Hiroshima at 70: Why attitudes are changing about the first atomic bomb via the Christian Science Monitor

Seventy years after the bombing of Hiroshima, public opinion is shifting against justifying the event.

On Aug. 6, 1945, the United States dropped one of the world’s first atomic bombs on the seaside city of Hiroshima, killing anywhere between 66,000 to 150,000 people.

At the time, a vast majority of Americans believed it was the right thing to do: A Gallup poll from that year shows that a full 85 percent of the US public said they approved of the use of “Little Boy” on Japan. Only 10 percent disapproved, while the rest said they had no opinion.

But times and attitudes may be changing – a gradual shift that experts say is due largely to both dimming memories of the nightmare that was World War II, and growing awareness of the consequences of nuclear weapons.

“There’s declining support for the idea that it was justified, [especially] among young people,” Bruce Stokes, director of global economic attitudes at Pew Research Center, says in a phone interview. “There’s a better understanding now of the horror of it all.”


In an echo of that understanding, the number of Americans who say the US was justified in using the atomic bomb has dropped to 56 percent, according to a Pew Research Center poll from this spring. And while that still represents a majority – and although a sense of justification is not the same as outright approval – the figures show a clear decline, Mr. Stokes says.

“I think over the last 70 years, people have become more aware of what the nuclear age is and the consequences of it,” Allan Winkler, a distinguished professor of history at the Miami University of Ohio, says in a phone interview.


It’s not only Americans whose attitudes are changing. Among the Japanese, there is a growing sense that the use of the bomb was unjustified, with 79 percent saying that it was unwarranted compared to 64 percent in 1991, according to Pew.

“We’re still a long way from sharing the same view,” says Stokes, but the figures do suggest “there is a general overall decline, or a revulsion against, using nuclear weapons … even in a context where people at one point thought it was completely justified.”

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