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Were the Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki a War Crime and a Crime Against Humanity?

Rossen Vassilev Jr.

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Was President Harry Truman “a murderer,” as the renowned British analytic philosopher Gertrude Elizabeth Anscombe once charged? Were the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki indeed a war crime and a crime against humanity, as she and other academic luminaries have publicly claimed? A Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and Ethics at Oxford and Cambridge, who was one of the 20th century’s most gifted philosophers and recognizably the greatest woman philosopher in history, Dr. Anscombe openly called President Truman a “war criminal” for his decision to have the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki leveled by atomic bombs in August 1945 (Rachels & Rachels 127). According to another academic critic, the late American historian Howard Zinn, at least 140,000 Japanese civilians were “turned into powder and ash” in Hiroshima. Over 70,000 civilians were incinerated in Nagasaki, and another 130,000 residents of the two cities died of radiation sickness in the next five years (Zinn 23).

The two most often cited reasons for President Truman’s controversial decision were to shorten the war and to save the lives of “between 250,000 and 500,000” American soldiers who could have possibly died in battle had the U.S. military had to invade the home islands of Imperial Japan. Truman reportedly claimed that

“I could not bear this thought and it led to the decision to use the atomic bomb” (Dallek 26).

But Dr. Gertrude Anscombe, who along with her husband, Dr. Peter Geach, Professor of Philosophical Logic and Ethics, were the 20th century’s foremost philosophical champions of the doctrine that moral rules are absolute, did not buy this morally callous argument:

“Come now: if you had to choose between boiling one baby and letting some frightful disaster befall a thousand people—or a million people, if a thousand is not enough—what would you do? For men to choose to kill the innocent as a means to their ends is always .......