The Wall Street Journal had a story in today’s paper about President Obama’s upcoming visit to Hiroshima, the site where the U.S. dropped the first nuclear bomb.
While some people in the media have been wondering what Obama will say during his visit and whether he will apologize for the use of the bomb, the focus of the WSJ story is on whether the U.S. would ever consider a similar action in today’s world.
The story shared some research showing that back in September, 1945 there was strong support for the dropping of the bomb, with 53% of respondents in a nationwide Roper poll agreed that the U.S. “should have used two bombs on two cities, just as we did.” Some 14% thought that “we should have dropped one on some unpopulated region, to show the Japanese its power” first. Just 4% of the public felt that “we should not have used any atomic bombs at all.”
Since that time, U.S. public approval of Truman’s decision to use nuclear weapons has declined significantly. In July 2015, just before the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings, the authors of the WSJ article asked YouGov, a leading survey firm, to replicate the 1945 Roper poll, using a representative sample of 840 U.S. citizens.
This time, only 28% of respondents agreed that dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been the right choice, while 32% indicated support for a nuclear demonstration strike. More than three times as many Americans—almost 15% in 2015 compared with 4% in 1945—now said that the U.S. shouldn’t have dropped any nuclear weapons on Japan.
Despite these results, the authors question whether such results truly indicate a strong aversion among U.S. citizens to use nuclear bombs. Asking people today what they would have done 70 years ago is quite different than asking what they might do if similar situations occurred today. When that type of question is asked, the results show surprising support for the use of nuclear weapons.
Given a scenario where Iran attacks a U.S. aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, killing 2,403 military personnel (the same number of people killed at Pearl Harbor). The president of the U.S. had two options: mount a land invasion to reach Tehran and force the Iranian government to capitulate (at an estimated cost of 20,000 American fatalities), or shock Iran into unconditional surrender by dropping a single nuclear weapon on a major city near Tehran, killing an estimated 100,000 Iranian civilians (similar to the immediate death toll in Hiroshima).
The results showed that 59% of respondents backed using a nuclear bomb on an Iranian city. Even when the number of expected Iranian civilian fatalities was increased 20 fold to two million, 59% of respondents still approved of dropping the bomb.
A second version of the scenario was run in which Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was allowed to stay on as a spiritual figurehead with no political authority. Some 41% of our respondents preferred this diplomatic option to either dropping the bomb or marching on Tehran. But virtually the same number (40%) still preferred dropping the bomb and killing 100,000 Iranian civilians to accepting this sort of negotiated peace (emphasis added).
The authors also mention an earlier survey they conducted that found bout 19% of respondents preferring a nuclear attack on an al Qaeda target even when told that conventional weapons would be just as effective.
The authors conclude that when facing our worst foes, a sizable segment of the American public feels an attraction to our most destructive weapons, not an aversion.
Personally I find these survey results discouraging. I do not know how anyone could be in support of using a weapon that could instantly kill 80,000 innocent people, like the Hiroshima bomb did (the death toll mounted to 140,000 during the next few months). Particularly when faced with a more peaceful option to end the conflict.
I hope and pray that our world leaders never have to face such a scenario, but if they do, that they will not even consider the use of weapons of mass destruction as an option, and will work tirelessly to find a peaceful resolution.
I wish President Obama the best on his trip to Japan. I hope the event gives us a chance to reflect on how we should treat our fellow human beings, even under the most trying circumstances.