I got in an argument with a friend over this. Her contention was that Fat Man and Little Boy were the WORST thing to happen in WW II. I could buy that if it had been linked to events that ensued later — the arms buildup, our current fear that some hot-headed bad guy will get “the bomb.” But that wasn’t where she went. Her argument was that those bombs killed “all those people.” She wasn’t thinking that conventional weapons kill people, too. That the raid on Dresden or the Blitz were just as deadly as Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
For my part, I don’t think there are comparative or relative “evils” when it comes to mass death and destruction. More than 60 million people died in WW II, 3% of the world population; of those, only (only?) 230,ooo died from atomic bombs.
And, in WW I, where there were no atomic weapons and horses were still used in battle, 17 million people were killed.
This doesn’t mean that I think atomic weapons are OK; I am not sure I think any weapons are OK. I don’t know. I haven’t been there. But Paul Fussell’s book, Thank God for the Atom Bomb, made an argument and presented an explanation of war that I was able to understand and accept.
One of the first things that happens in war is the enemy is dehumanized so that human beings feel less bad about killing them. Then, on the battlefield, described by Fussell ( a WW II Veteran who fought for two years in Europe and, once VE day was accomplished, was on a carrier headed to the South Pacific when “THE” bombs were dropped. He, and all the other guys on that boat, were thankful they did not have to fight the Japanese) most of the time, soldiers just waited in a strange kind of boredom, for their “chance” to fight for their lives. Fussell’s point is that war is not something that can be — or should be — understandable to civilians living in peace time.
This is what makes the terrorist attacks so horrible. The dimension of reality has not been co-operatively framed into “us” and “them.” In war, the enemy dehumanizes “us” just as “we” dehumanize them, explained Fussell. Peaceful civilians going about civilian life with the expectation that everyone is on the same chessboard, are suddenly exploded to smithereens. It isn’t just death; it’s betrayal. And terror.
Some of the current presidential candidates are TRYING to reframe terrorism into “us” and “them.” When I hear them speak, I shudder inside myself, and think of Walt Kelly’s Cold War comic strip, Pogo. “We have met the enemy and he is us.”