Skip to comments.The Moral Lesson of Hiroshima
Posted on 07/28/2006 8:20:58 AM PDT by mjp
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Thanks for your analysis.
You're engaging in hindsight and mind reading here. First, you're assuming that it's possible to take what was being said at face value. I think not, considering that you're talking about the country that created the Samurai...which was engaged in diplomacy up until Pearl Harbor. You're also operating with the benefit of hindsight and perfect knowledge, which did not exist in 1945. One of the most important factors for any type of decision is an awareness of the limits of your knowledge. In time of war, that's a major consideration; in hindsight it doesn't apply.
That's one of the limitations of hindsight not generally acknowledged by its practitioners.
You've missed the point; I have already stated, several times, that this is a "What If...?" Scenario. The point was that if there had been people with a little more intelligence and who were willing to entertain options instead of automaticaly rejecting those presented for political purposes, a different outcome was possible.
As for the "Samurai" junk, while the samurai tradition did (and still does) permeate Japanese society, the Japanese military was not adverse to retreat or surrender when it suited their needs. There were several incidents of the Japanese withdrawing troops from the battlefield (Burma, Guadalcanal, Coral Sea, mutliple times in China, Nomonhon and other Siberian clashes with the Russians, The Aleutian Islands, etc)when no further advantage could be gained from their sacrifice.
Had the Samurai tradition been as strong and as unbreakable as you assert, the Battles of the Coral Sea, Midway, Savo Island, Imphal, Leyte Gulf, Kommandorski Islands, and a host of others would have been different: the Japanese would have pressed advantages when they had them free of fear of failure or death (since, according to you, they would rather die anyway, either to atone for defeat or if it furthered victory), and the war would have been considerably shorter, since the entirety of the Japanese race would have gladly committed suicide rather than surrender.
I put it to you that since there are still 100 million or so Japanese around, that the Samurai-fight-to-the-death ethic was not as strong as you seem to think it was. It was certainly the driving force behind the ARMY (which later controlled the government) but was not the driving force in other areas of Japanese society (certainly not in the Japanese Navy or government ministries).
Also, towards the end of the war, Japanese troops began to surrender in increasing mumbers. Never as many as the Western nations would have liked, but the numbers steadly climbed as the war went on. Just because western armies surrender en-masse, doesn't mean oriental ones do, and then consider our (western) history of mass surrender as the "right and proper" kind, is ridiculous. In the instances of fanatical, last-ditch defenses to the last man, you have to take into consideration just where those battles took place; isolated island outposts where there was no chance of retreat to safety or reinforcement (Iwo Jima, Guam, Okinawa and such).
We should stop with this nonsense that the "Samurai tradition" created implaccable Japanese resistance to the death. While many aspects of Japanese society stress the collective over the individual, they also don't require suicidal stupidity. Do not mistake the Kamikaze and Bonzai charge as signs of a race bent on death; these were merely tactics, for which Japanese philosophy made exceptions.
You are making the mistake of attempting to view Japanese culture and philosophy through Western lenses. The same mistake the Allies made, incidentally.
Many folks have postulated that a direct attack on the Emperor would have left Japan in a frenzy and they really would have fought to the last man. The folks who say Mecca should be the first target following the next terrorist attack if there is another big attack might consider the results of that action (something by the way I don't consider a bad idea). Would a smoking Mecca break their resolve or fortify it? I don't know the answer, interesting question though.
So a continuing blockade leading to starvation for millions, plus the likely casualties on both sides from an invasion, is morally preferable to the use of the 2 atomic bombs?
The Japanese peace feelers were not taken seriously for good reason, not solely because of the declared Allied policy of unconditional surrender but for the underlying historical lessons that policy reflected: that anything less than a complete and catastrophic defeat for each of the Axis powers would just lead to a re-building phase and a renewal of war at a later date.
p.s. If we extrapolate from the death tolls on Okinawa (21,000 US and 120,000 Japanese dead), any invasion of the home islands would have been looking at 10x those casualties. The atomic bombings saved vast numbers of Japanese lives, although I'm sure that was not foremost in the minds of US policymakers at the time.
Perhaps I could put this better, but I don't know exactly how much clearer I could have been.
I don't mean to imply that firebombing or starvation is "more humane" than instant incineration. My beef, in this regard, is with those who believe that vaporization IS humane. Deadis dead, and it shouldn;t matter how quickly death came or by what method.
The point I've been trying to make all along is, that if the goal is "ending the war as quickly as possible" that possibilities to do just that existed prior to the decision to drop the bombs and weren't taken, and conversely, that options other than the bombs were available that did not necessitate a direct invasion of Japan and infliction of mass casualties on both sides.
The Tojo government fell one month before Roosevelt's death and directly afterwards, peace feelers working through various third parties were sent out by the Japanese; their arguments were discounted and ignored. That's the first possibility of ending the war without Atomic bombs: taking them up on their offer. Since Japan surrendered in anything BUT an unconditional fashion in the final analysis, I don't see why peace on the modest terms the Japanese presented in March, 1945 was any better than the peace achieved in August 1945.
In the meantime, many more Japanese, who died in conventional bombing raids would have been spared, as would the American servicemen who died at Okinawa and other actions directly afterwards (April 1,1945 onwards).
The background against which I base this idea is as follows:
- The Japanese were at the end of their rope, and the American's knew it (thanks to Magic). Japanese war production was nil, the population was starving, internal unrest was brewing, there was no fuel and the remaining weapons at Japan's disposal were completey inadequate to the task of defending the Home Islands.
- The Japanese desire to surrender was well known to Allied war leaders (also through Magic). Various diplomatic missions around the world were enlisted in the Japanese attempt to surrender prior to August, 1945. The Soviets, the Swedes and the Swiss all knew of Japanese surrender attempts and tried to mediate an end to the war (except the Soviets, of course).
- The Western Allies were out of infantry, and whatever could be scraped up would be hardly/barely sufficient to the tasks of invading Japan. Roosevelt, truman and Churchill knew this very well. The bomb, obviously, reduced the need for the "5 million men" MacArthur wanted, but wasn't going to get in any case. Why you would continue to throw soldiers, which you no longer have, at an enemy who wishes to surrender, is beyond me. Particularly when the American public, after the defeat of Hitler, pretty much felt the war to be over anyway. Demobilization of the American Armed forces after the Second World War was done with indecent haste. The public wanted the troops home NOW. The public would have accepted a Japanese surrender in Macrh 1945, regardless of terms, or whether or not MacArthur marched through the streets of Tokyo.
- The US Navy was taking a pounding at the hands of the Kamikaze, and Roosevelt/Truman were well aware that it would only be a matter of time before the strain, the losses and the logistical nightmare of keeping it in action would begin to tell. Lives would have been saved.
- The Soviets were about to invade Manchuria, Korea and Northern China (at America's behest). Since the West could effectively (and the Japanese definitely) do nothing to stop this, quickly negotiated peace made infinite sense if a secondary goal is to keep Stalin out of East Asia (the casis belli would be removed, i.e. the war would be over). Think of how many lives that would have saved.
All I'm saying is that there were options, they were known at the highest levels, and none of them was taken or explored. That is not "ending the war as quickly as possible" and "saving lives"; that is stupidity. And no, it is not "hindsight"; Truman perhaps had the best intelligence tool ever available to an American President in Magic, and it told him everything he needed to know about the true state of Japan and it's intention to surrender. What followed, the Atomic bombings, was murder, when you stop to consider how many times the Japanese tried to surrender and how hard-headed the Allies were about accepting the one Japanese condition; keeping the Emperor on the throne, which they wound up doing in any case, but only after unleashing hell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
I'd hardly call any of that "arguing for the sake of arguing".