Today's Los Angeles Times contains a letter to the editor from a North Hollywood person named Dave Simon, which states in part the following: "To this day, I have no regret that President Harry Truman saved many American lives as well of thousands of others all across the globe by ordering the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki."
Simon's sentiment has always been the popular justification for the U.S. atomic bombings of the people in those two Japanese cities. The idea has been that without the bombings, it would have been necessary for the U.S. to have invaded Japan to secure its defeat, which would have necessarily entailed the deaths and injuries of thousands of U.S. soldiers.
Therefore, the argument goes, by killing and maiming hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians with the atomic bombings, and, equally important, implicitly threatening to continue doing so against other Japanese cities, the Japanese government was forced to surrender, thereby bringing a quicker end to the war, which thereby saved the lives of U.S. soldiers.
I have always opposed that reasoning. Targeting civilians is a war crime. That's why Army Lt. William Calley, Jr., was charged with a war crime after he and his troops massacred civilians during the Vietnam War. Targeting civilians with an atomic bomb is no different from shooting them with an M-16. The bombing simply kills more people.
Would thousands of U.S. soldiers have died in an invasion of Japan? Of course. But that's the nature of war. Soldiers die in war. To say that it is legitimate to kill women, children, and seniors in order to protect soldiers is highly illegitimate, from both a moral and a legal standpoint.