Debate Over The Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki - Opposition - The Bombings As War Crimes

The Bombings As War Crimes

A number of notable individuals and organizations have criticized the bombings, many of them characterizing them as war crimes, crimes against humanity, and/or state terrorism. Early critics of the bombings were Albert Einstein, Eugene Wigner and Leo Szilard, who had together spurred the first bomb research in 1939 with a jointly written letter to President Roosevelt. Szilard, who had gone on to play a major role in the Manhattan Project, argued:

"Let me say only this much to the moral issue involved: Suppose Germany had developed two bombs before we had any bombs. And suppose Germany had dropped one bomb, say, on Rochester and the other on Buffalo, and then having run out of bombs she would have lost the war. Can anyone doubt that we would then have defined the dropping of atomic bombs on cities as a war crime, and that we would have sentenced the Germans who were guilty of this crime to death at Nuremberg and hanged them?"

A number of scientists who worked on the bomb were against its use. Led by Dr. James Franck, seven scientists submitted a report to the Interim Committee (which advised the President) in May 1945, saying:

"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."

Mark Selden writes, "Perhaps the most trenchant contemporary critique of the American moral position on the bomb and the scales of justice in the war was voiced by the Indian jurist Radhabinod Pal, a dissenting voice at the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal, who balked at accepting the uniqueness of Japanese war crimes. Recalling Kaiser Wilhelm II's account of his duty to bring World War I to a swift end—"everything must be put to fire and sword; men, women and children and old men must be slaughtered and not a tree or house be left standing." Pal observed:

"This policy of indiscriminate murder to shorten the war was considered to be a crime. In the Pacific war under our consideration, if there was anything approaching what is indicated in the above letter of the German Emperor, it is the decision coming from the Allied powers to use the bomb. Future generations will judge this dire decision... If any indiscriminate destruction of civilian life and property is still illegal in warfare, then, in the Pacific War, this decision to use the atom bomb is the only near approach to the directives of the German Emperor during the first World War and of the Nazi leaders during the second World War."

Selden mentions another critique of the nuclear bombing, which he says the U.S. government effectively suppressed for twenty-five years, as worth mention. On 11 August 1945, the Japanese government filed an official protest over the atomic bombing to the U.S. State Department through the Swiss Legation in Tokyo, observing:

"Combatant and noncombatant men and women, old and young, are massacred without discrimination by the atmospheric pressure of the explosion, as well as by the radiating heat which result therefrom. Consequently there is involved a bomb having the most cruel effects humanity has ever known... The bombs in question, used by the Americans, by their cruelty and by their terrorizing effects, surpass by far gas or any other arm, the use of which is prohibited. Japanese protests against U.S. desecration of international principles of war paired the use of the atomic bomb with the earlier firebombing, which massacred old people, women and children, destroying and burning down Shinto and Buddhist temples, schools, hospitals, living quarters, etc... They now use this new bomb, having an uncontrollable and cruel effect much greater than any other arms or projectiles ever used to date. This constitutes a new crime against humanity and civilization."

Selden concludes, despite the war crimes committed by the Empire of Japan, nevertheless, "the Japanese protest correctly pointed to U.S. violations of internationally accepted principles of war with respect to the wholesale destruction of populations."

In 1963, the bombings were the subject of a judicial review in Ryuichi Shimoda et al. v. The State. On the 22nd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the District Court of Tokyo declined to rule on the legality of nuclear weapons in general, but found, "the attacks upon Hiroshima and Nagasaki caused such severe and indiscriminate suffering that they did violate the most basic legal principles governing the conduct of war."

In the opinion of the court, the act of dropping an atomic bomb on cities was at the time governed by international law found in the Hague Regulations on Land Warfare of 1907 and the Hague Draft Rules of Air Warfare of 1922–1923 and was therefore illegal.

In the documentary The Fog of War, former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara recalls General Curtis LeMay, who relayed the Presidential order to drop nuclear bombs on Japan, said:

"'If we'd lost the war, we'd all have been prosecuted as war criminals.' And I think he's right. He, and I'd say I, were behaving as war criminals. LeMay recognized that what he was doing would be thought immoral if his side had lost. But what makes it immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win?"

As the first military use of nuclear weapons, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki represent to some the crossing of a crucial barrier. Peter Kuznick, director of the Nuclear Studies Institute at American University, wrote of President Truman: "He knew he was beginning the process of annihilation of the species." Kuznick said the atomic bombing of Japan "was not just a war crime; it was a crime against humanity."

Takashi Hiraoka, mayor of Hiroshima, upholding nuclear disarmament, said in a hearing to The Hague International Court of Justice (ICJ): "It is clear that the use of nuclear weapons, which cause indiscriminate mass murder that leaves survivors for decades, is a violation of international law". Iccho Itoh, the mayor of Nagasaki, declared in the same hearing:

"It is said that the descendants of the atomic bomb survivors will have to be monitored for several generations to clarify the genetic impact, which means that the descendants will live in anxiety for to come... with their colossal power and capacity for slaughter and destruction, nuclear weapons make no distinction between combatants and non-combatants or between military installations and civilian communities... The use of nuclear weapons... therefore is a manifest infraction of international law."

Although bombings do not meet the definition of genocide, some consider this definition is too strict, and these bombings do represent a genocide. For example, University of Chicago historian Bruce Cumings states there is a consensus among historians to Martin Sherwin's statement "the Nagasaki bomb was gratuitous at best and genocidal at worst."

The scholar R. J. Rummel instead extends the definition of genocide to what he calls democide, and includes the major part of deaths from the atom bombings in these. His definition of democide includes not only genocide, but also an excessive killing of civilians in war, to the extent this is against the agreed rules for warfare; he argues the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were war crimes, and thus democide. Rummel quotes among others an official protest from the US government in 1938 to Japan, for its bombing of Chinese cities: "The bombing of non-combatant populations violated international and humanitarian laws." He also considers excess deaths of civilians in firestorms caused by conventional means, such as in Tokyo, as acts of democide.

In 1967, Noam Chomsky described the atomic bombings as "among the most unspeakable crimes in history". Chomsky pointed to the complicity of the American people in the bombings, referring to the bitter experiences they had undergone prior to the event as the cause for their acceptance of its legitimacy.

In 2007, a group of intellectuals in Hiroshima established an unofficial body called International Peoples' Tribunal on the Dropping of Atomic Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On 16 July 2007, it delivered its verdict, stating:

"The Tribunal finds that the nature of damage caused by the atomic bombs can be described as indiscriminate extermination of all life forms or inflicting unnecessary pain to the survivors".

About the legality and the morality of the action, the unofficial tribunal found:

"The... use of nuclear weapons in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was illegal in the light of the principles and rules of International Humanitarian Law applicable in armed conflicts, since the bombing of both cities, made civilians the object of attack, using nuclear weapons that were incapable of distinguishing between civilians and military targets and consequently, caused unnecessary suffering to the civilian survivors".

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