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The Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima by Father P. Siemes
August 5, 2006 11:34 PM   Subscribe

August 6, 1945 Hiroshima, Japan "... Father Siemes' account is now given below without any editing or modification. His eyewitness account is a priceless insight into this event, as are his thoughts on the implications of total war and its application."
posted by paulsc (107 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
At the bottom of the linked page is an Editor's Note, which contests some detail of Father Siemes' account, and supplies information about the (cruel) fate of some American POW's held in the area.
posted by paulsc at 11:38 PM on August 5, 2006


Fascinating account. Thank you for posting this.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:46 PM on August 5, 2006


August 6, 1993 - The Fugitive, starring Harrison Ford opened in theatres everywhere.
posted by wumpus at 11:58 PM on August 5, 2006


I get your point, wumpus. But for those of us who have stood in the Peace Park, today means something, if only that we have a duty to remember.
posted by paulsc at 12:16 AM on August 6, 2006


I actually don't get wumpus' point. But maybe I'm just obtuse.
posted by jonson at 12:22 AM on August 6, 2006


That wasn't wumpus... it was the one-armed man.
posted by fusinski at 12:24 AM on August 6, 2006


Compelling reading, thanks.
And I must be (at least) as obtuse as jonson.
posted by zoinks at 12:41 AM on August 6, 2006


PaulSC, why does August 6 "mean something" but March 9 does not?

I would bet big money that you don't have the slightest idea what happened on March 9 in history that compels my question.

So here's the answer: on March 9, 1944, 334 B-29's dropped incendiary bombs on Tokyo, resulting in a firestorm that destroyed 16 square miles of the city and killed an estimated 100,000 people -- far more than died at Hiroshima. March 9, 1944 was the single most deadly military attack in history.

And most of the victims in Tokyo died far more slowly, in much greater pain, than the victims of Hiroshima, the majority of whom died instantly. Virtually no one in Tokyo died instantly.

Why do you commemorate August 6, but not March 9? Why do you have a duty to remember August 6, but not March 9, or for that matter December 7?

Or why not September 18? I personally think that's an even more important date, but I bet you don't know why.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 12:47 AM on August 6, 2006


I took wumpus' remark to mean that on August 6 of any year, something of some import to someone happened somewhere. In other words, "It's 61 years after the fact of Hiroshima, it's old news, who cares?"

To which I can only say "The children who fold paper cranes still remember Hiroshima, and what it always means. As do I."
posted by paulsc at 12:57 AM on August 6, 2006


You don't have to be such a dick about it, Beste. He simply didn't know about March 9th. A link and short explanation would've been just fine, I think.
posted by Mikey-San at 1:02 AM on August 6, 2006


There are lots of dates which are commemorated. This links to an article about that date in particular - I fail to see the issue here.

I thought it was an interesting read. Thanks paulsc.
posted by gomichild at 1:04 AM on August 6, 2006


"... Why do you have a duty to remember August 6, but not March 9, or for that matter December 7?..."
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 3:47 AM EST on August 6


As it happens, December 7 is my birthday, as well as being Pearl Harbor Day, so I tend to remember it. I spent one December 7 visiting the Arizona memorial, watching oil droplets that still rose then from the shattered hull sheen out on the waves, and thinking of the men still entombed below. What do you do to commerate that date?

And by most accounts I've read (and I've read many and talked with bomb survivors), you're wrong about how many, many people died that day, and on into the next days, at Hiroshima.

What makes Hiroshima worth remembering is the sense that it was, and is, iconically, a condensation into a single instant, of the horror of war. Beyond that, in the years following the atomic explosion, Hiroshima came to stand as a site where an annual warning to all mankind be observed, as it will again be today.

Marking that warning again today just seems human.

And as for September 18, why I'll never forget it, for that was the day in 1990 that Atlanta was chosen to host the 1996 Olympics.
posted by paulsc at 1:28 AM on August 6, 2006 [1 favorite]


Wow. Steven, try to keep up, here. You see, today is August 6th, so people will tend to commemorate things that happened on August 6th in previous years today. If the release of The Fugitive was a big event for you, you may be commemorating that today with wumpus. You might make note of the bombing of Hiroshima if that strikes you as more noteworthy. Independence Day in the United States is even commonly referred to as "the Fourth of July" or "July Fourth" for this very reason. Folks don't generally celebrate the new year in October. Your insight into what historical events paulsc believes to be important, or is entirely ignorant of, is nothing short of astonishing. Unless maybe you know him personally, but then I hope you wouldn't be so obnoxious with him here.
/4:44 AM and I'm still up rant
posted by zoinks at 1:46 AM on August 6, 2006


PaulSC, Let's try being more specific: why do you not commemorate September 18, 1931? Or July 7, 1937?

Or if you want a "condensation" of the horror of war, how about December of 1937 and January of 1938, with a generally-accepted death toll of 300,000? That atrocity makes the Hiroshima attack look like a picnic in the park.

Yes, I understand that the attack on Hiroshima has become iconic. I'm asking you to explain why it has become iconic. Please enlighten me on this. Why is August 6 the annual day to remind us of the horrors of war, instead of March 9?

Zoinks, on March 9 no one here mentioned the firebombing of Tokyo. (But oddly enough, someone did mention the development of nuclear weapons, in passing.)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 3:15 AM on August 6, 2006


Yes, I understand that the attack on Hiroshima has become iconic. I'm asking you to explain why it has become iconic. Please enlighten me on this.

Do you really not know why, SCDB? I mean, because if you knew why then you could say it, which I think would be better than this sort of taunting/shaming B.S.
posted by fleacircus at 3:36 AM on August 6, 2006


It's because it's the first use of an atomic bomb in war, obviously. Dur.
posted by Grangousier at 3:39 AM on August 6, 2006


So people killed by an atomic bomb are more important than people killed in a firebomb attack, or people bayonetted or decapitated by swords?

Why is it worse to die in an atomic bombing than to die any other way?
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 3:59 AM on August 6, 2006


Did someone here say it's worse to die in an atomic bombing than to die any other way? No, I ddn't see that either. Why not bring up the firebombing of Dresden, if you're commemorating firebombings? Got something against Germans?

Really, whatever your point is, you're detracting from something worthwhile.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:13 AM on August 6, 2006


Steven C. Den Beste, you're trying to sound smart but are coming off as a dick. Of course there are many other examples of the horror of war, but the reason Hiroshima stands out is because of the nuclear side of it. For that reason only it will always overshadow events like Nanking, the Tokyo Firebombing etc.
posted by Jase_B at 4:23 AM on August 6, 2006


Trying to derail a Hiroshima thread, are you Dick Cheney in disguise?
posted by fullerine at 4:27 AM on August 6, 2006


I think Hiroshima stands out because it is as much a warning for the future as it is a symbol of the past. No question about it, area bombing is an atrocity, but it is an atrocity which will not be repeated in the foreseeable future.

Of course there is also a propaganda angle.. Both the area bombings and the atomic bombings were war crimes by objective measure, and atrocities by subjective measure. However, the palpable presence of nuclear weapons in the imagination of the general population makes the atomic bombings an easier sell.

Actually, I suspect that a certain segment of the American population would like to be able to brag about the technical accomplishment and decisive result of the atomic bombings. This makes it doubly valuable as a pacifist propaganda tool, and it is why that certain segment so derides the pacifist messages attached to memory of the events. They aren't used to having their propaganda co-opted by the other side :P

Consider the Air and Space Museum Enola Gay exhibit controversy - from the wikipedia article on the Enola Gay:
Enola Gay became the center of a controversy at the Smithsonian Institution in 1994, when the museum put its fuselage on display as part of an exhibit commemorating the 50th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The exhibit, "The Crossroads: The End of World War II, the Atomic Bomb and the Cold War" was drafted by the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum and arranged around a restored version of Enola Gay. Critics, especially the American Legion and the Air Force Association, charged that the exhibit focused too much on the casualties wrought by the bomb rather than on the motivations for the bombing or discussion of its role in ending the war. The exhibit brought to national attention many long-standing academic and political issues related to retrospective views of the bombings (see Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki), and in the end, after attempts to revise the exhibit to meet the satisfaction of competing interest groups, the exhibit was cancelled on January 30, 1995, though the fuselage did go on display. On May 18, 1998, the fuselage was returned to the Garber Facility for final restoration.
And Steven, I think many people here knew exactly what you were talking about when you mentioned March 9th.
posted by Chuckles at 5:11 AM on August 6, 2006


Area bombing is an atrocity that must be repeated as necessary, although hopefully never again with anything so environmentally injurious as an atomic weapon.

Military power is but one head of a two-headed dragon. If a war is to be won, the adversary's civilian population must also be pacified, since doing otherwise risks an Iraq or Vietnam; an unwinnable quagmire.
posted by The Confessor at 6:01 AM on August 6, 2006


It seems logical to us that he who supports total war in principle cannot complain of a war against civilians. The crux of the matter is whether total war in its present form is justifiable, even when it serves a just purpose. Does it not have material and spiritual evil as its consequences which far exceed whatever the good that might result ? When will our moralists give us a clear answer to this question?

Yeah, I am waiting for that, too.
posted by Meatbomb at 6:52 AM on August 6, 2006


Steven, PaulSC didn't say specifically that we should all remember August 6 the date. We should remember that the threat of nuclear attack became real; the world changed, and a lot of people dies, in a whole new, horrible way.

If someone you loved died on September 11, 2001, their death is no less painful or important than the people who died in the terrorist attacks.

You could have posted your link as an addition to this thread, without the assholery, and it would have been a great comment. And there's really nothing that makes Hiroshima look like a picnic in the park. There's no shortage of grief in this world; there's no tragedy contest.
posted by theora55 at 7:23 AM on August 6, 2006


PaulSC, why does August 6 "mean something" but March 9 does not?

well, let's see ... if one were to take out the top 500 cities in the world with nuclear missiles it would take about ... hmmm, 500 missiles

it would take 167,000 b 29s to do so in one day with firebombing

last time i looked, we didn't have 167,000 b 29s, but we do have 500 missiles, as do the russians and perhaps the chinese

in any case, your failure to say anything about nishapur shows that you are not really concerned about casualty counts, but just want to argue
posted by pyramid termite at 8:41 AM on August 6, 2006


Once again, Steven C. den Worste shows what a colossal buffoon and total meathead he is, entertaining us in the process. Thank you, SCdW, for your selfless efforts on our behalf.

My God, you really are a tool, aren't you? Does anything of any use ever come out of what passes for your brain?

How hard would it have been for you to notice that today is August 6th before you made your embarrassing post?

Please show us where paulsc ever said March 9th doesn't mean anything?

By the way... you know what the difference between the two dates is? The August 9th date was totally unnecessary:

Even before the Hiroshima attack, American air force General Curtis LeMay boasted that American bombers were "driving them [Japanese] back to the stone age." Henry H. ("Hap") Arnold, commanding General of the Army air forces, declared in his 1949 memoirs: "It always appeared to us, atomic bomb or no atomic bomb, the Japanese were already on the verge of collapse." This was confirmed by former Japanese prime minister Fumimaro Konoye, who said: "Fundamentally, the thing that brought about the determination to make peace was the prolonged bombing by the B-29s."

Japan Seeks Peace

Months before the end of the war, Japan's leaders recognized that defeat was inevitable. In April 1945 a new government headed by Kantaro Suzuki took office with the mission of ending the war. When Germany capitulated in early May, the Japanese understood that the British and Americans would now direct the full fury of their awesome military power exclusively against them.

American officials, having long since broken Japan's secret codes, knew from intercepted messages that the country's leaders were seeking to end the war on terms as favorable as possible. Details of these efforts were known from decoded secret communications between the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo and Japanese diplomats abroad.

...

It was only after the war that the American public learned about Japan's efforts to bring the conflict to an end. Chicago Tribune reporter Walter Trohan, for example, was obliged by wartime censorship to withhold for seven months one of the most important stories of the war.

In an article that finally appeared August 19, 1945, on the front pages of the Chicago Tribune and the Washington Times-Herald, Trohan revealed that on January 20, 1945, two days prior to his departure for the Yalta meeting with Stalin and Churchill, President Roosevelt received a 40-page memorandum from General Douglas MacArthur outlining five separate surrender overtures from high-level Japanese officials. (The complete text of Trohan's article is in the Winter 1985-86 Journal, pp. 508-512.)


Keep reading for a detailed listing of the repeated peace overtures made by Japan to the US on a non-stop basis from April all the way into August. Hmmm, what comes before April? Why I think it's March! Hmmm, what happened in August? Hmmmmmmmm...

There are the responses and thoughts of American military commanders, who agreed that, yes, Japan was actually trying to surrender, only wanting to keep their emperor. Which the US ended up letting them do anyway (as a useful figurehead) after the way.

You really need to get yourself a worthwhile education, den Worste.
posted by the_savage_mind at 8:47 AM on August 6, 2006


You really need to get yourself a worthwhile education, den Worste.

maybe someone will produce a multi-part anime history of the world for him with lots of women with cat ears
posted by pyramid termite at 8:53 AM on August 6, 2006


With some 12,500 nuclear warheads operational today, there's no time like the present:
Would you have dropped the bomb?
[Three essays available: scroll down]
posted by cenoxo at 9:03 AM on August 6, 2006


Why is it worse to die in an atomic bombing than to die any other way?

Damn. I'd never thought of it that way. This changes everything.

I've placed a call to the publishers of major histories of the postwar era in the US and the UK to explain to them that henceforth they should refer to said period not as the "nuclear" or "atomic" age but as the "334-B-29s-dropping-incendiary-bombs" age. I've also notified the Department of Defence, and I believe an emergency special session of Meet the Press is being convened as we speak to permit Secretary Rumsfeld to explain to the American people why secret Iranian efforts to obtain 334 B-29s armed with incendiary bombs is an imminent threat to freedom-loving people everywhere. I also understand that news reports are emerging from Islamabad of a dastardly scheme whereby Pakistan has been selling its technology for building 334 B-29s armed with incendiary bombs to North Korea and possibly certain extragovernmental terrorist groups. I'd explain about the threat posed by small terrorist cells sneaking "dirty" 334-B-29s-armed-with-incendiary-bombs into the country - say in a sea container at a major port - but there's insufficient room here to explain the advanced packing technology required.

At any rate, thank you, Steven C. Den Beste, for enlightening us all as to the relative insignificance of the first wartime use in history of nuclear weapons. You are truly a credit to scholars and thinkers everywhere. I kneel in awe before your awesome analytical skill, and I await with maddening anticipation your epochal monograph Why Splitting The Atom Is Of Less Significance To Human History Than 334 B-29s Armed With Incendiary Bombs.
posted by gompa at 9:15 AM on August 6, 2006 [3 favorites]


the_savage_mind: You know, maybe it depends on where you grew up. I spent my school years in Japan and I was not taught any of the stuff that you mentioned. We were basically told that it was a heinous surprise attack. The daily carpet bombings of Tokyo were almost glossed over in favor of the Hiroshima bombings. Did you know that leaflets were dropped over Nagasaki and Hiroshima for many days before the bombing? Neither did I for several years, because not one of the leaflets was mentioned in the Peace Park museum.
I wonder, did they ever move the Korean monument inside of the Peace Park or is it still outside?

Bottom line: War sucks.
posted by drstein at 9:20 AM on August 6, 2006


Bottom line: War sucks.

True dat. We can list all kinds of stuff from WWII. Dresden itself was yet another grotesque bombing that ranks up there in terms of sheer destruction. The Rape of Nanking wasn't a single 'attack', per se, but who can downplay it's savage atrocity and what it did even to the survivors?

I really don't want to get into the 'what was ethically worse' game, because nobody wins that. paulsc was right in his post... it's worth taking a moment to reflect on what happened sixty-two years ago today and to pray (me in my irreligious, humanistic way) that it doesn't happen again.

As for what you get taught in school not jibing with what you find out as an adult (or earlier if you're lucky/unlucky... I guess it depends on your perspective), Japan certainly doesn't have a monopoly on that.

Throw down a chunk of my bitterness to the disillusionment I felt when I discovered how much propaganda I was spoon fed about The American Way and how little it actually reflects reality. History class alone through your average American's education is full of a flood of lies as well as omissions that are equal to lies in their intent and effect.
posted by the_savage_mind at 9:40 AM on August 6, 2006


The firestorm of Hamburg was unexpected and unintentional. The firestorm of Dresden was not and was intentional. So, too, was the firestorm of Tokyo. And of course the results of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were expected. The Rape of Nanking was the worst of the Japanese atrocities, but there were others. And I don't have the time to list the things Stalin did which compare.

All of these were war crimes, even if they were not considered war crimes at the time or are not considered war crimes by the morally deficient today. All deserve to be remembered and to evoke shame.

But the only two nuclear weapons attacks in history deserve some special scrutiny. At least half of the deaths directly resulting from the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki occured a day to weeks after the blast and were acute radiation poisoning. There are few ways to die which are more painful and horrifying. This is not to minimize the horror of the deaths of those who lived minutes or hours from the explosion—small children, dragging their sloughed-off skins behind them, wandered the streets until their lungs filled with fluid and they drowned. These targets were chosen primarily as civilian targets, intended to terrify the Japanese military. While some civilian scientists and other advisors pushed for a less lethal yet still impressive display, among the US military and political leaders who made the decision there was little debate. This was a war crime premediated in soft comfy chairs in air-conditioned rooms, rather more like Hitler's Final Solution than the savage rape and pillaging of Nanking. Without dimishing the horror of the latter, the decisions creating the former are made entirely inside the most elevated trappings of what we think of as civilization and enlightenment. That, at the very least, deserves its own special brand of shame and regret.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 9:54 AM on August 6, 2006


I'll stop with the rhetoric. Here's an email I sent to FleaCircus earlier this morning which expresses my point of view:

The reason August 6 matters is 1: it was the first use of atomic weapons in war, and 2 and even more important: America did it.

August 6 is the day when good American liberals can hang their heads in shame at being American. August 6 is the day that proves to American liberals that America is uniquely evil and horrible among nations of the world.

What I was looking for in that thread was for someone to claim that deaths inflicted by an atomic bomb are worse than deaths inflicted any other way. That's obviously absurd on the face of it: most of those who died at Hiroshima died in an instant, whereas nearly everyone who died in the Tokyo firebombing suffered terribly before they succumbed. And I shudder to even think of what many of the dead of Nanking went through before they died.

Why August 6 instead of March 9? Because August 6 was unique. There were a lot of firebombing attacks, a lot of massed bombing raids on cities, in WWII. There were dozens of cities which were obliterated by air strikes of various kinds in WWII. But only America ever has dropped an atomic bomb on a city, so it's a special shame only Americans bear. Good American liberals can thus feel great satisfaction in their shame at being Americans on August 6. March 9 cannot provide that same satisfaction because the shame is not unique.

It's an extension of the Chomskyite idea that only America is truly evil, and that everything bad that has happened is either a direct act of America or the responsibility of America. The correlary to that is that if something really does look evil, then if there's no obvious way to blame it on America than it doesn't/didn't really matter after all.

Why do good American liberals never seem to pay any attention to Stalin's forced famine in the Ukraine, which resulted in 7 million dead?
http://www.historyplace.com/worldhistory/genocide/stalin.htm

Why? Because America can't be blamed for it. That's why.

(Bitter? Me? What ever gave you that idea?)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 9:58 AM on August 6, 2006 [1 favorite]


Steven C. Den Beste is fucking destroying you guys and you know it.

Now shut up, I need to get ready to remember and memorialize the first use of gunpowder in warfare.
posted by keswick at 10:02 AM on August 6, 2006


Bottom line: War sucks.

As hawkish as my previous post may have appeared, I also fall enthusiastically behind this statement.
posted by The Confessor at 10:10 AM on August 6, 2006


Hey, uh...steven. Check the calendar, mate.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 10:13 AM on August 6, 2006


"Why do good American liberals never seem to pay any attention to Stalin's forced famine in the Ukraine, which resulted in 7 million dead?"

Because we're supposed to be the good guys. You know...freedom is on the march, all that stuff.

Stalin was a bad guy.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 10:14 AM on August 6, 2006 [1 favorite]


Because we're supposed to be the good guys

Supposed to be? We defeated Japan! They're freely our allies now. Dur.
posted by techgnollogic at 10:21 AM on August 6, 2006


I can imagine some unreconstructed Russian Stalinist getting all upset when the discussion turns to Stalin:

"Why don't Russian liberals ever talk about the American nuclear bombing of Hiroshima? Or the firebombing of Tokyo? Or for that matter, the extermination campaign against the Indians? Why is it all about Stalin? Why all the focus on Stalin? Until you guys start paying as much attention the US and the Indians and the Germans and the Holocaust, then you have no moral credibility when you condemn Stalin."

I think we can see the weakness in his argument. And, more relevantly to this thread, the ugliness.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 10:33 AM on August 6, 2006


Keep reading for a detailed listing of the repeated peace overtures made by Japan to the US on a non-stop basis from April all the way into August

The problem with these purported "peace overtures" was that they were either not emanating from the people running the country and hence worthless or of an armistice nature. The Americans were not interested in an armistice, a mistake us Good Guys made in 1918.

The Japanese PM's public response to the Potsdam Declaration was "mokusatsu".

Good American liberals can thus feel great satisfaction in their shame at being Americans

Another way to look at it is that Good American Liberals wish to see America represent and fight for the high road.

10+ years ago I too argued that the atom bombs were not any more a moral outrage than the firebombings, which were of course deliberate attacks on civilians that would have been contrary to the Hague Conventions that wer still honored back in 1940 (the RN Admiral on the spot in Norway refused to take out a german machine gun nest in a Norwegian city with naval artillery, and Churchill backed him up on this).
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 10:39 AM on August 6, 2006


Why do good American liberals never seem to pay any attention to Stalin's forced famine in the Ukraine, which resulted in 7 million dead?

Probably because they're not Russians.

The American right has picked up one of the most annoying habits of the left: the idea that publically taking a stance on one side without giving equal (non-consequential) lipservice to some other thing supposed to be in opposition to it is a sign of prejudice.

"You don't like what America is doing in Iraq? How come I don't ever hear you criticizing Saddam for what he did?! You're objectively pro-terrorist!"

Used to be you could expect righties to be able to handle the specificity of real conversation, but now that half of them seem to operate entirely emotionally, you are expected to spend a lot of time making sure you don't hurt anyone's feelings.
posted by sonofsamiam at 10:44 AM on August 6, 2006


And you also might notice that I mentioned Stalin, and said his comparable crimes were too numerous to begin to list, before Den Beste mentioned Stalin and before he accused American liberals of ignoring Stalin's crimes. So, not to put too fine a point on it, Den Beste, like many conservatives, is more interested in rhetorical sleights-of-hand ("Look, behind you! Stalin!") coupled with fabulist acusations than he is in any sort of actual moral self-examination and analysis. Such conservatives are the sorts of person for whom moral absolutism is a slogan and not, as it should be, a personal test of character. For any citizen of a democracy which committed these acts, these acts are moral challenges, even unto the individual.

And of these nations mentioned, only the US was a democracy, still is a democracy, and is essentially the same nation as it was insofar as we are the heirs to the moral responsibilities for these war crimes of the WWII era.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 10:49 AM on August 6, 2006


fwiw, I saw Grave of the Fireflies last month for the first time. Its main import to me was that war was indeed a shit sandwich.

The SDB's of the world are right in getting people to try to focus on the context of events of 1945; eg. the horrific Japanese moves in China in the 30s that poisoned relations and strengthened US resolve to interfere.

It was wrong to kill innocent people (Japanese civilians) but it was militarily right to use all the technological means at our disposal to end that war on our terms -- which were nothing less than the liberation of East Asia from Japanese colonialism (modulo [re-]establishment of Soviet and French colonies) and Allied occupation of Japan forceably severe the militarists' control of civil society.

Plenty of people were dying in 1945, from a strict Utilitarian basis it was indeed for the best to attempt to shock the Japanese into surrender. But the bomb of Aug 9 is a more questionable act, IMV, but when we engage in revisionism we must always remember that the twin bombings have the unique virtue of bringing that bitch of a war to an rather clean end.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 10:50 AM on August 6, 2006


August 6 is the day when good American liberals can hang their heads in shame at being American. August 6 is the day that proves to American liberals that America is uniquely evil and horrible among nations of the world.

Hey douchey, I'm not saying here that America is uniquely evil. No one here is. Check it out where the Rape of Nanking is mentioned. Oh man, I guess you really are massively uneducated if you think that was perpetrated by the Americans rather than the Japanese. Also you missed Ethereal Bligh's post on the nigh-uncountable atrocities of Stalin. Again, I should have figured you'd be under the misapprehension that Stalin was a US leader.

What the hell did your parents do to you? My distaste for you has been converted to pity. Buck up, li'l trooper. It's never too late to go to school. Maybe while you're there, you can ask a teacher to explain to you what the term 'straw man' means.
posted by the_savage_mind at 10:52 AM on August 6, 2006


"Such conservatives are the sorts of person for whom moral absolutism is a slogan and not, as it should be, a personal test of character."

Holy crap that is the most awesome thing I have read in months.

It bears repeating, hundreds of times.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 10:55 AM on August 6, 2006


but it was militarily right to use all the technological means at our disposal to end that war on our terms
...we must always remember that the twin bombings have the unique virtue of bringing that bitch of a war to an rather clean end.

To which historians and the military leaders of that time say, "Bullshit!"

The twin bombings were completely unnecessary to bringing that war to an end. The only utilitarian argument that can be made for them was that they were intended to scare the USSR into playing nice after the war. If you believe that the destruction of two Japanese cities and their civilian populations in such a horrific, demonic manner was justified for that, God (the one I don't believe in) help you, because I sure won't.
posted by the_savage_mind at 10:58 AM on August 6, 2006


The twin bombings were completely unnecessary to bringing that war to an end

True. But bringing it to an end on our terms was the tricky bit. Your 'bullshit!' link above references the peace faction's communications to neutrals as evidence that the Japanese were willing to surrender to our terms, but the nut of the problem was getting the militarists -- the people actually running the country -- to surrender to our terms. To this they were formally opposed until the twin bombings and the devasting Russian entry into Manchuria.

From your own rather one-side 'bullshit!' link, I managed to find a glimmer of balance that captured the moral nuances of the situation of 1945, from Admiral King:

"the effective naval blockade would, in the course of time, have starved the Japanese into submission through lack of oil, rice, medicines, and other essential materials."

Yes, the war could have been dragged on by the militarists for several more months or more of mass misery. The point was getting the IJA to lay down their arms en masse, from the Andamans to Wake, and for that we needed to impress on the Japanese polity the utter inability of the IJA to defend their homeland.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 11:10 AM on August 6, 2006


Ouch, I just discovered that I've been referencing a journal that has holocaust-denying credentials. Fantastic. Still, the evidence they point to isn't in question and is the same evidence other, non-holocaust-denying journals use.

Then there's this, from that America-hating, anti-WWII traitor Ike Eisenhower:

In 1945 Secretary of War Stimson, visiting my headquarters in Germany, informed me that our government was preparing to drop an atomic bomb on Japan. I was one of those who felt that there were a number of cogent reasons to question the wisdom of such an act. During his recitation of the relevant facts, I had been conscious of a feeling of depression and so I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives.

A partial list of military commanders who thought the nukular bombings were completely unnecessary (thanks to Wikipedia):

General Douglas MacArthur (the highest-ranking officer in the Pacific Theater)

Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy (the Chief of Staff to the President)

General Carl Spaatz (commander of the U.S. Strategic Air Forces in the Pacific)

Brigadier General Carter Clarke (the military intelligence officer who prepared intercepted Japanese cables for U.S. officials)

Major General Curtis LeMay

Admiral Ernest King, U.S. Chief of Naval Operations

Undersecretary of the Navy Ralph A. Bard

Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet

Commie bastards! America haters!
posted by the_savage_mind at 11:12 AM on August 6, 2006


August 6 is the day when good American liberals can hang their heads in shame at being American.

while you can be a weenie all year long ...

What I was looking for in that thread was for someone to claim that deaths inflicted by an atomic bomb are worse than deaths inflicted any other way.

i'll admit, the idea of being in a locked room with nothing to read but your bloody flag waving derails would probably be a horryfying way to go, unless narcolespy got me first

Why do good American liberals never seem to pay any attention to Stalin's forced famine in the Ukraine, which resulted in 7 million dead?

because good american conservatives like yourself have never done an fpp about the ukrainian famine, or the firebombing of tokyo, or of the other things they like to bring up in a hiroshima thread, but strangely enough, can't be bothered to mention otherwise?

i mean if it was really that important to you, you'd have done an fpp about it, right?

right?

let's face it, you're doing your best to make sure we don't talk about this because you don't think it should be talked about ... why does this subject make you so defensive and offended? ... it happened, it's part of history, it's a significant part of history, what is your objection to talking about it?

*looks over stephen's fpp list for pearl harbor memorial posts on dec 7 and doesn't find them either*

it certainly isn't because of any sincere concern with the alternative subjects you claim to want to discuss, is it?

you're a troll or a hypocrite ... pick one

Or why not September 18? I personally think that's an even more important date, but I bet you don't know why.

it's the date mickey mouse was trademarked in 1928 ... the significance of this to you is obvious
posted by pyramid termite at 11:13 AM on August 6, 2006


Yes, the war could have been dragged on by the militarists for several more months or more of mass misery. The point was getting the IJA to lay down their arms en masse, from the Andamans to Wake, and for that we needed to impress on the Japanese polity the utter inability of the IJA to defend their homeland.

I will concede your point that there were militarists within the government willing to fight on, but I would point to both evidence within my bullshit link that they were not in fact running the government at the time (a new government had come in) and that the bulk of even the military command was willing to talk surrender as long as the emperor wasn't humiliated/brought down. Which was what happened anyway.

So I still believe that the collective evidence weighs in on the side that the bombs were totally unnecessary to getting Japan to surrender in a 'clean' manner by the time they were dropped. Moreover, it seems that the American command was well aware of this.
posted by the_savage_mind at 11:16 AM on August 6, 2006


you're a troll or a hypocrite ... pick one

I humbly submit that "Douchebag of Liberty" should be an option.
posted by gompa at 11:23 AM on August 6, 2006


So I still believe that the collective evidence weighs in on the side that the bombs were totally unnecessary to getting Japan to surrender in a 'clean' manner by the time they were dropped.

in hindsight, it appears that way ... but in the fog and confusion of war, it is very difficult to say what the enemy's intentions or reactions will actually be ... whether ideas and proposals talked about through back channels are actually representative of the enemy's intentions or simply red herrings put forth to deceive

not to mention that the americans didn't have a good understanding of what the effects of radiation poisoning would be

the situation seems clear cut to us because we have all of the facts ... the american military in 1945 didn't
posted by pyramid termite at 11:24 AM on August 6, 2006


Okay, in an attempt to get the foul taste of Jew-hating historians out of my mouth, I've gone to an alternative source for my contention. It's a fascinating read.

Consider the following assessment:

"Careful scholarly treatment of the records and manuscripts opened over the past few years has greatly enhanced our understanding of why the Truman administration used atomic weapons against Japan. Experts continue to disagree on some issues, but critical questions have been answered. The consensus among scholars is that the bomb was not needed to avoid an invasion of Japan and to end the war within a relatively short time. It is clear that alternatives to the bomb existed and that Truman and his advisers knew it." (Emphasis added.)

The author of that statement is not a revisionist; he is J. Samuel Walker, chief historian of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Nor is he alone in that opinion. Walker is summarizing the findings of modern specialists in his literature review in the Winter 1990 issue of Diplomatic History.


and

One can, of course, find many historians who still believe that the atomic bomb was needed to avoid an invasion. Among the inner circle of serious experts, however, conclusions that are at odds with the official rationale have long been commonplace. Indeed, as early as 1946 the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, in its report Japan's Struggle to End the War, concluded 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."

Similarly, a top-secret April 1946 War Department study, Use of Atomic Bomb on Japan, declassified during the 1970's but brought to broad public attention only in 1989, found that "the Japanese leaders had decided to surrender and were merely looking for sufficient pretext to convince the die-hard Army Group that Japan had lost the war and must capitulate to the Allies." This official document judged that Russia's early-August entry into the war "would almost certainly have furnished this pretext, and would have been sufficient to convince all responsible leaders that surrender was unavoidable." The study concluded that even an initial November 1945 landing on the island of southern Japanese island of Kyushu would have been only a "remote" possibility and that the full invasion of Japan in the spring of 1946 would not have occurred.


and

Walker's summary of the expert literature is important because it underscores the availability of the alternatives to using the bomb, and because it documents that "Truman and his advisers knew" of the alternatives.

Several major strands of evidence have pushed many specialists in the direction of this startling conclusion. The United States had long since broken the enemy codes, and the President was informed of all important Japanese cable traffic. A critical message of July 12, 1945--just before Potsdam--showed that the Japanese emperor himself had decided to intervene to attempt to end the war. In his private journal, Truman bluntly characterized this message as the "telegram from [the] Jap Emperor asking for peace."

Other intercepted messages suggested that the main obstacle to peace was the continued Allied demand for unconditional surrender. Although the expert literature once mainly suggested that only one administration official--Undersecretary of State Joseph Grew--urged a change in the surrender formula to provide assurances for Japan's emperor, it is now clear that with the exception of Secretary of State James Byrnes, the entire top echelon of the U.S. government advocated such a change. By June 1945, in fact, Franklin Roosevelt's secretary of state, Edward Stettinius, (who remained in office until July 3); the undersecretary of state; the secretary of war; the secretary of the navy; the president's chief of staff, Admiral William Leahy; and Army Chief of Staff General George Marshall--plus all the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS)--had in one way or another urged a clarification of the surrender formula. So, too, had the British military and civilian leadership, including Prime Minister Churchill. Along with Grew, the Joint Chiefs in particular recommended that a statement be issued to coincide with the fall of Okinawa, on or around June 21.


and finally,

On several occasions, Truman made it abundantly clear that the main reason he went to Potsdam to meet Stalin was to make sure the Soviets would, in fact, enter the war. The atomic bomb had not yet been tested, and, as Truman later stated in his memoirs, "If the test [of the atomic bomb] should fail, then it would be even more important to us to bring about a surrender before we had to make a physical conquest of Japan."

Some of the most important modern documentary discoveries involve this point. After Stalin confirmed that the Red Army would indeed enter the war, the president's "lost" Potsdam journal (found in 1978) shows him writing: "Fini Japs when that comes about." And the next day, in an exuberant letter to his wife (made public in 1982), Truman wrote that with the Soviet declaration of war "we'll end the war a year sooner now, and think of the kids who won't be killed!"


There's plenty more. Worth a read.
posted by the_savage_mind at 11:34 AM on August 6, 2006


I still believe that the collective evidence weighs in on the side that the bombs were totally unnecessary to getting Japan to surrender

"Moreover, the enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb, the power of which to do damage is, indeed, incalculable, taking the toll of many innocent lives. Should we continue to fight, it would not only result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization."

from the horse's mouth, ne c'est pas?
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 11:38 AM on August 6, 2006


Boy, Steven, you've really gone in to the (false and foolish) dichotomy of the "liberals" versus the "conservatives" and are just making yourself look worse and worse.

There is a very simple reason that the bombing of Hiroshima is remembered more than the firebombings of Tokyo or Dresden, or the slaughter at Nanking, and for better or worse, it comes down to one thing: efficiency.

It took, as you say, 334 B-29s to burn down massive sections of central Tokyo and the deaths of over 100k therein. It took thousands of Japanese troops to bayonet and gun down the locals and the farmers.

But it took one plane, carrying one bomb to level Hiroshima, and a few days later, Nagasaki.

The reason we are all remembering this date, Steven, is because it was a fundamental shift in the conceptualization of war. It took hundreds and thousands of people to kill a number perhaps as much as 100:1 in a ratio of actors to dead. Hiroshima: 20,000:1 or more. That represents such a profound change that it is worth remembering -- lest it ever be repeated.

What if there were 334 Enola Gays flying over Japan on August 6th, 1945, each with a single "Little Boy" bomb? The scale of the tragedy is, as you say, no greater than that of the Tokyo firebombings, or Dresden, or Nanking. But the sheer frightening efficiency of that action is notable, and, considering that it was a mere 20 kiloton-class weapon, where the arsenals of the world's powers contain the likes of 100-Megaton weapons?

Yeah, Steven, I'd say it's worth remembering. Over and above Tokyo. Over and above Dresden. Those were tragedies of scale, but Hiroshima is a tragedy of kind never seen before, and only once since.
posted by chimaera at 11:45 AM on August 6, 2006


My point is that the bombs moved our enemy to surrender, with difficulty, on Aug 10. That is their only virtue, and revisionist thinking has to keep this central fact in mind.

By 1945, the value of a Japanese civilian's -- man, woman, or child -- life wasn't worth spit. Understanding the descent of events that led to this central fact is critical to understanding why the war went down as it did.

Yes it was barbarous. SDB's point above is that the entire USAAF campaign -- once they shifted from European-style 'precision' bombing to just carpetbombing cities -- was also barbarous, and in objective measures much more so.

Many people arguing against this just lack the knowledge base to be able to roll the video tape back, the hard slogs against suicidial resistance at Iwo Jima and Okinawa in 1945, to 1944 when we uncovered some of our pitiful POWs in the Phillipines, to 1941 when we were finally brought into the shooting war, and to the 1937-1940 period where the Japanese Army most mercilessly tortured China in their fight for a continental empire.

The events leading up to Aug 6 1945 were unique, and revisionist morality is just really so much wankery in the end.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 11:50 AM on August 6, 2006


And to answer your question, I would say that it's not worse to die in an atomic bomb explosion than any other way.

But from a historical perspective, there is no doubt that it is a more notable way to die. Hence the reason this thread exists.
posted by chimaera at 11:53 AM on August 6, 2006


Truman on Trial
posted by Chuckles at 11:53 AM on August 6, 2006


Why Truman Dropped the Bomb is an interesting read. Basically:
- America wanted an unconditional surrender in order to rid Japan of its military government completely;
- There was very little evidence that Japan would surrender at all. In fact, almost all inteligence indicated that there would be a 'fight to the end', which was obviously believable considering that the war was still going on by the beginning of August, 1945;
- To strive for the unconditional surrender that America wanted (and, arguably, the world needed) would take the lives of tens of thousands of American soldiers, as well as tens of thousands of civillians and allied soldiers in Korea, China and elsewhere, as well as possibily hundreds of thousands of Japanese (soldiers and civilians).
- The A-Bomb was the quick fix to all these problems, which evidently worked.
posted by Jase_B at 11:58 AM on August 6, 2006


Also, a couple of previous MeFi debates on this matter:
J. Robert Oppenheimer, a "productive dilettante"
April 13, 2005 11:45 AM EST
Eyewitness to History
June 17, 2005 11:34 AM EST
I'm sure the debate has come up on other threads too, if anyone can point out specifics, I would be interested.
posted by Chuckles at 12:00 PM on August 6, 2006


"Moreover, the enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb, the power of which to do damage is, indeed, incalculable, taking the toll of many innocent lives. Should we continue to fight, it would not only result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization."

Also from the horse's mouth was all the commentary on how Japan was looking for any excuse to get out of the war. Sure, the bombs were an excuse. But so were a number of other things, such as the Russians entering the war.

Again, all we needed to do (and alllllll the Allied military leaders involved in the area as well as the civilian military leadership were aware of this according to both links I referenced) was allow a face-saving way out for the Emperor. Which we ended up doing anyway after the fact. I still don't see any counter-evidence as to why we actually had to drop the bomb.

Please go back and read this and then check out the article it references. You'll see that almost no one in a significant policy or military capacity thought it was necessary to bomb Japan to get them to surrender immediately.

To rebut your point directly:

Over the last decade, scholars of very different political orientations, including Barton Bernstein, Rufus Miles, Jr., and John Ray Skates, have all separately examined World War II U.S. military planning documents on this subject. These documents indicate that if an initial November 1945 Kyushu landing had gone forward, estimates of the number of lives that would have been lost (and therefore possibly saved by use of the atomic bombs) were in the range of 20,000 to 26,000. In the unlikely event a subsequent full-scale invasion had been mounted in 1946, the maximum estimate found in such documents was 46,000.

Even these numbers, however, confuse the central issue: If the war could have been ended by clarifying the terms of surrender and/or allowing the shock of the Russian attack to set in, then no lives would have been lost in an invasion. Fighting was minimal in August 1945 as both sides regrouped, and the most that may be said is that the atomic bombs might have saved the lives that would have been lost in the time required to arrange final surrender terms with Japan. That saving lives was not the highest priority, however, seems obvious from the choices made in July: If the United States really wished to end the war as quickly and surely as possible--and to save as many lives as possible--then as Marshall had pointed out as early as June, the full force of the Russian shock plus assurances for the Emperor could not be left out of the equation.

Moreover, if we accept Stimson's subsequent judgment that "history might find" that the decision to delay assurances for the Emperor "had prolonged the war," then, as historian Martin Sherwin noted in the October 10, 1981, Nation, the atomic bomb may well have cost lives. Why? Lives were lost during the roughly two-month delay in clarifying the surrender terms. Many historians believe the delay was caused by the decision to wait for the atomic test at Alamogordo, New Mexico, on July 16, and then, the bombs' use on Japan in early August. Several thousand American soldiers and sailors died between Grew's initial May 28 proposal to clarify the "unconditional" terms and the final surrender on August 14.


So why go ahead with the bomb?

Some of the basic questions debated in the expert literature concern why alternatives for ending the war were not pursued. Little dispute remains about why the Russian option was discarded, however. Once the bomb was proven to work, the President reversed course entirely and attempted to stall a Red Army attack. A week after the Alamogordo test, for instance, Churchill observed that "it is quite clear that the United States do not at the present time desire Russian participation in the war against Japan." Similarly, the diary of Secretary of Navy James Forrestal indicates that by July 28 Secretary of State Byrnes was "most anxious to get the Japanese affair over with before the Russians got in." And the private journal of Byrnes' personal assistant, Walter Brown, confirms that Byrnes was now "hoping for time, believing [that] after [the] atomic bomb Japan will surrender and Russia will not get in so much on the kill, thereby being in a position to press claims against China." Meanwhile, every effort was made to speed up the production and delivery of the weapon. These efforts were successful: Hiroshima was bombed on August 6, two days before the Soviet Union declared war on Japan. Nagasaki was bombed on 9th.

This was after Truman had been crowing about getting the Soviets to declare war on Japan and plan to go in, and how it would end things immediately.
posted by the_savage_mind at 12:07 PM on August 6, 2006


America wanted an unconditional surrender in order to rid Japan of its military government completely;

Not true. In the end, we gave the Japanese their emperor, which is all they were asking since before January '45 to surrender.

here was very little evidence that Japan would surrender at all. In fact, almost all inteligence indicated that there would be a 'fight to the end', which was obviously believable considering that the war was still going on by the beginning of August, 1945;

Also patently untrue. PLease read here to see what actual historians think.
posted by the_savage_mind at 12:13 PM on August 6, 2006


But it took one plane, carrying one bomb to level Hiroshima, and a few days later, Nagasaki.

Well, strictly speaking ISTR that there were other aircraft involved with the strike; weather planes and such figuring out windage for the drop.

it was a mere 20 kiloton-class weapon, where the arsenals of the world's powers contain the likes of 100-Megaton weapons?

Nah. The Tsar Bomba was "only" 50MT or so, and your basic MIRV warhead is in the 100--500KT range. Which will still ruin your day real good.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:13 PM on August 6, 2006


The events leading up to Aug 6 1945 were unique, and revisionist morality is just really so much wankery in the end.

The morality was established long before WWII, you have acknowledged that yourself. No revisionism there.

The claim of revisionism only applies when you start to debate Truman's decision.
posted by Chuckles at 12:19 PM on August 6, 2006


I stand corrected, ROU_X. A more accurate "high-level" weapon is more like 10MT, though most are in the under 1MT range.
posted by chimaera at 12:34 PM on August 6, 2006


The claim of revisionism only applies when you start to debate Truman's decision.

In the end we've got to ask ourselves if we were Truman at that time and place would we have done anything differently, and why.

Sure, there was a more moral course available to the 1945 US leadership. We could have expended more effort in hand-holding the Japanese polity on their difficult path to surrender to our will and our justice.

But the Hague Conventions only mean something to revisionists; at that time and place, in the dying heat of a global war, the US leadership, due to the unique correlation of events leading up to that bloody summer: Japan's total de-facto repudiation of the Conventions and other treaties, their utter diplomatic and moral isolation in the world, the extreme --unprecedented -- suicidal resistance of their soldiers, airmen, and sailors, the fact that Japan explicitly chose war in Nov 1941 rather than peacefully capitulate over the China question, gave FDR & Truman a free hand to prosecute the war with the most efficient & effective military means available.

The IJA thought they could attrit our will away with continued suicidal resistance on the homeland. We could play that bloody game, our starve them out over some number of months, but dicking around in war is a recipe for failure. With the B-29, firebombs, and the two nukes, FDR and Truman had the means to bring the war to a quick end on our terms, they used them, and I think I wouldn't have done a damn thing differently.

My grandfather was a Marine infantryman on Okinawa, looking at being sent on Operation Coronet should that have been necessary. If the Japanese people wanted to surrender, they should have surrendered. That door was always open.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 12:52 PM on August 6, 2006


In the end, we gave the Japanese their emperor, which is all they were asking since before January '45 to surrender.

ZZzzz. There's a difference between freely giving them terms after surrender and accepting their demand for terms before surrender. Part of the necessary prosecution of the war was to completely discredit Japan's armed forces as power center of the Japanese polity (something we failed to do in 1918).

And, more importantly, who is 'they' in your above.

Certainly not General Anami, who still held control of the IJA into those days of decision.

Yes, we know the peace faction wanted to surrender; the same peace faction also didnt want to start the war against us. Don't you get it that the peace faction in Japan was powerless, and had been since the mid-1930s?
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 12:59 PM on August 6, 2006


I still don't see any counter-evidence as to why we actually had to drop the bomb.

For the same reason we had to firebomb Tokyo and 78% of the other urban centers. The Japanese had yet to surrender to our terms as of the morning of August 6, when we finally had two bombs ready to go. Had they in fact surrendered by then, we would not have incinerated Hiroshima that morning.

By mid-1945, the Allies were not fucking around anymore. The Japanese dilly-dallying about surrender was very ill-advised, but that's just the way events broke down. In war, things do not proceed on rational or moral bases. War is a beast, and a bitch, which is why I am strongly anti-war in the first place.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 1:11 PM on August 6, 2006


It would perhaps be more useful to ignore Beste as an idjit than to succumb to his trolling, folks.

But at least this time you've got a legit beef with him. Please don't let your loathing for him spill into other threads. You don't need to respond to him every time he says something verging on asinine.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:17 PM on August 6, 2006


There's a difference between freely giving them terms after surrender and accepting their demand for terms before surrender.

I refer you again here. Please, for the love of humanity, just read it. One particular section:

Other intercepted messages suggested that the main obstacle to peace was the continued Allied demand for unconditional surrender. Although the expert literature once mainly suggested that only one administration official--Undersecretary of State Joseph Grew--urged a change in the surrender formula to provide assurances for Japan's emperor, it is now clear that with the exception of Secretary of State James Byrnes, the entire top echelon of the U.S. government advocated such a change. By June 1945, in fact, Franklin Roosevelt's secretary of state, Edward Stettinius, (who remained in office until July 3); the undersecretary of state; the secretary of war; the secretary of the navy; the president's chief of staff, Admiral William Leahy; and Army Chief of Staff General George Marshall--plus all the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS)--had in one way or another urged a clarification of the surrender formula. So, too, had the British military and civilian leadership, including Prime Minister Churchill. Along with Grew, the Joint Chiefs in particular recommended that a statement be issued to coincide with the fall of Okinawa, on or around June 21.


So... what was that about needing an unconditional surrender again?


Don't you get it that the peace faction in Japan was powerless, and had been since the mid-1930s?

I see. So you you know the mind of the IJT better than:

General Douglas MacArthur (the highest-ranking officer in the Pacific Theater)

Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy (the Chief of Staff to the President)

General Carl Spaatz (commander of the U.S. Strategic Air Forces in the Pacific)

Brigadier General Carter Clarke (the military intelligence officer who prepared intercepted Japanese cables for U.S. officials)

Major General Curtis LeMay

Admiral Ernest King, U.S. Chief of Naval Operations

Undersecretary of the Navy Ralph A. Bard

Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the Pacific Flee

The Army Air Forces commander, General Henry "Hap" Arnold

AND

Truman from his own letters.

You know better that Japan wasn't actually a stone's throw from surrendering without nuking them, even though ALL those guys said that it was. That's pretty amazing.
posted by the_savage_mind at 1:20 PM on August 6, 2006


"...once they shifted from European-style 'precision' bombing to just carpetbombing cities -- was also barbarous, and in objective measures much more so."

"Carpetbombing" did not mean in WWII what you think it meant, nor was it a "not precise" type of bombing. It's a description of what happens when wave after wave bombers bomb a target and the strategy to correct the problems that arise.

What happens is this: as a group of pilots approach their bombing target they face a great deal of of antiaircraft fire. They and their bomb control crews reach their designated target and their veer away on a pre-arranged path to escape the antiaircraft fire. Following them are another group of pilots also flying through the antiaircraft fire. Pilots left to their own devices, no matter how professional, will tend to release and disengage early, especially in confusion and in circumstances under heavy fire and where there's already a bunch of bombs released.

The air force's solution to this problem was to correct for this in the targeting instructions given to the bombers crews.

The actual targeting was changed for successive waves of bombers so that early groups would bomb "beyond" the target with the successive groups inclinination factored in so that the bombs were dropped in each successive wave a bit closer in. The overall bombing pattern when it was said and done would then be pretty well centered on the target.

What it looked like to observers on the ground, however, was very dramatic.

Each successive wave of bombs would produce a "wall" of fire that, as they came in, would "unroll" toward the obverser on the ground. Just like a carpet unrolling toward you. This striking phenomenon was called "carpetbombing".

Later generations of mlitary planners in later wars would use this effect very deliberately for wide-area coverage when bombing and using materials more suited for such a thing. Thus the term came to have the use and connotation that we know today.

However, the bigger problem with your comment is that it doesn't distinguish between whatever "carpetbombing" was then, and what we now are calling "firebombing".

Firebombing is really describing an incendiary bombing intended to generate a firestorm. A firestorm is a large, unheard-of-before-WWII effect where a large enough area of conventional combustion, at very high temperatures, is created where it becomes self-sustaining and a genuine meterological phenomenon measured in cubic kilometers. This did not happen until late in the war in Europe, and particularly not until the intense bombing of Hamburg.

It was unexpected in Hamburg and even terrified the Allied pilots. People back in the US, particulalry Curtis Lemay, quickly understood what had happened and decided to include it in the weapons reportoie. The firestorm that was created during the bombing of Dresden was intentional and included purposeful use of incendiaries for this reason.

The firebombing of Tokyo was carefully engineered, with the dispersal of incendiaries, the meterology, and Tokyo's all-wood infrastructure taken into consideration.

The firestorm of Hamburg which killed many, many civilians, was the result of bombing that targeted military and industrial facilities that was not intended to reduce Hamburg's residential areas to ashes.

The firestorms of Dresden and Tokyo were intended to kill civilians, and they did so with great efficiency and in great numbers.

Just so, too, were the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki intended to kill civilians and in great numbers.

There is a qualitative difference between the heavy bombing that characterized much of WWII and the firebombings and atomic bombings we are discussing today.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 1:25 PM on August 6, 2006


the Hague Conventions only mean something to revisionists; at that time and place, in the dying heat of a global war, the US leadership, due to the unique correlation of events leading up to that bloody summer

Only if you completely dismiss the role of international treaty. Truman committed war crimes, and he should have been charged and convicted at the end of the war. Of course political reality didn't allow for that, but we can choose to acknowledge the miscarriage of justice. Is such an acknowledgement revisionism? Whatever.. That much should be easy for anyone to agree with, the facts are clear.

We can also have the debate about Truman's decision.. Was it a correct decision for Truman, America, or the world; was it a correct decision by some more abstract measure, or whatever other permutation. Well, I prefer not to.. We've already gone there, I don't need to do it again right now :P My opinion, for those too lazy to read the previous threads.. In the abstract, the decision stunk, because he had lots of choices. If you favour American imperialism, it demonstrated a bloodthirsty will, so there was a certain logic..
posted by Chuckles at 1:48 PM on August 6, 2006


Truman is one odd cookie, Chuckles. By many metrics (and only if you can somehow screen out things like the unnecessary atomic bombing of two cities, he said cynically), he was among the best of US presidents. As a Senator he cut through crony crap and tackled massive governmental and military graft and corruption. As President he was a real advocate of nascent national democracies, even if they weren't exceptionally US-friendly (see his rejection of Churchill and the Dulles brothers' plan to overthrow Mossadegh by portraying the ruler as Soviet-leaning). He vetoed the Taft-Hartley bill, which gutted labor unions, but congress passed it over the veto. They also shot down his Fair Deal program, which attempted to pull up those segments of society (including blacks) who were lagging behind socially. He really did seem to live by his slogan, "The buck stops here." I don't think there was one president after him, except maybe Carter, who operated that way.

And yet there's really no way to let him off for the nukes.
posted by the_savage_mind at 2:00 PM on August 6, 2006


You know better that Japan wasn't actually a stone's throw from surrendering without nuking them, even though ALL those guys said that it was

Again, your problem is that you are using a vague term "Japan" that does not clarify the situation of 1945.

The Japanese Navy threw in the towel, morally, after losing the Phillipines and Saipan. They knew their war war run, and that they had failed.

The Army leadership and officer corps, however, still had plenty of fight, and honor, left in it.

The civlians largely didn't want war in the first place.

The story of 1945 was the story of getting the Imperial Japanese Army, again, from the Andamans to Wake, to lay down their rifles & swords and submit to Allied occupation and justice. They were still (formally) against this on Aug 10, btw, but their abject crumbing in Manchuria and previous inability to defend the homeland had finally strengthened the peace faction's position sufficiently to force through the agreement to surrender.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 2:00 PM on August 6, 2006


"... Yes, I understand that the attack on Hiroshima has become iconic. I'm asking you to explain why it has become iconic. Please enlighten me on this. Why is August 6 the annual day to remind us of the horrors of war, instead of March 9? ..."
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:15 AM EST on August 6


I spent this morning outside, with my dog, on sunny warm Florida morning, and came back to find the post from SCDB quoted above, and all the others. Thanks to all of you who read Father Siemes account, and commented. I come back into this thread to do what little I can to answer SCDB's question, although I have no special commission to do so, and could easily point to those with greater eloquence who have undoubtedly made a better job of it than I will.

Let me begin by saying that I grew up in a world with a horrible fascination with the atomic bomb. Personally, I must have seen the Trinity test footage at least 10,000 times, and I've seen pictures of Hiroshima at zero hour taken by the observer plane at least a few hundred times, and even as a child, few of these instances have been voluntary. I grew up, throughout the 1950's and early 60's in a Cold War cultural soup of nuclear imagery and news, and like tens of millions of other kids of the era, I have some personal baggage.

One of my earliest school memories from the 4th grade or so is of a "duck and cover" school assembly, where they showed Duck and Cover and we did some desk drills when we went back to our classrooms, and playground drills that day at recess. A couple years after that, our family was living on a Naval Air Reserve base in Millington, TN, at the time of the Cuban missile crisis, and I remember listening to my Dad and a neighbor debate whether intermediate range missiles from Cuba could hit Memphis. Dad thought it was a good idea to review "duck and cover" with us kids, and brought home some pamphlets, and we did some "fall down and cover" drills in the yard with other neighborhood kids one Saturday.

A few years later as a young man, in 1967, not all that long after worrying about being incinerated myself by missles from Cuba, I traveled to Europe with the People to People program, and went to a number of WWI and WWII battlegrounds, cemeteries, and into East Germany down the Berlin auto corridor via the checkpoint at Helmstedt and through, the next day, at, Checkpoint Charlie. On that trip, we visited with young people and families living in Communist Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Poland, and we also visited German concentration camps, and stood in the streets of Berlin and Dresden, where 20 years after the bombing stopped, there was still rubble to be removed.

And these memories, of men with machine guns watching me through binoculars on a bus filled with high school kids headed for Berlin, of my father discussing the likelihood of missile attacks with his neighbor, as calmly as he could, but still worried, still wondering what was being left out of the news, of teachers in chalkboard pinafores showing us how to cover our heads and fall to the ground at any bright flash, all remain. They color and inform what I write today.

I went to Hiroshima first at the end of a business trip to Osaka, in 1976, in the company of a business acquaintance from C. Itoh trading company, whose name was Mr. Nakimura. Nakimura himself had been to Hiroshima only as a schoolboy, but was charged with seeing me back to Tokyo Narita for a Sunday flight, and agreed to be my guide for a Saturday trip. Hiroshima is only about 2 hours by rail from Osaka, and we spent much of the day wandering around the Peace Park. It was a spring day, cool, but sunny, a few weeks before cherry blossom season. The Peace Park seemed uncrowded, and we walked about extensively, crossing the bridges over the river a few times, having a bowl of noodles for lunch, and finding green tea later in the afternoon. I had a camera with me, but forgot to take many pictures that day, but I think I shall never forget a second of it. As the day wore on, both I and Nakimura, a sociable and likable fellow, given to practicing his English at every opportunity, grew quiet, and while we still walked together, we saw and read for ourselves. That's still my strong impression of the Peace Park, although I've been back several times, and stood by as innumerable groups disgorged from buses, and walked about, as Nakimura and I did my first time there, growing quieter as they walked around, as we did. By the river in Hiroshima, you come to quiet, as you do at Dachau, or at Verdun, or at Masada, unless it is your job to tell the story, or lead the group. But it is perhaps a deeper quiet, if my impressions are a true guide, in the Peace Park, than elsewhere, for being more personally involving.

And now this what I learned in Hiroshima, Steven, about iconic history: Everyone walking in the Peace Park has to imagine him/herself there, at the moment of the flash. You can't help it. You look around, you look up, and you can't help seeing the movie in your mind, can't help imagining the shockwave, can't help becoming, in your own mind, a casualty, any more than when you visit Auschwitz, you can will yourself to not imagining the ovens burning and the smoke rising from the stacks. You walk about, and imagine your body flashed as a shadow forever on to concrete, and you try to believe that you would be something more. It's why people become quiet, why children are generally subdued, why an ordinary sunny day in those places seems so bright, and nearly shocking.

Hiroshima is worth remembering today because of its power to concentrate and personalize war for each human being, as each can come to understand on personal terms. Paul Tibbets has maintained consistently that he has no regrets, and I believe him. I think he acted with a moral certainty which a man charged with doing what he did has to have to do it. I don't quarrel with Tibbets, or salute him, or think to judge him, because any of that from me is just meaningless. He is slipping into history, and will take his karmic bargain with him, his ashes scattered far from Hiroshima, across the English Channel, if he has his way. Like millions of other kids, I've imagined being Paul Tibbets on August 6, 1945, but because of what we learned as children of the atomic era, because of Hiroshima, I've never had his moral certainty, and I'm sure I couldn't have stood 60+ years of public examination about it, as he has. And that's one crucially important difference between Paul Tibbets and any of those 334 B-29 pilots of March 9, 1944. Tibbets had the power of life or death over a city concentrated in his hands, in ways none of those 334 others ever did, and which only one other man ever has, and gone through with it. It is Tibbets we imagine ourselves to be, not one of those brave but nearly forgotten 334, because by playing Tibbets in our own minds, or by looking up for the flash while standing in the Peace Park, we come to understand what war means, as we never could before, when it was an endeavor of hate and madness diffused among armies.

Either you see that, or you don't, Steven. But if you don't, trying seeing it sitting beside the Ota River, in the Peace Park, looking up.
posted by paulsc at 2:05 PM on August 6, 2006 [3 favorites]


Heywood, in the end you may be right. Your description is certainly what I was taught growing up... that the two bombs were necessary to cut short the war and save lives.

I clearly no longer believe that, and despite your arguments I feel like the bulk of the evidence I've read so far says the bomb was unnecessary (and as far as a second bomb... well, it's just ludicrous to me that a second bomb would be necessary to finally make the Japanese military fold, esp. since they were almost all ready to fold before the first one).

It is possible that more evidence will surface that proves to me that you are correct, but for the moment it seems that, based on our current store of evidence, we're likely to keep disagreeing. Still, it was a pleasant argument;) You're no Steven C. Den Worste.

As for you, paulsc, that last post was beautiful. You are a less vindictive and a much better man than I.
posted by the_savage_mind at 2:20 PM on August 6, 2006


Only if you completely dismiss the role of international treaty

In 1945, who would lend an ear to any Japanese complaints? They had, by their own actions, become completely, abjectly isolated from world opinion and sympathy... their only friend in the world -- with whom they joined in their war efforts -- Nazi Germany was no more.

Sure, great crimes -- mass murders -- were committed by the USAAF in 1945. They have admitted as much. But it takes two to respect a treaty, and, in the end, it is only a piece of paper.

The Japanese are entitled to feel wronged about what they went through in 1945. But IMO their defenders need to understand how the Japanese people got to that place.

The firebombing of 1945 was an immensely sad thing, and to the extent it was committed in anger it was regrettable, but so was the Japanese murder of tens of millions of Chinese during their occupation of China, objection to which was what first brought the US into this clash.

but we can choose to acknowledge the miscarriage of justice

If I were FDR/Truman in 1945, I would have let the B-29s bomb out the cities, too, to get the war over in 1945 and not have it stretch on into 1946 or later. If the Japanese did not want to die, they could have surrendered or moved out into the countryside, safely away from any warmaking facility. The tragedies our army bombers inflicted on Japan were still less than the tragiedies THEIR ARMY were STILL inflicting

The US, by default, WAS the law, and bringer of justice in 1945. People railing about this now lack perspective or have an axe to grind. Practically, Truman was only responsible to his polity, the US citizenry, and they were quite happy with the outcome of the murderous bombing campaign.

Morally, the bigger picture of the USAAF bombing is subsumed within the global struggle of WW2 itself.

FWIW, a large part of LBJ's hesitance in Vietnam was the heartfelt fear of having events go so out of control -- become so bloody -- again. But Truman inherited that world, he did not create it. He could have stopped what the USAAF had put in motion, but as he himself said he would not have been able to face the American public had he not let the armed forces prosecute the war to full extent that they could.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 2:23 PM on August 6, 2006 [1 favorite]


well said, paulsc.

My argument can be distilled into 'don't judge a man until you've walked in their moccassins'.

Any one-sided history like Gar Alperovitz's will lead to horribly false judgments, as we see above.

The only moral lesson we can take from Truman's decision is that total war is a complete hell (a hell that Japan had found itself surrounded by well before that August. But still they fought on).

If their cause had been just, their resistance would have been just, and our actions objectively repugnant.

However, that was not the case. I don't believe it was the US's role to administer "justice" to the Japanese people, it was our role to stop their aggression and put the world on a better course. Which we did.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 2:36 PM on August 6, 2006


In regards to the firebombing of Japanese cities in WWII, Heywood, I highly recommend The Fog of War if you haven't seen it. MacNamara talks in depth about working for LeMay at the time and how insane it was. Granted, hearing criticism like that from someone who directed the Vietnam War though most of its greatest follies is pretty ironic and nauseating, but he seems to know whereof he speaks.

BTW, I had no idea before today that LeMay was the VP on George Wallace's ticket.
posted by the_savage_mind at 2:42 PM on August 6, 2006


Any one-sided history like Gar Alperovitz's will lead to horribly false judgments, as we see above.

I'm sorry, but exactly where do you prove that a) it's one-sided, b) it's horribly false in its judgments and c) we see it above?

You haven't actually achieved any of those three things. I take back my compliments from earlier.
posted by the_savage_mind at 2:43 PM on August 6, 2006


At best, you've only offered your subjective opinion that you feel that the Japanese wouldn't have surrendered without the bomb. That's not actual proof of anything, you realize.
posted by the_savage_mind at 2:44 PM on August 6, 2006


A firestorm is a large, unheard-of-before-WWII effect

Not in Chicago, or San Francisco...

There is a qualitative difference between the heavy bombing that characterized much of WWII and the firebombings and atomic bombings we are discussing today

I disagree. I was referring to carpet-bombing as an indiscriminate effect and not the actual means. Carpet bombing, as eg. applied during Operation Cobra in Normandy in 1944, if executed over Tokyo would have been morally equivalent to the firebombing, since they are both equally indiscriminate.

Churchill in 1940/41 had objected to the German use of aerial mines on London. These fell with parachutes and were totally indiscriminate. 'course, later he was 'de-housing' Germans so we can see how the morality of the war devolved.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 2:48 PM on August 6, 2006


Just to be very clear... you have no refutation for the facts that the clear and overwhelming majority of military leadership, both civilian and in uniform, believed that the Japanese nation and military was looking to surrender and would at the drop of the hat given the correct incentive, nor that the self-same leadership believed that a Russian front in the war, following the already embarrassing and enlightening defeat of the Japanese crack troops in Mongolia which signified to the military leadership that their far-less able troops defending the homeland were worth squat.

As for your unsubstantiated defamation of Alperovitz, I suggest you put up of shut the hell up. Take his points and his documentation on and prove him wrong. In any of it. Then call him one-sided.

Also, at any time, please feel free to actually document any statements or assertions you make regarding the thinking of the Japanese military that you apparently know so much better than the US military or its President during WWII.
posted by the_savage_mind at 2:56 PM on August 6, 2006


I'm sorry, but exactly where do you prove that a) it's one-sided, b) it's horribly false in its judgments and c) we see it above?

We're seeing its effects above, not the weaknesses of its arguments, which take some effort to deconstruct.

you've only offered your subjective opinion that you feel that the Japanese wouldn't have surrendered without the bomb

The Japanese, on the whole, would have loved to surrender by mid-1945. Unfortunately, that's not how their society worked then.

Your problem, which you've inherited from Alperovitz, is that the Imperial Japanese Army was calling the shots in Tokyo in 1945, not this peacemaking "Japanese" entity you keep referring to.

And I don't deny the Japanese Army wouldn't have surrendered to our terms later that year, given how badly they were being crushed in Manchuria. The Russian entry, and their dramatic successes, was the real kick in the balls to the IJA, not the firebombing or the two nukes.

My argumentation here is just that if I were Truman I would have taken the same course of action: obliterate the Japanese nation until they agreed to our terms.

Your problem, shared with the other revisionists, is that is exactly how history happened. Two terrible atomic drops, and then Japanese surrender.

Regardless of the Kyushu or Tokyo casualties of the mooted allied invasions of 1945-46, One POW rotting away in a camp in Hokkaido in 1945 was worth more than 100,000 japanese civilians' lives. That's the terrible moral calculus, and political reality, of the situation that you need to get your head around.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 2:59 PM on August 6, 2006


please feel free to actually document any statements or assertions you make regarding the thinking of the Japanese military that you apparently know so much better

OK.

FWIW, my general understanding of the situation in Tokyo was that our normal rules of shared rationality we experience today simply do not apply when looking back at the summer of 1945.

The militarists' world was literally crashing down around them. Regardless of how much they "really wanted" to surrender, Truman had seen the IJA's suicidal fight to the last man on dozens of isolated islands, the thousands of kamikaze attacks, and, let's not forget -- the fight to the bitter end of their pals in the Wehrmacht of the Third Reich. To expect Truman to see these diehard militarists start waving the white flag is simply ignorant ahistoric nonsense.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 3:08 PM on August 6, 2006


The Atomic Bomb and the End of World War II: A Collection of Primary Sources

CIA intelligence monograph, The Final Months of the War With Japan: Signals Intelligence, U.S. Invasion Planning, and the A-Bomb Decision. The initial estimates of American casualties (combined killed and wounded) in an invasion of Japan ranged from 132,500 to 220,000, depending on the invasion scenario.

Atomic Bomb: Decision: "Documents on the decision to drop atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki."

President Truman apparently didn't know Hiroshima was a city; in his diary he wrote "the target will be a purely military one" and called Hiroshima "a military base" in his radio speech announcing the bombing.
posted by kirkaracha at 3:24 PM on August 6, 2006


My Dad had run of the White House as a kid. He had to have to run upstairs to ask Mr. Churchill to come downstairs because Mrs. Roosevelt wouldn't. My father was always rather horrified to have to find a man who walked around naked with a cigar and whiskey. This was published in the Saturday Evening Post year ago. To the point everyone, believed that they were going to invade Japan. The troops being brought from the war in Europe were very upset about having to fight yet again in Japan. The people in the US were scared of the war going to Japan. As the war had progressed the battles had become more tenacious and vicious. I asked my Dad about the bomb and its inhumanity. He got angry and said it was bs for me to judge because I had not been there. He went on to add that most of the boys he was in High school with were in the service and he had already lost enough friends and if it took an atomic bomb to keep from losing anymore of his friends he was all for it (He was gunner on B29). From that and talks with others of that era, they seemed to believe that they had done everything they could to stay out of war, they did not start it, and it had gone on too long. I am not saying they were right in how they saw things but that is how most saw it. The talk on this board, of people who were opposed to bombing during the war seems to miss a major point; that most if not all were not going to be involved in actual combat. If my memory severs me correct they printed up 500,000 Purple Hearts for the invasion of Japan. But like Churchill who would have believed unless you had been there.
posted by Rancid Badger at 3:55 PM on August 6, 2006 [1 favorite]



posted by Rancid Badger at 4:12 PM on August 6, 2006


I find the talk of "they saw it differently" and "not unless we were in their shoes" to be missing the point entirely. To my mind, the point is that we judge our enemies according to absolute standards—we are secure in accusing our enemies of war crimes and other great crimes because we are sure the crimes are self-evident. Americans of the twenty-first century (so far) allow no relativistic excuses for the 9-11 terrorists. We ask "how can anyone have done such a monstrous thing?" when we really are saying "these people are self-evidently monsters".

Yet we judge our own actions and especially those of our honored ancestors by relativistic terms, angrily asserting the "unless you've walked in another man's shoes" argument.

This may be human, but it's repugnant and a moral crime in its own right because it is the grease that smoothes the wheels of the commission of these atrocities.

The point is to have the courage to either judge our enemies by the same permissive standards as we judge ourselves and our kin, or judge ourselves as harshly as we judge our enemies and their ancestors. I prefer the latter. But either is preferable to the more common and convenient hypocrisy.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 4:12 PM on August 6, 2006 [1 favorite]


Moral crimes do not come to mind when you are with your buddies and they are dying from enemy fire. All war is a crime, legalized crime. I know I should be of a higher spiritual path and I try. My failing is that when it gets down to the nitty gritty I will choose my people over "theirs" every time. Hypocrisy yup, but I am sure glad my Dad didn't have to die. Call me pragmatic.
posted by Rancid Badger at 4:27 PM on August 6, 2006


Yes, but you're not in the trenches now, and neither are any of the rest of writing from the comfort of our cushy chairs and air-conditioned houses. Some may see that as an indictment of us. But what I see is the corrolary of your argument—that if we, here, those who are not the least in extremis are incapable of comprehending something in moral clarity, then who, then, ever could be expected to comprehend the difference between right and wrong and act upon it??
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 4:58 PM on August 6, 2006


This may be human, but it's repugnant and a moral crime in its own right because it is the grease that smoothes the wheels of the commission of these atrocities.

I can't fault a guy for doing something I would do in the same situation. Sometimes the moral course is atrocity (taken in its own terms)!

Historically, the US was in the right in its campaign to get the IJA to capitulate to the justice of the UN. Once that commitment was made, events proceeded apace.

It is impossible to argue that the firebombing was the most moral course of action available to the US, but it does have the singular virtue of having effectively brought about the capitulation and total demilitarization of the Japanese polity.

The Japanese militarists, in the calculations in launching the wider war in 1941, simply could not foresee the fleets of B-29s raining destruction from the skies of 1945.

War to them, at its worst imaginable devolvement, would have them defending their nation at their beaches, hills, and caves, bleeding the invaders and defending their honor with their suicidal tactics.

The US demurred to play into that bloody strategy in the end. We had earned that right by the dozens of long tough slogs of 1942-44, defeating their Japanese at their own games from the Solomons right up through Okinawa.

The putatively more moral course of NOT area bombing the cities would have kept the Japanese in the fight right through 1946. While I am no Utilitarian, one must evaluate the particular costs of THAT strategy -- to the Vietnamese, Chinese, our POWS, our servicemen, and, let's not forget, THEIR servicemen (who were people too), in the context of the decision to level the Japanese urban areas.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 5:10 PM on August 6, 2006


those who are not the least in extremis are incapable of comprehending something in moral clarity, then who, then, ever could be expected to comprehend the difference between right and wrong and act upon it

Sorry, only madmen put "moral clarity" and "war" together in the same sentence. cf. "Apocalypse Now" for one treatment of this.

There is much we can learn from the events of 1945, but the moral logic of those events belongs to that time itself.

The Kennedy Administration got to see a similar moral abyss in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and that strongly colored their reactions during the ensuing conflict with NVN (and their Communist allies).

I've seen reports of the USAAF fliers and crewmen expressing rather distasteful joy in bringing the war to Japan during their murderous actions of 1945. I would like to think that I would not succumb to similar emotions had I been there, but that is worth nothing. We can only do our best, and (hopefully) make our best good enough.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 5:19 PM on August 6, 2006


You are right. But if the bottom line is saving lives and there quality. Then the A bombing wins hands down. Japan at the time of the bombing was about to become the largest and deadliest of the nth century. November was the date of the invasion. Both sides were going all out, with estimates of 1000 death an hour. This says nothing of how little of Japan would be left both culturally and geographical. The firebombings, the Bomb are just miniscule in causalities compared to what the invasion was going to cause. Suffering on a scale that had never been witnessed. So the bombing save lives both American, Japanese and a culture. See Operation Downfall
posted by Rancid Badger at 5:24 PM on August 6, 2006


Sorry for the typos it's getting late.
posted by Rancid Badger at 5:26 PM on August 6, 2006


The culmination of WW II, unlike previous large scale conflicts, were various war crimes tribunals. In some sense, these were an attempt to codify what kinds of military and political conduct could be labeled "war crimes" and what would be allowed, perhaps in future conflicts. Certainly, the tribunals looked back more than they looked forward, and yet, there was a conscious effort to charge particulars against individuals, and a willingness to make judgements only on evidence, that made them a new force of justice in the world.

There was a conscious attempt to put organized state conflict on a footing of international law, and to recognize that belligerents did not have unfettered rights to conduct all actions of which they might be militarily capable, and that they would be held accountable by the international community. It was, admittedly, not something that could always be boiled down to a code of conduct for actions by an individual in combat, but efforts were made. After Nuremberg, "following orders" was no longer a military defense, if the orders were to actions which would be crimes against humanity. So there is that.

But 60 years on, that is not proving to be enough. Putting young men in danger, with deadly weapons, and arbitrary rules and general training may never be enough. What is needed, in this new world of stateless conflict, is some recognition that civil societies bear a collective responsibility for the outcomes of history. War crimes can be specific, but they can also be joint.
posted by paulsc at 5:41 PM on August 6, 2006


"Sorry, only madmen put 'moral clarity' and 'war' together in the same sentence. cf. 'Apocalypse Now' for one treatment of this."

You can't believe it on its own terms or else you'd excuse all moral judgments made about all choices made during wartime.

But maybe you do.

And if you do, then that's my point exactly. My complaint wasn't so much that all men fail to act like saints during wartime, but that when reflecting about our acts and the acts of our enemies, we judge ours by one standards and our enemies by another. If you in fact are not judging anyone during war by any standards, then I don't really have a quarrel with you on this topic.

However, it seems to me that in your words I see as unforgiving a judgment of the Japanese leadership as I see a forgiving judgment of our own. If you want to greatly release those acting in wartime from simple black and white judgments about morality, then you ought to release the Japanese as well as the Americans. Particularly in the case of the Rape of Nanking, which has so many universal cultural precedents that they couldn't be listed, it is dishonest to plead cultural relativism of a historical variety in the case of the Americans and not the Japanese.

If anything, going by the standard of "what seemed right and normal to them, during wartime, at that time and place", then I'd tend to view the Japanese, in the case of Nanking, more leniantly than the Americans in the case of Hiroshima. I know for a fact that concerns about the morality of using a nuclear weapon against a city were raised at the very highest US levels while, in contrast, I seriously doubt if any of the senior Japanese staff once raised any objections about what progressed in Nanking. It was the way of things much more than dropping a nuclear bomb was.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 5:43 PM on August 6, 2006


Well, Rancid, it is indeed arguable how much gas the IJA had in the tank in August 1945.

It plays in the revisionists' arguments to assume that invasion was necessary; while I think the record is clear that the militarists were comfortable in the strategy of requiring the US wink them out of caves one-by-one, it is unclear how well they could retain control of the central government as events detiorated further.

The one bright shining credit to Americans in this sordid mess is that we spared Kyoto. That was not only moral, it was smart, since had that been destroyed then the Japanese would have even less to lose by continuing the fight.

This says nothing of how little of Japan would be left both culturally and geographical

We had already wiped out the vast bulk of urban life in Japan, that within B-29 range, by August 1945. We were actually running out of targets IIRC.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 5:43 PM on August 6, 2006


"The one bright shining credit to Americans in this sordid mess is that we spared Kyoto."

Because one man recalled his honeymoon there. To me, that there is such a delicate and almost arbitrary balance between empathy and its lack is as damning as it is exculpatory.

Finally, a number of men who designed and tested these weapons were refugees of these wars, who knew many to men who died, and who nevertheless searched their souls about the morality of their work and the decision to deploy it against a civilian population. This demonstrates that it was certainly not a simple matter of the expediency and uncertainty of the situation. The (mostly military) men who disgregarded the questions of morality with regard to the use of the bomb were men who decided to have no use for morality in this context. The politicians and generals were not robbed of any moral instinct by the circumstance, they willfully disposed of it as an irrelevant sentiment.

They were no less capable of choosing differently than they did by the extremes of their circumstance than is the soldier who chooses to target civilians indiscriminately when under fire. Most soldiers even under the greatest pressure do not abandon all moral choice in extreme circumstances, only a few do. And those few we tend judge badly, either in a military court or by more subtle and traditional means. After hustling a houseful of women and children out into the streets and shooting them in the heads the soldier cannot say, "it seemed like what I had to do at the time" and expect some grim looks followed by handshakes, pats on the back, and a promotion. But this is what generals and politicians expect, and we often give it to them.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 6:03 PM on August 6, 2006


but that when reflecting about our acts and the acts of our enemies, we judge ours by one standards and our enemies by another. If you in fact are not judging anyone during war by any standards, then I don't really have a quarrel with you on this topic.

I pretty much do that. Soldiers go off to war or get put in jail if they refuse; the populace reads the state papers and roots for the home team as the good news from the front rolls in.

The vast masses are but cogs in the machine.

The only morality worth anything comes from within, from one's own reflection of one's actions. It's rather pointless to point the finger at others.

If I were Truman, I would have slept at night knowing I had done what was necessary to bring the war to an end.

But there is willing brutality and unwilling brutality. Nanking, like the Americal's actions in My Lai 4, or Abu Ghraib, was perhaps understandable from the viewpoint of the perpetrators, but still morally indefensible since these actions were gratuitous acts of base violence.

There was no higher end or necessity involved in Nanking or My Lai 4, while there was an operative moral logic to the campaign of destroying Japan's urban areas from the air.

There was no Hugh C. Thompson to swoop down with a better plan in 1945.

Leveling dozens of Japanese cities and killing 400,000-odd Japanese civilians ended the war on our terms by mid-August 1945. Our cause was just, and while our methods were arguable if analyzed in isolation, there was in fact a moral logic to our actions, traceable back to the IJA's bombing of Shanghai and Chungking.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 6:08 PM on August 6, 2006


Heywood We underestimated the Japanese, just like we underestimated the the Iraqi's. We have a long history of doing this and one of these times it's going to really be our undoing. We though they had at most 2000 plane left, they had better than 12,000. They knew when and where we were going to land and attack and they were ready. The idea was that we would flounder on the beach and it would be a prairie dog fight; D-Day was well understood. Inch by inch we were going to pay and in doing so they hoped to get better terms. Many things can be said about their conduct during the war but I never met a Marine that fought against them that did not respect them as fighters. "they were tough little bastards" is what I usually heard at the VA. The Japanese were heroic fighters and we would have paid dearly.
posted by Rancid Badger at 6:15 PM on August 6, 2006


The Japanese were heroic fighters and we would have paid dearly.

I agree, but the question is whether or not the peace faction -- who were a large segment of the surviving civilian and navy leaderships -- could get together enough pull to "outvote" the IJA superpatriots in civil power, given the increasing military and political isolation of Japan in 1945.

What the revisionists need to remember is that the guys with the rifles starve LAST. Getting the war over as quickly as possible was beneficial to all, especially the Japanese.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 6:25 PM on August 6, 2006


Not sure if this thread is still going, but...

There was very little evidence at all that the Japanese were even considering a surrender. From the millions of messages intercepted by the Allied cryptographers and given to the American leaders under the code name "Magic" we learned that there were only 3 or 4 messages suggesting the possibility of a compromise peace, while no fewer than 13 affirmed that Japan fully intended to fight to the bitter end. Ref.

That's it. 3 or 4 messages to go on, compared to over 13 suggesting a fight to the bitter end.

The intercepts of Japanese Imperial Army and Navy messages disclosed without exception that Japan's armed forces were determined to fight a final Armageddon battle in the homeland against an Allied invasion. The Japanese called this strategy Ketsu Go (Operation Decisive). It was founded on the premise that American morale was brittle and could be shattered by heavy losses in the initial invasion. American politicians would then gladly negotiate an end to the war far more generous than unconditional surrender.

Those who argue that the bomb needn't have been dropped can't use the "the Japanese were just about to surrender" line as an arguement, because quite simple, there was very little evidence of this at all.

It is clear that all three of the critics' central premises are wrong. The Japanese did not see their situation as catastrophically hopeless. They were not seeking to surrender, but pursuing a negotiated end to the war that preserved the old order in Japan, not just a figurehead emperor. Finally, thanks to radio intelligence, American leaders, far from knowing that peace was at hand, understood--as one analytical piece in the "Magic" Far East Summary stated in July 1945, after a review of both the military and diplomatic intercepts--that "until the Japanese leaders realize that an invasion can not be repelled, there is little likelihood that they will accept any peace terms satisfactory to the Allies."

Here it probably sounds like I'm defending the dropping of the bomb. (Maybe I am?) But in future debates about the morality of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki A-Bombs I think that the "they were just about to surrender" arguement shouldn't be used. Maybe the Japanese were on the brink or surrender in August 1945? But Truman certainly didn't think so, and he had no reason to believe so either.
posted by Jase_B at 7:03 PM on August 6, 2006


Maybe the Japanese were on the brink or surrender in August 1945

You're making the same mistake savage_mind is, treating the 'Japanese' as a single bloc of people.

Togo's version of events is interesting reading.

Even at the war conference of the 9th, the Army was holding out for:
But War Minister Anami reiterated his argument that we should propose the additional conditions, and the Army Chief of Staff anounced a similar conviction
The Army's "additional conditions" were:
The military representatives, however, held out for proposing additional terms--specifically, that occupation of Japan should if possible be avoided or, if inescapable, should be on a small scale and should not include such points as Tokyo; that disarmament should be carried out on our responsibility; and that war criminals should be dealt with by Japan.
At the risk of being glib, what part of "unconditional" did the Army not understand?
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 7:27 PM on August 6, 2006


You're making the same mistake savage_mind is, treating the 'Japanese' as a single bloc of people.

Ah yeah, obviously when I said that I meant "the people who had the power to surrender". My mistake.
posted by Jase_B at 7:39 PM on August 6, 2006


The Japanese were heroic fighters and we would have paid dearly.

again, it's important to remember the context of all of this ... only months before, an obviously beaten german army continued to fight hopelessly for every block of berlin ... and they didn't have the reputation for sheer insane resistance that the japanese already had

there is also another reason for the hiroshima bombing that isn't very moral or likable, but none the less exists ... it was to demonstrate to the russians the possible consequences of their being too aggressive in europe ... no one would come out and say so, but the russians certainly got the message loud and clear

eventually, we ALL got the message ... that the consequences of nuclear war would be too horrible to actually ever do it

while we're playing what if? ... what if there had been no memory of hiroshima and nagasaki in 1962 to make the americans and russians think twice? ... would have they pushed harder? ... would have either side backed down if they hadn't known for sure what the results would be? ... the lives saved by hiroshima may have not been just contemporary lives ... but ours, too
posted by pyramid termite at 8:17 PM on August 6, 2006


thanks for blindly supporting me guys - and thanks also to those who took what I said, and actually thought about it; a mistake, but admirable nontheless. the first mefi comment i'm truly proud of. Goodnight mefi. goodnight and sweet dreams.
posted by wumpus at 1:57 AM on August 7, 2006


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