The use of atom bombs to end war with Japan in 1945 was not only defensible, but actively good. The critics who ignore the historical record and embrace presentist analysis fail to deal in reality.
Around this time each year, the Internet is flooded with hot takes about how the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were indefensible, unnecessary, and downright evil. These critics label the bombings as one of the prime atrocities of American imperialism and use them as fodder for their argument that the United States is uniquely bad for the world. This year, the hot take machine has been supercharged by the release of director Christopher Nolan’s latest historical film, Oppenheimer. That movie, released on July 21, is a biopic following the career of nuclear physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, one of the key scientists running the Manhattan Project and the man often called the father of the atomic bomb.
The film, which has received plaudits from reviewers and moviegoers, struck a nerve on Twitter, where it was accused of glorifying an act of devastating brutality. These critiques of the atomic bombings ranged from “it was unnecessary” and “Japan was already surrendering” to “Imperial Japan wasn’t that bad” and “the US was the real bad guy in the war.” And these indictments of the American actions in 1945 came from a true plethora of online communities: actual communists, anti-imperialist and anti-war activists (read: anti-American activists), Japanophiles and anime lovers, right-wing Catholics (for some reason), general contrarians, and assorted too-online weirdos.
The problem with this perpetual narrative is that it’s completely, unabashedly wrong. The use of nuclear weapons in Japan in 1945 was not only justifiable, it was at root correct. The decision to drop the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved millions of lives, including an order of magnitude more Japanese lives than it took. This is proven by the historical record and is eminently easy to understand if one actually decides to do good history. With that, let’s engage in some good history, shall we?
Airshows have been an American tradition since we pioneered powered flight in 1903; the experience is peak Americana and says a great deal about the American cultural identity.
Powered flight is perhaps the greatest of all American inventions, linking people around the country and world in a way that had never before been possible. Flight broke the most significant natural constraint to the human experience – gravity – and has fully changed the way we think about time, space, and our universe. Watching mankind slip the bounds of our earthly chains and take to the skies seemed like a form of magic to the uninitiated, and still does to people across the world who encounter aviation for the first time. The most spectacular feats of aviation come during airshows, those festival-like occasions wherein pilots in specialized planes conduct awe-inspiring aerobatic routines, joined oftentimes by beautifully-restored historical military aircraft. And just like aviation in general, nowhere has the airshow been more deeply embraced than in the United States.
A visit to the Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West is a perfect encapsulation of the uniquity of the southernmost point in the United States.
The Florida Keys – and Key West in particular – have always been something of a peculiar place.
The southernmost island chain in the United States, the Keys sit astride the Straits of Florida, the passage between the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico trafficked for centuries by commercial vessels of all kinds. Their idyllic tropical location, combined with the availability of fish and safe harbors, made the islands simultaneously a place of refuge and of peril. Due to their strategic geography, the Keys were often passed through by European treasure galleons on the long journey back to the Continent. The myriad cays, inlets, channels, and atolls of the archipelago – and the storms which could whip up a frenzy – made navigation treacherous for even the most professional of crews. Wrecks abounded, heavily laden with the precious cargo of the New World.
The opportunity these treasure fleets represented – and the lack of oversight from the distant Spanish Crown – drew a whole host of marginal characters to this isolated outpost, this Gibraltar of the West. Even after the American government purchased Florida in 1819 and officially took possession two years later, governance in these remote islands was spotty at best. Pirates, wreckers, con men, outlaws, and adventurers all found their way to the Keys. And so did their cavalier and freewheeling lifestyle. Brothels, drink, illicit trade, and a laissez-faire attitude proliferated, eventually centering around the farthest large island, Key West. This cultural largesse was financed by economic largesse; the scavenging of rich local shipwrecks, combined with its low population, made mid-19th century Key West one of the wealthiest cities in the United States.
The idea of a ‘national divorce’ – a parting of ‘red’ and ‘blue’ states into separate national agglomerations – has been floating around the conservative ecosystem recently, especially on the fringes of the too-online far-right. This idea has bubbled up several times over the past decades on both sides of the aisle – usually when a preferred presidential candidate loses an election. From the 2004 election spawning ‘Jesusland’ versus ‘United States of Canada’ maps, to the radical right-wingers pushing secession after the re-election of Barack Obama in 2012, to the talk of ‘Calexit’ just days after the shock 2016 victory of Donald Trump, secession memes have been rife in 21st century American politics.
A brief polemic against the most monarchical, overblown, tedious piece of political entertainment in the American system.
Tonight is President Biden’s second State of the Union address (his first address to a joint session of Congress in 2021 was technically not a SotU because he had just been inaugurated). Most likely it will be far too long, constantly interrupted by Stalin-esque continued applause, and full of total nonsense. Biden will call out people in the audience that are brought in specifically for the purpose of being used as political pawns, he will make promises that everyone will forget about 5 minutes later, and he will occasionally go off-script to make him feel down-to-earth. The speech will be phony, the reception will be obsequious, and the TV coverage will be wall-to-wall.
How do I know this? Because every State of the Union address is exactly the same song-and-dance. Can you tell that I don’t like this “tradition”?