Thousands of Chappaquiddicks

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Gene Healy on Ted Kennedy: "Sure, Kennedy's an amoral sack of flab, but as far as I know, he's only ever killed one person, which puts him ahead of most presidents."

On a related note, it was 60 years ago today that the Enola Gay dropped a nuclear device on Hiroshima. In The Miami Herald, Leo Maley and Uday Mohan remember the long-lost days when the leading critics of Truman's decision were conservatives—a far cry from today, when most on the right despise the Hiroshima revisionists with the sort of fury they ordinarily reserve for Kennedy, the Clintons, and the French. On cue, one modern conservative reminds us that

the atomic bombs were, by many orders of magnitude, the most powerful explosives ever employed. But the havoc they caused, with a combined death toll of over 100,000, was far from unprecedented. By the time the Enola Gay took off, at least 600,000 Germans and 200,000 Japanese had already been killed in Allied air raids. Conventional explosives had reduced all of the major cities of both countries to rubble. In the end, no more than one-third of the total Japanese deaths from air raids—and just 3.5% of the total land area destroyed—could be attributed to Fat Man and Little Boy.

Far from being unusual, then, those two A-bombs merely marked the culmination of an already well-established principle: that urban areas were fair game for aerial attack.

In the '40s and '50s, there were anti-Roosevelt, anti-Truman conservatives who could have produced the exact same passage. But this time the writer is superhawk Max Boot, and he seems to think he's issuing a defense of the nuclear option rather than describing a deeper moral problem with the way the Second World War was conducted. He does "remain troubled by the deliberate killing of civilians"—bully for you, Max!—but he refuses "to participate in the self-indulgent second-guessing that has become a growth industry in the history profession."

Except, of course, when he wants to do a little self-indulgent second-guessing of his own. "[E]ven today," he writes, "there is cause to doubt whether more precision is always better. During the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003, the U.S. was so sparing in its use of force that many Baathists never understood they were beaten. The butcher's bill we dodged early on is now being paid with compound interest." The thought stops there, as though even Das Boot has a scruple or two, but why not complete it? If only Bush had possessed the moral courage of Harry Truman, then Iraq might glow with radioactive waste and our soldiers wouldn't have to die invading and subduing the country.

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  1. I thought you were going to mention the latest documents now being researched showing the Japanese may have been more concerned with the threat of invasion by the Russian army than by both A-bombs.

  2. If you click on the link from the word “Hiroshima,” there’s some stuff about that there.

  3. There is an argument to be made that the force applied in war should be sufficient enough that the enemy understands and admits it is defeated. If war is undesirable, yet sometimes necessary, then winning as fast and efficiently as possible is a fundamental goal – maybe even a moral obligation.

  4. The contention that the atrocities of the A-Bomb were no different than atrocities at Dresden, etc., is dubious in my view. As a single weapon that could destroy so many lives in one swoop, the A-Bomb was unique.

    The best analogy to A-Bombs in 1945 was not the Dresden attack but chemical and biological weapons, the first WMD’s. Everyone, even the Germans, recognized by treaty and practice that such weapons were illegimate in war.

    The ban on the first WMD’s provided Truman with a clear precedent but he chose to ignore it.

  5. thousands of Chappaquiddicks

    Excellent imagery. Many of them are still entombed at the bottom of Pearl Harbor.

    As for Truman & WMD’s? Whaddya expect from a mob attorney?

  6. Jesse,
    That was a worthwhile click. It’s more complete than what I had skimmed earlier.

    Now, in reaction to your what-if in Iraq, we need first to see that governments will inevitably get us all into fixes like this. We must lose our faith in governments, because government is out to get us big time.
    That said, I gave myself the name Ruthless in the first place, because I thought it might have been effective if W. Bush had dropped the big one on Baghdad before midnight Eastern time September 11, 2001. I mean, let’s face it, wars are won by the more ruthless side.
    But the key to the success of my plan would have been the timing, and for there to be no explanation attempted by anyone associated with the Bush administration. Osama would have understood.
    War should not be in the first place, but timeliness and imprecision mixed with ruthlessness and a little craziness are winning strategies.
    But war should not be. Period.

  7. Ruthless, considering how uninterested the Soviets turned out to be in helping finish up the Japan job, having finished their goals of getting Germany out of the Rodina and getting Poland and the Baltics under their power, I guess the joke was on the Japanese, huh?

    The best analogy to A-Bombs in 1945 was not the Dresden attack but chemical and biological weapons, the first WMD’s. Everyone, even the Germans, recognized by treaty and practice that such weapons were illegimate in war.

    What are you, kidding? The Americans, British and Canadians were all prepared to use bioweapons in WWII if Germany had managed to cross the Channel. They were testing anthrax bombs off the Scottish coast as late as 1943, and the RAF was prepared to spray British beaches with mustard gas throughout the war. Heck, one of Canada’s major contributions to WWII-era research was the development of bioweapons.

  8. So the Rooskies declared war on Japan, and just like that, the Japs folded.

    Makes sense, I’m certain it never occured to Hirohito until August 8, 1945 that the USSR, trusted ally of the US in the defeat of Germany, might take up arms against Japan.

    Couldn’t have had anything at all to do with the nuclear horror unleashed upon two cities in the twinkling of an eye, either.

    Lessee….Vaporize Hiroshima on August 6. Vaporize Nagasaki on August 9. Surrender on August 14. Nah, no connection.

  9. “Testing,” “prepared to” and “may” are the operative words. The key point is that they were not used. As you indicate, biological and chemical weapons were primarily viewed as “last ditch” weapons. Why? Both because of agreements and because they were viewed as uniquely immoral. Despite the same apparent characteristics, by contrast, the A-Bombs were used without hesitation.

  10. Eh, I don’t know, David. It’s not like the Germans had any moral qualms about gassing Jews, after all. If they didn’t use them on the battlefield, I think it’s because they had more efficient ways to do what they were doing and because it would have denied the German ubermensch soldier the glory of beating the enemy face to face, not because they felt bound by some moral compact.

    I have little doubt that, with German landing boats bumping up against the beach, the British would have used that nerve gas and mustard gas.

  11. Phil, there is that old story (myth?) that Hitler was so traumatized by being gassed in WWI that he foreswore gassing the enemy in WWII. It is plausible enough given that nobody got gassed in WWII (except the Jews).

    I have little doubt that, with German landing boats bumping up against the beach, the British would have used that nerve gas and mustard gas

    I agree. People today simply do not understand the raw fear of the Nazi’s and the Japanese that existed then.

  12. From what I’ve read of WWII, the Nazis “played fair” to a far greater extent than the Japanese, at least on the battlefield (obviously, the Nazis were much bloodthirstier when it came to civilians). Perhaps that’s why we didn’t feel as constrained by the rules of war against Japan.

    I’m not sure what that lesson is for the current conflict, but it’s something.

  13. “If only Bush had possessed the moral courage of Harry Truman, then Iraq might glow with radioactive waste and our soldiers wouldn’t have to die invading and subduing the country.”

    Yea, I’ll have to agree, it’s really not good enough that it’s already glowing with depleted uranium … we need to do more …

  14. That’s was sarcasm btw.

  15. as was the original quote of course … ok I’m going overboard here.

  16. Hitler’s main reason for not using gas in WWII was belief that the Allies would retaliate in kind-which would have paralyzed German logistics, since they were dependent, until very late in the war, on horse-drawn transport. Horses are much more vulnerable to poison gas than humans, and no one has ever come up with an effective method of protecting them.

    Another factor was his belief that the Allies possessed nerve gasses. This was due to the disappearance of articles about certain organophospates from chemical journals. These articles were stopped by Allied censors, but not due to nerve gasses: DDT, at that time secret, was being protected.

    Churchill was talking about using anthrax bombs for a couple of months after D-Day.

    A Higher Form of Killing talks about all this in great detail.

  17. Max Boot (or, as I prefer to call him, Caligula Parva) is rapidly becoming the pundit whose advocacy of anything leads me to immediately oppose it. He’s getting up into Jeremy Rifkin territory.

  18. Of course atomic weapons were different, that was the point. If there was no substantive difference, why not just bomb Hiroshima or Nagasaki the same way that they had every other city in Japan? Everyone knew that using them had special implications, otherwise they wouldn’t have made it such a point to leave targets intact for them to bomb. It’s not as if the ethical issues of nuclear weapons are a recent phenomenon.

  19. Area bombing had been in use in Japan for quite some time by Hiroshima. It was at least partially justified by the dispersal by the Japanese of factory equipment into the residential areas. Also, Hiroshima and Nagasaki posessed military facilities, factories, etc., unlike some other places like Dresden. The point here, is that while everyone knew the a-bombs were different, the results of their actual employment were not all that different in quality from what had become commonplace.

    Its also worth noting that the battle of Okinawa had ended barely a month before. Japanese resistance approached fanatical, and utilized large numbers of kamikaze attacks on Allied shipping. That certainly had to play a role in Truman’s decision.

  20. To be complete about my comment above: After nuking Bagdhad on 9-11, Bush should have not only kept his mouth shut, but made no offers of reconstruction, nation-building nor democracy-spreading.
    It could have led to the “reform” of Islam we’ve talked about in earlier threads.

    Now this: Is the reason the US has lost a string of wars since WWII because it hasn’t had a President with the combination of ruthlessness and craziness possessed by both Roosevelt and Truman?

    Does anyone here deny Roosevelt practically sprinkled rose petals in the path of the Japanese as they were on their way to bomb Pearl Harbor? He wanted WWII that badly.

  21. Though they’re all lumped together as “WMD”, nukes are qualitatively different from chem and bio weapons in a purely tactical sense; you can predict exactly what a nuke is going to do (just like conventional weapons), whereas chem compounds and especially bio agents, once released, do whatever the hell they want to. Even bio agents released far away from your own troops can affect them later (remember, the little buggers are alive), while chem agents are terribly sensitive to weather, especially the wind. A field commander might consider tactical nukes merely another weapon in his arsenal (they were issued in the cold war as precisely that), but the other stuff is strictly for emergencies – how can you rationally use a weapon that is as likely to kill your own people as the enemy?

    (Note that this does not apply to terrorists…)

  22. peachy,
    Desperate times call for desperate measures.

    Desperate measures need to include backing off and evaluating what we’re doing that is pissing off the enemy THAT bad.

    Governments cannot do that.

  23. The Japanese had sued for peace before the bombs were dropped, but on condition of retaining the emporer. Truman insisted upon unconditional surrender. The Japanese gave it after the bombs, then they were allowed to keep their emporer anyway.
    Did Truman want to scare the Soviets with U.S. nuclear capability (and a willingness to use it)?

  24. Here is a great article on why Truman dropped the bombs.

    Weekly Standard

    The Japanese were not close to giving in. Nor should they have been. The planned invasion was by no means a guaranteed loss for them – already, our generals were backing out of the plan and fighting for a bomb and blockade strategy.

    Less you think this might have saved lives, this same article notes that approximately 10,000 people a day were dying in the Pacific theatre, mostly civilians in Japanese-occupied countries. Any plan that resulted in a one month delay almost certainly means more deaths than the bombs. This would be combined with the utter devastation such a plan would have had upon the Japanese citizenry, which in many cases was on the brink of starvation.

    Also, one more point. We dropped the bomb on 8/6. Russia invaded on 8/8. Coincidence? Unlikely. It is completely unclear what Russia would have done without knowledge of the bombs (which Stalin received at Potsdam). Until that time, they were playing both sides. The 8/8 invasion was likely nothing more than Russia casting its hat in with the winners.

  25. One more point. I am currently living in Japan. I was surprised to what extent the anniversary was a complete non-event here. It is not top-line news, getting on a 30-second blurb on the national station. I have heard no one talk about it at all. It definitely received more coverage in the American media.

    For the most part, the Japanese have gotten over this. Perhaps we should too.

  26. Ruthless,

    I like and generally agree with your posts 98% of the time. However, I have to correct you on the “Roosevelt knew about Pearl before hand” canard. I’m too lazy to look it up right now, but search any rational and mainstream historical source. They’ll tell you that the Pearl ambush was the result of Japanese maneuverings, not some sort of Machiavellian conspiracy on the Americans’ part.

  27. obviously, the Nazis were much bloodthirstier when it came to civilians

    Not obviously. Japanese brutality is legedary in China and the Philipines. The difference between Japaense and German brutality toward civilians is that the former was just so much carnage, while the latter was efficient, burocratic and industrialized.

  28. “The Japanese had sued for peace before the bombs were dropped”..
    Not true. The Japanese civilian government had put out unofficial feelers to see if a peace was possible based upon a series of conditions, the retention of the emperor being the main one. But the civilians had no power to sue for or accept a peace and these ‘negotiations’ were done without the knowledge or approval of the real power – the army and the emperor. The fact is that those who had the power to make such decisions in Japan had no intention of making peace and intended to ensure that the invasion of the homeland would be so costly in US lives that a much more favourable peace could be achieved – even at the cost of tens of thousands and probably hundreds of thousands of Japanese lives.

    The Allied authorities were aware that the approaches had no official backing and therefore rightly treated them as a side issue.

  29. In my opinion, the modern attempts to debunk the use of the US use of atomic weapons to be fruitless conjecture at best, and disingenuous historical revisionism at worst.

    Despite the title, the Emperor really had no power to dictate military policy, as he’d been effectively reduced to a figurehead as a result of a military powergrab. Even though I believe he was personally ambivalent, and towards the end against continuing the war, he had neither the political power nor the guts to speak up and end it. Hirohito was not much more than a nationalistic symbol used to rally the troops.

    The Japanese had already shown that they were willing to continue fighting no matter the cost. The Kamikaze pilots are only the most well-known example of this. On the ground their soldiers engaged in Banzai charges, would allow themselves to be buried with explosive devices in order to set them off when allied vehicles drove near (that would be a non-remote detonated IED) and there are even reports of Japanese officers and the like charging and attacking tanks with nothing more than a sword! Japanese soldiers who were surrendering were also known to take advantage of the exposed sear on the Nambu pistol in order to shoot one last American before being killed.

    On the home front, with their industrial base reduced to nothing more than smoking rubble, they shifted the manufacture of Arisaka rifles and other small arms to homes and backyards. Even with no factories to speak of, Japan was still churning out the implements of war. On top of this, there’s footage that pops up in documentaries here and there that shows Japanese civilians training with polearms and other primitive weapons in anticipation for a land invasion.

    As to the Japanese surrendering on account of an imminent Russian invasion, I find that to be a highly suspect thesis. After all, the Japanese had picked a fight with the US, with a belief that they could win, or at the very least get them to end embargoes on gasoline, rubber, and some other items. They’d already whipped the Russians once in 1904-1905 and probably thought that they could repeat that victory.

    To my mind, at least, there is no doubt that dropping atomic bombs on Japan brought an end to the war. That doesn’t mean that it’s something to be celebrated, nor used as a guide nor used as a guidepost for current conflicts. Dropping the atomic bombs was a savage, brutally barbarous action, but ultimately the right one.

    Apologies for the ridiculously long post.

  30. As we seem to be at something of an impasse here, did anyone else read the bit about how Margaret Truman might be in possession of some smoking gun material?

    I’m old enough to remember when her daddy was pissed at a negative review of her piano-playing. (Condi Rice she was not.) Come to think of it, I’m old enough to remember when the Lucky Strike cigarette commercial, L.S.M.F.T., which stood for Lucky Strike means fine tobacco was parodied in a number of ways, one being: Lord Save Me From Truman.

    Another was Loose Strap Mean Floppy Titty.
    … give me a break. I was juvenile once.

  31. My thoughts on this matter are a little off the beaten path. Considering the fanaticism of the Japanese military leadership (which, as mediageek points out, was basically running the country at the time); the severity of the military and civillian resistance that had been seen at Okinawa; the extremely high military and civillian casualty estimates for Operation Olympic; and the fact that Olympic would likely coincide with a Soviet invasion of Northern Japan that would result in a Korea-like partition of the country, I don’t object to the use of the bomb per se.

    What I do object to, however, is the decision to use it against heavily-populated civillian targets. Had Little Boy and Fat Man been dropped over less-populated military targets, along with a message saying “Imagine if we’d gone after Tokyo instead,” the point would’ve most likely still been driven home, but the loss of life would’ve been much lower.

    Our willingness to drop them on Hiroshima and Nagasaki instead reflected the callous attitude that had been developed towards enemy civillian casualties during the course of the war, a callousness that had already been demonstrated in the firebombings of Hamburg, Dresden, Tokyo, etc.

  32. Our willingness to drop them on Hiroshima and Nagasaki instead reflected the callous attitude that had been developed towards enemy civillian casualties during the course of the war, a callousness that had already been demonstrated in the firebombings of Hamburg, Dresden, Tokyo, etc.

    Indeed. The Second World War was not all flowers and sunshine, in spite of the tints of glory given it by the distant reminiscence of the Greatest Generation. If we looked good in the fighting of it, it was mainly because the behavior of our enemies was so abominable.

  33. Eric II,

    If you are squemish about civilian causalities you must be very upset about how Japan was firebombed.

  34. If I can use this new tactic (nuclear bombs/suicide ariliners) against my enemy (japs/infidels) then maybe I won’t have to sacrifice (invade Japan/send multiple truck bombers) in order for my cause (Western Democracy/Radical Islam) to prevail.

  35. Call me an idealist, if you must (no, really, go ahead!), but I like to think that the folks fighting the second world war could have finished the job without deliberately killing the citizens of Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, or Nagasaki.

    At least no one’s been able to convince me otherwise, so far (in that convincing me would be to argue that there are times when you absolutely have to murder innocent men, women and children in order to achieve a state of peace, and, you know, me being an idealist and all…).

    That said, I think these quotes are worth noting.

    “During [Secretary of War Henry Stimson’s] recitation of the relevant facts, I had been conscious of a feeling of depression and so I voiced to him my grave misgivings: first, on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly, because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. It was my belief that Japan was, at that very moment, seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of ‘face.'” –Gen. Dwight Eisenhower

    “It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender…. My own feeling was that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages…wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.” –Fleet Adm. William Leahy, Chief of Staff to Presidents Roosevelt and Truman

    “It would be a mistake to suppose that the fate of Japan was settled by the atomic bomb. Her defeat was certain before the first bomb fell.” –Winston Churchill

    “The real purpose of building the bomb was to subdue the Soviets.” — Gen. Leslie Groves, chief of the Manhattan Project

  36. If you are squemish about civilian causalities you must be very upset about how Japan was firebombed.

    You read the last line in my post, right?

  37. Jammer said:
    “It was at least partially justified by the dispersal by the Japanese of factory equipment into the residential areas. Also, Hiroshima and Nagasaki posessed military facilities, factories, etc., unlike some other places like Dresden.”

    And like most things the state does, it was ineffective.

    From this article: http://www.lewrockwell.com/raico/raico22.html

    “On other occasions, Truman claimed that Hiroshima was bombed because it was an industrial center. But, as noted in the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, “all major factories in Hiroshima were on the periphery of the city – and escaped serious damage.”90 The target was the center of the city. That Truman realized the kind of victims the bombs consumed is evident from his comment to his cabinet on August 10, explaining his reluctance to drop a third bomb: “The thought of wiping out another 100,000 people was too horrible,” he said; he didn’t like the idea of killing “all those kids.”91 Wiping out another one hundred thousand people . . . all those kids.

    Moreover, the notion that Hiroshima was a major military or industrial center is implausible on the face of it. The city had remained untouched through years of devastating air attacks on the Japanese home islands, and never figured in Bomber Command’s list of the 33 primary targets.”

    Mediageek said:

    “The Japanese had already shown that they were willing to continue fighting no matter the cost. The Kamikaze pilots are only the most well-known example of this. On the ground their soldiers engaged in Banzai charges, would allow themselves to be buried with explosive devices in order to set them off when allied vehicles drove near (that would be a non-remote detonated IED) and there are even reports of Japanese officers and the like charging and attacking tanks with nothing more than a sword! Japanese soldiers who were surrendering were also known to take advantage of the exposed sear on the Nambu pistol in order to shoot one last American before being killed.”

    And this proves what exactly? If our homes where invaded by an enemy army, would not we “fight to the last man”? Not to mention you seem to forget that we weren’t giving them an out with our policy of unconditional surrender. A policy that most of the Japanese considered trying the Emporer for war crimes and hanging him. Even figureheads, especially ones considered decendant from the sun goddess, have meaning.

    As far as saving American lives goes, I can think of a few that the bombing didn’t save.

    Also from the lew Rockwell article:

    ” Twelve U.S. Navy fliers incarcerated in a Hiroshima jail were also among the dead.”

    We can justify the mass killing of civilians all we want, the Nazis’ did. The difference is, we won.

  38. I think Eric II got it about right (including and especially the last line of his 9:47 post).

  39. If you read “The New Dealers War” it makes clear that Roosevelt wanted to goad the Japanese into starting a war, but he did not think they would do it with such a devestating blow.

    It is not clear to me that the strategic bombing campaign in both theatres, culminating in the dropping of the atomic bombs, was either truly moral or necessary. In the European Theatre it did have the effect of neutralizing the German Air Force, among other things. However, our men suffered very high casualties to bring that about. In Japan, if we did invade, such bombing probably would have happened any way. But, with as many objections as you want to bring, it is still hard to fault Truman for making the decision, given the circumstance and alternatives.

    By the same token, forcing Germany to surrender unconditionally seems to me neither moral nor necessary–in effect we defeated one totalitarianism and allowed another one to take its place. A true realist approach would not have worked towards the total defeat of Germany, but rather allowing Germany and Russia to bleed each other white and become too weak to do anything more than hold each other in check. Again, in the “New Dealers War,” Roosevelt’s unwillingness to listen to German dissident groups, many of them in the German military or connected to the military, is well documented. For God’s sakes, the head of German intelligence hated Hitler and was giving secrets away! There had to be some way to help opposition groups depose Hitler, putting a stop to the death camps and ending German occupation of Western Europe. Then we could let the Germans and the Russians fight in peace.

    But Roosevelt insisted on defeating “Prussian militarism” as well as Nazism, and let the Russkies get away with all sorts of murder, thus setting the stage for Russia’s domination of Europe and 40 years of Cold War.

    The whole nub of the problem is our intervention in World War I, which if it had not happened, the Germans probably would have won. What’s so bad about that, I wonder? they weren’t the nicest, but they weren’t Nazis. If somebody can explain to me the necessity of our World War I expedition, I’d like to hear it.

  40. max boot sounds like a character from that liberty fighters g. gordon liddy comic book.

  41. Ruthless, and here I thought you were just a lad.

  42. I’ve always hated the “destroy the village to save it” argument, but I’m not sure Japan would have survived a conventional invasion (though not many Americans seem to have cared). The real issues were time – the electorate wanted the boys home, NOW – and American casualties. (The projections on those are fiercely disputed, with estimates ranging from 250k to past a million; one factor often not considered is that the most experienced fighting personnel had already been demobilised, and many of those going in would be fresh from the training camps stateside.) Perhaps the most humane solution would have been a continued blockade (humane relative to the other options, that is), but it was never considered feasible because of the time factor; enormous political pressures required an immediate end to the war, and it would have taken a will of absolute iron to resist them (which, needless to say, Truman did not possess.)

    (I might add that I personally consider strategic bombing of civilian targets ethically repugnant and technically ineffective; I have no doubt that if Arnold, Lemay et al had done what they did for the other side, we would have executed them for violating the laws of war, and been fully justified in doing so.)

  43. Everyone seems to be passing by one of Mr. Boot’s dumbest lines, but I can’t let it slide:

    “I refuse to participate in the self-indulgent second-guessing that has become a growth industry in the history profession.”

    Did he just catch on? “Self-indulgent second-guessing” is a dead-on job description for the history profession. I’d hate to think what else they ought to do, seeing as how their job is to, you know, examine the past from all angles.

  44. If somebody can explain to me the necessity of our World War I expedition, I’d like to hear it.

    The Germans in WWI didn’t care whose shipping they sunk, civilian or commercial, so long as it didn’t get to Britain. After sinking some of ours–a neutral country, mind you–it was decided that a state of war between US and Germany existed de facto.

  45. Just so – sinking a neutral ship is by any definition an act of war (so too is killing a neutral citizen, and 128 Americans were killed in 1915 aboard ‘Lusitania’ alone); Wilson threatened to break off relations at least twice, and was mollified by temporary German concessions. It was not until the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare in 1917 that the provocation became too overt to ignore (unrestricted warfare had been attempted before and then curtailed under threat of American belligerency; in 1917 the element of the High Command that believed Britain could be defeated before the US could effectually intervene finally gained permanent ascendancy.)

  46. Re: WW1 – there was also the trouble Germany was fomenting with Mexico. Do a google search for “Zimmermann Telegram” or see the book of the same title by Barbara Tuchman.

  47. “so too is killing a neutral citizen, and 128 Americans were killed in 1915 aboard ‘Lusitania’ alone”

    I have to call bullshit on that. The Lusitania was a floating ammo dump, as was the usuall practice. The British were putting civilian lives at risk to continue the war effort. Rather than not careing who they sank, the German government actually put ads in the New York Times among other papers warning Americans not to sail under belligerent ships in a warzone, lest their safety not be guaranteed. Wilson responded by making the arrogant assumption that Americans had the right to travel where they wanted, when they wanted.

    As for American neutrality, the American people may have not wanted to choose sides, but the same could not be said of Wilson. Who, among things, condemned German use of “unrestricted submarine warfare”, but said absolutely nothing of the British starvation blockade of Germany, an act that was used to deliberately kill civilians, and that lasted six months after the war was already over. Add that to Wall Street banking firms lending money only to the Allies, and your claim of “neutrality” rings hollow.

    The Zimmermann Telegram was defenately a mistake on the Germans part, but according to Wikipedia:

    However, in an unexpected move, Zimmermann confirmed its authenticity on March 3 and again in a speech on March 29, 1917. The speech was intended to explain his side of the situation. He began that he had not written a letter to Carranza but had given instructions to the German ambassador via a “route that had appeared to him to be a safe one”.

    He also said that despite the submarine offensive, he had hoped that the USA would remain neutral. His proposal to the Mexican government were only to be carried out if the US declared war, and he believed his instructions to be “absolutely loyal as regards the US”. In fact, he blamed President Wilson for breaking off relations with Germany “with extraordinary roughness” after the telegram was intercepted, and that therefore the German ambassador “no longer had the opportunity to explain the German attitude, and that the US government had declined to negotiate”.

    “There was an honesty in his speech since he would have had occasion to reflect on the impact of the telegram and its after effects in the meantime, yet still he was prepared to present its original ideas. However, it also revealed he was seriously misinformed about the real strength of the United States vis-?is its southern neighbour, but that was the fault of the German intelligence services.”

  48. “In the ’40s and ’50s, there were anti-Roosevelt, anti-Truman conservatives who could have produced the exact same passage.”

    I’m confused — the Maley & Modan piece says that 40s-50s conservatives were arguing the opposite.

  49. Paging gaius marius… Who will be along directly to tell us why the way we fight now is so heinous compared to when the standard practice was to simply put villages to the torch and sword, rape anything that couldn’t outrun the invading force, and bashed infants skulls on the nearest rock. (Counter to claims that attacking civilian populations is a relatively new wrinkle in the approach of Western Civ to warfare.)

    Feh. War sucks. Winning it requires that we do a lot of horrible things. We once were willing to do what was necessary but these days many of us apparently find some sort of moral solace in doing things that are clearly counter-victory and therefore counter-survival.

    If the endtimes do arrive, as gaius likes to argue, I suspect the reason will have far more to to do with the fact that we’ve talked ourselves out of our willingness to fight for our own survival than with any perceived callousness towards civilian casualties.

  50. I’m confused — the Maley & Modan piece says that 40s-50s conservatives were arguing the opposite.

    There were conservatives who objected to bombing civilian targets altogether. They would have produced passages like Boot’s but drawn the opposite conclusions.

  51. It has never been verified that ‘Lusitania’ was carrying more munitions than the modest amount listed on the manifest (rifle cartridges, field artillery shells and fuses.) As to the British blockade – it was in fact very unpopular in the US and elsewhere, but unlike the submarine campaign did not result in the deaths of hundreds of neutrals, nor did it violate then-accepted norms of international law. Moreover, the German government had on several occasions promised to not attack neutrals, passenger vessels, hospital ships and ships carrying relief aid to Belgium, yet those promises were repeatedly violated.
    (One might add that Wilson was noticeably reluctant to go to war, and was indeed re-elected on a platform of continued neutrality.)

  52. I believe the explanation here is that Max Boot is a self-described Neoconservative, which would separate him from the likes of Pat Buchanan, Herbert Hoover and the editors of the National Review in the 1950s – although it appears from the article that Buckley just asked the question, and didn’t come to a conclusion necessarily. For what it’s worth Buckley today seems a bit ambivalent about where the current war is going at the present moment.
    To this day, conservatives of the Pat Buchanan mold still believe Hiroshima and Nagasaki to be evil acts and that we had no business being in the war in the first place.
    So what’s the big observation here?

  53. A true realist approach would not have worked towards the total defeat of Germany, but rather allowing Germany and Russia to bleed each other white and become too weak to do anything more than hold each other in check.

    This presumes that a military deadlock between the two countries would’ve been the end result of creating a seperate peace with Germany. Considering that over 80% of all German divisions were deployed along the eastern front for much of the war, the end result could easily have been a complete Soviet victory that led to all of Germany, along with Austria, becoming Soviet satellite states, and Soviet troops being massed along the borders of Italy, Switzerland, France, and the Low Countries.

    The only way that a peace agreement could be guaranteed to work out well is if it came with Soviet support. And even then, depending on the timing, large chunks of Eastern Europe might’ve still fallen under Soviet control, and we’d probably have to contend with a fascist, militarized, post-Anschluss German state that could still be a menace to its neighbors, and which presumably would’ve gone nuclear at some point. Not to mention that many of the perpetrators of the war and its attendant atrocities would go unpunished.

  54. And this proves what exactly? If our homes where invaded by an enemy army, would not we “fight to the last man”? Not to mention you seem to forget that we weren’t giving them an out with our policy of unconditional surrender.

    Of course if the United States were invaded nearly everyone would take up arms. That’s the point! Had we commenced a ground invasion of Japan there would have likely been the most brutal urban fighting campaign of the war since Leningrad.

    A policy that most of the Japanese considered trying the Emporer for war crimes and hanging him. Even figureheads, especially ones considered decendant from the sun goddess, have meaning.

    Durrrrrr…

    As far as saving American lives goes, I can think of a few that the bombing didn’t save.

    As opposed to the hundreds of thousands of American lives saved by dropping the bomb?

    Look, as a hardcore libertarian with an Objectivist background I utterly buy into the concept that sacrificing the rights of an individual or small group is just as heinous as sacrificing the rights of an entire society. That’s what makes war so abhorrent; by it’s very nature such decisions must be made with mechanical regularity.

    We can justify the mass killing of civilians all we want, the Nazis’ did. The difference is, we won.

    Baldercrap. You can take your post-modern moral equivocation and shove it right up your ass. The Japanese were given terms of surrender. That they didn’t take the terms, regardless of how ridiculous they were, shows that they were willing to accept the consequences of a land invasion.

  55. For bonus points answer this question:

    Let’s say that we had decided, for humanitarian reasons, not to drop Fat Man and Little Boy on Japan, and had commenced a land invasion.

    After the war the public finds out that the US had developed a superweapon that would have shortened the war by weeks, if not months, and saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of American servicemen.

    What do you tell the reporters?

  56. The saving-troops’-lives argument has an obvious underbelly: If that was the motivation, why didn’t they put off invading Iwo Jima for a few months and just drop the bomb there? I understand an American life or two was lost in taking that island.

    There were plenty of military targets that could have made very nice nuclear demos, if that was the only goal. They wanted to up the horror factor-which may have been the smart move, but anybody who claims this was an open and shut case, morally, strategically, or any otherly, is just propagandizing.

  57. All this WWI talk has me nostalgic for a strategic board game simulation of WWI called “The Guns of August” by the Avalon Hill company. Are there any computer simulation strategy games about WWI? Can anyone recomend one for the PC?

  58. If that was the motivation, why didn’t they put off invading Iwo Jima for a few months and just drop the bomb there?

    Iwo Jima occurred during February and March 1945. Okinawa from April to June. The test at Los Alamos didn’t happen until the middle of July. No one knew for sure what was going to happen during the test, and Little Boy and Fat Man were only created after the test proved successful. I presume that the military’s logic was that it couldn’t let its war plan be held up by a cutting-edge weapons program that may or may not pan out. Also, the American casualties that would’ve been encountered during Olympic might’ve been a full order or magnitude above Iwo Jima and Okinawa combined.

    You won’t find any disagreement from me regarding your second point.

  59. Tim,
    I don’t have a definitive answer for you, but I think the fact that we used bombers to deliver Fat Man and Little Boy combined with the information that Iwo Jima was strategically important as an air base for fighter escorts supporting long-range bombing missions against mainland Japan might lead you to the conclusion that one was necessary for the other – particularly if you consider that we had to be ready for the possibility that the Japanese might not have surrendered after we nuked them.

    Not only that, but things loooked a lot different when we were taking Iwo Jima in June of 1944 than it did when we bombed Hiroshima in August of 1945. That’s a long time, strategically speaking, when you’re in the middle of the biggest war in history.

  60. March 11, 1941

    FDR begins sending cruisers and destroyers into Japanese home waters. His orders to do this are secret.
    DAY OF DECEIT Robert B. Stinnett

    >
    August 9-12

    Atlantic Conference. FDR tell Churchill he plans to get into the war.
    THE FINAL SECRET OF PEARL HARBOR Acmiral Robert A. Theobald

    >
    October 25, 1941

    Secretary of War Stimson notes in his diary the war council’s belief that U.S. forces are “likely to be attacked parhaps as soon as next Monday.”
    and the president is concerned about the problem of “how we should maneuver them into the position of firing the first shot.”
    AND I WAS THERE by Rear Admiral Edwin T. Layton

    >
    Joseph Rochefort, cmmander of and intelligence office that had been reading Japanese messages prior to Pearl Harbor said of the Japanese: “We cut off their money, their fuel and trade. We were just tightening the screws on the Japanese. They could see no way of getting out except going to war.”

    also from DAY OF DECEIT

    >
    In a speech at the Independent Institute, May 24, 2000. Stinnet says that on September 7, 1940, FDR: “called for sending cruisers into Japanese territory to antagonize the Japanese militarists so they would take over the civilian government. President Roosevelt caled them pop-up cruisers. ‘I want them popping up here and there, but I don’t want to lose five or six cruisers. I don’t mind losing one or two.’

  61. Are there any computer simulation strategy games about WWI? Can anyone recomend one for the PC?

    I think there was a PC game released last year called “The Great War” that fits the bill. I haven’t played it, though, so I can’t vouch for it.

  62. There were plenty of military targets that could have made very nice nuclear demos, if that was the only goal. They wanted to up the horror factor?which may have been the smart move, but anybody who claims this was an open and shut case, morally, strategically, or any otherly, is just propagandizing.

    I’m not going to second guess the decisions to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I wasn’t there, I don’t know. There’s probably more than a kernel of truth to some of the ulterior motives that have been stated:
    That these cities were picked because they had remained undamaged throughout the war and represented a chance to see what atomic bombs would do to a city.

    I’m also quite sure that the bombings were done to put the fear of the atom into Stalin.

    But I have a truly hard time believing that the Japanese were more afraid of the Russians than of an enemy with the ability to flash-fry entire cities.

    So, at least to my mind, the bombings can be strategically justified, especially if looked at through the point of view of a US GI who was expecting to be part of a land invasion of Japan.

    Can the bombings be morally justified? No more so than any other violent activity undertaken in war time. War is, by it’s very nature, an immoral undertaking. Your only hope is that by fighting a war you are putting a stop to actions that are even more reprehensible.

  63. Defensive wars against invaders are morally justified.

    However, the evidence is that politicians are apt students of The Prince and know how to manipulate the public through the usual means.
    FDR was a liar, Truman was a liar, Johnson was a liar, Bush was a liar, Clinton was a liar, and Bush is our current liar in chief.

  64. mediageek,
    My “inner jury” is still out, but I think it’s fair to say one man’s “shock and awe” is another’s ho-hum.
    Come to think of it, it’s related to my post on the Baltimore drugs thread:
    Caffeine is thoreau’s shock and awe. Crack is the DEA’s.

  65. June of 1944? You’re thinking of a different amphibious invasion.

  66. The logical fallacy of this statement is amazing. I guess Roosevelt should not have even fought WWII and Truman should not have saved the South Koreans from Kim Il Sung because afterall they were responsible for killing people by doing so. By this logic, all war is murder, by the President no less, regardless of how just the cause. That is horseshit in its purest form.

    Beyond the historical debate the A-bomb, its very interesting how the roles have reversed over the last 60 years. In the 1950s, it was the rightwing nujobs in the John Birch society who slandered Roosevelt by saying he knew about and wanted Pearl Harbor to happen and slandered Truman by saying that he dropped the bomb unnecessarily. Now its the leftwing nutjobs who say the same thing. William F. Buckley used to say that he started National Review to “drain the swamp” of the Republican Party by running out the isolationist crazies and the John Birch types. Apparently, he drained it right into the Democratic Party and the Left. Ultimately there is no argueing with the hard left anymore than there was any point in explaining to the Birchites that floridated water was not a communist plot. (A real belief of the Birch society used by Stanley Kubrick in Dr. Strangelove as comedy) The American left always beleives the worst about this country and the best about our enemies.

  67. Mediageek, perhaps you missed my point. According to your logic, we should nuke any country we invade because the locals would fight back. Korea, Nuke them. Vietnam? Fry them. Iraq? No question about it. As far as Stalingrad goes, a lot of factors were involved in that including Stalin fucking up the army in his early purges.

    And for the “hundreds of thousands” of lives saved? Two words, total lie. The orginal number of a worst case scenario fullscale Japan invasion was measured at about 46,000*

    *See Barton J. Bernstein, “A Post-War Myth: 500,000 U.S. Lives Saved,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 42, no. 6 (June?July 1986): 38?40; and idem, “Wrong Numbers,” The Independent Monthly (July 1995): 41?44.

    500,000 would have been about twice the amount of American deaths in WWII overall. How can one expect that a country that was already firebombed into a cinder and had it’s ports blockaded could put up that good of a fight?

    And think for one moment about the Lusitania. It was a passenger ship, filled with non-combatants. When should it have had been carrying any munitions? It’s like saying that is okay that a Carnival cruise line was carrying munitions on route to Iraq because it was such a “modest” amount. The “modest” amount on the Lusitania was, by the way, 173 tons of munitions.

    “As to the British blockade – it was in fact very unpopular in the US and elsewhere, but unlike the submarine campaign did not result in the deaths of hundreds of neutrals, nor did it violate then-accepted norms of international law.”

    That is half-true. While it is true that blockading to prevent contraband from entering a country was okay, the British kept everything, even food, from reaching Germany. That did violate international law and led to the starvation deaths of German civilians. Yet Wilson only condemned the German submarine campagin. That is a funny way of staying neutral.

    “Baldercrap. You can take your post-modern moral equivocation and shove it right up your ass. The Japanese were given terms of surrender. That they didn’t take the terms, regardless of how ridiculous they were, shows that they were willing to accept the consequences of a land invasion.”

    I resent that. I’d rather have something tangible shoved up my ass, quite possibly with a nice dinner and a movie as a prelude. 😉 But still, if we were under the policy of unconditional surrender, what kind of terms could we have given the Japanese that didn’t entail making them our bitch? So any country should accept our coming in and raping them in the ass instead of being nuked? Some choice.

  68. Mediageek, perhaps you missed my point. According to your logic, we should nuke any country we invade because the locals would fight back. Korea, Nuke them. Vietnam? Fry them. Iraq? No question about it.

    You’ve missed my point as well. While I think that the preponderance of the evidence shows that dropping the atomic bombs on Japan ended the war early, I don’t think you can really extrapolate that to modern-day warfare. In the last fifty years, warfare has changed immeasurably. No longer do nation-states throw down the guantlet, and hash out their differences by bludgeoning each other with uniformed militaries marching under a single flag. In this day and age combatants are more likely to be guerilla fighters and small cells organized on a whim and not following orders from any chain of command. You can’t rationally say to Iraq “Surrender or we nuke you.” After all, with no central command to issue a surrender order to, you can’t expect them to all agree to surrender or continue fighting.

    The one modern exception might be North Korea, but that would depend on a number of factors:
    1)Kim Jong Il decides to roll across the 38th parallel. Does he use chem/bio weapons?
    2)Are the people of N. Korea all nothing more than brainwashed members of the world’s biggest cult of personality, or are they just waiting for Kim to kick off so they can reunify with S. Korea and finally discard the vestiges of Communism?
    Now, Kim Jong Il may be the most megalomaniacal, batshit insane villain since Blowfeld, but that doesn’t make him stupid. He knows he doesn’t have any friends, and that he makes everyone jumpy. To that end, I think it unlikely that he will do anything untoward, but if he does, all bets are off.

    And for the “hundreds of thousands” of lives saved? Two words, total lie. The orginal number of a worst case scenario fullscale Japan invasion was measured at about 46,000*

    Looking at it from a purely ethnocentric view, so what? Do you honestly think that at that time the American public would have exchanged the lives of 46,000 servicemen and an extended war just so that we could claim the moral highground fifty-some-odd years later?

    I resent that. I’d rather have something tangible shoved up my ass, quite possibly with a nice dinner and a movie as a prelude. 😉

    Meh. A lot of people probably resent stuff I’ve said. At this point, I consider it pretty unlikely that your a female… :p

    But still, if we were under the policy of unconditional surrender, what kind of terms could we have given the Japanese that didn’t entail making them our bitch?

    When you’re the guy holding all the cards, you can make demands like that. Post war to today, I think it turned out alright. A nation that was still in the grasp of feudal idiocy transformed into an economic powerhouse of technological development, manufacturing, and tentacle porn.

    So any country should accept our coming in and raping them in the ass instead of being nuked? Some choice.

    Again, you’re projecting my viewpoint to modern conflicts. Perhaps if US foreign diplomacy wasn’t a raging clusterfuck of Machiavallian Realpolitic you could do this.

  69. Holy crap.

    Longest

    Post

    Ever

  70. 500,000 would have been about twice the amount of American deaths in WWII overall. How can one expect that a country that was already firebombed into a cinder and had it’s ports blockaded could put up that good of a fight?

    Because the Japanese military authorities–whose grandaddies were samurai–were preparing the civilians–most of whose grandaddies were obedient peasants–to utterly fight to the death to protect the Land of the Gods. When 16 year olds are flying kamikaze missons as their first and only combat, that’s a sign that the nation as a whole believes mass suicide is preferable to surrender. Whether you believe it or not, the Japanese were prepared to fight to the last man, woman and child. Japan had been invaded once before, and they had prevailed. The shame factor in Japanese culture would have made surrender on home soil unthinkable.

    BTW, such a fight, if it happened only in Kyushu, would still by definition entail the slaughter of more armed civilians by attrition than what occurred at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It wasn’t the number of civilian deaths that shocked the government into surrender; it was the utter speed it was inflicted with, along with the fact that only a handful of airmen were put at risk to accomplish what it would previously have taken divisions weeks to do.

    So any country should accept our coming in and raping them in the ass instead of being nuked?

    Well, if you start a war you only believe you have a 50% chance of winning, as Tojo’s General Staff did, yes, you do take the best you can get.

  71. I’d feel guilty but I didn’t do it.

  72. Because the Japanese military authorities–whose grandaddies were samurai–were preparing the civilians–most of whose grandaddies were obedient peasants–to utterly fight to the death to protect the Land of the Gods. When 16 year olds are flying kamikaze missons as their first and only combat, that’s a sign that the nation as a whole believes mass suicide is preferable to surrender. Whether you believe it or not, the Japanese were prepared to fight to the last man, woman and child.

    Yet somehow the country managed to surrender after the bombs came down. Fancy that.

    And then those obedient peasants became entrepreneurs and revolutionized a few dozen industries.

    Amazing how these wartime racial stereotypes persist.

  73. Tim,
    I think you’re right, especially since Eric II posted the right dates – along with a better argument. (I should know better than to trust myself to post dates from memory!)

    However, I think it’s safe to say that nuking Iwo would have prevented us from using it as a air base which is the primary reason given for why we needed to take it. Bombers need fighter escorts to get to their targets and with their shorter range (due to smaller fuel tanks) they have to be launched from a location much nearer the target.

    I think the argument that we could have/should have nuked something else is covered here pretty well:

    “WE COULD NOT GIVE THE JAPANESE ANY WARNING”

    The question of whether to drop the first atomic bomb on Japan without warning was left to another group, the Interim Committee on post-war atomic policy. On May 31, 1945, Secretary Stimson chaired a meeting of this group, which included Truman’s personal representative, James F. Byrnes, and the committee’s scientific advisers, headed by Dr. Robert Oppenheimer. The committee members briefly discussed warning the Japanese to evacuate the target, or arranging a demonstration of the bomb for delegates from Japan. However, they rejected those ideas because they reasoned that the Japanese, if warned, might try to shoot down the bomber or move prisoners of war into the target area, and because the demonstration bomb might fail to explode. Others who know about the atomic bomb were also thinking of ways to demonstrate it. For example, Manhattan Project physicist Edward Teller proposed exploding the first bomb high over Tokyo Bay at night, without any warning, to shock the Japanese leaders. But prior to the first test, the scientists had generally underestimated the power of the bomb, and it was not clear that any non-lethal demonstration would sufficiently impress the Japanese”

    http://www.theenolagay.com/study.html#JAPAN%20SEEKS%20A%20NEGOTIATED%20PEACE

  74. If libertarians fought WW2, they’d still be waiting for economic sanctions to destroy the Japanese empire.

    However, it doesn’t seem to prevent them from wringing their hands over something that happened 60 years ago. Perhaps Jesse can lose sleep over the Gallipoli Campaign now.

  75. Beyond the fact that all of you who are so convicned that the droping the bomb was wrong are writing with 60 years hindsight, you might want to consider a couple of things. First, the people who were in charge of planning the invasion of Japan only had their previous experience with fighting the Japanese from which to judge. The Pacific War had been a brutal war that had inflicted horrendous casualties on American forces. More importantly, the casualty figure per foot of land gained had gone up as the Americans got closer to Japan. Iwo Jima and Okinawa were the worst battles of the war in terms of casualties per square mile taken. Further, in every campaign up until the invasion of Japan, the Americans had had a numerical advantage over the defending Japanese. That was going to change once the Japanese home islands were invaded. The Japanese had moved the bulk of their army back to the home Islands. The Americans had never faced a dug in, determined Japanese force of equal or greater numbers. The Japanese had shown absolutely no indication that they had lost their will to fight. There had been no surrender by Japanese forces of any size in the entire war. There are good reasons to believe that they Japanese might have kicked our asses or fought us to a World War I style stalemate had we invaded. We will never know, but the commanders on the ground didn?t know either. Second, the United States was seriously concerned about its own public?s will to fight. The units who had just finished fighting in Europe and were being shipped to the Pacific had terrible moral. There was a lot of concern that there might be mass mutinies and those divisions might not fight. An invasion of Japan would have been Normandy times four with every beach being an Omaha Beach. It?s not entirely clear that all of the U.S. units were up to another Normandy. Had that happened, it would have been a national disaster.

    If the Americans were not certain of victory, which they clearly were not, the Japanese were certainly not certain of defeat. The Japanese did make parleys for peace through the Soviets in the summer of 1945, but all of the proposals would have left the existing government in tact. That would have been an unmitigated disaster for both all of Asia and Japan. The leadership was interested in negotiating a peace that kept them in power. Given that desire, why would they Japanese have surrendered when they thought that they had a legitimate chance, which they did, to repel our invasion or fight us to a stalemate and force us into peace negotiations? At that point the object of the Japanese leadership was to negotiate a peace which allowed them to stay in power. The United States was never going to accept that kind of a settlement unless it was forced upon them. The only way to force that kind of a settlement was to repel the invasion or fight it to a stalemate. The logic of the Japanese position is pretty obvious. Fight the invasion and hope to force a more favorable settlement.

    Some people argue that the Soviets? entry into the war forced the surrender. This is not true for one big reason; the Soviets were not a threat to the home islands. The Soviets did not have the naval power or ability to launch an amphibious invasion of Japan. Yes, they could take, China, Manchuria and Korea, but the Japanese had already written these conquests off. They were interested in staying in power not keeping their empire. To do that, all they had to do was repel the invasion or stalemate the United States. It was only when the Japanese leadership realized that not only did the U.S. have the bomb, but also had multiple bombs that they came to the conclusion that they had no hope of repelling the invasion or forcing a stalemate. This realization allowed the Emperor to dispose of the cabinet and sue for peace. Without it, there is no reason for the Japanese leadership to have surrendered since they still had a real shot at staying in power.

    Clearly, we will, thank God, never know what would have happened had the U.S. not dropped the bomb. For the reasons above, it seems unlikely that they Japanese would have surrendered without an invasion. More importantly, when you look at what the U.S. leaders knew at the time, they had no reason to believe that they Japanese were going to surrender under any kind of favorable terms absent an invasion. We also don?t know how bad an invasion would have been. It might have been 50,000 casualties; it might have been a million. We will never know. Again, judging from the prospective of what the American commanders knew at the time, there was no guarantee that an invasion would have been successful let alone easy. It?s very easy for us to sit around 60 years later and conclude that the Japanese were about to surrender or that an invasion would have been a cakewalk. The commanders at the time did not have the luxury of 60 years hindsight. They only could judge the situation from what they knew at the time. Looked at in this light, I fail to see how American commanders could have made any other decision but to use the atomic bomb on both Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

  76. it doesn’t seem to prevent them from wringing their hands over something that happened 60 years ago.

    I guess you don’t care about Pearl Harbor, the rape of Nanking, or the Holocaust, Don. After all, they happened over 60 years ago.

  77. John,

    Your “hindsight” comment is a good cautionary tale for those who would go beyond condemning the act, to condemning the men who carried it out. As you say, they were doing the best they could with the circumstances they faced.

    But the warning about hindsight would seem to apply equally to those who use the “government left in power” argument. You are depending on the same 60 years of hindsight when you say that killing 300,000 mostly noncombatants with atomic bombs and taking over the governing of Japan is obviously better than sparing all those lives and allowing Japanese politics to contend with defeat, surrender, and modernity on their own.

  78. Joe,

    Perhaps leaving a brutal, militaristic Japanese government that had enslaved most of Asia in power would have been a good thing. Further, had the Japanese government remained in power, it could have and probably would have re-written history to paint World War II as a victory snatched from the Japanese people by back stabbing politicians. Again, judging from what the American leaders knew at the time, they had experience with negotiated settlements namely through World War I. That settlement which was less than total victory, resulted in the same war being resumed twenty one years later. The Americans for good reason wanted total victory and to end the threat from Germany and Japan for good, which they did.

    It seems pretty hard not to argue that Japan is a whole lot better off today than it would have been had the old government remained in power. Further, the United States and the rest of Asia did not spend the last 60 years under the threat of a new war with Japan. That is worth a tremendous amount. I do not see leaving the government in power as a viable option for American leaders at the time.

  79. John,

    Why so certain that “Perhaps leaving a brutal, militaristic Japanese government that had enslaved most of Asia” is all that Japanese culture would have been able to produce? Japan had had a functioning parliamentary system in place for decades before the militarists coups and assassinations – repeat, coups and assassinations, not electoral victoreis – a power grab that left the country humiliated and devestated in the end.

    Could you be relying too much on hindsight? Or even, perish the thought, have certain ideas about the “grandchildren of peasants” who made up the Japanese electorate?

  80. Joe,

    The Japanese government in the 1920s and 40s committed innumerable atrocities throughout Asia. Further from 1932 on they launched one aggressive war after another. There is no reason to believe at the time or now that the government would have been removed from power absent being forcefully removed. I don?t think that fact says anything one way or another about Japanese culture. I don?t have a lack of faith in Japanese culture, but it seems a bit na?ve to leave one of the most oppressive militaristic and cruel governments in history in tact and hope that perhaps Japanese culture through their much vaunted parliamentary system will produce something better than what had happened in the previous 25 years.

  81. John, those “previous 25 years” followed a crushing victory against a gigantic power, and decades of things going their own way.

    A neutered post-war War Party government would have been facing a very different populace, with a very different record of accomplishment. There was, in fact, a Peace Party in the cabinet and throughout society that had been urging surrender for months prior to that August, and it was the “unconditional” aspect of the surrender that hamstrung their attempts to gain the upper hand.

  82. I think we’re making a pretty big assumption if we think that if we had made peace without invading Japan, on the basis of something other than unconditional surrender, “the same government” would have been left in place. Governments that lead their countries into wars that lead to the near destruction of the homeland usually get thrown out on their ear pretty quickly once things settle down. Sometimes it doesn’t even take a devastation of the homeland (think Argentina after the Falklands invasion in 1982, or Greece after the pro-enosis coup d’etat in Cyprus in 1974).

  83. I was going to post something longwinded here, but John pretty much said everything that needs saying on the subject.

    I would only add one other element to the discussion: we are able to second-guess the decisions of WWII not only because of 20/20 hindsight, but also because of our emotional detachment from the conflict. Americans were not only tiring of life during wartime, but every single American had lost friends and loved ones in the conflict. I doubt most Americans would have given a rat’s ass by the beginning of 1945 if we had simply wiped out the entire Japanese population. They had been robbed of sentimentality and empathy by the brutality of war. Would you willingly sacrifice your brother/father/lover for the fate of far-off people who you grown to hate when there was an alternative? What would you think of an American leader who would have asked for such a sacrifice? You’d be ready to lynch that person, I’d think.

    Second-guessing Hiroshima and Nagasaki is the worst sort of navel-gazing and self-hate. I hope America never has to do anything like that again.

  84. Joe,

    I would point to the Germans. The Germans removed the Kaiser’s government at the end of World War I and replaced it with the Weimar Republic. That of course ended so well for both Germany and the world. There was no guarantee or even reason to believe that if the Japanese government had been replaced, which is a huge assumption, it would have been replaced with something better or if that government was better, the new government would not have again become fascist. The American commanders had the German experience in mind when they demanded un-conditional surrender. They wanted to make sure that Japan never rose again like Germany did.

    Further, the American people had suffered 250,000 deaths, which is the equivalent of today’s society enduring approximately 700,000 deaths. They had also experienced the privations of war for nearly four years. The alternative to dropping the bomb was to either invade and take anywhere from 50,000 more deaths up to a million more deaths, depending on whose estimate you want to believe, or give up the war and leave the very same government that started the war in tact. To say that the U.S. should not have dropped the bomb is to expect Americans to endure 50,000 or more addition deaths or live under the threat of another Japanese war, when they could have ended the war altogether with total victory by dropping two bombs on a country that was aggressive, fascistic, started the war, and would have no doubt used those same bombs on American cities had they had the opportunity. All, so a bunch of people in the 21st Century who hate America anyway can say that they made the right choice. Indeed, I have no doubt that had America invaded Japan and there had been 100s of thousands of Japanese and American casualties, the very same people who condemn the use of the bomb would today be condemning Americans for not ending the war quickly by using the bomb and instead inflicting the national nightmare of an invasion on the Japanese or not using the bomb and instead allowing the Japanese government to remain in power, whichever the case may have been.

  85. I believe after John’s post above, only one comment remains:

    All your base are belong to John.

  86. The point of endeavoring to reveal aspects of history that have been concealed by government officials is to disabuse people of the notion that “our side” is 100% rightious in any action and that politicians, however much revered, are not the saints they are commonly portrayed as. FDR is almost literally worshipped for his role in socializing the U.S. and for getting the U.S. into the war (much as Wilson got us into WWI, something he had promised not to do). Some hero.

    WWI and WWII brought helped bring about the end to the infamous British, French, and Spanish colonial empires. The world is still suffering the after effects of all that. Oh yes, our wonderful allies, the British, as ruthless as any in conquering and dominating large parts of the world. Once upon a time, the sun never set on the British empire.

  87. I don’t fly the flag off the front of my house because I hate America, John.

    Hey, I’ve got nothing but broadminded, compassionate understanding for why Americans were happy to incinerate 300,000 Asian civilians in August of 1945. We liberals are all about broadminded, compassionate understanding. I haven’t walked a mile in those people’s shoes, so I’m not going to condemn them.

    But my sympathy for what led them to their decision has nothing to do with the rightness or wrongness of that decision. I can sympathize with people who were born and raised and slaveowners, who didn’t immediately realize that slavery was wrong. Said sympathy doesn’t shake my faith that slavery is, indeed, a great wrong.

    “There is no reason to believe…” cuts both ways, John. There is no reason to believe that the Japanese people wouldn’t have behaved like the Argentianian people after their defeat.

  88. it’s quite ad to see the same vapid heads argue again and again that, because the other side was bad, we were good, we had to do it, etc etc.

    there is a rock-solid evidenciary case that japan was in the process of surrender before august 6 — that waiting is the only thing truman would have to do — and that truman knew it.

    the joint chiefs had told truman that they believed that japan didn’t need to be invaded and was collapsing of its own accord. elements of the imperial government had been, through the swedish foriegn minister in tokyo, been feeling out a surrender since the second half of 1944, and those efforts had become much more candid by may 1945.

    the entire manchurian army had surrendured to russia without a shot in july. we had intercepted many decoded cables — which were read in the white house — showing that japan’s leadership considered the war lost. truman and the chiefs read this july 45 calbe to russia from tojo:

    “His Majesty the Emperor, mindful of the fact that the present war daily brings greater evil and sacrifice upon the peoples of all belligerent powers, desires from his heart that it may be quickly terminated… It is the Emperor’s private intention to send Prince Konoye to Moscow as a SpecialEnvoy with a letter from him containing the statements given above. Please inform Molotov of this and get the Russians’ consent to having the party enter the country.”

    both general marshall and admiral leahy advised truman on the record not to use the bomb. they recommended a naval blockade — which would have forced japan to roll over in industrial collapse and starvation in the case that surrender somehow didn’t materialize.

    no one in the white house seriously believed they would have to invade the home islands. that’s simply a bit of american guilt assuagement in mythology.

    the bomb was used as a weapon of soulless revenge on one level.

    but, on another, truman was being advised to demonstrate the bomb in japan for the russians. secretary of state james byrnes was of the strong opinion (and convinced truman) that the russians would be more managable in europe if they were cowed by an american willingness to unleash such a monstrosity.

    all this is a matter of historical record. somehow, among those who eschew the reality-based community, it is denied. i don’t know why.

  89. gaius marius,
    You aren’t a historian by trade, are you?

    Considering that further down it becomes clear that they have no inention of accepting the terms of unconditional surrender, I think it’s a tough call to claim that the only reason we dropped the bobm was to impress the Russians:

    “In all likelihood, the difficult point is the enemy’s attitude of insisting on the form of an unconditional surrender. If America and England stick to this, the whole thing will inevitably break down over this one point. On the other hand, although the governments of Russia, England, and America may be cool toward our proposal of a Special Envoy on the ground that it may be a peace stratagem on our part, this-as I have stated repeatedly-is not merely a ‘peace feeler’ [words in English].”

    In other words, we damn sure weren’t going to accept anything but unconditional surrender – why should we? Just so that we could turn around and do the whole thing all over again a few decades later?

    Noting that we haven’t fought a second war with Japan, and on that bit of information alone, it looks like the decision to drop the A-bombs was the right decision. No further loss of life due to the horror of another war with Japan seems is 20/20 hindsight I can live with.

    You can claim that we’re attempting to assuage our guilt by mythologizing. Funny thing is, I don’t think there’s anything to be guilty about, so why would the US bother whitewashing the event? (Smells like more crap conspiracy theory to me, now that I think of it…)

  90. I think it’s a tough call to claim that the only reason we dropped the bobm was to impress the Russians:

    except that it was byrnes’ stated view, of course.

    unconditional surrender

    another bit of american guilt assuagement mythology. why was only total surrender acceptable? and did we get it? few wars in history are so concluded, you know. most end in a brokered deal that preserves some benefits to the losing side — and in fact, this is exactly what the united states got in the end. the emperor survived, as did many other facets of japanese life and system. the native population wasn’t bound into slavery. we didn’t sow salt into their fields.

    what exactly is, then, unconditional surrender? essentially propaganda fed to a bloodthirsty american proletariat to make them feel their revenge instinct was fulfilled. the world isn’t quite so absolutist in detail, except in propaganda. and yet, it was such effective propaganda so as to have become part of the american mythology.

    we haven’t fought a second war with Japan

    more fraud. why should unconditional surrender prevent second wars? did it in 1918? the germans were as far over a barrel in that case as was possible — and the british and french, in insisting on the most punitive terms possible, offered much ammunition for a second war.

    i’m afraid that the entire idea of unconditional surrender is a propaganda piece, often trotted out in militarist societies to justify any perpetuation of conquest and conflict. it helps to remember that the initial champion of the unconditional surrender — indeed, unconditionality in many things — in ww2 was nazi germany. the united states was no exception, fighting most of the last six months for territorial and political ambitions against its ostensible ally which had been positively protrayed to the masses and needing a popular justification for it.

    I don’t think there’s anything to be guilty about, so why would the US bother whitewashing the event?

    you didn’t live in that generation. the guilt that overhangs much of ‘the greatest generation’ is palpable. a lot of the platitudinous malarkey that they effuse now about them is essentially the product of sixty years of telling themselves that they really did do the right thing.

    at the time, millions came home disconnected from the world, as angry at the united states as japan or germany, disillusioned with society and what they perceived to be civilization, brimming over with both personal and social remorse for the horrible destruction that had been wrought.

    read the literature that sprung from the post-ww2 period. more angst and self-doubt you will rarely find.

  91. fwiw, mr rob, byrnes and truman (who byrnes mentored and manipulated through his early and inexperienced years in the white house) left a sufficient record to prove that they weren’t fighting against japan in 1945.

    leo szilard and other conscientious manhattan project scientists met with byrnes in may 1945 to ask him not to use the weapon. szilard:

    “Mr. Byrnes did not argue that it was necessary to use the Bomb against the cities of Japan in orderto win the war. He knew at the time [May 28], as the rest of the government knew, that Japan wasessentially defeated and that we could win the war in another six months. At that time Mr. Byrnes was much concerned about the spreading of Russian influence in Europe… [his view was that] our possessing and demonstrating the Bomb would make Russia more manageable in Europe.”

    this testimony is compounded by many others, including men who worked in the white house at the end of the war. truman himself wrote of byrnes’ recommendation: “… in his belief the Bomb might well put us in a position to dictate our ownterms at the end of the war.”

    in a very real way, 200,000 japanese civilians were among the first casualties of the cold war.

  92. there’s much more to be said, but i think its best coming from the mouths of those who were there.

    Admiral William D. Leahy, the President’s Chief of Staff:

    [T]he use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender. . . .

    [I]n being the first to use it, we . . . adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.

    Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz:

    The Japanese had, in fact, already sued for peace before the atomic age was announced to the world with the destruction of Hiroshima and before the Russian entry into the war.

    Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., Commander U.S. Third Fleet

    The first atomic bomb was an unnecessary experiment. . . . It was a mistake to ever drop it. . . . [the scientists] had this toy and they wanted to try it out, so they dropped it. . . . It killed a lot of Japs, but the Japs had put out a lot of peace feelers through Russia long before.

    Air Force Major General Curtis E. LeMay, one of the war’s most notorious hawks, in a September 1945 press conference:

    LeMay: The war would have been over in two weeks without the Russians entering and without the atomic bomb.

    The Press: You mean that, sir? Without the Russians and the atomic bomb?

    LeMay: The atomic bomb had nothing to do with the end of the war at all.

    Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall, as remembered by Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy:

    “General Marshall was right when he said you must not ask me to declare that a surprise nuclear attack on Japan is a military necessity. It is not a military problem.”

    President Dwight D. Eisenhower, in his memoirs, recollecting Secretary of War Stimson’s informing him of the intention to use the bomb:

    During his recitation of the relevant facts, I had been conscious of a feeling of depression and so I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. . . .

    general macarthur was one of the military commanders most appalled by the use of the bomb. richard nixon later recounted:

    [General Douglas] MacArthur once spoke to me very eloquently about it, pacing the floor of his apartment in the Waldorf. He thought it a tragedy that the Bomb was ever exploded. MacArthur believed that the same restrictions ought to apply to atomic weapons as to conventional weapons, that the military objective should always be limited damage to noncombatants. . . . MacArthur, you see, was a soldier. He believed in using force only against military targets, and that is why the nuclear thing turned him off. . . .

  93. all of this is, sadly, the period where one can point which demarcates that corruption of american morality in militarism that has led us to believe that its perfectly okay to drop 500-pound bombs into populated cities like baghdad and fallujah if we think there’s a “target” in there somewhere.

  94. gaius marius, You aren’t a historian by trade, are you?

    a hell of a lot more of historian than you are apparently, mr rob.

  95. Here’s a thought:

    Forget about Hiroshima. Can anybody defend Nagasaki?

  96. obviously not, mr thoreau. but again, truman and byrnes weren’t fighting the japanese armed forces at this point — they were making a blood sacrifice to mars of tens of thousands of innocents in the hope of dominating the postwar order in europe by cowing the ussr.

    which didn’t work, of course — soviet armies stayed exactly where they were in europe, much to byrnes’ chagrin.

  97. gaius marius:

    It’s interesting how so many people in high places were against dropping the bomb after the bomb had been dropped and the war was well and truly over. It might lead one to think that with these guys around, it never would have gotten dropped in the first place – except that it did.

    It’s unsurprising that anyone who had anything to do with making some of the hardest choices imaginable might not suffer remorse even if it gained them a victory that they would have paid any price and committed nearly any act to achieve when they made that decision.

  98. At what point in human history has any society other than ours worried so much about civilian casualties?

    At what point does our concern and our attempts (worth trillions of our GDP) to conduct war without significant civilian casualties become a sign of morality rather than depravity?

    You and I might disagree on what demarcates the line between acceptable and unacceptable civilian casualties and collateral damage. But you have to admit that there is a hell of a lot of gray area in there.

    LeMay, by the way, was the guy who authorized (if I recall my history correctly) nukes into the Vietnamese theater.

    It morally offends you that 500-lbs JDAMs are being deployed in Fallujah. So what? You don’t have the expertise to determine whether the targeting process was right or wrong, much less moral or immoral. The process takes into account all kinds of things – including whether it is acceptable according to the Law Of Armed Conflict and several different legal and ethical checklists.

    To be completely honest, it pisses me off when you claim that there has been a “corruption of american morality in militarism” when what you’re really saying is that the US military is filled with amoral blood-thirsty war-mongers who are eager to wipe out as many civilians as they can.

    As tho the standard targetting process doesn’t take into account what surrounds the target and doesn’t weigh the benefit of conducting the strike against the cost to the surrounding area.

    I hope that for your sake you never encounter a situation where you have to make any hard choices, because by the time you get through weighing the morality of self-defense against the possiblity of what could be done to you, the body count will include everyone you’ve ever cared about and you’ll be the next one dumped into the mass grave.

  99. “Here’s a thought:

    Forget about Hiroshima. Can anybody defend Nagasaki?

    Comment by: thoreau at August 9, 2005 10:47 AM”

    Not in gaius marius view. But I’d say it was a classic example of us failing to realize that we hadn’t given them enough time to surrender – we were “inside their OODA loop.” We didn’t give them sufficient time to “Orient, Observe, Decide and Act.”

    I think it’s safe to say that not getting a Japanese notice of surrender in sufficient time was a failure on their part – our failure was that we hit them again without realizing that they hadn’t had time to surrender.

  100. It’s interesting how so many people in high places were against dropping the bomb after the bomb had been dropped and the war was well and truly over.

    don’t try to rewrite history, mr rob. these comments were made, by and large, in 1945 and 1946. you’re wrong on premise, and that is a fact.

  101. what you’re really saying is that the US military is filled with amoral blood-thirsty war-mongers who are eager to wipe out as many civilians as they can.

    more precisely, the military is managed and partly staffed by people who couldn’t give a lesser shit if they put the whole human race to death if they meet their objective efficiency.

  102. if you pray to the nation-god of american at war, however, i imagine that may upset you.

  103. gaius marius,

    Your incredibly bizarre world-view is in no way indicative of the reality that our military goes to more absurd lengths to prevent the loss of life of civilian non-combatants than the military of any armed force in the history of the world.

    I really don’t think we have any common ground to start from, really.

    I don’t pray very often, but I will pray that you someday realize that you couldn’t be farther from the truth than you are with this irrational statement: “the military is managed and partly staffed by people who couldn’t give a lesser shit if they put the whole human race to death if they meet their objective efficiency.”

    You are obviously incapable of seeing that the people who choose to serve their country through military service are overwhelminghly honorable human beings who strive to do the right thing EVERY single day.

    I’m not sure why, but it seems to make you feel better about yourself to imagine that they are the sort of mindless, soul-less, evil monsters you cast them as.

    That this view is contrary to my personal experience and the reality of how operations are conducted just means that you are either 1) a seriously simple-minded guy or 2) you have some sort of emotional commitment to these ideas that goes beyond the rational.

    Try some actual experience rather than relying on what you read in books about events that happened before you were born.

  104. “if you pray to the nation-god of american at war, however, i imagine that may upset you.”

    No one – and I mean NO ONE wishes for peace more than I. America at war is the thing I most fervently hope to avoid. That you can’t figure that out doesn’t surprise me any more than your brainless, one-dimensional view of the military.

    I think it’s fair to say that you and I probably won’t ever agree on this. Your view of things I have first-hand knowledge of – and a good bit of technical/academic knowledge of – and your (to me at least) bizarre view of the world pretty much guarantees that.

  105. I just don’t get it. Every discussion I have read on various Blogs by Catholics and other Christians and many liberal types is that it was immoral to use the A Bomb because it killed a lot of people instantly. Some dispute the bombing helped to force the Japanese Emperor to order his country to accept defeat, but most Japanese today believe it did open the Emperor’s eyes to the power of the US. Others claim it was not a military target, but this has been proven to be untrue by the targeting selection analysis done in 1945 [it housed several major Army HQ and other military installations]. Infering that it would have been moral to invade Japan, clear it city by city and killing hundreds of thousands of Japanese and destroying most of Japan in the proces, as well as ensuring the Allies suffered tens of thousands of Allied deaths and wounded. I just don’t get it. I just don’t get it. The noncombatants in every other city in Japan would have been killed as they would have had to attack the invading armies, something the Emperor had decreed. The noncombatants killed in the two atomic bombings would have been much less. I just don’t get it.

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