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U.S. returns to Hiroshima after 65 years.
August 6, 2010 11:39 AM   Subscribe

For the first time since the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb [NSFW photos?] on Hiroshima 65 years ago, the U.S. ambassador will attend commemoration ceremonies at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. But is this an apology? Some say it better not be. The U.S. says - it isn't.
posted by stinkycheese (263 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
’Some say’ headline: Hiroshima Pilot’s Son Denounces Obama’s “Unsaid Apology”

Jesus fucking Christ. We get it people, you hate the President. What’s next, Ronald McDonald denounces Obama’s “Unpracticed Veganism”? Superman denounces Obama’s “Unsaid Endorsement of Lex Luthor“? This is getting pathological.
posted by joe lisboa at 11:43 AM on August 6, 2010 [32 favorites]


Gene Tibbets, son of Brig. Gen. Paul W. Tibbets, Jr., seen here, says Friday's visit to Hiroshima by U.S. Ambassador John Roos is an act of contrition that his late father would never have approved.

And the Commander in Chief needs an soldier's approval on matters of policy why?
posted by DU at 11:47 AM on August 6, 2010 [8 favorites]


What am I not understanding? Why not apologize? Is it a macho thing?
posted by Splunge at 11:48 AM on August 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


I mean, does the fact that we have diplomatic relations (and even post Ambassadors, the horror!) with, say, Germany count as an “Unsaid Apology“ for firebombing Dresden or invading Normandy? How do these people tie their shoes in the morning unassisted?
posted by joe lisboa at 11:48 AM on August 6, 2010 [12 favorites]


posted by joe lisboa This is getting pathological.

Some say they're just using weasel words.
posted by mattdidthat at 11:48 AM on August 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


N.C. WWII photographer really did shoot A-bomb photos over Hiroshima
posted by homunculus at 11:49 AM on August 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's true what they say: It's easier to fake apologize 65 years later than to ask for permission to nuke Japan twice.
posted by 2bucksplus at 11:49 AM on August 6, 2010 [9 favorites]


You know, I was going to snark something like "War means never having to say you're sorry", but the chance, even if remote on Mefi, of garnering favourites for failing to see the hamburger has me choosing otherwise.

I don't think I'll revisit this thread till I have strong drink to hand.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:52 AM on August 6, 2010


One scene shared by all of the 20th century's bloodiest wars might have been lifted straight from The Road Warrior: a spectral landscape; buildings obliterated; blasted trees; a lifeless wasteland. The picture above, for instance -- a photograph never published, until now-- while mirroring every bleak, war-battered panorama from Verdun to Iwo Jima to Pork Chop Hill, was in fact made by LIFE's Bernard Hoffman in September, 1945, in Nagasaki, Japan. But far from chronicling the aftermath of sustained, slogging armed conflict, Hoffman's picture -- along with others seen here for the first time -- depicts devastation produced in a few, unspeakably violent seconds. On the 65th anniversary of American planes dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima (August 6, 1945) and Nagasaki (August 9) -- killing 120,000 people outright, and tens of thousands more through injury and radiation sickness -- LIFE.com presents never-before-seen pictures from both cities taken in the weeks and months following the bombings. Included, as well, are excerpts from issues of LIFE published after the war that convey the powerful, discordant reactions -- relief, horror, pride, fear -- that the bombings, and the long-sought victory over Japan, unleashed.

posted by zarq at 11:55 AM on August 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


When you're against peace not as an instantiation of anti-war sentiment germane to the war at hand, but against peace in the abstract, against a world without conflict and hostility, you're too fucked in the head to not be in a hospital.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:55 AM on August 6, 2010 [14 favorites]


Thank you for posting this.
posted by zarq at 11:56 AM on August 6, 2010


Japanese war crimes took place, too.

"... The most infamous incident during this period was the Nanking Massacre of 1937-38, when, according to the findings of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, the Japanese Army massacred as many as 300,000 civilians and prisoners of war, although the accepted figure is somewhere in the hundreds of thousands. ...[31]"
posted by Carol Anne at 12:01 PM on August 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


Teach Barefoot Gen in elementary school classrooms around the world. That is my proposal. I don't see how it couldn't lead to stark reductions in both bombing and tacit societal approval thereof thirty or forty years after starting said program
posted by jtron at 12:02 PM on August 6, 2010


Some say that Fox News is a disreputable fear provoking propaganda machine. Some say if liberals didn't give Fox legitimacy by giving credence and being outraged by every piece of dissension they fabricate they would have no legitimacy at all. Some say that.
posted by any major dude at 12:02 PM on August 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


And the Commander in Chief needs an soldier's approval on matters of policy why?

The Commander in Chief needs the approval of a soldier's son on matters of policy why?
posted by nomadicink at 12:06 PM on August 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


Why not apologize? Is it a macho thing?

Because -- and this is my theoretical reconstruction of "some" people's opinions -- to apologize for nuking Japan would be to admit that we were wrong. To admit that we were wrong would be to admit that America didn't have the right to defend herself by any means necessary. To admit that America can't defend itself by any means necessary would be to admit that we can't torture suspected terrorists or preemptively invade other countries. To admit that we can't torture/invade would be to give in to the terrorists. To give in to the terrorists would be to admit that you hate freedom. To admit that you hate freedom would be to betray America's "Christian" values. To betray America's "Christian" values would be to make America into a Muslim theocracy. And that's what Obama's plan has been all along.
posted by Saxon Kane at 12:15 PM on August 6, 2010 [11 favorites]


Japanese war crimes took place, too.

So by that logic, would it have been justifiable for us to have rounded up Germans and gassed them as we occupied the Reich?

Incidentally...
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:15 PM on August 6, 2010 [6 favorites]


All the people who say that war is necessary and an ugly thing, should also see no problem in ALSO saying, "We're sorry we killed thousands of your civilians". If you understand exactly how ugly war is, and you're willing to risk the lives of others, you should also be able to take responsibility for all that it unleashes, including civilian death.

But hey, easier to just claim that you know how serious things are, that you are up to making the tough decisions and "doing what needs to be done" and then when the results come back in, covering your ears and shouting "Nuh-uh, no we didn't! Well, they did it too!" etc.

It takes bravado to send people into the line of bullets. It takes courage to look at all the bodies, yours and theirs, afterwards and admit you had a hand in it.
posted by yeloson at 12:20 PM on August 6, 2010 [11 favorites]


Saxon Kane: None of that circumlocution is necessary. "To apologize would be to admit the USA was wrong" is completely sufficient as an explanation since most Americans don't believe that the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was necessarily out of bounds in the context of the war. Whether they are correct in that appraisal isn't really relevant to this particular question.

This, of course, begs the question since it takes a really delusional worldview to believe this constituted an apology.
posted by Justinian at 12:20 PM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why not apologize? Is it a macho thing?

Captain Nathan Brittles (John Wayne): You're not quite "Army" yet, miss... or you'd know never to apologize... it's a sign of weakness.
posted by 2bucksplus at 12:21 PM on August 6, 2010


To admit that America can't defend itself by any means necessary would be to admit that we can't torture suspected terrorists or preemptively invade other countries.

You're stretching it for lousy rhetorical effect.

America shouldn't apologize for nuking Japan at that time and place because it has nothing to apologize for. It avoided an invasion of the island, resulting in loss of American life and sent a signal to Russia in terms of what we were not only capable of, but willing to do.
posted by nomadicink at 12:23 PM on August 6, 2010 [14 favorites]


And the Commander in Chief needs an soldier's approval on matters of policy why?

Because he's not even the armed forces' Commander in Chief, if you believe FOX News and Orly Taitz?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:23 PM on August 6, 2010


Justinian: True, but I was trying to flesh out the possible connections in the mind of the average "some people." Makes it easier to understand for those of us who 1) don't understand how someone could see this as an apology, and 2) wouldn't see the problem if it were.
posted by Saxon Kane at 12:24 PM on August 6, 2010


Splunge: “What am I not understanding? Why not apologize? Is it a macho thing?”

Because apologizing is something you do to acknowledge when you've done something wrong. And, as little as Japan may want to remember history, somebody has to.
posted by koeselitz at 12:25 PM on August 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


Since when was photographic evidence of the result of a countries historical action NSFW?
Is this the same mindset as not showing coffins returning from Iraq / Afghanistan?
posted by adamvasco at 12:27 PM on August 6, 2010


As someone who thinks the dropping of the atomic bombs was justifiable as the least awful option for ending the war against Japan, I see no problem with going to the memorial.

Whether or not it's an "apology" or "an expression of regret" or "profound sorrow" is something diplomats can haggle over. There's no reason not to acknowledge the suffering caused by U.S. actions, regardless of the justifications for causing it.
posted by fatbird at 12:28 PM on August 6, 2010 [12 favorites]


I'm not sure where the conflict between believing that the bombing was the right thing to do at the moment or the best course apparent to the US military and the Commander in Chief at the time and regret for the bombing (of a city full of civilians!) 65 years later is. It was a horrible thing to do and a horrible thing for Japan to suffer, even if it was the best of a bad set of options in a war between the US and Japan that Japan started.
posted by immlass at 12:30 PM on August 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


adamvasco: “Since when was photographic evidence of the result of a countries historical action NSFW?
Is this the same mindset as not showing coffins returning from Iraq / Afghanistan?”


Probably. You may take it up with our bosses, since they're the ones it comes down to, really. Until that's taken care of, however, it'll still be NSFW.

posted by koeselitz at 12:32 PM on August 6, 2010


It takes bravado to send people into the line of bullets. It takes courage to look at all the bodies, yours and theirs, afterwards and admit you had a hand in it.

Goddamn well said, yeloson.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:33 PM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why did Reagan apologize to the SS?
posted by zarq at 12:34 PM on August 6, 2010 [5 favorites]


"In 1945 ... , Secretary of War Stimson visited my headquarters in Germany, [and] 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 second 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. It was my belief that Japan was, at that very moment, seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of 'face.' "

General Dwight D. Eisenhower


"It is my opinion that the use of the barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan ... The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons ... My own feeling was that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children."

Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy


Early in May 1945, the Supreme War Direction Council began active discussion of ways and means to end the war, and talks were initiated with Soviet Russia seeking her intercession as mediator.

United States Strategic Bombing Survey, pg. 26

But we had to do it right? To save the lives of our soldiers that would be killed when we had to invade. They would never have surrendered, right? So obviously we shouldn't be under any obligation to apologize.

Just to preempt any specious arguments of this type.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 12:34 PM on August 6, 2010 [18 favorites]


adamvasco: “Since when was photographic evidence of the result of a countries historical action NSFW?

I've used it in this context. If content may disturb people or be disruptive, then it's polite to indicate that.
posted by zarq at 12:36 PM on August 6, 2010


I liked what Popehat had to say about the issue:
There is no doubt that soldiers who fought under the flags of North Carolina and the Confederacy posed a greater existential threat to the United States than the soldiers of imperial Japan ever did. Yet the field of battle on which they were beaten contains multiple monuments to North Carolina’s war dead, as well as to those of other Confederate states. And visitors to the Gettysburg cemetery and battlefield show those dead as much respect as they do to Union dead, even when the visitors come from Wisconsin or Massachusetts.

Similarly, though Japan isn’t part of the United States, we should respect the innocent who died or were ruined at Hiroshima, for innocent they were. It isn’t an apology to respect the dead, and one of the ways that governments show respect is to send diplomats to memorial ceremonies.

James Tibbets is an American, and he has the right to speak his mind, but he didn’t fight against Japan any more than I did. His descent from a famous man gives him no moral authority. He is not a hereditary war hero. His father’s courage and service won’t be lessened one bit by a diplomatic visit to a ceremony for the dead.
posted by jenkinsEar at 12:37 PM on August 6, 2010 [15 favorites]


It avoided an invasion of the island

To late.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 12:38 PM on August 6, 2010


Just to preempt any specious arguments of this type.

You've done no such thing. All you've done is increase the likelihood of such an argument taking place since things are nothing like as clear cut as you make it out to be. Potsdam, the extremely weak nature of the feelers put out to the Soviets by Japan, the explicit rejection of unconditional surrender by Japan in early August, etc.
posted by Justinian at 12:39 PM on August 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


As someone who thinks the dropping of the atomic bombs was justifiable as the least awful option for ending the war against Japan

Wrong, wrong, wrong.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 12:40 PM on August 6, 2010


immlass: “I'm not sure where the conflict between believing that the bombing was the right thing to do at the moment or the best course apparent to the US military and the Commander in Chief at the time and regret for the bombing (of a city full of civilians!) 65 years later is. It was a horrible thing to do and a horrible thing for Japan to suffer, even if it was the best of a bad set of options in a war between the US and Japan that Japan started.”

Regret would be the wrong thing to express. Unhappiness that it had to happen is the sense we should have about it. Time doesn't change this equation in any way. In fact, time makes this more important; we need to remember the past, and keep it alive, so that we can learn lessons from it and grow as a society.

And this is important not least because Japan itself has often refused to acknowledge its actions in the past and make them part of its shared heritage so that it can learn from them. Carol Anne mentioned the Nanking Atrocities; that's a propos here. If Japan sees the United States apologizing for dropping bombs that Japan itself has never rightly acknowledged as necessary, then we'll be two or three steps away from Japan expecting China to apologize for Nanking because 'it was a horrible thing for Japan to suffer.'
posted by koeselitz at 12:41 PM on August 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


Wrong, wrong, wrong.

WELL THAT SETTLES THAT.
posted by Justinian at 12:43 PM on August 6, 2010 [13 favorites]


There is little point in attempting precisely to impute Japan's unconditional surrender to any one of the numerous causes which jointly and cumulatively were responsible for Japan's disaster. The time lapse between military impotence and political acceptance of the inevitable might have been shorter had the political structure of Japan permitted a more rapid and decisive determination of national policies. Nevertheless, it seems clear that, even without the atomic bombing attacks, air supremacy over Japan could have exerted sufficient pressure to bring about unconditional surrender and obviate the need for invasion.

Based on a detailed investigation of all the facts, and supported by the testimony of the surviving Japanese leaders involved, it is the Survey's opinion that certainly prior to 31 December 1945, and in all probability prior to 1 November 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated.


United States Strategic Bombing Survey ,pg. 26. This section is titled, "Japan's Struggle to End the War"

I am going to have to respectfully disagree with you that it is not clear cut. The reasons we dropped the A bombs on Japan had little to do with Japan and a lot to do with Russian and the European Theater.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 12:45 PM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Our military leaders knew this but were overruled by the civilian leadership.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 12:47 PM on August 6, 2010


Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Seriously, there's far more to it than your preemptive quotes implies. You really want to get into this, we can get into this, but it'll be a massive derail that will demonstrate nothing.
posted by fatbird at 12:47 PM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


It takes bravado to send people into the line of bullets. It takes courage to look at all the bodies, yours and theirs, afterwards and admit you had a hand in it.

Worth noting that if the situation had been reversed, we would never, ever have forgiven Japan.
posted by zarq at 12:47 PM on August 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


Forgive my ignorance, (oh shit forgot this was Metafiletr, mock it unmercifully then,) but why was The Enola Gay allowed unharassed transit over the Japanese home islands? Was the Japanese defensive capability so low by that time that planes could transit at will?
posted by Keith Talent at 12:48 PM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


What exactly isn't clear cut? That Japan wanted to surrender?
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 12:48 PM on August 6, 2010


Worth noting that if the situation had been reversed, we would never, ever have forgiven Japan.

Did America ever forgive Pearl Harbor?
posted by nomadicink at 12:49 PM on August 6, 2010


but it'll be a massive derail that will demonstrate nothing.

Ok I'm done then. But yeah pretty clear cut in my opinion, and apparently in Dwight Eisenhower's opinion as well but what did he know.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 12:50 PM on August 6, 2010


What exactly isn't clear cut? That Japan wanted to surrender?

They didn't want to surrender. In the cabinet meeting following the bombing of Hiroshima, they were still arguing whether or not the terms of their surrender could include no foreign occupation of Japan and Japan handles its own disarmament and prosecution of war criminals. In other words, a rollback to 1935. Calling it "surrender" doesn't make it so.
posted by fatbird at 12:51 PM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


For today, it's enough that the US had a presence at the memorial. It acknowledges how terrible nuclear weapons are and that US leaders genuinely do not want to ever use them on people again. An "apology" if even warranted, is far too politically perilous and really changes nothing.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:51 PM on August 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


Forgive my ignorance, (oh shit forgot this was Metafiletr, mock it unmercifully then,) but why was The Enola Gay allowed unharassed transit over the Japanese home islands? Was the Japanese defensive capability so low by that time that planes could transit at will?
posted by Keith Talent


Pretty much.
posted by COBRA! at 12:52 PM on August 6, 2010


In the cabinet meeting following the bombing of Hiroshima, they were still arguing

source?
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 12:53 PM on August 6, 2010


Ok I'm done then.

Okay, so am I--when I posted my last, I hadn't seen this. I won't participate in this derail, having done it myself to the last thread we had on the topic.
posted by fatbird at 12:54 PM on August 6, 2010


Memail me if you want to discuss it, AElfwine.
posted by fatbird at 12:54 PM on August 6, 2010


okay
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 12:55 PM on August 6, 2010


Did America ever forgive Pearl Harbor?

2350 people died at Pearl Harbor. 68 of them were civilians.

The death toll at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was approximately 100,000 More than 200,000 died within five years thanks to the radiation from the blast.

200,000. Nearly all of whom were civilians.
posted by zarq at 12:56 PM on August 6, 2010 [6 favorites]


Why was The Enola Gay allowed unharassed transit over the Japanese home islands? Was the Japanese defensive capability so low by that time that planes could transit at will?
posted by Keith Talent at 3:48 PM on August 6


B-29 Superfortress: In wartime, the B-29 was capable of flight up to 40,000 feet (12,000 m), at speeds of up to 350 mph (true airspeed). This was its best defense, because Japanese fighters of that day could barely get that high, and few could catch the B-29, even if they were at altitude and waiting. Only the heaviest of anti-aircraft weapons could reach it, and since the Axis forces did not have proximity fuzes, hitting or damaging the airplane from the ground in combat was next to impossible.
posted by Comrade_robot at 12:56 PM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Nevertheless, it seems clear that, even without the atomic bombing attacks, air supremacy over Japan could have exerted sufficient pressure to bring about unconditional surrender and obviate the need for invasion.

What makes you think that this would have resulted in fewer casualties among Japanese civilians? Have you never heard of Dresden?

And would it be a big surprise that the authors of a strategic bombing survey would overestimate the value of air supremacy?
posted by me & my monkey at 12:56 PM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


AElfwine: If nothing else you're ignoring that the USSBS you keep quoting says that Japan would likely have surrendered even if the US had not dropped the atomic bombs... as long as the USA had ramped up conventional bombing over Japan for several more months. That's what you're eliding. It doesn't say or imply that the U.S. could have sat back off the coast and Japan would have surrendered. It says that if the U.S. had continued to launch massive conventional firebombing attacks of Japanese cities that would have forced a surrender.

The conventional bombing of Japanese cities caused more casualties than the atomic bombs. The difference was the psychological impact of that much destruction being caused by a single plane with a single bomb. (ok, a single plane with massive numbers of escorts but you know what I mean). So you're misrepresenting the facts and the conclusions of the USSBS.

The choice as presented in that survey was not "atomic bombs causing mass casualties or no atomic bombs and Japan surrenders anyway with no mass casualties" it was "atmoic bombs causing mass casualties or no atomic bombs and Japan surrenders anyway after months of conventional air supremacy over the Japanese mainland causing untold numbers of military and civilian casualties among the Japanese people and a much lower but still significant number of Allied casualties".

You can't pre-empt a discussion by misrepresenting what a key document says.
posted by Justinian at 12:57 PM on August 6, 2010 [13 favorites]


Based on a detailed investigation of all the facts, and supported by the testimony of the surviving Japanese leaders involved, it is the Survey's opinion that certainly prior to 31 December 1945, and in all probability prior to 1 November 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated.

I wonder how many more Chinese civilians would have died in the interim? People seem to forget there were other countries involved other than just the US and Japan.

Of course, then again, I guess they would have merely died a bit earlier rather than later in the civil war or the Great Leap Forward or the Cultural Revolution. Ugh, humanity can be so ugly.

(It's also grating to both dislike the Yasukuni Shrine visits and the CCP's exploitation of it to stir up its own nationalist fervor.)
posted by kmz at 12:57 PM on August 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


For anyone who is interested, this issue has been debated many times here before. I personally have changed my opinion a few times on whether or not it was really necessary, and now have come to the conclusion that having a strong opinion either way about it probably isn't going to help one understand it fully, if that's even possible.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:58 PM on August 6, 2010 [6 favorites]


Sorry... the total number of people killed was 200,000: 100K in the initial blast (or within a week or two) and another 100K died within 5 years.

I'm not sure if I was clear enough about that in my last comment. The way I phrased it, it could look like 300K died.
posted by zarq at 12:58 PM on August 6, 2010


You know, it doesn't really strike me as a derail to discuss whether the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are something the U.S. should apologize for in a thread about some idiots accusing the U.S. ambassador of apologizing for the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I don't see what else there is to talk about here but I'm not exactly looking forward to an argument in which nobody has their mind changed, so yeah.
posted by Justinian at 1:00 PM on August 6, 2010


AElfwine Evenstar: “What exactly isn't clear cut? That Japan wanted to surrender?”

Japan didn't want to surrender, and if you can produce any evidence that they did, I'll be happy. As it is, all there's ever been is the claim that there was a "powerful peace movement" within Japan – which is clearly overstating the case, since the tiny antiwar movement there had absolutely no influence over the government, which did not care in the slightest how many people might die. It particularly didn't care about what happened at Okinawa (where more people died than died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined) because many of the Okinawans weren't ethnically Japanese. Nor was the government particularly concerned about an invasion, which it viewed as a possibility that could be faced with the "strength of the Japanese people" (read: piles of civilian casualties) on their side.

In fact, the marginalization of Okinawa in the face of Hiroshima and Nagasaki has always really bothered me. Apparently, if people die and they're not Japanese or American, they don't actually count.
posted by koeselitz at 1:00 PM on August 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


And this is important not least because Japan itself has often refused to acknowledge its actions in the past and make them part of its shared heritage so that it can learn from them.

I don't buy that the US should refuse to acknowledge its action in dropping atomic bombs on civilians as something to be regretted, as much for our own sake and and the world's as for Japan's, because Japan refuses to do the right thing in acknowledging its conduct in the Rape of Nanking. Maybe instead we could model the desired conduct (acknowledging that wartime behavior was terrible to others) for Japan, which is what I'd like to hope US attendance at the commemoration did.
posted by immlass at 1:01 PM on August 6, 2010


2350 people died at Pearl Harbor. 68 of them were civilians.

It was a serious question, not the beginning of a dick waving debate.

Did the US ever formerly forgive Japan for Pearl Harbor?
posted by nomadicink at 1:06 PM on August 6, 2010


"I'm sorry you made me punch you in the face. Don't let it happen again."
posted by blue_beetle at 1:11 PM on August 6, 2010


On December 7, 1992 I was coming near the end of a college semester spent in Japan. The 50 year anniversary of Pearl Harbor made for lots of news coverage. That night I was sitting around a bonfire with a few Americans and a bunch of Japanese college kids. We ended up discussing Pearl Harbor as well as Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

It was a little bit tense at first as all of us were nervous that we might be treading on thin ice or inadvertently being rude. After the initial hesitance wore off people were just discussing something that happened. I wish I could remember more details of the conversation now. The thing I do remember clearly though is that by and large the Japanese kids looked on the whole thing not that differently than the Americans.

I would describe their viewpoint, at least as stated aloud during the discussion, as being that it was a frightening awful thing to have happened but they did not hold a sense of anger or reproach. Much like most Germans' disgust for Nazism today, the people I was talking with sounded almost embarrassed about the actions of WWII era Japan.

There is some selection bias to be found there. I was talking with college kids who were halfway along a path to going to school in America. Obviously a group of people in the midst of completing a plan to go to school in America are not going to skew very conservative or anti-American.

Not sure what all this has to do with the post really. It just made me remember being out under the night sky next to a bonfire discussing these things. After the initial hesitance wore off, the resulting discussion was a huge marker point in my life for seeing, and feeling, that people are people wherever you go.

I guess that's where this links to the post for me. I can't see it ever being a bad thing for a group of people to gather together and find their common humanity. It's just inexcusable to object to sharing a sense of mourning for things lost on the grounds that it somehow lessens us. Quite to the contrary, doing so informally by a bonfire was one of the great growing experiences of my life.
posted by Babblesort at 1:11 PM on August 6, 2010 [5 favorites]


what a key document says.

I suggest you read the section title "Japan's Struggle to end the War". This document is a primary source and you really don't get more authoritative that this. So while you may think Japan didn't want to surrender you would be wrong. We can disagree about the terms they were willing to surrender to, but not the fact that they wanted to surrender.

So are we agreed that this is a derail or not? If it is I am happy discussing it in a different venue, but if not than can we continue discussion here?
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 1:12 PM on August 6, 2010


immlass: “I don't buy that the US should refuse to acknowledge its action in dropping atomic bombs on civilians as something to be regretted, as much for our own sake and and the world's as for Japan's, because Japan refuses to do the right thing in acknowledging its conduct in the Rape of Nanking. Maybe instead we could model the desired conduct (acknowledging that wartime behavior was terrible to others) for Japan, which is what I'd like to hope US attendance at the commemoration did.”

No – I'm sorry if I was unclear; I'm saying we should refuse to acknowledge our actions. Quite the opposite. Japan refuses to acknowledge that those actions were necessary, and has consistently refused to acknowledge its own actions before and during the war that those bombings ended. The past can't get whitewashed. If we apologize for something that was, in fact, necessary, we are telling Japan that it has nothing to be ashamed of in its imperial past. And that would be a lie.

I also understand that the word "regret" might seem to lend itself to multiple meanings. But to my mind, one regrets actions that were wrong. If I have to do something terrible but justified – something that was necessary, but that hurt many people – I don't say that I regret that action. I might say that I regret that it had to happen, and that I regret the harm it did; but it seems important really to avoid the word "regret" altogether, because it's fraught with vagueness and misunderstanding.

Better to say that we're unhappy at the terrible and tragic loss of life that occurred, and that we share the continuing sadness of the Japanese people at the tremendous loss of life. Which, as far as I can tell, we've pretty much done.

All I meant to say is this: it may seem conciliatory for us to offer vague almost-apologies expressing 'regret,' but it's essential for us to be careful not to say what we don't mean. We have be precise about this and clear about what happened in the past and why it happened the way it did. That's the example that should be set for Japan.
posted by koeselitz at 1:14 PM on August 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


everyone remembers Desden, Tokyo's firebombing is rarely mentioned. ~100,000 deaths, non nuclear.

Fwiw, I don't know if anyone can say if a land invasion would have been better or worse, but certainly the estimated # of American causalities increased as the case was made for using the nukes.

...and sent a signal to Russia in terms of what we were not only capable of, but willing to do.

Which set off 50 years of ramped military spending on both sides, essentially bankrupting one country and drastically draining the coffers of the other. If we had avoided the cold war the state of our nation would be phenomenal by now.
posted by edgeways at 1:14 PM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's not a derail to discus American's right to nuke Japan, ending the war on US terms and sending a signal to Russian about our capabilities.
posted by nomadicink at 1:15 PM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Gah, that first sentence should say: "I'm not saying we should refuse to acknowledge our actions." Worst typo EVAR.
posted by koeselitz at 1:16 PM on August 6, 2010


It makes me pretty sick to think that my (progressive, tolerant) middle and high schools fed us those lines about "well, the bomb saved more soldier's lives, SO..."

Yeah, by massacring children. Somehow that part was brushed over.

Go ahead and defend the bomb, but for gods' sakes be honest about what you're defending.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 1:17 PM on August 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


.
posted by NoraReed at 1:18 PM on August 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


Which set off 50 years of ramped military spending on both sides, essentially bankrupting one country and drastically draining the coffers of the other. If we had avoided the cold war the state of our nation would be phenomenal by now.

It's cool, America won and nobody used the bomb since WWII. WIN WIN.
posted by nomadicink at 1:18 PM on August 6, 2010


The death toll at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was approximately 100,000 More than 200,000 died within five years thanks to the radiation from the blast.

200,000. Nearly all of whom were civilians.


And the death toll for Chinese civilians in the war is somewhere in the 10-20 million range.

Nevertheless, it seems clear that, even without the atomic bombing attacks, air supremacy over Japan could have exerted sufficient pressure to bring about unconditional surrender and obviate the need for invasion.

What makes you think that this would have resulted in fewer casualties among Japanese civilians? Have you never heard of Dresden?


In fact, the firebombing of Tokyo resulted in at least 100,000 deaths, probably more. That's not counting all the others cities that were also bombed. It's highly probable that the Japanese civilian death toll would have been higher from continued conventional bombing without the use of atomic weapons.
posted by kmz at 1:18 PM on August 6, 2010 [10 favorites]


edgeways: “Fwiw, I don't know if anyone can say if a land invasion would have been better or worse, but certainly the estimated # of American causalities increased as the case was made for using the nukes.”

American casualties were a good rhetorical point for convincing Americans of the necessity of the bombing in 1945 and soon after. I don't think they're as central any more, I think, to a good argument for what happened.

At this point, to my mind the pivotal fact is that the Japanese government at the time had very few scruples about hiding behind Japanese civilians and watching the bodies pile up. They'd done it before, and they were willing to do it again. I still believe that the bombings saved Japanese lives, and that's the pivotal point.
posted by koeselitz at 1:19 PM on August 6, 2010 [6 favorites]


"Did the US ever formally forgive Japan for Pearl Harbor?"

LOL, you mean do the Christian thing to do?
posted by Xoebe at 1:20 PM on August 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


I suggest you read the section title "Japan's Struggle to end the War".

You're still ignoring the fact that the document clearly refers to continuing and even escalating U.S. air supremacy over Japan. That there would have been large numbers of Japanese casualties whether or not the atomic bombs were used and that it isn't clear that there wouldn't have been more Japanese casualties with massive conventional bombings. There certainly would have been more Allied casualties.
posted by Justinian at 1:20 PM on August 6, 2010


Why are you all playing the equivalency game? NOBODY WINS THAT GAME.
posted by grubi at 1:21 PM on August 6, 2010


nomadicink: "It's not a derail to discus American's right to nuke Japan, ending the war on US terms and sending a signal to Russian about our capabilities."

You know how when there's a fight and everyone all gets together to break that shit up and as the two people are being pulled apart one of them jumps up in the air and sucker punches the other, restarting the violence? This comment reminded me of that.
posted by charred husk at 1:25 PM on August 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


Ok here is my understanding of events, I have to run some errands and work out but will be back later if anyone wants sources. Japan wanted to surrender. Japan wanted to keep the Emperor. We said no, only unconditional surrender. Japan says no. We nuke Japan. Japan surrenders. We let Japan keep Emperor.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 1:27 PM on August 6, 2010


You're still ignoring the fact that the document clearly refers to continuing and even escalating U.S. air supremacy over Japan.

You're ignoring the fact that Japan wanted to surrender and if we had accepted that surrender said escalation would have been unnecessary.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 1:29 PM on August 6, 2010


charred husk: “You know how when there's a fight and everyone all gets together to break that shit up and as the two people are being pulled apart one of them jumps up in the air and sucker punches the other, restarting the violence? This comment reminded me of that.”

You know when you were a kid, and some bully beat you up and then lied and said you beat him up, and his mom made a big stink, and your mom told you you had to apologize, and when you said it wasn't your fault and you shouldn't have to apologize, she said 'it doesn't matter whose fault it is; you should apologize anyway, because that's the nice thing to do' ? This comment reminded me of that.

The past matters. Talking about it is a good thing. And whitewashing it over in a vague attempt to be conciliatory erases every lesson we could possibly learn from it.
posted by koeselitz at 1:29 PM on August 6, 2010 [5 favorites]


American casualties were a good rhetorical point for convincing Americans of the necessity of the bombing in 1945 and soon after. I don't think they're as central any more...

But this is exactly the arguments that get advocated as justification for the bombings, even now. To be frank I don't often hear the "but it saved Japanese lives" all that much. It may be a pivotal point for you, and I respect that, but it is a minority position, and one I'd be shocked to learn was even considered by US powers.
posted by edgeways at 1:29 PM on August 6, 2010


This comment reminded me of that.

Thank you.

Japan wanted to surrender. Japan wanted to keep the Emperor. We said no, only unconditional surrender. Japan says no. We nuke Japan. Japan surrenders. We let Japan keep Emperor.

I don't see why that chain of events is a problem. America wasn't going to let Japan dictate terms of surrender, so they didn't.
posted by nomadicink at 1:32 PM on August 6, 2010


I'm not really aware that 'forgiving' is something that is actually done in diplomacy. Apologizing, yes, but forgiving seems very rare.

I think that it is inevitable that time will heal the wounds (and the pride). Looking at Europe, it's getting increasingly more acceptable that German officials are invited to WW2 memorials. Largely, there's often no specific apologizing or forgiveness, but rather a common understanding that what happened, happened, and the vast majority of dead, on both sides, were victims of this war.

On principle, I don't believe that apology should be a quid pro quo affair, or any kind of comparison between numbers. Neither should it be a decision taken lightly. There's nothing wrong with giving it another 35 years or so.

But if a point is ever reached where such an apology seems reasonable, it should look something like this.
posted by Harry at 1:32 PM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


AElfwine Evenstar: “You're ignoring the fact that Japan wanted to surrender and if we had accepted that surrender said escalation would have been unnecessary.”

"Japan wanted to surrender" is vastly an overstatement of the case. Two people in Japan had an idea about surrendering: Hirohito and Suzuki. This idea was something they utterly failed to communicate to the world at large, though it would have been quite easy to do so. Their failure had a lot to do with the fact that the rest of the government wanted no part of a surrender, and fought to keep it from happening. If you really think the leaders of the imperial government were solidly behind peace, I have a feeling you've misread that report you linked here earlier, which clearly states that Suzuki was laboring alone.
posted by koeselitz at 1:33 PM on August 6, 2010


It was a serious question, not the beginning of a dick waving debate.

Ah.

Did the US ever formerly forgive Japan for Pearl Harbor?

I do not believe we did. I don't think the Japanese apologized to us for the attack, either. In the 90's, the Japanese stated that they believed both sides were owed apologies. Us for PH, them for Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
posted by zarq at 1:35 PM on August 6, 2010


koeselitz: "The past matters. Talking about it is a good thing. And whitewashing it over in a vague attempt to be conciliatory erases every lesson we could possibly learn from it."

I was referring to the rhetorical technique used, not the actual opinion voiced. For the most part I'm like Burhanistan in my opinion.
posted by charred husk at 1:35 PM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


The planned US invasion of Japan was codenamed Operation Downfall. ("Olympic" refers to the invasion of the island of Kyūshū.) Interestingly, some parts of it weren't declassified until the 1990s.

Some variants of the plan involved extensive use of poison gas (phosgene) on the civilian population, with estimated death tolls of 5M in the Tokyo area alone. (Although whether those estimates were developed before the firebombings, I'm not sure.)

Allegedly the plan was never sent to Truman because the atomic bombings rendered it unnecessary, but there were certainly those in the U.S. military establishment who thought quite seriously at the time that the only way to take the home islands would be to kill everyone on them first. I suspect they must have been honestly surprised at the surrender.

The brutality and finality with which that war was waged is something that I find difficult to appreciate at times.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:37 PM on August 6, 2010 [5 favorites]


I do not believe we did. I don't think the Japanese apologized to us for the attack, either. In the 90's, the Japanese stated that they believed both sides were owed apologies. Us for PH, them for Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

Thanks for that reply.

I'd agree, everyone could probably stand to do a lot of apologizing, but realistically it's not going to happen. And thanks ok too. In general most countries involved in WWII recognize they too have blood on their hands, no matter the side and that it would be best if we could avoid doing that again.

I think that's good enough.
posted by nomadicink at 1:38 PM on August 6, 2010


Why did Reagan apologize to the SS?

Well he didn't. But at the time many people thought his actions were wrong and outrageous. So I'm not seeing the right-wing hypocrisy that Media Matters wants to spin it as.

The statement that the U.S. would never forgive in a similar situation probably has (as a technical philosophical matter) no truth value. But the important thing to remember is that the U.S. not forgiving 200,000 casualties would have to be taken in the context of after starting and losing a war of agression that left the nation humiliated and sorrowful over what it had done to the point of declaring pacifism as its official policy. In that context, I think it's much more likely that the U.S. would forgive.

There is little point in attempting precisely to impute Japan's unconditional surrender to any one of the numerous causes which jointly and cumulatively were responsible for Japan's disaster. ... Nevertheless, it seems clear that, even without the atomic bombing attacks, air supremacy over Japan could have exerted sufficient pressure to bring about unconditional surrender and obviate the need for invasion.

As me & my monkey and Justinian point out, if you judge the atomic attack to have been immoral, the same criteria will likely lead you to judge the conventional bombing campaign as immoral. To say that we could of continued the conventional bombing campaign and avoided the atomic bombing is morally no better.

Me & my monkey is also correct to point out that there are elements of interservice rivalry to be considered in the bombing survey and in statements by Army Generals and Navy Admirals about the effectiveness of nuclear weapons in the context of the time.

My view tends towards thinking the atomic bombing was wrong. I think sending the U.S. Ambassador was the correct thing to do, but that an official apology would be premature given the lack of U.S. consenus over the morality of the attack. I think Paul Tibbet's son would probably be justified in being outraged if an apology was offered, because given our rejection of the Nuremberg defense, an official apology is tantamount to an official U.S. statement that his father was a war criminal.

[The bombing survey] is a primary source and you really don't get more authoritative that this.

Huh? While it may be authoritative in some ways, as an analysis primary sources are pretty unreliable. That's why we don't just read politicians historical speeches, but also have historians who write books about why they did what they did and the results, etc.
posted by Jahaza at 1:39 PM on August 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


Why are you all playing the equivalency game? NOBODY WINS THAT GAME.

I was not making equivalencies. I was indicating that the targets were different. In war, it's generally noted that civilized behavior means not targeting civilians and restricting one's military strikes (as much as is humanly possible) to military targets.

This is one of the reasons why the I/P conflict has been so awful. The Palestinians deliberately target and murder civilians, while the Israeli attacks are typically so disproportionate that they routinely murder Palestinian civilians as well.
posted by zarq at 1:40 PM on August 6, 2010


And the death toll for Chinese civilians in the war is somewhere in the 10-20 million range.

FFS. The answer to killing civilians is not killing more civilians.

You know how if someone is shooting people with a rifle from a tower, the answer is to shoot the shooter, not go find the shooter's children and shoot them?

There's fair arguments to be made that bombing military targets resulted in a lot of civilian losses- but the argument that X number of Chinese civilians died THEREFORE killing Y number of Japanese civilians is a Good Thing (TM) is insanity.
posted by yeloson at 1:42 PM on August 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


dear japan, i am very sorry for what we did to you with those terrible bombs. i have it in my heart to ask your forgiveness even if the leaders of my country don't.
posted by kitchenrat at 1:47 PM on August 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


as an analysis primary sources are pretty unreliable.

I actually misspoke. In regard to Japan's internal debates it is most definitely a secondary source. It is a primary source when dealing with the United States' internal analysis of the outcome of the Pacific theater.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 1:48 PM on August 6, 2010


Oh and as far as the Strategic Bombing Survey being unreliable as an analysis I would tend to disagree, if only for the fact that it goes against the public narrative that was and is still being pushed by the MSM.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 1:51 PM on August 6, 2010


It is a primary source when dealing with the United States' internal analysis of the outcome of the Pacific theater.

Sure, but knowing how the U.S. analyzed the problem at the time doesn't tell us whether they analyzed it correctly. Even if the civilian leadership went against the military analysis at the time, the civilian leaders could be right (morally, politically, or etc).
posted by Jahaza at 1:51 PM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


if only for the fact that it goes against the public narrative that was and is still being pushed by the MSM.

That's a rather odd criteria. If I tell you that the moon is made of swiss cheese, the fact that my explanation goes agains the consensus counts as evidence for its reliabiliy?
posted by Jahaza at 1:53 PM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


In war, it's generally noted that civilized behavior means not targeting civilians and restricting one's military strikes (as much as is humanly possible) to military targets.

That's the modern post-WWII understanding of civilized behavior among powerful industrialized nations. Until the advent of nuclear weapons pretty much everybody who engaged in a major war did everything they could to inflict as much damage as they could in any way they could.

By no-doubt sheer coincidence the rise of this understanding of civilized behavior among industrialized nations has taken place at exactly the same time that it became basically impossible for most countries to defeat or even inflict serious damage to those industrialized nations using conventional warfare. In other words, we have now defined civilized behavior as only that behavior which stands no chance of working.

Note that I'm absolutely not saying that targeting civilians is moral. I am saying that it isn't an accident that we've come to the conclusion that targeting civilians is immoral only once waging conventional warfare against us became basically impossible. I also guarantee that if a large industrialized western nation found itself in a fight for its survival it would suddenly "realize" that total warfare isn't actually immoral.
posted by Justinian at 1:54 PM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


defined civilized behavior as only that behavior which stands no chance of working [against us].
posted by Justinian at 1:56 PM on August 6, 2010


Early in May 1945, the Supreme War Direction Council began active discussion of ways and means to end the war, and talks were initiated with Soviet Russia seeking her intercession as mediator.

Although the Supreme War Direction Council, in its deliberations on the Potsdam Declaration, was agreed on the advisability of ending the war, three of its members, the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister and the Navy Minister, were prepared to accept unconditional surrender, while the other three, the Army Minister, and the Chiefs of Staff of both services, favored continued resistance unless certain mitigating conditions were obtained.

You can try to spin this thing anyway you want but it is clear that the internal debate in Japan was not should we surrender, but how should we surrender. Granted their were elements in the military that wanted to continue, but not because they didn't want to surrender but because they wanted to hold out for better terms.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 2:01 PM on August 6, 2010


not because they didn't want to surrender but because they wanted to hold out for better terms.

And the terms they wanted to hold out for was a return to the status quo of the early 30s: the Imperial government still in place, no foreign occupation, and withdrawal from occupied territories. In other words, "we started a massive wave of conquest, failed, and would like to go back to the way things were just before we started."

Those terms were plainly unacceptable. Calling it "surrender" is misleading at best.
posted by fatbird at 2:05 PM on August 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


Sure, but knowing how the U.S. analyzed the problem at the time doesn't tell us whether they analyzed it correctly. Even if the civilian leadership went against the military analysis at the time, the civilian leaders could be right (morally, politically, or etc).

What leads you to believe that the Strategic Bombing Survey(SBS) is unreliable as a historical document?

If I tell you that the moon is made of swiss cheese, the fact that my explanation goes agains the consensus counts as evidence for its reliabiliy?

If the people creating the consensus are known liars and have a reason for the moon not to be made out of swiss cheese and you are an expert on swiss cheese than yes.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 2:05 PM on August 6, 2010


FFS. The answer to killing civilians is not killing more civilians.

You know how if someone is shooting people with a rifle from a tower, the answer is to shoot the shooter, not go find the shooter's children and shoot them?

There's fair arguments to be made that bombing military targets resulted in a lot of civilian losses- but the argument that X number of Chinese civilians died THEREFORE killing Y number of Japanese civilians is a Good Thing (TM) is insanity.


Of course killing civilians purely in vengeance is wrong. But the atomic bombs hastened the withdrawal of Japanese troops from China, saving countless civilian lives there. Was it not the responsibility of the US to force the surrender of Japan as quickly as possible? It would be a different matter if Japan had already withdrawn all their forces to within their own territory. Even then there's the consideration of Japanese civilian casualties under different scenarios, but as it was Japanese troops were still active across large swathes of Asia.
posted by kmz at 2:07 PM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Those terms were plainly unacceptable. Calling it "surrender" is misleading at best.

So basically civilians be damned we have to teach those Japanese bastards a lesson and make them our bitches before we end this war?
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 2:10 PM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


So basically civilians be damned we have to teach those Japanese bastards a lesson and make them our bitches before we end this war?

Are you saying that the Allies should have accepted those terms?
posted by fatbird at 2:13 PM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


So basically civilians be damned we have to teach those Japanese bastards a lesson and make them our bitches before we end this war?

Yes.

Seriously, the US wanting to impose unconditional surrender from Japan is not crazy. Is it morally wrong? Yeah, well war sucks that way.
posted by nomadicink at 2:13 PM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


During the days before that fateful Aug. 6, 1945, Gen. Douglas MacArthur learned that Japan had asked Russia to negotiate a surrender. "We expected acceptance of the Japanese surrender daily," one of his staff members recalled. When he was notified that an atomic bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima, the general was livid. MacArthur declared that the atomic attack on Hiroshima was "completely unnecessary from a military point of view."
posted by adamvasco at 2:14 PM on August 6, 2010


AElfwine Evenstar: “So basically civilians be damned we have to teach those Japanese bastards a lesson and make them our bitches before we end this war?”

Look, the idea of getting the terms of surrender right isn't to defend one's pride, as much as you may think some patriotic urge was behind the whole thing. The point is that there are some "surrenders" the terms of which lead to more civilian deaths than continued warfare would. An intact Imperial Government is one instance of such terms; more people would have died in that circumstance. And if you don't believe that's possible, let's think a little about the Treaty of Versailles.
posted by koeselitz at 2:17 PM on August 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


McArthur's opinion was an expert but outside opinion. And his desire to nuke China during the Korean war tends to make me think that his judgement was not the be all and end all of military opinions.
posted by fatbird at 2:18 PM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


adamvasco, that article was one of the most inane and incorrect accounts of the bombing and of Harry Truman that I've ever read. Good god. We're talking about the guy who desegregated the armed forced here. When he called people "japs," he wasn't being racist; he was the first one to make the argument that Japanese civilians were the ones who would be saved by the bombing. That was his primary motivation.

Methinks Ronald Takaki hasn't actually read much about what happened back there.
posted by koeselitz at 2:20 PM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yes.

Seriously, the US wanting to impose unconditional surrender from Japan is not crazy. Is it morally wrong? Yeah, well war sucks that way.


Ok, well at least we're clear about where you stand.

During the days before that fateful Aug. 6, 1945, Gen. Douglas MacArthur learned that Japan had asked Russia to negotiate a surrender. "We expected acceptance of the Japanese surrender daily," one of his staff members recalled. When he was notified that an atomic bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima, the general was livid. MacArthur declared that the atomic attack on Hiroshima was "completely unnecessary from a military point of view."

Now adamvasco what did people like MacArthur, Eisenhower, and Leahy know about such matters? They were merely the people prosecuting the war effort. Their opinions don't count here.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 2:20 PM on August 6, 2010


Now adamvasco what did people like MacArthur, Eisenhower, and Leahy know about such matters? They were merely the people prosecuting the war effort. Their opinions don't count here.

Sarcasm is less impressive than responding to the legitimate arguments being raised here, like Justinian's (about the bombing survey) and mine (about the terms of surrender).
posted by fatbird at 2:29 PM on August 6, 2010


McArthur's opinion was an expert but outside opinion.

And hardly neutral, either - "Dugout Doug" had his own ambitions, and made lots of mistakes during the execution of the Pacific war.
posted by me & my monkey at 2:30 PM on August 6, 2010


All I see are claims that the SBS is questionable without anything to back up that claim. I agree that the main problems were the terms of the surrender. My only point is that Japan wanted to surrender. All these theories about what may or may not have happened if things had gone differently are really pointless. My point is that our actual actions were immoral, you disagree and I don't see anything I say here changing that opinion so maybe we can agree to disagree.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 2:34 PM on August 6, 2010


koeselitz ^: methinks you have no idea who Ronald Takaki was.
posted by adamvasco at 2:36 PM on August 6, 2010


All I see are claims that the SBS is questionable without anything to back up that claim.

I was referring to Justinian's specific point about the SSBS, not the general claims about its reliability:
AElfwine: If nothing else you're ignoring that the USSBS you keep quoting says that Japan would likely have surrendered even if the US had not dropped the atomic bombs... as long as the USA had ramped up conventional bombing over Japan for several more months.
My point is that our actual actions were immoral, you disagree and I don't see anything I say here changing that opinion so maybe we can agree to disagree.

I'm trying to discuss with you the actual facts of what happened, not just randomly casting aspersions on various sources. Am I the only here unwilling to have his opinion challenged?
posted by fatbird at 2:40 PM on August 6, 2010


Until the advent of nuclear weapons pretty much everybody who engaged in a major war did everything they could to inflict as much damage as they could in any way they could.

The lack of gas warfare in the European theater says this isn't quite true.

the general was livid. MacArthur declared that the atomic attack on Hiroshima was "completely unnecessary from a military point of view."

...but for Douglas MacArthur, any operation he was not in command of was completely unnecessary.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:41 PM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


We must be careful not to get bogged down in an argument such as whether or not the firebombing of Tokyo was strategically justifiable, and whether or not the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were strategically justifiable. The fundamental question is why this theory justifying mass killing has persisted for so long even after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is important to ask why the strategy was applied during the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and why variants of it are still used to some extent to justify the "collateral damage" of "precision bombing" in wars such as those in Afghanistan, Kosovo and Iraq.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 2:42 PM on August 6, 2010


Until the advent of nuclear weapons pretty much everybody who engaged in a major war did everything they could to inflict as much damage as they could in any way they could

International norms concerning conduct in war most definitely predate nuclear weapons, but yeah--even since nuclear weapons these norms, explicit or unstated, are often just paid lip service to for propaganda value rather than adhered to.
posted by Kirk Grim at 2:42 PM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think it's pretty obvious that both the planned-but-never-happened invasion and the use of nuclear weapons were choices made by the Joint Chiefs and Truman. Likewise, both decisions were precipitated mainly by a desire to end the war quickly, not a desire to end it with a minimum of casualties (on either side). Speaking of casualties as though they were the primary consideration makes little sense, as the actions of the top planners in both sides of the war in the Pacific make it utterly clear that war goals came first; casualties, both civilian and combatant, were a very distant second. If that.

Claiming that dropping nuclear bombs on civilian population centers was "necessary" or "saved lives" -- as though we could not have chosen otherwise, and as if saving lives was a major part of the equation -- seems like a retroactive attempt to have our cake and eat it, too, especially since we continue to hold other parties morally responsible for choosing to take similar actions. Claiming that the bombs were an atrocity which successfully achieved our political goals is something else entirely... would that we could treat the war with that level of brutal honesty, rather than papering it over with hindsight-tinged, one-sided moralism.
posted by vorfeed at 2:43 PM on August 6, 2010 [6 favorites]


The Yasukuni Shrine, while a controversial visit for politicians, is a worthwhile stop for anyone visiting Tokyo. The shrine operates a museum about World War II, and obviously presents a Japanese perspective on the war. I walked into that museum thinking that bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been a terrible tragedy, a horrendous loss of innocent life, and we never should have dropped the bomb.

After two hours of wandering through the museum, reading exhibit markers explaining that FDR's treachery had left Japan with no alternative but to attack Pearl Harbor, reading the history of the war from a different point of view, seeing the rooms full of weaponry used and being developed by the Japanese military (memorably, they were trying to develop a type of weaponized SCUBA to use people as human torpedoes) forced me to stop and re-think my previously-held beliefs.

That museum convinced me that Imperial Japan would never have surrendered without an invasion of the home islands, an invasion that would have necessarily been a bloodbath, both for millions of Japanese civilians and probably hundreds of thousands of Allied troops.

I walked out of that museum thinking that bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been a terrible tragedy, a horrendous loss of innocent life, and given the information the US had in August 1945, most likely the least worst of alternatives available. War is, by its very nature, barbaric and cruel, and World War II especially so. I think that after 65 years we can come together to acknowledge the human costs, without assigning moral high ground to any particular side.
posted by ambrosia at 2:50 PM on August 6, 2010 [11 favorites]


ROU_Xenophobe I have the understanding that gas warfare was relatively inefficient as a killing tool as due to the vagueries of delivery method and wind the attackers could easily gas their own side. Nothing to do with humaneness.
posted by adamvasco at 2:52 PM on August 6, 2010


without assigning moral high ground to any particular side.

Who's assigning moral high ground to Japan?
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 2:55 PM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've heard the arguments that the bombing saved lives, by avoiding an invasion of the home islands that would have led to the deaths of millions. If those were the only two options, the bombing might have been the best choice.

But the third option was to negotiate a conditional surrender. koeselitz, you say more people would have died with an intact Imperial Government - but is this certain? Was there no way the Allies could have kept an intact postwar Japan contained?

As for Versailles: the Nazis would not have come to power after World War I if the Allies had demanded unconditional surrender and occupied Germany for many years. But I think the main problem in the inter-war period was that the Allies refused to enforce the terms of their own treaty, because they really didn't want to go to war again. This allowed Germany to rearm. (The war guilt clause also contributed to the "back-stab legend", which eroded the legitimacy of the Weimar government.)

Would the WWII allies have been just as reluctant to take action against an aggressive postwar Japan? Maybe... but when deciding whether to kill 200,000 mostly-innocent people, I think "maybe" or "probably" isn't good enough.
posted by problemspace at 3:02 PM on August 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


adamvasco: “koeselitz ^: methinks you have no idea who Ronald Takaki was.”

On the contrary, I know precisely who Takaki is. I spent the summer of 2002 in Berkeley, and heard him speak there on race relations. I had no idea he'd written a book about WWII, but based on this essay, I wouldn't read it.
posted by koeselitz at 3:05 PM on August 6, 2010


As for Justinian's "specific point about the SSBS", it doesn't wash. The most reasonable estimates of the entire number of casualties from nine months of bombing in Japan, including nuclear casualties, were between 330,000 and 375,000. That includes 100,000 dead in the Toyko firebombing, a singular event which was never matched, and another 100,000 people killed on the days of the atomic bombings (and does not include another 100,000 killed by radiation sickness).

The idea that three more months of conventional bombings would have killed more Japanese civilians than the atomic bombs is unlikely, especially given that most of their cities were already more than 50% destroyed. Besides, the SSBS' plan involved strategic bombing of railways and merchant shipping, not civilian centers -- part of their conclusion was that the emphasis on bombing Japan's "inner zone" inadvertently prolonged the war.
posted by vorfeed at 3:10 PM on August 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


ambrosia: I believe that the human torpedoes you refer to were called kaiten (unless there was some other type of weaponized SCUBA developed by Japan). They were actually in use, although by any standard they were tremendously inefficient -- far more Japanese were killed during training or when the subs that carried them (and had a limited depth range) were sunk than Allied soldiers killed by them. I first learned of them in David Mitchell's book number9dream.
posted by Saxon Kane at 3:11 PM on August 6, 2010


But the third option was to negotiate a conditional surrender. koeselitz, you say more people would have died with an intact Imperial Government - but is this certain? Was there no way the Allies could have kept an intact postwar Japan contained?

This actually gets into an interesting argument. The Japanese surrender terms prior to the dropping of the bombs were clear: retain the Emperor (i.e., retain the Imperial government), withdrawal from occupied territories, no foreign occupation of Japan, and Japan oversees its own disarmament and prosecution of war crimes.

The moral dilemma then is to drop the bombs and end the war on Allied terms, or to accept the Japanese terms and contain them. From Truman's perspective, which is the moral choice?

Honestly, I find it difficult to consider accepting the Japanese terms. Something seems vastly wrong about allowing the Japanese to return to the status quo of the early 30s after a decade of waging aggressive war and killing millions.
posted by fatbird at 3:12 PM on August 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


AElfwine Evenstar: “All I see are claims that the SBS is questionable without anything to back up that claim. I agree that the main problems were the terms of the surrender. My only point is that Japan wanted to surrender. All these theories about what may or may not have happened if things had gone differently are really pointless. My point is that our actual actions were immoral, you disagree and I don't see anything I say here changing that opinion so maybe we can agree to disagree.”

Your argument that the bombing was unjust hinges on the word 'surrender,' and I understand where you're coming from, I think, but: 'surrender' is by no means a clean and simple thing. What would a surrender which left the imperial government fully intact and operational, and the military structure at near-full capacity, have meant? Isn't it not only possible but likely that this would've meant more loss of life than the bombing? You act as though they were ready to drop their arms; they weren't. Some were ready to say anything to make the US stop, but that doesn't mean that Japan as a whole was ready to drop the war effort entirely; and this is acknowledged by good historians on both sides of the Pacific. A limited, conditional surrender would've been, at best, an armistice for a year or two; and at worst, it would've been the precipitation of a protracted ground struggle that ended in massive loss of life.

I understand that you don't agree that this is true, but it'd be nice to hear why. What exactly do you think would have happened in Japan after the war if limited, conditional surrender had allowed the Imperial Government to remain entirely in power and unchanged? Are you just expecting that the Japanese people would've risen up and overcome the oppressor that had led them to war? Do you believe that the violently militaristic upper class that drove the slaughter of Nanking would've just gone home quietly and apologized for their cruelties? It's hard for me to conceive of these things happening. Just so we're clear, we're talking about an army which, not ten years before, had stormed the capital of their greatest enemy and perpetrated bloodshed, rape and slaughter on a scale hitherto unknown to the world. Seriously, this is an army which you believe would've just stopped?

The reason you demand unconditional surrender isn't because your ego needs to be satisfied. It's because you don't trust the combatants to end combat otherwise. And that's the reason the US had to demand unconditional surrender; because there was really no way of knowing that the war was over otherwise.
posted by koeselitz at 3:17 PM on August 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


Saxon Kane: The museum had both the kaiten and also displayed prototypes of a different sort- smaller than the kaiten. It was an underwater breathing apparatus, the idea was that a diver would swim up to an enemy ship with a bomb attached to them, that they would detonate right next to the ship.
posted by ambrosia at 3:27 PM on August 6, 2010


It's foolish to judge the past by the standards of the present. However, if we found ourselves in a similar situation as the US did in 1945, would you advocate using an atomic bomb to resolve it? Or is that something you would find immoral?
posted by nola at 3:28 PM on August 6, 2010


problemspace: “koeselitz, you say more people would have died with an intact Imperial Government - but is this certain? Was there no way the Allies could have kept an intact postwar Japan contained?”

We were close to failing during a few moments at the height of the war, when our whole military force was already brought to bear. If Japan had been allowed to go on as it was (and to rebuild its military, which would have been inevitable under a conditional surrender) it may have been a long or a slow buildup, but war would've returned.

I just don't want it ignored: that regime was one of the bloodiest and most brutal that the world has ever known. This is something that people just don't talk about much for whatever reason, but the Japanese Imperial Government slaughtered millions of civilians and committed some of the worst atrocities known to man during its time in power. That's a fact that needed to be acknowledged and dealt with. And yes, I believe that government was ready and willing to do more horrific things in furtherance of its aims, willing though it may have been in the moment to consider a temporary setback like a conditional surrender.

“As for Versailles: the Nazis would not have come to power after World War I if the Allies had demanded unconditional surrender and occupied Germany for many years. But I think the main problem in the inter-war period was that the Allies refused to enforce the terms of their own treaty, because they really didn't want to go to war again. This allowed Germany to rearm. (The war guilt clause also contributed to the "back-stab legend", which eroded the legitimacy of the Weimar government.)”

You're right that the troubles which led to World War II had much to do with unwillingness to confront Germany on certain aspects of the treaty. But my point was that the Treaty of Versailles was deeply flawed precisely because it placed emphasis of priority on the wrong things; it punished Germany brutally, and it demanded that Germany confess to the sin of starting the first world war, but it gave enough leeway for Germany to rearm. Field Marshall Foch wasn't really as prescient as people think, but he was clearly correct that the treaty didn't do much on the essential point of disarming Germany; and in a broader sense, the treaty was even worse, because it gave Germany every opportunity to rearm while providing it with every motivation to want to.

And that's what the conditional surrender hoped for by the Japanese military would have meant. Return of all the captured ground – lands thought to be by blood right Japanese! Disarmament – but under Japanese supervision, so that that disarmament might not really be thorough, and in fact so that in a few years' time rearmament might begin.

I don't mention this idly; I'm sure it was in Truman's mind during those days. He knew of the blunders of the Treaty of Versailles, and he labored to avoid repeating them.
posted by koeselitz at 3:38 PM on August 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


For the purposes of obtaining a surrender through a display of power, the civilian deaths were unnecessary. They could just as well have bombed a deserted stretch of land visible to a large Japanese city, and sent a message saying "See that huge ball of fire over there? Yeah, our collective dick is THAT big". Throwing the bomb over Hiroshima was just to add a "and oh, by the way, we destroyed half a dozen of your military structures as well" to the end of that note. I don't think that side note is worth 100,000 civilians.
posted by qvantamon at 3:57 PM on August 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


"Something seems vastly wrong about allowing the Japanese to return to the status quo of the early 30s after a decade of waging aggressive war and killing millions."

AElfwine, you really should read up on the Rape of Nanking. More Chinese killed in a year than Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. Killed in ways that make being vaporized by an atom bomb seem merciful.

And then there is this -- When Germ Warfare Happened -- which I should note is not for the squeamish.

"As horrifying as the experiments performed at Unit 731’s headquarters were, they pale beside the horrors that Japan inflicted on the Chinese population at large. As we travel by bullet train from Shanghai deep into the province of Zhejiang, activist Wang Xuan tells me that the worst attacks occurred between 1940 and 1943, when the Japanese military struck dozens of Chinese cities and towns with pathogens that triggered recurring plague epidemics and killed hundreds of thousands.

The methods were brutal. Army trucks dumped gallons of deadly germs alongside roads and railway lines linking Chinese towns so that infections would spread from town to town; planes dropped porcelain bombs containing infected fleas on dozens of villages, causing devastating outbreaks of bubonic plague. The Japanese laced more than 1,000 wells in the area of Harbin with typhoid bacilli. They also inserted typhus into bottles of lemonade that children loved to drink in the summer, Harris reported. In Nanking, they distributed anthrax-filled chocolate and cake to hungry children. The Japanese discovered that packing fountain pens and walking sticks with deadly germs was a particularly effective way of secretly disseminating them. In 1940, Major General Ishii sent a train carrying 70 kilograms of typhus bacterium, 50 kilograms of cholera germs, and 5 kilograms of plague-infected fleas to the city of Hangzhou, a holiday resort favored by Shanghai’s wealthy. From there, the germs were dumped into ponds and reservoirs and spread by aerial spraying, contaminating all life in fields of wheat and millet during the harvest."
posted by puny human at 4:40 PM on August 6, 2010 [5 favorites]


Your argument that the bombing was unjust hinges on the word 'surrender,'

No my argument isn't that the atomic bombings were unjust but that they were immoral. The fact that they were unjust is really not debatable unless you are using some definition of the word just that I am unaware of. We can argue semantics about what the word surrender means and go back and forth proposing theoretical outcomes of different series of events, but as I said before that is really pointless.

My only point here is that the bombings were immoral and unnecessary. I hold this position for several reasons. 1) Japan was going to surrender nuclear bombing. 2) targeting civilians is wrong, immoral, and immaterial to the military effort we were trying to crush. 3) many of the military leaders of the war effort, some of the most highly respected officers in American military history, said that it wasn't necessary and that it was immoral.

I don't feel the need to flesh these reasons out more than I have because other posters such as vorfeed, qvantamon, problemspace have already done so more eloquently than I could.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 4:44 PM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


puny human I am familiar with the Rape of Nanking, but I fail to see what that has to do with the immorality/morality, depending on which side of the debate you are on, of the atomic bombings.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 4:46 PM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


oops I meant: 1) Japan was going to surrender.

don't know how that nuclear bombing got in there :(
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 4:54 PM on August 6, 2010


You're right koeselitz, Imperial Japan was brutal and murderous... I don't want to minimize that. The regime that killed hundreds of thousands in Nanking would surely have committed atrocities again if they had the chance.

I was just wondering whether the Allies could have contained Japan and prevented further aggression without using the bomb to force unconditional surrender. As qvantamon pointed out, the atomic bomb would have been a huge deterrent - though not if the Japanese thought the Allies would never use it. The Allies selected Hiroshima as a target in part for its psychological impact - due to the size of the city, and the likelihood that "a large fraction of the city may be destroyed". I don't know enough about Japan's military situation at the time, but I'm wondering if there were any military targets in less populated areas they could have chosen instead.

An atomic attack on a smaller military target might still have led to unconditional surrender. Even if it only led to conditional surrender, it would hopefully have demonstrated that the Allies could decisively defeat any further Japanese aggression.

(I also think the bombing of Nagasaki was entirely unnecessary - the Allies could have waited longer to see how Japan would react.)

For me, it all comes down to the question: When is it justified to kill large numbers of innocent people for the greater good?

Would it be justified to kill 200,000 people to save the entire world from certain destruction? I'd have to answer yes - though I respect those who disagree and say that killing of innocents is always wrong.

Is it justified to kill 200,000 to save the world from a probable future war that would involve more deaths? If I was a strict utilitarian, I guess I'd have to answer yes... but I'm not, and I think we should err on the side of not killing.
posted by problemspace at 5:10 PM on August 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


nomadicink wrote: "America shouldn't apologize for nuking Japan at that time and place because it has nothing to apologize for. It avoided an invasion of the island, resulting in loss of American life and sent a signal to Russia in terms of what we were not only capable of, but willing to do."

Had you not invoked "a signal to Russia," I wouldn't disagree with your statement. It is absolutely indefensible to use weapons of mass destruction against a people to send a signal to a third party. We absolutely should apologize for that. For using the weapons to force the Japanese surrender? Not so much.

We should, however, regret that such things were necessary.

koeselitz wrote: "But to my mind, one regrets actions that were wrong."

I use the word regret because if I had to shoot an intruder in my home, I would both feel justified in doing so and regret for it happening.
posted by wierdo at 5:12 PM on August 6, 2010


It is absolutely indefensible to use weapons of mass destruction against a people to send a signal to a third party. We absolutely should apologize for that. For using the weapons to force the Japanese surrender? Not so much.

wierdo, civilians are not a party to war. The women and children of Hiroshima were not waging war against America. They were a third party, as you've just described. The U.S. selected Hiroshima as a target in part because the generals believed the deaths of many civilians would send a signal to the Japanese leadership.

If it's indefensible to use mass destruction of people to send a signal to a third party, then the U.S. should apologize for the bombing of Hiroshima.
posted by problemspace at 5:20 PM on August 6, 2010


Sometimes I think I must be the only person in America who thinks it's okay to apologize for a horrific thing that was done, even if there were no better options at the time. Necessary doesn't mean acceptable--and sometimes all the options are unacceptable. Pick the one that seems least bad, but don't fool yourself into thinking that "least bad" is the equivalent of "good." It's not.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 5:27 PM on August 6, 2010 [10 favorites]


There are some glaring errors on that photo essay page. I'm fairly certain Little Boy was not deployed using a parachute, but I could be wrong about that. Little Boy was also not the first atomic weapon in the world - the Gadget used at the Trinity test was.
posted by smoothvirus at 5:39 PM on August 6, 2010


We can argue semantics about what the word surrender means and go back and forth proposing theoretical outcomes of different series of events, but as I said before that is really pointless.

When you are talking to people with words, semantics is important, because it is how you tell what is meant.

When you are discussing the morality of an action that someone took, their motivations are relevant to that discussion. In this case, the theoretical outcomes being discussed were precisely the things that motivated the decision--Truman wanted to end the war, and he didn't think that letting Japan surrender on its own terms would have accomplished that.

So I don't think it's pointless to talk about these things. I think you have to talk about them if you want to talk about the morality of the bombings.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:49 PM on August 6, 2010


wierdo: “I use the word regret because if I had to shoot an intruder in my home, I would both feel justified in doing so and regret for it happening.”

Well, but it's still a vague word – this is my problem with it. In your example, would you regret shooting the intruder? Or would you regret being required to shoot the intruder? Or would you regret that it happened at all? I can imagine feeling the latter two (regretting that it happened, regretting that you had to do it) without feeling the first (regretting that you did it).

In fact, this is why "regret" is so often a weasel word used by politicians; because it allows them to apologize without actually admitting fault. And even if we were apologizing in this case, I think it'd be out of place. It's just far too open to interpretation, because it's easy to be unclear about what precisely you're regretting.
posted by koeselitz at 5:54 PM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


AElfwine Evenstar: “... I am familiar with the Rape of Nanking, but I fail to see what that has to do with the immorality/morality, depending on which side of the debate you are on, of the atomic bombings.”

It shows what the Imperial Government was capable of, and what they might have accomplished if allowed to stay in power by a conditional surrender.
posted by koeselitz at 5:58 PM on August 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


Tibbett's had no idea of what the mission he and his crew were undergoing rigorous (Read: Crazy dangerous), B-29 performance busting-training. They had to come in fast and almost turn on a dime to get as far the fuck away from the drop/bomb blast as possible within a minute or two or so. Again, they trained with zero idea of the incredible firepower they were dropping. Everything was so top secret that, indeed, they did not even know it was a bomb until Tibbets and Doyle saw it loaded into the Enola Gay the day of the mission.

Now, Tibbets did his job, he did it well, and I really REALLY doubted he would see himself as anything other than one small element (a key element) of a massive operations involving thousands of scientists, specialists and Army brass, all the way up to Truman.

But those guys all were humble, because they fucking knew fear and how fucking INSANE the war was and didn't waste time on this BS gung ho fox news shit. I have yet to see one single WWII vet criticize Obama.

This dickwad does a deep disservice by politicizing his father's name like this. I bet his father would want for there to be some acknowledgment by this country of the people who died in Hiroshima. I hope some WW II vet goes up to Gene Tibbets and slaps him upside the head.
posted by Skygazer at 6:15 PM on August 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


It shows what the Imperial Government was capable of, and what they might have accomplished if allowed to stay in power by a conditional surrender.

Doesn't the atomic bombings and fire bombing of Tokyo show what we were capable of? By your logic those actions gave the Soviet Union the moral obligation to develop and nuclear bomb and nuke America until it surrendered unconditionally. This is obviously not the case.

I find it kind of pointless to engage in we good/they evil debates because it ignores the simple fact that no one had clean hands after WWII. Every major participant committed what by any modern definition would be considered war crimes of the most criminal nature.

So I don't think it's pointless to talk about these things. I think you have to talk about them if you want to talk about the morality of the bombings.

Sorry, but I disagree that debating hypothetical series of events is helpful in this situation. You can discuss motivations without resorting to wild flights of fancy with little or no bearing to what actually happened. As vorfeed pointed out above the main motivations of the political power structure in Washington, DC were to end the war as quickly as possible and achieve their political goals in the process. Morality of killing civilians was really not part of the discussion. Therefore I don't think in this case it is helpful to engage in debating hypothetical situations comparing hypothetical body counts when what we are really discussing are actual body counts and their morality in a certain historical context. I have stated above my reasons for thinking that the bombings were immoral and uncessary. Maybe we can discuss why you think those assertions are incorrect or why I am incorrect in arriving at the conclusion that I draw from those assertions.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 6:22 PM on August 6, 2010


Most of the poor bastards on the front lines would've been civilians if nobody had shoved a gun in there hands and shipped them off to fight a war.

Our leaders were focused on ending the war quickly so that more of our people could make it home in one piece. It wasn't their job to protect the Japanese people. It was their job to protect ours, civilian or no.
posted by Zalzidrax at 6:47 PM on August 6, 2010


They could just as well have bombed a deserted stretch of land visible to a large Japanese city,

The problem with that idea is that we had only two bombs, period, and it would be at least another year before we'd have another. The method they were using would apparently start ramping up... we were gonna get something like six bombs in 1946, and then the production could potentially keep doubling every year or so. I don't remember the exact details anymore, but we had only two bombs, and that was going to be it for a long time.

Given that calculus, if you want to scare the shit out of a country, you hit them with both bombs, look extremely menacing, and demand an immediate surrender. They don't know how you just wiped two of their cities off the map, and they have no idea that you can't do it again for at least a year. If they had known that we couldn't hit them again for that long, they'd likely have tried to tough it out by building bomb shelters.

Blowing up an island or a desolate flat plain somewhere would have been fine if we'd had, say, five or six of the things, but we simply couldn't waste either of the ones we had. We didn't even know, for certain, that they would work. We had two main goals: force the Japanese to surrender, and in case they didn't, do as much damage to them as possible. Knowingly wasting 50% of ordinance of untrusted quality strikes me as very foolish. If either bomb had been a dud, we'd have had only one shot, and then nothing more for a year. Why on earth waste it on something that doesn't do any damage to the enemy?

The best play was to try to use both -- as it turns out, we got lucky, and both bombs exploded, but that wasn't at all obvious with foresight.

It's also worth pointing out that had we not done this, and had accepted the surrender terms the Japanese wanted, that would have left a terribly corrupt and incompetent military government in charge of that nation. Our imposition of democracy at gunpoint ended up making an absolute powerhouse, probably the most technically advanced country in the world, including us. I'd argue that taking the 'moral' stance and avoiding conflict at all costs would have left deeply evil people in charge, and it's very unlikely that Japan would have developed in anywhere near the same way. Their lack of local resources, combined with the military-style consumption and control mentality, would likely have made it a miserable, miserable place to live.

Japan, in other words, could easily have become Burma instead. And I suspect that many Burmese would probably accept 200K casualties to get rid of their military government.
posted by Malor at 7:11 PM on August 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


problemspace wrote: "If it's indefensible to use mass destruction of people to send a signal to a third party, then the U.S. should apologize for the bombing of Hiroshima."

The technology of the time was such (and still is, to a lesser degree) that civilian casualties are inevitable. Today there's little excuse for the so-called collateral damage we see in our present wars. In 1945, we didn't have all the technology we have today that enables greater accuracy, if only our military would place a greater priority on that goal.

I also don't care if the US apologizes to Japan. It makes no difference to me.

Really, I think the question of the necessity of dropping the bomb on Japan is something reasonable people can disagree upon.

koeselitz wrote: "regretting that you did it"

I would have regret in all three senses. One can do a necessary thing yet feel regret both for doing it and having to do it and for the situation as a whole. Police officers who kill people on duty are reported to feel remorse, despite the necessity of taking a life in self defense and their certainty they would make the same choice in the future.
posted by wierdo at 7:32 PM on August 6, 2010


You can discuss motivations without resorting to wild flights of fancy with little or no bearing to what actually happened.

Well, I'd disagree that "the Japanese surrender would not have ended the war if we had not bombed them first" is a flight of fancy. It seems like the others who have discussed hit have made a pretty good case that this is exactly what would have happened. If you think their case is flawed somehow, please explain why.

That is, unless what you're trying to say is that discussing hypotheticals is useless here; but I disagree with that too, because in order to have a motivation to take any action without an immediate reward, you need to think about the effects that it will have in the future--a hypothetical situation.
posted by LogicalDash at 7:36 PM on August 6, 2010


It is absolutely indefensible to use weapons of mass destruction against a people to send a signal to a third party.

I disagree. If doing will more lives than, it's perfectly defensible.

We're talking war here. The goal is to kill as many of the enemy as possible, as quickly as possible. Doing so brings and end to the war and the massive amounts of killing. If doing that also prevented the Russians from attacking and causing more massive loss of life, it would have been immoral not use the bomb.

If this bothers humanity, it should avoid war.
posted by nomadicink at 8:00 PM on August 6, 2010


Another thing I think you are missing Elfwine is that after the battle of Midway, the Japanese high command knew that they could not win the war against the Allies in the traditional sense. Their tactics changed and they deliberately decided to fight the rest of the war to win favorable terms for the "surrender" and to protect the Emperor. In other words, they decided to bleed us with a thousand cuts, thinking that a war weary America wouldn't have the stomach for such a bloody struggle. That is when the kamikazes started to appear. That is why Iwo Jima and Okinawa were such blood baths. That is why you read about japanese soldiers still refusing to surrender as late as 1970.

I hate to find myself arguing in favor of using nuclear weapons, and like Burhanistan said above, I have found myself on both sides of the issue, but for you to simply cite a document that says the japanese were ready to surrender, does a disservice to what was a complex issue with many shades of gray. If the german high command had offered to surrender, but with Hitler still in power, and no prosecution of war crimes, etc... should we have accepted it?

I recommend highly the documentary Victory In the Pacific from PBS, which does an admirable job of covering all the differing viewpoints that have been raised in this thread.
posted by puny human at 8:03 PM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


wierdo: The technology of the time was such (and still is, to a lesser degree) that civilian casualties are inevitable

You're right, civilian casualties are inevitable in war, even if we take all reasonable measures to avoid them. If a few civilians die accidentally in an attack that's been carefully limited to military targets, that's terrible, but it doesn't mean we should stop fighting the war.

But that's not what happened in 1945. The U.S. military deliberately chose to target large urban centers because of the psychological impact this would have on the Japanese people and their leaders. Hiroshima wasn't Dresden - it was a legitimate military target. But it was targeted in part due to the harm the attack would cause to civilians.

Anyway, you're right - reasonable people can disagree. I still think it was the wrong decision, and an apology would be appropriate. But I can't really appreciate what it was like to live through the war, so I don't want to condemn Truman or anyone else for making the decisions they did.
posted by problemspace at 8:08 PM on August 6, 2010


nomadicink wrote: "If doing that also prevented the Russians from attacking and causing more massive loss of life, it would have been immoral not use the bomb."

Even if I accept your premise, our dropping the bomb on Japan did no such thing. The Soviets were well aware of our project and the destructive power of nuclear weapons.
posted by wierdo at 8:08 PM on August 6, 2010


from the introduction in the second link -- long, but sums up my argument better than I have.

"Even after the devastating firebombing, Japanese leaders did not yield. "These men are watching Tokyo burn down around them, and it's having no effect on their position," says Richard Frank, author of Downfall, The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire. As Emperor Hirohito toured the destruction in Tokyo, the largest fleet ever assembled -- more than 40 carriers, 18 battleships, and 200 destroyers -- approached the Japanese island of Okinawa. Just 350 miles away from Japan's main islands, Okinawa would serve as a staging area for an invasion.

The battle of Okinawa is remembered as one of the most terrible in the history of warfare. The Japanese decimated American forces from hundreds of well-fortified and concealed caves in defensive lines that ran the width of the island. Wave after wave of kamikazes attacked the U.S. Navy that supported the siege, inflicting the worst Navy casualties of the war: 30 ships sunk and almost 10,000 troops killed or wounded. After 82 days U.S. Army and Marines had destroyed the last line of Japanese resistance on Okinawa, cave by cave. Victory in the Pacific looks at the terrible cost of the battle.

More than 70,000 Japanese soldiers and their Okinawan conscripts died trying to defend the island. More than 12,000 Americans died trying to capture it. President Harry S. Truman and his advisors realized that Okinawa was a glimpse of what an invasion of Japan would be like. A month after the battle, estimates of Japanese troops deployed to counter an invasion grew at an alarming rate. Says historian Edward Drea, "It was very clear that the Japanese intended to fight to the bitter end."

Victory in the Pacific sees the authorization to use the atomic bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki in this context of fierce Japanese resistance to an invasion. It wasn't so much a "decision," notes historian Barton Bernstein, an expert on the bomb, as "the implementation of an assumption" inherited from the Roosevelt administration. "It was not a weighty matter," he adds. "In the framework of mid-1945 no one around Truman had any sustained and serious doubts about using the bomb." "There's no way that any American president, faced with the expenditures that had been put into the project, faced with the casualties in the Pacific, could not have used that bomb," states historian Conrad Crane.

The Potsdam Declaration, issued July 26, 1945, called on Japan to surrender unconditionally and without delay, or risk "prompt and utter destruction." When the ultimatum arrived in Tokyo, Japan's prime minister, Admiral Kantaro Suzuki, said the government intended to ignore it. Japan's war cabinet only began to discuss the Potsdam Declaration after the Soviet Union entered the war on August 8, two days after an atomic bomb destroyed Hiroshima. The cabinet never considered "unconditional surrender" but debated whether there would be one of four conditions. "They really lacked reality picture," comments Japanese historian Haruo Iguchi."
posted by puny human at 8:19 PM on August 6, 2010 [5 favorites]


Malor, that makes sense, except that after the first bomb went off, and scared the shit out of them, they could have waited more than a couple days before dropping the second one.

However, I just can't rationalize intentional civilian casualties.

Had the Japanese won the war, wouldn't they be feeding a similar line about "Yeah... we're sorry we had to do all that Nanking stuff, but you have to see that was the only way to quickly demoralize China into submission, otherwise the conflict would have drawn for months, etc, etc, etc.". And from "but look how good for them it was in the long term", had Japan successfully conquered the entirety of East Asia, there probably wouldn't have been the Khmer Rouge, Mao's Great Leap Fail, and Kim Jong-Il. That's some 20 million horrible deaths right there (or about a hundred Rapes of Nanking). Does that make their "make them surrender unconditionally as soon as possible" tactics against China any more justifiable?
posted by qvantamon at 8:26 PM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Jesus died on a hill for you
and on the third day the Japs retook the hill
and Jesus was once again forced to make the ultimate sacrifice

So Judas bought a ton of yellow cake for thirty pieces of silver
and brought them before Pilate. And trinity was born

And it rained on Golgotha, called the place of the skull, forty days and forty nights
So it came to pass that the angel of the Lord did take up the yellow cake and spit into it, unto it he did spit, did spat he. And forming it in the shape of a man he did breath the breath of life, did he breath unto it.

And there went out a great light from that place and the world was rent in Twain, Clemens that is.

There was void and darkness lay over the deep, and the Lord spoke and said, "Let there be light again. Maybe we can get it right this time."
posted by nola at 8:36 PM on August 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


The Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs did not defeat Japan, nor by the testimony of the enemy leaders who ended the war did they persuade Japan to accept unconditional surrender. The Emperor, the Lord Privy Seal, the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, and the Navy Minister had decided as early as May of 1945 that the war should be ended even if it meant acceptance of defeat on allied terms. The War Minister and the two chiefs of staff opposed unconditional surrender. The impact of the Hiroshima attack was to bring further urgency and lubrication to the machinery of achieving peace, primarily by contributing to a situation which permitted the Prime Minister to bring the Emperor overtly and directly into a position where his decision for immediate acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration could be used to override the remaining objectors. Thus, although the atomic bombs changed no votes of the Supreme War Direction Council concerning the Potsdam terms, they did foreshorten the war and expedite the peace. Events and testimony which support these conclusions are blue-printed from the chronology established in the first sections of this report:

(a) The mission of the Suzuki government, appointed 7 April 1945, was to make peace. An appearance of negotiating for terms less onerous than unconditional surrender was maintained in order to contain the military and bureaucratic elements still determined on a final Bushido defense, and perhaps even more importantly to obtain freedom to create peace with a minimum of personal danger and internal obstruction. It seems clear however that in extremis the peacemakers would have peace, and peace on any terms. This was the gist of advice given to Hirohito by the Jushin in February, the declared conclusion of Kido in April, the underlying reason for Koiso's fall in April, the specific injunction of the Emperor to Suzuki on becoming premier which was known to all members of his cabinet.

(b) A series of conferences of the Supreme War Direction Council before Hirohito on the subject of continuing or terminating the war began on 8 June and continued through 14 August. At the 8 June meeting the war situation was reviewed. On 20 June the Emperor, supported by the Premier, Foreign Minister, and Navy Minister, declared for peace; the Army Minister and the two chiefs of staff did not concur. On 10 July the Emperor again urged haste in the moves to mediate through Russia, but Potsdam intervened. While the Government still awaited a Russian answer, the Hiroshima bomb was dropped on 6 August.

(c) Consideration of the Potsdam terms within the Supreme War Direction Council revealed the same three-to-three cleavage which first appeared at the Imperial conference on 20 June. On the morning of 9 August Premier Suzuki and Hirohito decided at once to accept the Potsdam terms; meetings and moves thereafter were designed to legalize the decision and prepare the Imperial rescript. At the conclusive Imperial conference, on the night of 9-10 August, the Supreme War Direction Council still split three-to-three. It was necessary for the Emperor finally to repeat his desire for acceptance of the Potsdam terms.

(d) Indubitably the Hiroshima bomb and the rumor derived from interrogation of an American prisoner (B-29 pilot) who stated that an atom bomb attack on Tokyo was scheduled for 12 August introduced urgency in the minds of the Government and magnified the pressure behind its moves to end the war.

The sequence of events just recited also defines the effect of Russia's entry into the Pacific war on 8 August 1945. Coming 2 days after the Hiroshima bomb, the move neither defeated Japan nor materially hastened the acceptance of surrender nor changed the votes of the Supreme War Direction Council. Negotiation for Russia to intercede began the forepart of May 1945 in both Tokyo and Moscow. Konoye, the intended emissary to the Soviets, stated to the Survey that while ostensibly he was to negotiate, he received direct and secret instructions from the Emperor to secure peace at any price, notwithstanding its severity. Sakomizu, the chief cabinet secretary, alleged that while awaiting the Russian answer on mediation, Suzuki and Togo decided that were it negative direct overtures would be made to the United States. Efforts toward peace through the Russians forestalled by the imminent departure of Stalin and Molotov for Potsdam, were answered by the Red Army's advance into Manchuria. The Kwantung army, already weakened by diversion of its units and logistics to bolster island defenses in the South and written off for the defense of Japan proper, faced inescapable defeat.

There is little point in attempting more precisely to impute Japan's unconditional surrender to any one of the numerous causes which jointly and cumulatively were responsible for Japan's disaster. Concerning the absoluteness of her defeat there can be no doubt. The time lapse between military impotence and political acceptance of the inevitable might have been shorter had the political structure of Japan permitted a more rapid and decisive determination of national policies. It seems clear, however, that air supremacy and its later exploitation over Japan proper was the major factor which determined the timing of Japan's surrender and obviated any need for invasion.

Based on a detailed investigation of all the facts and supported by the testimony of the surviving Japanese leaders involved, it is the Survey's opinion that certainly prior to 31 December 1945, and in all probability prior to 1 November 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated.
(source)

I really don't see why this is so difficult to accept. The people prosecuting the war said it was unnecessary, the official military report on the subject says it was unnecessary and pretty much single handedly debunks every justification used for the last 65 years. The results of the Strategic Bombing Survey were drawn from interviews of the relevant principles and internal documents of the Japanese government. Before you can dismiss these findings out of hand you should at the very least give them the consideration they deserve. Furthermore I have yet to see any reasonable evidence that the findings of the SBS should be questioned as inaccurate, trumped up, or falsified. Until then I feel that my assertion that the atomic bombings were unnecessary and immoral is the correct one. True, reasonable people can disagree about this issue but if you want to be considered reasonable you cannot disregard the findings of one of the most pertinent documents to the discussion. So until someone shows me where the SBS is in error I will continue to see it as the authoritative document on the matter.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 8:57 PM on August 6, 2010


In the preceeding post the bold was added by me for emphasis. Just to give some background on the SBS; from the foreword:

The Survey's complement provided for 300 civilians, 350 officers, and 500 enlisted men. The military segment of the organization was drawn from the Army to the extent of 60 percent, and from the Navy to the extent of 40 percent. Both the Army and the Navy gave the Survey all possible assistance in furnishing men, supplies, transport and information. The Survey operated from headquarters established in Tokyo early in September 1945, with subheadquarters in Nagoya, Osaka, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki, and with mobile teams operating in other parts of Japan, the islands of the Pacific, and the Asiatic mainland.

It was possible to reconstruct much of wartime Japanese military planning and execution engagement by engagement and campaign by campaign, and to secure reasonably accurate statistics on Japan's economy and war-production plant by plant, and industry by industry. In addition, studies were conducted on Japan's over-all strategic plans and the background of her entry into the war, the internal discussions and negotiations leading to her acceptance of unconditional surrender, the course of health and morale among the civilian population, the effectiveness of the Japanese civilian defense organization, and the effects of the atomic bombs. Separate reports will be issued covering each phase of the study.

The Survey interrogated more than 700 Japanese military, Government, and industrial officials. It also recovered and translated many documents which have not only been useful to the Survey, but will also furnish data valuable for other studies. Arrangements have been made to turn over the Survey's files to the Central Intelligence Group, through which they will be available for further examination and distribution.

posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 9:16 PM on August 6, 2010


I find it difficult to accept that anyone is prescient enough to be able to act on the recommendations of a report that won't be completed until 9 months until the future with far more access to the Japanese government than anyone involved in the war had while it was still occurring.

In fact, the selfsame report found that if the allies had conducted more aggressive aerial attacks and naval mining of Japaneses waterways would have ended the war before the battle of Okinawa where well over 200,000 soldiers and civilians were killed, and yet I do not see you lamenting the loss of caused by cowardice.

War itself is a crime against humanity. It is going to be a horrible waste of life, there are going to be decisions and mistakes which get people killed by the thousands, or tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands. And even in hindsight we can't make an exact accounting of whether it was better to end the war possibly a couple months sooner by killing many at once, or let it drag on and let soldiers continue to fight and die. The best and only moral option is to not fight in the first place. Otherwise you're just trying to make snap decisions on the least of many, many possible evils.
posted by Zalzidrax at 9:30 PM on August 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


I find it difficult to accept that anyone is prescient enough to be able to act on the recommendations of a report that won't be completed until 9 months until the future with far more access to the Japanese government than anyone involved in the war had while it was still occurring.

I'm not claiming that. What I'm claiming is that the people, ie generals and admirals, prosecuting the war are on record saying it wasn't necessary. All the SBS does is bear out those opinions in a detailed report. Furthermore it debunks many of the claims for why we "had" to drop the bombs.

Also you may remember that we had their codes broken and knew they were begging the Russians to not enter the war and instead act as an intermediary to negotiate a surrender. Not only that but the Japanese themselves had interacted with the U.S. military hierarchy asking for terms of surrender.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 9:52 PM on August 6, 2010


qvantamon: Malor, that makes sense, except that after the first bomb went off, and scared the shit out of them, they could have waited more than a couple days before dropping the second one.

However, I just can't rationalize intentional civilian casualties.


Well, remember that military missions take some planning, particularly oddball ones like 'drop a nuclear weapon'. They probably had to proceed under the assumption that the first bomb wouldn't work at all, as far as scheduling goes. Plus, I can't help but imagine that the psychological pressure would be far greater on the Japanese -- wiping out two entire cities in two days, and looking menacing, is going to be MUCH scarier than just killing one.

And, despite all the condemnations of the bombing, remember that they worked. They did end the war. We might have been able to end it in other ways, but those are all hypothetical, and the unconditional surrender after Nagasaki is concrete reality.

And we did a pretty goddamn good job of reconstruction, considering the economic superpower that the country turned into.

I honestly think it was, overall, the right thing to do, especially considering the results. End of war, removal of military regime, imposition of a pacifist democratic government, and massive economic expansion in later years, once they got their infrastructure rebuilt. We did similarly well in West Germany, to the point that even today, they're the major economic engine holding the Eurozone together.

I long for the days when our government was actually competent.

One thing that I don't believe the modern critics really understand is that you fight wars to win, you don't fight them to be nice.

In comparing it with the Japanese massacres of the Chinese, there's a major difference there, in that the Japanese were just doing the same old shit people have been doing forever, raping and killing. They were doing it on a large scale, but it was still fundamentally the same thing. What we did was evaporate most of two cities in two days. Those Japanese leaders were pretty insane, probably the Kim Jong Ils of their era, and this was a demonstration that war had fundamentally changed. We suddenly looked like we could slag their entire country at will, with very little risk to ourselves. We couldn't, but they didn't know that.

Two bombs, psychologically, would be just so much more effective than one -- it showed that the first bomb wasn't luck. With TWO destroyed cities, it was obviously deliberate, and we could apparently do it at will. And that ended the war.

Another thing that people often forget is that America was very, very tired of war by 1945. Everyone in the country more or less knew that victory was inevitable after, oh, mid-1943 or so, but it just dragged on and on, with thousands and thousands of dead soldiers coming home in coffins. It probably would have taken at least another year to take Japan, and we'd seen enough dead kids already.

It's also interesting to see the gradual escalation of hostilities over the duration of the war. It started out as nearly polite, relatively speaking, but it rapidly got very nasty. The firebombings of Dresden and Hamburg were, by my standards, war crimes more terrible than the atomic bombs, particularly since we were so pleased at the total destruction of Hamburg, and deliberately did it again in Dresden.

If we wanted to focus on 'terrible things America did during the war', Dresden and Hamburg absolutely should top the list, but instead everyone thinks about the atomic bombs on Japan. And that's precisely why it was so important to drop them. You can see it even now -- the psychological impact of a single piece of metal laying waste to an entire city is still reverberating in our collective consciousness. If we'd destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki the old-fashioned way, through simple firestorms, we'd have killed just as many or more people, but nobody would really remember, and we'd have had to kill a hell of a lot more to get the surrender.

By doing it with one bomb, they noticed. They couldn't pretend to themselves anymore that they could hold America off the islands until we got frustrated and went home. And the simple fact that we're still talking about it shows just how much power that demonstration had, how tremendously more effective it was than the old-style conventional warfare.

A thousand years from now, if scholars are still around to record history, the defining moment of the 20th century will probably be those two bombs. Nothing else we could have done would have had that kind of impact, no pun intended. Arguably, there aren't very many things in human history that have.
posted by Malor at 9:56 PM on August 6, 2010 [6 favorites]


Arguably, there aren't very many things in human history that have.

True but I so much prefer to glamorize ones like the Neolithic Revolution; not ones that can be considered war crimes.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 10:06 PM on August 6, 2010


Another way of putting it: There aren't huge contingents of people demanding apologies for Dresden and Hamburg, even though they killed roughly 75,000 civilians. And there's nobody complaining about the 500,000 Japanese that died in the firestorms we set off there. Nobody even remembers that part. We killed 2.5x times more people with simple fire, but nobody cares. I haven't seen anyone in this thread mention that, even though it was deliberately targeting civilians with military weapons, and killed a hell of a lot more people.

But everyone, EVERYONE remembers the 200,000 from Hiroshima and Nagasaki.... which shows how incredibly effective those weapons were. They did a lot less damage than the conventional weapons had, but the fact that we'd done it with single bombs from single planes ended the war on the spot.
posted by Malor at 10:06 PM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I really don't see why this is so difficult to accept.

Because as of the morning of August 6th, 1945, no matter how much they wanted to, the Japanese hadn't surrendered.

It's like the drunk who tells you he plans to quit drinking as he's cracking open another beer.

You mean it when you do it.
posted by Cyrano at 10:16 PM on August 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


What I'm claiming is that the people, ie generals and admirals, prosecuting the war are on record saying it wasn't necessary. All the SBS does is bear out those opinions in a detailed report. Furthermore it debunks many of the claims for why we "had" to drop the bombs.

There's been more scholarship since 1946. The judgment in 1946 isn't conclusive about what was or was not necessary. A report in 1954 about the Korean armistice and the tactics at the end of the conflict will read differently than one written in 2018 will. When a claim is "debunked" people stop arguing about it. The fact that the dispute continues show that it hasn't been debunked.
posted by Jahaza at 10:53 PM on August 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


We planned to drop the thing the moment we started to make it. There was never any serious resevation. The agonizing came later and its legend grew as the true horror of how we'd remade the world was revealed.
posted by humanfont at 11:00 PM on August 6, 2010


"And there's nobody complaining about the 500,000 Japanese that died in the firestorms we set off there. Nobody even remembers that part. We killed 2.5x times more people with simple fire, but nobody cares."

the documentary I linked to goes into some detail about this. The reason Gen. Curtis LeMay ordered the fire bombing of Tokyo is that the B29 Superfortress (an engineering marvel that took as much brain and manpower to produce as the atomic bombs) was supposed to be a high altitude precision bomber. But when they tried dropping bombs from 40,000 feet, because of not understanding high altitude wind patterns, and problems with guidance systems, they were practically useless. So LeMay ordered them to fly low and drop incendiary bombs. He is also on record as saying that if we had lost the war, he would have been tried as a war criminal.
posted by puny human at 11:10 PM on August 6, 2010


AElfwine Evenstar: “I really don't see why this is so difficult to accept. The people prosecuting the war said it was unnecessary, the official military report on the subject says it was unnecessary and pretty much single handedly debunks every justification used for the last 65 years... What I'm claiming is that the people, ie generals and admirals, prosecuting the war are on record saying it wasn't necessary.”

The trouble is that none of those things are true. The SBS was by no means an "official military report" (it was not prepared by the military, nor by any high-ranking military officials) and you haven't quoted anyone "prosecuting the war" who came to the conclusion that the bombing was unnecessary. And the SBS does not debunk every justification for the bombing. I begin to wonder how well you've actually read it.
The Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs did not defeat Japan, nor by the testimony of the enemy leaders who ended the war did they persuade Japan to accept unconditional surrender. The Emperor, the Lord Privy Seal, the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, and the Navy Minister had decided as early as May of 1945 that the war should be ended even if it meant acceptance of defeat on allied terms. The War Minister and the two chiefs of staff opposed unconditional surrender. The impact of the Hiroshima attack was to bring further urgency and lubrication to the machinery of achieving peace, primarily by contributing to a situation which permitted the Prime Minister to bring the Emperor overtly and directly into a position where his decision for immediate acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration could be used to override the remaining objectors. Thus, although the atomic bombs changed no votes of the Supreme War Direction Council concerning the Potsdam terms, they did foreshorten the war and expedite the peace.
Here's a bit of selective emphasis of my own; and it's worth reading this a few times. Also worth noting that no one has claimed that the two atomic attacks defeated Japan solely; only that they were necessary to do so, and that the conclusion that they were necessary to do so was inevitable for any American in 1945.

(By the way: you've argued extensively that the bombs weren't necessary. You don't seem to give a crap about the people that actually dropped them, however; what evidence do you claim they had at that moment that just sitting back and waiting would be the best way to prosecute the war?)

Coming back to this passage; the trouble with this extremely brief and simplistic passage is that it vastly minimizes the strength of the war movement in Japan, and makes the government sound as though it was awash with peacemakers who were prevented from doing so largely by technical difficulties. Leaving aside the rational problems with this assertion, this is clearly not a very lucid view of Japan in the 1940s, or in particular in 1945; the military at large was all for continued war, believed itself equipped to handle certain kinds of invasion, and prepared itself for as much. Even if one walked the streets of Japan in the summer of 1945, one would have known this; a popular slogan adorning posters declared: "The sooner the Americans come, the better... One hundred million die proudly." There was vast military buildup in Kyushu, the southernmost island of Japan, to the point where it was clear that a US invasion force faced, at best, 1:1 combat with the enemy; and in fact the numbers were closer to 2:1 – the US would have been outnumbered in an invasion. It's pretty clear that the Japanese were aware of this, as the military buildup was anything but a preliminary to surrender. There was military buildup precisely because the bulk of the military still believed fervently and firmly in battle to the death, to the bitter end.

The report glosses over this fact; it treats the five men (really, only one man) who seemed to lean in the direction of peace as representative of the entire military force, when in fact they failed to even accomplish the apparently simple goal of announcing their intention to surrender. Seriously – how hard is this to understand? They had not announced surrender. Until they did, there was no surrender on the table. You can look at any war and say: "see? They surrendered on April 9. If only the other side had waited until April 9, there wouldn't be all this bloodshed!" But that's unfair, because the results have a lot to do with the causes.

The enormous pressure Suzuki faced was the reason he could not turn the military around. The military continued apace in prosecuting the war. It did not stop. It did not slow down for a moment. If anything, it became more fierce, gathering strength, fortifying key locations, and preparing the civilian population for total warfare. Again, these are not the actions of a surrendering nation. And as much as Suzuki may have had an official position in the government, it didn't mean squat in the face of a military force that had its own opinions and made its own choices.

You haven't confronted any of this. You just keep quoting the SBS. But the SBS doesn't answer any of these questions. If Suzuki's peace faction was really so close to orchestrating a surrender, why, after six months of work, did he not even manage to announce this intention or put into action any plan to do so? Why was he utterly unable to communicate this desire, even in secret, to the Americans? Why was he utterly unable to do anything to bring surrender about, after months of work, if surrender was so inevitable? The SBS does not answer these questions.

It makes sense that the SBS doesn't answer these questions. It was inevitable that the Strategic Bombing Survey be incomplete, and leave certain perspectives out, because of the time when it was conducted. It's cute that you're under the impression that recently-defeated Japanese imperialists who had just months before been praying for the certain death of the entire American military force would just come forward and proudly declare these views, right after total defeat, to American interviewers and interviewers apparently sanctioned by the American military. However, this isn't likely. It makes sense that the only ones who'd come forward and tell their stories were the ones who felt they had some room to claim that they were part of a strong and rising peace movement that just didn't succeed in time. That doesn't make their perspective a complete one when it comes to Japanese history.

Honestly, the most important thing here is that the Strategic Bombing Survey presents a vastly simplistic and frankly false view of Japanese life under the imperial government. That government was powerfully militaristic, entirely authoritarian, crude, oppressive, and forceful. Yasujiro Ozu, the greatest film director Japan has ever produced, was working during those times, and he always afterwards remembered them as very dark days; his films are by no means racy or edgy, but he had to fight to keep them from being censored, and he had to use all of his power as a popular maker of movies to coerce the authorities into not barring him from working at all. He was, like all Japanese men of the time, forced into military service as well for several years; and he remembers the pain and suffering and agony he felt serving in China in the early 40s, saying that this fighting never suited him. Japan's government forced all into this, and it showed absolutely no signs of stopping. The SBS adduces a few unimportant and totally ineffectual ministers, and the wavering opinion of Hirohito, and concludes from them that Japan was soon to sue for peace. I don't buy it.
posted by koeselitz at 11:33 PM on August 6, 2010 [7 favorites]


What I'm claiming is that the people, ie generals and admirals, prosecuting the war are on record saying it wasn't necessary.

Of course they would say that. The military commanders wanted to believe, had to believe, that their conventional methods would be successful. Fighting the war via conventional means was their job, it was everything they had trained their whole lives to do, and if they had said the war could not have been won without the bomb they would have been admitting that they could not have done their work.

The problem for those guys was that the bomb was not a military weapon. Rather, it was the product of civilian scientists -- specifically, a bunch of dubious left-leaning eggheads and undisciplined young goofballs and Europeans and Jews squirreled away in an academic's playground in Los Alamos (riddled with spies, it turns out) who basically made the thing up by the seat of their pants between rounds of ping pong. (I'm thinking of Richard Feynman's autobiography here.)

And the bomb's great success immediately turns everything on its head for the grey-haired generals and admirals. Because all a sudden the mightiest power in the world wasn't the military muscle they squabbled so jealously to control, it didn't come from great big massive guns and aircraft carriers and ever larger "superfortress" bombers. Science was power. Smart was power. NERDS were power.

So of course the guys in charge of the tanks and the ships and the planes would say they could have won the war without the bomb. They didn't want to admit that the bomb had just cut their big swinging dicks clean off, basically.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 11:51 PM on August 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


That's probably true, Kraftmatic, but at the same time, we could have won that war the conventional way. But how many millions of Japanese would have died in the firestorms to make it happen?

Demonstrating overwhelming power like that was much less of a war crime than invading Japan would have been. Dead is dead. 200K people is a lot better than millions.
posted by Malor at 12:11 AM on August 7, 2010


Yet another way of putting it: by showing that we were willing to be absolutely merciless, we were actually able to show a lot more mercy. We didn't have to kill as many people as we otherwise would have. By demonstrating, unequivocally, that the war was over (even though it actually wasn't at all), we got the unconditional surrender, and ended up imposing a structure that let them make themselves into a pretty goddamn great country.

Again, the reflexive horror that everyone seems to have means that the attack worked. The more fervently one argues, 65 years later, that it was a terribly evil and wrong thing to do, while simultaneously ignoring the 2.5 greater casualties taken by conventional weapons, the more one proves what a huge psychological impact it had, and how important it was to winning. Killing people with a nuke is no worse than killing them any other way -- it may actually be kinder than death by fire.

Nuclear weapons scared everyone so bad that 65 years later, we're still having passionate arguments about their use. And that's why they ended the war.
posted by Malor at 12:29 AM on August 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


(it was not prepared by the military, nor by any high-ranking military officials) and you haven't quoted anyone "prosecuting the war" who came to the conclusion that the bombing was unnecessary.

Koeselitz the SBS was created under the orders of FDR and then Truman. This report was the definitive document on the results of both the European and Pacific theaters. Let's see people who were prosecuting the war that are on record saying the bombs weren't necessary: Eisenhower, MacArthur, Leahy. There are more, but I think you can probably find them yourself.

Thus, although the atomic bombs changed no votes of the Supreme War Direction Council concerning the Potsdam terms, they did foreshorten the war and expedite the peace.

I'm not trying to claim that the Atomic bombings didn't hasten the end of the war. I think that's called a straw man when you set up an argument to tear down that isn't really an argument being made. :)

what evidence do you claim they had at that moment that just sitting back and waiting would be the best way to prosecute the war?

Another straw man.

The report glosses over this fact; it treats the five men (really, only one man) who seemed to lean in the direction of peace as representative of the entire military force, when in fact they failed to even accomplish the apparently simple goal of announcing their intention to surrender. Seriously – how hard is this to understand? They had not announced surrender.

Wrong the vote was 3 - 3 for unconditional surrender. This was true even after the Atomic bombings. The Emperor finally overruled the ones voting to hold out for better terms.

You haven't confronted any of this. You just keep quoting the SBS. But the SBS doesn't answer any of these questions. If Suzuki's peace faction was really so close to orchestrating a surrender, why, after six months of work, did he not even manage to announce this intention or put into action any plan to do so? Why was he utterly unable to communicate this desire, even in secret, to the Americans? Why was he utterly unable to do anything to bring surrender about, after months of work, if surrender was so inevitable? The SBS does not answer these questions.

Actually all of this is covered in the SBS you are just choosing to either ignore it or aren't reading the pertinent parts. So now you are claiming that the Japanese hadn't announced their intention to surrender? Really? I wonder why then most American military leaders thought they had? I guess you 65 years removed from the event have a better idea of what was going on than the generals and admirals prosecuting the war. Not only that but even if they hadn't announced they wanted an end to the war, which they did, we would have known it anyways because we had broken their secert codes.

Honestly, the most important thing here is that the Strategic Bombing Survey presents a vastly simplistic and frankly false view of Japanese life under the imperial government.

source?

It makes sense that the only ones who'd come forward and tell their stories were the ones who felt they had some room to claim that they were part of a strong and rising peace movement that just didn't succeed in time. That doesn't make their perspective a complete one when it comes to Japanese history.

You are ignoring the fact that they based their assessment not only on interview but also on the internal documents of the regime which paint the exact same picture as the interviews. Koeselitz you have yet to show any reason why the SBS isn't a reliable source of information other than that you say it isn't. Sorry but I respectfully disagree with you on this one.

But how many millions of Japanese would have died in the firestorms to make it happen?

Not as many as the combined atomic bombings. vorfeed already addressed this upthread.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 7:09 AM on August 7, 2010


I would like to read this, but unfortunately it is behind a paywall.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 7:34 AM on August 7, 2010


I'm not trying to claim that the Atomic bombings didn't hasten the end of the war.

Then what are you claiming?
posted by nomadicink at 7:45 AM on August 7, 2010


Let's see people who were prosecuting the war that are on record saying the bombs weren't necessary: Eisenhower, MacArthur, Leahy.

Generals and admirals are not reliable witnesses about the utility of weapons controlled by other branches of the service (and the USAAF was largely administratively separate from the Army by 1945). In 1946, atomic weapons were these utterly terrifying, astonishingly powerful weapons that could not be delivered by anything except a B-29 (or, soon, B-36). You couldn't fire one out of any existing cannon. You couldn't carry one with aircraft remotely capable of carrier operations. Atomic weapons were absolute game changers, and only the USAAF could have them.

Eisenhower or MacArthur in 1946 would never say that the atomic weapons were anything other than unnecessary, because the bombs being necessary implied (in 1946) you don't need an army to project force. All you need an army for is to defend the airfields that house the B-29s and their escorts. You don't need tanks. You don't need artillery. You don't need West Point any more.

Similarly, it is absolutely no surprise to anyone that Admiral Leahy suggests that the bomb was unnecessary because the Navy could win the war single-handed. Of course he's going to say that. To say otherwise is to imply that there is no longer any need for a vast, expensive navy. No need for more admirals, no need for ceremonies or being piped aboard, no need for Annapolis.

Likewise, I'm sure you can find some prominent Marine commander who will state convincingly that the bomb was not needed because you could have just landed a battalion of Devil Dogs on Honshu and had them win the war with their k-bars and gung-ho spirit.

This doesn't mean that the bomb was necessary or useful or anything. Only that generals and admirals, especially in 1946, are not reliable and neutral witnesses about its military utility.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:05 AM on August 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Then what are you claiming?

I guess you haven't been reading the thread; I've stated it several times above.

ROU_Xenophobe I am interested in this special ability you have to read peoples minds that have been dead for some time.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 8:45 AM on August 7, 2010


I am interested in this special ability you have to read peoples minds that have been dead for some time.

If you'd like, for a fee I can also train you in how to be suspicious of car mechanics who tell you that you need an expensive repair, or how to be suspicious of used-car salesmen who assert that this Porsche you're looking at was owned by a little old lady who only used it to go to church.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:50 AM on August 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Interesting that you are comparing the generals and admirals that won WWII to shady car mechanics and sleazy used car salesmen. :)
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 9:00 AM on August 7, 2010


I guess you haven't been reading the thread; I've stated it several times above.

You seem to be arguing that US using atomic weapons on Japan was unnecessary because they were going to surrender anyway.

Yet in this sentence of yours, you seem to be acknowledging that the bombs did quickly bring the war to an end: "I'm not trying to claim that the Atomic bombings didn't hasten the end of the war."

It's that's the case, that you agree the bombs did bring the war to end more quickly, I'm having trouble understanding why you think the US should have waited, particularly since Japan ignored US calls to surrender. It's nice that Japan may have surrendered in November or December of 1945, but it would have been better if they had surrendered at some point between July 27th and August 4th.
posted by nomadicink at 9:45 AM on August 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Once again.

I believe that the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was unnecessary and immoral for the following reasons:

1) Targeting civilians is immoral.
2) Japan was going to surrender anyways.
3) The generals and admirals prosecuting the war said it wasn't necessary because Japan was already beaten.

Why didn't we bomb a military target? Because we wanted to test it out on a populated urban area and see what the effects were. We also wanted to send a message to the Russians. Now you can point out how barbaric the Japanese were but does that really change the fact that we were just as barbaric. Leaving out the atomic bombings for a second the conventional bombings are now considered war crimes; in fact judging by the prosecutions and convictions we meted out to the Germans and Japanese they were considered war crimes back then too. The difference is that we won. And as they say history is written by the victors. I've read several quotes of generals from WWII who said that they would have been prosecuted as war criminals had we lost.

I can't believe that I'm having to explain to people why targeting civilians is immoral. The dropping of the Atomic weapon in and of itself is not immoral. What is immoral is the targeting of civilians. If they wanted to use it they should have chosen a military target not cities filled with women and children.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 10:16 AM on August 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why didn't we bomb a military target?

Hiroshima was a military target. It was one of the few military targets left mostly intact in Japan which is why it was selected. The other choice was, IIRC, Kyoto.
posted by Justinian at 10:27 AM on August 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


1) Targeting civilians is immoral.

To me this is one of those phrases that is very true, but ultimately don't really matter. War itself is grossly immoral, yet it consistently happens. Since war is about beating your enemy, targeting civilians is a logical step in terms of winning.

2) Japan was going to surrender anyways.

Later, on its terms, maybe. Unsurprisingly, the Allies weren't interested in that.

3) The generals and admirals prosecuting the war said it wasn't necessary because Japan was already beaten.

That's fine, but they didn't surrender now, not even after Potsdam, so they were nudged into that decision. Considering that they didn't surrender after Hiroshima and the Russian invasion of Manchuria and the bombing of Nagaskaski are credited with actually convincing Japan to finally agreed to surrender unconditionally, your argument that "they were going to surrender" appears weak.
posted by nomadicink at 10:44 AM on August 7, 2010


Interesting that you are comparing the generals and admirals that won WWII to shady car mechanics and sleazy used car salesmen.

Billy Mitchell could tell you a thing or two about inter-service rivalry.
posted by me & my monkey at 10:45 AM on August 7, 2010


To me this is one of those phrases that is very true, but ultimately don't really matter. War itself is grossly immoral, yet it consistently happens. Since war is about beating your enemy, targeting civilians is a logical step in terms of winning.

So basically all war crimes are justified??? Somehow this doesn't strike me as a particularly well thought out position.

Later, on its terms, maybe.

Nope you are wrong. Read the SBS.

your argument that "they were going to surrender" appears weak.

You obviously don't understand the argument than. Read the SBS.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 12:06 PM on August 7, 2010


AElfwine Evenstar: “Actually all of this is covered in the SBS you are just choosing to either ignore it or aren't reading the pertinent parts. So now you are claiming that the Japanese hadn't announced their intention to surrender? Really? I wonder why then most American military leaders thought they had? I guess you 65 years removed from the event have a better idea of what was going on than the generals and admirals prosecuting the war. Not only that but even if they hadn't announced they wanted an end to the war, which they did, we would have known it anyways because we had broken their secert codes.”

What? Seriously, what? What in god's name are you talking about? When did the Japanese announce their intention to unconditionally surrender? Are you totally unaware of Ketsu-Go? The Japanese resolve in general, and the total posture of the government, was to fight to the death; memos and statements of the time constantly refer to "the hundred million" residents of Japan, and the way that every one of them would gloriously die in defense of Japan's homeland. There were clearly private conversations in which Hirohito admitted that the war was all but over, but this was not at all the official stance taken in public. The average Japanese person went about their lives in the knowledge that their nation might soon be invaded, and constantly urged to prepare to lay down her or his life for the homeland.

You keep quoting the SBS as though it's military canon, but in fact most military leaders today agree that the bombing was necessary, and all military leaders then agreed that the bombing was necessary. The fact is that no military leader objected to the bombing before it happened. Sincerely, you are free to go through all the minutes of meetings regarding the bombing – there were many conversations back and forth about it – but I already have, and no objections whatsoever were raised by MacArthur, Nimitz, Eisenhower, or any other military personnel.

You insist on repeating over and over again that "the people who prosecuted the war" said that the bombing was a mistake, but the only experience you seem to have with their opinions is the SBS and a few scattered quotes. One thing you're missing here is that the position of the military men whom you seem to think valiantly stood against the bombing (they clearly did not) weren't pushing for peace, no matter what any of them may claim. They were driving hard for invasion, an option which by their own estimates at the time was (a) likely to lead to more casualties than the bombing and (b) much more likely to lead to US defeat. See, for example, the notes of the meeting of the acting Joint Chiefs of Staff on June 18th, 1945, in which the position of MacArthur and Nimitz is presented, and their recommendation for how to go about the invasion is laid out. In that meeting, Marshall is asked what his position is, and he replies that the U.S. status with Japan is "practically identical with the situation which had existed in connection with the operations proposed against Normandy." In fact, as becomes clear, that assessment is a somewhat sunny portrait of how MacArthur and Nimitz saw it.

me: “Honestly, the most important thing here is that the Strategic Bombing Survey presents a vastly simplistic and frankly false view of Japanese life under the imperial government.”

AElfwine Evenstar: “source?”

Well, to start with, you should read the first few sections of Daikichi Irokawa's The Age of Hirohito, which is a much more thorough and careful picture of that time and what it meant to the Japanese people. If you want specific bits which better illustrate the outlook on the war at the time, another good source is Richard B Frank's book from several years ago about the planned invasion, Downfall.

You might note that the Japanese strategy was founded on the willingness to lead as many people to slaughter as possible; this is one of the reasons why a basic surrender was inconceivable to most of the military outside of the Emperor and his closest advisors at the time. As the War Journal of Imperial Headquarters put it: "We can no longer direct the war with any hope of success. The only course left is for Japan's one hundred million people to sacrifice their lives by charging the enemy to make them lose the will to fight." In response to this, Prince Higashkuni agreed: "If Japan's determination to be annihilated is comprehended abroad, then Britain, America, and Russia might hesitate to wage a battle to the finish with us, and might reconsider matters." [cite] This is not an attitude generally conducive to surrender, and the U.S. had heard and seen this position throughout the conflict; in fact, Iwo Jima and Okinawa were a direct result of the Japanese military's strategy of attempting to horrify the enemy into withdrawing by senselessly increasing the casualties.

And in the face of all this, you're trying to claim that the U.S. should have put stock in vague rumors that Japan might be willing to consider an extremely conditional surrender? Rumors that were accompanied by massive Japanese troop buildup, propagandist homilies about how the Japanese population would gladly die in defense of its homeland, and a general heightening of the conflict? No. No military person at the time thought this made any sense, either. And MacArthur, Nimitz, Eisenhower, Marshall, and the rest of the military agreed; that's why, right up until the moment the Japanese announced their surrender, all of them were recommending invasion. Marshall was, in fact, convinced that the bombs wouldn't be enough, and continued to plan for the invasion even after it was decided to drop them; MacArthur and Nimitz seem to have agreed with him, given that they, too, continued to plan the invasion. Whereas no Japanese official whatsoever recommended surrender. None.

To be honest, the fundamental error which the Strategic Bombing Survey makes is to confuse the general Japanese project of "ending the war" (which included all kinds of things, up to and including more massive slaughter) with a project of surrendering. There was no such surrendering project extant until the moment the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. No official at the time even tried to claim that there was. And I get the feeling that you're also misreading the SBS to make it seem as though surrender was more popular than it actually was among the Japanese high command. The final plans for the invasion [PDF] set to go through in November (which Nimitz complained wasn't soon enough) were quite clear about this, bluntly assuming that "... the Japanese will continue the war to the utmost of their capabilities and will prepare to defend the main islands of JAPAN with every means available to them... operations in this area will be opposed not only by the available organized military forces of the Empire, but also by a fanatically hostile population."

Truman's choice, as it was put to him by the military, wasn't between dropping a bomb and waiting. It was between dropping a bomb and initiating a disastrous and brutally bloody invasion. I really have no idea what odd third option you're trying to give him here, but it wasn't one that made any sense whatever in the situation.
posted by koeselitz at 12:15 PM on August 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


AElfwine Evenstar: “I can't believe that I'm having to explain to people why targeting civilians is immoral. The dropping of the Atomic weapon in and of itself is not immoral. What is immoral is the targeting of civilians. If they wanted to use it they should have chosen a military target not cities filled with women and children.”

That was the whole point of choosing Hiroshima – it was the most significant military city in Japan at the time, home of its largest military base. This is repeated over and over and over again, particularly in Truman's own diary entries [ “We have discovered the most terrible bomb in the history of the world... I have told the Sec. of War, Mr. Stimson to use it so that military objectives and soldiers and sailors are the target and not women and children. Even if the Japs are savages, ruthless, merciless and fanatic, we as the leader of the world for the common welfare cannot drop this terrible bomb on the old Capitol or the new.” ] which I have a hard time believing you haven't looked at if you've really tried to give a fair shake to the documentary evidence about the bombing.
posted by koeselitz at 12:23 PM on August 7, 2010


Hiroshima was a military target.

Really? What were all of those civilians doing at a military target?
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 12:28 PM on August 7, 2010


Justinian: “Hiroshima was a military target. It was one of the few military targets left mostly intact in Japan which is why it was selected. The other choice was, IIRC, Kyoto.”

(You recall correctly; and, in fact, as the bit I've just quoted shows, Truman actually refused to bomb Kyoto because it had a population of a million, even though it was recommended to him as the first choice as a target [ “... many people and industries are now being moved there as other areas are being destroyed... from the psychological point of view there is the advantage that Kyoto is an intellectual center for Japan...” (cite)] – it's clear that he actually thought about this more than people realize.)
posted by koeselitz at 12:28 PM on August 7, 2010


Japanese war crimes took place, too.

So nuke the yellow, slanty-eyed bastards, right?
posted by KokuRyu at 12:29 PM on August 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


AElfwine Evenstar: “Really? What were all of those civilians doing at a military target?”

What does this question mean? They lived there. That doesn't change its being the primary military target in Japan. Actually, there were more prominent and strategic military targets in Japan – places like Tokyo and Kyoto. Hiroshima was chosen because it was (a) it was a significant military outpost and (b) it was less populated than any other significant military target. The fact that there were women and children there doesn't change its status as a military center for the war effort in Japan.

This is a minor point. You may disagree with the bombing anyway; but I don't think you can argue that Hiroshima wasn't a military city.
posted by koeselitz at 12:33 PM on August 7, 2010


65 years on (a human lifetime), I cannot understand how people can debate Hiroshima and Nagasaki as some sort of just act that shortened the war or whatever. That's beside the point. Because if you can justify dropping the bomb on Japan, you can justify using the bomb again in the future.

The only reaction to Hiroshima and Nagasaki should be profound sorrow, and horror, and fear.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:33 PM on August 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


Carol Anne: “Japanese war crimes took place, too.”

KokuRyu: “So nuke the yellow, slanty-eyed bastards, right?”

True. It would be better just to let them keep committing atrocities, right?
posted by koeselitz at 12:35 PM on August 7, 2010


Half a million Purple Hearts were minted for the expected invasion of Japan - enough to last until 2000. I guess those folks didn't read the SBS.
posted by me & my monkey at 12:36 PM on August 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


AElfwine Evenstar wrote: "Really? What were all of those civilians doing at a military target?"

It's sort of like if someone dropped a nuke on Barksdale AFB. It would destroy much of Shreveport also, yet the target is military. Military bases usually have civilians living around them.

Or if we were to bomb one of the closed Soviet/Russian cities. That's a completely military target, yet have plenty of civilians around to run factories or whatever.
posted by wierdo at 12:42 PM on August 7, 2010


Interesting that you are comparing the generals and admirals that won WWII to shady car mechanics and sleazy used car salesmen.

You cannot rise to the level of a general or admiral without sharing important but unfortunate qualities with shady car mechanics and sleazy used car salesmen.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:43 PM on August 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


KokuRyu: “The only reaction to Hiroshima and Nagasaki should be profound sorrow, and horror, and fear.”

I don't disagree that those bombings were horrifying, but it's a position of luxury which can afford to have purely this reaction. We can forget the eight million civilians who lost their lives at the hands of the Imperial Army. It's easy to utter platitudes about the pointlessness of trading atrocity for atrocity; but when you're faced with a military force that demonstrates that it's willing to slaughter millions of civilians, millions of women and children, to obtain its objectives, all without blinking – what exactly do you do? When you've just spent seven long years defeating another evil empire, and your own troops have suffered heavy losses, and you're facing an invasion which the military all state will be precisely the same as the last one? What exactly do you think Truman should have done in that situation?
posted by koeselitz at 12:46 PM on August 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


I cannot understand how people can debate Hiroshima and Nagasaki as some sort of just act that shortened the war or whatever. That's beside the point. Because if you can justify dropping the bomb on Japan, you can justify using the bomb again in the future.

Where do you draw the line, then? Are incendiaries ok? Mass starvation? A practically unlimited supply of conventional munitions?

The problem is not the bomb. The problem is the totality of modern war. And I think most Americans, even today, believe that the war was just - that we were attacked, and were in the right to prosecute the war in our own defense. Maybe the Japanese don't, as pointed out upthread, but I think the historical record is clear enough.
posted by me & my monkey at 12:47 PM on August 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Where do you draw the line, then?

I suppose you are either comfortable with using the bomb, or you are not.

As to whether or not it was a just war, that's a very grey area. The Pacific War was indeed a race war, with both sides describing their opponents as less than human, which makes atrocities so much easier to carry out.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:58 PM on August 7, 2010


So basically all war crimes are justified??? Somehow this doesn't strike me as a particularly well thought out position.

It's not about justifying war crimes but understanding that the purpose of war is beat your oppenent by killing people and breaking things. Targeting civilians falls under that, particular;u when the civilians are being encouraged to behave in military ways.

War is an ugly thing and immoral at it's core. Arguing that it's wrong to target civilians seems like the sort of reasoning that comes after a war is over.

Nope you are wrong. Read the SBS.

I have not read the SBS, but hell even I know that Hiroshima was a military target. That fact that you claimed it wasn't doesn't make me put much stock in the SBS.

But, is there a particular part of the SBS you'd recommend reading that will prove your point of Japan's willingness to surrender?
posted by nomadicink at 1:21 PM on August 7, 2010


Oops, sorry, missed the link to the SBS earlier, particularly page 26. Yet it doesn't seem to add anything that Wikipedia didn't have. Namely Japan probably would have surrendered by November or December of 1945 and that the Big Six were evenly split on whether to surrender now and hold out for more favorable terms.

None of that supports your seeming idea of continuing to bomb Japan and kill people and risk American lives while waiting for Japan's military council to decide when it would surrender. That's not how war works. Had Truman waited, I suspect history would not have been kind to that decision.

There just doesn't seem to be much of a case for waiting to use the atomic bomb over Japan and much of that seems to be the fault of Japan's leadership.
posted by nomadicink at 1:34 PM on August 7, 2010


Truman's choice, as it was put to him by the military, wasn't between dropping a bomb and waiting. It was between dropping a bomb and initiating a disastrous and brutally bloody invasion. I really have no idea what odd third option you're trying to give him here, but it wasn't one that made any sense whatever in the situation.

Truman's own diaries mention that he had a third option ("bomb and blockade"), but decided against it. The idea that bombing and blockade don't make "any sense whatever in the situation" -- the situation being that we had surrounded an island nation that had little to no remaining troop movement capability or air power -- is pretty ridiculous. Truman may have decided against blockade, but it was certainly a reasonable option, or it would not have been considered in the first place.

The atomic bomb accomplished our goals admirably, but the idea that the bomb or Operation Downfall were the only ways to cause a Japanese surrender is nonsensical. Despite "the willingness to lead as many people to slaughter as possible", and "massive Japanese troop buildup", the fact is that Hirohito overruled the military and ordered a surrender within days, as soon as it was apparent to him that Japanese defeat was inevitable. It's reasonable to conclude that any action which led to the same realization (such as total blockade, destruction of Japan's remaining railways and shipping, and/or a Russian invasion of Hokkaido) would have led to the same outcome. And all three were more than possible in August 1945 -- much more possible than Operation Downfall, which was already looking unrealistic due to that very same troop buildup, and wasn't to occur until November in any case.

If you want to argue that the atomic bomb was the best choice, fine, but it was most certainly not the only choice, nor the sole alternative to Operation Downfall. The former is reasonable; the latter is a fantasy novel in which we won World War Two by dropping the One Ring into Mount Doom.
posted by vorfeed at 1:37 PM on August 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


As to whether or not it was a just war, that's a very grey area. The Pacific War was indeed a race war, with both sides describing their opponents as less than human, which makes atrocities so much easier to carry out.

One side fought a war of expansion and committed numerous atrocities against the people who happened to live in the path of that expansion. The other ... did not.

One side enforced a consistent policy of mistreatment of POWs and civilians under their control. The other ... did not.

... the idea that the bomb or Operation Downfall were the only ways to cause a Japanese surrender is nonsensical.

Again, though, it's not obvious that a blockade would have led to an unconditional surrender, which was an important goal of the war.

Despite "the willingness to lead as many people to slaughter as possible", and "massive Japanese troop buildup", the fact is that Hirohito overruled the military and ordered a surrender within days, as soon as it was apparent to him that Japanese defeat was inevitable.

Japanese defeat was inevitable long before that, though, wasn't it? The bomb made it apparent that Japanese defeat would be inevitable without the ability to inflict horrendous casualties on an attacking force, and clearly precipitated Hirohito's action as Japan lost the ability to control the cost of that defeat.
posted by me & my monkey at 1:53 PM on August 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


vorfeed: “If you want to argue that the atomic bomb was the best choice, fine, but it was most certainly not the only choice, nor the sole alternative to Operation Downfall. The former is reasonable; the latter is a fantasy novel in which we won World War Two by dropping the One Ring into Mount Doom.”

I agree with you that there were at least three options, and probably more. My point was in contention with AElfwine Evenstar's apparent notion that Japanese surrender was a foregone conclusion at that point; the apparent rhetorical thrust of this argument is that if Truman et al had simply waited, the Japanese surrender would've produced itself, and that Truman et al knew this clearly and dropped the bomb anyway out of some patriotic bluster. Hence my claim: waiting was distinctly not a worthy option.

“Despite "the willingness to lead as many people to slaughter as possible", and "massive Japanese troop buildup", the fact is that Hirohito overruled the military and ordered a surrender within days, as soon as it was apparent to him that Japanese defeat was inevitable. It's reasonable to conclude that any action which led to the same realization (such as total blockade, destruction of Japan's remaining railways and shipping, and/or a Russian invasion of Hokkaido) would have led to the same outcome. And all three were more than possible in August 1945 -- much more possible than Operation Downfall, which was already looking unrealistic due to that very same troop buildup, and wasn't to occur until November in any case.”

That "realization" is the tricky bit, though, isn't it? But the Japanese Imperial Government had admitted to itself more than a year before the bombs were dropped – in July 1944 – that military defeat was inevitable. This was before the horrors of Okinawa and Iwo Jima. In other words – their entire strategy had been based, for more than a year, on a relentless willingness to pile the bodies higher and higher in a stated and conscious effort to horrify the enemy into stopping the invasion. Even Emperor Hirohito's announcement of the surrender seems to indicate this, when he says that "should we continue to fight, not only would it result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization."

Besides, it's not quite so simple as you've laid it out; bomb and blockade, led by Curtis LeMay, began a month before that diary entry of Truman's. The firebombing of Tokyo started on March 9. It's clear that in his diary means that his other option is to continue "bomb and blockade." And, for the reasons I've outlined above – Japan had made no move to surrender in six months of bombing and blockading, and in fact had indicated that it was willing to continue on the way it had – it was rational for Truman to conclude, I think, that "bomb and blockade" had failed.

Finally, "Operation Downfall" may have appeared "unrealistic" at that moment – but to the military brass, it was clearly the only viable option. It was the only thing all the Joint Chiefs could agree unanimously on by April, and by August they were all pretty clear that it had to happen sooner than later. They were probably all aware that it wasn't a very good option, but given the fact that they all unanimously recommended it, it's pretty clear that they thought it was the best.
posted by koeselitz at 2:16 PM on August 7, 2010


KokuRyu: “As to whether or not it was a just war, that's a very grey area. The Pacific War was indeed a race war, with both sides describing their opponents as less than human, which makes atrocities so much easier to carry out.”

The Imperial Government of Japan was as bad as the Nazi regime in terms of pointless slaughter. At least eight million civilians were brutally slaughtered to no end whatsoever. You may say that the US had its flaws – it certainly did, and let's be sure we never forget the terrible things we did in that time, not least of which was the internment of a hundred thousand Japanese-Americans during the war. But to explain away all of the atrocities of 1935-1945 by saying "that's a very grey area" is to indicate tacitly that the lives of Chinese people are not worth as much as the lives of Japanese people or American people. And frankly I find that notion offensive.
posted by koeselitz at 2:23 PM on August 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


You keep quoting the SBS as though it's military canon, but in fact most military leaders today agree that the bombing was necessary, and all military leaders then agreed that the bombing was necessary.

(source)????

The fact is that no military leader objected to the bombing before it happened. Sincerely, you are free to go through all the minutes of meetings regarding the bombing – there were many conversations back and forth about it – but I already have, and no objections whatsoever were raised by MacArthur, Nimitz, Eisenhower, or any other military personnel.

Koeselitz I am having trouble finding any pertinent information in this link. I only see a couple of meetings where Leahy was present and the discussion has nothing to do with the bomb. You can't just spew some BS then link to something that looks good and expect it to be cool. WTF? I just wasted an hour and a half of my time reading through this and it has nothing to do with the point you are making. That is kinda shitty. Yeah there were discussions involving dropping the bomb but none involving Leahy, Eisenhower, or MacArthur.

You can't refute that the top military brass prosecuting the war; including but not limited to Leahy, Eisenhower, and MacArthur; are on the record as stating that in their opinions the Atomic bombings were unnecessary because they in fact did say those things. I will take their opinions as more valid than yours. What with them being there and alive and prosecuting the war and all.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 3:05 PM on August 7, 2010


Hiroshima: Historians Reassess
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 3:07 PM on August 7, 2010


Finally, "Operation Downfall" may have appeared "unrealistic" at that moment – but to the military brass, it was clearly the only viable option. It was the only thing all the Joint Chiefs could agree unanimously on by April, and by August they were all pretty clear that it had to happen sooner than later.

Yet by August, the Joint Chiefs had begun to look into other options, such as invading elsewhere. A memo was sent from the Joint War Planning Committee to Nimitz and MacArthur on August 4th asking for alternate ideas in light of greater-than-expected Japanese troop buildup on Kyushu. This was to be discussed at the next JCS meeting. If the bomb hadn't been dropped two days later, it's entirely possible that Operation Downfall would not have gone through, especially since the Soviets joined the war.

There are any number of things which the military brass believed "had to happen sooner than later" one week, only for them to be invalidated the next (Market Garden provides many examples). That's the nature of war. It makes little sense to state that Operation Downfall "had to happen sooner than later", while at the same time scoffing at the idea that Japanese surrender was "a foregone conclusion" -- three months is an eternity in war, and any number of things could have occurred by November 1st to cause neither, one without the other, or both.

The bottom line is that America held all the cards in August '45. We did not have to make any particular decision, and we may as well admit such, instead of pretending as though the constraints we decided to place on the decision were inevitable or universal.
posted by vorfeed at 3:11 PM on August 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Leo Szilard, Interview: President Truman Did Not Understand
via
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 3:12 PM on August 7, 2010


I would also be interested if anyone could actually dig up the minutes of the discussions that the joint chiefs of staff had about the decision to drop the bomb.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 3:16 PM on August 7, 2010


Here is the type of hypothetical that I wish had taken place. I wonder what type of world we would be living in now instead of the state of never ending war we currently find ourselves in.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 3:19 PM on August 7, 2010


We did not have to make any particular decision...

Well, other than end the war as quickly as possible, sure!
posted by nomadicink at 3:21 PM on August 7, 2010


Hiroshima: Historians Reassess

Hoist by your own petard. If it requires reassesment in 1995 to realize that the bombing was not neccesary, how is Truman supposed to know it in 1945?
posted by Jahaza at 3:28 PM on August 7, 2010


AElfwine Evenstar: “You can't just spew some BS then link to something that looks good and expect it to be cool. WTF? I just wasted an hour and a half of my time reading through this and it has nothing to do with the point you are making. That is kinda shitty. Yeah there were discussions involving dropping the bomb but none involving Leahy, Eisenhower, or MacArthur.”

Jesus, what were you hoping for? How in god's name would that even be possible, given that all of them were in the south Pacific during the war? Of course they weren't there for conversations! They delivered their opinions through the General of the Army, George Marshall, in a meeting at the White House on June 18, 1945; to wit: "The Kyushu operation is essential to a strategy of strangulation and appears to be the least costly worth-while operation following Okinawa. The basic point is that a lodgement in Kyushu is essential, both to tightening our strangle hold of blockage and bombardment on Japan, and to forcing capitulation by invasion of Tokyo Plain." (I quote from pages 2 and 3 there.)

There are a few other meetings where the Joint Chiefs of Staff issued their recommendations. I've already linked to a PDF of the Operation Downfall plans in this thread. It is clear that invasion was thought by all to be the best possible recourse. Nevertheless, if you can produce one military officer who objected to Truman that he should not drop the bomb – that it was too terrible a loss of human life to contemplate – then I will be duly impressed.

Until then, all this is academic. It doesn't matter what doddering old generals decide to say years later. It matters what was happening then, on the ground; they can say that it wasn't necessary all they want, but the point is that for some reason or another they neglected to tell anyone that they felt that way at the time, if indeed this isn't just a hindsight thing.

Again: where are the records of military officials who spoke against the bombing before it happened? Seriously. Give me at least one or two.

“You can't refute that the top military brass prosecuting the war; including but not limited to Leahy, Eisenhower, and MacArthur; are on the record as stating that in their opinions the Atomic bombings were unnecessary because they in fact did say those things. I will take their opinions as more valid than yours. What with them being there and alive and prosecuting the war and all.”

Since you've decided to completely ignore logic and rationality, and instead to decide this whole thing based on argument from authority, I guess that's the best option you have right now. You're welcome to it. Personally, I think the evidence is pretty clear. (And even if you were to try to choose the argument from authority, I think you'll find that the majority of the people who were "there and alive and prosecuting the war and all" felt that the bombing was necessary. How did it come about that these three people you keep mentioning are more important in their assessments than everybody else?)
posted by koeselitz at 3:35 PM on August 7, 2010


AElfwine Evenstar: “I would also be interested if anyone could actually dig up the minutes of the discussions that the joint chiefs of staff had about the decision to drop the bomb.”

I don't believe they exist, as they weren't the ones who decided to do it. At that point, it was difficult for them to agree on anything; heck, they almost scrapped the whole invasion plan because both Nimitz and MacArthur wanted to be in charge. The fact that they weren't party to the decision might have something to do with the fact that a few of them decided years later that dropping the bombs was a mistake.
posted by koeselitz at 3:38 PM on August 7, 2010


Personally, I think the evidence is pretty clear.

What evidence?

and instead to decide this whole thing based on argument from authority

You would have a point if my main argument was that the only reason for disagreeing with Trumans's decision was certain military brass' opinions. My main reason is a moral argument which has nothing to do with hypothetical situations. The fact that I cite Eisenhower, Leahy, and MacArthur is because they support my position that is was unnecessary. I am certainly not basing my entire argument on that point as much as you try and make it seem so.

I am done here. It's pointless to continue arguing because I highly doubt anyone will change their mind. Have fun moralizing this horrible crime against humanity. :)
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 3:50 PM on August 7, 2010


Koeselitz if you can find me the links to the pertinent discussions of the joint chiefs of staff I wil gladly take a look at them. Also thank you for the two books you linked to upthread I have added them to my reading list. But yeah other than that I think the thread has run it's course.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 3:53 PM on August 7, 2010


I have a strange feeling that this has happened before and will happen again.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 3:56 PM on August 7, 2010


Rat Beach by William Styron.
posted by puny human at 4:01 PM on August 7, 2010


My main reason is a moral argument which has nothing to do with hypothetical situations.

Which is completely strange, in my opinion. If American had dropped the atomic bombs, they would have done carpet bombing for months. Civilians still would have died, many more cities would have been destroyed. Dropping the bomb was not a great choice, but it seemed the best choice in terms of quickly ending the war with the least amount of American deaths.

Frankly, your entire argument rests on a moral decision which then you seem to pick and choose facts to support. After people pointed out that Hiroshima was indeed a military target, you just dropped that subject, possibly because it wasn't bolstering your argument.

It's fine if you disagree with the use of atomic weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and it's fine if you want to say it was wrong from a point of morality. But you don't seem to have much of a case based on logic or reality.
posted by nomadicink at 5:18 PM on August 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Given the amount of food that had to be shipped to Japan immediately after the surrender, it seems quite likely that the number of civilian casualties would have been higher had we attempted to just wait them out as suggested above.

My main reason is a moral argument which has nothing to do with hypothetical situations.

All moral arguments are inextricably bound with hypothetical situations: what would happen if you chose another action?
posted by me & my monkey at 6:45 PM on August 7, 2010


After people pointed out that Hiroshima was indeed a military target

Hiroshima did in fact have a military base but it was also home to a much larger amount of civilians. That makes it a civilian target...that and all the dead civilians. Was Nagasaki a military target?

But you guys are right the atomic bomings had nothing to do with Russia or testing out the bombs and had everything to do with saving Japanese lives. Right?

My argument from morality has nothing to do with what happened afterwards but what did happen and why that choice was made. I am looking for a book I own which has a section detailing that General MacArthur specifically had been in high level negotiations for surrender for almost half a year before we bombed them. Those were rebuffed specifically because they wanted to test the bomb. The excuse was unconditional surrender.

Usually when studying history primary sources are considered the most reliable source of information. The SBS is a primary source. Everything that came afterward is a secondary or tertiary source which is suspect. You guys can go on moralizing till your blue in the face and you won't convince me that Japan wasn't going to surrender. You also won't convince me that it is moral to target civilians with bombing raids even if they live next to a military base.

So Nagasaki was it a military target?
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 8:00 PM on August 7, 2010


You guys still haven't illustrated why the SBS isn't a reliable source. Please enlighten me.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 8:05 PM on August 7, 2010


Do you guys think the fire bombing of Tokyo was moral?
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 8:14 PM on August 7, 2010


But you guys are right the atomic bomings had nothing to do with Russia or testing out the bombs and had everything to do with saving Japanese lives. Right?

No, I think it had everything to do with saving American lives. I don't think Japanese lives mattered all that much to the Allied high command. If the bombing did save Japanese lives - and there are strong arguments to that effect - that was incidental.

And that's ok with me. I think that the US government's primary responsibility is to US citizens. I think that, once the Japanese opened the floodgates of total war, with their horrible treatment of, well, everyone in their path, our government's primary responsibility was to end the war by any means necessary.

The excuse was unconditional surrender.

You keep calling that an excuse, but many people believe that this was a just and worthy goal. The alternative could easily have been another Versailles, where we'd have to go back 10 years later and do it all over again.

I am looking for a book I own which has a section detailing that General MacArthur specifically had been in high level negotiations for surrender for almost half a year before we bombed them.

I'm sure that one book is authoritative and incontrovertible. But in any case, "high level negotiations for surrender" != "surrender".

You guys still haven't illustrated why the SBS isn't a reliable source.

I don't think that any single document is a "reliable source" to be considered in a vacuum. History is made from consensus, and there is no consensus that the bombings weren't a necessity of war.

Do you guys think the fire bombing of Tokyo was moral?

Yes, because I think it helped shorten the war, and I think that shortening the war was a just goal for the US government. I'm not sure why you're bringing that up, though, as it seems to weaken your case that the atomic bombings were uniquely immoral acts.

But in any case, since this thread is about whether we should apologize for the bombings, I'll note that the Japanese government has, to this day, been very reluctant to apologize for starting the war in the first place, or for their many well-documented atrocities, and the Japanese royal family was shielded from war crimes prosecution at MacArthur's behest.
posted by me & my monkey at 8:50 PM on August 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


AElfwine Evenstar wrote: "Hiroshima did in fact have a military base but it was also home to a much larger amount of civilians."

By that standard, there may be ten military bases on Earth that wouldn't be morally wrong to bomb in a provoked war.
posted by wierdo at 9:01 PM on August 7, 2010


The SBS is not uncontroversial. Section III makes a strong argument against taking it at face value.
posted by event at 9:24 PM on August 7, 2010


So Nagasaki was it a military target?

Honestly, if you can't understand and accept that a city with one of the largest seaports in that part of Japan would be a military then I don't know what to say. It does little good and makes not a lick of logical sense to bomb only military bases while leaving the means of producing more weapons unharmed. Hell, doing that probably results in lives lost overall because weapons keep being produced.

Nagaski was actually the the backup target though. The city of Kokura was the main target, but cloud cover prevented the release of the bomb there.

But you guys are right the atomic bomings had nothing to do with Russia or testing out the bombs and had everything to do with saving Japanese lives. Right?

The bombs were about ending the war as quickly as possible, saving American lives, showing Russia and the world what the US was capable of, preventing Russia from expanding into Japan, testing two different types of nuclear bombs, revenge for Pearl Harbor and probably a couple of other things.

You guys can go on moralizing till your blue in the face and you won't convince me that Japan wasn't going to surrender.

Actually, reading this thread has convinced me that Japan might have surrendered at some point. It would have taken more time and bombing from the Allies, but yeah, it seems like a strong possibility. The really interesting question is if Japan had surrendered, then would America have still dropped the bombs.

You also won't convince me that it is moral to target civilians with bombing raids even if they live next to a military base.

Then you are fool and all I ask is that you do not go into the military
posted by nomadicink at 5:53 AM on August 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


Then you are fool and all I ask is that you do not go into the military

Not a chance. My opinion of militaries and people in them is best expressed in this selection:

This topic brings me to that worst outcrop of the herd nature, the military
system, which I abhor. That a man can take pleasure in marching in formation
to the strains of a band is enough to make me despise him. He has only been
given his big brain by mistake; a backbone was all he needed. This
plague-spot of civilization ought to be abolished with all possible speed.
Heroism by order, senseless violence, and all the pestilent nonsense that does
by the name of patriotism--how I hate them! War seems to me a mean,
contemptible thing: I would rather be hacked in pieces than take part in such
an abominable business. And yet so high, in spite of everything, is my opinion
of the human race that I believe this bogey would have disappeared long ago,
had the sound sense of the nations not been systematically corrupted by
commercial and political interests acting through the schools and the Press.

Albert Einstein

I bet he felt like an ass after writing these.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 10:57 AM on August 8, 2010


Thanks for the link event; I am reading it with interest.

So another question. Do you guys think that we should start nuking Afghani cities until the Taliban surrenders?
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 11:51 AM on August 8, 2010


Of course not.
posted by nomadicink at 12:32 PM on August 8, 2010


So maybe the SBS has problems. I would need to read more before I'm convinced, though.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 12:34 PM on August 8, 2010


So another question. Do you guys think that we should start nuking Afghani cities until the Taliban surrenders?

Do you think there ever has been or ever will be a military action you find moral?
posted by Snyder at 1:32 PM on August 8, 2010


AElfwine Evenstar: “Do you guys think the fire bombing of Tokyo was moral? ... Do you guys think that we should start nuking Afghani cities until the Taliban surrenders?”

So we're playing the moral equivalency game now? Awesome! Say, I've got one!

You kept going on and on upthread about how it's immoral to kill civilians, and how it's evil to bomb women and children. Does that mean you're just fine with killing as many men as possible? Or do they have to be wearing uniforms before you'll happily judge their wholesale slaughter morally correct?
posted by koeselitz at 3:13 PM on August 8, 2010


"So maybe the SBS has problems. I would need to read more before I'm convinced, though."

You could start here.

(the customer reviews do a fine job of summing up his arguments)
posted by puny human at 4:02 PM on August 8, 2010


Seconded. I mentioned Frank's Downfall upthread, and it's worth recommending again: it is the definitive account of what happened at the end of the war, argued through carefully and persuasively, using documents and interviews that were not available to the Strategic Bombing Survey, MacArthur, Eisenhower, or any of the other people who've wondered out loud if the war might've just ended if we'd kept fighting it out. It's exhaustive, it's careful, it's thoughtful, and it's unbiased. Seriously, if anyone is actually interested in what happened there, no matter what side they stand on, they should check that book out and come to terms with it one way or another.
posted by koeselitz at 4:19 PM on August 8, 2010


I'm a little appalled at how this discussion has gone. My goodness, put yourselves in the shoes of those on the spot for a moment. That was a really horrid period for many reasons that kinda of slide right past people born long after the event.

Here are a couple of things to consider:

There was no good understanding of the effects of fallout or what constituted a lethal dose of radiation. The people working on the bomb were only just beginning to find out. There were a handful of people irradiated by fallout at the Trinity test. They all got acute radiation poisoning, hair fell out, deathly ill, etc. They all survived. They became the basis for estimating a lethal whole body radiation dose. The estimate was wildly wrong, being far larger than turned out to be the case.

The battle for Saipan is not well known. It was horrifying. The casualties on both side were terrible, so bad that the US suppressed a lot of information about how bad it was for fear of demoralizing troops if there was to be an invasion of the Home Islands. Worse yet, the Emperor ordered civilians on Saipan to commit suicide rather than be captured (for fear that survivors would testify to the humanitarian impulses of the Americans and thereby make a surrender more likely.)

There were also people like Guy Gabaldon.

To sit back at this distance in time and space and make such broad and sweeping moral and historical judgments, and particularly to argue them with such vehemence seems excessively self-valuing, arrogant and prideful, not to say callous and perhaps ignorant.

The decision to use atomic weapons was made by people with insufficient information in an atmosphere of war frenzy. It looks different now, but all the arguments both pro and con in this thread were considered at the time the decision was made. It was known there would be terrible destruction, but the scale of it was not readily grasped. It was argued by people at the Manhattan Project that the bomb was only intended to counter the German use of similar weapons and they should not be used against Japan, or at least they should be used in a demonstration that would avoid taking human life. The argument was made and it was not accepted.

We just went through a similar period of war fever and have not come out the other side of it yet. It seems to me that go as far back as you like in history, Peloponnesian War say, and society has never learned a damned thing from it. Not then and not now. It's just a treadmill of pain and suffering.

Screw apologies, I'll settle for a little mutual regret.
posted by warbaby at 8:29 PM on August 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


It's just a treadmill of pain and suffering.

But that's the problem, warbaby. The same mentality that is able to chalk up the atomic bombings to a logical, sane, and moral strategy is exactly the same mentality that got us into Iraq and Afghanistan. It's exactly the same mentality that dreams up military doctrines like "Shock and Awe" which kill the civilian population not by direct bombardment but by surgically removing elements essential to any civil society. Clean drinking water, clean sanitary conditions, access to safe food, and freedom of movement to name a few. Until this worldview and mindset is confronted we have no hope of a future free of war and the associated horrors. This is not a question of who's more moral than who or who can win an argument on metafilter it is a question of survival.

The United States along with all nuclear powers, declared or no, are following outdated patterns of control and coercion. The failure of 4th Generation warfare to defeat what amounts to sheep herds wielding AK's and RPG's illustrates this point. This is also because the battlefield has shifted from the physical to the mental. The battlefield to be won is in the hearts and minds of the people. If you can't win over the hearts and minds of the "insurgents" the most sophisticated military technology in the world is worthless. This is the shift that the bomb brought onto the world stage and is what starts and sustains the cold war. The war of the mind threatened to spill over into the real with nuclear winter inducing consequences. In my opinion that danger isn't subsiding it is increasing. All it takes is one nuclear event to trigger the end of the world as we know it.

I will agree that from our perspective here at the beginning of the 21st century it is easy to judge Truman. I will admit that his choice was not easy and that the more I read the more I can understand why he logically made that decision. But that doesn't mean I can morally condone it. In my opinion his decision to use the bomb was unnecessary to win the war, and as warbaby has pointed out, it was used without completely understanding what the effects of its use would be. Another thing that rings false in the apologist position is that it never seems to occur to you that Truman might not have made the decision with the altruistic goals in mind that you proclaim. What if his main concern was sending a message to the Russians? What if his main concern was ending the war, not to save lives, but to end the war before Russia had a chance to push its advantage in Japan and arrive at a position analogous to Korea? What if his main concern was to test the bombs on a populated urban center to allow American scientists to fully study it's effects? Does the choice only then become immoral/moral when we know what the criterion were for Truman to make his decision to drop the bombs. Is it the results of the decision that ultimately decide its morality? Or is the decision moral/immoral before the actual choice is made? Are the debates leading up to the decision important in making a judgement about the decision's morality? Is, as Foucoult would argue, Truman dead as soon as he makes the decision; his intent meaningless to the morality/immorality of event itself?

These are all questions we haven't even begun to answer in this thread so to proclaim that people "don't seem to have much of a case based on logic or reality" strikes me as kinda melodramatic and sophmoric. The fact of the matter is that there is no historical consensus one way or the other. There are historians who argue both extremes but the truth of the matter probably lies somewhere in the middle. In my opinion Truman took all sides of the debate into account and made the decision which would put the United States in the best position strategically. Again the fact that the apologists for his position assign him only the best of intentions with no possibility of Machiavellian motivations strikes me as being a little willfully gullible. But really how else would you explain an entire nation convinced that it's attack and invasion against another country which had never attacked it was a moral and righteous action? The same way you explain a nation which is convinced that one of it's most questionable actions is unquestionably moral and righteous with no malicious intents.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 12:29 AM on August 9, 2010


I'm going to engage in some "preemption" here.

Metafilter: It's a matter of survival.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 12:31 AM on August 9, 2010


I am reading the links you guys have given me. After reading through some of the downfall reviews I am of the opinion that Mr. Franks work is very well researched and overall has written a quality book. That doesn't mean that I am going to agree with his conclusions. Your charge that the SBS doesn't exist in a vacuum is true but also applies to your sources too. I am curious if the arguments made in the SBS are covered?
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 12:44 AM on August 9, 2010


Also maybe someone else can find the info I am looking for; I think it was called the MacArthur Memo. It was a briefing of high level negotiations between the Emperor and MacArthur which was rebuffed by Roosevelt right before Yalta. I can't remember the name of the book or the author. I read it several years ago and only remember that one of the sections covered the attempts by the Japanese to surrender for like 6 months leading up to the bombings. As I can't remember the authors name I can't find the citation in my own library or internet and don't know how a reliable of a source this would be. But I distinctly remember reading it.

People who disagreed with the bombing.

There sure seems to be a lot of people who disagreed with the bombs being dropped. I wonder if they were protecting their reputations for future generations of if they really disagreed with the bombs use.

Very interesting material here. This is basically arguing the opposite extreme of what Mr. Franks is arguing.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 1:05 AM on August 9, 2010


This special committee, known as the Interim Committee, played a vital role in the decision to use the bomb. Secretary Stimson was chairman, and George L. Harrison, President of the New York Life Insurance Company and special consultant in the Secretary's office, took the chair when he was absent. James F. Byrnes, who held no official position at the time, was President Truman's personal representative. Other members were Ralph A. Bard, Under Secretary of the Navy, William L. Clayton, Assistant Secretary of State, and Drs. Vannevar Bush, Karl T. Compton, and James B. Conant. Generals Marshall and Groves attended at least one and possibly more of the meetings of the committee. [18]

The work of the Interim Committee, in Stimson's words, "ranged over the whole field of atomic energy, in its political, military, and scientific aspects." [19] During the first meeting the scientific members reviewed for their colleagues the development of the Manhattan Project and described vividly the destructive power of the atomic bomb. They made it clear also that there was no known defense against this kind of attack. Another day was spent with the engineers and industrialists who had designed and built the huge plants at Oak Ridge and Hanford. Of particular concern to the committee was the question of how long it would take another country, particularly the Soviet Union, to produce an atomic bomb. "Much of the discussion," recalled Dr. Oppenheimer who attended the meeting of 1 June as a member of a scientific panel, "revolved around the question raised by Secretary Stimson as to whether there was any hope at all of using this development to get less barbarous relations with the Russians." [20]

The work of the Interim Committee was completed 1 June 1945, [21] when it submitted its report to the President, recommending unanimously that:

1. The bomb should be used against Japan as soon as possible.

2. It should be used against a military target surrounded by other buildings.

3. It should be used without prior warning of the nature of the weapon. (One member, Ralph A. Bard, later dissented from this portion of the committee's recommendation.)

[18] Stimson, "The Decision To Use the Atomic Bomb," Harper's, p. 100;
Byrnes, Speaking Frankly, p. 259; Oppenheimer Hearings, p. 34; Smith,
"Behind the Decision To Use the Atomic Bomb: Chicago 1944-45," Bulletin
of Atomic Scientists, pp. 296-97.

[19] Stimson, "The Decision To Use the Atomic Bomb," Harper's, p. 100.

[20] Oppenheimer Hearings, pp. 34, 257, testimony of Drs. Oppenheimer
and Compton; Byrnes, Speaking Frankly, pp. 260-61; Stimson, "The
Decision To Use the Atomic Bomb," Harper's, pp. 100-101.

[21] Stimson "The Decision To Use the Atomic Bomb," Harper's, p. 101;
Truman, Year of Decisions, p. 419. Byrnes mistakenly states that the
Interim Committee made its recommendations on 1 July. Byrnes, Speaking
Frankly.


The Decision To Use the Atomic Bomb, by Louis Morton, pg. 497.

It seems that military leaders such as MacArthur, Eisenhower, and Leahy were not really given a voice or role in the discussion about the use of the bomb which explains their lack of recommendations against it. In fact it seems the group that decided was composed of the small cabal of men referenced above. The recommendation itself doesn't mention ending the war, but it makes sure to mention that the military target should be surrounded by "buildings".
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 1:17 AM on August 9, 2010


Ok I can't find the book I have but I have found another reference to the memo online here. The article referenced does exist, but I can't seem to find the text of the article anywhere on the net. I wonder if anyone here has a membership at the chicago tribune which would allow them to access and post the contents of that article as I would be very interested in what it has to say.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 1:38 AM on August 9, 2010


Do you think there ever has been or ever will be a military action you find moral?

No. Can we agree that all acts of war are by definition unjust and immoral, but some are just more necessary than others? I am by no means a pacifist but I don't think that any amount of moralizing can ever justify taking another human life. In some situations taking human life may be necessary, ie self defense, but never moral. In my opinion the atomic bombings and conventional bombings(on civilians) that the United States conducted were immoral and not necessary. The fight against Japan was not a zero sum game unless a hegemon was the ultimate goal, which I believe it was. Let me quote Leahy not to prove my case but to give an example of what my thinking is and also to illustrate that the thinking among the top allied commanders doesn't necessarily fit in neatly with the narrative that has been built up over the last 65 years.

Admiral Leahy said that he could not agree with those who said to him that unless we obtain the unconditional surrender of the Japanese that we will have lost the war. He feared no menace from Japan in the foreseeable future, even if we were unsuccessful in forcing unconditional surrender. What he did fear was that our insistence on unconditional surrender would result only in making the Japanese desperate and thereby increase our casualty lists. He did not think that this was at all necessary. (source, pg. 7)

Your claim, Koeselitz, that no voices were raised in objection is proven false by the link you yourself gave us. Now some may protest that Leahy didn't say we shouldn't use the bomb. You are correct in that statement. But, if he didn't think that unconditional surrender was necessary then he would also have been of the opinion that dropping an atomic weapon to achieve that goal was also unnecessary. Unfortunately Admiral Leahy was not part of the Interim Committee which decided to use the bomb.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 2:19 AM on August 9, 2010


"The conclusions of the Committee," wrote Stimson, "were similar to my own, although I reached mine independently. I felt that to extract a genuine surrender from the Emperor and his military adviser s, they must be administered a tremendous shock which would carry convincing proof of our power to destroy the empire. Such an effective shock would save many times the number of lives, both American and Japanese, than it would cost." [22]

[22] Stimson, "The Decision To Use the Atomic Bomb," Harper's, p. 101.
The same idea is expressed by Winston S. Churchill, Triumph and Tragedy
(Cambridge: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1953), p. 638-39.


This is a convincing argument, it really is. For me, though, the argument of the scientists working on the Manhattan Project is ultimately more convincing from a moral standpoint. The main reason I hold this view is because the plan is feasible. Not only is it feasible but it is responsible. The fact that this was a new experimental super-weapon, which being deployed would signal a jump in technology akin to the jump from stone to gunpowder, should have been used as an opportunity to illustrate to the whole world that we really were the shining city on the hill, that we really were fighting for the freedom of all men.

The only situation I can see dropping the bombs being moral is where we have already demonstrated our capability to the enemy and given them our terms of surrender. Give them a week to let their scientists study the effects of our bomb. If one week was sufficient time for their scientists to conduct test then bomb them when the deadline had passed. Even in this situation I am not totally satisfied because what if I end up in the position where I had just totally destroyed two inhabited urban centers and Japan still refuses to surrender. Then I am in a position of having to continue conventional carpet/fire boming and plan for an amphibious assault. You also have Russia on your dick pressing in as quickly as possible. Not a good position strategically. Viewed in this light Truman's decision was quite a gamble from just a strategic perspective. This is especially true if your claims about Truman's knowledge are correct; that he was under the impression that Japan would not surrender. This seems to be a very risky choice that he made.

It is my view that they knew Japanese leaders were trying to surrender through the Russians because we had broken their codes. The Japanese also most probably had high level contacts with MacArthur. We knew the Japanese were on the verge of capitulating but we wanted to test out our new weapon. The Russians lied to us about negotiating with Japan providing us with a pretext for using our new toy. Ie we get trigger happy and boom boom 2 cities down. Japan surrender's to us unconditionally, we just got to test out our new super weapn twice on urban centers, and Russia loses out on having any influence on postwar Japan. This senario is much more believeable than any presented so far about what Truman's motives may have been. As others have said I highly doubt saving lives really came into the equasion. In my opinion the main variable in the decision to drop the bomb was that of Russia and it's actions. This is evidenced in the section I quoted above where it says:

Of particular concern to the committee was the question of how long it would take another country, particularly the Soviet Union, to produce an atomic bomb. "Much of the discussion," recalled Dr. Oppenheimer who attended the meeting of 1 June as a member of a scientific panel, "revolved around the question raised by Secretary Stimson as to whether there was any hope at all of using this development to get less barbarous relations with the Russians."

It seems that the main strategic consideration was Russia's ability to duplicate the Manhattan Project. Either way the question still remains, do Truman's motives have any relation to the decision's morality?
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 3:38 AM on August 9, 2010


From: The Shock of the Atomic Bomb and Japan's Decision to Surrender: A Reconsideration
Author(s): Sadao Asada
Source: Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 67, No. 4 (Nov., 1998), pp. 477-512

With regards to Japanese peace feelers:

What the deciphered Japanese dispatches reveal, however, were indecision and contradiction in Tokyo; the Japanese government could never agree on surrender terms. The cable messages went round and round: Togo, under pressure from the military, repeated that Japan could never accept an unconditional surrender, while the more realistic Sato entreated for "specific" ediation terms and "a concrete plan for terminating the war." As was to be expected, the Soviet response was chilly: Solomon A. Lozovsky, Deputy Foreign Commissar, replied that the emperor's message "contained mere generalities and no concrete proposal." In the end the Soviet government flatly rejected the Japanese proposal to send the emperor's special emissary, Konoe Fumimaro, to Moscow on the ground that the Japanese proposal was too "opaque" regarding surrender conditions. Through these efforts Japan merely wasted valuable time. There is thus very little likelihood of any missed opportunity here. If any opportunity were missed, it may have been Japan's failure to accept the Potsdam Declaration of July 26. Togo at once noted from its wording ("The following are our terms...") that it actually amounted to a "conditional surrender." Although it said nothing about the emperor system, he interpreted the declaration as offering the basis of a negotiated peace. The upper echelons of the Foreign Ministry were agreed that the Potsdam terms be accepted at once. However, the Japanese military found the Potsdam terms unacceptable because they contained the "three conditions": Allied trial of Japanese war criminals, demobilization and disarmament of Japanese forces by the Allies, and an Allied military occupation of Japan. Japan's military chiefs had been watching with increasing fear the Allies' stern treatment of Nazi leaders and German war criminals. Likewise, the Potsdam terms demanded the eradication of Japanese "militarism" and the elimination of military leaders. Apprehensive about the military's opposition, Togo took pains to persuade the Supreme War Council and the cabinet on July 27 that nothing be done pending Moscow's reply to Tokyo's mediation proposal. Togo's wait-and-see policy notwithstanding, Prime Minister Suzuki, under pressure from the army and navy command, floundered and announced, to Togo's great dismay, that the Japanese government would "ignore" (mokusatsu) the Potsdam terms. (The unfortunate word has been variously translated as "withhold comment," "treat with silent contempt," "ignore with contempt," "unworthy of public notice," and even "reject").The consequences were swift and devastating: Japan's seeming rejection gave the United States the pretext for dropping the atom bomb.


With regards to the SBS and the November 1 surrender date:

We must then ask this question: Without the use of the atomic bomb, but with Soviet entry and with continued strategic bombing and naval blockade, would Japan have surrendered before November 1-the day scheduled for the U.S. invasion of Kyushu? Available Japanese data do not provide a conclusive answer. In June 1945 Japanese leaders agreed that food shortages would become critical in the autumn and toward the onset of the cold season; the country had suffered a "disastrous" failure of its rice crop. On the other hand, we must consider that fanaticism was not restricted to the military; the men and women in the street were thoroughly indoctrinated. Women practiced how to face American tanks with bamboo spears. Perhaps civilian morale had not deteriorated as much as the ruling elite had feared. In all probability Japan could not have endured the winter of 1945-1946, but there was a possibility that Japan would not have surrendered before November 1. Most assuredly, Japanese sources do not support the ex post facto contention of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey (1946) that "in all probability" Japan would have surrendered before November 1 "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." To repulse the landing of American forces, the Sixteenth Area Army in Kyushu had been built up to 900,000 soldiers. They were to give a crushing blow to the first wave of an American invasion. In the process, they were to die glorious deaths on the beaches and in the interior-in kamikaze planes as human rockets, in midget submarines as human torpedoes, and in suicide charges by ground units. On the American side, the Army Chief of Staff, General George C. Marshall, began to fear such massive Japanse attacks, causing huge American casualties, and came to consider the tactical use of atomic bombs (six to nine) to assist and support the invading American forces. It may be said that Japan's surrender, coming as it did in August, forestalled sacrifices on both sides far surpassing those at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

posted by Comrade_robot at 8:40 AM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


What I think it is important to realize is that surrender had to be agreed upon by the Supreme War Council. This council had, essentially, a war faction and a peace faction, and a unanimous decision was required.

Japanese military doctrine at the time emphasized the 'decisive battle', a result of Japan's decisive victory at the Battle of Tsushima. That battle, which ended the Russo-Japanese war, resulted in the destruction of nearly the entire Russian Fleet for three torpedo boats, 117 killed, and 500 wounded. Thus, there was a tendency to believe that just one more decisive battle could finally stop the Allies. This was what Army Minister Anami (supported by Chief of the Army General Staff Umezu Yoshijiro and Chief of the Naval General Staff Toyoda) wanted -- either the decisive battle, or the three terms as stated above.

I don't really think that the atomic bombs were dropped entirely so that Japan would surrender before the Soviets could invade Japan -- the Soviets did not have a great deal of amphibious capability, and Americans actually sent a US Navy detachment and landing craft to train Soviet amphibious forces for the invasion of Japan. (See: Project HULA).
posted by Comrade_robot at 8:53 AM on August 9, 2010


Nagasaki 65 Years Later: A Look Back at the Censored Dispatches of Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist George Weller
posted by homunculus at 10:51 AM on August 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


First Into Nagasaki: The Censored Eyewitness Dispatches on Post-Atomic Japan
posted by Burhanistan at 10:55 AM on August 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


homunculus and burhanistan, thanks. I posted to MeFi about those dispatches back in 2005 when they were first released publicly by Mainchi Shimbun, but the links on that post are now defunct.
posted by zarq at 12:14 PM on August 9, 2010


AElfwine Evenstar: “It is my view that they knew Japanese leaders were trying to surrender through the Russians because we had broken their codes. The Japanese also most probably had high level contacts with MacArthur. We knew the Japanese were on the verge of capitulating but we wanted to test out our new weapon. The Russians lied to us about negotiating with Japan providing us with a pretext for using our new toy. Ie we get trigger happy and boom boom 2 cities down. Japan surrender's to us unconditionally, we just got to test out our new super weapn twice on urban centers, and Russia loses out on having any influence on postwar Japan. This senario is much more believeable than any presented so far about what Truman's motives may have been. As others have said I highly doubt saving lives really came into the equasion.”

Look, we've been through a lot of this stuff, although this is the first time you've been completely honest about what you believe really happened. Most of it is fantasist silliness and conspiracy-theory bullshit. Virtually nothing in this paragraph is even plausible, much less supported by evidence.

  • The Japanese certainly did not have high-level contacts with MacArthur. I'd like to know where you're getting this insane bit of conjecture. How could this even have been possible? Are you about to tell me that the moon landings were faked, too>

  • We did not "know" that the Japanese were "on the verge of capitulating." This was an enemy that had been swearing for at least a year that we would have to kill 100 million Japanese people before they'd surrender. They made their commitment to that promise abundantly clear on Okinawa and on Iwo Jima. We asked for their surrender over and over and over again; we asked a final time at Potsdam. Like every other demand for surrender, Potsdam was met by complete and total silence.

  • You have continually referred to the fact that we had broken the codes of the Japanese, and therefore were aware of their internal communications, which they themselves believed to be secret. But the last transmission we intercepted before Hiroshima was bombed stated the Japanese position in vivid and unequivocal terms:
    With regard to unconditional surrender we are unable to consent to it under any circumstances whatever. Even if the war drags on and it becomes clear that it will take much more bloodshed, the whole country as one man will pit itself against the enemy in accordance with the Imperial Will so long as the enemy demands unconditional surrender. [source - PDF]
    There is no sense in which anyone could interpret these words as indicating that Japan was "on the verge of capitulating." In fact, in view of comments in a communication from just days before ("the directing powers, and the government as well, are convinced that our war strength still can deliver considerable blows to the enemy") this clearly indicates that Japan, despite all odds and in the face of any impending defeat, was resolved to confront the enemy with as bloody a battle as it could muster.

  • Even if we had concluded that Japan was "on the verge of capitulating," we would have been wrong. Japan was clearly and distinctly not "on the verge of capitulating." This was the venerable Suzuki's response to the Potsdam Declaration, a response which he made in public and which was transmitted and available to all:
    I consider the Joint Proclamation a rehash of the Declaration at the Cairo Conference. As for the Government, it does not attach any important value to it at all. The only thing to do is just kill it with silence. We will do nothing but press on to the bitter end to bring about a successful completion of the war. [source]
    This is a pretty obvious and direct statement. Any request for surrender along the lines of Cairo or Potsdam would be met with silence and continued warfare. This is the most direct rejection of a Declaration demanding surrender I can think of. With all due respect to Suzuki, his claim, taken at face value by the SBS, that he was secretly pressing for peace rings somewhat hollow.

  • You've been told over and over and over again that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not urban centers. I don't know if you've been listening, but I'll say it again: Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not by any stretch of the imagination among the more populous cities in the country. There were at least ten cities in Japan at the time which were far more populous. I know that doesn't make the deaths there any more palatable, and it doesn't make me happy that the bombs were dropped; but you're either lying or simply ignoring the truth when you call those cities "urban centers."

  • As Comrade_robot very clearly pointed our above, the Soviet threat of invasion was largely a bluff. The Soviet sea power had been destroyed by the Japanese themselves; they could have mustered many troops, but there was no definite timetable for this whatsoever, nor did we in the US expect them to land on any definite date. Suffice it to say that this was not a concern.

  • You are convinced that Truman, Stimson et al were flatly lying about their intentions, not only in public but in private memos, in notes of meetings, in conversations amongst each other. You are free to hold this conviction, but please understand that you're doing so entirely without any evidence or rational justification whatsoever. Why is it so hard to believe that they intended what they said they intended? What's so difficult about that? And why is it so difficult to believe that Japan refused to surrender?

    Nuclear weapons are a horrific thing, and I don't believe I could ever order their use myself. I suspect, however, that lots of people would like to believe that difficult moral dilemmas like these simply don't exist – that the only reason anybody found ending the war a moral dilemma was because they were foolish or because they wanted to kill more people. Would that the world were so easy.

  • posted by koeselitz at 12:19 PM on August 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


    AElfwine Evenstar: “The only situation I can see dropping the bombs being moral is where we have already demonstrated our capability to the enemy and given them our terms of surrender. Give them a week to let their scientists study the effects of our bomb. If one week was sufficient time for their scientists to conduct test then bomb them when the deadline had passed.”

    As someone noted above, this was impossible for several reasons. First of all, we had two nuclear weapons; it would have taken years to build another one. The plan had to proceed with the knowledge that we only had two shots at this; that made a test-launch like the one you're describing pretty foolhardy. Second of all, "their scientists"? Japan had no scientific community at this point; it had industrial centers, but these were all completely engaged in the war effort. Third of all, where would such a test launch occur? Over the ocean? Most of Japan is and was at the time inhabited, even if sparsely. There is virtually no way we could've detonated that weapon close enough to Japan for it to be adequately observed without killing a lot of people. Furthermore...

    “Even in this situation I am not totally satisfied because what if I end up in the position where I had just totally destroyed two inhabited urban centers and Japan still refuses to surrender.”

    ... in fact, this was the belief of most of the military. That's why the invasion plan was still being followed, and other avenues were being sought. Again, what you're ignoring is that these two cities were chosen because they were prime targets to take out in order to make an invasion successful. They had strategic value. They weren't chosen to kill a lot of people, or to make an example, or even just to scare the Japanese into surrendering; primarily, they were bombed because knocking out the 2nd General Army Headquarters and the 5th Division Headquarters at Hiroshima and the munitions factories and depots at Kokura would make a landing at Kyushu much more likely to succeed. (Nagasaki was the secondary target for the second bombing, but it was home to a number of munitions factories and a major port of call for them, as well.)
    posted by koeselitz at 12:43 PM on August 9, 2010


    First of all, we had two nuclear weapons; it would have taken years to build another one.

    Able and Baker
    say otherwise.

    ISTR that by 1946 the US had ramped production up to around one bomb per month.
    posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:08 PM on August 9, 2010


    Yes, but even one year is a lot longer than we could reasonably expect to wait in the situation.
    posted by koeselitz at 1:37 PM on August 9, 2010


    From what I remember reading there was a third atomic bomb ready to go in San Diego, but Truman stopped it.

    The Perils and Politics of Surrender: Ending the War with Japan and Avoiding the Third
    Atomic Bomb
    Author(s): Barton J. Bernstein
    Source: Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 46, No. 1 (Feb., 1977), pp. 1-27

    By giving orders to stop atomic bombing, Truman did not commit himself unconditionally to the prohibition of nuclear bombs in the war against Japan. The President "had given orders," as one associate explained, "not to use another atomic bomb until the Japanese had had a reasonable time to surrender." On the 10th, Truman was not actually delaying immediate use of the bomb, for he knew that the third bomb would not be ready for at least a week. His order of the 10th, by countermanding his earlier directive that the air force would drop the bombs "as soon as made ready," simply restored his control over the process. The third bomb, stated General George C. Marshall, army chief of staff, on the 10th, "is not to be released on Japan without express authority from the President." That day, Truman learned that the third bomb would soon be ready for shipment to the Pacific and available for combat use on August 18 or 19. General Leslie Groves, commanding general of the Manhattan Project, decided not to ship it. "[It] was not dispatched to Tinian because after Nagasaki," as he later explained, "it seemed to me that it would not be needed, and Gen. Marshall concurred in this view and authorized me to delay the shipment of fissionable material."


    ..

    On the 13th, Groves's superiors queried him about "the availability of your patients [code for A-bombs] together with the time estimate that they could be moved and placed." Groves promised to have the information in two hours-"this is, of course, just in case, but it looks very probable." Stimson was also recommending that the bomb components be shipped to Tinian, but Groves and Marshall, probably with Stimson's implicit approval, decided to delay briefly-about another day or two. The delay meant that the third bomb could not be ready for combat in the Pacific until about the 21st
    posted by Comrade_robot at 1:49 PM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


    Ah. That's interesting - I hadn't known that.
    posted by koeselitz at 2:36 PM on August 9, 2010


    I was also unaware they had made four bombs by the end of the war. I thought it was only three. (The Trinity device, and the two used in combat)
    posted by wierdo at 3:18 PM on August 9, 2010


    Yeah, I didn't know that either. I'd learned it that we dropped the only two we had, and that it would be a year before a third was available.

    As I mentioned upthread, whatever I read on the subject said that the production process was self-accelerating (something about how breeder reactors work, but I'd have to go look up the details). Supposedly, we'd have about six more bombs by the end of 1946, and production would keep doubling over a fairly short time period... every six months or so, IIRC. If I'm remembering that six-month cycle correctly, we'd have had something like 40ish bombs in 1947, 200ish in 1948, and so on. But that didn't help at all in 1945.
    posted by Malor at 6:39 PM on August 9, 2010


    The only thing that bothers me about everyone arguing with that moron who keeps changing his stance is that you keep feeding him. He isnt going to learn. He is going to maintain this ridiculous conspiracy theory in the face of whatever logic and reason is presented.

    The fact of the matter is, there are many reasons why the US would drop the bombs and its debatable whether or not the dropping of them saved lives (I believe they did). The fact of the matter is that they were dropped, they were to be dropped on strictly military targets (sorry for the collateral damages) and they were to make a possible invasion easier. Those facts are NOT debatable. Whether or not Truman wanted to show off his new massive cock to the world or if he wanted to humiliate or purposely destroy hundreds of thousands of Japanese is debatable... to crazy people.
    posted by subaruwrx at 8:16 PM on August 9, 2010


    We seem to do these epic Hiroshima debate threads about once a year, but each time they come up I learn a hell of a lot. They seem to follow the same pattern, too: they begin with all sorts of righteous, heart-felt comments condemning the bombings, then somebody defends Truman's decisions, there's lot of heat and vitriol as the two sides clash, then it cools down as the war nerds pile in and get to work swapping their knowledge back and forth. The debate this time wasn't so great -- AElfwine could have done with a little less sarcasm and a little more clarity in defending his positions -- but there were some excellent links provided.
    posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 9:51 PM on August 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


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