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!
Another condition that is always overlooked: while the Japanese MILITARY surrendered to the Allies, the Japanese GOVERNMENT did not. That is an important distinction to make.
No truer words were ever spoken!!
Questions to contemplate: How did we get to this concept of fight antiseptic, politically correct wars and WHY do our leaders continue to be blind to the futility of fighting wars in that manner?
Superb - thank you.
AND...kill the attacker when attacked. Do it by the most self-preserving way.
world, that is a politically-correct fallacy in many, many ways.
There are important distinctions to make, especially within the context of the Second World War, in this regard. The Germans and Japanese, infected with a brand of fascism which was heavily impregnated by racial bigotry and antiquated notions of national greatness. But the Allied side also had it's share of questionable cultural traits, prime amongst them the idea that Empires created by force should last forever see DeGaulle, Halifax, Stalin, et. al.).
Never heard that before! Didn't even know that they had a bomb program.
Whoops, let me finish the thought (posted too soon)!
The point I'm trying to make is that the (mental and intellectual) validity of one's culture is directly proportionate to the extent to which one's mind and heart are dedicated to his cause.
So, while a Japanese of the Second World War would see nothing wrong with executing prisoners under the cultural influence Bushido code, a Westerner would have no problem justifing the same action in the light of the Malmedy massacre. Your justification always depends on your point of view to the exclusion of all others.
I'd say neither response (in the example above) is moral, or culturally superior. They are just differents sides of human nature, which can usually be depended upon to be wholly disgusting.
The simple fact is they were mean little bast*rds with a high sense of invulnerability and it required extreme measures to bring them back to earth. Like everyone else, I don't approve of making war on women and children but .....
1. In the entire war, not one single Japanese officer had surrendered the troops under his command. Surrender was not and never would have been an option. Furthermore, the home island was no more outmanned that Iwo Jima. How many Japanese surrendered there?
2. We had broken their code, and were listening to them. No Japanese official was discussing surrender, despite whatever fairy tale you have bought into. And, finally, Sherman deliberately avoided military targets and attacked civilians. Give me an example of one MILITARY target that he attacked.
"President Truman demonstrated his willingness to 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."
Harry, we could sure use ya' now. This speech should be made to the Islamic regimes, before thousands of lives are wasted in the meatgrinder.
Just about all the major combatants of the Second World war (with the exception of the Italians) had atomic bomb programs, in some form. The "secret" of the bomb was not the science (the foundations of which had been laid out decades before) but in the creation of a stable bomb, and the methods of mass production, of same.
The Germans are usually thought ot have "missed" getting thebomb because of a mistake in process or proceedure, or because their scientists were starved of resources, etc. The real problem is that German scientists were aioming higher than the relatively puny A-bombs, and shooting straight for an "H-bomb" with few or no intermediate steps.
The Japanese handicaps were simply that the Japanese economy could not support the effort required for the basic research and infrastructure and that the Japanese mentality believed that victory in war came from spiritual, not material, means. That does not mean the Japanese did not make efforts to produce or acquire better weapons, but that once they had reached a certain level of technical proficiency, the will and means to carry it to it's next logical step often fell by the wayside. The Japanese were innovative, but certainly not INVENTIVE enough. That sort of mentality was almost-foreign to Japanese culture which prized conformity to originality(those who often were inventive were treated as one would treat nails that are sticking up: you hammer them down).
My contention, and I'll admit it's wholly academic, is that another way could have been found.
Your comments are chillingly arrogant. US invasion casualties were forecast to be over one million men.
Easy arguments to counter;
1. While no Japanese officer of note ever surrendered his troops, starving, ill-equipped Japanese troops with inadequate weapons may have stayed in their foxholes to die valiant deaths,their defeat was a foregone conclusion. If you measure war simplitically in terms of how many of the enemy you kill, you would be inclined (as you are) to build the Japanese of 1945 up into a major power.
I remind you that at the time of surrender, 2/3 of the Japanese army was still in the field,totally unengaged by any Allied force of consequence and cut off from the Home Islands, unable ot come to their defense, and incapable of offensive action. You cannot fight wars defensively, so the Japanese were done. Through and through.
Starvation was an even more critical factor. It was known (form the same code intercepts that you cite) that Japanese food shortages were crippling the country. SO were shortages of critical materials (iron ore, brass, oil, bauxite, aluminum, etc, etc). The capacity to continue to feed the population, supply the military, and continue war production were approachiing nil. Once the ready-to-hand stockpiles of materials were used up, Japan would be defenseless. The question in this reagrd was how long the US Navy (which had Japan completey bloackaded) could continue out against the Kamikazes, while waiting for the Japanese to finally run out of the means to continue fighting.
2. No fewer than THREE Japanese surrender offers were tendered from May to July, 1945. One through Moscow (which never passed it on), one through Switzerland and another through Sweden (and the Magic intercepts show all of these, in minute detail, as well). The reason why they were not entertained (or entertained seriously in the case of the negotiations in Bern with Allen Dulles) was because the terms under which these surrenders would be effected would make a shambles of the united Allied front and the concept of "Unconditional Surrender".
If anyone was really interested in ending the war free of political constraints (that is, just for the sake of ending the conflict), a Japanese surrender was possible months before Hiroshima.
Going back to Sherman, if you don't consider rail lines and hubs, ports, bridges, shipyards, armories, farms and factories to be legitimate military targets, then I'd be interested in just you think are legitimate military targets. The point is that while Sherman inflicted devestation, there was no policy of deliberately killing civilians in order to "degrade the enemy's war effort" or "break his morale".
Don't bring up the WTC, SFC. I walked out of 1 WTC on September 11. You may think you're making a valid point, but not to one who was actually there and survived.
While nuking Mecca or Tehran may be satisfying, it does nothing to mitigate the cause of Islamofascism, which is a mindset incapable of dealing with the modern world. So,what is your ultimate goal here; destroying people because they happen to Muslim or destroying a culture which produced a poisonous ideology? I'd opt for #2, and while that does involve military action, it does not require that we slaughter a billion people.
My contention, and I'll admit it's wholly academic
Some have said we only should have dropped one. However, even after both were dropped a significant faction of the Japanese military wanted to continue the war. When the Emperor agreed to surrender, a coup against him ensued. It's hard to convincingly argue that one would have worked when two barely did.
Besides the Allied military casualties, the Japanese military and civlian casualties and invasion would have caused, roughly 50-60,000 innocents were being killed each month in territories occupied by the Japanese.
Some have suggested we blockade Japan and starve them into submission. It's hard to imagine how this could have resulted in less suffering and death. It would have taken years if the war-weary world had enough guts to see it through. They most likely would not have and the result would have been incomplete victory and incomplete tranformation of Japan.
IIRC, When MacArthur was installed as ruler over Japan he said the decision to keep or boot the Emperor would be up to the Japanese people.
The anticipated carnage from an invasion was massive. The Purple Hearts printed for were enough to last through the Korean & Vietnam wars and right through Desert Storm.
Regarding the Japanese government surrendering vs. the military, I thought the Japanese Foreign Minister was on the deck of the Missouri and signed the instrument of surrender. Picture
"and had been seeking to negotiate a surrender through various methods and channels for months prior to the dropping of the bombs"
I agree with you. I've also speculated that the U.S. had no intention of invading Japan anyway -- since it wasn't necessary to do so to win the war.
one of the best reads i have read. thanks.
"Your comments are chillingly arrogant. US invasion casualties were forecast to be over one million men."
Your comments are chillingly ignorant.
Right there in your response is the cxrux of the issue:
"...casualities were estimated to be over one million men..."
Estimated. There's that word again.
And that "estimate" does not take into consideration a variety of factors: how long before Japan finally starved, how long before critical shortages of materials brought the entire Japanese nation to a screeching halt, how long could the Russians be expected to remain a somewhat-freindly memeber of the Alliance?
The sad truth of the matter is that while "one million casualties" is a significant and chilling number, we'll never know if it was accurate, nor will we ever know if it could have been mitigated. The fact is that the United States and it's allies were sout of soldiers come 1945, and in that regard, 1 million casualties is a price no one wanted to pay (nor should they have). I take question with the "morality" that says 150,000 incinerated Japanese was more "humane" then allowing them to die of starvation or disease, or by a bullet to the brainpan, if the end result is the same: dead Japanese and an enemy who has surrendered.
If I used your logic, then Pearl Harbor was a "humane" attack because, while 2,400 American's died at anchor, thousands more would have died in the open ocean if the fleet had put to sea to meet the initially superior Japanese fleet.
How many times does this silly lie have to be refuted? The rate of death, deaths per 100 soldiers, was the SAME for prison guards at Andersonville as it was for prisoners. The conditions were horrible for both, but there was no attempt to mis-treat prisoners.
If your intent is to eliminate an enemy who represents a threat, then destroying it completely is a great idea. But if this "enemy" is a faction within a larger society or nation, or possesses valuable resources that could be exploited by the "winner" in the war, then destroying the enemy makes no sense at all.
Remember, they started the War to begin with.
And Japan would probably still have an emporer.