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Harry Truman's A-bombing of Japan left intact ethics and law

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Date published: 5/28/2001

JACOB HORNBERGER'S May 19 op-ed, "A-bombings of Japan were acts of cowardice and criminality," is yet another example of a commentator who's bought into a skewed view of America's role in world history.

That view suggests that Americans should wear the hair shirt for wars of aggression and war crimes (and just about every other global malady) when, in reality, America has been the undisputed world leader in promoting freedom, decency, and compliance with the rule of law for more than two centuries.

In an alarming one-sided manner, Hornberger, president of the Future of Freedom Foundation, suppresses the historical and legal context in which the atomic-bomb decision was made.

Proselytizers of American guilt like Hornberger focus on American missteps--repeating them in mantralike fashion--excluding the tsunami of things that America has done right. Heroes? Not in their America.

As to Hornberger's central charge that the United States is criminally culpable for Hiroshima and Nagasaki--as much so as for the massacre of Vietnamese villagers at My Lai--I respectfully disagree.

First, consider the intuitively obvious. President Truman's decision to use atomic weapons against Japan was both appropriate and lawful. It wasn't, as Hornberger calls it, "cowardice, pure and simple." What is "pure and simple" is that it ended the most horrific war in history. Did the bomb save lives? Absolutely. The forecast casualties for an invasion of Japan reached the level of catastrophic.

Here's another news flash: Japan then wasn't like Japan now. It wasn't a place where citizens happily make Toyotas and Game Boys, sang the corporate anthem, and worried about their youth pining for Michael Jackson to go back on tour.

Japan of today is both an important ally and trading partner, but Japan then was an extremely isolated and dangerous military society. The emperor was considered a deity--and dying for him, either as soldier or as citizen was held an honor. His aura forever etched in the lexicon of infamy the terms "banzai" and "kamikaze."

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