In light of present day geopolitics, it is important to reflect on Monday’s remembrance of Victory over Japan Day, which marked the 72nd anniversary of the day that Japan officially surrendered to Allied forces and effectively ended World War II.
Securing that surrender did not come cheap – not in the expense of money, material capital or, most unfortunately, in human lives and suffering. In particular, the final act of the Pacific Theater topped all prior notions of the potential devastation of warfare, when at least 129,000 people – almost certainly more, and mostly civilians – evaporated out of existence in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The realization of the horrifying powers of the atomic bomb was enough to force Japan into a once unfathomable surrender. This was the same Imperial Japan that utilized kamikaze pilots – soldiers who sacrificed themselves in the hopes to inflict as much damage upon the enemy as possible – and believed in committing suicide over being captured.
Suffering two strikes from the unprecedented weapons of mass destruction was enough to put things into perspective for Emperor Hirohito, and the terms for surrender were accepted, ending the war.
Today, we are experiencing a series of events that contain elements unsettlingly similar to the world situation over 70 years ago; a reality that should cause some moment of reflection, if not concern, regardless of political affiliation or engagement.
Over 70 years ago, President Harry Truman followed up the first nuclear detonation in human history by warning Japan that, should they not surrender immediately, they could, “expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth.”
President Trump must have been studying his history last week, as he launched an almost identical message towards North Korea, saying that they could expect “fire and fury like the world has never seen,” should they continue to publicly threaten the United States and its territories.
Following public pushback to the statement, Trump has since doubled down on these remarks, saying North Korea “better get their act together or they’re going to be in trouble like few nations ever have been in trouble in this world,” and that “things will happen to them like they never thought possible.”
Retired Navy Admiral Dennis Blair likened this trading of rhetoric to “a couple of dogs barking at each other with a chain-link fence in the middle,” which very well may be true. There would be no love lost between the two nations with or without Trump’s bombasts, but such as assessment may very well miss the point entirely.
Nuclear weapons have been at the disposal of many powerful nations for many decades now, and yet none have been deployed despite many opportunities to do so. The terrible power of the nuke has not been forgotten, and neither should be the fact that the bombs dropped on Japan are mere cherry bombs compared to the potential destructive force of some of today’s thermo-nuclear devices.
If the chest puffing should ever lead to actual conflict, mainland Americans can rest assured that they would most likely not be in any real danger. We have multiple, advanced weapons defense systems in place at home and abroad, after all. However those with loved ones in the military or on the Korean Peninsula are not privy to the same assurance, whatsoever.
Standing up for American sovereignty and not appearing weak in front of an unstable bully like North Korea may be a strategy respected by some, but certain things are better left unsaid. The potential destructive power of the United States’ nuclear weapons program has been long and well established. Let us not cheer in blind patriotism to see the harrowing results of those weapons being used on any enemy, ever again.