Skip to comments.The Moral Lesson of Hiroshima
Posted on 07/28/2006 8:20:58 AM PDT by mjp
On August 6, 1945 the American Air Force incinerated Hiroshima, Japan with an atomic bomb. On August 9 Nagasaki was obliterated. The fireballs killed some 175,000 people. They followed months of horror, when American airplanes firebombed civilians and reduced cities to rubble. Facing extermination, the Japanese surrendered unconditionally. The invasion of Japan was cancelled, and countless American lives were saved. The Japanese accepted military occupation, embraced a constitutional government, and renounced war permanently. The effects were so beneficent, so wide-ranging and so long-term, that the bombings must be ranked among the most moral acts ever committed.
The bombings have been called many things-but moral? The purpose of morality, wrote Ayn Rand, is not to suffer and die, but to prosper and live.
How can death on such a scale be considered moral?
The answer begins with Japanese culture. World War II in the Pacific was launched by a nation that esteemed everything hostile to human life.
Japan's religious-political philosophy held the emperor as a god, subordinated the individual to the state, elevated ritual over rational thought, and adopted suicide as a path to honor. This was truly a Morality of Death. It had gripped Japanese society for three generations. Japan's war with Russia had ended in 1905 with a negotiated treaty, which left Japan's militaristic culture intact. The motivations for war were emboldened, and the next generation broke the treaty by attacking Manchuria in 1931 (which was not caused by the oil embargo of 1941).
It was after Japan attacked America that America waged war against Japan-a proper moral response to the violence Japan had initiated. Despite three and a half years of slaughter, surrender was not at hand in mid-1945. Over six million Japanese were still in Asia. Some 12,000 Americans had died on Okinawa alone. Many Japanese leaders hoped to kill enough Americans during an invasion to convince them that the cost was too high. A relentless "Die for the Emperor" propaganda campaign had motivated many Japanese civilians to fight to the death. Volunteers lined up for kamikaze "Divine Wind" suicide missions. Hope of victory kept the Japanese cause alive, until hopeless prostration before American air attacks made the abject renunciation of all war the only alternative to suicide. The Japanese had to choose between the morality of death, and the morality of life.
The bombings marked America's total victory over a militaristic culture that had murdered millions. To return an entire nation to morality, the Japanese had to be shown the literal meaning of the war they had waged against others. The abstraction "war," the propaganda of their leaders, their twisted samurai "honor," their desire to die for the emperor-all of it had to be given concrete form, and thrown in their faces. This is what firebombing Japanese cities accomplished. It showed the Japanese that "this"-point to burning buildings, screaming children scarred unmercifully, piles of corpses, the promise of starvation-"this is what you have done to others. Now it has come for you. Give it up, or die." This was the only way to show them the true nature of their philosophy, and to beat the truth of the defeat into them.
Yes, Japan was beaten in July of 1945-but had not surrendered. A defeat is a fact; an aggressor's ability to fight effectively is destroyed.
Surrender is a decision, by the political leadership and the dominant voices in the culture, to recognize the fact of defeat. Surrender is an admission of impotence, the collapse of all hope for victory, and the permanent renunciation of aggression. Such recognition of reality is the first step towards a return to morality. Under the shock of defeat, a stunned silence results. Military officers no longer plan for victory; women no longer bear children for the Reich; young boys no longer play samurai and dream of dying for the emperor-children no longer memorize sword verses from the Koran and pledge themselves to jihad.
To achieve this, the victor must be intransigent. He does not accept terms; he demands prostrate surrender, or death, for everyone if necessary.
Had the United States negotiated in 1945, Japanese troops would have returned to a homeland free of foreign control, met by civilians who had not confronted defeat, under the same leaders who had taken them to war. A negotiated peace would have failed to discredit the ideology of war, and would have left the motivations for the next war intact. We might have fought the Japanese Empire again, twenty years later. Fortunately, the Americans were in no mind to compromise.
President Truman demonstrated his willingness to bomb the Japanese out of existence if they did not surrender. The Potsdam Declaration of July 26, 1945 is stark: "The result of the futile and senseless German resistance to the might of the aroused free peoples of the world stands forth in awful clarity as an example to the people of Japan . . . Following are our terms.
We will not deviate from them. There are no alternatives. We shall brook no delay . . . We call upon the government of Japan to proclaim now the unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forces . . . The alternative for Japan is prompt and utter destruction."
The approach worked brilliantly. After the bombs, the Japanese chose wisely.
The method was brutally violent, as it had to be-because the war unleashed by Japan was brutally violent, and only a brutal action could demonstrate its nature. To have shielded Japanese citizens from the meaning of their own actions-the Rape of Nanking and the Bataan Death March-would have been a massive act of dishonesty. It would have left the Japanese unable to reject military aggression the next time it was offered as an elixir of glory.
After the war, many returning Japanese troops were welcomed by their countrymen not as heroes, but with derision. The imperial cause was recognized as bankrupt, and the actions of its soldiers worthy of contempt.
Forced to confront the reality of what they had done, a sense of morality had returned to Japan.
There can be no higher moral action by a nation than to destroy an aggressive dictatorship, to permanently discredit the enemy's ideology, to stand guard while a replacement is crafted, and then to greet new friends on proper terms. Let those who today march for peace in Germany and Japan admit that their grandparents once marched as passionately for war, and that only total defeat could force them to re-think their place in the world and offer their children something better. Let them thank heaven-the United States-for the bomb.
Some did just that. Hisatsune Sakomizu, chief cabinet secretary of Japan, said after the war: "The atomic bomb was a golden opportunity given by Heaven for Japan to end the war." He wanted to look like a peaceful man-which became a sensible position only after the Americans had won.
Okura Kimmochi, president of the Technological Research Mobilization Office, wrote before the surrender: "I think it is better for our country to suffer a total defeat than to win total victory . . . in the case of Japan's total defeat, the armed forces would be abolished, but the Japanese people will rise to the occasion during the next several decades to reform themselves into a truly splendid people . . . the great humiliation [the bomb] is nothing but an admonition administered by Heaven to our country." But let him thank the American people-not heaven-for it was they who made the choice between the morality of life and the morality of death inescapable.
Americans should be immensely proud of the bomb. It ended a war that had enslaved a continent to a religious-military ideology of slavery and death.
There is no room on earth for this system, its ideas and its advocates.
It took a country that values this world to bomb this system into extinction.
For the Americans to do so while refusing to sacrifice their own troops to save the lives of enemy civilians was a sublimely moral action. This destroyed the foundations of the war, and allowed the Japanese to rebuild their culture along with their cities, as prosperous inhabitants of the earth. Were it true that total victory today creates new attackers tomorrow, we would now be fighting Japanese suicide bombers, while North Korea-where the American army did not impose its will-would be peaceful and prosperous. The facts are otherwise. The need for total victory over the morality of death has never been clearer.
If someone decided to drop a big one on Mecca, I wouldn't mind.
Its also interesting to note that a huge storm hit at about approx the same time we planned our alternative "Normandy" landing for Japan. The losses on our side would have been catastrophic.
> Hope of victory kept the Japanese cause alive ...
They may also have had the bomb. They tested something
in what is now North Korea a few days after Nagasaki.
If the PRK ever collapses, we may find out if background
rad levels on that island are above normal.
The moral lesson of Hiroshima:
BIG BOMBS END WARS!
Using the WWII analogy to today, its as if its now the eve prior to Hitler having his own atomic weapon to use as he sees fit.
A better-than-average analysis of the situation, but I do have to take issue with the author on one or two small points;
1. The Japanese surrender was hardly unconditional.
2. While it is true that you must inflict horrible suffering upon your enemy to degrade his capacity for resistance, one of the most horrible results of the Second World War (and the years immediately preceeding it) was in bringing the horrors of war to sectors where it had previously hardly ever gone before; i.e. the deliberate and indiscriminate bombing of civilians (as practiced by both sides) as a military necessity.
While the bombs certainly speeded up the decision process, it can be argued they were hardly decisive in a military sense; Japan was finished in 1945, except for the occupation of the Home Islands, and had been seeking to negotiate a surrender through various methods and channels for months prior to the dropping of the bombs.
I take issue with the concept that incinerating hundreds of thousands with one bomb was more "humane" or "moral" than incinerating hundreds of thousands with an entire fleet of bombers. But maybe that's just me.
Definitely NOT what happened when SADDAM surrendered in 1991!!
I continued to be astonished by our government's REFUSAL to explain to our nation that the resumption of WAR against IRAQ, in 2003, was a result of Saddam NOT LIVING UP TO HIS UNCONDITIONAL surrender in 1991.
As well as on their side. The bomb probably saved even more Japanese lives than American lives.
excellent presentation supporting a srong face vis a vis the islamic sickies.
I know that when the bomb was dropped, my grandfather was on an island in the Pacific, staging for the invasion of Japan. All the men knew that their chance of survival was very slim. They were told to expect over a million casualties.
I know that the bomb being dropped instantly changed Japan's priorities, and likely saved my grandfather's life. Many, many lives were spared by our using the bomb. (particularly, American lives) Was it pretty? No, but it beats the alternative.
"I take issue with the concept that incinerating hundreds of thousands with one bomb was more "humane" or "moral" than incinerating hundreds of thousands with an entire fleet of bombers. But maybe that's just me."
One must wonder what Sherman would have thought more humane..
My grandfather had squared off against the Japanese on both Guadalcanal and Peleliu (where he lost his foot and a portion of his leg), so I can understand your take on that particular situation.
My contention, and I'll admit it's wholly academic, is that another way could have been found. The only restraints in the path of those potential-other-ways was the imagination and ingenuity of American commanders, the political situations (foreign and domestic) at the time, and the desire to see the "boys come home" as quickly as possible.
In a scientific sense, Hiroshima was unneccessary, in my opinion, and the decision was driven not by military factors (i.e. efficiency and avoidance of casualities,although the bombs certainly helped in these ways) but by political ones. And that even when the decision was made, the aftermath with regards to Japan, was certainly far different that what had been previosuly stated as Allied war aims.
In the case of war, one could argue that diplomacy is immoral.
"One must wonder what Sherman would have thought more humane.."
Or Scipio Africanus.Or even Ghenghis Khan, for that matter.
I do not discount that such inhumanity is innate to warfare. To deny that is ridiculous in the face of the evidence. However, the scale of the suffering delivered dwarfs anything Sherman, Scipio or Ghengis was ever capable of because of the reach and destructiveness of modern weaponry.
In the case of Sherman, while the infrastructure of the South was systematicaaly destroyed, you won't find Sherman's troops going out of their way to deliberately target civilians, unlike, say, Bomber Harris or Curtis LeMay.
To truly win a war you must inflict much more damage than the enemy is willing to endure. Smart bombs are great at eliminating precise targets, but terrible at causing the awful devastation that ends wars. Seeing your cities destroyed one by one, and knowing that the enemy will not stop until you surrender completely, is what ends wars. Contrast that to the current US strategy; only destroy military targets, bend over backwards to minimize civilian casualties, persecute your own troops for politically incorrect killing of the enemy, treat enemy prisoners better than your own troops, tolerate subversive behavior from politicians and the press, demonstrate a lack of will, and be unwiling to take casualties. The bottom line is that you cannot win a war using politically correct tactics.
I agree that the outcome was different, but The Japanese were willing to sacrifice everything to defeat us. Women, children, it made no difference. They felt they had nothing to lose.
Our bombs just made them lose less than they would have in a land war. But, they still lost. The war ended. As a military tactic, dropping the bomb could not have been more of a success. Who knows how long the war in Japan would have lasted? And boys did get to come home to their families.
And an ever greater number of Japanese lives were also saved.
The Battle of Okinawa resulted in an estimated 50,000150,000 Japanese and Okinawan civilian deaths and 100,000125,000 Japanese military deaths and Okinawa was a small Japanese home island. Extrapolate those numbers to every other Japanese home island, both large and small, and the numbers stagger the mind.
The surrender of Germany was unconditional. The surrender of the Japanese wasn't. The Japanese demanded conditions and got them. One was retention of the Emperor, another was that the Emperor would not be held for warcrimes.
Pete, I really don't disagree with you, in a certain sense. My issue is with the tactics and the methods used, and the politics and mentality behind them.
As a practical demonstration of power, the bomb was unsurpassed. As a means by which to actually end the war, it's a different story. Although a practical demonstration of power is ALWAYS necessary in war, just because we can do something, it doesn't automatically follow that we should.
In World War II, both Germany and Japan were totally defeated. The Germans were overrun, but it was only after their cities had been bombed to rubble and they were starving and suffering. The Japanese were beginning to feel the pain of the bombing raids, but most of their cities were intact and the population still had food and necessities. They would've fought indefinitely had they not witnessed the possibility of total nuclear annihilation. In the end, neither the German populous, nor the Japanese populous wanted to incur any further wrath.
The last several wars we have engaged in have not enjoyed the willingness of the American public to make the general populous of the enemy countries suffer. We end up only doing the minimum necessary to end the major fighting in our favor. Anything more is met by condemnation by the bystander countries, the UN, bodies calling themselves "World Courts", "World Tribunals", etc. and oh yes, the liberals. The result is that we win wars "half way".
Nuclear weapons are no longer a deterrent, because people like Kim, Saddam, Osama and that clown in Iran are convinced that we don't have the will to use them. They threaten us and even attack and kill thousands, because they don't fear retribution. Suicide bombers are willing to sacrifice themselves, but I wonder what their attitude would be if they knew that a suicide attack would mean that their entire family would be rounded up and executed as accomplices. I think the number of suicide volunteers would shrink immediately. But here again, that is deemed too brutal and we won't make them suffer. Heck we wouldn't even embalm al Zaquiri's body in pig fat as a warning - a la Black Jack Pershing!