First, I have a good friend who is a hibakusha (survivor of an atomic bombing). She was ten years old and reading a book a little more than a mile from ground zero when the bomb exploded at Hiroshima. She was only slightly injured, but she very nearly died of radiation exposure. I helped her rewrite her memoirs, and we spent many hours discussing the events.
My own assessment is complicated. The Japanese were willing to surrender months earlier if only the Allies promised to respect the Emperor. But Roosevelt had agreed to the “unconditional surrender” specification and Truman refused to renege on that promise. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were therefore unnecessary and immoral.
HOWEVER, all too often we fail to take account of what the actors in historical events did and did not know when they made their decisions. It’s the fog of war. Truman’s knowledge of Japanese intentions was based on its public pronouncements, primarily its propaganda, which was ferociously defiant. Truman did not know that a careful diplomatic strategy would probably have yielded peace without the need for either an invasion or the use of the Bomb. Therefore, I conclude that, while he made what was, in the final analysis, the wrong decision, I think that his decision is excusable because he lacked the information necessary to reach the best conclusion.
Another point: there is only one way to conclude a war successfully, and that is to convince the enemy that he is defeated. The facts on the ground aren’t as important as the enemy’s perception of those facts. The worst way to fight a war is to impose a steady flow of casualties on the enemy. That can go on forever. You need something dramatic, something that stuns and demoralizes the enemy.
Israel’s strategy with respect to the Palestinians is just about the worst possible. They are imposing a steady stream of casualties on the Palestinians without ever doing anything to change Palestinian minds. They have been for years killing roughly ten Palestinians for every Israeli killed. (Side note: most of the Palestinian casualties come not from bombs and bullets but from all the constraints on normal civilian life imposed by the Israeli occupation. Roadblocks delay emergency trips to the hospital with deadly consequences. Inadequate sewage systems and irregular electricity supplies encourage the spread of disease. Unemployed youth commit suicide by cop)
Thus, Israel has been stoking the hatred of the Palestinians for decades. The Israeli government believes that it can eventually intimidate the Palestinians into a sullen acceptance of their fate at Israeli hands. It doesn’t work that way. Hitler’s Blitz on Britain didn’t intimidate the British. The Allied bombings of Germany killed huge numbers of Germans but never broke their morale. The American bombings in Vietnam were equally ineffective. Every hunter knows that the worst thing you can do is wound an animal without incapacitating it, but few governments, especially the Israeli government understand that principle. In the case of hunting animals, you must kill a wounded animal — but genocide of millions of Palestinians is not an option.
The only moral solution to the conflict is a peace based on the creation of a viable Palestinian state. Israel refuses to recognize this truth, and so the killing will go on forever, with one possible exception. At some point, the Palestinians will obtain a weapon of mass destruction: a nuclear weapon or a biological weapon. They will use this weapon and cause so much destruction that they will shock the Israelis into making a choice between outright genocide and making peace.