“There is a rank due to the United States, among nations, which will be withheld, if not absolutely lost, by the reputation of weakness. If we desire to avoid insult, we must be able to repel it; if we desire to secure peace, one of the most powerful instruments of our rising prosperity, it must be known that we are at all times ready for war.” — George Washington, Fifth Annual Message, 1793.
On August 6, 1945 I was a 9-year old boy studying the clarinet. On that day my father, who at the time was working nights at a defense plant, took me to a matinee performance of the Benny Goodman band at the Palace Theater in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. We sat in the darkened theater listening to the great band leader and clarinetist play both pop and classical selections with his band. It was a great experience for me as I was with my dad in one of the best theaters in town listening to one of the best band in the United States.
As we walked out to the theater we saw crowds of people milling about the newspaper racks looking at the banner headline that read “A-BOMB.” The headline completely filled the width of the paper and its height covered the entire portion of the paper above the fold. In other words it was big.
Not only was the headline big, the news was big. At the time I did not know if the “A” was an indefinite article or an abbreviation for the word “Atomic.” I also recall sitting at the dining room table a few days later listening to my father and my uncles discussing the ramification of the use of the atomic bombs and how the world would change. I would soon learn what all of this meant.
Thousands of miles away on the island of Saipan in the Pacific Ocean was a young 18-year old Marine. At the time I did not know this Marine and it was many years later I heard his story. Bill was a client of mine and one day at lunch he was relating a few of his experiences as a young Marine and how the war affected him. When the subject of the A-Bomb came up he told me he had no reservations about of use of it against the Japanese. Bill had experienced some of the most brutal fighting in the Second World War and his division was preparing for the eventual invasion of the Japanese homeland where he was sure he would die. To Bill the news of the dropping of the atomic bomb was his Easter Sunday. He knew he would now go home rather than die on Japanese soil.
On this day in 1945, at 8:16 a.m. Japanese time, an American B-29 bomber, the Enola Gay, dropped the world's first atom bomb, over the city of Hiroshima. Approximately 80,000 people are killed as a direct result of the blast, and another 35,000 are injured. At least another 60,000 would be dead by the end of the year from the effects of the fallout.
U.S. President Harry S. Truman, discouraged by the Japanese response to the Potsdam Conference's demand for unconditional surrender, made the decision to use the atom bomb to end the war in order to prevent what he predicted would be a much greater loss of life were the United States to invade the Japanese mainland. And so on August 5, while a "conventional" bombing of Japan was underway, "Little Boy," (the nickname for one of two atom bombs available for use against Japan), was loaded onto Lt. Col. Paul W. Tibbets' plane on Tinian Island in the Marianas. Tibbets' B-29, named the Enola Gay after his mother, left the island at 2:45 a.m. on August 6. Five and a half hours later, "Little Boy" was dropped, exploding 1,900 feet over a “T” bridge intersection unleashing the equivalent of 12,500 tons of TNT. The bomb had several inscriptions scribbled on its shell, one of which read "Greetings to the Emperor from the men of the Indianapolis" (the ship that transported the bomb to the Marianas).
There were 90,000 buildings in Hiroshima before the bomb was dropped; only 28,000 remained after the bombing. Of the city's 200 doctors before the explosion; only 20 were left alive or capable of working. There were 1,780 nurses before-only 150 remained who were able to tend to the sick and dying.
According to John Hersey's classic work Hiroshima, the Hiroshima city government had put hundreds of schoolgirls to work clearing fire lanes in the event of incendiary bomb attacks. They were out in the open when the Enola Gay dropped its load.
"War is hell," summarized Civil War Union General William Tecumseh Sherman, whose scorched earth policy during his march through Georgia is credited with further weakening the Confederate army, ultimately shortening the war and saving lives.
Eighty years later, during World War ll, the sentiments, tactics and strategy were still valid as President Harry S. Truman (D) authorized the first use of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, 68 years ago today and another one on Nagasaki three days later. The Japanese surrendered a week later.
For those who still argue that this action wasn't necessary, mentioning the horrible deaths of the Japanese, (make no mistake, they were horrible) or the number of American troops saved (and they were) doesn't justify killing so many Japanese civilians, (the responsibility of a commander is to protect those under him as much as possible) or the Japanese were so weakened they were ready to surrender, (they weren't; they were the jihadis, suicide bombers, of their day) or other objections, Duncan Anderson of the British Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, which trains all British Army officers, offers another strong opposing opinion..
Utilizing "discoveries made upon the opening of hitherto restricted archives, and the work of British- and American-educated Japanese historians" and newly available information after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Anderson writes:
“Also thanks to the work of Japanese historians, we now know much more about Japanese plans in the summer of 1945. Japan had no intention of surrendering. It had husbanded over 8,000 aircraft, many of them Kamikazes, hundreds of explosive-packed suicide boats, and over two million well equipped regular soldiers, backed by a huge citizen's militia. When the Americans landed, the Japanese intended to hit them with everything they had, to impose on them casualties that might break their will. If this did not do it, then the remnants of the army and the militias would fight on as guerrillas, protected by the mountains and by the civilian population.”
But what about the passive, helpless Emperor Hirohito? According to Anderson, he was not passive or helpless but the core of the Japanese military system:
“Japanese and American historians have also shown that at the centre of the military system was the Emperor Hirohito, not the hapless prisoner of militarist generals, the version promulgated by MacArthur in 1945 to save him from a war crimes trial, but an all-powerful warlord, who had guided Japan’s aggressive expansion at every turn. Hirohito’s will had not been broken by defeats at land or sea, it had not been broken by the firestorms or by the effects of the blockade, and it would certainly not have been broken by the Soviet invasion of Manchuria, something the Japanese had anticipated for months.
What broke Hirohito’s will was the terrible new weapon, a single bomb which could kill a hundred thousand at a time. Suddenly Japan was no longer fighting other men, but the very forces of the universe. The most important target the bombs hit was Hirohito’s mind - it shocked him into acknowledging that he could not win the final, climatic battle.”
To this day, Harry Truman is viewed by ardent critics and revisionist historians as a war criminal and the United States is deemed as being stained by a sin as indelible as slavery. In fact, last November, a "documentary" on Hiroshima and its aftermath produced by Oliver Stone was shown on television and, as might be expected, it presented the standard apologist's take on the history surrounding Truman's decision to use nuclear bombs. To quote Stone from an interview he gave to the Stanford Daily earlier this year, his production was intended to "cause Americans to rethink your history. because you're not the indispensable, benevolent nation that we pretend to be." He might have gotten his facts straight before making such an arrogant and ignorant comment, but as we know from his past works, facts seem to get in the way of his agenda.
To begin with, the Japanese military knew long before atomic bombs were used that the war was lost. Why else resort to kamikazes in a last-ditch effort to dissuade the Allies from invading and to force a resolution short of absolute surrender? They could have surrendered long before they did but that was never a serious consideration, if it was a consideration at all. Even at the end, after Hirohito broke the deadlock in his cabinet, some military officers attempted a coup, to place him under house arrest and prevent the nationwide broadcast of his prerecorded statement advising his subjects that the Japanese nation had no choice but to "endure the unendurable." One key reason Hirohito's cabinet had deadlocked in the first place was because some of its members from the military considered the effects of the two bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as being no worse than that of conventional incendiary bombing on other Japanese cities, including Tokyo. And there was a genuine fear that, if the Japanese people found out that their government was negotiating the terms of surrender with the Allies, the government might face a popular uprising. One only has to consider the nation's history to understand why this was a real concern.
From its emergence as a powerful Asian state in the eighth century, Japan had never been successfully invaded or lost a war. The word "kamikaze" means "divine wind" and became part of the Japanese language after typhoons fortuitously prevented a Mongolian fleet from invading the mainland centuries ago. The Japanese people simply did not know the meaning of surrender, and in World War II and after the nation's surrender, not a few elected to commit suicide rather than face what they saw as humiliation. Then, of course, there were those soldiers stationed on remote islands who, for months and even decades after the surrender, refused to abandon their posts.
In the middle ages, a warrior class of strongmen, the samurai, took control of the country and the shogunate, a hereditary office of military dictatorship, was established in 1192. Although imperial rule was reestablished in 1867 in name, a militaristic mindset was entrenched in the thinking of the citizenry, and the people devoted themselves to the welfare of the nation as a whole, the Western concept of individuality being largely unknown. It took the postwar Allied occupation to put an end to that.
Before that, however, the world witnessed one of the most pernicious consequences of Japan's insularity and its historical embrace of a militaristic political posture, the brutality with which it suppressed foreign populations, including especially the Koreans and the Chinese. The "Rape of Nanking" is infamous, as is the Bataan Death March, but less well known is Japan's dispersion of mosquitos and fleas infected with bubonic plague and other diseases to spread terror and untold suffering among civilian populations the army intended to dominate. (Evidence exists that the Japanese Navy intended to use the same bioweapons against American West Coast targets late in 1945.) The Japanese military doctors of Unit 731 in Manchuria engaged in the very type of research and medical experimentation on live human "specimens" that made Josef Mengele a household name.
Japan also undertook its own program to develop an atomic bomb and, though as was learned after the war, it did not get very far, one can only imagine what might have transpired had it been successful. Nevertheless, that program continued up until near the bitter end, because, in the closing days of the European war, a U-boat transporting to Japan a cargo of raw uranium was intercepted by the American Navy.
After-the-fact armchair moralizers such as Stone tend to also overlook the "inconvenient truth" that Japanese scientists had figured out how to use upper air currents to direct hydrogen-filled balloons to the American West coast and that hundreds carrying incendiary charges and explosive devices actually made it here. The incendiary charges were for the purpose of starting forest and brush fires, and the bombs to spread terror by killing and maiming those unfortunate enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong times. One church group picnicking in Oregon came across one such a balloon lying on the ground near their picnic site and, in the course of trying to figure out what it was, were blown to bits. American authorities saw to it that a lid was placed on publicity about these balloons, but they obviously feared that soon enough, plague, anthrax, and other horrible inflictions would become the Japanese military's weapon of choice.
Japan's indifference to the laws of war and human suffering had become infamous. Indeed, they never took great pains to hide it. There was little doubt among the Allies that, if the military had its way, unimaginable numbers of their own people would have died in an effort to avoid the shame of surrender. Truman knew all this, of course, and first and foremost put the lives of American servicemen at the forefront of his deliberations.
It is telling that it was not for a full five days after Nagasaki was bombed, during which the Soviet Union invaded Manchuria and the American air forces continued their bombing of Japanese civilian populations, before the Emperor broke the tie and announced his country's defeat. Lest there any doubt about what the effect of the atomic bombings, the Japanese prime minister acknowledged after the war that they were a key consideration that motivated him to ask Hirohito to speak to the cabinet and decide which way Japan should go. In his broadcast to his people, Hirohito himself left no doubt that the atomic bombs had had their intended effect.
Returning to Stone and his ilk, how full of themselves they must feel for rendering a moral judgment, and about the entirety of the American people no less, after the fact and without any way of proving that, if Truman had done things their way, the war would have come to an end as quickly as it did and, in their eyes, more humanely. Needless to say, it's a fool's errand to imagine how things might have been different had the bombs been left undisturbed and undeployed. But it is a certainty that within five days of the bombing of Nagasaki, Japan did surrender and the war came to an end. As it turned out, the American occupation under Douglas MacArthur, who greatly respected the Japanese people, was relatively benign, and Japan took to democracy and became a close and respected ally. And since Nagasaki, no other atomic weapon has been used in combat.
Of course, since Nagasaki, millions of innocent people have been slaughtered and maimed in the old-fashioned ways we are all familiar with. Most of this death and suffering has been the result of the coming to power of political movements of the type for which Stone and the left have so often expressed admiration. But you never know. Maybe someday he and those who think the way he does will count themselves lucky that they never had to live where people like themselves were in control.
We now know that if the bomb had not been used, the invasion of Japan would have gone ahead. The best indication we have of the casualties that might have occurred are the actual figures for the eight-week campaign on Okinawa, in which 12,500 Americans died, and 39,000 were wounded. As Anderson states:
“Fighting at the same intensity (it could not have been less) on Kyushu and Honshu, campaigns which would have lasted some 50 weeks, would have produced 80 to 100,000 American dead, and some 300 to 320,000 wounded. Are these casualties enough to justify Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
If morality is based on numbers, and in this case it must be, then perhaps not. But what is usually overlooked in this numbers game, is the number of Japanese killed on Okinawa, which amounts to a staggering 250,000 military and civilian, about 20 Japanese killed for every dead American. If we conduct the same calculation for an invasion of the Japanese Home Islands, we arrive at a figure of at least two million Japanese dead.”
Another issue to consider when it came to dropping the atomic bomb is the war weariness at home. The people of the United States were growing weary of the war. Germany had surrender in May and the losses of U.S. troops on Iwo Jima and Okinawa had greatly disturbed the American public. The thought of an invasion of the Japanese home islands was unacceptable to many Americans.
Also there was the matter of money. Even after the highly successful War Bond sales after the promotional tour by the Iwo Jima flag raisers the U.S. was running out of money to conduct the war. Another year of war in the Pacific would have demanded greater tax increases, something the public and Congress was dubious about. We needed to end this war quickly with minimum causalities or they cry for a negotiated peace would have grown louder. Remember at this time we did not know of all of the horrible atrocities committed by the Japanese. If we had not used the atomic Bomb and the public and Congress had learned of its existence and power Truman would have been impeached.
“The losses in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were terrible, but not as terrible as the number of Japanese who would have died as the result of an invasion. The revisionist historians of the 1960s - and their disciples - are quite wrong to depict the decision to use the bombs as immoral. It would have been immoral if they had not been used.”
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Over the years revisionist historians and left-wing peaceniks like Oliver Stone have changed the narrative of the use of the bomb. The latest example of this is the film “Emperor” staring Tommy Lee Jones in the role of General Douglas MacArthur. The film is a stodgy movie that mixes dubious history with a clichéd, Madame Butterfly romance story, set in the period immediately following Japan's surrender in 1945. In watching the film I was disturbed at some of the lines criticizing the use of the bomb by the Japanese that went unchallenged.
As time passes the historians have revised the history of the Second World War. There are countless documentaries about the evils of the Nazis while there are very few about the atrocities committed by the Japanese and their desire to carry on the war no matter how many of their people would die.