CBS poll: Plurality of Americans now disapprove of decision to use the atomic bomb on Japan

An addendum to Larry’s item this morning, which correctly diagnosed Obama’s appearance in Hiroshima as a bit more apologetic than the White House wants observers to believe. If you come to the site of an act that ended four years of horrendous war and insist that a “moral revolution” is needed to ensure that such acts aren’t repeated, you’re obviously making a statement about the morality of that original act. If you want to protest guns, you don’t do it at a place where someone once used one to defend himself successfully from a threat. You do it at a site where one was used without justification, to murder.

But I digress. After decades of Americans defending Truman’s decision to drop the bomb, we’ve now had enough population churn to finally move the numbers. People who lived through the meat grinder of World War II are dying off, replaced by people who’ve never lived in a country that has a military draft, let alone one that might have placed them in the middle of a maelstrom like X-Day. Go figure that when Gallup polled the public in August 1945 on whether they approved of the development of the atomic bomb, fully 69 percent said yes. Fast-forward 71 years and here we are. Note the age breakdown:


You could doubtless tweak these numbers by refining the question. For instance, instead of a stupid “A-bomb, yes or no?” formulation like this one, try adding something noting that half a million American soldiers at a minimum — more than the entire number of U.S. fallen in both theaters of the war to that point — would have been shot, stabbed, and bombed to death trying to fight their way through the home islands. Many more Japanese, including children brainwashed to attack the American invaders, would have been killed. For added fun, remind the younger poll respondents that the American deaths would have had obvious ripple effects on the U.S. population over succeeding generations, raising the question of whether many of them would be alive to take the poll if not for Truman’s choice to bomb the Japanese into submission. The numbers will move. But even so, don’t let that blind you to the shift that’s taken place over time, especially very recently. In 2005, the same “A-bomb, yes or no?” question was put to Americans and 57 percent said yes. Ten years earlier, 59 percent said so. The collapse in support has come only over the past decade, probably for a variety of complicated reasons: Population churn, war fatigue from Iraq and Afghanistan, greater sympathy for Japan as an ally against the looming menace of China, fears of nuclear terrorism in an age of proliferation, Obama championing “nuclear zero” even though it’s never, ever going to happen, and so on.

Give public opinion another 10 years to deteriorate and the next president who visits Hiroshima probably will apologize. I’d put 50/50 odds on President Hillary doing it, her own hawkish tendencies notwithstanding. (She has a base to please, after all.) Trump wouldn’t do it, to his credit, although he’d probably make some joke about how it’s really far past time to turn the Peace Dome into a Trump resort and casino and then there’d be a whole thing with the Japanese to smooth over. Ah well. Still better than an apology.

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