|The Enola Gay in 1945|
Theodore Van Kirk, the last surviving crew member of the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima towards the end of the Second World War, has died aged 93. In an interview, Van Kirk defended the use of the bomb against Japan.
Whether or not using the bomb was necessary has long been debated by historians. Some argue that by July 1945, Japan's navy and air force had been nobbled, and it had little chance of victory. It was probably ready to surrender anyway. For this reason, using the atomic bomb was unnecessary. Having defeated Germany, the Soviet Union was planning to invade Japan, and started an offensive in August. It was overwhelmed. Fanaticism was keeping Japan at war, as was the hope that it could negotiate favourable surrender terms with Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. This was a false hope.
Even so, this is the argument that I favour. Japan was still holding out, and the Allies were preparing to invade the Japanese mainland. Such an operation would have resulted in massive military and civilian casualties. Japan surrendered soon after the atomic bombs were dropped, firstly on Hiroshima and then Nagasaki.
As bad as the death toll and destruction from the bombings was, the alternative would have been much worse. This would probably have meant many more months of bloody combat. This course of action saved more lives than it cost. It also arguably curtailed the prospect of greater Soviet influence in Japan and Asia.
Yes, there have been some close shaves, such as the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, but it's a miracle that nuclear weapons haven't been used in war since 1945, and I pray that day never comes.