Hiroshima atomic bomb 69th anniversary
Wondering what might have been without it.
Today is the anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, with Nagasaki following three days later, and the surrender of Japan on August 15, 1945.
To date these two bombs remain—astoundingly enough, considering the nature of our oft-troubled and troubling species—the only nuclear warheads ever detonated over populated areas. Oliver Kamm wrote a while back:
Our side did terrible things to avoid a more terrible outcome. The bomb was a deliverance for American troops, for prisoners and slave labourers, for those dying of hunger and maltreatment throughout the Japanese empire – and for Japan itself. One of Japan’s highest wartime officials, Kido Koichi, later testified that in his view the August surrender prevented 20 million Japanese casualties.
This context always needs to be kept in mind when evaluating any “terrible thing”—and there is no question that the dropping of these bombs was a terrible thing.
But critics who are bound and determined to portray the West as evil, marauding, bloodthirsty— whatever the dreadful adjective du jour might be—are bound and determined to either avoid all context, or to change the true context and replace it with fanciful myth. As Kamm writes, those who want to portray Hiroshima and Nagasaki as American crimes cite evidence of an imminent Japanese surrender that would have happened anyway.
Trouble is, there’s virtually no such evidence; available information points strongly to the contrary. It’s difficult to know whether those who argue that the bombs were unnecessary and the deaths that ensued gratuitous are guilty of poor scholarship, wishful thinking, or willful lying—or perhaps some combination of these elements.
Truth in history is not easy to determine (see this), although it helps greatly if conventions of scholarship (sources, citations) are properly followed. Oh, the main events themselves are often not disputed—except for fringe groups such as those who think we didn’t go to the moon—although the details are often the subject of disagreement. But it’s the motivations behind the acts, the hearts and minds of the movers and shakers, the “what-might-have-been’s” and the “but-fors” that are so open to both partisan interpretation and willful distortion, and so deeply meaningful.
It’s hard enough to determine what happened. How many died in Dresden, for example? Do we believe Goebbels’s propaganda as promulgated by David Irving, or do we believe this work of recent exhaustive scholarship? The former “facts” have reigned now in popular opinion for quite a while, and although the latter mounts a far more convincing case, how many have read it or are familiar with the facts in it, compared to those who have been heavily exposed to the former?
There’s what happened, and then there’s why it happened—the meaning and intent behind the policy. A combination of the two is what propaganda is all about. It takes a lot of time and effort to wade through facts, make judgments about the veracity of sources, and be willing to keep an open mind.
Much easier to stand in a public square (as a bunch of nodding, smiling, waving, middle-aged peace-love Boomers regularly do in the town where I live) holding huge banners declaring “9/11 WAS AN INSIDE JOB.” Repeat it often enough, and the hope is it will become Truth in people’s eyes.
Especially in the eyes of the young, and of future generations, who don’t have their own memories to go on. It’s much harder to convince a WWII vet that Hiroshima was an unnecessary war crime than it is to convince a young person of same; the former not only has the context, he has own personal memories of the context (see Paul Fussell’s fine essay “Thank God for the Atomic Bomb” on that score). But propagandists are not just interested in changing opinions in the present, they’re interested in history and the future.
[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]
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The use of the atom bombs was one of the most humane acts in the history of warfare.
It forced the Japanese Emperor to face reality, and to counter his own predilections and the weight of his advisers.
We could have wrought the same destruction and loss of life with more conventional weapons, including a fire-bombing campaign. But those were somehow known quantities by this time, and they carried no awe in the minds of most military people.
A new bomb that took out a city was a different thing. And, by this time, American planes could bomb Japan with relative impunity.
David Lowry in an old edition of Black Belt tells the story of some renowned martial artist ( whose name escapes me ) who had to consider what to do when faced with a tough decision. His reply was that he thought of his teacher, his teacher teacher, etc.
The decision was how to respond to a request by the Japanese government to help teach women, children, old people, and invalids how to fight in preparation for a ground invasion of Japan.
That is the something that must be considered in this debate.
Even after the first two bombs were dropped many in the Japanese military were adamant about fighting on. Google the Kyūjō Incident.
Yes, there were some who had seen the writing on the wall, particularly in the Japanese Navy, which stopped being a functioning force after the battle for the Philippines due to chronic fuel shortages and lack of trained naval aviators. But the army ran the show and they not only fought to the last man time and again, but on Saipan and later on Okinawa the army encouraged civilians to commit suicide rather than surrender.
Any student of that war knows the bomb saved Japan from itself.
I still wonder if killing Yamamoto wasn’t a mistake: had he been alive in 1945 he might have counseled ending the war (which he had opposed starting) and had some chance of being listened to.
Oh, well, you take your shots when they happen.
Honestly it’d been equally likely Yamamoto would have been assassinated by political extremists before he could do any good, as moderates were in earlier years. I’m no great expert (and would like to study the era more) but I’ve read about assassinations in that period and it isn’t an unlikely scenario at all if others got whiff of a man like him possibly upsetting the apple cart.
Yamamoto would not have been immune from assassination by the jingoist fanatics in charge of the Army.
The irony is that if the Japanese had managed their early conquests as their own label for these lands implied, as a genuine Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, they actually might have pulled it off. But uniformly other Asians considered the Japanese rules far, far worse than the British, Australian, French, Dutch and American colonialists.
You’re right that he wouldn’t have been immune, but he might have been a damned hard target. It’s all idle speculation, anyway.
Closing 2 minutes of Dr. Strangelove,
The Bombing of Dresden.
I’ve been to the epicenters of both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. I’ve read extensively about them (there is nothing left in the history section of Kinokuniya Book Store in downtown L.A. for me to read. I’ve read everything there over the years during my work lunch breaks).
I remember driving my father-in-law’s truck in my wife’s hometown of Fukuoka (I was filling in for him while he was sick in the hospital for a month) in August 1995 and hearing the sirens marking the exact moments of the 50th anniversaries of both bombings.
I also remember watching the late, great Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan on a Sunday morning news show telling the younger, more ambivalent panelists that he remembered being a young serviceman preparing for the invasion of Japan. He said, as best as I can remember, “There were no preparations to bring us back. We would never be coming back.”
Those familiar with the bloody battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa knew what he meant. 12,000 dead U.S. servicemen on Okinawa meant an unfathomable number of dead servicemen invading the Japanese homeland.
What few people fail to remember is that historians’ put the number of dead civilians throughout Japan-occupied Asia at 250,000 to 400,000 for every month the war continued.
They also fail to remember that some of the top military leadership in Japan advocated sacrificing 20 million Japanese civilians in a “beautiful” self-sacrificing act to repel the invaders. I can’t remember the Japanese term, but I do remember it loosely translated to something like “the beauty of glass broken into a thousand shards.” Kind of a bloody iteration of the melancholy beauty of the falling cherry blossom.
This is why Navy Minister Yonai called the atomic bombs, “A gift from heaven.” They were true “shock and awe” and put an abrupt end to poetic musings of gruesome, meaningless self-sacrifice.
My wife’s hometown of Fukuoka, the largest city on Kyushu, not far from Nagasaki, was home to some of the most notorious POW camps in Japan.
It was at Kyushu University, in my wife’s hometown, one of Japan’s top universities (and where our oldest daughter is now applying for grad study), where the crew of a downed B-29 were killed in gruesome medical experiments, the only such cases on Japanese soil. (Manchuria is where Japan carried out almost all its Mengele-like experiments on the enemy.)
And, if one needed more proof for the need of the atomic bombs to make the Japanese make the break with this most shameful part of their history, one need once again look no farther than my wife’s hometown.
For it was in Fukuoka where, three hours after the prison guards listened with the rest of their countrymen to the Emperor declare surrender at noon in an almost unthinkable radio broadcast, the guards took the remaining two dozen or so American flyboy prisoners to Mt. Aburayama.
When our oldest daughter was a toddler, we used to go to Mt. Aburayama often to barbeque, hike, and picnic. It’s a very popular area for rest and relaxation.
But, three hours after Japan surrendered, these flyboys became among the last of the war’s casualties.
There, in the late afternoon of August 15, 1945, they were forced to watch their comrades beaten, tortured, and finally, beheaded, as they awaited their own turn.
Here are the military fatality numbers from Iwo and Okinawa. There were some 22,000 Japanese troops on Iwo when the Americans landed. Of those, 216 were taken prisoner during the battle. Not all surrounded. Some were captured while unconscious. An estimated 3,000 went to ground in the island’s caves were most either died of wounds or succumbed to hunger and exposure, but 867 eventually surrendered, The last surrendered almost four years after the battle. 6800 Americans were killed.
On Okinawa there were 130,000 troops and 450,000 civilians at the time of the invasion. The Japanese impressed tens of thousands of local civilians to military duty and counted these impressed civilians in their military casualties. Okinawans tend to consider these people as civilian casualties. Also entire families may have simply disappeared when the caves they sheltered in were sealed shut by shellfire. We know some 235,000 of those Japanese and Okinowans killed have been identified by name, of which 77,000 came from prefectures in Japan. That is close to the combined number of regular Japanese military thought to have been on the island. We also know that 7,401 troops surrendered, the majority of them impressed Okinawans. 14,100 Americans and British combatants died at Okinawa.
One of the things that I try to get across to people is that “civilian” is really hard to identify when the guy you’re fighting is willing to conscript everyone, down to the children and up to the grandmothers, and they will attack you.
Part of what horrifies me about the nukes is that people were warned– and then forced to stay on the target.
I can understand the desire to defend Japan, because modern Japan is pretty dang cool.
I just know enough to realize I really wouldn’t want to meet pre-reform Japan.
No wonder so many anime have characters who are quiet, polite, charming and have ax murderer type backgrounds. (ie, Cho Hakkai) Makes one keep in mind how those characters react when they’re pushed too far, again….
Yep, so very true, and thank you for telling this story about that long ago war’s end, at Fukuoka.
The same kind of thing occurred at Chichi Jima, the island where President GHW Bush had to bail out nearby and was rescued off shore by a USA sub; 8-Allied Fly boys were executed near war’s end. Chichi Jima was more heavily garrisoned then Iwo Jima; Chichi Jima would have been a much more difficult place to take, because of the size of its force and its very rugged terrain.
Also, Wake Island when the local garrison commander had the remaining 95- American civilian contractors executed too. Those contractors had been kept on Wake, by The Japanese, to reinforce its emplacements and strong points, while the majority of the American garrison and contractors were evacuated to POW camps mainly in China.
I worked after high school with a former sailor, who also served in the Army in Korea. He had been aboard a Destroyer in WWII, and was assigned to a Naval Infantry platoon, perhaps about 20-sailor complement from his ship. They spent quite a bit of time practicing on rifle drills, basically firing off the stern, at targets towed behind the ship. He would have been part of a naval infantry battalion assigned to one of the invasion beaches in that contested landing had been necessary. Those sailors would have been cannon fodder, in a real sense, but were felt necessary to help force a contested landings on Japan proper.
He and his buddies really did believe that they would live to see war’s end as a result of those 2 bombs. Of course, then while in college, the WWII GI Bill was a wonderful thing, of great future benefit to that nation, he earned a few extra bucks from Army ROTC. As a result, he was called up and served on the line in Korea; an inhospitable place to be, even as an infantry officer.
Anyone who discounts the felt need to invade Japan could do well to read Richard Frank’s analysis of the plans for “Downfall,” that planned invasion, and his descriptions of the sheer size of the build up for that invasion. The scope of the planning and materials required are almost beyond belief; except those plans and related materials build up did in fact occur.
So, yes, the thought of another atom bombing on targeted population is just beyond belief except we humans have been very lucky that opposing forces have not seen fit to use those atomics. Does anyone else here recall the almost mass hysteria here regarding Kennedy’s Cuban Blockade challenge to Russia? That was a stark reminder of what could have been.
Giangreco, Hell to Pay – Operation DOWNFALL and the Invasion of Japan, 1945-1947 [Naval Institute Press, 2009] is another book with a great deal of very interesting material.
a weapon whose offshoots (tactical battlefield nukes like the lance missle) we should have used often.
If you weren’t there then it’s pretty f*cking arrogant to judge. Just sayin.
Facts are one thing,opinions quite another! So, why are you judging others or do you disagree with the facts as stated above? If so, explain!
I remember reading a year or two ago about an elderly Japanese man who had passed away. He had been extremely unlucky during the war … he’d experienced both atomic bombings.
I knew a wonderful, beautiful Japanese woman who was in her sixties when I was living in Fukuoka in the 1990s.
She was from Kyushu, but her family had sent her to a school in Tokyo. There, she experienced the firebombings.
Her family brought her back to Kyushu and what they thought would be safety and enrolled her in a school in … Nagasaki.
She said the first thing she remembered that day was waking up waste-deep in a pile of rubble.
The people who made the decision to try to end the war with Japan quickly were ones who knew full well the cost of spending an extra year fully destroying a defeated army, because they had to do that to the German army in Europe.
Their objective was to end the war sooner, reducing the death and destruction that would occur. By that time, they had a very good idea how many people would be killed, and how much property would be destroyed, because they had already seen it, once.
They chose a huge blow, and a terrible loss of life, yes. But they ended the war quickly, and on the balance, preserved many more lives.
Those people who say that Japan was about to surrender discount the evidence from the behavior of both the Germans and the Japanese up to that point. Their notion has the flavor of some sort of alternative universe, and not the world as it was, back then.
I’m fine with the bomb, but have a hard time with the target selection, namely, non-combatant civilians. Military bases, government centers, industrial complexes, research centers, financial centers, sure. Was hitting those targets infeasible?
I have also heard that argued. I have heard it suggested that we should have used the bomb on Mt. Fuji as a demonstration of the power. I don’t know the answer. I don’t know if a “demonstration” bombing would have accomplished what needed to be accomplished or not. I don’t know how many would have died from the radiation even if the bomb had been dropped somewhere other than on a civilian population.
I am glad I was not the one that had to make the decision and I am glad that, at the time, we had someone who could make those decisions.
Now the tough decisions are between a 9 iron or a 7 iron.
Both were military centers, albeit minor ones. By 1945, the Japanese had dispersed their facilities widely. That is why we burned Tokyo to the ground, dwarfing Hiroshima’s and Nagasaki’s casualties. That was the only way to get all the little machine shops.
Interestingly, there is some evidence that Dresden had been a dedicated nuclear target. It came off the no-bomb list at the same time Japan went on the nuke list. No documentation of this has been found, but it is interesting speculation. Dresden had always been screwed.
I’m fine with the bomb, but have a hard time with the target selection, namely, non-combatant civilians.
If civilians had been the target– rather than all the military stuff in the area– there wouldn’t have been a bunch of warnings dropped.
“Read this carefully as it may save your life or the life of a relative or friend. In the next few days, some or all of the cities named on the reverse side will be destroyed by American bombs. These cities contain military installations and workshops or factories which produce military goods. We are determined to destroy all of the tools of the military clique which they are using to prolong this useless war. But, unfortunately, bombs have no eyes.
So, in accordance with America’s humanitarian policies, the American Air Force, which does not wish to injure innocent people, now gives you warning to evacuate the cities named and save your lives. America is not fighting the Japanese people but is fighting the military clique which has enslaved the Japanese people. The peace which America will bring will free the people from the oppression of the military clique and mean the emergence of a new and better Japan.
You can restore peace by demanding new and good leaders who will end the war. We cannot promise that only these cities will be among those attacked but some or all of them will be, so heed this warning and evacuate these cities immediately.”
– See more at: http://the-american-catholic.com/2014/07/31/last-survivor-of-the-enola-gay-crew-dies/#sthash.pW57JXaT.dpuf
I like to keep things simple.
Who started the war in the Pacific?
Were there any Japanese civilians involved in the war effort?
Every senior commander in the Pacific was against dropping those bombs. Some were kept in the dark about the drops, although they knew about the bomb, until just before they happened. It was not military necessity, Emperor already was trying to stay alive whilst urging fire-eaters to consider surrender. Morals is not the issue. Military necessity is. The situation was military and the bombs were unnecessary … and that made their use immoral. They also caused Stalin to redouble espionage, which was already pretty good considering Oppenheimer and some others were in a special KGB envelope to do that job. And to every nitwit who says I am a spouting ignoramus, I say, “Do your research. I did mine.”
Well now, I won’t say you’re a spouting ignoramus, yet strongly disagree with your evaluation of our military commanders in WWII. Eisenhower was supposedly on record as being against use of the A-Bomb. If MacArthur was then against, during WWII, he changed his mind by 1950 – 1951, when he wanted to drop several on the Yalu River Valley. Still, Truman made the call and he certainly had heard voices against it yet those two attacks worked and the war came to an end, even if not immediately.
There is strong evidence, which you could review if you so wish, or not, indicating that the Japanese Government was not in favor of surrender even after the second A-Bomb drop and finally, the Emperor made his call to end the thing. Recall that the Emperor did not make his broadcast until 5 or 6-days after Nagasaki.
The A-Bomb and it’s several variations are terrible devices and so far have been too terrible, in so many way, that even the No Koreans have not used them tactically.
Lastly, I do disagree with your point of view and the facts I have reviewed do not support your position, so be it.
Peace and enjoy life as it is. Out!
Me, my kids and grandkids might not exist without Hiroshima and Nagasaki. My Pop was on Okinawa waiting to invade Japan when he and his comrades heard that “we dropped a superbomb on the Japs”. They thought it was just one of the many rumors bouncing around until the Exec called them all together and confirmed that there wasn’t going to be an invasion. Like all condemned men getting an 11th hour reprieve, there was no shouting or cheering, just quiet, stunned, beautiful relief.
There were two men I once knew, who were in WWII. One was MP. The other, I don’t know. But I am sure as hell that those two men would have been sent to Japan in the event of an anticipated invasion – and that they would have both returned home in pine boxes… if they ever returned at all.
Had that happened, and no A-bombs dropped, those two men would have not returned home – one, to his wife. The other one, to his sweetheart, to whom he married a year later. Those two men would have not had kids: one, his eldest son; the other one, his only daughter – born on Aug. 6, BTW. The son and the daughter would have not met years later, after they had finished high school, or married a year or two later.
The son of the one man and the daughter of the other man would have not had their only child, a son – these WWII soldiers’ first grandchild. These GI’s children would have not dedicated their very lives to see their son succeed in America. They would have not seen him become an engineer or do very well in his career.
This grandson would have not showed up at a women’s college one day and met this girl who was not interested in men (men stank, of course), because she was too busy with studies and trying to make sense of life – two years after the Berlin Wall fell. The grandson would have not done his darned-est to conquer the heart of that girl and married her proper. Of course, she had to meet his grandpas – and they both loved her.
One died of cancer. The other one, dementia. Neither would have died of cancer or dementia if they had gone to invade Japan in 1945, or if they were called later. They would have been hacked to pieces by a people that had gone bat$#!% fanatical in their insistence that their beloved Emperor was a descendant of the gods, and that death with “honor” was better than to surrender to those they had attacked first with impunity. After the bombs, the Emperor became just another human being, and General MacArthur made sure they all knew it. Now, there’s a Constitutional monarchy in place. And we love their Toyotas, Hondas and Mitsubishis. We love sushi and Japanese steakhouses. We love their weird shows and their Anime. (Godzilla) And some of their people have become part of our own families as well. Domo Arigato.
Those A-bombs sure did a whole lot of damage and burned alive many – in a flash, or slowly roasted to death due to radiation. It did do its great damage and took around a hundred thousand into the next world, more or less. It also was the Great Snap-Out-Of-It! Moment that nation so desperately needed. And also made many think about the great “What If It’s Used On Others? What It It’s Used On Us?” It has been sixty-nine years since then, and yet Humanity has been strangely fortunate that no other city or cities on Earth had, so far, been flattened out into oblivion by another one of those A-bombs. (MAJOR KNOCK ON WOOD, EVERYONE!) We’ve all seen what it can do. Civilization, morality, and a keen instinct of humanity’s self preservation, together with some real smarts and some really good people, have made it possible for it to never to be used again. We all sure hope that good fortune will continue – and always make sure the absolute wrong people don’t get their hands on one of those dangerous things.
Oh, what about the grandson of those two GIs? He’s sleeping right now, after having kissed his three favorite girls in the whole universe: his two little princesses and yours truly, who intends to tell these girls in the future about the A-Bomb whether they ask about it or not. I sure want for them to know their history – and what would have been, had their great-grandfathers gone to invade Japan in 1945, and never returned.
P.S. Happy Birthday, Mother-in-Law! (Yeah, she was born on Aug. 6 – three years after the first drop.)
We fire bombed to death over 100000 in Tokyo and they didn’t surrender. Many of those survivors died later from the burns. The atomic weapons added a new and poorly understood component…radiation sickness. Happening at the end of the war, and the uniqueness of the weapons, the immediate aftermath was aggressively recorded. There was “the lost cause” that the South had at the end of the Civil War. Japan has the bomb to offer as an unfair punishment for their wars against China and later WWII. The Emperor had to hide the recording of the surrender to prevent a palace coup and many Japanese wanted to fight to the end. It was the new equation of one bomber, one bomb, one city that meant annihilation of their culture if they didn’t stop. Frankly, I like the concept of total retribution until they surrendered…. they “earned” it and they definitely got it. Just wish we were as committed to victory today as we were back then.
“Just wish we were as committed to victory today as we were back then.”
Fighting a war to win it isn’t politically correct. Perhaps we should stop playing pretend games unless and until there’s a true will to win.
My father spoke little about that time, but one of his POW buddies was encouraged by the VA to write his story. They’d met while interned in Cabanatuan, then were shipped to Osaka where they were used as slave labor while being brutalized and existing on starvation rations. As one camp was firebombed, they were moved to another.
After the bombs were dropped, their guards told them the Americans had very powerful bombs and there would be no more work. The guards disappeared and the prisoners marked the roof of their barracks. They received drops of food and Army uniforms then instead of being bombed.
Those men viewed the atomic bombs as life-saving.
An old f(r)iend of mine had been scheduled to be in the Fifth Wave of the invasion. He definitely thinks the bombs saved his life.
The Japanese should send us a thank you card every August 7th. The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved millions of Japanese lives.
Millions of Chinese lives, too.
If you want to think about “might have beens”, just think how long the Cold War would have stayed cold if we had demonstrated a lack of will to use our nuclear arsenal. Imagine the cuban missile crisis, but this time with the USSR certain we would blink. I have no doubt the detonation of those two nuclear weapons prevented hundreds more.