56% of Americans still believe Hiroshima bombing was justified – poll

Seventy years after the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, destroying tens of thousands of lives, a new poll shows that most Americans still believe the nuclear attacks on the city and Nagasaki were justified.

More specifically, 56 percent of Americans think the use of atomic weapons against Japan during World War II was justified, according to a new poll by the Pew Research Center. Meanwhile, 34 percent said their use was not justified.

While the number of Americans supporting the bombings has dropped nearly 30 percent since the immediate aftermath of the war – a 1945 Gallup poll found 85 percent in support – the number appears to have remained steady over the last decade. A 2005 Gallup poll found that 57 percent of Americans approved of the twin bombings.

The latest poll did find that attitudes have changed most dramatically in the younger generation of Americans. Another large gap was observed between registered Democrats and Republicans.

“Seven-in-ten Americans ages 65 and older say the use of atomic weapons was justified, but only 47 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds agree,” Pew stated. “There is a similar partisan divide: 74 percent of Republicans but only 52 percent of Democrats see the use of nuclear weapons at the end of World War II as warranted.”

In Japan, the poll unsurprisingly found that the public adamantly believed that destroying Hiroshima and Nagasaki with nuclear weapons was not justified. Seventy-nine percent of the Japanese said it was not, while 14 percent said that it was.

The bombing of Hiroshima is estimated to have killed anywhere between 66,000 to 150,000 people, mostly civilians. 

In America, the debate over President Harry Truman’s decision to unleash the weapons has continued to be a controversial topic even in spite of majority support for it.

Those critical of the decision have presented a litany of arguments against it, including the contention that the atomic bomb was only meant to be used defensively, if ever, and that its real purpose was to act as a deterrent. As a way of defending this argument, they note that outside of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the bomb has only been used to deter opponents.

Opponents also state that the bombs’ use was intended more as a way to intimidate the Soviet Union than as a way to bring about an end to the war, since the Soviets were planning to declare war on Japan and aid the US just about a week after the first bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Others say there were alternatives to ending the war, such as permitting the emperor to remain as a powerless figurehead. If the US really wanted to demonstrate the power of the atomic bomb, it could have also conducted a test demolition as a warning.

Speaking with RT, Madelyn Hoffman of New Jersey Peace Action, said the “utter, total devastation and destruction of lives” that occurred was not worth the US deploying the weapons as “a flex of the muscle.”

“History, I believe, has shown that Japan was ready to surrender, that the dropping of the bombs was not necessary, and that they were dropped more to show US strength towards the former Soviet Union than anything that was going on in the war,” she added.

Those who believe that it was justifiable to drop the bombs often argue that, compared to a land invasion of the main Japanese islands, Truman’s decision saved tens of thousands of American lives. According to the Authentic History Center, US military studies suggested that America could suffer anywhere between 23,000 and 49,000 casualties in the first 30 days of an invasion alone. Estimates for total casualties, meanwhile, projected hundreds of thousands of deaths.

Similarly, it has been argued that the bomb cut the duration of the war down significantly and forced the Japanese emperor to decide that maintaining the war was not an option. By ending the war more quickly, the argument goes, less Japanese died than would have in a drawn-out invasion.

“I think that the bombs were believed at the time to be necessary. as General [George] Marshall, who was head of the US military during the war said after the war, ‘we didn’t want to have to invade Japan,’” Richard Rhodes, an American historian, journalist and author who won a Pulitzer Prize for his book “The Making of the Atomic Bomb,” told RT.

“We knew we would kill many Japanese, and many Americans would die as well.”

The idea that the atomic bombs ultimately saved lives and hastened the end of the war has been pushed back against, though, including from political analyst James Corbett of “The Corbett Report,” a weekly podcast that discusses politics and history. He called this argument “a false narrative” because the imperial government was “planning to surrender before the bombs were even dropped.”

“The bombings themselves were not necessary in the way that is often claimed in terms of ending the war,” he said to RT.

To illustrate the destructive force of the bombs, a new website called “NukeMap” has also popped up that can estimate the impact they would have if dropped on other cities. For example, if dropped on New York City, the type of bomb dropped on Hiroshima would have killed more than 263,000 people and injured more than half a million others. The bomb that fell on Nagasaki would have killed even more.

In Hiroshima, the anniversary was marked by a somber ceremony and a moment of silence in the morning. Some 10,000 floating lanterns will also be lit in the evening.