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Posted by on Aug 6, 2013 in At TMV, Featured, International, Politics, Society, War | 8 comments

Reflections On Hiroshima

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This week marks the 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.

Certainly there were elements of the government interested in ending the war but for the most part they wanted to do so on *their* terms not ours. These terms included no occupation of Japan, no surrender of pre war (1941) territory (so keep China and Korea) and the Japanese government would deal with the military. This is hardly surrender.

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 simply not accurate. While there were elements of the government wanting peace there was simply no clear consensus to surrender.

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 disputing that at all. If there was some alternative I would argue we should have taken it. But war is a terrible thing (as people have observed War is Hell and all Wars are Crimes) and bad things happen.

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.

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Copyright 2013 The Moderate Voice
  • jdledell

    Patrick – I have a different perspective on this issue. I spend a lot of time in Japan because my son and his family live in Tokyo. If you have a chance go to the Hiroshima shrine and museum – like the Holocaust museum, it is something that will stay in your heart and mind for a lifetime.

    I have spent some time talking with Japanese who lived through those times and come to a different conclusion on how the war could be ended. We could have ended the war with a whimper, not a bang. There was no reason we would have to invade Japan to end the war. To avenge our loss of 2400 lives at Pearl Harbor we wanted TOTAL victory.

    By August 1945, Japan’s offensive military capabilities were totally decimated. The country was no longer a threat. Yet we demanded that the Japanese “lose face” an anathema to Japanese. The Japanese alive in 1945 knew they had lost the war regardless of official pronouncements. The only reason for any military resistance to the idea of a complete capitulation with an American occupation was in one word – the Philippines. Every Japanese knew how brutal the American occupation of the Philippines was in the early 1900’s. America was a brutal killing machine – civilian and freedom fighters alike.

    Instead of dropping atomic bombs or more fire bombs on cities we could have blockaded Japan letting food and consumer and commercial goods through while preventing military resupply. We could have announced the war was over and whether Japan signed a peace treaty or not, the net effect after a few years would be the same. This would have allowed Japan to save face on get on with the job of rebuilding their lives.

    I am not excusing Japan’s military aggressiveness any more than I excuse America’s military aggressiveness. Take a look at all the military interventions all across the globe the US has done in the last 100 years. We should be as thoughtful about our past mistakes as the Japanese are about theirs.

  • dduck

    Thanks for a thoughtful article PE.
    I still think it was an atrocity, but I think I understand that the circumstances and attitudes of that time may have led to the bombings. But why two and why not in a less populated area? Starving millions to death might have been worse. Also, I think there was a deep motive for quick massive revenge and lastly, a racial factor.
    All, in all, in today’s “moral” world, I think a war crime, back then not so much.

  • justcowboyway
  • PATRICK EDABURN, Assistant Editor

    Thanks for the comments so far.

    When it comes to declaring the war over and/or blockading military supplies that would have been tough when the Japanese continued to attack our ships. In addition they had 1 million men in China who would have continued to slaughter innocent people every day (including our POWs)

  • JSpencer

    I’ve read and heard most of the justifications for nuking the two large Japanese cities; I’ve heard them repeated often over the years, including in documentaries about WWII. The explanation Patrick gives is the same as others I’ve heard. These cities were full of innocent men, women and children. I simply don’t believe there was no other recourse than to nuke entire cities. A devastating new weapon was developed and there were people who wanted to try it out – probably before an excuse ran out. What better way to see what kind of effect it would have? No one wants to believe we didn’t have the high ground, that we suspended our national conscience, so we accept the story that feels best. It was done to save lives, not to destroy lives. Btw, the fire bombings in Germany were no less horrible. As the man said, war is hell – and we created as much hell as anyone else. More in fact. Are we heros or monsters? Probably both. Thanks for the article and for the comments.

  • JSpencer

    Just a couple more thoughts: If memories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are enough to continue providing some level of nuclear deterrent then some good will have come from it all, but this means keeping those memories alive. Also, when we judge an action that took place a lifetime ago we are applying today’s sensibilities to the problem. In the heat, blood, sweat, sacrifice and fear of a world war sensibilities were not doubt very different.

  • sheknows

    Thanks Patrick. I agree that at the time, given our cultural, scientific, and spiritual awareness levels we thought that the best way to go. As JSpencer says, also we should not forget the level of horror, devastation and far reaching consequences this had.
    We as a nation have done much to apologize in a sense for this grievous crime against humanity. We have helped to rebuild this country and have given billions in aid. We have done all that we can to give whatever help we could. Somewhere inside every person, we all know now that such a thing can NEVER happen again.

  • JSpencer

    Somewhere inside every person, we all know now that such a thing can NEVER happen again.

    Amen.

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