Sunday, July 31, 2005

Here We Go Again With Hiroshima

I'd like to ask, "Where are the historians here?" "Where are the history teachers?"

So on the upcoming anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, we're going to be treated to another round of anti-Americanism and knee-jerk support of the "innocent" Japanese civilians who were "wrongly" bombed by imperialist Cold Warriors whose true goal was to make a show for the Soviets blah blah blah.

This view is supported in this AFP piece via Yahoo News, a story about yet another memorial to be built and dedicated in Hiroshima. A few classic quotes are in order.

The privately funded monument was dedicated by Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba, who came up with the idea of 10 gates symbolizing Dante's nine circles of Hell plus one more: Hiroshima.
"After the world commemorated the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps, I found it impossible to do nothing to pay tribute to Hiroshima's dead and remind people what barbarism men are capable of," Halter said.

Then we turn to the Guardian, bastion of conservative political thought and militarism. Interestingly enough, they have a somewhat different view.

Plentiful evidence is available to both schools. In the spring of 1945, Americans fighting in the Pacific were awed by the suicidal resistance they encountered. Hundreds of Japanese pilots, thousands of soldiers and civilians, immolated themselves, inflicting heavy US losses, rather than accept the logic of surrender.

It was well-known that the Japanese forces were preparing a similar sacrificial defence of their homeland. Allied planning for an invasion in the autumn of 1945 assumed hundreds of thousands of casualties. Allied soldiers - and prisoners - in the far east were profoundly grateful when the atomic bombs, in their eyes, saved their lives.

Yes, let's not forget the millions of Chinese civilians, the numbers of whose deaths make Hitler's mass exterminations seem trivial. Let's not forget the kamikazes, suicide bombers that they were. Let's not forget the Bataan Death March, the bayonettings and sport beheadings, the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. Let's remember who the enemy was, and the depravity they were capable of.

Japan's occupation of China had cost 15 million Chinese lives. Civilians had been raped, tortured, enslaved and massacred, while British and US prisoners were subjected to hideous maltreatment. The Japanese had been waging biological warfare in China. Their notorious Unit 731 subjected hundreds of prisoners to vivisection. Many captured American airmen were beheaded. Some were eaten. A B-29 crew was dissected alive at a Japanese city hospital.

Americans, in their turn, showed themselves reluctant to take prisoners. They subjected Japan's cities to the vast fire-bombing raids which began in March 1945, killing half a million people. Lawrence Freedman and Saki Dockrill, in a powerful analysis, argue that the nuclear assault must be perceived in the context of the deadly incendiary raids that preceded it: "Nobody involved in the decision on the atomic bombs could have seen themselves as setting new precedents for mass destruction in scale - only in efficiency." More people - 100,000 - died in the March 9 Tokyo incendiary attack than at Hiroshima.

This next quote struck home with me.

In August 1945, amid a world sick of death in the cause of defeating evil, allied lives seemed very precious, while the enemy appeared to value neither his own nor those of the innocent. Truman's Hiroshima judgment may seem wrong in the eyes of posterity, but it is easy to understand why it seemed right to most of his contemporaries. (emphasis mine--Darren)

Dropping the atomic bomb killed people and did damage, no doubt about it. Was it justified? I don't see how a reasonable or dispassionate person could, given applicable facts, argue that it was not.

And it's high time it was taught this way rather than pushing some multi-culti, moral relativism crap that ignores context and the times and seems intent on casting aspersions on America's use of a weapon that effectively ended a war that cost the lives of at least 8 digits' worth of people, well on the way to 9 digits' worth.


Darren said...

I had a feeling this would bring you out of your cave.

I defend the firebombings of Tokyo and Dresden by saying that Total War was the practice of the times.

The Japanese may have attacked only military targets in Hawaii, but the Koreans and Chinese and Filipinos will tell a different story. But then again, so what? The Japanese waged total war, and they got it in return.

Nagasaki? They hadn't surrendered yet. Unconditional surrender was the rule of the day. If they didn't want to surrender unconditionally, I don't see how they can cry about more of their own citizens dying.

What's really honestly truly so bad about an atomic bomb, anyway? What makes it worse than 1000-plane raids, or the London Blitz, or the bombing of Coventry?

As for war crimes, I think I'll let history, and not the history teacher, have the last word on that one :-)

Darren said...

And as for the Soviets, the Guardian article I linked to discussed that. I'm not convinced that having a Communist Japan would have been the ideal way to "have lightened the American role"; the atomic bomb did that quite nicely, and I think even you'll have to agree that it was effective.

I'll never understand the America Is To Blame crowd, especially the Americans in that crowd. Crap on your grandparents and great-grandparents if you desire, but I choose to value the WWII military service of 3 of my 4 grandparents. Good gawd, is there *any* US military action that you view as worthwhile, necessary, or moral?

Octavo Dia said...

With regards to the Soviets lightening the load, first, the Soviet Union was a land power, and would have contributed to defeating troops on the mainland--which was quite irrelevant (strategically) since, second, our dominance of the sea and air prevented them from being reinforced or resupplied and precluded the need for the Soviet Navy. This was the "wither on the vine" part of the island-hopping strategy. We even had enough manpower reserves in the Pacific that we were able to liberate some such occupied areas. The Soviet contribution would not help the war effort, it's only benefit was the humanitarian goal of liberating occupied peoples. Since, however, the Soviets proceeded to "liberate" most of Manchuria's industry, their contribution to the war in the Pacfic was essentially nil. It would have been better for them to remain pacifist and act as an intermediary (since all other diplomatic routes between the U.S. and Japan were closed.

Octavo Dia said...

Progressive Pete is right about firebombing being a war crime... now. Fire bombing falls under area bombardment in Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, part I, article 51, section five. Available here.

Octavo Dia said...

Oh, the use of poisonous weapons (due to the effects of the radiation) were defined as war crimes by international law of the time. Please read up on history and law before you make false staements.

If you'll read my comment carefully, you'll see that I did not say that radiation poisoning was not banned. I said that firebombing wasn't. Radiation poisoning falls under the "all analogous liquids, materials, or devices" clause of the 1925 convention.

Therefore, yes, dropping the atomic bombs was a war crime. I can't remember who said it, but the quotation, "War is an awful thing, but it is not the most awful thing", pops into mind. The issue is whether dropping the bomb was less ethical than its alternatives.

But unlike the predictions of military strategists before the war, this did not happen quickly. For a long time, the bombing of German and Japanese civilians only stiffened their resolve to fight on.

I agree. See Grossman, Lt. Col. David. On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. page 56 for a psychiatric explanation of why this is so. Heck, read the whole book. It's worth it.

Question: why would anyone demand unconditional surrender? It will never make the battle easier. It will always cause more death and more destruction than a termed surrender. Without the benefit of hindsight (which has more or less exonerated Hirohito), when we still thought him to be as much of cause of atrocities as was Hitler, would it have been ethical for us to allow him to remain in power, despite the atrocities, which we thought he commanded, in China? The Japanese seeking surrender terms, when the knew precisely our intentions, could be interpreted as an attempt to stall for time.

BTW, ROTLC, sorry for causing a flame up on your blog. You may censor at will.

Anonymous said...

Hey Progressive Pete: are these your original ideas and words or did you borrow them from Gar Alperovitz's?

Darren said...

Progressive Pete, you can continue to taunt but I won't bite. Dropping the atomic bombs was the right decision then and time hasn't changed that analysis. All your lefty diatribes don't change it, either.

Unconditional surrender is a good thing. It leaves no doubt in the mind of the vanquished that they are, in fact, defeated, need to apologize, and move on. :-)

BTW, Progressive Pete, are you working on a thesis or something? You comments are certainly less than pithy, though they merit pity.

Anonymous said...

And that, apparently, is that.

Progressive Pete won.

Anonymous said...

Nope. Darren did.

Phyllis S said...

My visit this past Thursday to the D-Day museum in New Orleans has reinforced my belief we were correct in dropping both bombs. Particularly the section outlining Japanese war crimes against the Chinese and all the other 'inferior' races they were determined to wipe off the face of the planet. Your mileage may vary.

Darren said...

"War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself."
John Stuart Mill, English philospher

Darren said...

Phyllis, wasn't that museum built in New Orleans because that's where the landing craft were made? I recall seeing a report on World News Tonight when such a museum opened, and I *think* it was New Orleans.

Was it impressive?

I've never been to Normandy. Perhaps I'll get there someday.

Phyllis S said...

It is indeed where the Higgins Boats were built. It was impressive, gut-wrenching, inspiring and made even more so by the numerous D-Day veterans who volunteer there as ticket takers, etc. Another great place is the Mighty 88th museum just off I-95 in Savannah and the Yorktown Carrier that is now a museum in the Charleston Harbor. My obsession with visiting WWII museums has only just begun, I'm afraid. I've also been to Pearl Harbor--the Arizona Memorial leaves you speechless. Good John Stuart Mill quote, by the way. has great educational/curriculum stuff for your history teachers.

Darren said...

I've never had a desire to go to Hawaii. Were I to go, the USS Arizona Memorial would be my first stop.

In the touristy area of San Francisco is the USS Pampanito, a WWII submarine. Touring that is truly an experience. Sometimes moored at the same dock is the Jeremiah O'Brien, a Liberty Ship that has been restored enough that it took part in a recent D-Day ceremony in Normandy. Yes, it runs!

My paternal grandmother was in the English Army during WWII, in air defense artillery. When I was in the army in the 80s, I too was air defense artillery. Anyway, I recently found her uniform insignia in a footlocker at her house. She was there the night the Germans bombed Coventry. I love the old stories....

Darren said...

I contest your so-called facts. Dropping the bomb wasn't wrong, "pure and simple". If it were "pure and simple" we wouldn't be having this debate, would we?

This is the problem I have with the way you present arguments, Progressive Pete. You give your opinion as fact and then call me names when I disagree.

BTW, how many times are you going to copy stuff off your own blog and paste it here, be they entire posts or comments left on your blog? That's pretty weak, especially when you pass someone else's point there off as your own here.

I'll tell you what. You say 2 positive things about George Bush--not snide, not sarcastic, not damning with faint praise--two things he's done that you can be genuinely positive about, and I'll do the same thing for Bill Clinton. Until then, I don't want to hear you whining about what Republicans think about Democrats.

Know what's interesting? I think this thread has generated more comments than any other post I've written.

Anonymous said...

Hey Mr Miller
Yay more debate for me to put my two cents into. Now I'm not nearly as well read (or as angry) as some of the people above but I do have a few thoughts. I don’t agree with war, I don’t agree with the quote u posted above "War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things...", but I do think that leaders during war walk a very fine line and they aren't always omniscient enough to see the exact consequences of their actions. Truman did what he thought was right and what he thought would save the most American and ultimately Japanese lives. It is hard, if not impossible, to fight fanatics and Truman did what he thought would help. This atomic technology was supposed to be the thing that ended all wars. It was said during the forties that once the atomic technology was perfected, war would become obsolete. Unfortunately that wasn't true, but how was Truman supposed to know that?

By the way Progressive Pete, Mr Miller and I have had alot of discussions over the past year, and we usually disagreed. However I have never felt the need to taunt him the way you seem to. It is actually possible to have debate without name calling. I know it’s an unusual idea but you might want to try it sometime.
Hope you're having a nice summer Mr. Miller. Did your house moving go well?

Anonymous said...

Again, you attack well but can not defend your stances—even your supporters back paddle by attacking and then acknowledging when I am right!

Otherwise known as being reasonable.

Octavo Dia said...

There's a little bit for everyone in a BBC article on this topic. It's worth a read.

Darren said...

Pete, you'll notice that I have deleted two of your comments. Their detritus remain as a reminder that I *will* delete comments that are uncivil and resort to name-calling. Intelligent debate requires civility and I insist on it. I have given you plenty of leeway and yet you refuse to play by the rules, hence you won't play. Tone it down, be respectful, recognize that people can disagree with you and still be intelligent, caring, reasonable, and rational adults.

In one of the comments I deleted, Progressive Pete did say two nice things about President Bush. Actually, three or four. I can't remember one of them, the other was something to do with the Texas Rangers, the third was his pick for a wife and his fourth was his daughters :-) Accordingly, here are my positive things about Bill Clinton:
1. He and his wife seem to be truly good parents to their daughter, especially when she was younger and growing up in the White House.
2. He supported NAFTA against the wishes of his own party and against the wishes of the labor movement, a large financial contributor to the Democrats.

See? Not so hard.

Darren said...

Katherine, good to hear from you!

The house moving goes tomorrow, even though as yet I don't have an operational kitchen! I'm hoping more than one or two people show up tomorrow to help, too.

And on Sunday Austin and I are leaving for British Columbia. Yay!

Are you in Switzerland now?

I've found out about our VPs. Ms. Schnepp will be our part-timer, and Ms. Adolphson will move up to full-time. Ms. Doiron moved on, no doubt unhappy with the way the district leaves VPs dangling. Oh, and Ms. Cox will be returning; we in the math department are happy about that.

Darren said...

Octavo Dia, *excellent* article from Auntie. You're right, there's a little bit there for everyone.

Phyllis S said...

Okay, I'm game. Two positive things about GWB.
1) He's a smart dresser
2)Appears to love his momma.

Darren said...

You can do better than that, Phyllis!

Anonymous said...

As soon as the president starts doing better, Phyllis can do better.

a Brown Bag Blog

Anonymous said...

Anyone interested in the actual, documented details of what went into Truman's decision is invited to check here:

Anonymous said...

I'm not going to weigh in on the "were we right?" discussion, inasmuch as I think this country is already sufficiently and artificially divided over issues where there should be adequate common ground.

I would, however, just like to point out that NPR of all people had a handful of features last week that I thought were worth mentioning for their even-handedness. NPR gets a bad rap for being a run-away liberal propaganda machine, but I personally think in the last couple of years they've made an effort to tack back to the middle. Paraphrasing PJ O'Rourke, now it's more like "World to end soon, minorities and the poor most severely hit... but next, how the Rapture could be good news for tech stocks."

Anyway, go to NPR and do a search for Hiroshima or Enola Gay or whatever and you'll get:
Timeline: The Road to Hiroshima 08-05-05
Analysis: Would You Have Dropped the Atomic Bomb? 08-05-05, Day to Day
World: Hiroshima's 'Shockwave,' 60 Years Later 08-04-05, Talk of the Nation