“We ordained for the children of Israel that if anyone slew a person, unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land, it would be as if he slew the whole of mankind. And if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of a whole people…” Holy Qur’an, 5:32.
There is so much to mourn when we think of Hiroshima. Most importantly, as many as 80,000 Japanese civilians evaporated when the Enola Gay dropped Little Boy on August 6, 1945. Fifty thousand victims later succumbed to radiation poisoning and other ailments. But we also mourn the end of whatever human innocence remained intact after the atrocities of the previous six years of war, not to mention the preceding tens of thousands of casualties. “With this bomb,” President Harry Truman announced, returning from Potsdam aboard the USS Augusta, “we have now added a new and revolutionary increase in destruction.” That, too, should be—and in the pages of The Nation since 1945, has been—mourned.
Initially, The Nation’s response to Hiroshima echoed Truman’s justification for it as a necessary, and desirable, means of ending the Pacific war—one which saved Japanese and American lives. In an editorial in the first issue after August 6, then editor-in-chief Freda Kirchwey wrote:
From the point of view of military strategy, $2,000,000,000…was never better spent. The suffering, the wholesale slaughter it entailed, have been outweighed by its spectacular success; Allied leaders can rightly claim that the loss of life on both sides would have been many times greater if the atomic bomb had not been used and Japan had gone on fighting. There is no answer to this argument.
Future Nation writers, as well as many historians, would disagree, as we’ll see below. But just days removed from the event itself, Kirchwey was understandably more concerned about planning for a drastically transformed future than doubting the official story—which would have been a difficult task anyway, given the scant information the Truman administration had provided about the decision to use the bomb. Kirchwey argued that there was only one way to safely and justly contain what Truman had called “a harnessing of the basic power of the universe”:
If we are to survive our new powers we must understand their full meaning. We shall have to move fast, both internationally and within each country. No longer can we afford a world organized to prevent aggression only if all of the great powers wish it to be prevented. No longer can we afford a social system which would permit private business, in the name of freedom, to control a source of energy capable of creating comfort and security for all the world’s people. This seems self-evident, and so it is. But it calls for changes so sweeping that only an immense effort of will and imagination can bring them about.
The streets were full of bodies after the burning.