[reposted from August 6, 2009 (slightly modified)]
At 8:15 AM on August 6, 1945 an atomic bomb was detonated over Hiroshima, Japan. Approximately 78,000 civilians were killed on that day. Six months later the death toll had risen to about 140,000 people.
There are many arguments in favor of dropping the bomb, just as there are many arguments against it. What's clear is that in the context of 2012 we are not in a good position to judge the actions of countries that had been at war for many years.
The most important lesson of Hiroshima is that war is hell and many innocent people die. It's all very well to enter into a war with the best of intentions—as the Japanese did on December 7, 1941—but it's foolish to pretend that when you start a war there won't be any suffering. When you do that, you can really say that the victims of Hiroshima will have died in vain.
The killing and maiming of civilians is an inevitable outcome of war, no matter how hard you might try to restrict your targets to military objectives. Before going to war you need to take the consequences into account and decide whether the cost is worth it.
One of the many mistakes in Iraq was the naive assumption that it would be a clean war with few casualties and no long-term consequences for the Iraqi people. Yet today, the numbers of innocent lives lost in Iraq is comparable to the numbers lost in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And what is the benefit for Iraq that outweighs the cost in human lives? Is it "freedom" and "democracy"?
Hiroshima was not a glorious victory. It was ugly, heartbreaking, and avoidable. War is not an end in itself, it is the failure of peace. War is not an instrument of your foreign policy—it is an admission that you don't have a foreign policy.
[The top photograph shows the mushroom cloud over Hiroshima on the morning of August 6, 1945 (Photo from Encyclopedia Britanica: Hiroshima: mushroom cloud over Hiroshima, 1945. [Photograph]. Retrieved August 7, 2007, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
The bottom image is taken from a Japanese postcard (Horoshima and Nagassaki 1945). It shows victims of the attack on Hiroshima.]