The United States was not justified in the use of atomic weapons in the Pacific War. With the dropping of the bombs, the United States set a precedent from which the world would never recover. This precedent was that it was acceptable (and in this case, efficacious) to cease warfare through violent intimidation, in place of diplomacy. Additionally, the usage and great effort to create the atomic bomb further encouraged the use of science for the purposes of political gain.
Following the use of the bomb, the sense of power that humankind wielded was unprecedented. But, this power was only destructive in form; and the mindset of those who understood the power of this weapon was permanently altered: “ I would see people building a bridge, or they'd be making a new road, and I thought, they're crazy, they just don't understand, they don't understand. Why are they making new things? It's so useless.”1 (The thoughts of Manhattan-project-physicist Richard P. Feynman after witnessing a test detonation of the atomic bomb.) While such a mindset may not have taken form in the minds of the general public, there was a universal shift in the outlook of war. This shift was toward fear. The fear that massive destruction could transpire faster than it could
be processed by the mind. It was this fear that drove the tension strong during the cold war, and it’s a fear that humanity will always suffer from as a consequence of the United States’ decision on August 6th, 1945.
In addition to the irrevocable psychological toll, the inevitable escalation and evolution of warfare that was in response to the bombings was immutable and known: in May of 1945, seven scientists sent a report to the President that claiming that “If the United States were to be the first to release this new means of indiscriminate destruction upon mankind, she would sacrifice public support throughout the world, precipitate the race for armaments, and prejudice the possibility of reaching an international agreement on the future control of such weapons”2 The decision of the United States to act against these easily foreseeable and commonly presented outcomes was ultimately immoral as they acted in their own interest and disregarded the interest of the world as a whole. This disregarding is likely due to temporal myopia, a phenomenon very commonly seen in the actions of governments and individual politicians.
In addition to this act of the United States violating a moral and ethical ground, it violated a judicial ground as well. In a report filed by the Japanese
government on August 11th, 1945 (only two days after the bombing of Nagasaki) to officially protest the use of the atomic bombing, the Japanese point to the “United States’ violation of the internationally accepted principles of war with respect to the wholesale destruction of populations.”3 Therefore, although the United States may have been able to justify its actions in the obscure and malleable domain of morality, it can not justify the violation of clearly stated international law.
Ultimately, it is of little consequence to debate the justifiability of past actions unless such analysis may lend its hand to enhancing the circumspection with which current actions are approached. With monumental actions come monumental consequences, and any of these actions, whether they appear to be destructive or innovative, should always be treated with care and concern for the people of the present, and also those of the future.
1 Feynman, R. Surely you’re joking, mr. feynman!. New York: Norton & Company, 1985.
2 John Toland, The Rising Sun (Modern Library Paperback Edition, 2003) ,p. 762.
3 The Atomic Bomb: Voices from Hiroshima and Nagasaki by Mark Selden, Kyoko Selden; M. E. Sharpe, 1989