Every year, war takes an immense toll on the number of lives in nations around the world. War does not discriminate; it affects soldiers along with civilians. People living in war zones have been killed while going about their everyday lives.
The justification of civilian casualties in times of war remains a controversial issue due to conflicting ideals regarding the morality of civilian deaths, the war tactics used, and the motives behind the killing. Attitude towards civilian casualties vary from being unnecessary and preventable to being an inevitable consequence of war. Some view that the “direct and indiscriminate attacks on civilians can ultimately end wars sooner and thus spare lives” (Steinfels). Throughout the Second World War, the United States had utilized a strategy known as island-hopping in order to gain control over islands in the Pacific that would allow them to be able to get close enough to launch an invasion in Japan. When the United States reached Okinawa, American soldiers were met with shocking Japanese brutality.
Both sides suffered massive losses as a consequence of this battle. President Truman wanted the war to come to a swift end, and after witnessing the Japanese brutality in Okinawa, he ordered for the use of the atomic bombs. Truman saw that an invasion into Japan would only lead to more immense losses and would not conclude with a surrender from Japan.
He believed that the atomic bombs would ultimately result in less casualties, but he had greatly underestimated the death and destruction that the bombs would cause. Despite the intention of saving more lives, the attack on noncombatants takes the life of many innocent people who were not involved or prepared to be a part of the battle. Howard Zinn, a World War II veteran, argues that “when children die at the hands of terrorists, or as a result of bombs dropped from airplanes, terrorism and war become equally unpardonable.” When children are repeatedly impacted, it can no longer be justified as merely an accident. The deaths may not be intentional, but bombers cannot be regarded as innocent. The use of nuclear weapons takes more lives than the actions of terrorists.
The bombs maim and murder innocent civilians in the same manner as the actions of terrorists, but on a larger scale. The use of weapons against children and others uninvolved in the war effort cannot be justified regardless of the intention behind the attacks. Despite the intention of saving more lives, the ends do not justify the means due to the numerous civilians impacted and the lives lost. The military targeting of civilians in times of war has contributed to controversy regarding the justification of civilian deaths.
During World War II, advancements in technology led to increased casualties and mass destruction. With the ability to bomb cities, governments could easily target an enemy territory and risk less lives. The devastating result is that “armed conflict kills and maims more children than soldiers” (“Impact of Armed Conflict on Children”). The use of military weapons against unarmed civilians brings about the loss of countless generations. Not only do the use of military weapons intentionally and unintentionally impact civilians, but it also is used as a display of military capacity. The German city of Dresden was bombed during the war as a demonstration of power by the United States and Great Britain. Although they were allied with Russia, Dresden served as a warning to Russia to comply with the agreements made in the war conference treaties.
The bombs, combined with the weather conditions, created a “firestorm that destroyed most of the city and killed numerous civilians” (“Bombing of Dresden”). Over twenty five thousand civilians lost their lives in the firestorm. Despite the massive destruction, the United States and British governments continued to view the bombing as a necessary action. However, many others viewed the action as a war crime.
Although the United States had mimicked a common tactic employed by numerous nations throughout World War II, the action was barbarous and caused an immense number of civilian deaths that could have been avoided. The deliberate targeting of innocent people is unforgivable and therefore cannot be justified. Civilian deaths often became the norm as a consequence of World War II. Soldiers “did not shudder about the hideous things” they had seen in battle (Vonnegut 60). The mass death and destruction of the war allowed for the desensitization of society, and as a result, many viewed civilian deaths simply as collateral damage. Noncombatants were often deliberately targeted with the intention to end the war more quickly or to gain leverage against an opposing nation. The war had created a mass death toll. After Germany surrendered, the war was still waging in the Pacific theatre.
President Truman ordered for the use of the atomic bomb after being “warned by some advisors that any attempt to invade Japan would result in horrific American casualties” (“Atomic Bomb Dropped on Hiroshima”). After weighing his options, Truman believed that the use of atomic bombs would quickly bring about Japan’s surrender and thus save more lives. The United States knew that the atomic bomb would be more powerful than any weapon they had ever seen, but they had underestimated the gravity of its power. Within minutes, a city “went up in flames and one hundred thousand people perished” (Steinfels). Generations were completely wiped from history. Those who were not killed in the initial blast suffered the effects of radiation.
Not only had the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed a mass number of civilians, but it also created various genetic mutations that would impact the following generations. The bombings ultimately brought about Japan’s surrender, but the measure of allied success “should be the number of civilians protected,” not just by its immediate outcome (Zucchino). Winning the war does not make up for the barbarous tactics used and the lives impacted by them. The deaths of several hundred thousand unarmed civilians have to be taken in account.
The deliberate murder of over half of a nation’s population cannot be considered a victory, regardless of its contribution to the conclusion of the war. The outcome is immeasurable to the innocent lives affected, and therefore, the killing of civilians cannot be justified.Regardless of the motives, civilian deaths cannot be rightfully justified due to the sense that the ends do not justify the means. The outcome, whether positive or not, is incomparable to the magnitude of civilian lives lost. Men, women, and children are gone with the blink of an eye. Generations are wiped from history. People who wanted nothing to do with the war, the death, and the destruction are caught in the midst of it all.
Innocent children never had the chance to experience life. Therefore, despite even the targeting of civilians with the intention to save more lives and result in fewer casualties, the loss of innocent lives ultimately cannot be justified.