I love to argue controversial issues—and even argue with myself.  On occasion I’ve found both of me wrong.  I strongly dislike having my position misrepresented, though.  Allen Mendenhall (“Atomic Anniversary,” News, August), in arguing against the use of the bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, mentions my piece on the subject (Sins of Omission, July 2009) and says, “McGrath concluded that the bombs ultimately saved thousands of American and Japanese lives.”  For the record, I concluded, “Most of our military leaders thought that our casualties would reach the hundreds of thousands.  Secretary of War Henry Stimson told Truman that our casualties could approach one million.”  I hope that Mendenhall was merely careless in using “thousands” rather than “hundreds of thousands” and “one million.”  I also said in an exchange with readers (Polemics & Exchanges, August 2009) that the bombs, as an alternative to an invasion of the Japanese home islands, saved “hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Japanese.”  With the record corrected, let the debate begin!

—Roger D. McGrath

Mr. Mendenhall Replies:

As a virtually unknown writer, I’m honored that someone of Dr. McGrath’s celebrity would consider me a worthy opponent.  McGrath characterizes my piece as “arguing against the use of atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”  My argument is more subtle than that.  I summarize the position both of those who disapprove of the bombings and of those who support the bombings, using McGrath as representative of the latter position.  Then I allow that McGrath’s position could be correct, but qualify that such a position would, if true, speak poorly of human beings in general.  I’m not arguing that the bombings were moral because the consequences were good, or immoral because the consequences were bad—but rather lamenting human depravity.  My overarching purpose was to show how U.S. politicians have used World War II narratives to legitimize military intervention abroad and to justify the continued occupation of places like Okinawa, whose small, local communities lack the political clout necessary to turn away their occupiers.  As for the atomic bombings, I might argue that they were necessary, but because I reject consequentialism, I cannot say that they were moral.  Arguing that something is necessary is not the same as arguing that something is right.  I stand corrected that “thousands” should have read “hundreds of thousands” or “one million.”  However, from a moral standpoint, the numbers aren’t as significant as the deed.