In the days that followed Sept. 11, 2001, most people agreed that the United States had been the victim of a "terrorist" attack; after all, 3,000 innocent civilians had been targeted and murdered for political objectives.
On August 6, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, and three days later dropped a second bomb on Nagasaki, causing the deaths of 120,000 people, mostly innocent civilians. Today, few Americans would label the two bombings "terrorist" attacks.
Pat Buchanan disagrees. "Truman's defenders argue that by using the bomb, he saved more lives than were lost in those cities. Only the atom bombs, they contend, could have shocked Japan's warlords into surrender," Buchanan says. "But if terrorism is the massacre of innocents to break the will of rulers, were not Hiroshima and Nagasaki terrorism on a colossal scale?"
Buchanan raises a valid question: What is the definition of terrorism?
If the intentional targeting of civilians is the definition of terrorism, as we all agreed it was on 9/11, then how do the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki differ? Al-Qaeda killed 3,000 non-combatant men, women, and children, called it necessary, and remain of the opinion that it was the right thing to do. The United States killed 120,000 non-combatant men, women and children, still insist that it was necessary, and remain of the opinion that it was the right thing to do. Defenders of the Japanese bombings believe we needed to cripple the nation by any means necessary. Al-Qaeda believed they needed to cripple the United States by any means necessary and targeted economic and political centers like the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the White House, accordingly.
Contrary to popular opinion, President Harry Truman's decision was opposed on many fronts. Said Adm. William D. Leahy, Truman's chief of staff, "The use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. I was not taught to make wars in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children." Said Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, "The Japanese were ready to surrender, and it wasn't necessary to hit them with that awful thing."
For argument's sake, let us accept the argument that the atomic bombings of Japan were necessary. By definition, it still remains terrorism. Either targeting civilians is terrorism, like on 9/11, or it isn't. You can't have it both ways. And in defending Truman, are Americans admitting that terrorism is sometimes a justifiable method of attack, in an era when we are allegedly fighting a global war against it?
Today, I have heard countless self-described patriots, alleged conservatives, and others say gleefully that Japan should "thank us" for bombing them. I'm quite sure there are yahoos and loudmouths in the streets of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia who believe Americans should appreciate the lesson they learned on 9/11. We even saw them dancing in the streets when the Twin Towers came crashing down. To such Muslims, Osama bin Laden remains a hero. And many American say the same of Harry Truman — for the exact same reasons.
I can say unequivocally that I find both the terrorism committed on Sept. 11, 2001, and the terrorism committed in early August of 1945 deplorable on the same grounds. But denouncing one obvious act of terror, while defending the obvious other, is not only illogical but immoral.
Author John Zmirak writes, "No nation really likes to remember its crimes ... (yet) every child who died from our bombs was as innocent as Anne Frank."
This is true. Ignorance is indeed bliss, and in it, many Americans have strangely found in terrorist acts committed by the United States reasons to be boastful.
And while most Americans have managed to convince themselves that terrorism remains the business of other peoples, the harsh, uncomfortable reality is that in terms of scale and slaughter, the most colossal terrorist attack in the history of this planet was committed by the same country that often claims to be the greatest nation on it.
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