Friday, May 13, 2016

President Obama to visit Hiroshima

A city doomed to die 
That should be interesting.  Not because I think President Obama will do something like smack America or call down fire and brimstone because of the decision to drop the bombs.  Why would I ever think such a thing? It will be interesting because it will open up a debate that happens about once a year on the Internet, but not in too many other areas of mainstream culture.

The debate about the Bombs has, of course, been waged since about August 7, 1945.  Truman himself wavered at first, initially saying he had no intention of using such a weapon against a civilian population.  He obviously changed his mind.

Like most things in history, there is debate.  If you study history, you know there is no such thing as 'historians agree.'  That's like saying Kosher ham.  There isn't a point in history where someone, somehow isn't disagreeing with something, even if there appears to be a consensus.  It's what historians do.  It's what scholars do.  Publish or perish after all.  And nothing sells more than the book title or headline: 'Everyone turns out to be wrong!'  That isn't to say a minority voice is automatically wrong.  It is to say that there are always competing voices.

When it comes to the bombs, the debate is tainted with high emotions.  After all, growing up in the Cold War, the world stood on the brink of catastrophic annihilation.  And for many, it all started in the skies over Hiroshima.  As if, had the bombs not been dropped, we or someone else wouldn't have developed them. Fact is, looking to nuclear weaponry was quite the fad by then, and even Japan, we now know, dabbled its feet in the nuclear pool for a time.  It abandoned the development, but due to an honest appraisal of its lack of material resources, not because of some massive moral objection to killing innocent civilians.

That's not to say there wasn't a difference in the bomb as opposed to, say, a mass bombing raid. There was a difference.  A significant difference.  A single weapon stealthily dropped that vaporizes tens of thousands of people instantly is different than an invading army they can resist, or a flight of bombers they can see coming.

Should we have dropped it?  As a Catholic, I'm bound to say no.  And as a Christian, I have a hard time defending the decision.  Yet I'm haunted by the fact that I have no realistic, plausible alternative solutions to what we did that would have ended the horrible conflict before as many died in other ways.  The only thing I can say is don't drop it, let the innocent die and evil reign for a season, and eventually things would have worked out down the road.

Not at all uncommon, for soldiers and
civilians in the Asian Theater
For decades Japan played on the Great White Guilt by suggesting that in August, 1945, it was a humbled, beaten country that only wanted to give peace a chance.  Why, the whole war was a big misunderstanding!  Sure, Japan made occasional apologies for its soldiers' behavior here and there over the years, mostly to the Asian and Pacific Rim nations that it subdued and terrorized.  But overall, Japan made it clear that it was forced into the war, never really intended to surprise the US over Pearl Harbor, and then spent most of the following years pleading for peace and an end to hostilities.

That was until the 1990s, when the Korean Women, and later other women, came forward about Japan's systemic sex slave industry that it cultivated throughout the war.  Women were forced at gun point to be slabs of sex meat used by Japanese soldiers under pain of death, or the death of their loved ones.  That opened up a whole new can of worms and an era of reexamining Japan's legacy.  With the rise of China and other Asian nations, and the growing prominence of their perspectives, the story of Japan ceased to be one of a nation with a few maverick soldiers who gave their wonderful country a bad name.  Rather, it was one of a xenophobic and racist imperialist nation that saw any non-Japanese as inferior, and set out to oppress and even exterminate those in its grip with a zeal that rivaled the Nazis.

Also, rumors of a high command ready to lay down arms and throw themselves at the Allies' mercy began to appear highly exaggerated.  Over the last decades, a growing reform movement in Japan has called into question this narrative, and suggested strongly that the Japanese command had every intention of going down fighting.  In addition, the civilians who had been taught that Americans were the most evil, barbarous monsters in the world, were ready to die rather than be captured.  That is something that America saw, much to its horror, as far back as the Marianas.

In fact, it was the growing body count as we approached Japan that helped tip the scales toward the bombs.  Unlike Germany where hundreds of thousands of Germans would surrender at the same time as the allies got closer, in the Pacific things only became tougher.  Small islands the size of a Midwest town would see casualties in the tens of thousands in a matter of days.  And in some cases, like Okinawa, self inflicted civilian casualties began to add to the numbers.

The allied decision to impose Unconditional Surrender has been a major point of debate as well.  Some might argue it, rather than the actual decision to drop the bomb, is the fault behind the events.  Be that as it may, the issue will remain a sticky one.  Old arguments against the bombs no longer hold the same weight to those paying attention to the history.  We have reason to believe that Japan was not the peace loving, humbled and defenseless nation that was a beneficent conqueror except for a few bad apples in the trenches.  If the high command was willing to go on fighting after one city had been atomized and tens of thousands killed, it's highly unlikely a show of force by dropping the bomb on some isolated location would have done any good.

Only the thought, after Nagasaki, that the US had an endless stream of such weapons and could go willy-nilly every couple days destroying city after city, coupled with the entrance of the USSR onto the stage, prompted the Emperor to throw in the towel.  In fact, we had one more bomb that was being prepared for Tokyo if there was no surrender.   As it was, fearing an endless wave of destroyed cities with no hope of defending itself honorably, the war came to an end.  That is certainly a plausible appraisal.

Again, on a moral and Christian level, I have a hard time defending the decision.  There is something at the gut level that says it was unthinkable to do.  I sympathize with those involved in the decision, including FDR, whose plan it was but who never seems to catch the blame.  Sometimes critics and pundits act as if dropping the bomb was some freakish event in an age of untold peace and harmony, where all was beautiful and lovely (except for the Holocaust) and all humans were at one and death was but a dream ... and then BAM!  A bunch of evil, racist Americans flew over and slaughtered them some Jap babies because of their racist ways in order to scare the hapless Soviets and take over the world in the Cold War.

If you guessed Auschwitz, you'd be wrong
Reminding us that history is more art than science, you can agree with that narrative if you're willing to ignore a sizable amount of the facts.  But in August, 1945, the world was limping along after years of a war that had seen historically unprecedented death and carnage.  Including civilian deaths, including battlefield deaths, including the genocide and yes, the death toll of Imperial Japan, the world had seen, on average, about 500,000 killed every month for years. That's a half million dead every few weeks. That's two Indonesian Tsunamis every four or five weeks. And that is as of recent causality figures.  Who knows what it could be as we find more cases of deaths not yet documented? With what we know now, there is little to suggest the slaughter was going to stop soon.  And with what people knew then and had seen in the conflict with Japan, there was almost no reason to think that the death toll would not continue.

And care should be taken when simply quoting leaders who denounced the bombing years later.  Eisenhower and MacArthur are frequent references, as is Nimitz; the three having publicly repudiated the success of the decision.  But remember, they were humans, of their time, knowing only what they knew, and at least Nimitz and MacArthur were on record before the bombings as saying we needed to do anything to avoid an invasion.  Not that their testimonies are invalid.  But they are not Gospel.  They are part of the evidence, and should be examined accordingly.

So while I can sit comfortably in my home, knowing the outcome and declare, like a good post-modern, that those who made the decision were wrong and screw-ups, I have to admit, I do so without a plausible alternative solution, at least a realistic one based on what we know and what they knew then.

If anything, the fault is at the feet of the world which, by that time, had turned people into cogs of national machines, driven by political ideologies, and demanding conformity and acceptance on the part of increasingly supportive populations. At the end of the day, it isn't America that alone stands guilty; it is the world for following one disastrously destructive philosophy after another that pushed it to the brink of Hiroshima.  Fulton Sheen once said that Hiroshima marked the point where America began to have the idea that freedom and liberty have no limits.  No.  Hiroshima was the capstone of the previous century's failed and miserable intellectual revolutions that increasingly perverted and twisted old notions of what liberty and freedom, and human nature, were all about.  All countries involved are guilty as charged; America, if for no other reason than not rising up above the others, and once again lowering itself to the level of everyone else.

I don't know.  Perhaps the best sentiment is that of the late, great Richard Winters of the 101st Airborne Division.  When he heard about the bombs, he didn't approve of the idea at all.  And yet he admitted he was glad they accomplished their end and prevented him and those he knew from being shipped over to the Pacific to fight and possibly die.  Like it or not, the bombs ended a conflict that had cost the world tens of millions of lives in only a little over a decade. It was a higher rate of death and carnage than the world had ever seen or, thankfully, has seen since.  If I insist on not approving of the decision to use the bombs, I must admit I approve of the results.


  1. Big Mac was miffed because he lost his chance to command the invasion of Japan. He was told about the bomb right before Hiroshima. After Hiroshima he was arguing that an invasion was still necessary. During the Korean War he wanted to nuke Chinese cities.

    As for Ike, there is good reason to believe that his comments about the bomb were never made at the time:

    During his Presidency he slashed conventional forces to the bone and planned to use nukes from the outset in any conflict.

  2. The Ppdf linked below is a good overview of the bad history that surrounds the bomb debate:


Let me know your thoughts