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Thursday, July 9, 2020

When Jon Stewart Apologized For Questioning Use of Atomic Bomb

Many Americans, past and present, who endorse, if often uneasily, the use of an atomic bomb to destroy the city of Hiroshima almost 75 years ago, have little problem raising questions about the second bomb. On August 9, 1945, three days after the Hiroshima blast, the second atomic bomb was dropped over Nagasaki, killing another 90,000, almost all of them civilians (or Dutch POWs), the vast majority women and children.

My new book, The Beginning or the End:  How Hollywood--and America--Learned to Stop  Worrying and Love the Bomb, covers the Nagasaki bombing (among other things) but also raises important questions about how even today few media commentators feel free to criticize the use of the bomb back in 1945. 

Let's take as just one example  an episode in the spring of 2009 featuring, of all people, Jon Stewart.  One night he bravely (if off-handedly) suggested that President Harry Truman was a "war criminal" for using the atomic bomb against Japan without any prior warning.  He explained: "I think if you dropped an atomic bomb fifteen miles off shore and you said, 'The next one's coming and hitting you,' then I would think it's okay. To drop it on a city, and kill a hundred thousand people. Yeah, I think that's criminal."

After he got a good deal of flack on social media overnight, he offered a rare on-air, and abject, apology. (He could have at least said, Yeah, war criminal for Nagasaki, not so much for Hiroshima.)  As I've documented in three books, this shows how the use of the bomb against Japan remains a "raw nerve" or "third rail" in America's psyche, and media.  Here's the transcript:

"The other night we had on Cliff May.  He was on, we were discussing torture, back and forth, very spirited discussion, very enjoyable. And I may have mentioned during the discussion we were having that Harry Truman was a war criminal. And right after saying it, I thought to myself,  that was dumb. And it was dumb. Stupid in fact.

"So I shouldn't have said that, and I did. So I say right now, no, I don't believe that to be the case. The atomic bomb, a very complicated decision in the context of a horrific war, and I walk that back because it was in my estimation a stupid thing to say. Which, by the way, as it was coming out of your mouth, you ever do that, where you're saying something, and as it's coming out you're like, 'What the f**k, nyah?'

"And it just sat in there for a couple of days, just sitting going, 'No, no, he wasn't, and you should really say that out loud on the show.' So I am, right now, and, man, eww. Sorry."

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