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Why Paul Fussell thanked God for the Atom Bomb

Thursday, 6 August, 2015

The great American cultural and literary historian, author and academic Paul Fussell landed in France in 1944 as a 20-year-old second lieutenant with the 103rd Infantry Division and was wounded while fighting the Germans in Alsace. When his Thank God for the Atom Bomb (PDF) essay appeared in The New Republic in August 1981 it was received with howls of rage by leftist revisionists who accused Fussell of justifying a “war crime”. Unlike his detractors, however, Fussell knew whereof he wrote.

During the storm, Fussell remained firm in his conviction that the two bombs ended World War II. Along with saving the hundreds of thousands of American lives that would have been lost in a protracted invasion, they also saved millions of Japanese lives that would have been sacrificed in defending Nippon. Snippet:

“John Kenneth Galbraith is persuaded that the Japanese would have surrendered surely by November without an invasion. He thinks the A-bombs were unnecessary and unjustified because the war was ending anyway. The A-bombs meant, he says, ‘a difference, at most, of two or three weeks.’ But at the time, with no indication that surrender was on the way, the kamikazes were sinking American vessels, the Indianapolis was sunk (880 men killed), and Allied casualties were running to over 7,000 per week. ‘Two or three weeks,’ says Galbraith.

Two weeks more means 14,000 more killed and wounded, three weeks more, 21,000. Those weeks mean the world if you’re one of those thousands or related to one of them. During the time between the dropping of the Nagasaki bomb on August 9 and the actual surrender on the fifteenth, the war pursued its accustomed course: on the twelfth of August eight captured American fliers were executed (heads chopped off); the fifty-first United States submarine, Bonefish, was sunk (all aboard drowned); the destroyer Callaghan went down, the seventieth to be sunk, and the Destroyer Escort Underhill was lost. That’s a bit of what happened in six days of the two or three weeks posited by Galbraith. What did he do in the war? He worked in the Office of Price Administration in Washington. I don’t demand that he experience having his ass shot off. I merely note that he didn’t.”

The atom bomb was a a terrible weapon, but it was used to prevent a more terrible slaughter.


Comments (1)

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  1. KevinH says:

    Paul Fussell was wrong and Galbraith was right, though for the wrong reason.

    Freeman Dyson explains why the Japanese surrendered in this extraordinary interview – http://manhattanprojectvoices.org/oral-histories/freeman-dysons-interview

    Kevin