This week our class discussed the end of WWII, post-WWII America, and the Cold War. We discussed the ethics and reasoning behind the decision to drop the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The propaganda tells us the bombs had to be dropped to “save lives.” Landing on multiple beachheads and a mainland attack would cost hundreds of thousands of lives. Americans back home were growing war-weary and continued fighting was losing support.
Some claims reach ten million or more lives saved. To reach the ten million, there are a number scenarios that would have needed to play out, but hypothetically that toll could have been reached. Lives saved would not just be American, but also the Japanese who boldly fought to the death and refused surrender. There are claims that Japan was on the verge of surrender. Repeated firebombing had decimated Tokyo. The capital’s death toll alone had reached over 100,000 civilians.
There were other reasons to drop the bombs besides forcing Japan to surrender. They were a show of force to an emerging enemy, the soviets. It was also a means of cementing America as superpower, a role they were now coming to embrace. America only had two bombs, they had to bluff and claim they had many more bombs in their arsenal. The act of dropping the bombs was risky in and of itself. There was the chance of failure; failure to deliver the bomb, failure of the bomb to explode, failure if the bluff was rejected, etc. After Nagasaki was bombed, Japan formally surrendered a week later. The bombs attributed to the deaths of 66,000–150,000 Japanese.
Americans overwhelmingly supported the use of the atomic bombs after WWII, seeing use of such weapons as “justified.’’ They were just defending themselves from the nation that had attacked them, after all. Opinion has shifted and support has waned since then. Today more Japanese and Americans are disapproving of the use of such measures. That is not surprising when a society has lived in comfort for decades. It might be wrong for a culture that lives in decadence to judge difficult decisions made by those in the past. It’s more important to try to understand why decisions were made and hope to learn from those events. Questions remain as to whether Japan surrendered directly because of the bombs or whether it was because Russia had declared war on them.
America’s economy was back and booming after the war. The American capitalist culture said to consume, and Americans did just that. Consumerism dominated American culture. Much of the consumerism promoted conformity of American ideals, gender roles, and social norms. American suburbs sprang up all over the country. Many of the houses were produced in a “cookie cutter” fashion. That “sameness” contributed to the conformity of the post WWII era. Living in the suburbs or “suburbia” as it’s known meant that people needed to own cars to get to work. Car culture was born during this era. Due to the excess of automobiles on the roads, systems of roads and major highway expansions took place during this era.
Not everyone was happy during this time. There was a growing percentage of the population that rejected conformity and rebelled against society. The beat movement began, and motorcycle gangs sprung up across the country. Civil rights activists were protesting, ushering in the Civil Rights era. The Hippy movement would begin in the early ’60s, but the discontent and counterculture of the ’50s inspired the Hippy movement.
Through all these events loomed the threat of the Cold War. There was a very real threat that capitalist and communist idealists would war for world supremacy. The two main players, America and The Soviet Union were at a constant threat of an actual war. Though both countries came close, multiple proxy wars took place instead. America went to war with Korea and Vietnam, the Soviets went to war with Afghanistan and there were several other armed conflicts during this period.
Espionage was also a preferred method of attacking an opponent. Spies were used to sabotage and keep tabs on the enemy. Knowing your enemy’s strengths and weakness is always important. America and Russia were in constant competition with each other culturally as well. Each country competed and raced to be the best or the first to do everything such as launch satellites, fly in space, break the sound barrier, land on the moon, etc. Nuclear testing among nations progressed and served as displays of force.
The biggest threat during the Cold War was the reality that an all-out nuclear war was very probable. America educated its civilians with guidance films such as, “Duck and Cover.” Americans were stockpiling supplies and building personal bunkers in their backyards. Bomb shelters were designated and/or built in towns. School children had regular drills to prepare them to survive the initial attacks of a nuclear war. Contingencies were put in place to protect chain of command, government officials, and even historical artifacts/art.
The world managed to avoid nuclear war and the Cold War ended in 1991. A couple years prior, President Ronald Regan had famously demanded in a speech that Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev “Tear down this wall,” referring to the Berlin Wall. Once free elections were held, communist regimes were ousted everywhere in eastern Europe. The Soviet Union dissolved, and the Iron Curtain fell.