With the approaching 75th anniversary of U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima, I reached for my grandfather’s memoirs, For the Record. In August 1945, Felix Morley was the former editor of the Washington Post who had founded a publication called Human Events, a journal of conservative and libertarian thought. He recalled that the end of World War II “brought relief but no feeling of elation.”
The devastation of Hiroshima was a demonstration of scientific prowess whose immorality he evoked with with a single fact.
After Hiroshime and Nagasaki, he wrote:
“The enormous power, technical ability and scientific skill concentrated under the national government had been most convincingly demonstrated. It was reported that in Hiroshima alone 33 schools, and almost all the children in them, had been incinerated. The blood lust of even the most vindictive was satisfied. The newspapers said cheerfully that Soviet Russia would henceforth be more careful about offending our susceptibilities. But what was apparent in many minds was now “the consciousness of being hopelessly adrift, of having lost contact with those standards by which men really live.”
With the Japanese and German fascists defeated there was another menace: respectable barbarism.
‘This Barbarous Weapon”
Felix Morley was far from along among conservative thinkers in being appalled by Hiroshima and what is signified about the U.S. government.
As historian Gar Alperovitz notes in The Nation:
The top American military leaders who fought World War II, much to the surprise of many who are not aware of the record, were quite clear that the atomic bomb was unnecessary, that Japan was on the verge of surrender, and—for many—that the destruction of large numbers of civilians was immoral. Most were also conservatives, not liberals. Adm. William Leahy, President Truman’s Chief of Staff, wrote in his 1950 memoir I Was There that “the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender.… in being the first to use it, we…adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.”
On the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing Hiroshima, it is worth remembering that revulsion spanned the ideological spectrum.