Was the dropping of the bomb a war crime? What do different national histories of the bombing signify?
As J. Samuel Walker (quoted by Giamo) indicates, this is a very complicated question that can’t be answered by a simple yes or no. When analyzing the ethics of the dropping of the bombs, as with any single historical event, one must consider context: in this case, that includes Japanese imperialism and war crimes, the increasing acceptability of targeting noncombatants throughout the war, potential American, Japanese, and other Asian lives saved by the dropping of the bomb, the targeting of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in particular for their civilian populations, the forced militarization, loyalty, and sometimes persecution of Japanese citizens themselves by the Japanese government, and a plethora of other factors. Ideally, any public history that addresses the dropping of the bombs should take these factors into consideration, and as a result, most should come to a similar yes-and-no conclusion to Walker’s.
Unfortunately, many public portrayals of the event have political motives. In America, this is demonstrated by the Smithsonian Institution’s Enola Gay exhibit; in Japan, it is shown by the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum/Park. In both cases, the bias mostly manifests itself through lack of context. In Hiroshima Memorial in particular, precious little attention is devoted to context, which results in lack of accountability on behalf of the Japanese. By showing a history of the dropping of the bombs and its effects that is disconnected from other historical events that led up to the bomb dropping, it portrays the Japanese as innocent victims, and ironically fosters the kind of nationalism that contributed to the dropping of the bomb.