August 06, 2015

#Hiroshima: 70 years ago today — reality vs. inaccurate revisionism

Contra some nuclear apologists of both years past and today, yes, nuclear weapons are, to some degree, qualitatively different than other so-called "conventional" arms.

Are they different from others in the class of what once was more neutrally called ABC weapons, for Atomic, Biological and Chemical, or what is today called, with emotional edge, "weapons of mass destruction"?

I think not.

Yes, radiation sickness and cancers killed people years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

And pneumonia and other pulmonary illnesses killed World War I veterans who hadn't gotten their gas masks on in time for years and years later, too.

As for the immorality in general?

Sorry, but the cadre of left-liberals who says we should never have dropped either bomb at all, like Gar Alperowitz, or yesterday, Christian Appy?

No, they don't leave me cold, they leave me angry. Because they're simply not correct, and not telling the truth. (And, people, don't claim I haven't read this stuff; I read Alperowitz's whole book.)

First, a sidebar. I have not said, and do not say, the bombings were "justified." Philosophy minded friends of mine in general should take note that I generally reject the use of that word period, based largely on Walter Kaufmann and his thought-provoking "Without Guilt and Justice," reviewed by me here.

Or, another way to look at Hiroshima is in the words of former Secretary of State Henry Stimson, who called the nuclear bombs the "least bad" option. I think that gets it about right.

First, naval blockade alone wouldn't have hastened the end of the war very much at all. Not even when the Soviet Union jumped in. Yes, that caught Japan off-guard. (It didn't catch them by "surprise"; Japanese leaders ignored that Stalin's lieutenants stopped talking to them after May 8, 1945 and that their neutrality treaty had a 90-day opt-out. Say what you will about Stalin elsewhere, and note that he used those 3 months to refit his European theater veteran units, but he scrupulously waited those 90 days, declared war, and attacked.)

But, Japan could have moved troops from elsewhere in China to Manchuria. Iwo Jima did bring us closer to bombing more of mainland China, to interdict roads and railroads, but, it wouldn't have stopped troop movements, just bollixed them. It could have pulled Unit 731's labs back into Korea, while releasing its terror on Soviet troops had it wanted to do so.

Meanwhile, more and more Japanese troops would have died in fighting in China, Southeast Asia, etc. More and more Chinese and Soviet troops, and American naval and air forces, and army troops in the Philippines, would have died, too.

I've blogged about this issue before; no, the Russkies didn't force an end to the war just by their entry into it.

To the degree a naval blockade might have had partial effect, more and more Japanese civilians would have died of starvation, or hunger-related illnesses. And, more and more would have died from conventional bombing. I've read estimates that, if we blockaded Japan for six months, and cut links between the different Home Islands as part of that, more Japanese would have died from starvation in 1946 than were killed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.

As it was, Japan did not ask for the face-saving Imperial-conditional surrender until after the second bomb at Nagasaki.


Hirohito, in his Imperial announcement or rescript, ONLY cited the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs and not the Soviet invasion of Manchuria. (He does mention reaching out to its government, as well as the American and British ones, in seeking peace; that's the only mention of the USSR, and there's not even a hint about its invasion of Manchuria.)

Ward Wilson says that Hirohito DID mention the USSR's war entry, and ignored the Bomb, on a separate rescript Aug. 17.

However, that just illustrates my point. It was for just the troops, not the general public. Given that the Japanese Army had long wanted to fight the Russkies, could be that's why Hirohito told the troops exactly what he did.

Beyond that, historians in general normally mean the rescript of the radio broadcast to the Japanese pubic, the link I first gave. And, I'm pretty sure Ward Wilson knows that.

As for how many, or how few, American or allied lives Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved? To put it in blunt war terms, if ONE life was saved, that was enough.

Unlike Appy, and perhaps a straw man he's creating, I've never claimed the bomb was an act of "mercy." I've long claimed, per the immortal William T. Sherman's "war is hell," that it was an act of realism indeed.

And, speaking of military officers, Chet Nimitz, Ernie King and others at the end of WWII should have read them some Sherman before blanketly opposing the bomb, too.

Maybe this is another way in which Clemenceau is right: "War is too important to be left to the generals."

Or, maybe the brass hats with scrambled eggs said this because, especially with things like the later 1940s tests of blowing up fleets with atomic weapons, they were worried about becoming irrelevant. They clearly exhibited that attitude later on in fights over what service branch would control the military missile program.

And, per this whole issue, this is definitely why I identify myself here as a "skeptical left-liberal."

As for leftists who call Hiroshima a war crime? No, the real war crime was that Hirohito, the man who knew plenty about Unit 731 and the Rape of Nanking at the time they were happening, didn't surrender sooner.

Also re Hirohito? Until late spring of 1945, he hoped to retain all Japanese possessions up to 1920, ie, what it got after World War I. Even up to just before the Soviet intervention, he appeared to hope to retain the Empire as it was in 1905, after the Russo-Japanese War.


Simon said...

"As for how many, or how few, American or allied lives Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved? To put it in blunt war terms, if ONE life was saved, that was enough."

Would just like to clarify that you are saying that 1 American or Allied life saved is well worth 100 000+ civilians dying?

Gadfly said...

Yes, that's what I'm saying, if one looks at it from the perspective of nationalism and notes that the US, and allies, were generally "better" than the Empire of Japan.

Pista Gyerek said...

Hirohito, indeed, was a war criminal, and only pulled the plug when the prospect of Soviet invasion made life as MacArthur's hand puppet seem rosy in comparison. Sure, he said nice things about our very scary atom bombs, but he was currying favor with a government that could very well have strung him up after the war.

I don't think the A-bombs were the last straw, and the Allies certainly didn't think they would preclude the need for a massive invasion. After the effects of the bombs became public, a lot of higher-ups tried to make it sound like the bombs were dropped instead of an invasion. But the Allies were still weighing options for where to invade when the Japanese surrender took them by surprise.

Gadfly said...

It is true the Allied governments weren't sure if the Bombs would end the war, and thus, invasion preparation went on. Nonetheless, they were hopeful that that would happen.

Hirohito may have been saying kind words. However, the final, modified version of unconditional surrender did indicate the office of emperor would be maintained, even if not under his control.

Otherwise, he was a "professional," degreed, biologist. The Imperial rescript of surrender, and the "previously unknown weapons" probably reflects his own knowledge. Plus, the US knew that Japan had nuclear physicists who, if they investigated the Nagasaki fallout, would know that it was a plutonium bomb, not a U235 one, which would up the surrender pressure even more.


So, the bombs were intended as a hoped-for last straw. There was no guarantee they would be so, but that was indeed the plan.