Hiroshima Plus 63

This week marks the 63rd anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and the beginning of the end of World War 2. As is usually the case every year, we have the stories of those who attack the incident as a ‘war crime’. These historical revisionists miss (or ignore) the fact that they are looking back with hindsight and applying modern attitudes to historical times.

These revisionists talk about how the Japanese were a peaceful people who would have surrendered without the dropping of the bomb. In doing so, they ignore a number of facts, beginning with the horrible brutality of Pearl Harbor, The Bataan Death March and the many other events during the war, going back to the Rape of Nanking in the 1930’s.

They also ignore the actual events of August 1945. The facts are that we dropped not one but two bombs (on Hiroshima and Nagasaki). The Soviet Union launched a massive invasion of Japanese forces in China during the same period. These events prompted a tie vote in the war council over surrender or continued war. Only the order of the Emperor broke the tie.

Even then, a group of military officers came very close to overthrowing the government to keep the war going. So the idea that they were ready to surrender is silly.

Equally wrong is the idea that there was some more compassionate alternative. Just to illustrate, let us consider the options.

1.  Option One was to continue the strategic bombing campaign and try to destroy what little was left of the Japanese infrastructure. These nightly bombings were killing tens of thousands of people and some of the larger raids were killing hundreds of thousands in a single night.

2. Option Two was to focus on a blockade which would have sought to starve the people into surrender. Hundreds of thousands had already starved to death and the blockade could have sent the death toll into the millions.

3. Option Three was to combine the two efforts, both bombing and starving the Japanese.

Since none of these events had succeeded during 1944-45, it is debatable if they would have done so if they had continued and plans were underway for an invasion of southern Japan in fall 1945 and of the Tokyo area in spring/summer 1946.

So Option 4 would be to spend the summer bombing and starving the Japanese and then move to an invasion which would have resulted in horrendous casualties. The official war plans called for the entire population to join in the battle and fight against the invaders.

Given the propaganda that had been put forth, most Japanese who were alive at the time say they would have fought hard and long, so we could (according to modern estimates) add perhaps 1 or 2 million more civilian casualties.

So basically the options other than dropping the bomb involved continued months or even a year of bombing, starvation, disease and invasion. It is possible that eventually this would have compelled the Emperor to force surrender, but most observers say it took the shock of the bomb to force him to take the step.

In addition, while we certainly want our leaders to be compassionate, ultimately they are OUR leaders and they need to do what is best for OUR soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines. If you can end the war peacefully, that is wonderful. But if you have to choose between losing 10 of our men or 100 of theirs, you choose OUR men. It may not be nice, but life is not always nice.

Obviously the dropping of the bomb was a horrible thing, I am not arguing that at all. But as a wise man once said when arguing against war crimes laws, “All Wars Are Crimes”.

War is a horrible awful thing and should be avoided at all costs. But once you are forced to fight, you need to do what is best to stop the war and, in this case, President Truman was right.

Author: PATRICK EDABURN, Assistant Editor

  • DLS

    The revisionists are simply some of the most extreme of the extremists involved in delusion and propaganda and expression of post-1960s radicalism that includes self- and self-nation-loathing. There was no vast right wing jingoistic neo-colonial conspiracy using the Japanese as pawns to show off to and intimidate the USSR.

  • DLS

    Don’t forget the “demonstration” alternative. As one book I looked through last weekend in downtown Detroit addressed this (along with the silly revisionism that was in effect then but was dwarfed by the idiocy and scummy slander we have been treated to in contemporary times, beginning with the silliness of second guessing what was widespread public as well as Allied government views about use of this bomb after firebombing Japan and German cities),

    What if a demonstration had been arranged and the demonstration failed?

    The *** ONE *** alternative the author of this book said he wished had happened makes sense. If you recall, the world’s largest conventional explosion was set up and conducted prior to testing the Trinity bomb (the implosion bomb that used plutonium; we didn’t bother testing the gun-type weapon with uranium because it was simple, something Ihe more blind Iran-watchers need to bear in mind) in order to do a proper blast scaling “calibration.” You can probably find a photo of the results of this test and the results of Trinity next to it.

    Here. Here is Trinity next to the 100 ton scaling test. Quite a difference in power.



    The author said these results (the photograph[s]) and an explanation fo what caused them should have been sent and shown to the Japanese. They might, repeat might, have surrendered. There is no guarantee and the uncertainty lies on the side of Japan’s continuing to fight (because of the militarists in the Japanese government, normally stronger than the pacifists). But this was one rational kind of alternative. We wouldn’t even necessarily have had to say it was an atomic bomb, just a hugely powerful bomb.

  • jeff_pickens

    Patrick I liked the post.

    However I would argue that “…the dropping of the bomb was a horrible thing, I am not arguing that at all” is indirectly what you are doing–the justification of doing so, and the scathing rebuttal of those who are quick to criticize that action, the “revisionists.” Your premise is there were no alternatives, that were not equally as bad.

    Hindsight is 20/20, and I think the memory of the event should propel us to think about what we’ve learned since then, if not to re-hash the political and ethical considerations of judging the era for what they did. It’s really difficult to predict how many would have died had the bombs not been dropped. There become more “ifs” that make it less accurate.

    What I hope we can learn from it is that we began a whole new era of nuclear proliferation as a human species, and we didn’t stop with the fission weapon, we created a fusion weapon that dwarfs the capabilities of the original bombs. We now how the capability to destroy humanity, everywhere.

    Maybe, the horror of it really enables us to appreciate how devastating such a weapon truly can be, and maybe having used the bomb, in that way, is somehow a plus for humanity.

    Personally I hope, as the anniversary comes and goes, we will be very free to apply our modern understandings, critiques, and ethical implications to those things of the past–however else will we learn, how will we avoid repeating the blunders of our past? Even if one doesn’t think there were alternatives, clearly, in this day and age, there are and should be. When the next nuclear bomb is dropped, there likely will be no winners.

    I would hope as the years go by that on that anniversary, we can come to a human understanding that indeed it was and is the wrong thing to do, under any circumstance.

  • DLS

    “Hindsight is 20/20″

    It’s also very cheap. That is also true when applied to the incendiary raids in Japan and to the firebombing and other bombing in Germany (and in England and in France and in other European cities, conducted by the Nazis). Hiroshima (and Nagasaki) cannot be honestly seen as extraordinary in this regard in any way. (anti-nuclear and anti-US psychosis notwithstanding)

    There is no reason for horror. There is reason for appreciation of what these first generation bombs (which North Korea may now have and which Iran is seeking) can do and what others can do, all the way through the large megaton-class fusion bombs (which are inefficient blast-scale-wise but which are not only blast weapons but enormous heat weapons). There is the consideration of Pakistan and India and deliberately using such weapons not only on cities but on research reactors (breaching their containment structures).

    Fortunately neither side in the Cold War saw the need to use their larger weapons.