Should America Have Dropped The Atomic Bomb? My Review of Killing The Rising Sun

Killing the Rising Sun: How America Vanquished World War II Japan is the most gripping and graphically intense account of World War II that I’ve yet to read. It is the sixth installment of the hugely popular Killing series by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. It also breaks new ground. Unlike their previous books in the series, Killing The Rising Sun is about “killing” an entire country (an empire, actually) rather than a single individual.

Focused on the closing months of World War II’s Pacific theater, Killing The Rising Sun immerses you in the horrifying and bloody battles waged between American soldiers and sailors (and their allies) on the one hand and their desperate and formidable Japanese foe on the other. It also rips you out of any would-be role of hindsight, armchair commentator and makes you confront head-on one of the most consequential decisions ever made by a U.S. President: the dropping of the atomic bomb. Given the same set of circumstances, would you have made the same decision as President Harry S. Truman? Would you have dropped the atomic bomb on Japan?

Killing The Rising Sun pulls no punches in describing the hellish horror unleashed on the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. O’Reilly and Dugard paint a horrifying picture of the excruciating ordeal endured by the people of those two cities. When they write of how President Truman and other Americans celebrated the news following the atomic bomb being dropped on Hiroshima (and later Nagasaki), one can’t help but cringe. To celebrate such suffering is disturbing, to say the least. Nevertheless, the authors do a masterful job of setting the stage for why the bombs were dropped. It is simply not responsible for people today to morally evaluate President Truman’s decision without understanding the reasons for it.

Those reasons are made abundantly clear as the readers of Killing The Rising Sun witness the unrestrained desperation and feral viciousness with which the Japanese waged war. Throughout the rise and fall of their empire, Japanese soldiers engaged in vicious brutality. While no single army in human history (including the United States Army) can claim a spotless record when it comes to human rights violations, World War II Japanese forces took things to a whole new level. The barbaric atrocities that exemplified the World War II Japanese soldier would make people like Attila the Hun or Vlad the Impaler cringe. Only someone completely lost in postmodernist, deconstructionist relativism would fail to describe the armed forces of World War II Japan as evil.

What’s more, the Japanese fought with a tenacity and determination unseen by most Americans up until that time in history. Their code made surrender dishonorable, which is among the reasons they brutally mistreated American prisoners-of-war who had surrendered to them earlier in the conflict. O’Reilly and Dugard take the reader through the intense Pacific island battles as well as the hard-fought liberation of the Philippines from Japanese occupation. These naval and land campaigns, ably supervised by Admiral Chester W. Nimitz and General Douglas MacArthur, are costly affairs which made it clear to all that the Japanese would not surrender their home islands (and their deified emperor). An invasion of Japan would likely have resulted in astronomically high losses from which the US and its Allies would have found it quite difficult to recover — militarily, economically, and psychologically.

Let there be no question or doubt that, in the Pacific Theater of World War II, the United States and its allies (Britain, Australia, Canada, etc) were the Good Guys whereas the Axis Powers (Japan, Germany, Italy) were very much the Bad Guys. If this is too simplistic for you, then you’re either ignorant of the facts of history or hopelessly mired in some tangled web of nihilism or cognitive relativism. The Japanese Empire of World War II was evil and needed to be destroyed, and when one looks at the facts (facts brought to life in this book), it’s hard to fathom a scenario other than the one Franklin Roosevelt initiated and Harry Truman executed that would have accomplished that morally essential objective.

Though I’ve never really been a fan of The O’Reilly Factor, and am (like many others) concerned over the allegations surrounding Mr. O’Reilly’s personal (and professional) conduct, I nevertheless appreciate Bill O’Reilly’s passion for history and the amazing work he has done in the Killing series with co-author Martin Dugard. Some of the Killing books (Killing Lincoln, Killing Kennedy, Killing Patton) are better than others (Killing Reagan), but Killing The Rising Sun may be their most compelling and riveting yet. This Memorial Day is a perfect time to pick up a copy if you haven’t already done so.