come under intense scrutiny for their use of the atomic bomb and the sheer devastation and loss of civilian life it led to is because they emerged victorious from World War 2. After all, the bombings took an enormously overwhelming death toll on civilians with minimal casualties being inflicted on actual soldiers. While supporters of the U.S.’s decision to drop the bomb argue that it prevented future casualties, the fact remains that other possible avenues of bringing the Japanese to surrender could have been explored. And had the atomic bombing not directly led to Japan’s surrender the moral and ethical implications of the United States’ actions would have a spotlight shot down on them and likely be considered war crimes.

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  15. Hi professor! I really enjoyed this insightful blog. As a Japanese who was only familiarized with the American discourse on the Hiroshima attack regarding its morality and justifiability, juxtaposing Hiroshima and Holocaust stood out to me as an interesting perspective.
    As you argue, both cases epitomize the ferocious notion at the time of ‘ranking’ races, which is an intriguing point I never thought of. The glamorization that you argued is another similar part of the two is, I believe, largely underpinned by these thoughts.
    What interested me even more is the scarcity of talk that compares the two. This is a testimony to the hackneyed maxim of “history is written by the victor.” Sadly, no matter how the two cases are staggeringly similar, it’s the power relations and dominant social narratives that decide who to be the villain.

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  16. While you offer interesting contextualization and insight on this topic, I think I have to disagree with the notion that Hiroshima and Auschwitz should be looked at through the same lens. I want to preface this by saying that I personally disagree with the bombing of Hiroshima. The loss of innocent lives was unnecessary and cruel.

    That said, however, I do believe it’s a completely different discussion than the holocaust. Hiroshima remains under the umbrella of warfare. Cities, filled with civilians, all throughout the world were completely obliterated during WWII. The allies absolutely destroyed Germany, and necessitated a complete rebuilding after the war. Japan itself bombed Pearl Harbor, which many also argue was unnecessary and antagonistic. Despite the cruelty of Hiroshima, that is the nature of total war. All countries committed atrocities in the name of winning the war.

    Auschwitz, on the other hand, was not done in the name of warfare. It was a calculated extermination of an entire race. The Nazi’s used racism as their primary tool to mobilize the nation. They used the Jews as a scapegoat, painting them as the villainous destroyers of Germany, arguing that the obliteration of the Jews would cleanse the world.

    I cannot agree that America saw the Japanese in the same light. There’s no doubt that racism underlies plenty of American policies throughout history, and I’m sure Hiroshima is no different. You quoted a few racist sentiments from American politicians at the time, and those comments are entirely unacceptable. We cannot disregard racism against the Japanese in America, this is clear through internment camps within the states. However, our primary goal in bombing Hiroshima was to win the war and defeat Japan (I understand it was also to assert our dominance over the Soviet Union, but this still isn’t under the category of racial motivation). It cannot be said the bombing happened with the intention of cleansing the world of the Japanese, in the same way Germany deliberately murdered the Jews in their country.

    Auschwitz was created with the intention of extermination of an entire race, which must be the purest form of racism. The bombing of Hiroshima, despite racist undertones, was still committed in the name of warfare, and similar horrors were being committed by all sides all over the world. Because of this distinction, I feel the two incidences should be considered separately.

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  17. Hello professor,
    This article was quite an eye-opener from. I had never thought of the gas chambers and the nuclear bombing together. Though they both bear the use of modern science and technology, I am still unable under the same lens. The Auschwitz was something created with the specific purpose of the extermination of an entire group of people. This completely disregarded any differentiation brought by political borders. It was one of the most extreme expression of the racism known to mankind. The atomic bomb was weapon used by America to end the war and gain a foothold in the Pacific. Although this weapon had utter disregard for humane warfare, it was used solely for the creation the mas destruction of the enemy.
    However, the fact that you mentioned “it would have been the Americans and the British who would have been put on trial for war crimes” brings forth an interesting aspect to this discussion. History is written by those in power. An example would be the case of the ancient Minoans who were a sophisticated civilisation yet now forgotten. A modern example would be the case of Mao, whose political policies in China has caused millions dead, is viewed as a venerable leader who steered the country in the correct direction. This was something which really struck me in this essay as practically everything I had read under history was in the perspective of those in power and to the other way around.

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