Today is the 62nd anniversary of one of the darkest days in history. On August 6, 1945, the Enola Gay dropped the first nuclear bomb ever used in warfare on the city of Hiroshima. President Harry Truman gave the order for the attack. History remembers him as both a tyrant and a hero. I remember him as a man who faced a difficult decision and did all he could do, which is choose the lesser of two evils.
The other option was a full invasion of the Japanese mainland. Six months earlier, US troops set foot on Japanese soil on the island of Iwo Jima. It is a small volcanic island only eight square miles in size, but to the Japanese it was sacred soil. It was Japanese soil. They defended that island with a ferocity never before seen. The fighting at Guadalcanal, Tarawa and Wake was fierce, but nothing like what the American marines faced at Iwo Jima. It took over one month of naval bombardment, air strikes and constant pushing by America's finest amphibious troops before Iwo Jima was wrestled from Japanese hands. Of the 22,000 Japanese defenders, 21,000 were killed. Only 216 were taken prisoner. In total, there were 27,000 allied casualties. All of this for 8 square miles of real estate. And Truman was faced with invading the Japanese mainland, all 88,000 square miles of it. Despite all of this, there are still arguments that Japan was on the brink of surrender and that Truman's decision was wrong.
On August 6, the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Japan refused to surrender. Even after being hit with the most destructive device ever known in warfare, they were still prepared to carry on the fight. Was this an army on the verge of breaking? Only six months earlier they suffered over 95% casualties defending 8 square miles of Japanese soil. And still Truman is cursed for his decision.
Historians estimate allied casualties from a Japanese mainland invasion would have been over 1 million, while Japan would have suffered 3 times that many. With Iwo Jima as a comparison, is there any doubt about the accuracy of these numbers? Still, Truman is cursed.
Truman will always be hated and cursed, mainly by those who exploit the advantage they have of not knowing the historical outcome of the alternative decision that Truman never made. They can always say that Japan was on the brink of surrender. I am sure Truman considered this. I am sure he listened to those advisors who felt Japan was beaten. He also listened to those who experienced Iwo Jima, and estimated our losses in an invasion at over one million. He listened, and made the right decision.
Maybe Japan would have surrendered within a month. Maybe they would have dug in and carried the war on another 2 or 3 years. The question facing Truman was: Am I willing to wager one million American lives, and 3 million Japanese lives on their supposed willingness to surrender? The answer was obvious.
So, President Truman, wherever you are, this patriot tips his hat to you, a man of courage who did the right thing despite knowing the consequences. He chose the lesser of two evils, which is sometimes the only option available. Here's hoping that kind of courage can be found in today's leaders, and in the leaders of the future.