Listen to This Lecture From the Man Who Dropped Both Atomic Bombs

Matthew Gault:

As the lecture wears on, the tension between Beser and his audience grows. About halfway through, someone asks him if he holds anyone responsible for “this deed,” meaning the nuclear bomb.

Beser mishears him. He thinks the man called the nuclear attack a misdeed. It takes a moment to clear up the confusion, but it stuck with Beser.

“See, I thought you said misdeed,” Beser says. “I was going to come right at you.” Nervous laughter moves through the crowd.

Later, another person questions using the atomic bomb at all. Why not drop it as a show of force in a rural area far away from people? Why didn’t America prove it had a superweapon then ask Japan to surrender?

“What would be lost?” Beser says. “The integrity of your threat is gone … the ability to carry out your threat is paramount. You do not win a war by just threatening to do things and then go ‘poof.’”

“These people had demonstrated a will to fight to the death. They did not know the word surrender. It was an honor to die for the Emperor. The topography of the main islands was ideal for the defenders and was very poor for the attacker,” he explains later. “It is very mountainous and it would have been a bloodbath.”

Another student later asks if him the United States couldn’t have done the same amount of damage to Japan with conventional weapons. But America had been bombing Japan before it decided to drop a nuke. Hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians had already died.

“It hurts my pride to say this — strategic bombing in World War II was the most overrated thing that we did,” Beser explains. “If you look at the yields on a cost-effective basis, nothing is better than even a one, two-billion-dollar weapon that we used for effectiveness.”