What is it good for*
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