“Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known not as the dawn of atomic warfare but as the start of our own moral awakening.” (President Obama, 5-27-16)Is there still a moral taboo against using nuclear weapons? Current signs are not good. Memories are fading and tensions are rising. Aggressive nationalism in Russia led President Putin to say he was willing to use nuclear weapons in his seizure of the Crimea. His military commanders discuss and prepare for their use on the European battlefield. North Korea is building as many weapons and delivery systems as it can afford, while China increases its supply and the U.S. upgrades its.
U.S. public opinion has also evolved from the view that opposed use of a nuclear bomb to their use now as an option acceptable to a large number of Americans under certain conditions.
In 1945, 53 percent of Americans believed President Truman made the right choice. By 2015, only 28 percent believed dropping the bomb was the right choice. But when public views of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombing are framed by more recent war scenarios, Americans show themselves much more willing to consider use of nuclear weapons. One scenario proffered was that Iran kills thousands of American servicemen by sinking a carrier, and defeating Iran would cost an additional 20,000 American troops. In that scenario, 59 percent of Americans would be willing to drop a nuclear weapon on a city of 100,000 civilians to achieve surrender. (81% Republicans, 47% Democrats).
Reduction of nuclear stockpiles and non-proliferation were among Obama’s top goals. Outside of his agreement with Iran, it has been one of his biggest disappointments.