The Rape of Nanking and the U.S. Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Question: In what way do the atrocities committed by soldiers of the Imperial Japanese Army in China in 1937-38, especially those included under the rubric of “the Rape of Nanking,” justify the U.S. government’s atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945?

Answer: In no way whatsoever.

Question: Why then do so many of the Americans who defend the atomic bombings bring up the Rape of Nanking as part of their argument?

Hypothesis: They do so because their thinking is completely collectivistic. They think: “The Japanese committed atrocities in Nanking; therefore it is only just that the Japanese suffered the retribution of having atomic bombs exploded over Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”

Comment: This argumentation, by making “the Japanese” the alleged moral agent that committed a wrongful act and therefore deserved to be punished for it, lumps every Japanese person, regardless of actual individual culpability, into a moral category that is nothing but a meaningless abstraction divorced from a recognition of which specific individuals committed wrongs and therefore might justly have been punished for those wrongs. An attempt to justify killing, wounding, and destroying the homes of, in particular, scores of thousands of babies, children, women, old people, and others who had nothing to do with the crimes committed in Nanking — nor any responsibility for the war in general — substitutes tribal savagery for defensible moral thinking.

Robert Higgs is Senior Fellow in Political Economy at the Independent Institute, author or editor of over fourteen Independent books, and Editor at Large of Independent’s quarterly journal The Independent Review.
Beacon Posts by Robert Higgs | Full Biography and Publications
  • Catalyst