I'm thinking about the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki today. How could I not, considering the anniversary of the first bombing was yesterday and the anniversary of the second bombing is Wednesday?
How could I not when everyone is buzzing about the new movie, "Oppenheimer," about the Father of the Atomic Bomb.
I've seen a play about Oppenheimer. I've seen a documentary about Oppenheimer. I have felt very sorry for Oppenheimer. But if Oppenheimer was the Father of the Bomb, he never disowned or disavowed his offspring. I'm done with Oppenheimer.
I want to talk about moral and political issues around the bombing.
These are the questions that concern me:
WHY DID WE DROP THOSE ATOMIC BOMBS?
WAS IT NECESSARY TO END THE WAR?
My father was a soldier in the Pacific during World War II. He saw a lot of combat, taking one little island at a time from the Japanese army.I remember him saying many times:
"We did a terrible thing. But we had no choice.
If we hadn't done it, we would have had to invade Japan.
And who knows how many American soldiers would have been killed? Thousands and thousands and thousands.
And one of them might have been me.
We had to do it."
He said that many times, whenever the anniversary of the bombing rolled around, or when nuclear weapons were in the news. I knew that he wanted to assure me (and perhaps himself?) that dropping the bombs was a tragic act, but a necessary one.
That's what pretty much everyone says about the United States's decision to kill hundreds of thousands of civilians. "So terrible, so terrible. But it was the only way to end the war. Terrible but necessary." That's what we learned in school.
My father's repeated avowals over the years made me wonder if he was actually more troubled about Hiroshima than he would admit. And I also wondered if he was right that it was necessary to get Japan to surrender. I was driven to finally do some research of my own on the topic of why we dropped those bombs. I read several books on the subject. There seemed to be a pretty clear consensus among historians that...
Admiral William Leahy, Truman’s chief of staff, wrote in his 1950 memoir I Was There that:
“The 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.… In 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. Wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.”
I find that last sentence fascinating. Leahy is an old-fashioned TRADITIONAL admiral. He is saying: Not only is mass slaughtering of non-combatants barbaric -- IT DOESN'T WORK! You gotta kill soldiers! And there were very few soldiers or young men in the cities because they were all out fighting the war!
The commanding general of the US Army Air Forces, Henry “Hap” Arnold, said in an interview with the New York Times on August 17, when asked if the atomic bomb caused Japan to surrender: :
“The Japanese position was hopeless even before the first atomic bomb fell, because the Japanese had lost control of their own air.”
Admiral William "Bull" Halsey, the commander of the U.S. Third fleet said:
"The first atomic bomb was an unnecessary experiment. It was a mistake.... [the scientists] had this toy and they wanted to try it out, so they dropped it.”
Fleet Adm. Chester Nimitz, the commander in chief of the Pacific Fleet
“The atomic bomb played no decisive part, from a purely military standpoint, in the defeat of Japan.”
Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe, stated in his memoirs that when notified by Secretary of War Henry Stimson of the decision to use atomic weapons:
“I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that 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.”
He later said publicly:
“It wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing.”
Maj. Gen. Curtis LeMay, the head of the Twenty-First Bomber Command and a known hawk said:
“The atomic bomb had nothing to do with the end of the war at all.”
So there is a consensus among the highest military leaders: Bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki with this new weapon was NOT NECESSARY.
The U.S. had broken the Japanese codes. They knew that Japan was already trying to negotiate surrender using the Soviet Union as an intermediary. In the end, Japan surrendered two days after the Soviet Union declared war on them. They feared being invaded by the Russians far more than they feared surrendering to the Americans and subsequent occupation by them.
People who believe the bombing was a just act often protest, "But we had a PLAN to invade Japan! That proves the bombing saved us from an invasion."
Of COURSE we had a plan. The military makes plans for all contingencies, far in advance. They don't say, "Hey guys, let's invade our enemy Japan next week. Oh, wait! First we have to make a plan!" They've already GOT a plan. We now know, for example. from Trump's cavalier flinging around of documents, that the Army has a plan for invading Iran. That does NOT mean that we are actually going to invade Iran in the near future. People are justifiably worried about a lot of things right now, but us invading Iran is not one of them.
SO WHY DID WE COMMIT THIS BARBARIC CRIME
OF DROPPING ATOMIC BOMBS
ON JAPANESE CIVILIANS?
Historians don't know for sure. But there are a lot of possible reasons:
President Truman longed for UNCONDITIONAL surrender, which would have included surrendering the Emperor to U.S. authorities. Perhaps Truman hoped -- even assumed --that the bombings would lead to unconditional surrender. But if so, he was wrong. Even after two bombings, the Japanese STILL refused to give the U.S. their Emperor. Truman had to settle for the Emperor declaring to his subjects that he was not divine.
There are three other possible reasons that historians ponder:
CURIOSITY: As Admiral Halsey said, the scientists dearly wanted to play with the toy they had so laboriously created. After all, if they never dropped the bomb on real people, they would never REALLY know whether it worked or not!
REVENGE: When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, Japan had the temerity to invade the sacred borders of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA! No nation had done that. And, to this day, Japan remans the only country to have militarily attacked us. Defeating Japan was not enough. We had to PUNISH them!
And perhaps most important:
SHOWING THE SOVIET UNION WHAT WE HAD:
In terms of negotiating in the post-war world, instilling fear in the Soviet Union could be VERY useful. Manhattan Project scientist Leo Szilard met with Secretary of State James Byrnes on May 28, 1945. According to Szilard:
“Byrnes was concerned about Russia’s postwar behavior…and thought that Russia might be more manageable if impressed by American military might, and that a demonstration of the bomb might impress Russia.”
Byrnes got his wish. The fact that he was a Southern racist probably had some bearing on his willingness to slaughter hundreds of thousands of Asian non-combatants, in order to win an advantage in diplomatic negotiations negotiations with the Russians..
I did my father with the fruits of burrowing into history books. He was an old man by the time I did the research. I didn't want to upset him. His belief in the morality of the decision to drop the bomb was important to him. It was comforting. He believed his country was good. I didn't see the point in destroying his innocence.
But maybe I made the wrong decision. My father, and probably most Americans want to believe that this country is good. After all, we were courageous and good when we fought for our freedom from England. We did the right thing when we fought a civil war to end slavery. We were good when we entered the war against Hitler and Germany.
But we committed an evil act when we dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
If we had been honest about that, if we had faced that we had needlessly murdered hundreds of thousands of women, children and old people -- maybe we would have been humbled.
Maybe we would have understood that the United States is not inherently good. We would have understood that our country is capable of committing evil acts.
Maybe that humility would have made us hesitate before invading Vietnam..... Or Iraq.
I want to live in a humble country,
a country that is brave enough
to acknowledge the evil it has committed.
Bloggellinis: Please forward this email to people who might believe that bombing Hiroshima or Nagasaki was necessary to get Japan to surrender. And please consider getting involved in anti-nuclear weapons work. ICAN, the International Committee against Nuclear Weapons is a good place to start. The organization won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017. Terry
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