Merely a StatisticMost progressives will say that the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are war crimes. Most advocates of this revisionist narrative will focus heavily on the numbers killed, forgetting that people were killed in these bombings and the firebombings, and using statistics as a barometer of evil. Stalin was right. It was war, lots of people died. Not just in Hiroshima, but 50 million all over the northern hemisphere, more as a result of deliberate acts of genocide committed by Communist and Fascist political violence than by combat (including collateral damage).
Victims of the Nanking Massacre, with a Japanese soldier standing by.
The objective side of the argument rightfully brings up the Rape of Nanjing, the Bataan Death March, and Unit 731 and the Asian Holocaust in general. Innocent people were shot in the streets, for no other reason than that they were seen as an "inferior race." In China, Korea, Taiwan and Indochina, women were raped, then impaled by bayonets, often with their children. Men were decapitated, echoing the horror of ISIS's murder by sword in modern times. Innocents were exposed to cold, poison gases, bomb fragmentation and studied in other ways, in laboratory conditions. These actions were needless and genocidal, motivated solely by a belief in racial supremacy and contributed nothing to any legitimate military objective.
The bombings were conducted to end a war of twisted ideology.
However, the revisionists are usually well prepared to deflect these facts with calculated shifting of the subject into moral equivalency -- again using numbers as a barometer of evil -- or twisting it into racism, while forgetting that the Axis powers waged literal race wars. Inevitably, the conservative side of the argument points out that the bombings actually saved more Japanese than they took.
Operation Downfall & Operation KetsugõThe Japanese military still had a lot of popular support. At least 2 million of the 28 million Japanese were organized into a militia. Training was minimal and many weapons were primitive: the government's goal was to make the cost of invasion as high as possible.
Trainees of the Patriotic Citizens Fighting Corps, the Japanese militia
The fight for the Japanese main islands would have been horrific for both sides. The U.S. Department of War manufactured 500,000 Purple Hearts in expectation of as many casualties. By comparison, there were 630,000 casualties in the Civil War. There are still 120,000 of these Purple Hearts still in stock as of 2015.
Not The Only FactorWhat both sides of the arguments often miss is that the Japanese surrender is not as simple as a recoiling in horror to the awesome power of the strong nuclear force. The nuclear bombings opened the eyes of many Japanese civilian leaders, and some in the military, but the Bushido Way was prevalent in a great deal of Japan's military establishment, who viewed surrender as a cowardly act. The Soviet Union declared war on Japan and planned to invade Hokkaido. Firebombings continued. Emperor Hirohito and most of his cabinet agreed to surrender. A group of high ranking officers, led by War Minister Korechika Anami conspired to throw a coup and continued the war, but failed.
Korechika Anami, Japanese War Minister
The bombings played a critical role, but were not the only factor.
There is an additional complexity to the debate: the myth that leaflets were dropped to warn of the nuclear bombings.
A leaflet warning of firebombing. Hiroshima, Nakasaki, Nagita and Kokura are not present on the list, according to Nuclear Secrecy. Those four cities were preserved to observe the effects of the nuclear blasts.
Translation of leaflet from The Truman Library
The First Casualty of WarTruth is the first casualty of war, and as evidenced by this debate, remains a casualty long after. Past wars are often used to motivate political movements, and in extreme cases can become the pretext to new wars. Truth destroys the ideas behind totalitarianism, aggressive war and genocide. Imagine if the Japanese and Germans had asked how killing innocent people in other lands (and neighbors in the case of Germany) helps the people at home? Or more importantly, realizes that it doesn't. Imagine if they had asked why land and resources needed to be conquered, instead of purchased or exchanged in agreements? If enough of them were strong enough to ask forbidden questions, then the Second World War may not have happened.
War is hell. It should be avoided if at all possible, though it certainly should be prepared for. Objective thinking however, can prevent the conditions that lead to war. Free thinking peoples do not start wars. Only those who love a state or an ideology more than they love themselves, or their families, do.