Perhaps the most difficult decision of Harry S Truman's presidency was whether to use the first nuclear weapons. Of course, deciding whether to be the first to do anything is difficult; normally, one reasonably looks back at the track record of a particular option to see if it was effective in the past, if so, why, and if not, why not? Do the circumstances in past uses of a course of action apply today, or are they different enough to make the track record irrelevant? When one is facing an option that has never been tried before, however, it's like handicapping a horse race with a first-time starter. For those who never looked at a past performance page, what one sees there is a blank space where the past performances usually are. Harry Truman faced that in 1945 when a new option was placed before him by the technocrats of the day, and he ultimately decided to put his money on the new kid on the block. About the most charitable thing that can be said in his defense is, "who could have known?"
What is clear now is that bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki brought a quick surrender by the Japanese and an end to the war and the safe return of many Allied soldiers. What is also clear is that there was a heavy moral price to pay. At least 100,000 people, mostly innocent civilians, were killed either right away or died afterward-- sometimes long afterward-- of radiation poisoning. The morality of this action is still hotly debated today; for example, was the action proportionate to the threat? Could the war have been ended reasonably quickly some other way without killing as many innocent civilians? Germany had already been defeated, so how long could Japan continue on its own? Even if we saved our soldiers' lives, could that justify the slaughter of so many non-combatants, even as "collateral damage?"
Once again, on to today. Our leaders in their obsession with disease-fighting have embarked on a course that ranks with the detonation of the first nuclear weapons in many ways. It is an anti-social strategy that has never been tried before and thus has no track record. The first question is "why has such a thing never been tried before?" It could have been done many times before, but no one even considered it-- could there have been good reason not to do such a thing? Could our forebears possibly have had some scrap of wisdom or prudence that stayed their hand? Or are they just stupid Neanderthals, not to be taken seriously in our "enlightened" age?
Other good questions are similar to those that Harry Truman should have considered (and perhaps did, but set aside in the end). Is this response proportionate to the threat? Is the massive suffering that we face in the decades to come worth saving a few lives? Is massive unemployment and a global depression the solution to a disease, one of many the world has faced? Is there a less drastic way to go about this without destroying the economy and imperiling the freedoms that made the United States and other democracies great? I submit that in the current state of mass insanity and hysteria, almost no one, including ethicists and moral theologians, has taken up any serious consideration of this, just as few seriously considered the moral and ethical consequences of bombing the civilian population of two large cities.
In a perverse sort of way, though, every dark cloud has a silver lining. After 75 years, the United States remains the only country ever to have attacked anyone with nuclear weapons. Though many nations have rattled their sabers over the years, to this day, none, even the regime of questionable sanity in North Korea, has ever actually become the second nation to do so, meaning that perhaps a lesson was learned, even something more basic than "mutual assured destruction." We can only hope that the results of our current anti-social policies will eventually be seen by historians and politicians as so obviously immoral that, like the use of nuclear weapons, they are never again attempted.