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Opinion: Relieved by a nuclear bomb? These readers were in 1945

Hiroshima
Tourists visit the Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima, Japan, in 2016.
(Carl Court / Getty Images)

One of the biggest perks of editing the L.A. Times’ letters page is having access to an abundance of historical primary source material written by our readers. I am at once amazed and humbled when I read a letter that begins with “as a Holocaust survivor” or “as a child of the Great Depression” or “as someone who marched for civil rights,” just to name a few examples.

So too was I riveted by some of the reader responses to our Aug. 8 letters on the 75th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In sharing their responses to those letters, a few readers identified themselves as World War II veterans or young civilians at the time and vividly recalled their reactions to the bombings. Here is what some of them said.

Sherman Oaks resident Emil Lawton recalls preparing for an invastion of Japan:

Thanks to the L.A. Times for publishing the letters on the atomic bomb. It may be of interest to read about the experience of a veteran of the war in the Pacific.

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I was a combat information officer aboard a munition ship that survived a Kamikazi attack off Okinawa. I was also privy to classified information about the projected American and Japanese casualties during a planned invasion. In fact, after we returned to San Francisco, I had seen the secret briefings about which beach we would hit with our landing craft.

Our ship was being equipped for the invasion when the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945. The sense of relief was immeasurable. We had not expected to survive.

Frank Seiden of Camarillo defends President Truman:

I was 16 when the bombs were dropped, and I remember the awe and horrified amazement when the photos and films were shown. We had been fighting a war against two military regimes that had no respect for human life.

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People today who are two or more generations away from that time cannot judge the decision that President Truman had to make. Some of the letter writers expressed this very well but omitted one important fact in that decision: The military provided Truman with estimates of losses from the bombs and from an invasion of Japan.

From an invasion they expected millions of casualties for both the U.S. and Japan, including many hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of civilian deaths. Their estimate for the bombings was far less than that.

Truman chose the lesser of two evils.

Larry Naritomi of Monterey Park was one of a few readers to question Truman:

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The letter writers were at best obfuscating the facts when you consider that the use of the atomic bombs was considered militarily unnecessary by seven out of the eight five-star armed forces officers at the time. Among the dissenters was Truman’s military chief of staff.

Hindsight or none, Truman decided not to follow the recommendations his military leadership.


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