August 6 marks the 68th anniversary of the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima. One goal, many claimed, was to “weaken the resolve” of the Japanese to fight by inspiring terror (what we now call “shock and awe”) in the hearts of our enemies, combatant and civilian. Said Gen. George Marshall, “It’s no good to warn them. If you warn them there’s no surprise, and the only way to produce shock is to surprise.” The instant death of some 66,000 in Hiroshima accomplished that.
The surprise and shock was not confined to the Japanese. This dawning of the nuclear age gave us new fears and changed our imaginations. Commenting on storytelling, Flannery O’Connor wrote that “there’s a certain grain of stupidity that the writer of fiction can hardly do without, and this is the quality of having to stare, of not getting the point at once. The longer you look at one object, the more of the world you see in it; and it’s well to remember that the serious fiction writer always writes about the whole world, no matter how limited his particular scene. For him, the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima affects life on the Oconee River, and there’s not anything he can do about it.”
C.S. Lewis argued that the general acceptance of the “need” to bomb Hiroshima was an example of “rationalizing from within an evolutionary framework”—that is, of deciding who’s fit to live. It was a “great advance in the triumph of ruthless, non-moral utilitarianism over the old world of ethical law.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, in a letter to Christopher, wrote that it was “utter folly” that “lunatic physicists [would] consent to do such work for war purposes.” He said that “Such explosives in men’s hands, while their moral and intellectual status is declining, is about as useful as giving out firearms to all inmates of a gaol and then saying that you hope ‘this will ensure peace’.”
Tolkien was no fan of Hirohito, however: “One good thing may arise out of it, I suppose, if the write-ups are not overheated: Japan ought to cave in. Well we’re in God’s hands. But He does not look kindly on Babel-builders.”