What Truman’s posthumous rehabilitation should tell us is that half-truths and falsehoods, if repeated often enough, can become widely accepted, and that virtually no American political leader, no matter how many blunders he made and no matter what criminal acts he ordered, is beyond redemption at the hands of later sympathetic people who find that leader’s decisions to be useful precedents for their own preferred course of action. The “judgment of history” has, for the time being, ruled in favor of Truman, and therefore challenging this judgment is something to be mocked.Larison goes on to note the contradiction in defending today's torturers by going, "well, what about Hiroshima?"
... the recourse to past crimes to evade accountability for new crimes is a good argument in favor of enforcing strict accountability for crimes recently committed. If such crimes are permitted to go unpunished, their apologists will continue to work overtime to shape the debate in later years and decades in favor of the decisions leading up to those crimes, and the more time goes by the apologist will be able to fall back on one unassailable retort: “If this was a crime, why didn’t anyone in the government investigate and prosecute it as such?” Having warned against witch hunts and “criminalizing policy differences” in the beginning to intimidate the responsible institutions into inaction, the apologists will then remind the public that no charges were ever filed and no convictions were secured.Wishful thinking, unfortunately.
So, ironically, some of the defenders of the torture regime are making the best argument for the prosecution of past administration officials by their own invocations of past government illegalities. They are unwittingly reminding us that crimes unpunished today can easily become tomorrow’s conventionally accepted “correct” decisions. Every usurpation or instance of lawbreaking that is not challenged and reversed creates a precedent for the next round of usurpation and lawbreaking, and the fact that there is a non-trivial number of people in America who think that the illegal acts of Lincoln, FDR, Truman or others should have some mitigating effect on how we treat illegal acts under a more recent administration is one of the best reasons why crimes committed during the last administration must be investigated and lawbreakers must be prosecuted.
... Re: Hiroshima, as proof that TBA is nothing if not dialectical (ancient Greek for "confused"), cf. this comment @ Larison's blog:
the atomic bombings were, at the least, not materially worse than the starvation imposed by naval blockade. Recall the deaths caused by the Allied blockade in World War One. Richard Frank’s Downfall makes the case that blockade was as bad if not worse in the case of Japan.I tend to think that absolute blockade should be a war crime; there is no material difference between starving civilians to death and burning them to death. But this just goes to show that "war crimes" were not particularly well thought out in 1945. Has that changed?
I’m not aware of any treaty or precedent that would’ve required the U.S. to allow food supplies past a blockade of Japan. (There may well be such authority; I have no expertise here.) Of course, what the Japanese gov’t did with the food would’ve been beyond our control — they could have reserved it for soldiers.
Nonetheless, one can argue, the Hague Conventions said what they said, and the decision that atomic bombing was less unjust, ultimately, than blockade was not a choice the U.S. should have been free to make. That may be the right answer.