The Fate of Our World: Why America Should be Charged with War Crimes for the Use of the Atomic Bomb
Tigerlily Theo Hopson
May 12th, 2019
One hundred and forty thousand people were murdered by an atomic bomb dropped by the United States of America on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and three days later seventy-three thousand more Japanese were killed in Nagasaki by another atomic bomb. These are not just numbers or statistics; they were living, breathing people, each one of them. They were innocent men, women, and little children, whose lives were ended suddenly and painfully, some smashed to pieces, or exploded, or burnt to death, or killed slowly from radiation. Today, seventy-four years later, America still has not been penalized for its crimes committed on that day, and the threat of the atomic bomb is still very much alive.
The United States was never tried for war crimes for the dropping of these two atomic bombs. The definition of war crimes, as described in Article 6 of the Charter of the International Military Tribunal, which the United States, Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union established in June of 1945, was, “namely, violations or customs of war. Such violations shall include, but not be limited to… wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity.” According to this definition, the United States of America should be charged with war crimes for dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. America being charged with war crimes is crucial to a path of peace, anti-racism (since the dropping of the atomic bomb was a decision fueled on racism, prejudice, and hate towards the Japanese), and a nuclear-free world.
The dropping of the atomic bombs fits this definition in every way. First, the atomic bombs created utter destruction in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and left a mark far worse than “wanton destruction of cities.” The Untold History of the United States by Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick describes how when the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, it became a city of death within seconds: “At the hypocenter, where the temperatures reached 5,400 degrees Fahrenheit, the fireball roasted people ‘to bundles of smoking black char in a fraction of a second as their internal organs boiled away.’ Tens of thousands were killed instantly. An estimated 140,000 were dead by the end of the year, and 200,000 by 1950.” Hiroshima was completely destroyed, and people were gravely burnt, their skin falling off and their organs spilling out. America did not even give the Japanese time to process the horrors that happened in Hiroshima; three days later, when Japan’s government still refused to surrender, they dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki. The pure destruction and death that was unleashed by the atomic bomb was far worse than any other attack seen in war time. The way each human suffered was staggering, and America neglecting to label this as a war crime devalues these experiences.
To understand the true devastation on Hiroshima’s constituents, the film “Barefoot Gen,” written by a survivor of Hiroshima, can be seen for free on YouTube at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c8XT5kRlDrU&t=1146s. This movie clearly demonstrates how the victims who suffered in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were innocent civilians whose lives were stolen. They were people who did not do anything wrong; they had not mistreated American prisoners or brutalized the Chinese, and many of them wanted more than anything for the war to end. It is hard to understand why a toddler, buried under rubble, crying out for his mother, had to be the one punished for the actions of the Japanese government and Japanese soldiers in war.
There are many pieces of evidence that make it clear that the use of the atomic bomb was a “devastation not justified by military necessity.” Before August of 1945, Japan was nearly completely destroyed; America had ripped Japan to shreds, and Japan knew that in order to survive, they would need to surrender. Despite President Truman’s claims that the bomb had to be dropped to end the war, there is proof that one year before Hiroshima, as according to A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn, “The Japanese code had been broken, and Japan’s messages were being intercepted. It was known the Japanese had instructed their ambassador in Moscow to work on peace negotiations with Allies. [...] If only the Americans had not insisted on unconditional surrender - that is, if they were willing to accept one condition to the surrender, that the Emperor, a holy figure to the Japanese, remain in place - the Japanese would have agreed to stop the war. In fact, when the war ended, the Emperor was allowed to remain.” If America had let Japan surrender in 1944, it would have been with the same terms agreed upon when they did officially surrender in 1945. Thus, there was no military necessity to continue the war.
Even the highest ranking generals realized the bomb did not have to be dropped. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander and the future President of the United States expressed his disgust with the atomic bomb vehemently: “I told him [Stimson] I was against it on two counts. First, the Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing. Second, I hated to see our country be the first to use such a weapon.” Eisenhower was one of the highest ranking generals who knew exactly what was necessary and unnecessary in the war. If he felt the bomb did not have to be dropped, then people should have listened to him.
A primary reason why America never got called up for war crimes, and why the bomb was dropped in the first place, was because of racism. Ever since conflict began between America and Japan, the Japanese were portrayed as subhuman—they were painted as beasts, vermin, and monsters in American propaganda. Even in Time magazine, an article written after Pearl Harbor stated that "The ordinary unreasoning Jap is ignorant. Perhaps he is human. Nothing ... indicates it." This racism allows the atomic bomb incident to be overlooked even today.
No atomic bombs have ever been dropped since Nagasaki. America was the first and the last to use such a weapon, and that will always be a stain on our “great” country. This being said, the danger of the atomic bomb is still present today. We have the power to destroy each other and destroy the world with one press of a button. America’s current tensions with Russia and North Korea, all three countries with unpredictable leaders, could ignite a nuclear war. Whereas in 1945 America was the only country with such a weapon, now nine nations have nuclear weapons, and many others are trying to develop weapons of mass destruction. The nine nations that now have nuclear weapons are Russia with 6,850, the United States with 6,450, France with 300, China with 280, the United Kingdom with 215, Pakistan with 140, India with 130, Israel with 80, and lastly North Korea with 10 to 20, as of November 2018 (https://fas.org/issues/nuclear-weapons). The damage done by the atomic bomb was horrendous: hundreds of thousands of people dead, cities burnt to the ground, and lasting radiation that still affects people today. Now, imagine the world after a nuclear fight where countries could drop atomic bomb after atomic bomb.
We can promote and practice peace by exercising empathy and tolerance at home, as well as labeling the use of nuclear bombs as a war crime. If America can use an atomic bomb without repercussion, then a dangerous precedent is set. America must be charged with war crimes and must formally apologize to Japan for the dropping of the atomic bombs. We must work together in a process of healing and unity, for that is how we can best protect our future. We cannot continue to deny the depths of the atrocity committed on August 6, 1945.