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?
Magical thinking will not end the war in Ukraine, no matter how many times you click your heels.
The war in Ukraine has been raging for a considerable duration now – 500 days if you date it back to the full-scale Russian invasion of February 2022, or nearly a decade if you start with attacks on Crimea and the Donbas in 2014. Tens, if not hundreds of thousands, have been killed on the battlefields; civilian and solider, Russian and Ukrainian alike. Ukraine has been devastated economically, both by military attrition and deliberate, targeted Russian assaults on key civilian infrastructure. Genocidal massacres have been carried out by Russian forces, cementing names like Bucha in the historical record. Nations around the world have aided the Ukrainians in their brave resistance to Muscovite domination. Others have supported Russia’s revanchist claims. Suffice it to say, this war is as real as it gets.
Still, far too many distant observers of the conflict – politicians and commentators both – tend to engage with it on a purely fictionalized level. They do not conceive of the Russo-Ukrainian War as a real event impacting millions of lives every day, but as an abstract concept to be argued over on the internet. This abstraction from the ground level paints a flawed picture of reality and leads to magical thinking, an approach that is highly imaginative, yet entirely untethered from the realm of the possible or probable. This magical thinking is the antithesis of level-headed analysis and prompts the errors of bad strategy, foolish rhetoric, and visions of the war’s end that fail to take into account the realities of the conflict.
The most hardcore supporters of Ukraine in the West are too gung-ho about war aims, to the point of being entirely counterproductive. In geopolitics, prudence is often a virtue.
As you may have heard, the war in Ukraine that has been raging since the Russian invasion last February is reaching a new phase: a major Ukrainian counteroffensive. This push by Kyiv to retake its lost territory will fundamentally alter the entire picture and tenor of the war going forward. Lines of contact will shift, breakthroughs will occur, and new lines of contact and defense will be settled for the fall and winter campaigning seasons. Many of the NATO weapons systems transferred to Ukraine will get their first real chance to make a difference on the battlefield. Moves are likely to be made in several theaters, including partisan actions within Russia itself – something we have already seen in Belgorod and elsewhere. The war will likely continue for several years, but this Ukrainian counteroffensive can set the terms for what happens going forward.
Now that this new phase of the war has begun – one with Ukraine decidedly, albeit temporarily, on the front foot – commentators and politicians in the West have started to debate, discuss, and reassess war aims. This is always a crucial topic of conversation when a nation in involved in a war, whether directly as Ukraine and Russia are, or indirectly as the United States and NATO are. These discussions usually involve questions like “What do we seek to gain through this conflict?”, “What is a positive endgame for us in this war?”, and “What is an acceptable solution for our national interests?” These are very important questions, but the answers from those on the fringes of the discourse – especially those who are the most outwardly supportive of Ukraine – have been seriously lacking.
The Russian war in Ukraine has been going on for over a year now, with hundreds of thousands of casualties on each side. What has happened over the past 12 months of conflict? Where does the war stand now? What will happen next? What lessons can we take away from this conflict? Those questions and more are answered in this episode of the Rational Policy podcast, commemorating and recapping a year of warfare.
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.