With Japan, a Different Courage Needed Today Than in 1945

Posted: Aug 06, 2015 4:38 PM

This week marks the 70th anniversary of the United States military dropping atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, in World War II. And many Americans this year are paying more attention to this solemn occasion than they have in the past.

The reason is Iran, and the current debate about whether Congress should ratify the agreement forged with Iran by the Obama administration to supposedly prevent this sworn enemy of the U.S. from obtaining a nuclear bomb. Even as this column was being written, the U.S. House and Senate were considering resolutions condemning Obama's Iran deal.

The link between 1945 Japan and 2015 Iran isn't just about bombs -- from an American perspective, it's about having the courage to face the reality of evil. To recognize that evil and to act forcefully to prevent its spread.

With Iran today, the courage called for so far is political. It means the courage to reject an agreement that's based more on wishful thinking than reality. But in 1945, during the biggest naval war in world history, the courage called for by President Harry Truman and the American people was courage of a whole different order. It was the courage to drop one and then another atomic bomb on Japan in order to prevent even more loss of life -- including hordes of American lives -- by having to invade Japan.

Truman's fateful decision 70 years ago is now under attack by many revisionist historians. To those misguided people, I counter not with my own arguments, but with those of Dan Winn, a retired superior court judge in Georgia, and the author of the book "Courageous Decision: America, You Were Right."

Winn was not only alive at the time of the droppings of the atom bombs in Japan, he was front and center in the Pacific war. As a 2nd lieutenant in the Marine Corps, Winn flew night patrols over the Mariana Islands in a B-29 aircraft. (The Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima, was a B-29.)

In a crisp, concise narrative, Winn discusses the revisionist/apologist accounts of the dropping of the bombs, and then dismisses them with a command of facts and his own withering brand of common sense. The author delves into the strategic choices facing Truman and America, and he details Japanese leadership and war atrocities to paint a picture of a nation that was not going to surrender unless it absolutely had to -- thus the bomb.

Many readers of this column might think the decision by Truman and the judgment about it by Dan Winn are obviously the right ones. If so, they might be shocked by the extent of the revisionist campaign to discredit the dropping of the bombs. With undisguised indignation, Winn quotes from the politically correct Enola Gay exhibit in the National Air and Space Museum on the 50th anniversary of the bomb in 1995: "For most Americans, this ... was a war of vengeance. For most Japanese, it was a war to defend their unique culture against western imperialism." This, about a country that sought to conquer the entire Asian Pacific!

"Courageous Decision" is more than just an engaging read about the past. It is also relevant in today's increasingly dangerous world. Many middle-aged and older Americans can remember childhoods filled with "fallout shelter" signs and "duck-and-cover" drills at school. In those days of the Cold War with the old Soviet Union, nuclear war was not a board game to be played at home. It was a potential reality.

Those days may be returning if (and probably when) Iran achieves a nuclear weapon, likely sometime in the next decade or so. A nuclear arms race is now expected in the Middle East, the most politically volatile region in the world. And while Iran won't obtain a nuclear arsenal as vast as that of the old Soviets, there is with Iran an added danger -- the apocalyptic religious fanaticism of its leaders.

The courage needed today is different than in 1945. Our leaders now must make world-changing decisions that could either lead to or avoid a new, Middle East cold war. The strategic situation is different, but the monumental courage of a Harry Truman-like figure is still a must. Just ask Dan Winn.