As the post World War II years passed, there was a gradual but persistent growth of doubt by some who questioned the morality of having used the atomic bomb. This doubt continues to increase the further away we move from the World War II era. In recent years, this concern has resulted in the accusation that those who made the decision to use the bomb, particularly President Truman, were guilty of bypassing the will of the people, resulting in great harm to this country’s image. The foregoing attitude of course, ignores the time frame of the use of the bomb. More importantly, those that hold to this attitude have little understanding of the situation or of the attitude of those who were actively engaged in the bloody business of fighting the Japanese and of those who had to make the decision to drop the bomb. Those of us who survived the War as a result of the decision to drop the bomb believe that such a decision was justified. I think the fallowing tribute In Memoriam, quoted in part and written by Captain John Gore, SC, USN(Ret.) To those who were lost in WWII, indicates that they too would have been in accord with that decision.
“It is not likely that they would consider themselves heroes. They, and we who knew them so well, have heard the term used so loosely or so inadequately that it hardly has a true significance.
No one will ever know what was in their minds when they checked out-those who had the time to think. If they had any thoughts regarding the purpose or merits of their end, it was probably just an acknowledgment, an acceptance of complete participation.
If they gave any thought to the impact that their death would have upon the nation, it probably never embraced more than a community. It most probably was focused upon a patch of countryside, a single house, or a single room that would never again be the same without them-and which a part of them had never really left.
It really did not pay to spend much time thinking of such hings. A game of acey-duecy, a long round of poker, a second rate movie-all of this, in spare time, was better than thinking.
If there was any thinking along such lines done, it was probably done when the letters were opened-or being answered or maybe during the services-or just after turning in. There were tumultuous oceans of sweetness or bitterness that stained to flood these few moments. Occasionally, the dikes went down and the mind was engulfed in torment and sweet remembrance, in faith and fear. But usually, the dikes held and only pin-prick holes were allowed-and those not often. Or maybe they broke for good-just at the last when there was no reason for their strength.
There will be many occasions in our future when a remembrance of their sacrifices will contribute to a wise decision, or constitute an inspiration in a moment most needed. How important such decisions and how significant such moments may be, no one can foresee, but it is possible that they may be a decisive or critical as any experienced in the history of this country. Perhaps, in this way, we-and the nation, through us-can perpetuate the value of their sacrifices beyond the sweetness of victory and liberty we now enjoy, and for which their lives were paid.”
Such were the men whose lives hung in balance awaiting the decision as to the justification of dropping the bomb.
The above tribute first appeared in Nine Year After, the class of ’39.
My assessment of the reaction of World Warn submariners to the dropping of the atomic bomb was derived from on the scene conversations with quite a number of submariners, including enlisted and officer crew members of a number of submarines, in addition to senior staff officers. I believe my assessment is shared by all veterans of World War II.
In my case, the first specific knowledge that a new devastating weapon had been used and the notification of the surrender of the Japanese was received by radio. The message was received by the submarine USS BLACKFISH of which I was the commanding officer. We were steaming up the channel at Guam, returning from a war patrol, with 14 rescued aviators onboard. The receipt of the message was marked by whistles blowing, flares being fired and ship’s bells being rung.
At that time the major topic of conversation concerned itself with what manner of weapon had expedited the surrender. Later at the rest camp, discussions shifted to “When do I go home?” and “What system of computing a discharge date was going to be utilized?” Many of the submarine crews were reservists who bad volunteered for submarine duty and were anxious to go home.
As time went by the discussions concerning the devastating weapon finally identified it as the atomic bomb. The discussions never involved the morality of using it but rather the fortuitous fact that the U.S. had the bomb first as the Japanese would have wiped us out if they had it first. The morality factor was of little interest how one was killed, just so it came quickly and cleanly. These opinions were usually accompanied by the conviction that if the Japanese or Germans had developed the bomb first, they would have bad no reservation or constraints on its use. These feelings were reinforced by the experience of witnessing Japanese sailors drowning themselves to prevent being captured. All bands were convinced that this philosophy would have prevailed in the defense of their homeland. The result would have been massive casualties being incurred in the course of an invasion.
I have thought about the morality issue involved in the use of the atomic bomb from several aspects and time frames. In 194S, I was the commanding officer of a combat submarine returning from a war patrol. The mission of the submarine at that time was to sink ships in response to orders to carry out unrestricted warfare. During the war patrol we bad rescued six aviators who had been shot down just off the coast of Kyushu, Japan’s southern most island. We later received an additional 18 aviators rescued by various submarines as we returned to Guam. All of the rescued personnel had been shot down by enemy anti-aircraft fire. When we were informed of the early surrender of the Japanese as a result of dropping of the bomb there was unanimous approval expressed. on the decision to do so. In my opinion, at that time it would have been considered immoral not to have used the bomb. Any rationale developed by apologists to support not using it would have been incomprehensible to our fighting men. The argument of the apologists, that, for all intents and purposes the war was going to
be over in a matter of days, so there was no reason to drop the bomb. This rationale would have been categorized as complete idiocy by men who faced the prospect of storming the beaches of the Japanese homeland. Their experience in fighting the Japanese had convinced them that the Japanese fighting man was a fierce warrior, but also was fanatical in protecting bis homeland and saving face. One only has to observe the use of Kamikaze aircraft, Kaitan human torpedoes and Banzai charges to realize the fallacy of expecting the Japanese to lay down their arms because of attrition. One aspect of theorizing about the morality of using the bomb that seems to be lost to present day apologists is the consideration of the possible consequences of not using it. One should always consider one’s options in the light of whether catastrophic results are possible in not exercising any specific option. At the time in question, there was abundant proof that Germany and Japan were developing an atomic bomb capability. As to their intent to use it-I have no doubt that a man that could implement the Holocaust would have no reservations about dropping the bomb, probably on London and New York City. It was equally apparent that the Japanese were prepared to exercise every possible means to protect their homeland. The atomic bomb, either their own, or more probably that of Germany, would have been a welcome addition to their arsenal.