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How has the US managed to usurp moral high ground despite Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

By Manzurul Haque

Has the history always been in favour of the cruel? Or, this was an exception!

A very intriguing riddle of recent history is, how, after dropping from air, two atomic bombs on heavily populated cities of a surrendering Japan, the United States, was able to usurp the moral high ground in international relations, in the subsequent period of history? In the humble opinion of this writer, this question must be answered to conjure a correct picture of the world as it exists today.

There is something called the appropriateness of an occasion. Is this the right occasion to ask this question?   The answer could be both - yes and no. Yes, because this question could not have been asked before. The reason why it could not, is to be found in the option that follows - No. But even the negative answer does not banish the question. What can be said is - the time to put the question has not come yet.

But a beginning could be made, because there is an urgency to seek to have a clear picture of the world to make way for the things to move. Some quick recounting of the facts is necessary.

The World Wars

The World War II started on 01.09.1939, with the invasion of Poland by Germany.  But as we all know the seeds of World War II were carried forward from World War I (1914 to 1918).  In WWI the axis powers were Germany, Bulgaria, Austria-Hungary and Turkey, and the opposing powers were Britain, France, Russia, Italy etc. (USA had played a hit and run, but mostly run  game towards the very end of War  in 1918; alas it did not have the opportunity to do anything spectacular such as poisoning of a river, or may be,  its time had not come, but to give credit to it - the US, where due,  it must be acknowledged that its AEF commander shoved his Harlem Hell fighters, all negroes,  in frontal assaults of the enemy, while saving the white US boys in waiting).

In WWII the axis powers were Germany, Japan, Italy, Hungary Romania, Finland, Bulgaria etc. and the opposing powers were Britain, France, Belgium, Netherlands etc. USA, as an off-shoot of imperial Great Britain had broken off in 1783 (which it likes to call as the War of American Independence) from the mother country but it was more like the peeling off from the old of a new born. For a long time the English speaking residents of the American states (the number and consequently the boundary of the country was not fixed until very late in the history) continued to live their way as an exile from the land mass of Europe.

 That explains the peripheral roles of USA in world affairs interceding largely on behalf of Britain diplomatically here and there, and supplying provisions, which means selling war and peace merchandise (They acted more like a businessman of fortune).

 The first US troops to go into action anywhere on the ground, against the Axis were, in the first quarter of 1943 – after the war in Europe had already moved into more than three years, and Russians had started reversing the advances of Germany. The theatre they preferred to enter in the company of the British was the northern coasts of Africa – the very periphery of the battle grounds, where they were badly beaten and bruised taking time out to further train themselves for a fight.  

No gainsaying that USA was a rich country in terms of natural wealth, agricultural wealth and wealth per se, because of the abundance of the land mass of the New World that constituted its territory. But the same cannot be said of the human resources and cultural traditions, which on a deeper analysis are the two sides of a coin.  There is reason to believe that a community of uprooted beings could not have been made of the finest stock, especially when the cause of uprooting was no natural disaster but simple human greed.

In the growth of US during its 150 years of history, followed by the Great Depression of its economy in the 1940’s (a result of the continuing greed, accentuated by the opportunity thrown for the American goods in the world, in the aftermath of World War I), we see a certain historical stream developing which was destined to meet another historical stream, the very stream of the world history which was then nothing more than the history of Europe. Whether the history of the greed of USA deserved to intermingle with the history of the world is a different point altogether because the fact is that it did intermingle in the closing years of the Second World War.

Emergence of US

For thousands of years the bulk of humanity had grown along a well charted continuous path which included almost everything, like the Pharaohs, the birth of Moses, the Roman Empire, the rise of Christianity and Islam, the outreach to India and China etc. etc. In this continuity lies buried the accumulated wisdom and decencies of humanity even while on the surface, all the frailties of human beings were in full play. Thus wars could never be stopped fully. 

But the pacific ideas of Hindu philosophers including Buddha, and of the Chinese philosophers and the various pro-human messages of universal applications of Islam, certainly had their roles to play in the shaping of the world. The conduct of war and the management of its after-effects had improved appreciably over years through the laws of war.  Some fault lines did lie within the Europeans, despite the chastening messages of the Prophet Jesus Christ, which they have followed somewhat by the name of Christianity, and so those fault lines visited upon them in the form of the two meaningless Great Wars that totally enfeebled the stream of world history as it existed then. 

Thus in the Second Word War,  when the US joined in the year 1943,  both sides of the conflict were already spent forces and their staying in the battle ground was merely to uphold the age old tradition of military honour (At least towards the end of the war, this was the picture) . While the contending powers were interlocked in a battle of honour, the US was making a safest possible entry to the war scene from the side of the winners. This was the exact scene when US made its move to join the War. Any prudent and independent observer can say that the intention of US was to grab the spoils of war.

Most of the information that we have of World War II is from the lessons we have had from Hollywood films. Between the 50 years of 1950 to let us say 2000 AD, all the inhabitants of all the lands of the erstwhile sun-never-setting British Empire were the students of the history classes of Hollywood films. These lands included some Arab pockets that mattered, and Korea, and Japan and parts of China like Hong Kong and Formosa, in short the whole world (and from this comes the world-view of the Americans that their view is also the view of the world).

History alone however is not sufficient enough to direct the course of things. Fact is that by intervening in WWII on behalf of the winning powers of Europe, the aims of USA were served in many more practical ways than merely bolstering the Hollywood’s capacity to write history. It must be remembered that in the great scuffle of the age there were fighters on two sides having their origins in Europe, there being one exception of Japan.  But USA was a clear outsider. It had no jurisdictional presence in the fracas. It was more of the nature of a soldier of fortune. Therefore while the contending powers were exhausted or getting exhausted as a result of the War, USA was all fresh and was fully prepared to usurp the spoils of war - one of the greatest spoils was the excellent human resources of Europe. In the matter of stealing the atomic bombs, the only country in the recorded history is US, which seems to have benefited from the act of theft by stealing the scientists who knew how to make one. But atom bomb was not the only thing it stole from the remnants of the scene of the Great War. It , the US,  actually stole the mantle of European civilization – then claiming to be the world civilization, but now increasing under challenge to forsake this notion, by the re-awakening  of China, India, Iran, Pakistan and not the least, the Arabs.

Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

It is the usurping of the mantle of European civilization, at a time when the European states had reached the rock bottom of their national energies in the aftermath of the two all-consuming Great Wars, that explains the getting away of the US with all things so far and occupying the high moral ground, needless to add - all in its own national interest. The stream of the world history had been truly polluted by the stream of the history of US greed – for good or for bad.  So now we are told that greed has always been the propelling force of history. But it is not true. And from this vantage point we should revisit the atomic bombings of the two cities. So some more facts.

On 30.04.1945, Germany had been militarily defeated. The embers of fire had ended in Europe by 11.05.1945. That left Japan alone in the eastern theatre of war to be defeated on various fronts and pockets by British, Chinese, Australian troops with smatterings of US troops on land by the end of June 1945. The US did one great thing which it is still adapt at doing. From November 1944 onwards it resorted to relentless bombing of the cities and industrial units of Japan by its B-29 bombers. By June 1945 about 80% of the industrial targets of Japan had already been destroyed. During the month of July 1945, Japan’s status was that of a militarily defeated country waiting for punishment.  The entire month of July 1945, Japan was suing for peace through the Soviets, but ‘now it can be told’ that whereas Japan had been defeated by a consortium of Powers, the punishment was being planned by just one country – the US.

On August 6, 1945, an atomic bomb was dropped on the people of Hiroshima, [which was totally unprovoked, though it can have any historical, political, sociological and even racial justification].

Late on the morning of August 9th, the U.S. dropped a second atomic bomb without a second thought, this time on the people of Nagasaki. Rather than wait to see if the Hiroshima bomb would bring surrender, the atomic bombing order to the Army Air Force stated, "Additional bombs will be delivered on the above targets as soon as made ready by the project staff." (Leslie Groves, Now It Can Be Told, pg. 308).

How USA was able to usurp the mantle of an international moral policeman is the moot question, though I have attempted to provide an answer in these lines feebly.

Mr. Manzurul Haque is an Advocate in Patna High Court and a regular commentator on