John Kerry is in Hiroshima for Group of Seven talks, and on Monday toured the city's Peace Memorial Museum, becoming the first sitting secretary of state to visit the museum and take its grim journey through the dropping of the atomic bomb.
Kerry said "everybody" should tour the museum, including President Obama, who visits Japan next month, and having toured it myself this past March, I agree with him.
It's a somber place, by necessity, but as stark as the story it tells, of the atomic bomb exploding above Hiroshima at 8:15 on the morning of August 6, and the toll on the humans living below, it is also an incomplete story as well.
You can't be a human being and not be saddened by the experience—Kerry called it "gut-wrenching." But I was also struck by the subtle dishonesty of the exhibits, which emphasize the deaths of school children over just about anything else. Again and again. Mannequins holding their tattered uniforms, photos of their injuries. It would be possible to visit the museum and miss the fact that there had been a war at all, one started by the Japanese invading Manchuria, a brutal global struggle for survival which the Americans, who were fiercely isolationist, unfortunately, were drawn into only when the Japanese attacked our base at Pearl Harbor one Sunday morning in December, 1941, killing 2,000 American servicemen.
This is not a minor point. Though I suppose the Japanese can be forgiven for not emphasizing it, since we do such a poor job of teaching the story ourselves. Many Americans don't know we fought the Japanese in World War II, never worry about fine points like the atomic bomb. That was illustrated this week on my Facebook page, in a discussion of Germany, someone mentioned Japan's failure to come to terms with the horrors it inflicted on its neighbors in World War II.
"Japan is a pretty peaceful place," a woman replied, "what we did to them was horrible."
In the discussion afterward, it turned out, she didn't know that Japan was responsible for some 10 million deaths prior to the dropping of the atomic bomb, most in China, which it invaded in 1937 and brutalized. Americans alive at the time were profoundly grateful for the bomb—85 percent approved its use, according to a Gallup Poll in September, 1945—which saved uncounted American lives — and Japanese — lives that would have been lost had we been forced to invade the island. Guilt over its use is based on anachronism: applying the values of today to the past, conveniently forgetting large swatches of history including the fact that, awful as the bombing of Hiroshima was, it did not prompt the Japanese to surrender. A second bomb, dropped on Nagasaki, was required to do that.
Horrible way to die,so is being trapped in a ship and drowned. Good blog.ReplyDelete
Count me in as someone who's glad they dropped the bomb. Even if it only saved the life of one soldier, it was worth it.ReplyDelete
There have been plenty of revisionist articles about how the US didn't have to drop the bomb; that Japan was so weak it would have toppled over. Nothing could be further from the truth. Even after the second bomb on Nagasaki, the government wanted to continue to fight; it was the Emperor who finally brought them to their senses.
Do you honestly believe it would have been justified if it had saved only one soldier's life? How can that be true?Delete
Yes, I honestly believe that. Perhaps you're not aware of what the US and their allies had to go through in the Philippines, Guadalcanal, Midway, and Okinawa. This wasn't the Civil war, or Vietnam, or Iraq. There is no way anybody could say that the Japanese were justified in any amount in attacking the US. They were just as bad as the Nazis. In a situation like that, you need to eliminate the threat, and do it with the least amount of loss of lives on your side.Delete
If I was president, I would have dropped that bomb without a moment's hesitation. How could I look a mother of a dead soldier in the eye and say that I'm sorry your son is dead, but I didn't want to kill innocent Japanese civilians. As Patton said, the purpose of war is not to die for your country; it's to make the other side die for their country.
It never comes down to one soldier's life. Otto von Bismark famously remarked that "the Balkans aren't worth the life of one Pomeranian Grenadier," but he also correctly predicted that a great war would be started by "some damn foolish thing in the Balkans," and millions died in that conflict. WW II was, overall, far more lethal, and there's not much dispute that invasion of the Japenese mainland would have had a very high body count, civilian and military. Some have argued that we could have simply barracaded the Japanese homeland, but that would have lead to many thousands of civilian deaths from starvation and civilian strife. Given the nature of Japanes culture, getting the Emperor to publicly endorse surrender was probaly the key to both winning the war and winning the peace.Delete
You're totally correct.Delete
I remember reading John Toland's book on the last days of the war with Japan. Toland is unique in that his wife & chief researcher is Japanese & can read & speak the language.
But what really pushed Truman to bomb was the insane, fanatical resistance in the Battle of Okinawa, where Japan sacrificed what was left of it's navy, in an attempt to stop the US. The giant battleship Yamato was sent to beach itself & then become a stationary gun platform until it ran out of ammunition. It never got that far as the US Navy sank it at sea, deliberately dropping torpedoes to hit on just the starboard side. The Yamato then rolled over & sank.
At least 100,000 Okinawans died because of this lunacy. It was inevitable that the US was going to crush the Japanese military as Japan had absolutely no air force except the kamikazes & while the kamikazes did damage or sink a number of American ships, our ships had far too much anti-aircraft guns & destroyed most of them.
Even after the second A-bomb on Nagasaki, a group of young Japanese officers tried to intercept the recording of the emperor's "surrender" speech, because they wanted Japan to go out with the entire population dying in a "glorious battle to the end."
And BTW, the original target for the A-bombs was Berlin & other German cities, but Germany collapsed under the massive assault of the Red Army, which was determined to destroy the country that had raped & pillaged their country.
The Nagasaki bomb was the last one we had, but about 10 more were scheduled to be ready in October 1945.
Good points, Clark.Delete
And also great points from Peter and Thomas.Delete
Well, Peter, while it can certainly be argued that the bombings were justified under the actual circumstances, I can't agree that they would have been justified to save the life of one soldier. But as Tom points out, it would never come down to that.Delete
General Tojo was more concerned about saving face than his people. Yes, sadly few know of atrocities that they committed to many and that certainly wasn't taught in their books until very recently. Few realize they were also very imperialistic.ReplyDelete
Don't think I'd visit that propaganda museum.Delete
I think this article suffers from a fatal premise- the Japanese Imperial killed 10 million people, we are therefore justified in committing an atrocity on them.ReplyDelete
I don't think that's a valid moral position to hold.
There's also a lot left unsaid in regards to the actual Japanese strategic position before we dropped the bomb, and how close they were to surrendering before we dropped the bomb. I'm not suggesting that your position is wrong- it's a dense field, and reasonable people can disagree on the issues- but this is such a brief look at things that it's not much more than propaganda.
Both of my grandfather's would have been part of any invasion of Japan, and it's fair to say that I might not exist without the dropping of the atomic bomb. That said, I've never been convinced that dropping the bombs was necessary to end the Asian War.
There was a Neo-Futurist play about a decade ago on American bombing. The founder of that troup, Greg Allen's, father had been a scientist who had worked in the Manhattan project. And one of the little tidbits of that play was that the scientists were immensely relieved when Nazi Germany surrendered, because that terrible weapon wouldn't have to be used. They nearly revolted, as much as they could, when they learned that it was going to be used against Japan.
This is a tough issue, but I think you've given the other side too little attention.
But issues like how close the Japanese were to surrender were basically unknowable to the Americans. You have to put it into context of total war. Sure, World War II would have ended some other way, perhaps with the Soviets controlling half of Japan. That isn't the question. The question, as I frame it is, Where the Americans justified to drop the bomb? And the answer is yes.Delete
If the Japanese were "close to surrendering" then they should have surrendered. Admiral Suzuki, the prime minister, rejected the Potsdam Conference's call to surrender. What should the Allies have done...said pretty please with sugar on top?Delete
Neil- I think the metric that you use in the column- Did America support the use of the A-Bomb during the war- is the wrong one to use.Delete
I think the better metric- which you use in your response is- what would the consequences of not dropping the bomb be, and do those negative consequences balance out the 200,000 civilians blown up in the two bombings.
Whether the Japanese would have surrendered without the bombing is a very pertinent question for that metric, particularly in regards to what the American High command, who made the decision to bomb Japan knew about Japanese intentions. (What the average American knew strikes me as irrelevant to these discussions, frankly.)
Again, I think the trying to justifying the dropping of the A-Bomb by listing the Japanese war crimes is not a defensible position. A strong case can be made, if you believe that the Japanese were not going to surrender quickly without the bomb being dropped, that it may have saved lives.
But justifying the A-Bomb as a punitive measure is a fool's game.
Scott, Be aware the Japanese civilians were willing to die before surrendering on their own, to U.S. soldiers. If you don't believe me watch this video. Our military leaders were aware of this level of fanaticism held by the Japanese people. Without some way of putting a quick end to the war, they were worried this scenario would play out from one end of Japan to the other.Delete
I am aware of the fanaticism of certain Japanese civilians.Delete
But what you have there is a single point of data. We have to be careful how broad a brush we paint the Japanese with- it's the sort of attitude that led to internment camps in America.
The Japanese people, it must be noted, did follow the terms of the surrender once it came. Was that entirely due to the Atomic Bomb? I don't know, but I don't it was entirely due to the shock of the A-Bomb. There is again, a fair amount of diplomatic chatter before the A-Bombs from Japan asking for terms of surrender.
I'm not convinced, on balance, that a surrender on very similar terms wasn't likely without dropping the A-Bomb. I think it's an intensely debatable point, and I take issue with Mr. Steinberg's certainty on the issue. I think the A-Bomb debate hinges on that issue, and I don't think it's as easy a historical call as a lot of people think it is.
Again: Just before the atomic bombing, the prime minister of Japan explicitly said that his nation would not surrender. If that doesn't convince you, I don't know what would.Delete
There was a lot of posturing and a lot of dissent within the Japanese ranks.Delete
Would he have kept that up once the Russians invaded Manchuria, and the Japanese elite armies collapsed? I think it's likely that additional pressure would have gotten to a peace settlement without using atomic weaponry.
The only way I can think of justifying it is if it got us to a better result than not using it. I'm not saying that it didn't necessarily get us a surrender faster, but that you have to deal with the Japanese peace overtures before coming to your conclusion that killing 200,000 people was justified.
The Russians took their time in helping out against Japan and hindsight is 20/20. Get over the guilt. It's on the Japanese military's head, not ours.Delete
The internment camps here, Scott, were a cake walk compared to some of the Japanese POW camps or women that they imprisoned in Tenko type camps in Malaysia. You need to walk the Bataan Death March, perhaps and get off your lofty perch.Delete
Scott, by now you're just making things up to suit your argument.Delete
1) Just when and from whom did these "Japanese peace overtures" come? The person doing the "posturing" was the head of state.
2) "Once the Russians invaded Manchuria"? That didn't happen until after the atomic bombing, when the Soviets realized they had only a few days to grab what they could. They had sat on their hands all through the war up to that point (while endlessly complaining about how long it took the Western Allies to open up a second front against the Germans).
The atom bombs ended the war, a war that we didn't start. That was the "better result." I have no patience with handwringers on this subject, on either side of the Pacific.
Scott, You say your aware, yet you believe there is only a single point of data. Here is a news article about events that occurred on Okinawa. That's 94,000 Okinawan civilians who died, about one-quarter of the prewar population. Saipan and Okinawa were the only areas with significant Japanese civilian populations that were attacked by allied troops during the war. If the ground war were to have continued onto the Japanese mainland the 200,000 deaths from the atomic bombs would have been dwarfed in short time.Delete
Right you are, Bernie.Delete
Bitter scribe- You have your history wrong. The Russians were going to invade Manchuria whether or not we dropped the bomb. it's not like those giant Russian armies appeared out of nowhere.Delete
The argument I'm making, Bernie, is that the United States didn't pursue the diplomatic options fully before dropping the bomb. I think a strong argument can be made that had we pursued a peace agreement without dropping the bomb, we could've gotten to the same result without dropping the bomb and killing another 200,000 people.
I certainly hope you all are right. You don't want to go off and reflexively go off and call your country's actions war crimes.
In my estimation, it's not an easy call, and the history, particularly on the Japanese diplomatic side, is murky. But I do think that there is a reflexive instinct to assume that our actions were justified, because to hold otherwise leads to judge our country very harshly.
If the Soviets "were going to invade Manchuria," then why didn't they? Why did they wait until the last days of the war?Delete
Revisionist History views are not always correct, Scott.ReplyDelete
Would the US have had the bomb if Germany hadn't brutalized and murdered its own people and those in Europe resulting in the extraction of some of the greatest scientific minds to the US.ReplyDelete
Part of the reason we got the bomb was that most of Germany's high level physicists & chemists were Jewish or married to Jews. Physics was seen by the Nazis as a "Jewish science" & thus forbidden to study by "Aryans".Delete
The majority managed to leave & go to Britain or the US.
Supposedly, in 1944, Goering was sending his agents to concentration camps to pull out Jewish scientists still there to work on their nuclear weapons.
But the Nazis were on the wrong track in building them, as the British bombing of Norsk Hydro, the world's largest source of Deuterium threw them off into thinking that was the way to go.
Plus, Germany never had the resources to build the massive facilities to build the bomb. It cost the US $2 billion then, which is $27,35 billion today.
The Nazis wasted their energy on the Atlantic Wall, which the Allies cracked in 6 hours on D-Day!
They also wasted recources on the V-1/V-2 program, terror weapons that made life miserable for Londoners, but ended up having little strategic value. And, you are correct. The locus of science underlying the creation of the bomb shifted from German universities to Cambridge, Princeton and Chicago. Another blunder. A German physician got in big trouble suggesting to Himmler that talented homosexuals being given one way tickets to the camps might be "cured" and contribute to the war effort. Meanwhile, Alan Turing was busy in Hut Six at Bletchly Park breaking the German naval code, an accomlishement credited with greatly shortening the war.Delete
The problem I see with "justifying" the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is that these were acts of terrorism against civilians. If we can "justify" these acts, how can we condemn the IRA, Al Qaeda, ISIL, etc. for their killing civilians?ReplyDelete
Because killing civilians is ALL those terrorist groups do. Their "strategy" consists of that and nothing else.Delete
Yes, killing civilians is horrible no matter who does it. Killing anyone is horrible. But there has to be a distinction between a legitimate nation with properly constituted armed forces and a bunch of murderers who talk themselves into justifying atrocities.
You're absolutely right.Delete
Well said, Bitter Scribe.Delete
Tate, that's not quite the same is it?Delete
Thanks for that, Bitter Scribe. I was incredulous at "tate"'s question/comment comparing wartime casualties and terrorist-targeted civilians.ReplyDelete
At the risk of belaboring the issue, I have to say that the horror recently visited upon Belgium by fanatical terrorists pales in comparison to that inflicted on Belgium by the properly constituted armed forces of Germany some hundred years ago.ReplyDelete
tate, Of course it pales in comparison, I believe we all agree on that. It does not validate the comment you posted at 9:16 A.M.Delete
Sure it does, because the Germans had more men and better weapons. And your point is...?Delete
It's amazing the exhibit reflects the damage to humanity when Japan's leaders lost all respect for same before they bombed Pearl Harbor. The bombs were necessary, something so wide and horrific in scope was the only way to stop the madness, as conventional war would have killed hundreds of thousands more soldiers and civilians if that direction had been taken. And the results probably prevented like actions during the following cold war.ReplyDelete
If Japan had known there wasn't a another atomic bomb ready to be deployed, would they have surrendered? No.
Most people don't know that Kyoto was never bombed. Henry Stimson, the Secretary of War simply wouldn't permit the bombing of that city. He had visited it & while it was major rail center & had some industry, it was also the old capitol of Japan & its cultural center.Delete
It was originally either #1 or #2 on the A-bomb list. Stimson considered it too beautiful to be destroyed.
Somehow it's doubtful that if the tables were turned, the Japanese leaders or military would worry about bombing an allied art center.Delete
Countries need to come to terms with their history. The US still has more to do in its recognition of the horrors of slavery and what was done to Native Americans. Germany seems to be a role model in this respect -- at least in Berlin where I visited not long ago. There are Holocaust memorials everywhere, and they don't just talk about people who "died," they use the words "murdered" or "exterminated."ReplyDelete
Good point, Wendy. What hypocrisy indeed.ReplyDelete
Just when I've given up on Steinberg he writes a beauty. Way to go Neil your lefty blog needs to hear this!ReplyDelete
My uncle served on a hospital ship that liberate prisoners from Japanese prison camps across the Pacific. He hated the Japanese unreservedly to the end of his days based on what he had seen. The irony is that my parents (my mother being his adored youngest sister) were stationed twice in Japan after the war (1950's and 70's) for a total of about 6 years. I was there by the second tour, and we all loved the Japanese and Japan. How to reconcile that with my uncle's feelings? It must have nearly killed when his sister went off to Japan as a young bride in 1956 - just 10 short years after the war. And I don't know exactly what my uncle saw and experienced; he never told us, but the depth of his feelings were extreme. I hope we can stay firmly on the other side of that now and maintain having the Japanese as valued allies and trading partners, especially when you look at the craziness in North Korea that we may all be dealing with in short order.ReplyDelete
I've often thought that the reason we are still here and not a pile of radioactive waste was that people saw the horror of Nagasaki and Hiroshima and so resisted stepping over the edge the next time.ReplyDelete