75 years after Hiroshima, time to give Dr. Strangelove his walking papers

On September 1, 1939, the very day that German forces invaded Poland, President Franklin Roosevelt sent an urgent message to the leaders of the European nations embarking upon what would come to be called the Second World War. His message called attention to what he called “the ruthless bombing from the air of civilians in unfortified centers of population,” which “has sickened the hearts of every civilized man and woman, and has profoundly shocked the conscience of humanity.” FDR was referring to the bombing of cities in China and Spain during the decade just then coming to an end.  

Should “this form of inhuman barbarism” persist, Roosevelt continued, “hundreds of thousands of innocent human beings who have no responsibility for, and who are not even remotely participating in, the hostilities which have now broken out, will lose their lives.” The president asked each belligerent nation for assurances “that its armed forces shall in no event, and under no circumstances, undertake the bombardment from the air of civilian populations or of unfortified cities.”

The president’s forecast proved accurate, but his appeal fell on deaf ears, of course. Indeed, once B17 Flying Fortresses of VIII Bomber Command began operations from airfields in England during the summer of 1942, the United States itself disregarded FDR’s admonition.  The “bombardment from the air of civilian populations” became a central component of U.S. wartime strategy in both Europe and the Pacific. In August 1945, U.S. Army Air Forces strategic bombing reached an apotheosis of sorts with the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, each obliterated by a single atomic bomb.

We have yet to grasp the moral and political implications of that episode. Nor will I pretend to do so in this very brief reflection.  Yet even in our present summer of torment, the 75th Anniversary of Hiroshima should not be allowed to pass unnoticed. There are some things even worse than Covid-19.

Read the full article in The American Conservative.