The Capp Photos
May 5, 2008 12:07 PM   Subscribe

The Robert L. Capp collection is a group of photographs of the aftermath of Hiroshima that are probably more graphic than any other photos of the tragedy that you have seen. Taken by an unknown Japanese photographer, they were found by Capp in a cave outside Hiroshima in 1945 and given to the Hoover Archives ten years ago, with the stipulation that they not be published until now. Warning, these are seriously, seriously not for the faint of heart, and probably NSFW.
posted by schroedinger (57 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
So he took someone else's photos and essentially hid them for 60 years, so that they could have no effect on the aftermath of the second world war, the cold war, or US nuclear weapons policy? What an asshole.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 12:17 PM on May 5, 2008 [3 favorites]


That link is totally hosed - anyone have a mirror?
posted by deadmessenger at 12:20 PM on May 5, 2008


What we need now, more than anything, is a mirror.
posted by Avenger at 12:23 PM on May 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


I write for this blog, so it's something of a self-link:

Capp Collection

If you don't like the slideshow rendering you can click through to the photobucket account and scroll through the originals.

If the mods want to remove this should the original become unborked or another mirror shows up, that's fine with me.
posted by The Straightener at 12:27 PM on May 5, 2008


There's a YouTube video that's essentially a slideshow of pics from the collection. Granted it's an anti-Hillary Clinton piece, but if you mute it you'd hardly know.
posted by mumkin at 12:32 PM on May 5, 2008


So he took someone else's photos and essentially hid them for 60 years, so that they could have no effect on the aftermath of the second world war, the cold war, or US nuclear weapons policy? What an asshole.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 3:17 PM on May 5


"We will export death and violence to the four corners of the earth in defense of our great nation."
- undisclosed CIA/Special Forces operative, Afghanistan, 9/11/2002

Policy after the Second World War was set by officials voted into office by those who served in that war. Ordinary people who had seen the aftermath of the Nazis in Europe, the Japanese in Asia, and yes, even the atomic bombs. There were no illusions about what was at stake or what these bombs could do. The American public, including its children, understood during the cold war that the use of any nuclear weapon would trigger nothing short of the end of the world.

The public saw the pictures from Auschwitz, the public saw the pictures of the Mai Lai massacre. These pictures would have done nothing to change the course of nuclear or foreign policy. When an American sees these horrific pictures, they do not say to themselves, "That must never happen again." They say, "That must never happen here." The American government had to drag the public kicking and screaming into Serbia, because they didn't care about ethnic cleansing. The public didn't care one iota about genocide in Rwanda, especially after seeing soldiers dragged through Somali streets.

But when someone attacks the US, there is no limit to what the American public will stomach, even mandate. An attack that lasted 1:15 minutes, hit 3 buildings, and killed 3000 people triggered two simultaneous wars, toppled two governments, killed hundreds of thousands of civilians, killed 4000+ US military personnel, disrupted global energy and food markets, and despite being a near-total failure, is still being waged.

Imagine what would have happened had the war in Iraq instead simply been a qualified success. To the American public, images of dead foreign people are tolerable, unsurprising. Images of dead Americans are not at all acceptable. You collection of nuclear holocaust photos does not match the power of a single photo of a single tower burning high above the Manhattan morning skyline.
posted by Pastabagel at 12:50 PM on May 5, 2008 [43 favorites]


We were in Hiroshima last year and toured the Peace Museum. What I remember most is a battered tricycle they had on display in a glass case.

At the time of the bombing, an almost-four-year-old boy who loved that trike was riding it in his front yard. He was killed. His father couldn't bear to think of burying his boy alone and far from home, so he buried his son with his trike in their own yard. Years and years later, the boy was reburied and the trike donated to the museum.

Tears me up.
posted by GaelFC at 12:52 PM on May 5, 2008 [5 favorites]


Not really all that shocking. The photos of Nazi prison camps are far far worse. This is just pictures of war. Here's some numbers to put it in perspective. I don't think it matters much whether it's one bomb or four nights of bombing, whether it's an explosion that kills people or a fire that literally suffocates the survivors of the explosions.

The prison camps were something else.
posted by ewkpates at 12:53 PM on May 5, 2008


These pictures are so brutal I don't even know what to say about them. I looked at them yesterday for a while and still haven't really processed the images.
posted by The Straightener at 12:54 PM on May 5, 2008


Do we know why he insisted on the delay? If it says so in the original link, forgive me, but it will not open for me.
posted by prefpara at 12:56 PM on May 5, 2008


Do we know why he insisted on the delay? If it says so in the original link, forgive me, but it will not open for me.

"ABOUT THESE PHOTOS: The Robert L. Capp collection at the Hoover Institution Archives contains ten never-before-published photographs illustrating the immediate aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing. These photographs, taken by an unknown Japanese photographer, were found in 1945 among rolls of undeveloped film in a cave outside Hiroshima by U.S. serviceman Robert L. Capp, who was attached to the occupation forces. Unlike most photos of the Hiroshima bombing, these dramatically convey the human as well as material destruction unleashed by the atomic bomb. Mr. Capp donated them to the Hoover Archives in 1998 with the provision that they not be reproduced until 2008. Three of these photographs are reproduced in Atomic Tragedy with the permission of the Capp family. Now that the restriction is no longer in force, the entire set is available below. Please contact Sean L. Malloy (smalloy@ucmerced.edu) if you have any information that might help identify the original photographer."
posted by The Straightener at 12:58 PM on May 5, 2008


Speaking of horrific photos that have no effect on average American beliefs or public policy, there's Errol Morris' new film and this astute review in Harper's, noting the lack of real impact of the allegedly "iconic" photo of the hooded Iraqi prisoner.
posted by twsf at 12:58 PM on May 5, 2008


So, in other words, we don't know what his motive was?
posted by prefpara at 1:01 PM on May 5, 2008


In the long run, America will probably be judged harshly for its colonial adventures in the history books yet to be written, much as former trade superpowers like Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and France still deal with the consequences of their own past. Images from Hiroshima, Vietnam and Abu Gharib will burn brightly for generations of schoolchildren, like 22nd Century equivalents of archetypal Kipling, only more tragic for being real.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:11 PM on May 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


Thanks for posting these - I tried to look at them yesterday with no luck.

And the Errol Morris thing - that is to say all his writing about Abu Ghraib and the photos taken there - are turning out to be really fascinating.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:13 PM on May 5, 2008


What I remember most is a battered tricycle they had on display in a glass case.

Shin's Tricycle

The Father's Story

A children's book (also called Shin's Tricycle -- from the Publisher's Weekly review in the Amazon link: "The narrator is a father of three; as the bomb drops on the city, his three-year-old son, Shin, is riding his cherished tricycle. Barely alive and pinned under a house beam, Shin is still gripping his red handlebars.")
posted by anastasiav at 1:15 PM on May 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


The prospect of nuclear war just doesn't command anywhere near enough fear anymore. It's hardly surprising considering that those who lived through the cuban missile crisis - and even the 1980s for that matter - would have been scared shitless 24/7 had they not found a way to deal with it, put it to the back of their minds. The difference is, in my lifetime, there have been more nuclear weapons around than ever before, in more hands than before, and without the relative security of mutually assured destruction. Yet climate change, terrorism, and peak oil command more fear (I imagine) than nuclear war. I suppose people can only live in constant fear for so long before developing a defence mechanism that blocks it out.

If future generations become complacent about the threat of nuclear war, we'll only end up repeating our mistakes, perhaps for the last time. With the rhetoric coming out of politicians nowadays, it seems even those who once felt that fear have long since moved on and (conveniently) forgotten. If this kind of careless sabre-rattling gets anymore absurd, we will wipe our memory for good before long.
posted by Acey at 1:21 PM on May 5, 2008


Images from Hiroshima, Vietnam and Abu Gharib will burn brightly for generations of schoolchildren

One would hope that those photo displays would include some imagery from that country's own problematic history, too, as perhaps being more relevant to those children's future choices -- I'm having trouble thinking of many developed countries that don't have some pretty dirty deeds in their pasts.

There is already no shortage of photographs of atrocities -- it's not a lack of imagery that allows atrocities to continue unhindered. Every major conflict since the US Civil War has been photographed; every major famine has as well (with partial exceptions for famines in particularly repressive regimes); so have most modern genocides. I think that the simplistic idea that showing photographs of atrocities will prevent more atrocities has been pretty conclusively disproven time and time again. Images have impacts, certainly (just think of famous photos like the napalmed Vietnamese girl), but are generally insufficient to prevent recurrences of those same events.
posted by Forktine at 1:34 PM on May 5, 2008


So, in other words, we don't know what his motive was?

That's all I got, hopefully someone else comes along who knows more about it.
posted by The Straightener at 1:43 PM on May 5, 2008


So he took someone else's photos and essentially hid them for 60 years, so that they could have no effect on the aftermath of the second world war, the cold war, or US nuclear weapons policy? What an asshole.

You do realize there was a massive censorship effort on the part of both the US and Tokyo for years after the bomb was dropped?

'In Japan, meanwhile, the country’s leading nuclear physicist Yoshio Nishina quickly reported that the explosion in Hiroshima was a nuclear attack. The Japanese military command, however, ordered the media not to use that term, but to simply state that the destruction was caused by "a new kind of bomb."

In the wake of Tokyo’s Aug. 15 surrender, when Japan was occupied by US troops, all press reports referring to atomic energy, nuclear bombs or their effects on the civilian population were strictly censored. By the summer of 1946, the censorship office in Japan had grown to the extent that it employed 6,000 people, who pored over and listened in on all kinds of communication, from letters and telephone conversations to movies and billboards. The press was censored both prior to and after publication.'


Not only were journalists unable to exercise their right to obtain information — in this specific case, on the atomic bombs and their effects — but freedom of speech was also curtailed as they were not allowed to print what information they did come across.'

'A story that the U.S. government hoped would never see the light of day finally has been published, 60 years after it was spiked by military censors. The discovery of reporter George Weller's firsthand account of conditions in post-nuclear Nagasaki sheds light on one of the great journalistic betrayals of the last century: the cover-up of the effects of the atomic bombing on Japan.'

posted by oneirodynia at 1:45 PM on May 5, 2008 [3 favorites]


This is just pictures of war. Here's some numbers to put it in perspective.

Um, what perspective? The bombing of Dresden killed about 25,000 people, total. More than twice that many died in Hiroshima alone, just on the day of the bombing, and twice that many died from the effects of the bombings by the end of 1945. That's not even counting Nagasaki. In fact, those two nuclear bombs killed only 80,000 fewer people than the entire Allied bombing campaign against Germany. Your link sure does put things into perspective... but the perspective you seem to have meant it to? I think not.
posted by vorfeed at 1:47 PM on May 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


The Clinton Eastwood film made it abundantly clear that the Japanese were not about to surrender, no matter what, if we had invaded their country, as was clear on the islands, so the dropping of the bombs, horrific as it was, nonetheless saved American lives--and many Japanese lives. We can lament the bomb but it was never going to remain a secret forever. Additionally, the comment abut the 9/11 attack needs to be put into perspective: Were a president other than the current one in office it is not likely that Iraq would have been invaded. Afghanistan, another story.
posted by Postroad at 1:51 PM on May 5, 2008


The Clinton Eastwood film made it abundantly clear that the Japanese were not about to surrender, no matter what

That's absurd. No matter what Clint's movie said (and I haven't seen it, so don't know if ol' Post is accurately portraying it's POV), there were multiple, often conflicting voices within Japan at the end of the war, including many discussing surrender.
posted by mediareport at 1:59 PM on May 5, 2008


Postroad, can we please avoid making statements like "We know what would have happened if we hadn't dropped the bomb"? The bottom line is, we don't.

We do know that there were elements in the Japanese government that were willing to sue for peace before Hiroshima. That the military, particularly the Air Force and Navy, no longer functioned at any kind of capacity. That many Japanese were malnourished or starving. That there were no imports of fuel, food, or arms. That the Japanese coastal defenses, had they been enacted, would have been composed mostly of civilians armed with bamboo spears.

We simply don't know if the multi-generational cost of lives in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was worth it. It's equally likely that a blockade several miles off the major ports would have forced unconditional surrender. There were many factors in dropping the bombs : vengeance, a demonstration of strength, scientific curiosity - and it is simplistic in the extreme to boil it down to "we had to do it to end the war".
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 2:16 PM on May 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


including many discussing surrender.

I agree that the situation in August can't be understood by watching a Clint Eastwood movie, but the important thing IMV is that the Japanese with the guns -- the Japanese Army, and many of the surviving aggressive elements of the Japanese Navy -- were of no mind to surrender their nation to occupation by their enemies.

I think the bombing was a moral mistake, but it was a mistake I would have made had I been Truman, LeMay, or Tibbets.

The issue was complex. I don't want to rehash past arguments here.
posted by tachikaze at 2:21 PM on May 5, 2008


and it is simplistic in the extreme to boil it down to "we had to do it to end the war"

I dispute that. The Allies (well, the Russians for the most part) had to fight street-by-street through Silesia and Berlin to put an end to the 3rd Reich, and surrender to the enemy wasn't even in the Japanese playbook.

The military mindset of our enemies in 1945 was "come and get us!"; I think it's safe to say that we had to slaughter the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to bring the Japanese leadership to surrender to essentially our terms that August, rather than experiencing several more months of continued slogging obliterating what was left of the Japanese urbanizations leading into that winter, while the Japanese leadership dilly-dallied about what terms they could wrest from the Allies.

You are also incorrect IMV about the the Japanese air force; they still had some significant degree of capacity for suicidal resistance, and they intended to use it.

There were many factors in dropping the bombs : vengeance, a demonstration of strength, scientific curiosity

you missed one: absolute demonstration of the willingness of the Allies, in the form of the US Army 8th Air Force, to wipe the Japanese civilization itself off the map:

Moreover, the enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb, the power of which to do damage is, indeed, incalculable, taking the toll of many innocent lives. Should we continue to fight, it would not only result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization.[1]
posted by tachikaze at 2:33 PM on May 5, 2008


The Clinton Eastwood

what kind of a slip is that? surely not freudian, but is there a name for it?
posted by shmegegge at 2:34 PM on May 5, 2008


for anyone who wants to see a fictionalized, but nonetheless brutal, portrayal of the effects of american bombings in japan, see the movie "Grave of the Fireflies." I was in tears by the end and felt what I can only describe as a profound shame at the things we did, whatever the reason.
posted by shmegegge at 2:36 PM on May 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


The Clinton Eastwood film made it abundantly clear that the Japanese were not about to surrender, no matter what, if we had invaded their country, as was clear on the islands, so the dropping of the bombs, horrific as it was, nonetheless saved American lives

Well, as interesting as History 402: Clint Eastwood in the Pacific Theater must have been, I disagree. The Soviet Union was much closer to invading Japan than America was; their entry into Manchuria was probably at least as great a motivation for unconditional surrender as the bombings were, if not greater. And, frankly, neither atomic bombs nor invasion are strictly necessary to secure the surrender of an island nation within bombing range that has pretty much zero food, oil, and steel reserves. Nimitz himself (among many other top military men of the time) said as much.

By the time the atomic bombs had been dropped, Operation Downfall was already being seriously re-thought, mainly because it was difficult to defend against kamikaze, which by that time were about the only serious defensive weapons Japan still had. It's likely that we would not have gone through with Downfall, or at least not as it had been originally planned, even if nothing of note had occurred in August. Also, it's worth noting that our main concern in selecting invasion seems to have been time, not the lives of our military men. The US Navy's plan (blockade and bombing) would certainly have finished Japan without massive American casualties, and was rejected mainly because it would prolong the war; both invasion and the atomic bombs were chosen partly due to political pressures, not just strategic necessity.
posted by vorfeed at 2:49 PM on May 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


correction, not 8th AF above, Twentieth.

I was in tears by the end and felt what I can only describe as a profound shame at the things we did

I too, was in tears. No shame, though, since the answer to "what could I have done differently in 1945?" came back null.

We got into that goddamned war in the concerted effort to force the Japanese to pull their hooks out of China. The actions of the Japanese in the 3 full years of war with the US -- 1942, 1943, 1944 -- had hardened a lot of hearts.

Not to mention that they as a nation had thrown their lot in with Nazi Germany. Naively perhaps, but this didn't win them any brownie points when the death camps were found.
posted by tachikaze at 2:50 PM on May 5, 2008


The military mindset of our enemies in 1945 was "come and get us!"; I think it's safe to say that we had to slaughter the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to bring the Japanese leadership to surrender to essentially our terms that August, rather than experiencing several more months of continued slogging obliterating what was left of the Japanese urbanizations leading into that winter, while the Japanese leadership dilly-dallied about what terms they could wrest from the Allies.

The Japanese sued for peace shortly before the bombing, and the Americans said no, because the terms weren't "unconditional."

The elephant in the room, of course, is that the Americans didn't really mind sending American cannon fodder to die in Japan. What they really wanted to prevent was the Soviets getting a piece of the pie--after having finished with the Germans, Stalin was going to help out on the other front as well. (This was a major part of the reason D-Day happened, too--Stalin would have rolled right through Germany all the way to the Pyrenees if the Allied forces hadn't reached out their helping hand.)

If you don't believe that the motives of your government could have been so cynical, visit some of the towns in West Germany--Cologne, say. You'll notice that the villas in the nice part of town were somehow completely untouched by Allied bombardment, even while the rest of the city was severely damaged. Those houses were being kept in reserve for the occupation forces; obviously, in the eastern half of the country the Americans and the English were never quite so careful. Or, say, look at what De Gaulle did as the liberation of Paris was approaching--gave the Communist members of the Resistance the wrong date for the uprising, ensuring that they would all be promptly massacred and would no longer be around to challenge his postwar supremacy.
posted by nasreddin at 2:51 PM on May 5, 2008 [5 favorites]


The seeds of this are in us all and sprout when we are blinded by fear.
posted by seanmpuckett at 2:52 PM on May 5, 2008


No shame, though, since the answer to "what could I have done differently in 1945?" came back null.

yeah, I really have no capacity at this point in my life for internalizing the logistics of the situation at that time period. I wish I could accept the hard facts of the matter, or something. I just know that I feel terrible about it, even if we had no other option. I couldn't possibly tell anyone at the time what else would have accomplished peace. I only know that considering the destruction and the ruined lives makes me feel like absolute shit. It's not a logical response so much as it's a gut response.
posted by shmegegge at 2:54 PM on May 5, 2008


The Soviet Union was much closer to invading Japan than America was

Bullshit. The Russians had no militarily significant sea-lift capacity.

Also, it's worth noting that our main concern in selecting invasion seems to have been time, not the lives of our military men

This is because in total war you don't sit around on your thumbs waiting for the other guy to make a move. You continue pounding the living shit of him and his bases of support with every means at your disposal until he surrenders to your terms.

As for what Nimitz thought, that is immaterial. The August bombings were of no moral or legal difference than the firebombings of Tokyo and most other cities with B-29 range earlier that year.

The signal difference of the atomic bombings, however, was that they finally brought the Japanese decision-making apparatus to a state of surrender. No amount of bullshit revisionism can take that signal fact away.
posted by tachikaze at 2:55 PM on May 5, 2008


So many comments badmouthing the American position WWII! If I cite the Eastwood film it is merely because it sums up clearly what historians have noted about the Japanese sensibility in such matters I(not by chance the Japanese govt awarded Eastwood a medal of some sort for his film)...
We were determined that we would wage war that would only end with an unconditional surrender...the first time we did such a thing was in our own Civil War. Now you may say that there ought not be such hard and fast a position, but that was it at that time.

I seem to recall that the first bomb dropped was to indicate the sheer destructiveness of the A-bomb so that the govt of Japan would see the wisdom of surrender. That did not work.
posted by Postroad at 3:00 PM on May 5, 2008


The Japanese sued for peace shortly before the bombing, and the Americans said no, because the terms weren't "unconditional."

Actually, the armistice terms that were emanating from Tokyo that summer were far, far from "unconditional". In fact, the last official word from Tokyo was "mokusatsu" (categorical silent refusal) of the Potsdam Declaration.

Part of the Allied decision-making process in 1945 was an earnest desire to NOT make the same mistakes that were made at the close of WW I, allowing the Kaiser's Germany to disarm and demobilize itself in the state of an armistice.

There was going to be an occupation, and hanging trials for a number of Class A war criminals. The Japanese military establishment wasn't willing to accede to those particular surrender terms prior to the bombings.

Granted, the US had its own Class A assholes in positions of power (eg. Byrnes) that summer, and there is room for argument WRT how much more humanely and intelligently we could have greased the Japanese wheels towards surrender to our terms, eg. clarifying the position of the Imperial House in the post-war Japanese state.
posted by tachikaze at 3:01 PM on May 5, 2008


I seem to recall that the first bomb dropped was to indicate the sheer destructiveness of the A-bomb so that the govt of Japan would see the wisdom of surrender. That did not work.

We did not give it enough time to work, though. Once you nuke an entire city a day's flight from the capital it's tough to get reports out of it in a day or two.
posted by tachikaze at 3:03 PM on May 5, 2008


Agreed, tachikaze... dropping the bomb on Hiroshima is at least partially defensible. The dropping of the second on Nagasaki was just unnecessary.
posted by Acey at 3:10 PM on May 5, 2008


I only know that considering the destruction and the ruined lives makes me feel like absolute shit. It's not a logical response so much as it's a gut response

I share it, too. To the extent that our war-fighters shared it in 1945, they were heroes and not villians. To the extent they didn't, they were human, given the conditions of the time.

What the Japanese Army did to US (and Allied) POWs 1942-45 made Abu Ghraib look like a tea party. After we learned what our POW survivors had gone through in the Philippines, the life of a Japanese -- man, woman, or child -- wasn't worth much.

Even stepping back out of the mindset of the 1945 serviceman and into a more dispassionate, Utlitarian view of the East Asian situation, not letting the war continue to drag on into the winter arguably saved millions of Chinese, Vietnamese, Taiwanese, and yes, even Japanese.
posted by tachikaze at 3:11 PM on May 5, 2008


The dropping of the second on Nagasaki was just unnecessary.

Arguable. It established a PACE of destruction that a single bombing couldn't.

The idea that the Japanese had to internalize that summer was SURRENDER OR DIE.

Even with the 2nd bombing the Japanese military was willing to fight on. They didn't care, their world was destroyed and they were willing to take anyone and everyone down with them.

The 2nd bombing could in fact have been the deciding item that shifted Hirohito to finally intervene against his military, since it was clear that the military was completely powerless to stop the a-bombings from continuing.
posted by tachikaze at 3:16 PM on May 5, 2008


Prior to the use of the bomb it was suggested by some US scientists that the initial use of an atomic bomb in a surprise attack would be immoral, and that the moral route would be to demonstrate the power of the bomb in an unpopulated area to representatives of all of the nations of the UN.

Regardless of Japan's response to such a demonstration, that we considered this and did not do this speaks volumes about our intentions.
posted by Reverend John at 3:27 PM on May 5, 2008


War is Hell.
posted by bwg at 3:51 PM on May 5, 2008


This extremely long (and extremely good) essay ("Losing The War" by Lee Sandlin) includes some thought-provoking analysis about the conditions on both sides towards the end of the war;

"From that winter into the next spring the civilians of Germany and Japan were helpless before a new Allied campaign of systematic aerial bombardment. The air forces and air defense systems of the Axis were in ruins by then. Allied planes flew where they pleased, day or night -- 500 at a time, then 1,000 at a time, indiscriminately dumping avalanches of bombs on every city and town in Axis territory that had a military installation or a railroad yard or a factory. By the end of the winter most of Germany's industrial base had been bombed repeatedly in saturation attacks; by the end of the following spring Allied firebombing raids had burned more than 60 percent of Japan's urban surface area to the ground.

There was no precedent even in this war for destruction on so ferocious a scale. It was the largest berserker rage in history."

posted by The Card Cheat at 3:56 PM on May 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


I don't think anyone can deny that the aftermath of the atomic bomb was truly, truly horrific, and the effect of Allied bombing campaigns was devastating.

I also don't think anyone can deny that the Axis powers engaged in their own special brand of heinous shit.

The civilian populations of both sides (with the exception of America) and plenty of countries in between were pretty much thoroughly fucked after the wars.

These pictures shocked me, because their gruesomeness transcends any pictures I've seen of any other bombing, especially of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For weapons that committed the level of destruction that Fat Man and Little Boy did, most pictures of their aftermath are surprisingly sanitized. Lots of bombed out landscapes but only a few pictures of actual victims, so it is easily to believe people were just kind of atomized, though all descriptions of the event say otherwise. These pictures make pretty clear that the horrific descriptions of bloated bodies along the river, people burning to death, these weren't exaggerations. It is all too easy to think hey, the descriptions are so very awful that it couldn't possibly be that bad; it reaches a certain level and your mind immediately brushes the visualization aside.

I don't know, this is somehow different for me than photos of concentration camps, because you look at those piles of human bodies and envision a group of singularly evil men behind it. You look at the Capp collection, and realize that this is seriously what war looks like--this is not something the Bad Guys do, this is what happens to both sides when you go to war. Most pictures of battlefields, of bombed cities, represent the physical destruction but you do not actually see the carnage, maybe one or two kind of fuzzy bodies but probably not even that explicit. The human carnage represented here is absolutely impossible to ignore in severity and scale.
posted by schroedinger at 5:15 PM on May 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


Also, that link I posted is totally borked now, I'm sorry guys!
posted by schroedinger at 5:16 PM on May 5, 2008


I hate to suggest this, but if your sole source of information on the very complicated topic of the Pacific Theatre in WWII or the reasons for/need to drop the bomb, you perhaps are not capable of forming a clear view on the subject.

For one, as mentioned above, there were very real post-war calculations going on. The US, UK and USSR carved up Eastern Europe into spheres of influence literally on a napkin and a handshake, and I think people both sensible and fearful doubted his willingness to keep his end of the bargain (Justifiably so). The demonstration of the Bomb's power was a pretty significant tool of negotiation. Not to mention the fact that, once Germany fell, the Allies were basically in Hurry-Up mode to occupy the island: the if they starting grabbing Japanese possessions, then the US would have to negotiate with them over the East as well. (I mean, they already had to give up the Kurils and Sakhalin) Much better, from an American point of view, to have an uncontested satellite in the Pacific, especially with the outcome of the Chinese internal-power struggle still in doubt.

I mean, there is a very real argument to be made that American lives were saved. I often hear the number 1,000,000 bandied about. Which, you know, is more than twice the total number of military deaths suffered in total by the United States. So, to me that number seems artificially high. But, that hardly matters. Even 25% or 10% of that number would be a staggering loss. But, even if one assumes that in war that any loss of American boys is too much - and I'd get behind that statement 100% there - the act should still be considered a national shame. Why?

Because, as also mentioned above, the Japanese were ready to come to the table pretty soon after Germany fell. Before or shortly after Potsdam, I believe. Their "terms"? Well, as I remember, they were basically:

1. Retention of the Emperor as National Figurehead.
2. A statement of general racial equality.

Well, one of those two sure as SHIT was not going to fly back Stateside, and I'll give you a hint as to which. (Hint: Emperor Hirohito died in 1989 beloved of his people.)

I'll be happy to suggest some reading on the topic, if you'd like.
posted by absalom at 5:38 PM on May 5, 2008


Bullshit. The Russians had no militarily significant sea-lift capacity.

Bullshit, right back at you. How did they get to Sakhalin and Kuril, magic? Stalin certainly thought he could take Hokkaido, and so do many historians. For instance: "The Soviet Navy’s amphibious shipping resources were limited but sufficient to transport the three assault divisions in several echelon[s]. The Red Army intended to seize the northern half of Hokkaido. [...] The chances of Soviet success appeared to be very good.". That's a quote from Richard Frank, one of the foremost historians supporting the use of the atomic bombs! His opinion is much the same as yours, yet even he agreed that impending Soviet invasion of Hokkaido was a factor in Japan's surrender.

This is because in total war you don't sit around on your thumbs waiting for the other guy to make a move. You continue pounding the living shit of him and his bases of support with every means at your disposal until he surrenders to your terms.

Sure, because losing between 500 thousand and one million men in a land invasion and/or slaughtering hundreds of thousands of civilians and creating a sticky political issue that people still argue about fifty years later makes so much more strategic sense than taking six months or a year to win the exact same victory by safe, conventional, and known-to-be-effective means. And again, Army and Navy officials had been seriously re-thinking the invasion even before the events of August. To me, this suggests that those in charge of our forces in '45 were not as eager for Total War™ as you seem to believe.

Also, please define the "move" Japan was supposed to have made, given that they had very little fuel, planes that could not reach offensive targets from where they were, and naval power consisting of just ten major ships and less than a few hundred adequately-fueled submarines. The only major move Japan was making in August 1945 was shoring up their defenses in Kyushu and Manchuria and begging the Soviets for a negotiated peace; the surprise entry of their only remaining diplomatic partner into the war was devastating.

To be honest, I can imagine that the war could have ended in many different ways, with or without the bomb. This is the very reason why this kind of strong "we had to do it to save millions!" argument offends me. We did not have to drop the bombs, at least not in terms of anti-Japanese tactical and strategic needs or restraints. We chose to drop the bombs, and now we have to live with the results of that choice... preferably without the usual Operation Downfall "bullshit revisionism" numbers-game, to quote you.

As for what Nimitz thought, that is immaterial

Well, obviously. I mean, what the hell did Nimitz know about the Pacific theater in WWII? You are clearly in a much better position to make judgments on this matter than he was.

Just let me know when the Navy shows up with your fifth star, pal.
posted by vorfeed at 5:48 PM on May 5, 2008 [3 favorites]


see the movie "Grave of the Fireflies." I was in tears by the end and felt what I can only describe as a profound shame at the things we did

All we did to them was kill their mother. They would have been okay if their own family hadn't turned them out to starve in a culvert, or if any layer of their own government thought orphans were worth feeding.

Which is to say that it's still a magnificent antiwar film, but it's not antiwar because bad foreigners killed their mother, it's antiwar because making war screws up your society, destroys normal degrees of compassion, obliterates decent priorities, and that's just among the civilians.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:42 PM on May 5, 2008


I mean, what the hell did Nimitz know about the Pacific theater in WWII?

He knew that the Army Air Force had nukes and the Navy didn't, so he was smart enough to say that of course his own firm could have ended the war without the nukes, and by the way we need funding for bigger carriers.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:45 PM on May 5, 2008


He knew that the Army Air Force had nukes and the Navy didn't, so he was smart enough to say that of course his own firm could have ended the war without the nukes, and by the way we need funding for bigger carriers.

I don't doubt that had something to do with it. The only problem is, his opinion was shared by top Army men, including MacArthur and Marshall...
posted by vorfeed at 6:52 PM on May 5, 2008


...and Henry "Hap" Arnold, for that matter -- you'd think he'd have known, being in charge of the Army Air Force at the time.
posted by vorfeed at 6:56 PM on May 5, 2008


Those photos shook me up as well.
posted by zzazazz at 10:58 AM on May 6, 2008


What most people fail to realize is that more people were killed on the end of a katana blade in the war with Japan than were by the atomic bombs.
posted by allkindsoftime at 6:59 AM on May 7, 2008


Wanted to post an update on the site stating that these photos are likely not photos of the aftermath of an atomic event, but of the Kanto earthquake.

"Since making these photographs publicly available, I have received reliable proof that at least two of these photos are actually of the 1923 Kanto earthquake. While I cannot speak for the entire collection, this evidence raises doubts about all of the photos and raises the strong possibility that the identification provided by the Hoover Archives is incorrect. I take full responsibility for my own failure to take additional steps to verify that the original archival designation was correct. I have removed the photographs until and unless their source can be verified by further research."
posted by The Straightener at 2:52 PM on May 12, 2008


Huh, that is pretty interesting. I wonder if the photos got so popular that finally a Japanese historian saw them and said "Hey guys, waitaminnit?"

Though the pictures still are surprising, because in my piss-poor understanding of earthquakes I figured buildings just fell on top of everyone and the carnage wouldn't be so . . . out there.
posted by schroedinger at 6:22 PM on May 12, 2008


Isn't the whole thing just bizarre? Isn't this a massive faux pas on the part of Cornell University Press? How do you produce this bizarre story about a miraculous found cache of historically important photos and not verify their origin before going public with them?
posted by The Straightener at 7:11 PM on May 12, 2008


Well, I wonder, if a historian is looking at photos of lots of non-descript dead bodies, aside from locational clues is it possible to tell how the bodies died if they aren't particularly starved/have stab wounds/etc? I think it is pretty possible for someone to take it as a given that these were photos of Hiroshima, and because they have such a potent, graphic, anti-nuclear war message spread it everywhere without thinking to check their veracity. A serious error, but I could understand it being made in good faith.

Were these photos publicized by the archives though, or the one man with the website?
posted by schroedinger at 12:09 PM on May 13, 2008


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