AP posts Hiroshima archive
August 4, 2015 6:16 AM   Subscribe

AP WAS THERE: US drops atomic bombs on Japan in 1945 By The Associated Press Aug. 3, 2015 4:06 AM EDT. WASHINGTON, AUG. 6. — An atomic bomb, hailed as the most terrible destructive force in history and as the greatest achievement of organized science, has been loosed upon Japan. President (Harry) Truman disclosed in a White House statement at 11 a.m. Eastern War Time, today that the first use of the bomb — containing more power than 20,000 tons of TNT and producing more than 2,000 times the blast of the most powerful bomb ever dropped before — was made 16 hours earlier on Hiroshima, a Japanese army base.
posted by bukvich (92 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
Wow, nice find.
posted by Nevin at 6:45 AM on August 4, 2015


Hiroshima, a Japanese army base

Wow.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 6:50 AM on August 4, 2015 [24 favorites]


Eastern War Time?
posted by Naberius at 6:50 AM on August 4, 2015 [1 favorite]




War Time.
posted by mr_roboto at 7:01 AM on August 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


As a military target, Hiroshima was a major army base that housed the headquarters of the Japanese 5th Division and the 2nd Army Headquarters.

Yes, but that's not all Hiroshima was or is, is it? I realize this was war, but the glossing over of the thousands of non-army-base-dwelling people still struck me.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 7:06 AM on August 4, 2015 [9 favorites]


May nuclear weapons never be used in hostilities again.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:12 AM on August 4, 2015 [13 favorites]


I have always been fascinated by the story of Tsutomu Yamaguchi, who survived both attacks.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:18 AM on August 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


History will show that our current news is just as sanitized for our protection, as these reports were. If Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been accurately reported, we would never have gone on to make bigger and bigger nukes, as though nuclear war was some winnable thing. Or, so I like to hope. But then, sandy hook didn't move the gun debate in this country, so perhaps it is optimistic to think we've ever been anything but vengeful and violent.
posted by dejah420 at 7:22 AM on August 4, 2015 [5 favorites]


Eastern War Time?

Basically, daylight saving time. All US time zones were switched to "war time" for the duration.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:28 AM on August 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


>Hiroshima, a Japanese army base

Wow.


Propaganda played a big role in the Pacific War, which from the American perspective was a race war of extermination. John Dower's War Without Mercy documents this.

However, Hiroshima was a military centre, as was Nagasaki. The gigantic Musashi battleship, sister-ship to the Yamato, was launched from Mitsubishi Heavy's Nagasaki yard.

I traveled to Nagasaki for the first time recently, and visited where the epicentre of the blast had been. It was an interesting experience.
posted by Nevin at 7:30 AM on August 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


Were there alternatives to the atomic bombings?

Brad DeLong has been retroactively liveblogging WWII (among others) with primary documents:
July 24, 1945: Truman Tells Stalin About the A-Bomb
July 26, 1945: Potsdam Declaration
August 1, 1945: Warning to Hiroshima
August 3, 1945: Countdown to Hiroshima

JF Ptak:
Reporting the Hiroshima Bomb the Day After, 7 August 1945.
Eyewitness Account "Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima" April 1946

Notes from Hiroshima

History in the flesh
I had never seen hibakusha before, and I was greatly honored to meet them. There are not so many of them left. Many of those who are still alive, as with the remaining Holocaust survivors, were children during World War II. Which points, inadvertently, to the immense human costs of these events, to the innocents swept up into the maw of war. I have of course read much about the Japanese victims of the bomb, but it is another thing to meet them.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:30 AM on August 4, 2015 [8 favorites]




The official Bombing Survey Report stated: "Hiroshima and Nagasaki were chosen as targets because of their concentration of activities and population." More than 95 percent of those killed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were civilians.

(source)
posted by splitpeasoup at 7:47 AM on August 4, 2015 [8 favorites]


However, Hiroshima was a military centre, as was Nagasaki. The gigantic Musashi battleship, sister-ship to the Yamato, was launched from Mitsubishi Heavy's Nagasaki yard.

Both of which were sunk before the bombings.

There is no "however". I don't dispute there was military in these cities. I'm responding with surprise (perhaps naively) that thousands of civilians were just ignored in the AP's reporting, and a city of thousands of families with schools and hospitals and lives to live where reduced to "a Japanese army base". It's a testament to how far back media white-washing of war goes, and I imagine it extends a lot further back than that. Just felt a psychic punch in the stomach seeing those thousands left out of the picture so deftly. "There was military in those cities" is not a counterargument to reacting to so many innocent lives just ignored in the reportage. Surely we can feel many things at the same time.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 7:47 AM on August 4, 2015 [14 favorites]


Fascinating reading.
posted by davidmsc at 7:48 AM on August 4, 2015


"I realize this was war, but the glossing over of the thousands of non-army-base-dwelling people still struck me."

And how many Americans -- and Japanese -- were they predicting would die in the event of an invasion of that country?

Millions of Japanese civilians alone were saved by the surrender of Japan, as opposed to its military conquest. Arguably, the question then becomes whether the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was necessary for that surrender.

Perhaps it wasn't, in that Russia and China might've led to their capitulation once Manchuria was conquered... but that wasn't something the US government knew. It also would've been pretty awful news for the Koreans.
posted by markkraft at 7:53 AM on August 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


"One day in May 1974, Mr. Iwakichi Kobayashi, a seventy-seven year old man brought a single picture of bombing to the Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) Hiroshima Studio. The airing of this picture in June 1974 resulted in tremendous viewer response. A total of 975 pictures were submitted to the NHK in two months and exhibited at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum during August 1-6,1974, approximately 20,000 people saw the pictures."

Part of this collection, named The Unforgettable Fire, later travelled around the world to various art galleries and museums.

(A certain up-and-coming rock band from Ireland saw this exhibit at the Peace Museum in Chicago in 1985 and decided to name their next album after that collection.)
posted by JoeZydeco at 8:00 AM on August 4, 2015 [5 favorites]


I visited Nagasaki a few months ago. I realized that if people there think the bombing was unjust and unnecessary, I just have to respect that. The horror goes beyond words, and debating whether or not the bombings were necessary is at best undignified.
posted by Nevin at 8:01 AM on August 4, 2015 [4 favorites]


Millions of Japanese civilians alone were saved by the surrender of Japan, as opposed to its military conquest.

Not that I want to re-hash the entire "were we right to nuke Japan?" debate, but these were not the only two choices, given what we know now. I will say, though, that I think it's really weird to even consider whether or not limited nuclear war can ever be justified.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 8:06 AM on August 4, 2015 [5 favorites]


History will show that our current news is just as sanitized for our protection, as these reports were. If Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been accurately reported, we would never have gone on to make bigger and bigger nukes, as though nuclear war was some winnable thing.
dejah420

I think one of the Left's biggest weaknesses is this almost religious belief that "the truth will set you free". If only they knew, surely things would change.

Nope. I know from personal experience in talking with conservative relatives about things like civilians being killed in US drone strikes that some people know and just don't care. At all. Some even express a sort of glee about it as the "vermin" (and they're not using terms that polite) got what was coming to them. From talking to others and reading various sources I know my experiences are not freak outliers, that a surprisingly large number of people feel this way.

It's always been that way. I was born in 1984 and so don't really remember the Cold War, but I gather there was a fair chunk of people who were pretty gung-ho about all-out nuclear war and crushing the Commies.

We need to stop operating on this assumption that we just need to spread the truth and those who hear it will be shocked into awareness and understanding. The truth has, at best, very limited value in changing people's minds, and certainly doesn't make people think twice about supporting violence.
posted by Sangermaine at 8:11 AM on August 4, 2015 [26 favorites]


Millions of Japanese civilians alone were saved by the surrender of Japan, as opposed to its military conquest. Arguably, the question then becomes whether the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was necessary for that surrender.

How many innocent people do you murder to achieve an otherwise worthwhile goal? Is that a calculus that the law of war permits? No, it is not. The attack was illegal. It was one of the worst mass atrocities ever perpetrated in human history. We can never know what would have happened had the bombs not been dropped, but what we do know is that flattening an entire civilian population center as a means of compelling Japan to surrender isn't merely illegal today, but was illegal under the laws of war as they existed in 1945. And there is no necessity defense to murder, not for oneself or for others. It was not for America to select these children for incineration as a means of "saving" Japanese lives elsewhere.
posted by 1adam12 at 8:12 AM on August 4, 2015 [10 favorites]


It's horrible to think that the bomb might've been the least horrible option available, compared to the alternative.

A long-suppressed report written in June 1945 by the US Army's Chemical Warfare Service shows that American military leaders made plans for a massive preemptive poison gas attack to accompany an invasion of Japan. The 30-page document designated "gas attack zones" on detailed maps of Tokyo and other major Japanese cities. Army planners selected 50 urban and industrial targets in Japan, with 25 cities, including Tokyo, Osaka, Yokohama, Kobe and Kyoto, listed as "especially suitable for gas attacks.". . .

"Gas attacks of the size and intensity recommended on these 250 square miles of urban population," the US Army report declared, "might easily kill 5,000,000 people and injure that many more." In the first attack, which would be launched 15 days before the Kyushu landings, American bombers would drench much of Tokyo and other cities in an early morning attack with 54,000 tons of lethal phosgene gas. Tokyo would be the largest poison gas target, because an "attack of this size against an urban city of large population should be used to initiate gas warfare."

posted by markkraft at 8:17 AM on August 4, 2015 [7 favorites]


This wasn't the advent of total war. Attacking civilian populations with massive deaths was already a "thing" in this war and had been for uncountable generations before it.
Have we gotten any better? There's a question that will start some fist fights.
I wish Dan Carlin's podcast of "Logical Insanity" was still available for free. He has some interesting things to say about the topic.

markkraft, that link is . . . frightening.
posted by Seamus at 8:22 AM on August 4, 2015


I was born in 1984 and so don't really remember the Cold War, but I gather there was a fair chunk of people who were pretty gung-ho about all-out nuclear war and crushing the Commies.

You aren't wrong. Some of it can be seen in all its, um, glory (along with footage of the aftermath of the Japan bombings and much other bad craziness) in the excellent documentary The Atomic Cafe.

The brilliance of this film is that it uses no narration that isn't in the source material -- it's an assembly of documentary and propaganda films of the period, and it lets them speak for themselves.
posted by Gelatin at 8:22 AM on August 4, 2015 [6 favorites]


compared to the alternative

Compared to an alternative. Since you seem to think the only two choices were nuke Japan or invade Japan, here, from the same site you just linked to:

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

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

In his 1965 study, Atomic Diplomacy: Hiroshima and Potsdam (pp. 107, 108), historian Gar Alperovitz writes:

"Although Japanese peace feelers had been sent out as early as September 1944 (and [China's] Chiang Kai-shek had been approached regarding surrender possibilities in December 1944), the real effort to end the war began in the spring of 1945. This effort stressed the role of the Soviet Union ...

"In mid-April [1945] the [US] Joint Intelligence Committee reported that Japanese leaders were looking for a way to modify the surrender terms to end the war. The State Department was convinced the Emperor was actively seeking a way to stop the fighting."

...

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

This memo showed that the Japanese were offering surrender terms virtually identical to the ones ultimately accepted by the Americans at the formal surrender ceremony on September 2 -- that is, complete surrender of everything but the person of the Emperor.


And so forth. Let's not pretend there was no shade between nuking Japan and invading it, please, whatever you may think about nuclear war as a tactic.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 8:25 AM on August 4, 2015 [31 favorites]


"How many innocent people do you murder to achieve an otherwise worthwhile goal? Is that a calculus that the law of war permits? No, it is not. The attack was illegal."

If that is the interpretation of illegal you are using, it is one which was already clearly violated before that point.

War is hell... but at horrible as bombing is, ground assaults have always had worse casualty figures, both for the armies involved, and for civilians.
posted by markkraft at 8:26 AM on August 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


As noted in the post, the front page of PM newspaper in the above link was cropped. The full headline read:

Atomic Bomb Opens New Era!
It will end all war, or all men.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 8:29 AM on August 4, 2015


Should Hiroshima bomb have been dropped?
No. Bombing a city is always wrong.
If I was president would I have ordered it?
Probably. Fire-bombing cities was common stuff back then.
Was it a good thing Hiroshima was bombed?
Yes. It scared the shit out of us from using these weapons. If Hiroshima was not bombed, then we would have probably used them in the cold war against Russia.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 8:33 AM on August 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


If Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been accurately reported, we would never have gone on to make bigger and bigger nukes, as though nuclear war was some winnable thing. Or, so I like to hope.

posted by dejah420 at 10:22 AM on August 4


I highly recommend reading the Wikipedia article on the History of the Tellar-Ulam design, since it addresses exactly what was being thought by both scientists and politicians at the time:
After the atomic bombings of Japan, many scientists at Los Alamos rebelled against the notion of creating a weapon thousands of times more powerful than the first atomic bombs. For the scientists the question was in part technical—the weapon design was still quite uncertain and unworkable—and in part moral: such a weapon, they argued, could only be used against large civilian populations, and could thus only be used as a weapon of genocide. Many scientists, such as Teller's colleague Hans Bethe (who had discovered stellar nucleosynthesis, the nuclear fusion which takes place in the sun), urged that the United States should not develop such weapons and set an example towards the Soviet Union. Promoters of the weapon, including Teller and Berkeley physicists Ernest Lawrence and Luis Alvarez, argued that such a development was inevitable, and to deny such protection to the people of the United States—especially when the Soviet Union was likely to create such a weapon themselves—was itself an immoral and unwise act. Still others, such as Oppenheimer, simply thought that the existing stockpile of fissile material was better spent in attempting to develop a large arsenal of tactical atomic weapons rather than potentially squandered on the development of a few massive "Supers".

When the Soviet Union exploded their own atomic bomb (dubbed "Joe 1" by the U.S.) in 1949, it caught Western analysts off guard, and President Harry S. Truman ordered a crash program to develop a hydrogen bomb in early 1950. Many scientists returned to Los Alamos to work on the "Super" program, but the initial attempts still seemed highly unworkable. In the "classical Super", it was thought that the heat alone from the fission bomb would be used to ignite the fusion material, but this proved to be impossible. For a while, many scientists thought (and many hoped) that the weapon itself would be impossible to construct.

I think what bothers me the most is how relatively simple the Tellar-Ulam design truly is (the B28 diagrammed was the megaton-range backbone of Strategic Air Command for much of the Cold War).

Also worth watching, if you're in an emotional position of being able to handle further horror after the links thus far in the thread, is National Geographic's 24 Hours After Hiroshima, which interviews both survivors of the bombing and crew members of the Enola Gay (one showing an arming plug removed to activate the bomb, which he kept after the mission). Fair warning: one of the crew members is pretty clearly suffering severe dementia (brace for "You couldn't understand!" raving), but the bomb tech and survivors are completely lucid and worth a listen.
posted by Ryvar at 8:38 AM on August 4, 2015 [4 favorites]


"Let's not pretend there was no shade between nuking Japan and invading it, please"

It's difficult to comment intelligently on the true meaning of a memo from MacArthur which isn't available online, as its prone to a slanted interpretation by those either for or against less than total surrender... but the takeaway I get was yes, there were people in the Japanese government who -- though lacking the power to make the decision themselves -- were open to floating a cessation of hostilities... but that those offers were less than the total, unconditional surrender demanded by the allies.

Intelligence intercepts from the Japanese did indicate that the top leaders were unwilling to, essentially, accept anything more than an armistice. Unconditional surrender and admitting defeat was not an acceptable option.

Also, we look at this decision as if it were just about the US and Japan, as opposed to the Allies and Japan. On numerous occasions, the Allies made decisions together, saying that the end of the war would only be possible through the total, unconditional surrender of Japan. Bodh politically and diplomatically, it may have been essentially impossible for any one of the Allies to accept anything less than total surrender.
posted by markkraft at 8:49 AM on August 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


Well, we could have just done this.

Looks like Hiroshima or Nagasaki, right? But that's Tokyo. No nuclear weapon there.

One thing to remember: We were already erasing cities in Japan. We were already killing 100,000+ civilians in one night, and that's almost certainly a sanitized number.

Amori.
Hamamatsu.
Kobe.
Kofu.
Nagoya.
Numazu.
Osaka.
Shizuoka.

Tokyo.

And countless more.

The reason that Hiroshima was bombed? Really, it was simple. We hadn't bombed it yet.

The target list was short. Hiroshima, Kokura, Nagasaki, Kyoto and Yokohama. There were three requirements: The target had to be a city larger than 3 miles in diameter, not yet bombed or likely to be bombed by August, 1945, and was one likely to be damaged by blast. Once they were selected, the USAAF took them off the target list, so they stayed unbombed, and the other cities in Japan paid the price as the B-29s of the 20th Air Force burned and blasted them into rubble.

Then the Secretary of War, Henry L. Stimson stepped in and took Kyoto off the list. He and his wife had spent time there on their honeymoon, and admired the city. Thus, the choice was narrowed to four, in order, they would be Hiroshima, Kokura, Nagasaki, and Yokohama.

Kokura was spared by clouds. Nagasaki was almost spared, but a break in clouds at the last minute allowed Bockscar to spot the target point and drop the second nuclear bomb.

Really, the only difference was that it only took one bomber, rather than 100+, to erase a Japanese city in a night. But that was it. We were already doing it. We'd already killed roughly a million with the bombing campaign, and that's just a guess. We'd certainly injured millions more. And that campaign was only going to get worse. More B-29s were being built all the time. With Okinawa captured, they could be based much closer, and fly more raids, and carry far more ordinance.

There's an argument that we didn't need the atomic bombs. The harsh truth is probably "No, we didn't. We could have eliminated every Japanese city by the end of 1945 using only the firebombing campaign. We were *well* on our way to doing that.

If -- and we will never truly know if the atomic bombs did force the Japanese to surrender when they did -- but if the atomic bombs did force the Japanese to surrender, what they did was kill between 250,000 and 400,000 Japanese, and saved the lives of millions. The lucky ones would die in a blast. The unlucky ones would die in fire or starve.

Because nothing was able to stop the 20th Air Force. We didn't need to invade. Between the USAAF bombers and the USN, Japan would burn and starve.

I really suggest you all go read the reports of the state of the Japanese population when the Occupation began. It's horrifying how bad it had gotten there, and it was only getting worse. This was a people set on dying, and they were going to die in the millions, and all the US really had to do was surround the Home Islands and let them do so.

In some ways, I honestly thing Hiroshima and Nagasaki were merciful. The war ended. Those people were helped. Japan ended up thriving after the war.

But that question? Did those bombs end the war? Would they have surrendered? We can never know truly.

We do know they wanted a negotiated surrender via the USSR, and that those hopes were dashed when the USSR broke the neutrality pact and invaded Manchuria. We do know that they were very resistant to the stated terms from Potsdam, an unconditional surrender, but we do know that they eventually did surrender with *one* condition -- the preservation of the emperor as the head of state.

But those are just a few thin facts. Most of the people involved are dead and have been for decades. We have been arguing this for 70 years. It will be argued for 700 more. It will never be truly answered, and claiming here, now, that the bombs definitely *forced* or definitely *were not needed* is wrong. You don't know. I don't know. Nobody knows. The people who know are dead, and they didn't tell. The Gyokuon-hōsō says "Moreover, the enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb, the power of which to do damage is, indeed, incalculable, taking the toll of many innocent lives." but that's just one statement, and the reason that the Emperor gave his people for the surrender isn't necessarily the actual reason for it. It's just the reason he's giving for them to "endure the unendurable" -- the forthcoming occupation.

So. Why all this? Understanding the scale.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki wiped the core of two cities out, and killed hundred of thousands. But in 1945? This is something we'd been doing -- and England had been doing, and Germany was doing until they couldn't anymore -- as soon as we were in range and as long as we could. WWII was the war were there were no front lines. Cities were targets. You bombed them. You bombed them in ways so that they would burn.

The only difference, really, is that nuclear weapons made it much easier to do. The prompt radiation effects (both bombs, as airbursts, had almost no fallout) were really a surprise. The few scientists who knew what those bombs could do didn't expect any survivors from the blast and heat in the range where prompt radiation effects would be prominent.

But Trinity had been fired off in a open desert, not a built up city. There are lots of structures in a city, structures that can ward off blast and heat. The building directly under the hypocenter of the Hiroshima bomb didn't completely collapse. It's still there today, left in the state it was after the bombing.

It's there o remind us of two things. One, that nuclear weapons are bad, and that two, bombing cities are bad -- even if you used a bunch of regular bombs to do that with. Ask the dead of Tokyo. And Kobe. And Osaka. And countless more Japanese cities that people don't think about because they, well, they didn't get destroyed by one bomb.

We need to not have another Hiroshima. But we also need to not have another Tokyo. Or Coventry. Or Hamburg. Or Stalingrad. Or...
posted by eriko at 8:49 AM on August 4, 2015 [55 favorites]


Okinawa.
posted by koeselitz at 8:59 AM on August 4, 2015


from the same site you just linked to...

I don't consider the IHR, which appears to be, essentially, a one man operation that is focused on "the tradition of historical revisionism" and which may have its own slant on issues... to be of any importance or credibility whatsoever, except to the extent in which it makes source material available on the internet. Even then, the source material is generally excerpted and potentially out of context.

So, no... I wouldn't read too much into an inherently revisionist reading of extreme excerpts of the voluminous history of the time, as evidence of there being other credible options.

By all means, we should be debating whether the MacArthur memo showed a serious, credible option to either invasion or bombing... but all we are doing is reading what one person read into another person's interpretation of a document that they didn't even bother to share with us.

So yeah, if you want to be serious about alternative theories for how the war could've ended, by all means, provide relevant source materials so that we can have an informed discussion on the topic that is somewhat less prone to slanting than, say, Michael Moore's blog vs. the Weekly Standard.
posted by markkraft at 9:04 AM on August 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


I was going to say "Carthage."
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:04 AM on August 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


We need to not have another Hiroshima. But we also need to not have another Tokyo. Or Coventry. Or Hamburg. Or Stalingrad. Or...

What makes Hiroshima and Nagasaki unique is that tens of thousands of people were literally atomized in an instant in both cases by just one weapon dropped by just one aircraft.

That we can engage in moral relativism (Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bad, but so were a lot of other things) points out how morally degraded we have become in a post-Hiroshima world.
posted by Nevin at 9:05 AM on August 4, 2015




.
posted by Sequence at 9:17 AM on August 4, 2015


The position that the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki can be morally justified based on the number of Japanese lives it saved is a uniquely American one, perhaps engendered by how Americans are taught history in school.

I have never heard anyone from any other country take this position.
posted by splitpeasoup at 9:18 AM on August 4, 2015 [7 favorites]


I was born in 1984 and so don't really remember the Cold War, but I gather there was a fair chunk of people who were pretty gung-ho about all-out nuclear war and crushing the Commies.

It's still going on today. Though, the new target is Iran. Keep your ears open, and you'll easily hear people expressing (in veiled terms and not-so-veiled) the opinion that the US should absolutely nuke Iran "before they nuke us." This includes some folks currently riding in the GOP Presidential clown-car.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:21 AM on August 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


"That we can engage in moral relativism (Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bad, but so were a lot of other things) points out how morally degraded we have become in a post-Hiroshima world."

I don't think it has anything to do with a post-Hiroshima world, as much as it has to do with war in general. War invariably causes humans to do horrible, inhumane things... and the rules of what is acceptable in war invariably become prone to flexible reinterpretation.

I would kind of argue that a nation that engages in moral relativism and flexible interpretations of morality is less scary than one which does not.

(Either way, though... humans are really scary.)
posted by markkraft at 9:22 AM on August 4, 2015


Some fuel for the fire: Paul Fussell's August 1981 article in The New Republic, "Thank God for the Atomic Bomb," which contains some concrete information about invasion plans for Japan, as well as the fact that the US was losing 7,000 men/week (and I don't know how many Japanese soldiers and civilians/week), which one should factor in one's evaluation of the "let's wait a few months for a surrender" option.
posted by Sunburnt at 9:22 AM on August 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


The fact that Hiroshima and Nagasaki weren't even the deadliest or most destructive raids of the war has always stuck with me. It's hard for me to look at what happened during the firebombing of Tokyo and say that what happened at Nagasaki or Hiroshima was worse because it used fewer bombs and happened faster. I have read a number of memoirs and other first hand accounts of the Pacific campaign and the horrible warfare on Iwo Jima and Okinawa in particular foreshadows such an awful future for all parties (mass suicides of civilians, hopeless bayonet charges against machine gun emplacements, etc.) that I can't help but feel that it was the least bad of an array of horrible choices. There are a number of primary sources with information about various Allied war plans, such as Operation Downfall, which paint a picture of casualty rates that hadn't been seen since WW1. Downfall has conservative forecasts of a million casualties in the first 90 days.

War is horrible and I am quite confident if the bombs had fizzled, we'd be today instead arguing over the morality of the pre-invasion gas attacks, the leveling of coastal cities with naval guns, or the terrible losses on the beaches or the outskirts of Tokyo. There would be another horrible thing because war is fundamentally horrible. I wish the bombs had never been dropped, but if I'm going to be wishing for things about WW2, I'll start with Japan not bombing Pearl Harbor or invading the Philippines.
posted by feloniousmonk at 9:25 AM on August 4, 2015 [8 favorites]


So yeah, if you want to be serious about alternative theories for how the war could've ended, by all means, provide relevant source materials so that we can have an informed discussion on the topic that is somewhat less prone to slanting than, say, Michael Moore's blog vs. the Weekly Standard.

So a secondary source you post is just fine, but anyone posting contradictory material from that exact same secondary source is basically posting Michael Moore's blog? What is this? You're ignoring the sources actually cited in the text I posted, all verifiable. But then your selective choice of what information counts and what doesn't has been pretty fluid in this thread, so I don't think I can take your imploring very seriously anyway. Sorry I wasted my time assuming honesty here.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 9:26 AM on August 4, 2015 [4 favorites]


"The position that the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki can be morally justified..."

The failed assumption, I suspect, is to believe for a second that morality had anything to do with it.

What we saw, I suspect, was a bit of a comedy of errors. The unstoppable force of "unconditional surrender" vs. the immovable object of absolutely not accepting defeat.

War has an innate way of polarizing systems so that only two bad choices are possible.... as we saw with the end of the war. Literally a Catch-22.

As such, decisions were mostly made on supporting the dogma of unconditional surrender or avoiding total defeat, and based not on morality, but strictly on a cost-benefit analysis.
posted by markkraft at 9:33 AM on August 4, 2015


So yeah, if you want to be serious about alternative theories for how the war could've ended, by all means, provide relevant source materials so that we can have an informed discussion on the topic that is somewhat less prone to slanting than, say, Michael Moore's blog vs. the Weekly Standard.

Give me an effing break. How pretentious can one get? MetaFilter is the Internet, not a postdoctoral program at West Point.

We're all armchair generals here - not even amateurs - and to think that by providing citations you can "win" an argument that has been reliably rehashed each August since John Hersey's "Hiroshima" was published in 1946 is both obnoxious and pompous.
posted by Nevin at 9:41 AM on August 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


What we saw, I suspect, was a bit of a comedy of errors. The unstoppable force of "unconditional surrender" vs. the immovable object of absolutely not accepting defeat.

Right.. The bombs of August provided the punctuation mark which allowed Americans to accept less than unconditional surrender from the Japanese. That's a fair way of characterizing it.

Saying the bombs saved lives by averting an invasion is not fair at all, evidence shows that the same surrender terms were already on the table.
posted by Chuckles at 9:43 AM on August 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


FDR was dead. Truman was overwhelmed because
FDR had shut him out of everything. The generals and the spooks used this moment to show off their new weapon. A weapon that created such terror in the elected leaders that we would remain on a perennial war footing. The military-industrial state was born in the atomic fire over Hiroshima.
posted by humanfont at 9:46 AM on August 4, 2015 [6 favorites]


It's hard for me to look at what happened during the firebombing of Tokyo

The Tokyo Fire Raids - Robert Guillain was a French reporter assigned to Japan in 1938. He stayed on after war broke in Europe and was trapped in the country after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor.
The fire front advanced so rapidly that police often did not have time to evacuate threatened blocks even if a way out were open. And the wind, carrying debris from far away, planted new sprouts of fire in unexpected places. Firemen from the other half of the city tried to move into the inferno or to contain it within its own periphery, but they could not approach it except by going around it into the wind, where their efforts were useless or where everything had already been incinerated. The same thing happened that had terrorized the city during the great fire of 1923: ...under the wind and the gigantic breath of the fire, immense, incandescent vortices rose in a number of places, swirling, flattening sucking whole blocks of houses into their maelstrom of fire.
...
Sirens sounded the all-clear around 5 A.M. - those still working in the half of the city that had not been attacked; the other half burned for twelve hours more. I talked to someone who had inspected the scene an March 11. What was most awful, my witness told me, was having to get off his bicycle every couple of feet to pass over the countless bodies strewn through the streets. There was still a light wind blowing and some of the bodies, reduced to ashes, were simply scattering like sand. In many sectors, passage was blocked by whole incinerated crowds.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:47 AM on August 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


In the early 30s, the notion of annihilating a city by aerial bombing was the stuff of science fiction (literally, 1933 H.G. Wells, The Shape of Things to Come). This changed rapidly with the Luftwaffe attacking Guernica (and the fascists bombing Madrid) and Japan's bombing of Nanjing and Shanghai in 1937. The world was horrified. . . and terrified. War used to be something that crept closer with warning or took place on faraway battlefields. Suddenly, a blitzkrieg was possible.

The horrors of WWII so savaged the souls of leaders that bombings of primarily civilian targets meant nothing. Or meant revenge. Or meant strategic destruction of the enemies will to fight. Much of the war was played out in horrors that a short time in the past seemed unimaginable.

And, humanfont, Truman was not the overwhelmed type. He was a cocky SOB.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 9:49 AM on August 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


"So a secondary source you post is just fine, but anyone posting contradictory material from that exact same secondary source..."

As I said, the source, in itself, does not matter and should not be viewed as credible, except to the extent that it reveals source material.

I tried to link to the specific excerpts from the US Army's Chemical Warfare Service's report on their plans for the invasion of Japan. That is source material. Similarly, the MacArthur memo is source material on the various potential peace initiatives that might be floated and their relative merits. But unfortunately, that MacArthur memo wasn't available on the article you cited.

I really do wish that was not the case, because I, for one, would love to read it, and see whether there was much there. Suffice it to say, though, there will always be those who say that there were better options... but there is surprisingly little solid source material available online for those better options, so we are left wondering not only what the facts were on the table, but also what the people who made the decisions really knew.

It could be that the President was right, though... he needed to be able to deliver unconditional surrender, and MacArthur delivered him something less than that. This, of course, does not make the idea of trying to resolve a conflict with the sole goal of unconditional surrender a particularly rational one. But you have to consider that unconditional surrender was seen by many as the only acceptable alternative to the 1918 armistice.

It's tragically ironic that both the Axis and the Allies scapegoated the failures of WWI's peace treaty as justification for their ideologically opposed positions.

Perhaps going nuclear, however, was the only reason the same conflict didn't repeat itself once more in Europe in a different manifestation a generation later.
posted by markkraft at 9:50 AM on August 4, 2015


"There are no innocent civilians. It is their government and you are fighting a people, you are not trying to fight an armed force anymore. So it doesn't bother me so much to be killing the so-called innocent bystanders. " –Curtis LeMay

Civilian casualties of strategic bombing

i remember watching grave of the fireflies and assuming it took place after hiroshima; i didn't realize it was after the firebombing of kobe with 'only' 8,841 confirmed dead.

not the only two choices

they could have demonstrated nuclear capabilities on an uninhabited island (like with all the nuclear 'testing' that went on afterward). like eriko mentions and from what i understand from HS history, part of the impetus was to end the war quickly to prevent the soviets from gaining too much leverage (like with eastern europe) as the soviets were annexing the kuril islands and opening up their eastern front into the pacific theatre.
posted by kliuless at 9:56 AM on August 4, 2015


It's no wonder though that a few military leaders would reach different conclusions in regards to whether peace was possible than the nation's politicians.

Of course peace was possible, on some level. But the leaders weren't concerned about that, as much as whether a politically acceptable peace was possible... one that maintained the status quo and their positions of power, to the fullest degree possible. Most certainly, they didn't want peace deals that would lead them to the war crimes gallows.

This is why potentially floated peace initiatives from some of the minor players in Japan were elusive, while the politicians on both sides balked. The Emperor of Japan, not surprisingly, was the bravest of the lot, because they had the least to lose.
posted by markkraft at 10:01 AM on August 4, 2015


"Millions of Japanese civilians alone were saved by the surrender of Japan, as opposed to its military conquest. "

"It was not for America to select these children for incineration as a means of "saving" Japanese lives elsewhere."



Why does it usually become all about the Japanese, somehow - in US-centric discourse on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? That even when this is discussed in terms of lives saved, it's still Japanese lives?

What about Korean lives, Chinese lives, Burmese lives, Malayan lives, Indonesian lives, Vietnamese lives, Cambodian lives, Thai lives, Laotian lives (...and on and on..) ?
posted by aielen at 10:01 AM on August 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


Maybe the people arguing about proper sources could take that argument to MetaTalk.
posted by Sangermaine at 10:02 AM on August 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


I mentioned Okinawa because it is always in my mind when people discuss the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Certainly more civilians died in the Battle of Okinawa a few months before Hiroshima than died in either atomic bombing – probably close to 150,000 people – and in often terrifying ways; the Allied armed forces later accused the Japanese of using the Okinawan population as "human shields," which is almost certainly true, but which of course also means that the Americans ultimately ended up being okay with slaughtering a goodly portion of those human shields. Meanwhile, as the Japanese soldiers retreated, they forced large numbers of Okinawans to commit suicide, often by detonating live grenades.

And Okinawa remained at the crux of the misunderstanding, and has been there ever since. Immediately following Okinawa, the American military forces decided to use nuclear weapons to end the war; it's been conjectured (and I believe this conjecture) that a very large part of this decision was the horror the Americans felt at seeing what the Japanese military forces were willing to do to their own people at Okinawa, and decided that such a people would never actually surrender except at perilous cost. And – while I tend to fall on markkraft's side on this conflict – I have to say that I think the Americans completely and utterly misunderstood what happened at Okinawa on this count. They looked at the Okinawans and thought, "these are Japanese people, and the Japanese military is slaughtering them." But hardly anybody in Japan looked at the Okinawans as really Japanese, and probably very few people in Okinawa saw themselves that way; plenty of Okinawans were still alive in 1945 who remembered the days before the Japanese invasion of 1872, when Okinawa as a nation ceased to exist. If the Americans had known that Okinawa was not seen by the Japanese as a full part of Japan, that Okinawans were looked down upon and in many instances even shunned, then they might have understood the Japanese military treatment of Okinawa as something other than a slaughtering of one's family and friends to win a war. (It's not as though racial hatred was utterly foreign to Americans, so perhaps they could have been made to understand this if someone had been there to get them to listen.)

Meanwhile, Japan has never fully accepted the hideous things they did to Okinawa in those days. Just a few years ago, in 2005, the great Japenese writer Kenzaburō Ōe was forced to endure a three-year libel trial for having had the audacity to claim (correctly) that the forced grenade suicides had actually taken place. To this day, there are periodic struggles about whether these atrocities should even be mentioned in Japanese textbooks; they often aren't, and many people prefer it that way.

Nevin: “That we can engage in moral relativism (Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bad, but so were a lot of other things) points out how morally degraded we have become in a post-Hiroshima world.”

I take your point that there's something horrific about it, but I want to say that moral calculus (Hiroshima and Nagasaki were terrible, but how terrible were they comparatively?) and moral relativism (Hiroshima and Nagasaki were terrible, but other things are also terrible, terrible things are going to happen no matter what, so whatever you do in war is probably justified) are not the same thing. I have seen and heard people engage in moral relativism when talking about Hiroshima and Nagasaki; but I've also seen and heard people engage in moral calculus, and while it's certainly hideously distasteful to talk about whether it's okay to sacrifice ten thousand lives for the sake of ten million, it's not the same thing as saying that all choices have the same moral weight.

But the thing is – I think history teaches us that this kind of calculus is probably foolhardy. It's difficult not to make a mistake, like the Americans made a mistake in appraising Okinawa in mid-1945.

I guess the best thing to do is to try to honor the dead by respecting their memory, telling their stories, and trying our damnedest not to get into a situation where we have to make decisions based on this kind of moral calculus.
posted by koeselitz at 10:02 AM on August 4, 2015 [14 favorites]




What we saw, I suspect, was a bit of a comedy of errors. The unstoppable force of "unconditional surrender" vs. the immovable object of absolutely not accepting defeat.

With a healthy dollop of "Now that Ralphie has his Red Ryder, there's no way some sparrows aren't going to die" thrown into the mix.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 10:16 AM on August 4, 2015


Amazing how opinion on torturing a few people even if it "works" is fairly unanimous on center-left fora like this, but opinion against torturing hundreds of thousands remains mired in "moral calculus."

My own view is that, even with the inevitable uncertainty of retrospective history, the probability of the myriad paths to peace available at the time times the potential number of deaths via those paths is a much, much smaller expected death toll than the certainty (p=1) times the death of tens of thousands of children and other innocents in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This is particularly the case when morally, offers of conditional surrender had almost no downside except to the psychologies of the victors.

But that's the moral calculus. Like torture, it is the horror of the thing itself that is the main point. I wouldn't torture children even to save the world, and I wouldn't appoint someone to do it for me, and I would work my damnedest to stop anyone who tried. On the one hand, 99% of the time someone convinces themselves it is worth torturing and murdering tens of thousands of children to make the world a better place, they are wrong. But even if they were right, it is wrong. No torture, no nukes, no chemicals, no firebombing. If mass atrocity is needed to save the world, too bad for us.
posted by chortly at 10:32 AM on August 4, 2015 [4 favorites]


Any reason they couldn't have just nuked the top off some mountain and said "hands up or Tokyo is next?"
posted by GallonOfAlan at 10:35 AM on August 4, 2015


It is worth keeping in mind that even after the two atomic bombings, when the Emperor did decide to surrender, there was a coup attempt that came uncomfortably close to succeeding by military hardliners.

We will, of course, never know precisely what lies down historical paths that were not taken. But I am somewhat skeptical of claims that a nuclear 'warning shot' on an uninhabited island or similar would have compelled surrender, given that not one but two raids on inhabited cities very nearly didn't.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:47 AM on August 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


Then the Secretary of War, Henry L. Stimson stepped in and took Kyoto off the list. He and his wife had spent time there on their honeymoon, and admired the city.

Note to self: Be nicer to tourists.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:50 AM on August 4, 2015 [10 favorites]


Christian Appy, "Our 'Merciful' Ending to the 'Good War': Or How Patriotism Means Never Having To Say You're Sorry":
On August 9, 1945, President Harry Truman delivered a radio address from the White House. “The world will note,” he said, “that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base. That was because we wished in this first attack to avoid, insofar as possible, the killing of civilians.” He did not mention that a second atomic bomb had already been dropped on Nagasaki.

Truman understood, of course, that if Hiroshima was a “military base,” then so was Seattle; that the vast majority of its residents were civilians; and that perhaps 100,000 of them had already been killed. Indeed, he knew that Hiroshima was chosen not for its military significance but because it was one of only a handful of Japanese cities that had not already been firebombed and largely obliterated by American air power. U.S. officials, in fact, were intent on using the first atomic bombs to create maximum terror and destruction. They also wanted to measure their new weapon’s power and so selected the “virgin targets” of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In July 1945, Secretary of War Henry Stimson informed Truman of his fear that, given all the firebombing of Japanese cities, there might not be a target left on which the atomic bomb could “show its strength” to the fullest. According to Stimson's diary, Truman “laughed and said he understood.”
posted by EmptyEmpire at 10:53 AM on August 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


It is worth keeping in mind that even after the two atomic bombings, when the Emperor did decide to surrender, there was a coup attempt that came uncomfortably close to succeeding by military hardliners.

It's also worth keeping in mind that the Japanese government was well aware of what kind of bomb had hit Hiroshima, and yet they didn't surrender until the second one had been dropped.

Any reason they couldn't have just nuked the top off some mountain and said "hands up or Tokyo is next?"

Actually, yes; there was precious little uranium sufficiently refined for use in a nuclear bomb. At the Trinity test, they had initially designed, built and hauled to the site a massive iron casing that would have contained the fissionable material in case of a "fizzle"; it was abandoned only because the scientists were fairly certain the Gadget would work. If memory serves me correctly, the US had only a single bomb's worth of material after Hiroshima and Nagsaki.
posted by Gelatin at 10:54 AM on August 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


If memory serves me correctly, the US had only a single bomb's worth of material after Hiroshima and Nagsaki.

Just as a point of fact - absolutely do not want to participate in any moral debate - the US only had enough material for another bomb that month (August), it had another 2 or 3 in the pipeline for September.
posted by Ryvar at 10:57 AM on August 4, 2015


the US only had enough material for another bomb that month (August), it had another 2 or 3 in the pipeline for September.

Yes, I should have been more clear. Still, to use a poor analogy, it would have been like threatening someone with a revolver with only three bullets, and then firing a warning shot.

And again, given that Japan didn't surrender until after Nagasaki was bombed, and that even the Trinity scientists were surprised at the destruction their work wrought on a city, I have my doubts that bombing a mountaintop would have been as effective.
posted by Gelatin at 11:03 AM on August 4, 2015


It seems reasonable to point out that just as there was an effort by the US military to sugar-coat the idea of invading Okinawa and the Japanese mainland, by downplaying US casualties and, instead, talking more about ratios of dead Japanese to dead Americans... there almost certainly was something similar that happened in regards to the briefing that the president got on the atomic bomb.

All of us think about the atomic bomb through a prism of really graphic, horrific suffering. Of images of people shuffling around, with burned skin. Of complete destruction. Of horrors unleashed. Civilians being cared for, but most of whom we know would die, sooner, if not later.

... but what did the concept of atomic bomb really mean to Truman? He viewed it as a weapon whose use was made justifiable after the Japanese refused to comment in regards to the Potsdam Declaration's warning of the need for Japan to immediately surrender, or face "prompt and utter destruction." We know his advisor thought it could give them the ability to end the war quickly, before the Russians had a chance to capitalize on an invasion of Manchuria, or to invade Korea. Truman released a statement that it was a great scientific achievement that was "more than two thousand times the blast power" of the largest bomb Britain had. He said "we shall destroy their docks, their factories, and their communications"... but never once discussed what that really meant to the survivors.

Really, what does a nuclear weapon actually mean to someone who has never seen the effects of a nuclear weapon and knows precious little about the effects of radiation, other than just being a bigger, more effective bomb that doesn't meed to be as accurate in order to take out a heavily defended target?
posted by markkraft at 11:07 AM on August 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have absolutely no interest in participating in more fun debates about this, but I do want to let everybody know that the Institute for Historical Review, which has been linked in this discussion, is straight up dedicated to Holocaust denial.
posted by Comrade_robot at 11:24 AM on August 4, 2015 [8 favorites]


While the Atom bombs were indeed horrific, far more civilians died due to the massed fire bombing raids that were going on at the time. Allied supremacy at the time was such that the US could announce to the Japanese beforehand what cities were about to be on the receiving end of a massive bombing raid. Japanese industry had been so obliterated by these massed bombing raids that the American bomber command stated that they had run out of targets to attack. The only thing Japan had in surplus by this point in the war was electrical power - not because energy production facilities had not been attacked but because all the manufacturing plants had either been flattened by carpet bombing or completely starved of raw materials due to the complete blockade of the sea trade routes to the main islands.

Despite this, Japanese resistance to the allied advance was still fanatical and they fought to the death - not just the soldiers, either; in many cases Japanese civilians killed themselves rather than face occupation by the Allied powers.

To say "It was not for America to select these children for incineration as a means of "saving" Japanese lives elsewhere" is to demonstrate a vast ignorance of the situation at the time. How should the Allies have proceeded? Should they have continued the blockade and firebombing raids and subsequently starve and burn many more civilians to death than were killed by the atom bombs? Should they have conducted an amphibious assault and ground campaign amid towns and cities that were the home turf of a fanatical enemy willing to fight to the last child?
posted by dazed_one at 11:39 AM on August 4, 2015


"I do want to let everybody know that the Institute for Historical Review..."

(Another really good reason to not pay attention to their take on any issue, other than to the extent they reprint / cite historical documents. I distrust historical revisionists in general, and presume that they have some sort of axe to grind.)

That said, the initial article I cited on US Army plans for using chemical weapons was correct. The US did, in fact, make serious plans for using chemical weapons against Japan, so much so that they studied it intensely, and made a documentary on the subject, viewing it as being a purely ethical and practical decision, determining that open gas warfare would be advantageous to the US.
posted by markkraft at 11:56 AM on August 4, 2015


Actually, yes; there was precious little uranium sufficiently refined for use in a nuclear bomb.

There was only one bomb's worth, it was used on the Hiroshima bomb. The uranium gun bomb design was never tested, nobody thought testing was needed, everybody was certain it would work. Part of this was the difficulty in separating 235U from 238U, the only real difference being a *very* tiny difference in mass, and part of this being that the uranium was also being used to fuel reactors to breed plutonium from the 238U, which is basically what you dig out of the ground, and since there was so much of that, we could make lots of 239Pu.

What was tested at the Trinity shot was the plutonium implosion weapon. The original plan was to use a gun design, like the uranium weapon. Had they been about to make pure 239Pu in the amounts needed, it would have worked, but when they made plutonium in the reactors, they had a fair amount of 240Pu in it, which is much more reactive, and it made a gun design unworkable.

The implosion design was much dicier, thus the Trinity test.

In fact, a third and fourth weapon were on the way to Tinian when the surrender were announced, with cores being assembled and readied for shipment. One was scheduled on the 13th of August for an attack on the 19th, Japan surrendered on the 15th. These weapons were eventually expended in the Operation Crossroads tests. One of the cores was the infamous Demon Core that had killed Los Almos researchers Louis Slotin and Harry Daghlian.

There is some question in recent years if Truman even understood what the nuclear weapons were when he allowed the program to be continued and the Hiroshima/Nagasaki attacks to be made -- he was, of course, completely unaware of the existence of the Manhattan Project until he became president. The first confirmed order that the weapons were to be used *only* by order of the president that we have proof of was this scheduling order -- there's an annotation by General George Marshall stating "It is not to be released on Japan without express authority from the President." There's an argument that the first two weapons may not have in fact been used with direct presidential authority, only the general authority that the Manhattan Project had, and this was the time that Truman said "No, these weapons need my approval before use."

There's a *lot* that's still murky about this time. Part is the general secrecy about the whole thing -- NOBODY wants to talk about the practial methods of building working nuclear weapons, for very good reasons. Part of it is that we were at war and things are very confusing when you are at war. Part is that the Los Alamos lab shrank down dramatically after the war as part of the general wind down after WWII, and would have disappeared completely if it wasn't for the cold war, where it built back up in the race for the "super" -- multistage nuclear weapons, AKA H--bombs.
posted by eriko at 12:07 PM on August 4, 2015 [4 favorites]


Suffice it to say, every major war department and military bureaucracy had a vested interest in self-promotion, offering the allure of deceptively easy panaceas to war's little problems.

When you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
posted by markkraft at 12:29 PM on August 4, 2015


I have absolutely no interest in participating in more fun debates about this, but I do want to et everybody know that the Institute for Historical Review, which has been linked in this discussion, is straight up dedicated to Holocaust denial.

I appreciate you pointing this out. And I'm pretty glad the bit I posted from them can at least be backed up by the primary sources. Won't be linking to them again. And now, to get some oxygen, before it runs out in here.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 1:00 PM on August 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


> Why does it usually become all about the Japanese, somehow - in US-centric discourse on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? That even when this is discussed in terms of lives saved, it's still Japanese lives?

It's not, always. In the past, at least, it was substantially, if not always, about the estimated million American casualties that would be the butcher's bill for invading mainland Japan. Frankly this concentration on Japanese lives is a novel development for me. I rather suspect it's because it speaks a bit deeper to those who feel no love for the American soldier.
posted by Sunburnt at 2:33 PM on August 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


Part is the general secrecy about the whole thing -- NOBODY wants to talk about the practical methods of building working nuclear weapons, for very good reasons.

The Nuclear Weapons Archive is an amazing resource. It includes schematics, ingredients, much else. Apparently Carey Sublette has not updated his FAQ since 2007 and his section on Hiroshima and Nagasaki remains "uncompleted or unreleased". I wonder if there is an equivalent document by a Russian author available to the public. I also wonder if Sublette's FAQ is seeded with enough error and bad information to render it useless to bad guys of middling expertise. Does the American military intelligence establishment have concern about Al Queda or ISI* working off Sublette's diagrams?
posted by bukvich at 3:14 PM on August 4, 2015


I don't think the intelligence apparatus is as concerned with the plans for the bombs themselves leaking as they are with whether or not someone interested in a bomb has the resources to actually build one (or to buy one, to be fair). This is why the discussion about Iran's capabilities so often returns to the subject of their centrifuges. The bomb itself is relatively simple compared to the technology required to manufacture its components. As eriko mentioned, there were two bombs of different types each supplied with materials by a separate Manhattan Project facilities, one at Oak Ridge, TN and another at the Hanford Site in WA, each a monumental engineering feat in its own right.
posted by feloniousmonk at 3:31 PM on August 4, 2015


What makes Hiroshima and Nagasaki unique is that tens of thousands of people were literally atomized in an instant in both cases by just one weapon dropped by just one aircraft.

And at the same time, many people died very slow and agonizing deaths over weeks or years after the bombing. Which can certainly happen in a regular bombing campaign, but those who died from the fallout or drinking contaminated water, etc died a variety of painful deaths that had nothing to do with any military objective. The bomb continued to kill for long after it was dropped.

But it's amazing to go to Hiroshima and Nagasaki now, and see these very populated cities where photos show a scorched, empty area just 70 years ago. Its simultaneously heartbreaking to think about what people went through and the horrors of war, and somewhat uplifting to see the rebirth that has followed.

And today, even among those who support the changes to Article 9 (the vast majority of Japanese oppose the changes, but Abe has the political power to push it through) almost none want Japan to become a nuclear power or support the development of nuclear weapons.
posted by thefoxgod at 3:53 PM on August 4, 2015


To add to my last thought -- one of the interesting outcomes of the war for Japan was not only Article 9 itself but a general commitment and sense of national identity around pacifism. They really rejected war in a profound way, which is far from the normal response to war in history.

This is why all of the Japanese I know are upset about the change --- they don't think it's some prelude to a big war, but that it weakens the identity they have as a nation that has rejected war, one they are very proud of.
posted by thefoxgod at 3:56 PM on August 4, 2015 [1 favorite]




Over 20 years ago, my best friend's family bought a VHS in Japan that showed some kind of footage of one of the bombs, both the dropping and the aftermath even days later. I wish I knew more about where that footage came from--it was incredibly riveting, even limited by black and white film and the videocameras of the era, and really brought the horror home to viewers.

It by itself would be heartbreaking anti-war promotion as we commemorate the anniversaries but pairing it with the stories of survivors and the news coverage of the time (AP has really been knocking it out the park with both of these) I like to think would make nuclear weapons an even harder sell. Kind of like Threads but knowing that it's real life makes it all the more horrific. I hope it's still bouncing around Japan at least.
posted by librarylis at 9:10 PM on August 4, 2015


“Diary of Desolation”—NHK Newsline, 04 August 2015
posted by ob1quixote at 11:25 PM on August 4, 2015


I think the most important outcome of this discussion is the idea that once you go down the road of war, don't expect your moral choices to be justifiable, regardless of what they are.
posted by Mcable at 6:47 AM on August 5, 2015


“How The Japan Times reported the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” Alastair Wanklyn, The Japan Times, 05 August 2015
posted by ob1quixote at 5:45 PM on August 5, 2015


eriko: Then the Secretary of War, Henry L. Stimson stepped in and took Kyoto off the list. He and his wife had spent time there on their honeymoon, and admired the city.

ChurchHatesTucker: Note to self: Be nicer to tourists.

Note to countries: invite more politicians to visit various locations, they might be less inclined attack.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:28 AM on August 6, 2015


GallonOfAlan: Any reason they couldn't have just nuked the top off some mountain and said "hands up or Tokyo is next?"

From NPR, Aug. 6, 2015: Why Did The U.S. Choose Hiroshima?
The initial list included a remote military installation and Tokyo Bay, where the bomb would have been detonated as a demonstration.

But the target committee decided those options wouldn't show the world the power of the new bomb.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:29 AM on August 6, 2015


“'I Was Told It Was Necessary,'” Charles C. McCarthy, Sojourners, 03 August 2015
Sojourners' 1980 interview with U.S. chaplain who served the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bomb squadrons.

“10 Things We've Learned about Nukes Since Hiroshima,” Betsy Shirley, Id., 04 August 2015
Like many of my millennial peers, I was barely in diapers when the Cold War ended, never practiced fallout drills in school, and only recently learned what those yellow-and-black signs on old buildings meant. As a kid, if I thought about nukes at all, it was in a passive tense, World War II-history sort of way: decisions were made, bombs were dropped, people were killed, the Axis was defeated. Unspeakable destruction and horrific deaths, yes, but the result of a choice made long before I was alive. In other words: not my problem.

“The Day the World Changed,” Jim Rice, Id., 06 August 2015
This anniversary is an invitation, an opportunity to join the growing movement to abolish nuclear weapons. Don’t mourn — organize!
posted by ob1quixote at 12:15 PM on August 6, 2015


The New Yorker has published online the full text of John Hersey’s 'Hiroshima'.
posted by panboi at 12:34 PM on August 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


The New Yorker has published online the full text of John Hersey’s 'Hiroshima'.

If you have not read John Hersey's 'Hiroshima', you must. This is an incredibly important work in the history of atomic weapons. Before its publication on August 31st, 1946 -- just a year after the end of the war -- the US public was almost 100% behind the stockpiling and use of atomic weapons. They'd ended the war, after all, and that war was still very much in everybody's mind.

Hersey, who'd gone to Hiroshima and interviewed the survivors, gave America firsthand knowledge of what these weapons really meant. 'Hiroshima' took up the entire issue. Radio networks broadcast readings of the article. It was -- I don't want to say a "sensation" -- but it swept the country like one.

I don't exaggerate much when I say it changed the world. It certainly changed America. But you may be surprised at some of the Japanese reactions to the bomb in that article, but much of that is how Japanese society differs from ours.

It's written in a very flat tone -- the author is trying to keep himself out of the story. He doesn't need to add flourish. This one tells itself, and something you and I can never experience is what this must have been like to our parent and grandparents when they read and heard this 70 years ago, just a year after the attacks, with the horror of the long war still fresh in the mind, and the elation of the bombs ending that long nightmare -- and finding out the cost, and finding out what the Japanese thought of that.

Read it if you haven't. Before you make any more statements, before you give anymore thought to that time, read that work. It is critical into understanding, indeed, I think for the US occidental, it is probably the closest you can possibly get to understanding what happened there -- and how the Japanese victims of the bomb suffered and reacted and felt afterwards.

And if it's been a while? Read it again.
posted by eriko at 8:12 AM on August 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


“Hiroshima: The City of Hope”Journeys in Japan, NHK World, 04 February 2014

Cf. Charles Glover's Travel Log for the show.
posted by ob1quixote at 12:24 PM on August 8, 2015


I've spent much of the day with NHK World on, and seeing the documentaries about Hiroshima and Nagasaki while re-reading Hiroshima, thoughtfully linked by panboi above, provided much food for thought.

One of the programs shown this afternoon was Touched by the Bomb. It documents younger people who are trying to learn all they can from the survivors who are still living so that their stories and lessons can be passed on to future generations.

One of the survivors featured in the program was Sumiteru Taniguchi, who just spoke at the Nagasaki peace ceremony, being shown live with English translation on NHK World. (And presumably on NHK in Japan as well.) He lowered the boom on Shinzo Abe, saying that as long as he draws breath and for the sake of his brother and sister Hibakusha, he will oppose Abe's proposed changes to Japan's security arrangements.
posted by ob1quixote at 7:33 PM on August 8, 2015




the NYer on the story behind John Hersey's 'Hiroshima':
Hersey began working on “Hiroshima” in 1945, when William Shawn, who was then the managing editor of The New Yorker, pointed out that, although the bombing had been widely written about, the victims’ stories still remained untold. After going to Japan and interviewing survivors, Hersey decided to show the bombing through six pairs of eyes. Originally, “Hiroshima” was planned as a four-part series. In the end, however, it was all published in a single issue, in August of 1946. There was nothing unusual about the cover, which showed ordinary people enjoying summertime. Inside, however, there was only “Hiroshima”—no Talk of the Town, no cartoons, no reviews. The piece’s impact was immediate. Parts of it were excerpted in newspapers around the world, and it was read, in its entirety, on the radio. (In 2010, Jon Michaud wrote for this site about the piece’s history and reception.) Today, “Hiroshima” is undiminished in its intensity. We’ve gathered more pieces on the bombing on our archive page.
also btw...
Nagasaki: The Last Bomb - "On its nose, the bomb bore a stenciled acronym, JANCFU, which stood for Joint Army-Navy-Civilian Fuckup."
posted by kliuless at 10:21 AM on August 10, 2015


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