Two somber anniversaries of a moral atrocity

Today marks the 70th anniversary of one of the most horrific acts in history, and that is the dropping of a nuclear weapon on the city of Nagasaki. It follows by three days a similar act committed against the city of Hiroshima. The bomb on Hiroshima killed 80,000 people instantly and another 60,000 in the months that followed and the one on Nagasaki resulted in another 70,000 deaths in the short term. Of course, to these grim totals we must add to that the uncounted number of long-term deaths and illnesses and genetic defects that ensued and the creation of a wasteland where once had been two cities.

This deliberate killing of hundreds of thousands of civilians was an act of moral degeneration, a vile decision and a war crime by any measure. I find it incredible that anyone could have consciously made the decision to incinerate such vast numbers of people in a single moment. As barbaric as that act was, what is even more appalling is that many others not only exulted in it then, but continue to justify it now. It is indeed a sad reflection of our flawed humanity how the tribal mentality prevents ‘us’ from seeing ‘our’ side as incapable of evil and tries to whitewash this unspeakable act and somehow justify it.

For example, when it is pointed out to those who describe the leaders of Iran as irrational and evil people who cannot be trusted to not use a nuclear weapon and that the only country that has used it is the US and is thus hardly in a position to take the moral high ground on this issue, one can expect the extraordinary rationalization that dropping these bombs actually saved lives in that it ended the war quickly by bringing about Japan’s immediate surrender. They actually argue that this was some kind of humane act.

What kind of moral monster makes a macabre calculation that deliberately and certainly incinerating hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children, young, and old, most living ordinary lives, is worth it because it might hypothetically save more lives in the future? This was not what is euphemistically called ‘collateral damage’, the supposedly accidental killing of civilians while aiming at military targets. This was the deliberate targeting of civilians to achieve a military goal. What kind of person weighs the certain deaths of hundreds of thousands of people on some hypothetical balance and concludes that it is a good thing?

But it turns out that a wealth of scholarship from recently declassified documents from the archives of the US, UK, Soviet Union, and Japan reveal that the rationale that dropping the bombs actually saved lives was a carefully cultivated lie designed to justify the unjustifiable. John LaForge writes that people like General Douglas MacArthur and leader of the allied forces and later president Dwight Eisenhower were among those who felt that dropping the bombs was not only unnecessary but known in advance to be unnecessary.

Kept hidden for decades was the 1946 US Strategic Bombing Survey’s conclusion that Japan almost certainly would have surrendered in 1945 without the atomic bombs, without a Soviet invasion and without a US invasion. Not long after V-J Day in 1945, Brig. Gen. Bonnie Feller wrote, “Neither the atomic bombing nor the entry of the Soviet Union into the war forced Japan’s unconditional surrender. She was defeated before either of these events took place.”

President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a five-star general and the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, said in his memoirs he believed “that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary.”

Adm. William Leahy, the wartime Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote in 1950, “It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material success in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender….” Feller’s, Ike’s and Leahy’s opinions were conspicuously left out of or censored by the Smithsonian Institution’s 1995 display of the atomic B-29 bomber “Enola Gay.”

The myth that dropping the bombs ‘saved lives’ by ending the war quickly was a carefully cultivated one, made possible by strict censorship and a US public relations campaign that wanted to show the power of the weapons but not the effects on lives and thus showed the physical devastation and mushroom clouds but prevented the showing of the charred corpses of people.

Greg Mitchel’s “Atomic Cover-Up” (Sinclair Books, 2011) also helps explain the durability of the “saved lives” ruse. Wartime and occupation censors seized all films and still photos of the two atomic cities, and the US government kept them hidden for decades. Even in 1968, newsreel footage from Hiroshima held in the National Archives was stamped, “SECRET, Not To Be Released Without the Approval of the DOD.” Photos of the atomized cities that did reach the public merely showed burned buildings or mushroom clouds — rarely human victims.

But all this will not prevent the tribalists from continuing to believe in and propagate the myth that the bombings were not only not a war crime but that they were justified and even some kind of humane act. One of the hardest things for people to learn is that we are just like other people and capable of barbaric acts. But until we learn that lesson, we will continue to commit them.


  1. DonDueed says

    I find it incredible that anyone could have consciously made the decision to incinerate such vast numbers of people in a single moment.

    I guess you had to be there.

    The nuclear bombings were hardly the first war crimes in that conflict, and such were not limited to any one combatant nation.

    If the bombings of H and N did not shorten the war, and if that was known at the time, why were they bombed? I have heard several proposals, ranging from simple inertia (the process that began from fear that Nazi Germany would get the bomb went forward even after VE Day without anyone stopping to question it), demonstrating the bomb for the Soviets’ benefit, or punishing Japan for Pearl Harbor.

    None of these seem likely to me. I’ll have to read your links, but the most reasonable notion is that most of those who made the decision truly believed that the alternative was an invasion of the Japanese main(is)lands, which was projected to cost hundreds of thousands of American lives. And we all know how much more valuable American lives are than Japanese lives, amirite?

  2. Chiroptera says

    … those who made the decision truly believed that the alternative was an invasion of the Japanese main(is)lands, which was projected to cost hundreds of thousands of American lives.

    I’ve never understood why it was felt necessary to invade the Japanese homeland. Japan’s level of industrialization and their ability to wage war outside the country was very dependent on importing resources from outside the country. By the end of the war, Japan already was unable to maintain their military ability and I don’t see how, if blockaded by the allied forces, would have been able to build up the type of might that would enable them to break out. I can’t believe that Japan could have held out for much longer.

    I’ve always felt that the bombs were mainly dropped to provide a warning to the USSR. Also, I’ve read that the Soviets were getting in a position to invade Hokkaido by the end of August; if that were true, that would, in my opinion, provide another incentive to get a quick Japanese surrender.

  3. Edivimo says

    The reason to invade the Japanese mainland or the nuclear bombing was to force an unconditional surrender. In some previous conference between the allies it was decided that they would fight the war until the unconditional surrender from the axis nations, waging a total war.
    They were thinking in the postwar period, splitting the world between the capitalists and the communists. With the atomic bombs, the entire Japan fell in the capitalist side, and wasn’t splitted in two like Germany. In fact, the USSR was already invading the northermost islands of Japan at the time, a “delay” in the surrender would “damage” the USA “territorial” gains.

  4. sundoga says

    I’m sorry, Mano, but on this one you are simply completely wrong.
    The Japanese government was not willing to surrender, and what was left of their military still supported them. The United States and it’s allies had exactly three choices to end the war: Invasion of the Home Islands, blockade of the Home Islands, use of nuclear weapons. Let’s examine each in turn.
    The invasion plans for the Home Islands had already been finalized, and composed of two parts, Operation Olympic, tthe invasion of Kyushu, to be followed by Operation Coronet, the invasion of Honshu, and specifically aimed at the capital, Tokyo. Coronet would only be launched once Olympic had secured staging grounds for the troop build up for the second section, and complete air superiority was achieved. The overall strategic plan was termed “Downfall”.
    Projections of casualties in a military operation that never took place are, of course, bound to be highly variable. In this case, it was made more so by the question of which model should be chosen for the likely reaction of the Japanese populace. Some of the investigators preferred the model based on the invasion of Luzon, where Japanese and US forces largely were neither helped nor hindered by the local populace, and what local forces did deploy were pro-allied. Others, however, preferred the example of the Invasion of Okinawa, where the population actively resisted US actions, fled from advancing American forces and actively assisted the Japanese defenders to the best of their abilities. Given the Japanese population had been exposed to the same or greater levels of propaganda, indoctrination and active moral informing as the Okinawans had, and that they had been for months on the receiving end of US air attacks, and further that those same Japanese defenders would in this case be their own family members in many cases, I do believe we can reasonably discard the Luzon model as unrealistic.
    Even so, we still have a rather wide variance in projections. Admiral Nimitz’s staff estimated 49000 allied casualties in the first 30 days. MacArthur expected only around 23000 in the same time period, ramping up to 125000 after 90 days. The full Joint Chiefs of Staff investigation suggested 456000 casualties over the 90 day period, with a corresponding 90 day period covering Coronet ending in casualty figures somewhere around the 1.2 million mark.
    Of course, this was assuming things went to timetable. Operation Iceberg, the invasion of the island of OKinawa, was projected to require between 30 and 50 days. It took 85.
    It should also be noted that none of the estimates above say word one about either Japanese military or civilian casualties as a result of Downfall. Japanese forces deployed to Kyushu at the time Olympic was to commence numbered somewhere slightly short of one million troops, though the majority were badly supplied and equipped. Success of Olympic required that this be effectively destroyed as a fighting force -- let’s be kind and assume only 50% casualties, or about 450000. However, unlike allied casualties, which tended to be around 30% fatalities, 30% maimed and discharged and 40% full recovery, Japanese casualty rates tended towards the 80% fatality rate, primarily due to soldiers’ attitudes towards surrender and battle ethic (and the unfortunate fact that after numerous well-reported incidents involving injured Japanese troops attacking allied soldiers, said allied soldiers rarely sought to take prisoners), and the Japanese military’s lack of sufficient medical support for their troops.
    As to civilian casualties, on Okinawa between one tenth and one third of the civilian population perished. Similar numbers on Kyushu would have been numbers well above a million. On Honshu, supposing Coronet made it’s way into Tokyo, 10 million plus civilian casualties would have been expected.
    Now, alternately, we could choose the path of blockade.
    This was the preferred option of the US Navy. The allies would use their base on Okinawa to liberate the Chinese and Korean coastal cities, then, using those as bases for Air and Naval operations, interdict all shipping to and from, and where possible between, the Japanese Home Islands. The continuous bombing of Japan would also continue -- firebombs to destroy the vulnerable Japanese housing and targeted strikes against industry and infrastructure.
    The allies were well aware that Japan could not feed itself, and such a blockade would eventually starve out the Japanese and force a surrender, with far, far less in the way of allied casualties. It would take longer, and with the Army in ascendency politically, it was rejected for that reason. However, it would have worked.
    Entirely TOO well. What the allies did NOT know, because the Japanese considered it a strategic secret, was that Japan had already run out of food. Two poor harvests, massive disruption of the food shipments from outside Japan, too much diverted to the military, too many farmers conscripted…the average person in Japan was already in immediate and real danger of starvation.
    Immediately after the Japanese surrender, the allied forces mounted a massive and largely successful drive to get food to Japan, It was done quietly, as you might reasonably expect the allied civilians to be a bit cranky about lots of food being shipped to “the enemy” while they were still filling out ration cards, and little is heard of it today. But it saved thousands of lives, and that is not hyperbole.
    Now, imagine Japan not only without such support, but being actively cut off from food supplies. I don’t know how many would have died. I do know it would number in the millions.
    The Nuclear strikes on Japan killed somewhere between 150000 and 300000 people. There was no more merciful option to take.

  5. Pierce R. Butler says

    Who ya gonna believe, some armchair general on the Internet or US WWII leaders?

    Dwight D. Eisenhower:

    … Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary … I thought our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. It was my belief that Japan was, at that very moment, seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of “face”.

    Truman’s Chief of Staff Adm. William D. Leahy:

    [T]he use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender. . . . [I]n being the first to use it, we . . . adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.

    Note that this is also the first anniversary of a smaller but closer-to-home atrocity, namely the murder of Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri.

  6. DonDueed says

    Eisenhower had profound knowledge of the European Theater but little involvement in the Pacific war. Both his and Leahy’s statements came well after the fact, so we don’t know what they might have said at the time the decision was being made.

    One thing we do know: no nuclear weapon has been used since Nagasaki. Would we be able to say that had they been withheld in favor of some other course of action?

    Wherever the truth lies, it is fascinating to consider what might have been if the Bomb had not been used. One point that I’ve heard mentioned is that, if the invasion of Japan had cost upwards of a million Allied casualties, and then it had been revealed that the bomb was available but not used, the political and social repercussions would have been titanic. While this does not make the Bomb’s use more morally justifiable, it may help explain the mindset behind the decision to go ahead.

  7. Rob says

    Mano, I agree with you. The US had already fire bombed 67 Japanese cities causing between 241,000 -- 900,000 deaths, including 100,000 in Tokyo alone. it’s simply not sensible to assume that killing another large number in one night made a significant difference to the calculations of the Japanese military. What is known is that Japan had reached out to the allies seeking surrender with honour and been rebuffed -- the ultimatum was total surrender. Japan was hoping that Russia would intervene and assist negotiation of an honourable surrender. The invasion of northern Japan and Russian declaration of war probably had a greater effect on Japan’s military leaders, as they apparently believed that Russia would execute the entire Japanese Imperial Family. I have no doubt that the atomic bomb was viewed as a potent and horrific weapon, but the hard reality is that 60-70,000 dead in a night are dead regardless of whether that occurs by atomic bomb or a couple of thousand incendiary bombs. The Allies had multiple options open to them to end the war, but they wanted it done quickly and without Russia making gains in the region.

  8. Who Cares says

    The people who ordered the bomb dropped had done the math on the amount of US soldiers lost if Japan would keep on fighting. The estimate by the US planners was 40 thousand US soldiers would have died and that would have required functional logistics (food, ammunition, fuel, etc) on the Japanese side which was a bit impossible due to the US and allies blockading Japan.
    The first time the numbers were increased above that was in the memoirs written by Truman (10x increase) and have since then ever been going up.
    Even better Truman claimed that Hiroshima was a military base when he announced the drop of the bomb on August 9th.
    In July (about a month before the nuking of Hiroshima) Stimson reported to Truman that there might be a problem deploying the bomb, there might not be a city left in Japan that could be nuked due to the firebombing campaign.
    Before the drop of the bomb the USA knew that the Japanese were willing to surrender, it was almost unconditional, the only demand that the emperor would remain emperor. A request that the US granted after nuking two cities.
    So no the reason for the drop of the nukes was not Japanese fighting to the last person.

  9. laurentweppe says

    Also, I’ve read that the Soviets were getting in a position to invade Hokkaido by the end of August; if that were true, that would, in my opinion, provide another incentive to get a quick Japanese surrender.

    Indeed, in fact an interesting alternative theory is that the bombing Did attenuate the number of casualties, not because an invasion of Honshu would have been costly in US soldiers’ lives (Japan was on its last leg and on the verge of complete societal collapse: an invasion of Honshu would have looked like an israeli campaign in Gaza: a few military death on one side, a fuckton of civilian deaths on the other side), but because Stalin taking control of Hokkaido (Japan’s grain loft) could have preluded another holodomor: a man-made famine caused in order to force the Japanese population to submit to the USSR and its autocrat .

    Of course, even if one believes that Stalin intended to starve the Japanese people into submission (a rather logical suspicion, given the guy’s previous deeds) nothing indicates that the US’ Powers That Be actually made the calculus that killing 150.000 people in order to force an immediate surrender to the US was a lesser evil compared to allowing millions to starve under Stalin’s yoke. As far as I know, evidence point toward the decision being a callous one which, at the very best, involuntarily limited the war’s final death toll.

  10. says

    The myth that dropping the bombs ‘saved lives’ by ending the war quickly was a carefully cultivated one

    I had a pretty serious meltdown with a former friend on this topic. I commented about the non-necessity of using terror weapons and she flipped out at me because she’d bought the propaganda that her father might have been one of the soldiers who’d have died in a ground invasion of the Japanese islands.

    What’s crazy is that there was actually a very good military target. The Japanese army, knowing that a direct land assault against Tokyo wasn’t practical, had entrenched itself in the Kanto plain and was digging in to provide an Iwo Jima-style welcome. There were about 100,000 soldiers and reservists in several dense distributions in that area: a perfect military target. But Curtis LeMay had moved past actually trying to fight the war and into eradication. So Hiroshima burned. And Nagasaki burned because, well, it was nice to have something to test an implosion-style warhead on. (Hiroshima was a gun-style warhead, and was a lot less likely to fail) Meanwhile, the Red Army was getting ready to crush Japan’s remaining significant forces in the field up in Manchuria and Stalin knew the US was working on superbombs thanks to Klaus Fuchs and possibly others. All the justifications for the bombing were lies.

    And, on the anniversaries of the atrocities, the US -- which created the odious Non-Proliferation Treaty -- has chosen, along with the other nuclear powers, to ignore it. The NPT pledges several things. 1: non-proliferation of nuclear weapons technology 2: we will do no “first use” of nuclear weapons against any country that has signed the treaty (straight-up nuclear blackmail) 3: signatories of the treaty with nuclear arsenals will reduce them and eventually disarm. The lying liars in Washington have re-interpreted the third item to mean something like, “well, we’ll think about it” Meanwhile, as the US browbeats Iran about its non-existent nuclear arsenal, in order to secure Israel’s nuclear monopoly in the middle east (Israel is not signatory to the NPT, which technically means that they are not under the “no first use” provision) the US is about to spend a trillion dollars to upgrade its arsenal. I.e.: build more weapons. And, the US has proliferated nuclear weapons to NATO. All NATO strike aircraft with standard weapons fittings are nuclear capable. The US has also positioned nuclear weapons in Germany, Turkey, and who knows where the fuck else. The Canadians proliferated nuclear weapons to the English and French, the French to the Israelis, The Israelis to the South Africans — and we complain that the Pakistanis proliferated to North Korea (sort of) and Libya (who didn’t have the engineering to do anything with it)

    It’s hypocrisy on hypocrisy embedded in lies. “This is to make the world safe”
    Bullshit. The young generation that did not grow up in the cold war does not realize that the demons still slumber where they can be summoned at any time. And that’s without even talking about the US’ bioweapons program which is supposedly shut down and the USSR’s Biopreparat, which may or may not be.

    I think the reason politicians like nuclear weapons is because -- unlike guns or knives -- they are too imprecise to be used to get rid of politicians.

  11. says

    The Japanese government was not willing to surrender

    Actually, they attempted to negotiate a surrender 3 months before the nukes were dropped. That was why Stalin and Truman came back with the demand for “complete and unconditional surrender” — a demand they knew Japan would not meet.

    You need to learn more history.

  12. says

    the hard reality is that 60-70,000 dead in a night are dead regardless of whether that occurs by atomic bomb or a couple of thousand incendiary bombs

    That sort of shrugging off … “well, dead is dead” is the same reasoning that can be used in apology for terrorist attacks like 9/11. Hey, it was war, they were gonna die anyway, whatever…

    The US utterly freaked out over 9/11, after decades of committing similar atrocities all over the world. Atrocities it is committing at this very moment. Whatever. They’re gonna die of something sooner or later, whatever.

  13. laurentweppe says

    I think the reason politicians like nuclear weapons is because – unlike guns or knives – they are too imprecise to be used to get rid of politicians.

    You can get rid of politicians with nukes, it’s just that you’ll obliterate an enormous chunk of their population alongside.

  14. lorn says

    +1 to DonDueed @7.

    Neither of those quoted had much experience with the unique characteristics of the ground war in the Pacific. Japan had, quite literally, embarked upon a plan to systematically have every citizen sacrifice themselves as a national duty to their race and familial line.

    Contemplate this photo:


    This is the result of armed, trained and highly motivated Japanese troops tempting to overwhelm US positions by frontal assault. They were perfectly willing, considered it an honor, to charge in waves through interlocking fields of fire, and to be mowed down like wheat.

    The Japanese general staff and Emperor considered this no more than what was expected. They praised the actions and instituted a doctrine of “shattered Jewels”, whereby the the act of sacrifice, in and of itself, is noble. Time and again Japanese troops, sometimes without officers leading, would choose to charge into fire. This is independent of any realistic chance of it having any significant effect. The sacrifice was the point.

    This social expectation and doctrine was applied to all citizens, of all ages. They were bent of sacrificing the entire national population as sacrifice to their nobility and honor.

    A common response is to assume that this was just bluster. That, in the end, civilians would not demand to die. That they would peacefully surrender as they had in Germany. The possible thirty percent civilian death rate is based upon Okinawa and southern islands. If anything that estimate is far too low. The islands in the south were always considered less ethnically Japanese, in some ways lesser. As such they were far less beholding to the pure Japanese race and the emperor. In all likelihood the willingness to sacrifice for the emperor and race would become stronger as progress was made into the main islands of Japan.

    Invading would mean US soldiers killing thousands of civilians and children. US troops were not immune to the trauma of killing waves of Japanese soldiers, imagine the trauma of killing hundreds of Japanese women and children armed with spears.

    The alternative was to surround the nation and starve them out. A slow-motion process far more degrading and costly to the Japanese than two atomic bombs. Either way the Japanese would have ceased to exist as a culture and people.

    Finally, there is a tendency for people to post pictures of burned and mangled civilians implying that these wounds are unique to, possibly worse, with atomic weapons. It just isn’t so. While radiation effects are unique the thermal burns are not and the vast majority of illustrations are of common thermal burns. These are common to every battlefield, every burned town, every bomber out city. The fire bombing of Tokyo and Hamburg showed similar injuries. Radiation has long been known to effect life for many years after but more recent studies show that there is even long tail of death from conventional weapons and wartime trauma. Chronic disease and permanent disabilities take their toll as years go by and a epigenetic and psychological burden felt by following generations.

    Yes, the atomic bombs involved more people over a shorter length of time but it is the area under the curve that counts. Remember that Japanese troops killed literal millions in China. Frequently on-on-one, often used for bayonet practice or gang raped and killed by having their uterus impaled on a bamboo splint and left to die slowly. Terror, starvation, disease, biological and chemical warfare were all used.

    War is ugly, traumatic, and wasteful. War is hell. The corner of hell occupied by nuclear war is not significantly worse than any other. War is a crime against humanity. The particular flavor of war visited upon humanity is largely unimportant.

  15. mnb0 says

    @1: “why were they bombed”
    Cold war and that was totally reasonable. Mind you, I don’t agree with the decision, let alone try to justify it. I just try to reflect the thought process of President Truman.
    Despite propaganda US-SU alliance always had been strained. That had become clear at the Yalta Conference. At the Potsdam Conference Truman told Stalin that he had a bomb of unprecedented strength. Stalin was not impressed because he already knew. So Truman decided to show him. The Japanese were easy victims -- Truman could get away with it because at that time everybody hated the Japanese.
    It had the desired effect. The Red Army didn’t try to provoke a new war, though it was much stronger than the combined American, British and French armies, mainly due to superior tanks. Of course you can maintain that the Red Army wouldn’t have done that anyway, but that’s a what if scenario we’ll never find out. It also had an undesired effect. The Soviets rushed to develop their own nuclear bomb.

  16. mnb0 says

    The “unconditional surrender” argument is simply a lie. Japan did not surrender unconditionally. One of the conditions was keeping its emperor and it was granted.

    @5 “the Japanese government was not willing to surrender”
    That’s also a lie. The Japanese government had tried to contact the American government to talk about surrender conditions. It has been known since a long time.

  17. Holms says

    One thing that seems to be omitted by the ‘nuking was the best idea’ camp is the crucial difference between civilian and military targets. Even if we say that the Japan / Axis needed a nuclear attack for demonstration and discouragement purposes, why is it also taken for granted why is there never a mention of choosing a military base or other strategic point? Instead, it seems to be assumed that “nuclear attack” implies “nuclear attack on a civilian target.

    In other words, there seems to be a massive gap in the thinking on the part of the pro-nuke side.

  18. Rob says

    Marcus @ 13, I didn’t make myself sufficiently clear. I’m not saying the deaths didn’t matter. Rather I’m saying that from the point of view of the Japanese General Staff the nightly death toll was horrific regardless of the weapons used. I doubt that the manner of death tipped them over the edge making a decision one way or the other. My oblique point being that the rational for using the nuclear weapons was weak on that basis.

  19. says


    This deliberate killing of hundreds of thousands of civilians was an act of moral degeneration, a vile decision and a war crime by any measure. I find it incredible that anyone could have consciously made the decision to incinerate such vast numbers of people in a single moment. As barbaric as that act was, what is even more appalling is that many others not only exulted in it then, but continue to justify it now.

    (bolding mine)
    I find that so grotesque. I felt a wave of nausea earlier when I read this article from The Telegraph attempting to justify dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

    In 1945, however, we also soon heard much of the other side of the story, and how that same appalling tragedy might have saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of American and British servicemen who could well have died in the invasion of Japan which would otherwise have been necessary to end the war. Only more slowly did it come to light how the atom bombs had also saved the lives of anything up to a million prisoners in camps across south-east Asia, whom the fanatical Japanese commander, Marshal Terauchi, intended to massacre if the allies landed on the Japanese mainland.

    I want to shake this guy. Many lives were saved, perhaps. But many lives were lost too. None of the lives saved were more valuable than those that were lost. To think that dropping these bombs was necessary is to view some lives as more valuable than others. I don’t accept that. What the US did was an inhumane violation of human rights. It was an atrocity, and one that’s been highly sanitized in the United States.

    The ‘sanitised narrative’ of Hiroshima’s atomic bombing:

    Trigger Warning: Graphic Imagery

    The conventional wisdom in the United States is that the dropping of atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended the war, and because of that it was justified -- end of story.
    Is that really the end of the story?
    It’s certainly a convenient one. But it is one that was constructed after the war, by America’s leaders, to justify what they had done. And what they had done was, by any measure, horrendous.

    It didn’t start on 6 August. It had started months before with the fire bombing of Tokyo.
    On 9 March 1945, 25 sq km (9.7 sq miles) of Tokyo were destroyed in a huge firestorm. The death toll was as large, or even larger, than the first day at Hiroshima. From April to July the relentless bombing continued in other parts of Japan.
    Then came Hiroshima.
    ‘There was no sound at all’
    Keiko Ogura had just celebrated her eighth birthday. Her home was on the northern edge of Hiroshima behind a low hill. At 08:10 on 6 August, she was out on the street in front of the house.

    “I was surrounded by a tremendous flash and blast at the same time,” she says.
    “I couldn’t breathe. I was knocked to the ground and became unconscious. When I awoke I thought it was already night because I could not see anything, there was no sound at all.”
    What Keiko witnessed in the following hours is hard to comprehend.
    By mid-morning, survivors of the blast began pouring out of the city looking for help. Many were in a terrible state.
    “Most of the people who were fleeing tried to go to the hillside. There was a Shinto shrine near our house so many came here,” she says.
    “Their skin was peeling off and hanging. At first I saw some and I thought they were holding a rag or something, but really it was skin peeling off. I noticed their burned hair. There was a very bad smell.”

    That shit happened to tens of thousands of human beings. Not orcs. Not demonic entities from the 12th dimension. Human beings. Who did not want to die. Who were not in the middle of a battle of lie and death against the Allies. These were just people. And they were slaughtered. And this is called some sort of moral good?

    Screw that noise.

  20. lorn says

    “As barbaric as that act was, what is even more appalling is that many others not only exulted in it then, but continue to justify it now.”

    Hell of a way to try to win a debate on merits, start by declaring yourself right, and then double down by declaring any who don’t agree as morally reprehensible. Fact is that there were a lot of very smart and morally astute people who made the difficult decision at the time. Second-guessing is cheap and easy.

    A lot of considerations get lost over time, like how we were pretty much tapped out financially and manpower- wise. We were going to have to start eating the monetary seed corn by ’45’ and we were scraping the bottom of the barrel for manpower in ’44’. Large segments of the population were tired of the war and starting to talk about letting Japan keep the imperial offices and military. In effect doing what the western powers did with Germany after WWI. Humiliate them but allow them to keep their power base intact so they can come back in a generation with an even bigger army and attitude.

    A good of example of compromises :
    The “unconditional surrender” argument is simply a lie. Japan did not surrender unconditionally. One of the conditions was keeping its emperor and it was granted.
    A grand niggling point. While they technically kept the emperor his power was gone as anything but a figurehead. In return we had the officer in China, which still thought of themselves as undefeated, agree to leave peacefully. They would try to undercut the occupation and reconstitute the imperial offices as a shadow government but only after they were back in Japan and well away from where they could hide. Faced with a strong American occupation and an uncooperative Japanese public relieved that the war was over and American soldiers didn’t eat babies the rebel officers were far less able to stir up trouble. Several did form organized crime groups. A legacy Japan still faces.

    It was a compromise that served both sides very well. It was also not really so much of a compromise as a quiet reassurance. We also let them keep Mount Fuji and the emperor’s rectal virginity. Failure to demand otherwise eliminated any need for conditionals.

    @5 “the Japanese government was not willing to surrender”
    That’s also a lie. The Japanese government had tried to contact the American government to talk about surrender conditions. It has been known since a long time.
    Every nation facing defeat wants to talk. Talking about surrender is necessary but not sufficient. A large proportion of the officer corp (particularly those in China and SE Asia which had not seen defeat), the political class, and imperial court were not satisfied that Japan had been defeated and had designs on a withdrawal, limited restrictions for a time [time enough to rebuild and raise another generation of warriors] , and with a little luck, holding on to resource rich portions of Asia and China under the claim that they really need the firm guiding hand of a nearly western power.

    The emperor explains in his “surrender speech”:
    “To strive for the common prosperity and happiness of all nations, as well as for the security and well-being of our subjects, is the solemn obligation which has been handed down by out Imperial ancestors and which lies close to our heart. Indeed, we declared war on America and Britain out of our sincere desire to ensure Japan’s self-preservation and the stabilization of East Asia, it being far from our thought either to infringe upon the sovereignty of other nations or to embark upon territorial aggrandizement.”

    He continues with perhaps the largest understatement conceivable:
    “But now the war has lasted for nearly four years. Although the best has been done by everyone—the gallant fighting of the military and naval forces, the diligence and assiduity of our servants of the state, and the devoted service of our hundred million people—the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage, while the general trends of the world have all turned against her interests. ”

    Did you get it?
    … “the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage” …

    Above from:

    This is barely a surrender. The nation had, by that time, been comprehensively defeated but the need to salvage some nobility out of their efforts, possibly by dying out as a culture, was lingering. Defeat wasn’t an option … until it was … not that they could face it directly.

    I lived in Japan for a few years and concluded that some of the Japanese themselves are not so very sure that using nuclear weapons was not necessary. All lament the loss of lives. Few could offer another way to change the heart and entrenched culture of a militarized nation inspired by a warrior spirit/death culture, and justified by God incarnate telling them to impose their will on the lesser people of the hemisphere. Most refuse to face the difficult situation. Still, to this day, the Japanese people have not admitted to themselves the full extent of what they did to civilian populations and opponents. They are, with some exceptions, not so quick to condemn US use of the bomb but, rather, tend to focus on picking up the pieces and moving forward.

    Of course we are so often hip-deep in moral also-rans on every issue. People who want to be on the right side of some great issue so they can get that cheap thrill of moral certainty and superiority. Clarity and hard lines are so hard to find in the modern world so they tend to maintain a death-grip on any seemingly suitable issue. Abortion, immigration, religion, sexuality, and playing armchair general are all great ways of asserting moral superiority based entirely upon assumptions of greater awareness and self-righteousness. Ugly things, human suffering, and difficult decisions are easy to line up against. Of course, sometime you just had to be there.

  21. sundoga says

    As to the statement that Japan tried to negotiate, this is actually very misleading. It is not clear at all that they were willing to do anything of the kind.
    Japan did, indeed, communicate a desire to reach a negotiated end to the war -- but they never communicated that to ANY of the belligerant nations. Instead, they sounded out the USSR, not at the time at war with Japan, to be a go-between and mediator for such a settlement.
    The USSR, for it’s part, declined, and in fact never informed any of the other allied nations. The United States, in point of fact, did learn of the attempt, but only by intercepts of the Japanese embassy communication, having long since broken Japan’s diplomatic codes.
    Japan’s response was to do…nothing. They did not attempt to communicate AT ALL with the USA on this matter, despite it literally being a three block walk to do so -- that being the distance between the US and Japanese embassies in neutral Istanbul.

  22. sundoga says

    Note to above: The Hoffman memoranda are accurate, but omit an important fact: that the “highly placed” Japanese officials attempting to negotiate with MacArthur had, in fact, no authority to do so. They were not authorised by the Diet, Supreme Council or Emperor as to their actions, and could not have made any binding decisions of any kind. This is why they were dismissed by the US government as being non-productive and a ruse to gain time for further resistance.

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