To the editor:
Should we have surrendered to Japan because nuclear war is too horrific? Unlike ersatz moralist Joe Douglas (“Missile message,” Public Forum, May 4) I do not think the Polaris missile display in Centennial Park symbolizes misguided patriotism. Mr. Douglas committed a false choice fallacy when he described the incontestable devastation of Hiroshima. He failed to recognize the vastly larger cost of any other course of action open to Truman. Blockade of Japan would have starved the most vulnerable of Japan while the bushido-driven military held out. Casualties on both sides in a land battle in Japan would have far exceeded the huge loss of life on one side from both atomic weapon attacks. Mr. Douglas failed to cite the fact that we were later able to peacefully demobilize (rather than kill or maim) more than 6.4 million armed Japanese troops.
In 1945 a Japanese officer said, “When the enemy actually lands, if we are ready to sacrifice a million men we will be able to inflict an equal number of casualties upon them. If the enemy loses a million men, then the public opinion in America will become inclined towards peace, and Japan will be able to gain peace with comparatively advantageous conditions.” (“The Last Great Victory” by Stanley Weintraub, p. 127)
The benefit of the prompt cessation of hostilities in 1945 gained by two nuclear weapons, avoided a savage ground war in Japan and thereby saved the lives of millions of noncombatants, allied troops and Japanese soldiers. Many of those Japanese saved from death created a friendly ally and the third-most productive economy in the world. The Polaris display reminds us of Truman’s correct and historic moral choice.