What is it good for*

 distributorcap NY

63 years later, there is still much debate on whether the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were necessary – we will never know. Five years later there isn’t much debate whether the invasion of Iraq was necessary – it wasn’t.

This post comes as an inspiration from an another written by Mountjoy over at FranIAm

On August 6, 1945, “Little Boy” was dropped from a B-29 bomber named Enola Gay over Hiroshima, Japan with a force of 13,000 tons of TNT. Between 100,000 and 130,000 people died immediately. Three days later, on August 9, “Fat Boy” was dropped from another B-29 christened Bockscar over Nagasaki. This plutonium-type bomb was more powerful and had a force of 20,000 tons of TNT. Approximately 45,000 were killed instantly.

Truman and the US Military began planning for the invasion of Japan called “Operation Downfall.” The Americans knew casualties would be high – Truman stated after the war they had anticipated anywhere from 250,000 to one million US soldiers, as well as millions of Japanese civilians. The Japanese military also threatened to kill all Allied POWs if the country was invaded.

The justification for using the bomb evolved into ending the war quickly, with fewer deaths than an extended diplomacy and invasion would bring. Truman ultimately made the decision to drop the bomb to stop the war by inflicting destruction “sufficient enough to cause Japan to surrender.” Truman also said “we have used it in order to shorten the agony of war, in order to save the lives of thousands and thousands of young Americans” (from the public papers of Presidents, Harry S. Truman).

The government of Japan was dominated by the military. They were determined to fight on – for in Japan honor of the nation was deeply embedded in the culture. On July 26th, Truman, Churchill and Chiang Kai-Shek issued the Potsdam Declaration – the terms for surrender. The plan stated that the surrender was unconditional and the alternative was “utter destruction.” It made no mention of the status of the Emperor – who the Japanese believe to be descended from God. It was rejected.

On August 6, a new era in warfare was ushered in. Hiroshima was vaporized. Three days later the city of Kokura was spared when a cloud cover rolled in. But Nagasaki was not. After the bombings the Soviet Union, which had remained neutral – declared war on Japan.

The military still refused to surrender. Emperor Hirohito broke with tradition and called for peace. “It is my desire that you, my Ministers of State, accede to my wishes and forthwith accept the Allied reply.” On September 1, 1945 Japan formally surrendered

Were the bombings necessary?

The Japanese government had been attempting to persuade the Soviet Union to mediate for peace. The US knew from intercepted messages in July 1945 that the Japanese government was seeking a way to end the war. But other factors were taking hold — Truman was concerned about appearing “soft on Japan” and not “exacting a punishment on the Emperor.” And within the US government, most people were intent on winning the war through military means and not diplomatic – which could be classified as revenge.

Doesn’t this sound familiar?

The desire for revenge is understandable during war. But when seeking the least bloody manner to force surrender and save the lives of one’s own military personnel, emotional responses and reactions often divert leaders from considering diplomatic solutions. The military and punitive measures seem bolder, more attractive and out-and-out necessary. This may have contributed to Truman’s belief that Japan would not surrender without a large-scale invasion of the island and/or atomic bombings of Japanese population centers.

This is the one of the primary reasons Bush is still in Iraq. The military solution is more attractive and emboldening. 9/11 did change everything – it made emotion a major variable in the equation.

The Allies in WWII were overly dependent on military means to bring about a solution. It appears they did not use all other means necessary before dropping the ultimate weapon. American policy was geared around the fact that only military escalation could end the war quickly.

Score another point for the Bush administration.

According to Robert Butow “Secretary of War Stimson has raised the question of whether an earlier surrender of Japan could have been achieved had the United States followed a different diplomatic and military policy during the closing months of the war. In the light of available evidence, a final answer in the affirmative seems possible, even probable.”

Had we continued talking to Saddam Hussein – could this whole mess been avoided ?- no doubt.

The use of the atomic bombs have been characterized as immoral, an aspect of war crimes, and as crimes against humanity – the same charges levied against the Nazi leadership. Many have stated that the use of atomic weapons on Japan was motivated by a desire to “show off” this powerful weapon to the new enemy – the Soviet Union. Others have said the lingering effects of radiation and the indiscriminate civilian deaths that have ensued make this equivalent to mass murder. Philosopher Michael Walzer of Princeton has labeled the bombings “war terrorism” – where the effort to kill civilians in such large numbers that their government is forced to surrender.

Again – why was the invasion of Iraq even considered – to keep the military prowess of the US top of mind? The unleashing of a civil war in Iraq – akin to mass murder?

The bombings have been criticized from all sides of the political and intellectual spectrum. Albert Einstein, Albert Camus, the US Council on Churches, scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project like Leo Szilard and James Franck. Truman’s own panel – the US Strategic Bombing Survey stated “Based on a detailed investigation of all the facts and supported by the testimony of the surviving Japanese leaders involved, it is the Survey’s opinion that certainly prior to 31 December 1945 and in all probability prior to 1 November 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated.”

There is no way to be certain that the droppings of Little Boy and Fat Man on Japan ended the war quicker with less deaths than extended diplomacy or a land invasion would have. But we can regret that no attempt was made – that the bomb was not the weapon of last choice.

We cannot say the same for Iraq – all the death and destruction that followed the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 would have been avoided, as the pressure of diplomacy, economic isolation and other factors would have forced the hand of Saddam at some point. But emotional draw of 9/11 changed all that.  Invasion was not the weapon of last choice.

Hundreds of thousands could have been saved in Hiroshima and Nagasaki – we do not know.

Hundreds of thousands would have been save in Mosul, Baghdad and Basra etc. – that is for sure.

What is it good for…absolutely nothing

*Edwin Star – War

~ by distributorcap on May 19, 2008.

25 Responses to “What is it good for*”

  1. And do factor in that the US had spent a ton of money developing the bomb and why waste all that money if it’s not going to be used? This same motivator is in place today as well.

  2. The use of the Atomic Bomb will always be open to criticism and debate. What is usually left out of most of these discussions is the access to readily available ‘information’. The conveyence of information in 1945 was comparably stone-age in todays terms.

    When Truman became President in mid April 1945—he did not even know America had developed an Atomic weapon. He was out of the loop. What he did know was that the invasion of Okinawa just two weeks previous had cost over 50,000 American lives, over 90,000 Japanese battle casualties, and over 100,000 civilian casualties on the island. And that information was just slowly seeping back to him. He could only anticipate more carnage of the same scale and made a decision based on his available information.

    The full effects of an Atomic weapon were unknown to everyone.

    All tragic.

    Bush, however, had, has instantaneous information. He knew Iraq did not have the weapons. He knew Iraq was not responsible for 911. He had information and time to form alternatives.
    He didn’t

    That’s Criminal.

  3. //whether an earlier surrender of Japan could have been achieved had the United States followed a different diplomatic and military policy //

    Absolutely. With no consideration for what ‘Unconditional Surrender’ meant to the Japanese culture and for a complete disregard to any other avenue of ending the war…..the American Psyche was ultimately responsible for the use of Atomic weapons in WWII…… the same fucked-up American Psyche and lack of understanding of other cultures that has led to the mess in Afganistan and Iraq. Sooner or later the United States has gotta realize that the rest of the world is NOT populated by Americans!! Sheesh!

  4. This post reminds me that the more than 1.2 million Iraqis that have been killed in that war vastly outnumber the Japanese killed in the atomic bomb blasts at the end of WWII. When you think in those terms, the Iraq slaughter is truly staggering.

  5. We cannot say the same for Iraq – all the death and destruction that followed the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 would have been avoided, as the pressure of diplomacy, economic isolation and other factors would have forced the hand of Saddam at some point. But emotional draw of 9/11 changed all that. Invasion was not the weapon of last choice.

    The emotional draw of 9/11 definitely affected Bush’s decision, but I also think incompetence played a huge role. The Bush Administration was convinced that this would be a cake walk. They would stroll in and conquer Saddam’s Army, capture Saddam, and then place Chalabi in power, who would then be their puppet ruler. Unfortunately, there was no Plan B for what to do if the people don’t accept him as their leader. Neither was there any consideration for the strength of the insurgency that they might encounter, or the inability of the different ethnic groups within the country to work together. And here we are, in this quagmire that is the Iraq War.

  6. When Truman became President in mid April 1945—he did not even know America had developed an Atomic weapon. He was out of the loop. What he did know was that the invasion of Okinawa just two weeks previous had cost over 50,000 American lives, over 90,000 Japanese battle casualties, and over 100,000 civilian casualties on the island. And that information was just slowly seeping back to him. He could only anticipate more carnage of the same scale and made a decision based on his available information.

    And Iwo Jima was no different. Surrender was not an option on the battlefield. Japanese soldiers fought to the death and few allowed themselves to be captured alive. Truman had every reason to believe that a ground invasion of Japan would be equally costly in human lives. If a country’s emperor is treated as god by its citizens, then it isn’t out of the question to believe that civilians would fight with just as much determination as soldiers.


    It is very easy to second guess the man’s decisions after 6 decades have gone by.

    Did you read Truman’s biography, as written by David McCullough? If not, I recommend it.

  7. Very thought provoking indeed. That post that Mountjoy that I wrote at my place generated a lot of comments; Mountjoy has a different outlook (which is not to say that I completely agree) and is from a different country and culture than our own.

    Having said that, I still am awash in horror at any mass destruction due to war and power; all of which is pure evil to me.

  8. When do we beat the tanks into ploughshares is what I want to know.

  9. They had a damn good idea what the nuclear bomb would do and it still didn’t stop them from using it. The first time I guess I could understand but the second? There is no excuse for the second bomb being dropped.

  10. Wow DCap, I get to argue with you on two websites. The hardest part of debating the decision to drop the bomb is knowing what information Truman had available. The comment above on the effect of the information age is well taken and may play a bigger part then we realize.

    I won’t disagree about the revenge factor but the American military wouldn’t have allowed a cessation of conflict while diplomacy was tried. It would have allowed the Japanese to fortify thier defense and prepare for a possible invasion which would have made an invasion even worse.

    But more importantly, you have to take in to account the desire of the American population for a conclusion. We had just gotten out of the war in Europe and the battles that we had already had with the Japanese had been incredibly diffucult and bloody. I won’t go so far as to say that the American people had lost their will to fight but they needed a conclusion. Truman didn’t make the decision in a vaccuum. He had to take the moral of the American people into consideration.

    From a military stand point I think you have to end the war. The risk to American lives if diplomacy didn’t work is to great. I realize this sounds dark but what if we had invaded and 2 million people total end up getting killed. Is that better then 165000?

    The war in Iraq is a perfect counter argument. We were not committed to war in this case. Diplomacy could have been stretched out for quite some time.

    In the Pacific we were already committed to war.

    Just my thoughts.


  11. A good essay. I believe the line had been crossed earlier, when the Allies decided to bomb civilians in order to break the enemy’s morale. The Nazis did it, of course, and somehow that made it okay to incinerate Dresden, Hamburg and other German cities. The Tokyo fire bombings killed more people than died in Hiroshima.
    So I think once this line was crossed, it was easier to justify using the atomic bomb. This was a very savage war, and tragically the Japanese government had propagated the idea of fighting to the last man and never surrendering, which made the Pacific War worse than it already was. Okinawa was just an unimaginable hell on earth.
    So I don’t think there was a lot of agonizing over using the bomb. Certainly Japan was finished already–the U.S. could have just sat there and blockaded the country until it collapsed, but that might have taken years, and that may have been politically impossible for Truman.
    The larger point you make is a very important one, however. It’s as if the logic of war reached its culmination in the 20th century with a kind of madness in which the distinction between soldier and civilian became obsolete, never to be restored again. And so humanity is forced to confront the utter futility of war. So far humanity hasn’t done such a good job of confronting that. America, having not suffered the kind of devastation that Europe and Asia did, seems to still cling to outmoded notions of glory, victory, and so on. We need to be cured of that. Soon.

  12. i will get to all your comments later

  13. D-Cap, Bush has taught us what America looks like when our leader refuses to exercise diplomacy and resorts to force at every turn.
    We cannot afford another four years of insanity.

  14. Dash makes a great point. The United States hasn’t lived in completely bombed out cities, mass devastation and starvation on a grand scale. I can’t ever see our mindset changing, save for such an experience. When your neighborhood is a pile of smoking rubble, you might end up with a different view of war.

  15. // incinerate Dresden, Hamburg and other German cities. The Tokyo fire bombings killed more people than died in Hiroshima//

    Precisely. While the impact, especially long range, of using an atomic weapon was all speculative (for the most) the use of incendiary bombing was very deliberate and calculated and thus especially heinous.

    // outmoded notions of glory, victory, and so on. We need to be cured of that. Soon//

    Immediately. Now. Yesterday.

  16. Good points about lesson learning close-up. I was born very close to the smoking piles of rubble both in time and space – southern England right after the war. Blocks of houses with gaps where the neighbors used to live, rationing of everything and hospitals still so filled with casualties a child couldn’t be taken there even if she had pneumonia. My parents used to tell me the United States would never learn until it suffered the same because children always have learn old lessons anew. I argued that we were all so much smarter now.

  17. Suppose there had been no bombing of Hiroshima or Nagasaki and after the war, with all of the casualties that had been predicted, Americans found out that we possessed a weapon they believed would or could have ended the war and didn’t useb it but expended more lives trying to take that area back by conventional means?

    The point still remains that EVEN AFTER being nuked, the Japanese did not surrender. They were looking for a way out? Here’s a way out: WE SURRENDER; DON’T NUKE US NO EFFING MORE!

    When the Japanes were being driven out of the Philippines, on their way out of Manila, they shot everything that moved–civilian men, women, and children. They really didn’t seem like people you could work with at that point.

    I think it’s good to reexamine history, but history doesn’t happen in a vacuum. There’s a context that can’t be ignored.

    Let the hatin’ on me begin! Bring it.

  18. My father was in WW2 in the Pacific (yes, I was a “whoopsie” baby) — a Marine and on Guadalcanal.

    Whenever I would try to talk to him about his war experiences, he would clam up. And yet, every year without fail, he would go to his reunion with his buddies. I know that the war (all wars) changes people who fight them.

    So whenever I would talk to him, or my mother, about the social issues surrounding the use of the bomb, he would clam up, and my mother would say something along the lines of, “you might not be here if the bomb had not been dropped.”

    It is kind of an argument killer.

    This is all I know: I could no more knowingly drop a bomb (any bomb) than I could flip the switch on the electric chair. I keep wondering if the airmen in WW2 had any idea beforehand how they would change the world?



  19. // but history doesn’t happen in a vacuum. There’s a context that can’t be ignored.//

    precisely. Perhaps, though, if we examine very recent history, we may discover that our most recent ‘leaders’ have been a vacuum. a Hoover. They suck.

    Tengrain….my father was in Europe, WW2. Once, just once, he mentioned that his unit entered a Concentration Camp near Flossenberg right after it was liberated. That was all he would say. The only stuff about the war he would ever mention was the stuff about his buddies, no washing for days, the marching, cold weather…..never about what he saw, did. He carried a view of the war as noble, liberating, freedom-bringing crusade. His view of war, and mine, during Vietnam often collided. I believe we were both correct. Like Scarlet said….context.

  20. good essay. i don’t think Iraq is anything like WWII….. first of all it is a war of choice, not necessity. plus, in WWII we nearly got our collective backsides handed to us.

    i believe Truman thought he was saving American and Allied lives when he dropped the first Atomic bombs….. i also don’t think we fully understood how “good” they’d be.

    i believe, on the other hand, nothing from this rightist Republican administration.

    tokyo rose 


  21. let’s try tokyo rose again…… tokyo rose

  22. Freida – you bring up a point – tho I think the motivator today is MAKING money, not using spent money. After all iraq does sit on a few drops of oil

    OK – good point about info – I didn’t know Truman was out of the loop. But I do think they had a good idea of the destruction the A bomb would bring. And Bush a criminal – he is no better than the people on trial at Nuremberg – he knew the consequence of what he was doing and did it anyway

    Like everytime we do anything with a foreign land – we NEVER bother to understand the culture of the people – assholes like Bush are so arrogant he thinks that everyone is either like him or beneath him – hence the flowers and roses he talked about

    Lib – the slaughter in Iraq brought about by the American invasion – not Saddam ranks up there with among the most tragic eras in history.

    Reasic – 9/11 was the ticket he needed. Incompetence is SO endemic in this adminstration, they would fuck up tying a pair of shoes. There was no plan b because there wasn’t even a plan A – like you said – just invade and take over – like a video game

    DED – the Japanese culture did not permit surrender — but they were looking for some way to end this war. I don’t know whether the invasion would have been worse in terms of casualties, but the political and historical fallout from Hiroshima was more tragic

    Fran – all destruction and war is evil – almost always started for a reason that no one remembers – and ends up being so much worse than planned. Iraq is a prime example – and I hope bush suffers in Hell forever because of it

    Susan – good question

    Liberality – I too wonder why that second bomb was dropped 3 days later – so fast — tough question

    Matt – you can argue with me anywhere my friend! I am sure the Americans were tired of war (sound familiar) – but I don’t think that played into truman’s decision. We will never know how the invasion would have gone – but it would have been bloody; as I said above the political and historical (and aftermath) of Hiroshima I think is more deep and far-reaching that the invasion would have been – even if the invasion would have been more bloody. And you are right – we were already in a war – in Iraq diplomacy should have been taken until saddam made some sort of military move – which he was NOT going to to

    Cdash – the bombing of London, Dresden, Tokyo by the axis and allies were new to warfare – decimating civilians. Then again so was genocide by the Nazis and what the Japanese did in Nanking I do think Truman agonized – but ultimately he made the decision and had to sleep at night

    You bring up an excellent point – america’s warped view of war since we have not seen first hand the destruction of war – the destruction of terrorism yes – I am not minimizing the WTC – but a true all war on our soil has not happened since 1865 – and we do not fully understand the repercussions

    KZ – mccain is worse when it comes to war. if one can be worse

    Randal – so true randal — as tragic as 9/11 was – Dresden was far worse. We haven’t had that

    Ok – very heinous – they knew exactly what they were doing in Dresden and Tokyo – and the Nazis in London and Coventry

    Susan – we aren’t smarter – you would think the tragedies of ww2, 9/11 and Vietnam would have taught us – and taught us to avoid leaders like bush – but NO

    Scarlet – the Japanese were brutal during the war – the march out of bataan also. I still don’t think it justifies the bombs — I guess I see it as different that incendiary bombing – I just don’t know. And to your argument – why don’t we just turn iraq and iran into parking lots – we have the bomb and that would end the war

    Ten – my father was stationed in Japan as occupying forces with the air force – he flew over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1946 and 1947 – and it changed him. They weren’t allowed on the ground, just in the air – and NO PICTURES.

    He hates anyone that encourages or starts or justifes war – with lies – he says he wishes he could fly bush over Hiroshima and let him see what destruction really is. I tell him Bush would yawn and say – can we get Hall\iburton here to fix it up. Hence my father’s hatred for anything Bush

    OK – as I said above – my father after seeing Hiroshima never saw war liberating. And living in occupied Japan was something he has never forgotten

    Ghost – thanks – yep Iraq was a choice, and laura is a Tokyo rose as far as I am concerned

    Thanks ALL!

  23. Well, I’m a day late and a dollar short here. So I’ll make it quick. I do not agree at all that the Japanese were trying or willing to surrender, it was chaos, there was no agreement in the uppermost Japanese diplomatic circle, and why on earth should we believe them anyway since they had lied directly to our faces prior to Pearl Harbor? The “revenge” theme regarding the dropping of both atomic bombs, or at least the second one, is a modern interpretation of history by Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, which I disagree with. I do agree with Hasegawa that the Japanese were petrified of the Russians, but not enough to negotiate surrender IMO. We were also petrified of the Russian; Patton, although an anti-semite wanted to kick their butts all the way back to Moscow, remember? It is easy to look back and theorize, to reevaluate, but the facts were our troops in Europe, although successful, were battered, and our troops in the Pacific Theatre were worn thin by incredibly fierce battle. It was estimated that it would have taken over a miliion US troops to successfully complete a final assault on Japan, where every man, woman and child was prepared to fight to the end. Japan was prepared to sacrifice her entire population and remaing military force in the event of an allied invasion on her homeland.

    The bomb, it was horrible, but millions more would have died if we had continued a conventional ground and air battle.

    Heh, my dad was there also, I’ll have to look up his old records for the exact dates, it was after Iwo.

  24. DCap, I’m curious what you think of this idea. Let’s assume that we don’t drop the bomb and witness the devastation that it brings. Do you think that the Cold War would have turned out differently if nobody knew what kind of power the had? Did dropping the bomb on Japan prevent anyone else from using nuclear weapons and basically make the MAD policy effect.

    We are, afterall, still the only country to use atomic weapons in anger?

    Let me know what you think.


  25. matt

    i think that we were at least partially aware of the destruction the A bomb would bring — but i also think (again this is my opinion) the bomb would have been used some time after that — either during the cold war or in Korea or Cuba or somewhere

    knowing the destruction and seeing the destruction are two different things.

    bottom line – using the bomb was horrendous and eye opening, but i think if it wasnt Hiroshima, it would have been somewhere else

    we only learn when we witness destruction, not talk about it — and that my friend is very very sad

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