The student has told the story before. He was in a high school history class. A topic was debated. It is 1945 and you are President Truman.
Do you drop an atom bomb on Hiroshima, Japan?
Do you drop the bomb? Do you drop the atom bomb on men, women and children of Hiroshima? He knew a little of the results. 80,000 dead that day. Injuries and radiation killing another 60,000. Images of burned mothers holding charred, lifeless lumps that had been their children.
There were arguments, of course. There are always arguments. Some historians claim that the bombing saved huge numbers of American soldiers. It was the only way to end the war quickly. The Japanese would never surrender. Most Americans were deeply relieved that it brought the war to an end.
Other historians argue that Japan no longer posed a terrible threat. They assert that the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, and the one three days later on Nagasaki, served chiefly as a warning to the next enemy on the horizon, the Russians, to back off.
That day in the classroom, he didn’t really know the historic truth. He doesn’t really know all of it today. But an idea began to swim in his mind. This idea: You cannot justify the extermination of innocents. You cannot justify the use of weapons that may annihilate life on the planet. You cannot.
And so he led the debate against the bombing. The history class was filled with the normal array of slackers, jocks and misfits. Few gave a damn about this subject or any other; they had their own problems. He remembers that a girl arguing for the bombing appealed to their patriotism. They were Americans, weren’t they?
They were. And when the vote was taken – the class always took a vote at the end of these things – his view did not prevail.
In fact, the class vote was nearly unanimous.
The bomb on Hiroshima dropped again.
[The image of the watch stopped at 8:15 and the melted Buddha come courtesy of Japanese photographer Hiromi Tsuchida. See here for more of his Hiroshima project. Check out this for strong primary sources about the dropping of the atomic bomb.]