I wrote this in response to a paleconservatives article reflecting on the death of General Paul Tibbets.
A Counter Reflection on General Tibbets Death and the A Bomb
I read Chris Checks reflections on the death of BG Paul Tibbets with great interest. Most historians believe that Tibbets role in the atom bombing of Hiroshima was the precipitate cause of the conclusion of the greatest man made disaster in all of human history since the fall, the Second World War. Mr. Check expresses reservations as to the necessity of this action, indeed whether or not the theory, practice and technology of modern warfare allows any war to be prosecuted in accordance with just war theory. Mr. Check does not seem to fall into the camp of those historical revisionists who make suspect claims of an imminent Japanese surrender which negated the rationale for using the A-Bomb. Instead he offers a pointed criticism of the fact that the Bomb was even employed and a concomitant reappraisal of Gen. Tibbets role on that historic mission.
The vital works of the great philosophers Cicero, Aristotle, Augustine of Hippo, St. Thomas Aqinas, or Hugo Grotious attempted to codify the requirements for just war. These men spoke to the notion that any war, or acts performed pursuant to it, must conform to certain principles which would allow the waging of war within a synthesis of classical Greco-Roman, as well as Christian, values. Just war theory can be meaningfully divided into three parts, which in the literature are referred to, for the sake of convenience, in Latin. These parts are: 1) jus ad bellum, which concerns the justice of resorting to war in the first place; 2) jus in bello, which concerns the justice of conduct within war, after it has begun; and 3) jus post bellum, which concerns the justice of peace agreements and the termination phase of war. I wish to examine Mr. Checks premise concerning Gen Tibbets and the Hiroshima A Bomb. in light of all three of these just war considerations.
1. Jus ad bellum: The US was negotiating in good faith with Japanese diplomatic envoys for a peaceful resolution to the crisis occasioned by the Japanese occupation of French Indohina and FDRs subsequent oil embargo right up to the moment Japanese naval aircraft bombed Pearl Harbor. This despite US expectations of an imminent attack by Japan on the US sphere of influence, most notably the Phillipines. The deaths and wounding of almost 3600 Americans, and the destruction of 6 battleships, 3 destroyers, 3 cruisers, hundreds of aircraft and port facilities amply satisfied the justification for a recognition of the state of war existing between the US and Japan. President Roosevelts ringing speech to Congress requesting a declaration of war promised that the US would win through to inevitable triumph, so help us God. Germanys declaration of war on the US followed three days later. There is little doubt that the Jus ad bellum consideration was met.
2. Jus in bello: This aspect of the just war principle is the most problematic for those such as myself who defend the use of the A Bomb. It is an inherently monstrous act to use a weapon of the indiscriminate nature of the Hiroshima A Bomb on a target peopled largely by civillians, thereby violating the subsidiary rules of discrimination, porportionality, and minimum force. But we are not about to revert to conducting war with serried ranks of Phalanxes drawn up against each other with no civillians in sight. No side will yield the percieved advantage of technology. End justifies the means arguments are also singularly unpersuasive to me. Notwithstanding that we can acknowledge, for instance that a discussion of the abortion evil should allow for the admitttedly rare physical life of the mother exception. Commensurately an argument can be made for the unique qualities of the Second World War as an exception to the discrimination and minimum force rule if not the porportionality argument. Any study of this issue must include context. That context was total war against an unrelenting foe whose national character and policies contributed to a racially tinged (on both sides) struggle of the utmost savagery. The slaughter and barbarity of the Pacific war was enhanced by the Japanese refusal to contemplate the shameful reality of surrender no matter how hopeless the situation, and their near total disregard for the accepted conventions of legal conduct in war. I think that I can show that a greater evil would have been done by allowing the continuation of that war rather than to shock the Japanese people into an abrupt surrender by the use of nuclear weapons.
The invasion of Japan was in the offing. At the Potsdam Conference of 24 July 1945, the Allied position was that the Japanese forces would be disarmed Japanese sovereignty would be limited to the four main islands of Japan and such minor islands as we shall determine and respect for fundamental human rights would be established. The message ended with this: We call upon the Government of Japan to proclaim now the unconditional surrender of all the Japanese armed forces, and to provide proper and adequate assurances of their good faith in such action. The aternative for Japan is complete and utter destruction.
The implementation of these publically stated objectives required the complete defeat of Japan and its occupation. The militarists controlling Japan were determined to resist even unto the destruction of Japan. Prime Minister Suzuki Kantaro was willing to negotiate peace thru Switzerland or the Soviet Union, but War Minister Anami Korechika and the Chiefs of Staff Gen. Umeza Yoshijiro and Adm Toyoda Soemu insisted on prosecuting the war to the bitter end in order to uphold our national essence, protect the imperial land and (incredibly) achieve our goals of conquest. The Japanese correctly deduced the objectives of Operation Downfall, the proposed US invasion scheme which was divided into two phases, Olympic, the invasion of Kyushu and Coronet, the invasion of the main island of Honshu. Accordingly the Japanese prepared Operation Decision (Ketsu-Go) which envisaged the deployment of over 2 million troops along the coast to repel Allied landings, to be reinforced by four million armed forces civillian employees and a civillian militia of old people, school children of both sexes numbering 28 million. An invasion of Japan would have been D-day magnified a thousand times, it would have been Stalingrad from the sea. For instance, The 2nd Marine Division was slated to be in the initial assault. It no longer appears in the plans for Operation Olympic after D-Day + 4. The assumption is that it would have ceased to exist or be combat ineffective. Other units are similarly omitted.
An actual model exists for such speculation, the Battle for Okinowa. Pre invasion Okinowa was populated by 574,368 Okinowans.. Take a trip to Okinawa and visit Peace Prayer Park. Its easy to find. It is right next to the Suicide Cliffs just down the road a ways from the Japanese Naval Underground Headquarters. There you will see the names of 200,656 men women and children inscribed on black marble slabs who died on that island in the last battle of World War II. Those slabs reveal the following death toll: Japanese 188,136
From other prefectures (soldiers and civilian employees) 65,908
From Okinawa (soldiers and civilian employees) 28,228
From Okinawa (civilians fighting in battles) 56,861
From Okinawa (non-fighting civilians) 37,139
Following the battle there was not one thing on the island growing or man-made that was over 24 inches high. The entire population of the island was 574,368 and there were 4.72 artillery shells fired per person during the battle. The land war on Okinawa was soul destroying brutal as American soldiers and Marines doggedly attempted to break the ferocious Japanese resistance. Names like Sugar Loaf and Kakazu Ridge still invoke nightmarish memories from Okinawa veterans. The US Navy suffered the worst pounding in its history, with over 5000 sailors killed and 35 ships sunk by Kamikaze attack.
People extrapolate from 48,000 American and 230,000 Japanese casualties at Okinawa to 500,000 American and millions of Japanese casualties for mainland invasions. Those estimates could have vastly understated the actual causalities. Japans 374,000 mountainous square miles mathematically enables over 500 defensive redoubts comparable to General Ushijimas formidable Okinawa constructions such as those on the Shuri line that inflicted most Okinawa losses. The War Faction adopted the motto of 100 million Japanese deaths for planning final mainland battles. Besides kamikazes, redeployed Kwantung divisions, and bamboo spears for civilians, the allies faced biological warfare. Occupation searchers uncovered large stockpiles of viruses, spirochetes, and fungus spores throughout rural Japan. One delivery plan directed Japanese to infect themselves and then surrender. The Greatest Generation and their parents would have been enraged to discover a political cabal who satisfied their moral orthodoxy by condemning over 500,000 Americans who might otherwise have been saved.
Hiroshima was a target with military value. It was headquarters for the 2nd Japanese Army, charged with the defense of the southern island of Kyushu, the objective of Operation Olympic, whom the United States would have been fighting had the invasion commenced. It also had numerous factories producing military goods. The city was a communications center, a storage point, and an assembly area for troops. Both Command & Control and military production facilities are legitimate military targets.
Other consequences of other than a rapid end to the war were the slow starvation of the Japanese people. Their island nations food supplying merchant fleet was at the bottom of the Pacific, with 5 million tons of it put there by the extraordinarily successful American submarine campaign. In the summer of 1945 Field Marshal Terauchi had openly ordered prison camp commanders to slaughter the Allied prisoners in their control (who were dying at a 33% death rate) at the onset of the invasion. The brutal Japanese occupations of the conquered Asian nations were killing tens of thousands of civilians a month in China, Malaysia, Burma, Singapore, the Solomons, Thailand, and anywhere that the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere sent its soldiers, inflamed by the Japanese militarists corrupted code of Bushido to rape, pillage and kill without mercy. Millions of Asian civilians were killed and others in China served as guinea pigs for Unit 731s depraved medical experimentations into human vivisection, disease infestation and other atrocities more horrifying than the vilest of Josef Mengeles worst inspirations. Japanese scientists performed tests on prisoners centering on the plague, cholera, smallpox, botulism and other diseases. This research led to the development of the defoliation bacilli bomb and the flea bomb used to spread the bubonic plague. Some of these bombs were designed with ceramic (porcelain) shells, an idea proposed by Shiro Ishii in 1938.
These bombs enabled Japanese soldiers to launch biological attacks, infecting agriculture, reservoirs, wells and other areas with anthrax, plague-carrying fleas, typhoid, dysentery, cholera and other deadly pathogens.
Additionally, infected food supplies and clothing were dropped by planes into areas of China not occupied by Japanese forces. These activities continued until wars end.
The Japanese had concocted a plan to launch M6A1 Seiran floatplane bombers from their huge I-400 class subs to drop bombs loaded with biological agents such as plaque and Anthrax on the West Coast of the US. The ships had sailed with a target date of 15 August 1945. Only the end of the war on 14 August occasioned their recall before they reached landfall.
In the afternoon of August 14, Japanese radio announced that an Imperial Proclamation was soon to be made, accepting the terms of unconditional surrender drawn up at the Potsdam Conference. That proclamation had already been recorded by the emperor. The news did not go over well, as more than 1,000 Japanese soldiers stormed the Imperial Palace in an attempt to find the proclamation and prevent its being transmitted to the Allies. Soldiers still loyal to Emperor Hirohito repulsed the attackers.
That evening, General Anami, the member of the War Council most adamant against surrender, committed suicide. His reason: to atone for the Japanese armys defeat, and to be spared having to hear his emperor speak the words of surrender.
Foreign minister Shidehara wrote, If we continue to fight back bravely, even if hundreds of thousands of noncombatants are killed... there would be room to produce a more favorable international situation for Japan.
Due to the nationwide food shortage... - it will be necessary to kill all of the infirm old people, the very young, and the sick.
Admiral Onishi: If we are prepared to sacrifice 20 million Japanese lives in kamikaze effort, victory will be ours.
With luck, we will repulse the invaders before they land. - General Yoshijiro Umezu
Who can be 100% sure of defeat? - War minister General Anami
All said in the August 9th meeting of the 6 man Supreme Council for the Direction of the War held in Tokyo. I would ask that you carefully consider the date as you ponder the Japanese willingness to surrender.
Another item for your consideration: The bomb also stopped Soviet expansion in Asia. The U.S.S.R. declared war on Japan on August 8 and if the war had continued the U.S.S.R. would have invaded and occupied large parts of northern China and northern Japan. The U.S.S.R would have had a presence in the Far East as in Eastern Europe.
As it was, the Soviets occupied North Korea and set up a Stalinist regime that troubles the world to this day. Imagine the Soviets with a Stalinist puppet government in Northern Japan. You dont have to wonder, you have the examples of East Germany, or North Korea, as opposed to West Germany and South Korea.
This certainly cannot be attributed to the foresight of the Allies, as the Soviets entered the war against Japan in response to the Allies importuning Stalin at Yalta. It was about the only commitment he kept, since he saw an opportunity for territorial aggrandizement. But it is an admittedly unforeseen and fortunate subsidiary result of the rapid end of the war.
The world was spared the future horror of nuclear combat thru the instructive example of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Had the wartime use of nuclear weapons remained theoretical, rather than concretely manifest in the vaporized victims of World War II, it is far more likely that they would have been used in super power showdowns at the Berlin Wall or the Cuban Missile Crisis. The example of the relative firecrackers of the WWII A-bombs may have stayed the fingers on the thermonuclear button. The planners of the Manhattan Project did not consider this , but it is something worthy of our consideration.
The exceptionally brutal nature of the war against Japan requires that the jus en bello aspect of just war theory be considered in light of the extraordinary evils that were stopped or prevented by a sudden end to the war, bought about by the A Bomb. The Japanese could view it as a force of nature against which they were helpless to resist, and therefore serve as a legitimate rationale for surrender for a people that viewed that as an absolute disgrace. At the very least, the proportionality rule seems to be honored by using a horrendous method for the purpose of forcing an end to the war and stopping even greater continued slaughter and atrocity.
3, Jus post bello: Despite the unremitting nature of the total war against Japan and the unparallelled level of atrocities committed by Japan, it was not transformed into a post Punic Wars Carthage. The US extended its protections to her against the Soviet Union, demilitarized her, helped it to create a classically liberal representative democracy, with the emperor Hirohito demoted from demigod status. The US was instrumental in elevating Japan into a rehabilitated and respected player on the world stage, a leader in technological innovation and manufacture and a reliable ally against Soviet expansion in the Pacific. Even though considerable US self interest was involved, the US occupation of Japan was conducted with a magnanimity uncharacteristic of the likely aftermath of one of the most savage conflicts in human history. Even though the Japanese surrendered unconditionally, utterly defeated; they are a better world partner for the effect of the generous American peace terms and post war assistance. The Jus post bello criteria was more that adequately satisfied by the exemplary American post war treatment of Japan.
Finally, a word about Gen Tibbets. Before his service in the Pacific, Gen. Tibbets served with the 97th Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force. The 97th BG served as the model for the famous movie Twelve O Clock High. Tibbets, as a Major left in charge of the Group, was even depicted in the movie. Armstrong, the new CO of the 97th, appointed Tibbets his XO. He flew a B-17 bomber on 25 combat missions in the most deadly environment that American airmen have ever flown in, the flak and fighter filled skies of the European Theatre of Operations. He later took command of the 509th Composite Bomb Group, the B-29 outfit charged to deliver the atomic bombs. He bought the unit to a peak of efficiency and operational security, vital to maintaining the secrecy of the most important military technological development of the war. He stayed in the Air Force, and participated in the development of the B-47, our first all-jet bomber. In the early 1950s, he flew B-47s for three years. He advised on the making of the movie Above and Beyond, and was pleased that the famous actor, Robert Taylor, played him. From the 1950s through the 1960s he had a number of overseas assignments, including France and India. After his retirement from the Air Force, he became president of Executive Jet Aviation in Columbus, Ohio. For this he has earned the eternal respect and gratitude of his nation. He has not chosen to engage in post modern self flagellation and wear the hair shirt of eternal regret for doing his duty as it was presented to him. He has chosen to accept as his legacy the war ended and the lives saved by his actions rather than fixating on the awful human cost of the bombing. He had earned that right a hundred times over. He has said that he does not want a marker on his grave lest it serve as a focal point for demonstrators. That is the only thing that I disagree with him about. He deserves the honor of a proper memorial so that it may be rendered honors on appropriate occasions. Godspeed to you sir. You served your country and the world well.
“War is cruelty and you can’t refine it.”
William Tecumseh Sherman