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.
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.
They had a plan. Called Cornet.
The build up had started, but wasn't complete, when the bomb was dropped.
Well, as to sources, there's a ton of them.
- Dirty Little Secrets of World War II and Victory At Sea (James Dunnigan and Alfred A. Nolfi)
- The Two Ocean War (History of the United States Navy 1941-45) Samuel Elliot Morrison
- The Penguin History of the Second World War (Calvocoressi, Wint and Pritchard). Calvocoressi, incidentally, was a codebreaker at Bletchly Park. This is the DEFINITIVE Book on the politics of the Second World War, in my opinion.
Those will do just to begin with. If you want more, I'll be more than happy to provide them for you.
I will bring up WTC as it is historic fact. They thought of WTC as the capitalist Mecca. My company lost 87 people there.
Nuking Mecca etc is not satisfying, but it could be necessary. Just as we didn't nuke Moscow, but we definitely had it in our sights.
How do you destroy a culture produced by a poisonous ideology without addressing the simple fact that it is the Muslim mentality that breeds the death cult.
Again academics can put their books down, because it will be at the point of a sword, gun, atomic weapon, that Muzzies will finally be subjugated. It will take sujugation to get them to discard their death cult ideology.
Oh yeah, I spent 13 months in Iraq NOT killing and destroying everything I saw because they were Muslim.
The liberal media keeps pushing the idea that innocent civilians must be spared during war, such as in the latest Israeli war. The big problem with that new and untested moral code is then the civilians don't have much stake in the matter. What do they care? Pulling your punches against innocent civilians, for religious or other reasons, will lead to a never ending mini-war, which is precisely why the Israeli-Arab conflict, going on now for thousands of years, will never end.
And I would have been happy to stay home in 1991. I'm sure Dad would also have been happy to have stayed home in 1967-68. The fact of the matter is that warfare is endemic and no matter what we'd prefer, we often have to make that sacrifice.
However, we can't call ourselves a morally-superior system when we engage in the deliberate infliction of suffering on the innocent when we do it (and call it virtue or mercy), and then call it somethign else when an enemy does it.
I have no doubt that had Germany or Japan possessed such weapons they would not have hesitated to use them, but it does not automatically follow that they would have affected the eventual outcome, particularly with regards to Japan. And the fact that I can't prove otherwise (and neither can you -- history doesn't work on "What if?") doesn't make the concept invalid.
Talks of the planned invasion. I will dig up more after lunch.
But Truman forgot the lesson described in this article when the Korean War came along. Truman fired MacArthur for demanding the same sort of total victory over North Korea that we achieved over Japan in WW2 and then settled for a tie. And the result is: North Korea exports rockets, missiles and technology to enemies that we are fighting today and threatens Japan, South Korea and the U.S. mainland with nuclear weapons.
Thank you very much (NOT) President Truman.
"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."
History shows that we WOULD have had to fight them again, for the reasons stated above. And chances are excellent that others around the world would have determined that the U.S. was composed of a bunch of whimpering cowards. So, other countries would have attacked us, too. JUST BECAUSE THEY COULD...
Some sobering wisdom in the piece.