For Hiromi, Tomahara, Satomi, Koji, all the others and of course Kenta.

IndianPOWs

Today is the seventieth anniversary of the first atomic bomb being dropped on Hiroshima. It killed seventy thousand people and within three days, a second one was dropped on Nagasaki killing another forty thousand. Nagasaki was the secondary fall-back target of the mission, because the primary target of Kokura was clouded over.

Kokura had also been the secondary target on the Nagasaki mission, so it twice escaped nuclear annihilation in the space of three days because of nothing more than respectively clement and then inclement weather conditions.

I’ve watched a few documentaries on Hiroshima this week and to some extent or another, they all exhibited some things I find irritating about so-called serious documentaries on historical events.

Too often they were lazy and ill researched. I’m not that picky on details but after watching enough factual errors or critical omissions stack up, you begin to wonder if they were using William Connolly’s politically corrected Wikipedia as a reference source, if not the only source. In this age of easy internet access to a wealth of information, both academic and populist, there’s simply no excuse for such plain sloth.

The laziness didn’t just extend to the raw facts though. Rather than bringing some balance and doing the tough business of coming up with some analytical insight into the event, it was far easier to rush to judgement and frame it all in simple terms of victimhood and assigning blame to a guilty party, which of course in this case was America.

Speaking of which, the liberal media’s through gritted-teeth dislike of America and all things American, usually called racism when applied to anyone else, was never far from the surface, and surprisingly even in the US programs. In a larger sense though, the media doesn’t like “nasty” history unless it’s about ourselves, and it’s definitely frowned upon if you discuss the “nasty” history of foreigners or people we’ve been at war with, especially if we’ve beaten them.

The documentary makers would do well to go back to primary sources and read some of the campaign memoirs of those once easy-going farm boys from rural Minnesota or kids from places like Mobile Alabama, who went out to war in the Pacific and came home years later with a deep and abiding hatred of all things Japanese, simply because of the cruelties they’d seen them perpetrate. For the ordinary allied soldier, the Pacific was without a doubt the most savage campaign of WWII. No quarter was asked and in the end none given.

The memoirs and recollections of the key players of the time are just as frank and just as revealing. Cordell Hull, who’d served as FDR’s Secretary of State or Foreign Secretary for over a decade, remarked once that before every island hop across the Pacific, the military gave their best estimate of American casualties and every time, the numbers were bigger – appallingly and horrendously bigger. Iwo Jima had not long happened and for the first time, total American casualties exceeded Japanese ones.

Twenty thousand men for a small island off Japan that nobody in down home folks America had ever heard of.

Since Japan showed absolutely no sign of surrendering, a mainland invasion of it was already deep into the planning phase and the military were estimating about one million American casualties and Japanese ones in the high teen millions, if not the early twenties and mainly civilian. There was no particular reason to think those estimates would be any more accurate than all the previous ones.

Politically, it was a no-brainer decision. Given a choice between dropping the bomb on such a fanatical and implacable foe who had more than earned universal hatred or accepting casualties optimistically estimated to be half of one percent of the total population of the USA, nobody was going to hesitate for a moment, and despite what an odd revisionist history author likes to punt around, the decision was made by the man who famously had the “buck stops here” sign on his presidential desk.

The ethical case for dropping the bomb was just as strong.

There is this prevalent and commonly accepted idea that when you think about a difficult decision from an ethics viewpoint, it’s somehow about picking your way through some moral minefield and you’ll actually reach the other side unscathed, having come up with some perfectly wonderful solution that actually harms nobody. That’s an easy and self-indulgent notion usually held by those in no danger of ever having to make one of those hard decisions, but yet feel comfortable and superior passing judgement on those who have been obliged to.

Whatever decision you make, and that so often includes not making one, people are going to get hurt. If you can’t accept and work with that simple reality, you shouldn’t be anywhere near a leadership or decision-making role. If you don’t think you could live with making the wrong decision, whatever that may happen to be, you’re in completely the wrong job. And most bitter of all, you also have to be prepared to live with the cost of having made the right decision.

Given that the military clique that actually ruled Japan would never surrender, then the responsibility for the continuing loss of civilian lives has to be laid at their doorstep because from any rational military viewpoint, the war was long ago lost. Surrender was their only humane option and they would never do it.

They actually bear the responsibility for all the Japanese lives lost in the war because it was lost by them on the morning of Sunday December seventh 1941, when they made the imprudent decision to attack America at Pearl Harbour. The arrogance that a resource-poor country like Japan with a population one-third the size of America’s and a fraction of its industrial capacity could actually take on and beat Isoroku Yamamoto’s “sleeping giant” is difficult to comprehend.

From that morning, isolationist America went from a standing army of less than fifty thousand men to four years later nearly eight million men in uniform, all of whom were booted, suited, trained, equipped and deployed in two theatres of operation on opposite sides of the globe. Japan never had a realistic chance of winning a war against something like that.

Since the responsibility for all the deaths lay with Japan for starting a war it couldn’t possibly win and then persisting in fighting on with total disregard to their own civilian casualties, the ethical judgement came down to minimising the loss of life by winning the war as soon as possible. If the only way of preventing the certain slaughter of millions is to take the lives of one hundred thousand people, then that’s the ethically correct choice, whether you like it or not.

Watching interviews of the survivors is both harrowing and moving but too often there’s a subtle spin being introduced exploiting their terrible experiences to suggest a victimhood and that America should be feeling guilty for dropping the bomb on them. If you’re going to play that one-sided game, you’re doing at best manipulative drama and at worst propaganda, rather than honest documentary making.

If instead you want to do some balanced history, then at least include a few references to atrocities like the Rape of Nanking where over a six-week period of murder and looting, the Imperial Japanese army killed by Chinese estimates, three hundred thousand men, women and children and they did it old style, using bayonet, rifle butt, sword and bullet.

It’s Japan’s continued reluctance to fully acknowledge responsibility for atrocities like Nanking and many others committed on the Asia-Pacific rim that continues to poison to this day their relationship with many other countries like China and Korea.

The picture heading up this piece is Japanese soldiers using captured Indian POWs as live targets. I’m sure the average Japanese person nowadays would find it just as repulsive as anyone else in the world but that goes to illustrate the massive cultural change that occurred in the aftermath of their defeat in WWII. The brutal, almost feudal militaristic culture was totally dismantled by the victors and the country has been a true democracy for over half a century, as well as being more prosperous than it’s ever been.

The prerequisite for bringing all that about was winning the war.

I live just outside a village, which itself is a few miles from a provincial town. All our children were born and raised there and it was always a mild concern to both myself and my wife that while it was a good place for them to grow up, they were in danger of ending up by default with a very parochial attitude to the bigger world outside. In an effort to broaden their horizons, we started to put up for two or three weeks a year foreign students in their early teens who were mostly learning English.

We were paid a nominal amount of money that barely covered their food but that wasn’t why we went to the trouble. Our children had the distinct benefit of meeting other kids who did actually live in a far country, did speak a different language and had their own unique cultural take on things. Whether they knew it or not, they learnt some important things from our young guests, especially when on occasion they went and lived with them in exchange.

Over the years we had kids from various places like France and America but settled mainly on Japanese kids because guest parent homes were very hard to find for them as not many people wanted them. The sins of the grandfathers were still being visited on their offspring generations later and as usual, unfairly so.

They were just kids like ours, boys and girls a very long way from home and I have to say not only great muck in houseguests, but a real pleasure to share your own culture with. Once they got over what was a very real culture shock for them, they really got the most out of their time over here. We did build some strong attachments with each other in such a small period of time.

I tell that story because I’ve no doubt that having touched on Japan’s “nasty” history on this anniversary, I’m running counter to a number of comfortable narratives about it, most especially the victimhood one, and am therefore automatically callous, racist or both in some people’s minds. I’m neither but if being thought of as such is the price for discussing a historic event with a semblance of context and clarity, then so be it.

However, I do remember sitting in the garden and teaching a Nihonjin kid how to look, and I mean really look, at a tree and then draw it using pencil and paper. Hours later, despite the fading light of a warm summer’s evening and some gentle nagging from the house to come in, he was still sitting there cross-legged down the garden working away on it and gripped by a new world he’d never known existed. We went to bed leaving the back door unlocked and left him to it.

He was a lovely kid and I’ve occasionally thought staying with us Gaijins perhaps ruined some very detailed parental plans for his future. We all learnt something from each other.

It’s only when people can be honest with each other about their shared history that they can make a start on creating a better one. The alternative is to keep viewing it as a simple matter of goodies and baddies, victims and perpetrators or worst of all, from on top of some smug Mount Olympus of your own perfect moral superiority. With that sort of attitude, you’re just reserving a place for yourself in some future battle of the historical re-enactment society.

As for Hiroshima, Paul Tibbets, who piloted the Enola Gay that dropped the bomb, was once asked if he was haunted by having done it. He replied. “I’ve never lost a night’s sleep over it, and I never will”.

Seventy years down the line, nobody else should either. On every level, it was the correct hard decision.

©Pointman

Related articles by Pointman:

Know your ultimate enemy : the dream.

Heroes for a day.

Click for a list of other articles.

Comments
21 Responses to “For Hiromi, Tomahara, Satomi, Koji, all the others and of course Kenta.”
  1. Old Rooster says:

    Ah yes the most PC of all PC issues—to instil abhorrence of all use of nuclear/atomic power because of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. Only those so pious they are no earthly use seem to subscribe…well along with the charlatans and ignorant. Surely these sort of events were uppermost in mind when the most apt definition of PC was formulated—

    “A doctrine fostered by a delusional, illogical minority, and rabidly promoted by an unscrupulous mainstream media, which holds forth the proposition that it is entirely possible to pick up a turd by the clean end.”
    Chet Beates, definition of Political Correctness used in Son of a Gun : The Life and Times of a Lifer Brat (2007), p. 209. Attributed to a student at Texas A&M University pre 2006 (http://www.grouchyoldcripple.com/archives/003882.html)

    In my younger days I spent time in Singapore and there were many locals who freshly remembered the delights of the company of the occupying Japanese. The CTs were held in similar esteem by the vast majority. I suspect many of them were disappointed that every city in Japan had not been levelled by the same means. Moral relativism is inevitable in considering most issues in leadership. What distinguishes the moral from the psychopath is that they take no delight in doing what is ugly but necessary.

    Of course the morally pure and superior rarely, if ever, acknowledge the evil consequences of their own action or inaction.

  2. Timbotoo says:

    This took me back to my first job as a “management trainee”, read underpaid supervisor, in a production plant. One of the older supervisors was a survivor of the death march in Burma and hated with a passion all things Japanese. This was late Sixties in the UK and he constantly wore women’s sanitary pads due to injury provoked incontinence.

  3. Timbotoo says:

    I also remember a debate In the Catholic grammar school I attended about the morals of the decision to drop the bomb. The Jesuit teacher pretty much summarized the rights and wrongs as you did.

  4. Blackswan says:

    Pointman,

    Once again you’ve brought us a careful and humane analysis of a vexed question.

    My father was a veteran of the New Guinea/Borneo campaigns and he didn’t need anybody else’s opinion to influence the way he felt about all things Japanese. Thirty years after the surrender on the USS Missouri, he refused to drive any vehicle of Japanese manufacture, and declined to shake any Japanese hand even though such foreign workers were within his working orbit. He felt no need to explain his attitude, kept his opinions to himself and felt entitled to them. He believed his actions spoke for him, and though he was unfailingly polite to those Japanese workers, I witnessed their deference to him in their working interactions with him. None dared to look him directly in the eye. It was quite unsettling for a kid like me from the city, but I never forgot it.

    I asked him why he disliked those people, none of whom were of the generation who had waged war. He said that he didn’t dislike those men – he felt great pity for them. They worked on cultured pearl leases on the wild remote coast of Northern Australia and laboured under great privation, spending many months away from their homes and families, and often going hungry when inclement weather stopped their supply ships landing. However, as a veteran, my father felt it would betray a sacred trust to his ‘band of brothers’ who had not survived the savagery, to EVER regard such men as equals or to interact with them unless he was obliged to do so in his line of work.

    He was never in the slightest doubt that the Americans had taken the only course of action open to them in unleashing atomic weapons. He was adamant that without Hiroshima/Nagasaki he too would have been unlikely to survive if the ANZACs had to fight all the way to Japan.

    • nofixedaddress says:

      I am a tad old these days and grew up on the edge of what was designated as Soldier Settler type area.

      I went away and did stuff and then came back.

      A couple of blokes, they would be dead now, were Commandos. Did the whole thing through New Guinea and else where.

      One of them didn’t talk much, he was a shooter, but he liked to talk. Sometimes.

      The other bloke, to that day, hated the smell of Japanese. He reckoned he could pick them from the trees. And he became the largest rice grower in Australia!

      I’ve been up Townsville way. Pointman has my current address..

      Cheers.

  5. Reblogged this on gottadobetterthanthis and commented:

    We must remember, and we must acknowledge the circumstances of the time.

    Thank you, Pointman.

  6. Retired Dave says:

    An excellent article Pointy. I can’t add a single word to yours and I agree with every one of them.

  7. gseine says:

    Very well stated. The Americans should take immense pride in having stopped a far greater blood-bath that a land war would have entailed. A couple of minor points……

    I believe the Japanese considered fully the fact that Hitler’s European was draining the free world’s men and resources at an alarming rate, giving them the opportunity to conquer the Asiatic theater. Along with that, i wonder if their leaders didn’t hold the belief that real wealth required conquest of resource-rich areas, that value-added could never make a people better of, a fallacy already disproven by a look at England but fully clarified by Japanese standard of living after their own transformation to a free economy?

    As to the popular resentment to the dropping of the nuclear bombs, I think the root is in both the collectivist belief that numbers of dead make the pain greater. Fact is, we are individuals and we die as individuals. Our pain at losing someone is from the lost of a known person, not a grim numerical statistic of history. and there is proof that the number of dead played no part in the Japanese surrender. The fire-bombing of Tokyo took far more lives with no whimper of surrender.

    No, the glaring fact that nuclear weapons had an immense reach ended the conflict. This is a weapon that ends the safety of the leadership with no bunker ever being safe again. And it is a lesson unlearned. Today once again we would rather arm and have 18 year olds kill each other in isolation rather than take out the rulers who give the orders.

  8. Russ Wood says:

    I remember reading a book by Donald Westlake, titled “Lighter than a feather”, where he postulated an invasion of the Japanese Islands after the failure of the nuclear bomb. It made me shudder, even 40 years after WWII. There would have been an incredible number of deaths on both sides. So, as you put it, the nuclear bombing actually SAVED lives!

  9. I wouldn’t even have noticed it was that time of the year (meaning, I don’t carry any baggage in my head over it, to remind me) if I hadn’t chanced upon this post, and that despite the fact that I noted a book on this very subject just this morning (that I had started to read once before–it is in a common store of books where I am living–but dropped it quickly), and I read a little of it to remind myself what was in it. I won’t dignify it by even saying the title of it (although I note that Enola Gay was in the subtitle, as it is in the URL for the article here); suffice it to say it is full of the academic stench, of smug certainty in the drivel it dishes out about the guilt supposedly felt by Americans afterwards, and “explaining” some of the fads and fancies of America in the ’50s (like monster and sci-fi movies) as illustrative of that guilt. Having lived in and enjoyed the 50s, I know those speculations are garbage (except maybe California–I don’t know, but I wonder just when California went insane; I know it had already occurred by the mid 60s, and I blame it on Ronald Reagan, because he was the first Bush, driving the Left insane–he even made John Wayne mad). It has always been blindingly obvious that the Japanese got their just desserts in those two instants of total annihilation, and that the bombings were a very good deed indeed. I would say I have always felt it was a great ending to a horrible war–and the earliest great monster movies, and most of the (“golden age of sci-fi”)) ideas for the 50s and later sci-fi movies, were before the war (except mutations from atomic explosions in the desert, which the sci-fi writers took up with glee and childlike abandon, and we actual children enjoyed the heck out of them, with not a thought for wartime Serious Subjects). If our generation felt any guilt, there would never have been a Spider-Man, or Marvel Universe, you know? (That’s just one example that comes readily to mind.)

  10. catweazle666 says:

    In fact, it was the Japanese who first used weapons of mass destruction. Unit 731 was involved in biological and chemical warfare experimentation and was responsible for many more deaths than the use of the atom bomb.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unit_731

    http://www.nytimes.com/1995/03/17/world/unmasking-horror-a-special-report-japan-confronting-gruesome-war-atrocity.html?pagewanted=3

    http://www.japanfocus.org/-tsuneishi-keiichi/2194/article.html

    It is curious how few are aware of these atrocities, especially the biological attacks on China and Manchuria.

    Personally, having been personally acquainted with a number of ex-prisoners of the Japanese and seen the effects of the entirely unnecessary extreme brutality inflicted on them, my only regret concerning the nuclear attacks on Japan was that we didn’t carry out enough of them.

    • Pointman says:

      Cat, when I wrote –

      “It’s Japan’s continued reluctance to fully acknowledge responsibility for atrocities like Nanking and many others committed on the Asia-Pacific rim that continues to poison to this day their relationship with many other countries like China and Korea.”

      it was atrocities like those you linked to I was referring to. Let’s not forget either that some of the people 731 “experimented” on were American POWs.

      The hostile attitude of many Asian countries towards Japan hasn’t budged in over a half century because until a government there officially recognises the horrors their grandparents inflicted on occupied populaces, the feeling is they got away with mass murder.

      Imagine if we’d decided to sweep the Nazi extermination camps under the carpet in the name of political expediency, and you get some understanding of that sentiment.

      Pointman

      • catweazle666 says:

        “The hostile attitude of many Asian countries towards Japan hasn’t budged in over a half century”

        Indeed.

        And some of them – the Chinese in particular – have long memories…

  11. Martin A says:

    My favourite author, J G Ballard, was interned as a child by the Japanese in Shanghai. He had the following to say on the use of the bomb:

    American power had saved our lives, above all the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Not only our lives had been spared, but those of millions of Asian civilians and, just as likely, millions of Japanese in the home islands. I find wholly baffling the widespread belief today that the dropping of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs was an immoral act, even possibly a war crime to rank with Nazi genocide.

    During their long advance across the Pacific, the American armies liberated only one large capital city, Manila. A month of ferocious fighting left 6000 Americans dead, 20,000 Japanese and over 100,000 Filipinos, many of them senselessly slaughtered, a total greater than those who died at Hiroshima.

    How many more would have died if the Americans and British had been forced to fight for Singapore, Saigon, Hong Kong and Shanghai? Huge Japanese armies were falling back to the mouth of the Yangtse and would have turned Shanghai into a vast death-ground. The human costs of invading Japan became clear during the fierce struggle for Okinawa, an island close to Japan, when nearly 200,000 Japanese were killed, most of them civilians.

    Some historians claim that the war was virtually over, and that the Japanese leaders, seeing their wasted cities and the total collapse of the country’s infrastructure, would have surrendered without the atom-bomb attacks. But this ignores one all-important factor — the Japanese soldier. Countless times he had shown that as long as he had a rifle or a grenade he would fight to the end. The only infrastructure the Japanese infantryman needed was his own courage, and there is no reason to believe that he would have fought less tenaciously for his homeland than for a coral atoll thousands of miles away.

    The claims that Hiroshima and Nagasaki constitute an American war crime have had an unfortunate effect on the Japanese, confirming their belief that they were the victims of the war rather than the aggressors. As a nation the Japanese have never faced up to the atrocities they committed, and are unlikely to do so as long as we bend our heads in shame before the memories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    The argument that atomic weapons, by virtue of the genetic damage they cause to the future generations, belong to a special category of evil, seems to me to be equally misguided. The genetic consequences of a rifle bullet through the heart are even more catastrophic, for the victim’s genes go nowhere except the grave and his descendants are not even born.

  12. Another factor to consider in the use of the atomic bomb is that the alternative would have been conventional bombing of many more Japanese cities. The fire storm created in the Tokyo suburb of Shitamachi on March 9 1945 killed similar numbers to the Hiroshima nuclear bomb, but had no impact on the war. I would suggest that it was the magnitude of the atomic bombs that showed fighting was futile and soldiers were made superfluous.

  13. durango12 says:

    Some decisions in the conduct of war may be difficult ethically and morally but this one wasn’t. You don’t need to bring forth the utilitarian arguments about saving lives, though they are true. It was simply a matter of winning the war so as to have chance to create a better world and better societies in the vanquished countries. We did that… in both cases. Richard Frank’s excellent history “Downfall” recounts the events leading up to and after the bombs. You don’t see it bandied bout in the whacko American media, but he shows that there was still considerable resistance to suing for peace within the High Command AFTER both bombs were detonated. A kind of coup d’etat was in progress until it fizzled. The mainland armies were intact and could still resist. In fact, the American invasion plan had no plan for what to do after Operation Coronet succeeded in capturing Tokyo, if it did. The US command hoped that that would end it, but no one really knew, and there was no plan for what to do if it didn’t.

    So every year at the same time we are subjected to the same vacuous drippy stuff. It is the price of victory, I suppose. I suspect that it has played into the psyche of the current occupant of the WH. Otherwise I am hard put to understand his obvious avoidance of what would be understood to be American interests. This is the price we pay today and will certainty continue to pay in the future.

  14. catweazle666 says:

    An interesting side issue, I have a history of the B29 Superfortress entitled ‘Superfortress at War’ that contains an interesting reference to the use of the B29 carrying Barnes Wallace’s 22,000 lb ‘Tallboy’ earthquake bombs. Apparently one of the fallback positions had the atom bomb failed to function effectively was to drop a number of these devices along a fault on the Japanese mainland and dump one of their cities into the ocean.

  15. Tobias Smit says:

    Just read this article, thank you I think it is terrific, especially in today’s climate re the Trump shake up of the ( actually ALL) of the media’s and establishments perceptions of what Americans are standing up for, thanks.

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