Monday, August 11, 2008

Nuking Japan

I had committed to myself to ignore the anti-American hatefest that comes with the anniversaries of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but found a column so full of wisdom that I have to quote from it here.

The stories of survivors are harrowing — flames everywhere, people walking by whose flesh had been ripped off their bodies by heat and the blast, the inability to find loved ones. All the ghastliness of Dante’s Hell and a Gothic horror novel rolled into one. We pity them and ache for what they went through that horrible day.

But once –just once– I would like to hear the horror stories of the men and women of Pearl Harbor as counterpoint to the suffering of the Japanese and a reminder of who started the war and how they did it. I want to hear from those who can tell equally horrific tales of death and destruction. How Japanese aircraft strafed our men with machine gun fire while they were swimming for their lives through flaming oil spills, the result of a surprise attack against a nation with whom they were at peace. Or how the hundreds of men trapped in the USS Arizona slowly suffocated over 10 days as divers frantically tried to cut through the superstructure and rescue their comrades.

Perhaps we might even ask surviving POWs to bear witness to their ordeal in Japanese prison camps — surely as brutal, inhuman, and gruesome an atrocity as has ever been inflicted on enemy soldiers.

While we’re at it, I am sure there are thousands of witnesses who would want to testify about how the Japanese army raped its way across Asia. This little discussed aspect of the war is a non-event for the most part in Japanese histories. But the millions of women who suffered unspeakable mistreatment by the Japanese army deserve a hearing whenever the tragedy of Hiroshima is remembered.

Yes, no more Hiroshimas. But to take the atomic bombing of Japan totally out of context and use it to highlight one nation or one city’s suffering is morally offensive. The war with Japan, with its racial overtones on both sides as well as the undeniable cruelty and barbarity by the Japanese military, should have been ended the second it was possible to do so. Anything less makes the moral arguments surrounding the use of the atomic bomb an exercise in sophistry.

A previous post on Hiroshima can be found here.

Update, 8/12/08: The Japanese National Archives has just released some of Tojo's diaries:

Japanese World War II leader Hideki Tojo wanted to keep fighting even after U.S. atomic bombs destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, accusing surrender proponents of being "frightened," a newly released diary reveals...

The stridency of the writings is remarkable considering they were penned just days after the U.S. atomic bombs incinerated Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing some 200,000 people and posing the threat of the complete destruction of Japan. At the time, Japan had begun arming children, women and the elderly with bamboo spears, in addition to the aircraft and other forces it had marshaled, to defend the homeland against a ground invasion...

The diary shows Tojo remained convinced of the justice and necessity of Japan's brutal march through Asia and its disastrous decision to draw the United States into the war by bombing Pearl Harbor.

How anyone can argue against dropping the bombs, and do so with a straight face, is beyond me.

Update #2, 8/6/16:  Here's a better link to the Tojo's diary article.


DADvocate said...

Excellent points. I've read accounts and watched documentaries on the Japanese's treatment of POW's and people of conquered nations. Atrocious is an understatement.

This is what made the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima necessary.

nebraska girl said...

It's nice to see that not everyone sees Japan as a poor, innocent victim of American aggression.

Darren said...

Today they are a good ally with a vibrant democratic government. They are our friends today--but that doesn't change the past at all.

MikeAT said...

Darren, I’ll put my two cents in on this.

It continually amazes me at the ignorance of people of the greatest war the world fault. When I get someone arguing over the morality of the nuking of Nagasaki or Hiroshima I will ask them was it more “humane” to use conventional explosives from the B-29s like we did over Tokyo. The answer is, more or less, yes (it is too much to expect that these young na├»ve types would know of the rape of Nanking, etc). Well, I ask them which killed more and they are astonished to find out the firebombing of Tokyo killed more. I go further to making them try and think with questions like “What’s more humane, extinguishing you out in an instant or having the oxygen sucked out of your lungs from the flames so you suffocate?” Not to say either is a “good” way to die but a lot of people can’t relate to the concept of “total war” and we were trying to stop an invasion that would have cost hundreds of thousands, if not over a million deaths. The looks I get are good.

Another story that has stuck with me for years. A buddy of mine from ROTC days names Greg met his wife in Korea and I trust him on this story. He and his then girlfriend (circa late 70s) were walking in a field and an old Korean walked up to him, got on his knees and kissed Greg’s hand. Greg’s wife (I sorry I don’t recall her name) translated was the old man was saying, that Grey was the first white man he had ever seen and he was wondering why he stopped at two atomic bombs on Japan. This is over thirty years after the war ended and Japan is still despised this much.

This I will attest personally. From my time in Korea, Japan till this day is not liked in the East. Memories last long and the Chinese, Koreans, Australians, Philip no’s, among others have no love lost for Tokyo.

JoeH said...

Slightly off topic, but many Americans have no idea how aggressive Japan was prior to December 7th. Decades before Pearl Harbor they were on the march. For readers who are interested, a series of essays that traces Japans history from 1875 to 1941 is available here.

Written by a retired Australian lawyer, it puts additional context on the war in the Pacific. Well sourced and well written you would do yoursef a favor by taking a look.

David said...

If you look at the "children's history" section in any chain bookstore (which probably gives a good indication of what is being taught in school) you will see a lot of books on the Holocaust and a lot of books on the American internment of West Coast Japanese. You will see a few books on the WWII home front and the role of women and a very few books about WWII combat operations in Europe. You will see no books at all about Japanese aggression and atrocities in the Pacific.

erica said...

I was thinking along these lines recently as I was watching the anime "Grave of the Fireflies," which is very good, and very sad. It recounts the suffering of a brother and sister displaced by the US firebombing of Kobe.

I encounter quite a lot of Japanophiles, especially because I practice a Japanese martial art, and appreciate the culture greatly on some levels (and dislike it on others). I have seven words for most of them:

"Pearl Harbor, Unit 731, look it up."

No culture or country is innocent. Setting one up as either fully blameless or fully guilty is an exercise in willful ignorance.

Darren said...

It's not willful ignorance, it's blatant anti-Americanism.

Law and Order Teacher said...

One of the more annoying things is that people use history to verify their point of view. The whole story in context is rarely given in its entirety. It is usually twisted to fit their predisposed point of view and given as fact. Partial facts aren't acceptable as proof.

erica said...

Darren, I'm sorry, I wasn't clear, I meant any culture being all evil or all good from any point of view. Anti-Americanism, Japanese history-revisionism, and any do-no-wrong nationalism would all be examples of the same mistake.

Ellen K said...

I had uncles in Carlson's Raiders on Iwo. My father in law was a lieutienant on a tank on Iwo. My Dad was stationed at Nagasaki as a member of Occupation Forces. None of them would openly discuss what they witnessed. The only time I ever heard a first hand account was my aunt's friend Hattie, who was part of the Saipan Death March. The Japanese were brutal overlords who considered all other nations and people their inferior. And if you read history, this wasn't the first time, because they had tried to war with Russia not too many years before Pearl. Sadly, while the Japanese make much of their victimhood, there has never been an official apology for the Rape of Nanking, or the many women forced into prostitution in Korea. There is still bitterness because there are still those alive who recall how Japan acted. It would be better for them to apologize. As for Pearl and The Arizona, when we went there, there was a group of Japanese tourist on the shuttle with us. They started chattering away during the presentation at which point an older man stood up and reminded them that the Arizona is an American national cemetery and that the men who died there died due to treachery. There wasn't much chatter after that.

Ellen K said...

FYI-My uncle who was on Iwo ended up a Navy Commander. He said that the estimates for a conventional invasion of Japan was that a million men would die on the beaches. That would dwarf the numbers from Normandy and possibly set up a situation where the U.S. would pull out. And even during Occupation, snipers were in the hills picking off military men at random. My Dad was 18, can you imagine falling into that?