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Harry Truman's A-bombing of Japan left intact ethics and law page 4

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Date published: 5/28/2001


What is not vague (but ignored by Hornberger) is that Japan had half the market cornered when it comes to World War II war crimes. (Nazi Germany had the other.) To accuse the U.S. government of "cowardice" for dropping the A-bomb is disingenuous without
giving Japan its rightful due.

It was Japan, after all, that had launched an unprovoked, unlawful attack the breadth of the Pacific, systematically slaughtering inhabitants of conquered nations and subjugating the survivors. It was Japan that forced the Bataan Death March and unlawfully executed bomber crewmen from Jimmy Doolittle's raid and Marines from Makin island. It was also Japan that adopted the war-crimes practice of forced medical experimentation on humans and who worked Allied prisoners to death in its mines.

Leaving no generation unscathed, Hornberger also points the finger at Korean and Vietnam veterans by mentioning No Gun Ri and My Lai.

He fails to mention that inquiries into Korean War refugee casualties at No Gun Ri have proven inconclusive. In the Vietnam War, the killings of noncombatants by U.S. forces near My Lai clearly violated the laws of war. There are no excuses.
U.S. forces were wrong, and Lt. William Calley was held accountable. Note, however, that the revisionists never mention, when they talk of My Lai, the tens of thousands of outright murders committed by North Vietnamese regulars or the Viet Cong.

Senior Vietnamese officials, questioned about the thousands of innocents massacred in Hue in 1968, simply mutter about "the misfortunes of war." Of course, they hold no one accountable. Certainly two wrongs don't make a right. But let's make sure our friends in the Democratic People's Republic of Vietnam get their fair share of the billing for atrocities. There are plenty of photos of their handiwork.

Such skewed perceptions have produced a popular culture that equates U.S. involvement in Vietnam with war crimes. Vietnam War movies express this notion with the "obligatory" atrocity scene. In reality, the NVA and the Viet Cong played by their own rules of warfare, while the overwhelming majority of Americans who served in Vietnam did vast good under difficult circumstances, both at the organizational and individual level.

On this Memorial Day, I would caution Jacob Hornberger of cava-lierly accusing President Truman of "cowardice" for his fateful decision of August 1945. As Americans, we're not afraid of admitting our faults--that's how we learn and get better. But let's tell the whole story.

COL. KEVIN WINTERS of Stafford County is a deputy staff judge advocate to the commandant of the Marine Corps at the Pentagon.

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