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The terror that ended World War II

  • 24 June 2008

Kevin Rudd visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park on his first prime ministerial visit to Japan this month, the first serving Western leader to do so.

His critics were outraged. Herald-Sun columnist Andrew Bolt subscribed to the theory that 'to visit is to encourage the offensive notion that the Japanese were victims of a western crime, and not of their own insane militarism'.

The time has come to admit the Japanese were the victims of both. The US response to Japan's insane militarism was, to quote the Second Vatican Council, 'a crime against God and man himself'.

The US objective in dropping the bomb was to end the war without needing to stage a bloody invasion of a nation whose leadership was implacably opposed to unconditional surrender. Without the bomb, war was expected to last another year. One million Allied troops were being moved into place for the invasion of Japan.

President Truman's military advice was that a land invasion of Japan 'would cost at a minimum a quarter of a million American casualties'. After the war, he observed that 'a quarter of a million of the flower of our young manhood were worth a couple of Japanese cities, and I still think they were and are'.

While some scientists urged that the bomb not be used until the enemy be first warned of its existence and prospective use, other scientists asked, 'Are not the men of the fighting forces ... who are risking their lives for the nation, entitled to the weapons which have been designed?'

They further asked, 'Are we to go on shedding American blood when we have available means to a steady victory? No! If we can save even a handful of American lives, then let us use this weapon — now!'

On the day he authorised the military to go ahead with preparations to use the bomb, Truman wrote in his diary: 'I have told the Sec of War, Mr Stimson, to use it so that military objectives and soldiers and sailors are the target and not women and children ... The target will be a purely military one and we will issue a warning statement asking the Japs to surrender and save lives.'

After the dropping of the second bomb, the Emperor decided to 'bear the unbearable' and surrender.

Three years later, at a meeting of the National Security Council to discuss the