Russia was also at work on an atomic bomb because the Manhattan Project’s secret had been leaked by Robert Oppenheimer, now known to have been a Communist. I therefore agree with Edward Teller, also a member of the Manhattan Project and the so-called father of the Hydrogen Bomb, who said in his memoir, “We had no choice. In such an arms race, there is no slowing down, let alone turning back.”
I also agree with Gen. Paul Tibbets, pilot of the Enola Gay, the B-29 which dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, who said it was necessary. When I had the privilege of meeting him at an Army Air Force reunion in the mid-‘90s, I asked him about his feelings of conscience over the event. He replied, “I had a duty to perform. I’ve never lost a single night’s sleep over it.” I respect his warrior attitude and I recommend his memoir, The Return of the Enola Gay.
Equally to the point, Gen. Tibbets told me that when he lectured publicly, he was sometimes thanked afterward by people who said the bomb saved their lives. Most of them were American soldiers and sailors fighting in the Pacific, preparing for Operation Olympic, the massive invasion of Japan planned to begin in November 1945 and continue through March 1946, extending the war for probably another year. Based on experience from the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, military planners estimated American casualties at more than 1,000,000 dead and wounded. Japanese casualties were estimated above 2,000,000. Japan, although clearly losing the war, still had tremendous military resources—both men and weapons—in readiness to defend its homeland. The armed civilian populace was in addition to that.
Surprisingly, however, some of the people who thanked Gen. Tibbets were Japanese civilians who lived during the war or were descendants of wartime civilians. The Emperor and warlords had declared a policy of “no surrender, no retreat” for Japan if it was invaded. Everyone—young and old alike—were commanded to fight to the death for their homeland and, given the mindset of strict obedience which had been inculcated in the Japanese, the command of the divine imperial ruler could not have been disobeyed. It was simply unthinkable for them. Many of them did not want to fight to the death, Gen. Tibbetts was told, but they felt they had no choice. The atomic bomb, therefore, actually saved the lives of millions of Japanese.
It is to the enormous credit of America that, for all the nuclear saber-rattling the world has gone through since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we’ve been able to avoid another such event because of America’s military strength. Nuclear weapons have helped to hold things together for America and the world. It’s time for the critics to acknowledge that—even as America continues working toward global nuclear disarmament.