Kenan Malik in The Guardian:
If we’d lost the war, we’d all have been prosecuted as war criminals.” So said Curtis LeMay after America obliterated Hiroshima and Nagasaki with two atomic bombs in August 1945.
LeMay was no bleeding-heart liberal. The US air force chief of staff who had directed the assault over Japan in the final days of the Second World War, he believed in the use of nuclear weapons and thought any action acceptable in the pursuit of victory. Two decades later, he would say of Vietnam that America should “bomb them back into the stone ages”. But he was also honest enough to recognise that the incineration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was not regarded as a war crime only because America had won the war.
Last week marked the 75th anniversary of the world’s first nuclear attacks. And while Hiroshima has become a byword for existential horror, the moral implications of the bombings have increasingly faded into the background. Seventy-five years ago, LeMay was not alone in his verdict. “We had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages,” Fleet Admiral William Leahy, chair of the chiefs of staff under both presidents Roosevelt and Truman, wrote in his autobiography, I Was There. Dwight Eisenhower, too, had, as he observed in the memoir The White House Years, “grave misgivings” about the morality of the bombings.