Larry Provost

This week Major Theodore Van Kirk, the last surviving Veteran of the Enola Gay that dropped the first atomic bomb on Japan, joined the rest of his comrades. His passing is a reminder of why using the atomic bomb was the right thing.

In August 1945 the Allied Powers, led by the United States, were at war with Imperial Japan in the latter days of World War II. Japan would not give up. For every ten thousand Japanese soldiers that were killed by the Allies only a minuscule amount gave up; usually in the single digits.

We were at war because Japan launched war, first against China in 1931, then with another sneak attack against China in 1937, and finally in December 1941 with sneak Japanese attacks against the US at Pearl Harbor and sneak attacks against the United Kingdom and the Netherlands in other areas of the Pacific.

It was during the war that the United States began to develop an atomic bomb, largely in response to the urging of Albert Einstein who warned President Roosevelt, in 1939, about Germany’s attempts to make an atomic weapon.

Japan was a tough enemy. Surrender was seen as more than even disgrace; it was a dishonor to the Japanese Emperor, who was the Japanese God. The Japanese were allies of the Nazis. Comparing the two, the Nazis were evil but also methodical. The Nazis were fanatical about only one thing; the elimination of the Jews, a practice they kept up to the literal ending of the war in Europe in May of 1945. The Germans were a tough enemy but they were, by World War II standards, in their military operations, somewhat practical especially when Hitler was ignored. Germans did surrender by the hundreds of thousands years before the war ended. This was not the case of Imperial Japan and in fact Japanese non surrender got worse the closer we got to the shores of Japan. The Japanese soldier was fighting not just for their buddy, their family, or their homeland; they were fighting for their God.

The United States was inching closer to Japan in early and mid-1945. The island campaigns of Okinawa and Iwo Jima, the latter an island of mere miles, resulted in tens of thousands of casualties. The Japanese began going beyond even fanatical resistance to suicidal resistance by crashing their planes into American ships. Even then there was no hope for Japan. American submarines had nearly run out of targets, having surrounded Japan, and were reduced to shelling fishing boats and even targets on land. American planes were firebombing Japanese cities into oblivion. Japan was alone and starvation was a realistic possibility but they would not give up. Japan would have to be invaded.

Larry Provost

Larry Provost currently works at The American Legion in the National Security and Foreign Relations Division.