Nuclear Apocalypse Now? | by Ariel Dorfman | NYR Daily | The New York Review of Books
But there was another, more telling aspect of Trump’s UN speech. This most thoughtless and impetuous of American presidents also called the possibility of nuclear conflict “unthinkable.” On the contrary, we must think about it. And crucial to any understanding of the moral import of the possible use of nuclear weapons is to go back to the foundational moment of this nuclear age and ask again: Were Hiroshima and Nagasaki war crimes?
We have no way of knowing what the people of North Korea would make of that question, any more than we know what their views are about their leader’s avowed willingness to order a nuclear first strike. After all, the citizens of the so-called Democratic Republic are closeted in a “dense fog” created by Kim Jong-un’s father, Kim Jong-il, “to prevent our enemies from learning anything about us.”
We do, on the other hand, know something about what Americans think. Two years ago, a Pew Research poll found that 56 percent of American respondents regarded the bombing of Hiroshima as justified, a clear majority, though significantly down from the 85 percent who felt that way in 1945.
There is still much controversy around the issue. The traditional justification for the attack was that it was the only way to force the Japanese High Command to surrender immediately, and to avoid a long and costly invasion of island after island that would have led to countless American and Allied casualties. But subsequent historical research has revealed that Japan capitulated out of fear that the Soviet Union would land forces on the Japanese mainland and occupy half the country. The findings of historians Gar Alperovitz, Murray Sayle, and Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, among others, refute the conventional wisdom that the first nuclear attack in history was an absolute necessity.
Yet the myth persists. The question is: To what extent does Americans’ belief in the rightness of President Truman’s fateful decision in 1945 provide moral support for the brimstone rhetoric of nuclear conflagration that President Trump is deploying today?