Did Atom Bombs Really End the War?

Monday, August 6, will mark one of the United States' most important but unheralded anniversaries.  It is remarkable not only for what happened on this day in 1945 but for what did not happen subsequently.


What did happen was that the “Enola Gay,” an American B-29 bomber from the obscure 509th Composite Group (a U.S. Army Air Force unit tasked with deploying nuclear weapons), dropped a uranium-based atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima.  It hastened the end of World War II, which concluded within a week after the August 9 detonation of a plutonium-based bomb over Nagasaki.  Approximately 66,000 died in Hiroshima from the acute effects of the “Little Boy” bomb and about 35,000 more in Nagasaki from the “Fat Man” device.  (The subsequent, short-term death toll rose significantly due to the effects of radiation and wounds.)

About a year after the war ended, the “was it necessary?” Monday-morning quarterbacks began to question the military necessity and morality of the use of nuclear weapons on Japanese cities.  Since then, there have been periodic eruptions of revisionism, uninformed speculation and political correctness on this subject, perhaps the most offensive of which was the Smithsonian Institution's plan for an exhibition of the Enola Gay for the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima.  In a particularly repugnant exercise of political correctness, the exhibit was to emphasize the “victimization” of the Japanese, mentioning the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor only as the motivation for the “vengeance” sought by the United States.  (The exhibit as originally conceived was eventually canceled.)


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