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Old 01-12-2014, 12:47 AM   #1
Mason Malmuth
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Japanese Nuclear Bombs Overrated?

Hi Everyone:

I've always felt the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were overrated relative to ending the War with Japan. The reason for this is that The United States, under the leadership of General Curtis LeMay, was already fire bombing Japanese cities with similar results.

That is with no nuclear bombs, Hiroshima and Nagasaki could have been destroyed almost as thoroughly??? and continuous firebombing of many Japanese cities would have probably ended the war except that it would have taken a few more months.

Any comments?

Best wishes,
mason
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Old 01-12-2014, 01:05 AM   #2
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Re: Japanese Nuclear Bombs Overrated?

According to the Strategic Bombing Survey conducted by the Americans after the war, it was found that:

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Based on a detailed investigation of all the facts, and supported by the testimony of the surviving Japanese leaders involved, it is the Survey's opinion that certainly prior to 31 December 1945, and in all probability prior to 1 November 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated.
Japan's industrial and military capacity had been thoroughly destroyed, and I would concur that incendiary and conventional explosives could have equally decimated what Japanese cities remained. I can chalk up the use of atomic weaponry to a couple factors:

(1) To ensure that the US, not the Soviets, would be the primary brokers of peace and postwar relations with Japan,

(2) To both justify the enormous cost of the Manhattan Project and conduct a "field test" of the bombs,

(3) General dissatisfaction with the results of incendiary bombing and the belief that the bombs would end the war more quickly (covered well by Dan Carlin in his Logical Insanity episode)
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Old 01-12-2014, 05:21 AM   #3
Mason Malmuth
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Re: Japanese Nuclear Bombs Overrated?

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Originally Posted by Turn Prophet View Post
According to the Strategic Bombing Survey conducted by the Americans after the war, it was found that:



Japan's industrial and military capacity had been thoroughly destroyed, and I would concur that incendiary and conventional explosives could have equally decimated what Japanese cities remained. I can chalk up the use of atomic weaponry to a couple factors:

(1) To ensure that the US, not the Soviets, would be the primary brokers of peace and postwar relations with Japan,

(2) To both justify the enormous cost of the Manhattan Project and conduct a "field test" of the bombs,

(3) General dissatisfaction with the results of incendiary bombing and the belief that the bombs would end the war more quickly (covered well by Dan Carlin in his Logical Insanity episode)
Hi Profit:

I strongly agree with No. 1.

I'm not so sure about No. 2 since in war time lots of money is spent developing lots of things that don't always work out that well, but it certainly has at least some merit. (I actually have some experience in this area since I worked in aerospace in the mid-1980s.)

My understanding of No. 3 is a little different. It goes like this: LeMay was prepared to wipe out lots of Japanese cities and he certainly thought the incendiary bombing was working as it was suppose to. But they had run out of the incendiary bombs and thus could not continue the campaign, at least for a while. In fact, and correct me if I have this wrong, this lack of incendiary bombs is one of the reasons the atomic bombs were used.

Best wishes,
mason
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Old 01-12-2014, 09:06 AM   #4
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Re: Japanese Nuclear Bombs Overrated?

Strongly disagree.

Japan did not even surrender until after the second nuke was dropped. Japan presumed that the damage in Hiroshima was actually caused by conventional bombing. When they slowly realised that western scientists had in fact created this bomb, they had no choice to surrender because of the damage it could inflict so quickly..

That said, they could have demonstrated the power of the nuclear bomb in a more peaceful way.
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Old 01-12-2014, 02:43 PM   #5
Bill Haywood
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Re: Japanese Nuclear Bombs Overrated?

Elements of the Japanese government had decided surrender was necessary for some time but had not yet prevailed. The entry of the Soviet Union into the war was a huge, shocking event in bringing about the surrender. The nukes were a part of the mix of factors, it was not like they were one-two punches that dropped Japan mid-round. Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan by Hasegawa (2006) is the definitive book, and it emphasizes the Soviet attack as the coup de grace.

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they could have demonstrated the power of the nuclear bomb in a more peaceful way.
Agreed, but I suspect that demonstrating an American willingness to use it was more important to Washington than showing the blast radius.
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Old 01-12-2014, 07:49 PM   #6
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Re: Japanese Nuclear Bombs Overrated?

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I'm not so sure about No. 2 since in war time lots of money is spent developing lots of things that don't always work out that well, but it certainly has at least some merit. (I actually have some experience in this area since I worked in aerospace in the mid-1980s.)
True, but it's a rare situation when you're anticipating a potential confrontation with a current ally and want to to begin the match from a position of strength. Soviet advances into Asia almost certainly contributed to US thinking here.
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Strongly disagree.

Japan did not even surrender until after the second nuke was dropped. Japan presumed that the damage in Hiroshima was actually caused by conventional bombing. When they slowly realised that western scientists had in fact created this bomb, they had no choice to surrender because of the damage it could inflict so quickly..

That said, they could have demonstrated the power of the nuclear bomb in a more peaceful way.
As Bill said, the only problem here is that Japan had been making overtures for most of the summer, and the US stalled (in part) because of the insistence on unconditional surrender.
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Old 01-17-2014, 01:13 AM   #7
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Re: Japanese Nuclear Bombs Overrated?

I agree completely. Every other city save Kyoto--because Secretary of War Stimson valued the historic shrines in the city--was leveled. The degree of destruction visited on Japan's other cities by "conventional" bombing was comparable. We were running out of targets. 100,000 died in Tokyo during two nights of blanket bombing. Hirshima and Nagasaki were being "saved" for nuclear bombs. Without them, they get Lemayed waste anyway.

The blockade crippled Japan. And Russia's entry into the war was the final blow.

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Old 01-17-2014, 01:17 AM   #8
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Re: Japanese Nuclear Bombs Overrated?

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Strongly disagree.

Japan did not even surrender until after the second nuke was dropped. Japan presumed that the damage in Hiroshima was actually caused by conventional bombing. When they slowly realised that western scientists had in fact created this bomb, they had no choice to surrender because of the damage it could inflict so quickly..

That said, they could have demonstrated the power of the nuclear bomb in a more peaceful way.
The surrender came when they realized Russia had kept its promise to enter the war on August 9. As many people had previously been killed in Tokyo in two nights of conventional bombing.

A peaceful "test" of the bomb(s) was out of the question. Nobody was sure it/ would actually work. Plus we had spent a fortune on the project. The purpose was to use the bombs. The political risk of not using them outweighed the morality of a peaceful demonstration. And second level thinking--much less anything deeper--was beyond the ken of the failed businessman/machine politician who was running our country.

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Old 01-17-2014, 01:40 AM   #9
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Re: Japanese Nuclear Bombs Overrated?

"Six weeks ago Tokyo had a population of nearly 7,000,000. Last week the Japs cried that Tokyo no longer existed as a city. Using new techniques and new bombs, the largest fleets of B-29s ever to take the air and turned most of the Japanese capital into ashes in two great strikes on May 24 and 26....For 105 minutes the Superfortresses filed over and dropped 700,000 incendiary bombs. ... Two nights later a force of more than 500 B-29s struck the Marunouchi district, the business heart of the Japanese Empire. ... On a target area of approximately 9 square miles the B-29s dropped 4,000 tons in one hour. The wind did the rest."

-Newsweek June 4, 1945

"We are preparing for an offensive war against Japan, whereas the Japs believe we are preparing only to defend the Philippines. ...We have 35 Flying Fortresses already there—the largest concentration anywhere in the world. Twenty more will be added next month, and 60 more in January....If war with the Japanese does come, we'll fight mercilessly. Flying fortresses will be dispatched immediately to set the paper cities of Japan on fire. There wont be any hesitation about bombing civilians—it will be all-out."

-George Marshall, 3 weeks before Pearl Harbor
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Old 01-20-2014, 01:29 AM   #10
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Re: Japanese Nuclear Bombs Overrated?

They certainly could have done as much or more damage using incendiary bombs and ended the war. But I think the hope was that the shock factor of atomic weapons would end it sooner, and it probably did. I'm sure the Soviet entry influenced them as well.

I just got done reading a book about Japan and their politics in the run up to Pearl Harbor. The interesting thing is pretty much all their high level politicians and military leaders knew they would lose prior to attacking Pearl Harbor, and yet they did it any way. Their cultural norms, weird politics and concerns about saving face didn't allow them to back down. It reminded me of the Chappelle skit on "when keeping it real goes wrong".
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Old 01-20-2014, 01:43 AM   #11
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Re: Japanese Nuclear Bombs Overrated?

Atomic bombs were probably just a drop in the ocean. All the sane politicians in Japan were already knowing in July 1945 that surrender or at least cease-fire with harsh terms was inevitable. Soviet attack in August 1945 was probably the straw that broke the camel's back and made even most fanatic warmongers to understand that war was ultimately lost and there were nothing to gain by continuing to fight.

That being said, I don't think using atomic bombs was immoral against Japan. But I think that their impact has been greatly overestimated, even more than effect of D-Day (Germany was at that time already beaten and Normandy landings just saved Western Europe from falling Soviet hands). For political reasons US of course couldn't admit that USSR's intervention had any impact on Japanese surrender.
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Old 02-03-2014, 09:31 PM   #12
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Re: Japanese Nuclear Bombs Overrated?

The primary target of the nukes dropped on Japan was the Russian position in the postwar landscape. The Japanese citizens who were burned, exploded, or killed in the aftermath were just hostages of convenience for us. We intended to show Russia not only that we had the bomb but also that our willingness to use it would not be constrained by any moral implications. So the poster who said we could have demonstrated the bomb without killing anyone missed the point completely.
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Old 02-04-2014, 05:59 PM   #13
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Re: Japanese Nuclear Bombs Overrated?

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The primary target of the nukes dropped on Japan was the Russian
I think that's a large overstatement. There was so much momentum and expense behind the bomb, and very little regard for the victims, it's really unlikely it would not have been used if the Russians were out of the picture.

When new weapons are available, they get used.

Certainly Washington welcomed the opportunity to limit the Soviet presence in East Asia and demonstrate who was hegemonic. They raced to end the war with the bomb before Soviet troops entered the war. But the Russian factor was not "primary." It was part of the mix in an event that was over-determined.
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Old 02-04-2014, 06:23 PM   #14
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Re: Japanese Nuclear Bombs Overrated?

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I think that's a large overstatement. There was so much momentum and expense behind the bomb, and very little regard for the victims, it's really unlikely it would not have been used if the Russians were out of the picture.

When new weapons are available, they get used.

Certainly Washington welcomed the opportunity to limit the Soviet presence in East Asia and demonstrate who was hegemonic. They raced to end the war with the bomb before Soviet troops entered the war. But the Russian factor was not "primary." It was part of the mix in an event that was over-determined.
Perhaps, but the Russian invasion deadline almost certainly sped up the timetable, and if things drag out for another month or two, Japan might get a negotiated peace anyway before the bombs are dropped.

So I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that without the planned Russian invasion in August that the bombs might not be dropped, though I do agree that if no Russian invasion had been planned and the war had not concluded by, say, October, the bombs probably fly anyway.

There would have been enormous pressure by late 1945 to accept a negotiated peace with Japan rather than undertake an operation likely to cost a million or more troops. So if unconditional surrender was a sticking point for the Americans, good chance the bombs get used by late September.
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Old 02-04-2014, 07:15 PM   #15
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Re: Japanese Nuclear Bombs Overrated?

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I think that's a large overstatement. There was so much momentum and expense behind the bomb, and very little regard for the victims, it's really unlikely it would not have been used if the Russians were out of the picture.
This raises the question of why there was so much momentum and expense behind the bomb in the first place. Was it a tactical urgency for winning the war at hand? If alternative theories explaining the momentum and money spent are going to be entertained then Russia comes up right away. If the long term Russian threat was behind the momentum then their being out of the picture changes the assumptions of your hypothetical.

At a certain point it was clear that the war in Europe would be over before the bomb would be ready. I don't know when this was exactly but it obviously had no real effect on the momentum.

Most of what you cite as reasons could be satisfied instead by demonstration, without bombing people. But only by actually dropping the bomb on people could we show that we are crazy enough to use it and that we might do it again, which I suspect is what the game theorists came up with as the best move against Russia.

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When new weapons are available, they get used.
This is less true as advances in technology increase the lethality and efficiency of newer weapons. It's certainly not true for nukes, as many countries have them available but we are the only country to ever use them. There are also many chemical and biological weapons that are available to many countries that have never been used.
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Old 02-04-2014, 10:09 PM   #16
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Re: Japanese Nuclear Bombs Overrated?

Washington was very focused on winning the war at hand. There was real fear of what would happen if Germany got the bomb -- recall the famous Einstein letter. Certainly they understood American power would be enhanced postwar, but the bomb was built to defeat Germany and Japan. Postwar planning for dealing with the Soviets was moot if the Axis was not defeated.

As the end of the war approached Soviet considerations could come into play, but this was all put into motion by WWII, not WWIII.

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Most of what you cite as reasons could be satisfied instead by demonstration, without bombing people. But only by actually dropping the bomb on people could we show that we are crazy enough to use it
Maybe, but was that really the thinking in the White House?

Somebody read Hasegawa's Racing the Enemy and report back and all our evidence-less speculation can be put to rest.
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Old 02-05-2014, 12:58 AM   #17
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Re: Japanese Nuclear Bombs Overrated?

It's sometimes hard to find hard evidence as to what the real motives are behind foreign policy. I am kind of hesitant to admit that some of my thinking on this matter was influenced by the book "A Beautiful Mind" (which by the way is about 20x better than the movie). This is hardly a historical reference book but it does reveal that game theory has long been employed by the government in plotting war strategy- Washington is not a bunch of cowboys winging it.

And I will sheepishly admit also that Bill Chen's "Mathematics of Poker" also informs my speculation. In that book game theory tends to advocate a crazy, unpredictable strategy as optimal. After reading that it seemed like other applications of game theory yielded similar recommendations in other non-cooperative fields. Then I come across articles like this:

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blog...-shutdown.html

which pop up from time to time it further reinforces the generalization.

There were a lot of options available to deal with Japan. As I am sure you know, the estimates of our losses in an invasion grew a lot over time after the war ended. But there was no scenario where Japan was going to be a threat. From a tactical standpoint the nukes were pure overkill. There was ongoing tension between Russia and U.S; the alliance was one of convenience, not of ideological brotherhood obviously. I just can't think of any other good reason to actually drop it on actual people other than to scare the **** out of Russia. But it is tough to prove a negative.
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Old 02-06-2014, 04:09 AM   #18
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Perhaps, but the Russian invasion deadline almost certainly sped up the timetable, and if things drag out for another month or two, Japan might get a negotiated peace anyway before the bombs are dropped.

So I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that without the planned Russian invasion in August that the bombs might not be dropped, though I do agree that if no Russian invasion had been planned and the war had not concluded by, say, October, the bombs probably fly anyway.

There would have been enormous pressure by late 1945 to accept a negotiated peace with Japan rather than undertake an operation likely to cost a million or more troops. So if unconditional surrender was a sticking point for the Americans, good chance the bombs get used by late September.
I think it might be the opposite because an argument can be made that the Japanese feared surrendering to Russia more than to the US. So it may have been the Russian invasion more than the nuclear bombs that brought about the surrender.

Best wishes,
Mason
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Old 02-06-2014, 04:15 AM   #19
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Re: Japanese Nuclear Bombs Overrated?

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I think it might be the opposite because an argument can be made that the Japanese feared surrendering to Russia more than to the US. So it may have been the Russian invasion more than the nuclear bombs that brought about the surrender.

Best wishes,
Mason
True, though I don't necessarily think the two arguments are mutually exclusive.

Neither Japan nor the US would have been particularly happy to see the Soviets have a major role in the postwar fate of Japan.
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Old 02-06-2014, 12:16 PM   #20
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Re: Japanese Nuclear Bombs Overrated?

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I just can't think of any other good reason to actually drop it on actual people other than to scare the **** out of Russia.
Why do the reasons need to be good? Loads of decisions are made for bad reasons. Are we discussing why Truman dropped the bomb, or what he should have done?

You are weighing Japanese civilian lives against alternatives to the two bombings that would appear to accomplish American goals. But that's your mindset and we should not assume Washington attached the same value to Japanese civilians.

Here's two free facts that reinforce the Russian factor in American decisions. US policy was to bring the USSR into the war as soon as possible to avoid an assault on the main islands and offered significant concessions to Moscow. As soon as the bomb worked, Russia was no longer needed. So, 1) Washington canceled the planned shared occupation of Japan and 2) insisted on a joint occupation of Korea. (Bad move, that.)

There's no question the Soviets were much in mind in American decisions. But that doesn't mean it was "primary" or the bomb display would have been different. There were plenty of Japanese reasons for using the bomb. In terms of historical causality, it's use was over-determined.

Without the USSR, there might have been more nuclear attacks -- just as soon as more bombs were finished -- because without the USSR, the first two might not have been sufficient.

One thing we haven't discussed is the belated concession to allow the emperor to remain. Conceivably, the US continued insisting on removing the emperor so that Japan would not surrender until the bomb display. That would certainly reinforce the Soviet factor argument, but I don't know that there's anything to it. Someone read Hasegawa, I have grading to do.
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Old 02-06-2014, 07:51 PM   #21
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Re: Japanese Nuclear Bombs Overrated?

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Someone read Hasegawa, I have grading to do.
Ordered. No kindle version tho. Looks like a really good find with new, broader source material.
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Old 02-10-2014, 03:24 PM   #22
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Re: Japanese Nuclear Bombs Overrated?

Slightly off topic, but if the conventional bombing was doing as much damage, then why would dropping the nuclear bomb be any more immoral?
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Old 02-11-2014, 11:17 AM   #23
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Re: Japanese Nuclear Bombs Overrated?

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Slightly off topic, but if the conventional bombing was doing as much damage, then why would dropping the nuclear bomb be any more immoral?
I sort of agree with this point. I think the issue is that many people are looking back from a 21st century viewpoint. Having gone through the cold war and the implications of a possible WW3 we've been brought up to think of nuclear weapons as a taboo that should never be used, especially when we consider how many more times powerful modern devices are. This is resulting in a sort of argument from incredubility where some people are finding it hard to believe that the weapons were used solely to hasten the defeat of Japan.

When we take other factors into account such as the massive casualties that were already being inflicted by conventional bombing of Japan, estimates of U.S. casualties if the home islands were invaded, the desire for ultimate surrender rather than a negiotiated peace it's not difficult to see why this new weapon was used.
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Old 02-12-2014, 02:51 AM   #24
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Re: Japanese Nuclear Bombs Overrated?

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Slightly off topic, but if the conventional bombing was doing as much damage, then why would dropping the nuclear bomb be any more immoral?
Dan Carlin has a pretty good episode on this. Basically, once you accept the premise that indiscriminate (or effectively indiscriminate) aerial bombing of urban areas is acceptable, it's really not much of a jump, morality-wise, to nuclear bombs. It's simply terror in a different package, albeit one with terrifying side-effects (irradiation, etc)... but perhaps not so much more terrible than incendiary bombing as we might believe.

So the question then is whether aerial bombing of any kind is moral. I tend toward a "no" answer.
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Old 02-13-2014, 03:24 AM   #25
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Re: Japanese Nuclear Bombs Overrated?

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Slightly off topic, but if the conventional bombing was doing as much damage, then why would dropping the nuclear bomb be any more immoral?
In a vacuum, the nuclear bombing was not any more immoral than the firebombing by any significant measure. It might seem that the argument that it is more immoral is implied with people seeming to freak out more about the nukes than other bombing. That's really a side effect of the enormous implications of the nukes to history and to the future. It's such a novel and watershed event that one is bound to hear a lot more opinions about it, many of those in opposition. Those opposed to immoral acts will logically want to talk about a more popular one since so much attention is already focused on it.

Then again there is a small increase in absolute immorality with the increase in efficiency and some other aspects I suppose. I mean, if it's bad to kill a certain group of people then maybe the less the transgressor risks in the act the worse it is. We innately value a fair fight or some approximation thereof. Say we settled the whole thing with swords. If we were such better swordsmen that we held the same kill ratio as we do under a bombing campaign, it wouldn't seem so unfair and, by extension, immoral would it? The nuclear bomb has an air of indiscrimination, of total war and obliteration by means which are still, 70 years later, largely inscrutable to all but the small population of physicists.

That probably equates to a lot more fear for the target population in the time before they die. They don't know how it works, they can't get away, the lethality is unfathomable, they can't fight back, the effects linger for any "lucky" survivors, etc.
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