History

Harry Truman's "Courage"

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A little late to the great Jon Stewart/Harry Truman war criminal debate, but I just came across it today, from the May 18 issue of American Conservative. (The article is not online for non-subscribers, alas.) Stuart Reid quoted English (and Catholic convert) philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe on Truman:

I have long been puzzled by the common cant about President Truman's courage [in dropping the A-bomb]…Given the right circumstances (e.g. that no one whose opinion matters will disapprove), a quite mediocre person can do spectacularly wicked things without thereby becoming impressive.

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  1. …a quite mediocre person can do spectacularly wicked things without thereby becoming impressive.

    Face, Harry Truman. FACE.

  2. Like most Democrats, he seemed remarkably unencumbered by conscience when called upon to do shitty things in big ways to large numbers of people.

  3. Don’t be so hard on Truman. Had he not taken swift action, we’d all be driving Hondas and Toyotas and eating sushi right now. Oh, wait.

  4. So what’s the point, that all snotty statements are true? I find Ms. Anscombe’s remark to embody the superlative of two adjectives, “fatuous” and “incorrect”. Shocking to say, but being defeated by the U.S. is the best thing that ever happened to Japan.

  5. Scott,

    It’s the moral certainty acquired from utilitarianism that allows such a casual attitude toward atrocity. Treating individuals like beads on an abacus for the purposes of moral calculation doesn’t give you a whit of empathy for the beads themselves.

  6. Legendary stories about GEM Anscombe are eagerly collected by Philosophy grad students.

    One is that if you walked into her office hours, it wouldn’t be uncommon for you to see her nursing one of her 8 kids.

  7. a quite mediocre person

    It’s a little known fact that Harry Truman’s full name was Harry Mediocre Asshole Truman.

  8. Truman: If you’re here to make peace, surrender or be destroyed. If you’re here to make war, we surrender.

    Dr. Zoidberg: Both good. The important thing is I’m meeting new people.

    Truman: Bushwah! Now what’s your mission? Are you planning to make some kind of alien-human hybrid?

    Zoidberg: Are you coming onto me?

    Truman: Hot crackers, I take exception to that!

    Zoidberg: (sexfully) I’m not hearing a no.

  9. Well, the quote assumes Truman was quite mediocre, which is true, and the atomic bombings were spectacularly wicked, which they’re not. Or rather, both propositions are arguably um, arguable which makes this quote (out of context at least) quintessential question begging.

    As an aside the “Contraception and Chastity” essay lauded in that obit reads almost exactly (not in a plagiarist sense though) like that one by the thrice-divorced dude’s one on gay marriage.

  10. When you’re done condemning HST take a minute, put yourself in his shoes (hindsight is strictly prohibited, you know no more than Truman did) and make the decision.

    If you’re honest with yourself (~8% of the human race are) you’ll admit that very good arguments for nuking at least one Japanese city existed.

  11. My uncle emphatically insisted that the yellowman has no soul…

  12. First, the Japanese received several days warning before the first bombing. That’s more than we got for Pearl Harbor. Second, even after the first bomb, they still didn’t surrender. And when we dropped the second bomb it took them two more days still for them to surrender.

  13. Laptop Bombardier time!

  14. you’ll admit that very good arguments for nuking at least one Japanese city existed.

    Of course there were. That doesn’t mean it was courageous.

  15. “It’s the moral certainty acquired from utilitarianism that allows such a casual attitude toward atrocity. Treating individuals like beads on an abacus for the purposes of moral calculation doesn’t give you a whit of empathy for the beads themselves.”

    Generic utilitarianism toward one’s own people at all times is wrong.

    Treating the population of an enemy nation that you have been fighting an extremely vicuous war with as beads on an abacus is perfectly legit.

  16. Treating the population of an enemy nation that you have been fighting an extremely vicuous war with as beads on an abacus is perfectly legit.

    That made me poop my pants a little. In a bad way.

  17. Gilbert is Atilla.

  18. Demagogery or Douchebaggery (sp?) you be the judge.

  19. If you’re honest with yourself (~8% of the human race are) you’ll admit that very good arguments for nuking at least one Japanese city existed.

    The sticking point though is that vanishingly few of those arguments go on to justify nuking a second city.

  20. Wait, maybe Gilbert is Cato. Japano delenda est.

  21. Historians have a tendency to equate “greatness” with “number of people murdered.” Naturally Truman is admired.

    For the gentleman above, who’s apparently trying to make himself out as a member of a persecuted minority by parroting the received wisdom: presumably Truman knew what most Americans did not until recently – that Japan had been trying to surrender since January of 1945.

    Of course it’s crass to deny the Mob-owned little creep HST his moment of glory. He was, after all, only a relatively minor murderer by WWII standards. Though he appears to’ve tried to catch up with wholesale butchery of Korean civilians, not too long thereafter.

  22. If we had not dropped the atomic weapons on Japan we would have likely continued to firebomb Japan for many months more. This assumes that Japan would not have surrendered short of an outright invasion and occupation. Anyway, if it was a war crime to bomb Japan with atomic weapons it seems just as likely to me that it was a war crime to bomb Japan with incendiary weapons.

  23. J sub D

    It appears that quite a few people don’t want to admit what doesn’t fit in their narrative. They are unwilling to admit the obvious: A war leader’s obligations are to HIS sid, not the enemies. Those total douchebags that mindlessly criticise Truman spout off like they would indeed rather send a large number of their own to their deaths than do what’s necessary to win. No however rational argument is going to persuade them. They are pompous, self-important, idiots.

    /justified rant

  24. The sticking point though is that vanishingly few of those arguments go on to justify nuking a second city.

    I’m pretty certain I’d have waited longer than 3 days. Nukes were in short supply and the possibility of having to drop one on the Soviets certainly existed.

  25. SugarFree:

    Hmmm. When John Stuart Mill’s “Utilitarianism” was on the book list for a Humanities course I took in college many moons ago, I don’t recall the prof arguing at the time that it was a particularly evil philosophy. What a dupe I was.

    I wonder if the Vulcans were Utilitarians.

    Maybe Truman was a Vulcan in human drag?

  26. To give Truman a little credit (not really), he inherited whatever fucked up shit FDR had been cooking for years and had to suddenly work with it. Remember that FDR basically shut him out of all war planning and decisions for the whole war.

    It’s incredibly hard to try and understand what logic went into the dropping of the bombs. The Japs were working on their own crazy shit from biologicals to a Mickey Mouse nuclear operation. I assume Truman was scared.

  27. For all of my disagreements with Truman (and they don’t include the “should the bomb have been dropped on Japan” debate), I have to give him credit for saying what he meant, rather than the mush that passes for political discourse nowadays.

  28. Truman: Whistling Dixie! I want this sent to Area 51 for study.

    General: But, sir, that’s where we’re building the fake moon-landing set.

    Truman: Then we’ll have to really land on the moon. Invent NASA and tell them to get off their fannies!

  29. What would have been impressive to me is if Harry had ridden the Big One right into Hiroshima a la Slim Pickens.

    That would have left no question about where the fucking buck stopped.

  30. “If we had not dropped the atomic weapons on Japan we would have likely continued to firebomb Japan for many months more”

    Indeed so.

    Curtis Lemay had been running his low-level fire bombing strategy for some time and would have continued to do so.

    One fire bombing raid on Tokyo killed more people than either of the atom bombs did.

    Using one plane and one atom bomb to kill a whole lot of people vs using a lot of planes and bombs to do so differences only in mechanics – not morality (regardless of whether one considers that morality to be right or wrong).

  31. People throw around numbers like “the U.S. and its allies would have suffered a million casualties in the invasion of Japan.” But why was an invasion necessary? The U.S. Navy, subs and surface vessels, were in position to throw a blockade stranglehold around Japan that would have forced a surrender eventually. Even if it took two years, it would have happened without the need for any invasion or dropping of a-bombs. On the other hand, one could make the argument that the quick wiping out of 200,000 mostly Japanese civilians was more humane than firebombing or starving them out.

  32. Well la di dah, look at Kolohe with his fancy big city suit & his proper usage of “begging the question.”

    Quit towing the lion for Big Rhetoric, Kolohe.

  33. Like most Democrats, he seemed remarkably unencumbered by conscience when called upon to do shitty things in big ways to large numbers of people.

    I hope you mean, “Like most politicians…”

    Eisenhower, MacArthur, and many others with very respectable points of view opposed using the atomic bomb.

    http://www.doug-long.com/quotes.htm

  34. That made me poop my pants a little. In a bad way.

    “You know you’re like the A-bomb, everyone’s laughing having a good time and you show up BOOM! Everything’s dead!”

  35. “But why was an invasion necessary? The U.S. Navy, subs and surface vessels, were in position to throw a blockade stranglehold around Japan that would have forced a surrender eventually.”

    It wasn’t necessary. One of the plans being considered was a blockade. But the plan also included continued bombing. There was no reason that atomic bombing shouldn’t have been part of that plan as well.

  36. There was no reason that atomic bombing shouldn’t have been part of that plan as well.

    Funny, Eisenhower and MacArthur mentioned a few reasons. So, there were reasons, you just disagree with them.

  37. MacArthur and the army high command wanted an invasion for their own personal glory.

    A blockade and bombing campaign would have primarily been a Navy and Army Air-force show and they didn’t want that.

  38. Every action in a war by either side is atrocious, so arguments like this don’t interest me too much. Sometimes war may be necessary, but it is always nothing but bad. It was a horrible shitty thing for all parties. I doubt it was much more horrible and shitty with a-bombs than it would have been without them.

  39. //No however rational argument is going to persuade them. They are pompous, self-important, idiots.//

    Examples of pompous, self important, idiots:

    “In 1945 Secretary of War Stimson, visiting my headquarters in Germany, informed me that our government was preparing to drop an atomic bomb on Japan. I was one of those who felt that there were a number of cogent reasons to question the wisdom of such an act. 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.”

    – Dwight D Eisenhower

    “The Japanese had, in fact, already sued for peace. The atomic bomb played no decisive part, from a purely military point of view, in the defeat of Japan.”
    – Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz

    “”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 because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons.

    “The lethal possibilities of atomic warfare in the future are frightening. 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. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.”
    – Admiral William D. Leahy

    “MacArthur biographer William Manchester has described MacArthur’s reaction to the issuance by the Allies of the Potsdam Proclamation to Japan: “…the Potsdam declaration in July, demand[ed] that Japan surrender unconditionally or face ‘prompt and utter destruction.’ MacArthur was appalled. He knew that the Japanese would never renounce their emperor, and that without him an orderly transition to peace would be impossible anyhow, because his people would never submit to Allied occupation unless he ordered it. Ironically, when the surrender did come, it was conditional, and the condition was a continuation of the imperial reign. Had the General’s advice been followed, the resort to atomic weapons at Hiroshima and Nagasaki might have been unnecessary.”
    – William Manchester, American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880-1964, pg. 512.

    “”…in the light of available evidence I myself and others felt that if such a categorical statement about the [retention of the] dynasty had been issued in May, 1945, the surrender-minded elements in the [Japanese] Government might well have been afforded by such a statement a valid reason and the necessary strength to come to an early clearcut decision.

    “If surrender could have been brought about in May, 1945, or even in June or July, before the entrance of Soviet Russia into the [Pacific] war and the use of the atomic bomb, the world would have been the gainer.”
    – Joseph Grew

    “”I have always felt that if, in our ultimatum to the Japanese government issued from Potsdam [in July 1945], we had referred to the retention of the emperor as a constitutional monarch and had made some reference to the reasonable accessibility of raw materials to the future Japanese government, it would have been accepted. Indeed, I believe that even in the form it was delivered, there was some disposition on the part of the Japanese to give it favorable consideration. When the war was over I arrived at this conclusion after talking with a number of Japanese officials who had been closely associated with the decision of the then Japanese government, to reject the ultimatum, as it was presented. I believe we missed the opportunity of effecting a Japanese surrender, completely satisfactory to us, without the necessity of dropping the bombs.”
    – John McCloy

    “Prof. Albert Einstein… said that he was sure that President Roosevelt would have forbidden the atomic bombing of Hiroshima had he been alive and that it was probably carried out to end the Pacific war before Russia could participate.”
    – Einstein Deplores Use of Atom Bomb, New York Times, 8/19/46, pg. 1.

  40. //MacArthur and the army high command wanted an invasion for their own personal glory.//

    Do you have any proof of that.

  41. The moral issue at the center of dropping the A bomb is really no different than that of dropping any bomb on a city filled with civilians. Is it morally acceptable to deliberately kill non-combatants, including children for any reason? Is it okay to choose to kill some innocent people to achieve the outcome of fewer overall casualties?

    The end result of such an action may be have the best overall outcome but it does treat individual humans as nothing more than pawns and does not respect their own rights and intrinsic value. If shooting a baby in the head would save the lives of 100 others would you be comfortable doing it?

  42. Please remember, Japan, 3rd time’s the charm. BTW, no self serving quotes after the fact if you please.

  43. Bombs tend to kill indiscriminately, their use can hardly be described as courageously.

  44. Every action in a war by either side is atrocious, so arguments like this don’t interest me too much. Sometimes war may be necessary, but it is always nothing but bad. It was a horrible shitty thing for all parties. I doubt it was much more horrible and shitty with a-bombs than it would have been without them.

    Can we agree that it is more atrocious to target and bomb civilians than it is to target and bomb military compounds? I’m sure for many of the people living in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and for all the men, women, and children who died later of cancer and radiation poisoning, a war without a-bombs would have been decidedly much less shitty.

  45. Didn’t MacArthur want to nuke the Chinese during the Korean War?

    I think the focus of this debate is wrong. During WWII, both sides had no trouble slaughtering civilians. Maybe we’ve been away from total war too long to understand that, but it seems pretty hard to justify today. However, once you accept that mass killings of civilians are okay, then whether you do it with a bunch of fire bombs or with one big bomb seems to not make much of a difference.

    I will note that rounding people up in camps and treating them brutally before gassing them to death is worse.

  46. Bombs tend to kill indiscriminately, their use can hardly be described as courageously.

    Good point, but only from an historical perspective. In 1945, carpet bombing was the only kind of bombing that was possible. We leveled Dresden in the same way as Tokyo. Even during the Vietnam tango, bombing was very imprecise. Nagasaki and Hiroshima were both legitimate military targets, given the technology of the time.

    There were many thousands of US troops preparing for (and dreading) an assault on Japan.

    Personally, I think the two A-bombs were justified. They shortened the war and saved a lot of American soldiers’ lives. That is good enough for me.

  47. Les

    I think you indirectly touch on an important point: War makes people think of those on the other side as sub-human, undeserving of respect and compassion. This is true for all sides and in every case. I don’t particularly fault Truman because I think almost any person in his position would likely have made the same decision.

    Read Mark Twain’s “The War Prayer”

  48. There’s also the question of what you’re used to. We’d been bombing the crap out of the Axis powers for years. What’s a couple more bombed out cities?

    In hindsight, I’d have demonstrated the bomb or dropped it on a purely military target, but I have trouble condemning what happened from their perspective at the time. It was a terrible era, and terrible things were happening all around.

  49. I am not sure why starving people into submission is any less shitty than stopping the war in a few days by dropping the A-bombs. The effectiveness of the USN submarine force is well known and documented. Less well known was the effectiveness of the USAAF mining of Japanese waters.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Starvation

    MT1(ss) MayorOmalleySuxs

  50. Aresen,

    Not to mention Canada every time we’re on the same thread, but I have a question: How come Canada doesn’t have nukes?

  51. Step 1 in the Truman is an asshole argument: Explain why nuking them is beyond the pale (with 200,00 casualties) but the FDR policy of using incendiaries to burn an equal number of people to death in Tokyo is not as bad?

    Dead is dead. More people have died from halberds and polearms than nukes.

  52. I don’t see why we can’t recognize it as an atrocity and also as the best thing to do in that situation. That’s statecraft for you.

  53. “I think the focus of this debate is wrong. During WWII, both sides had no trouble slaughtering civilians. ”

    The decision as to whether WW2 was going to be fought as a total war where the entire population of the enemy nations were considered part of the enemy and therefore fair game for attack had been been made long before the atom bombs were dropped.

    The atom bombs were merely continuation of the same thing by different means.

  54. They shortened the war and saved a lot of American soldiers’ lives. That is good enough for me.

    You say those things as if they’re established facts, instead of highly controversial assertions. I don’t know that we’ll ever know if those things are true, but it’s not the case as if they have been established as facts.

    But Pro Libertate is right. Intentionally bombing civilians, the way both sides did in WW2, is like slavery. It’s ultimately unjustifiable. Otherwise we’d still do it. Nowadays, we merely accidentally bomb civilians. It’s a horrid and too slow-moving process, but I’m hopeful that in time, most people will realize that the life of a 9-year-old child in some far-away country is as undeserving of violent death from the government as a 9-year-old child in their own country.

    (trust us! it’s not like we’re accidentally bombing our people!)

  55. The decision as to whether WW2 was going to be fought as a total war where the entire population of the enemy nations were considered part of the enemy and therefore fair game for attack had been been made long before the atom bombs were dropped.

    The atom bombs were merely continuation of the same thing by different means.

    This is exactly true as an explanation. Like slavery, you can explain it, but you can’t justify it.

  56. ProL,

    “In hindsight, I’d have demonstrated the bomb or dropped it on a purely military target”

    How would you have accomplished that using a B17 and Norton bomb sight?

    Les, if you are familiar with the war in the Pacific there is nothing at all controversial about the notion that the A-boms saved American lives, and probably Japanese lives as well.

  57. Episiarch: It’s incredibly hard to try and understand what logic went into the dropping of the bombs.

    Not really. In many ways, NOT dropping the bomb would have been a far more momentous decision. The firebombing had been going on for some time. The a-bomb had been developed and people knew it worked. To not use the thing, despite the after the fact hand-wringing, would have been practically unthinkable.

  58. Les, if you are familiar with the war in the Pacific there is nothing at all controversial about the notion that the A-boms saved American lives, and probably Japanese lives as well.

    Wayne, are you suggesting that Eisenhower, Leahy, and MacArthur (and the others quoted in Alberta Libertarian’s post at 4:43) were unfamiliar with the war in the Pacific? Really?

  59. How come Canada doesn’t have nukes?

    PL, a prety good answer, here.

    While Canada has rejected nuclear weapons, they have a pretty extensive power program.

    Both India and Pakistan made use of CANDU reactors, which had been sold for peaceful uses, in their nuclear weapons programs.

    They probably got more stuff from China and the USSR respectively, though. But that is just a guess on my part.

  60. wayne,

    I’m not sure I understand. We could drop bombs precisely enough to hit two cities; why couldn’t we have dropped one on, say, an island or a more remote military base?

    Like I said, I understand the decision made at the time, especially considering all the civilian bombing we were already doing (and the potential cost to us of an invasion), but it still seems to me that the option was a reasonable one. I’ve read why they didn’t do it that way, but I think the total war philosophy may have blinded them to a better alternative.

    Isaac,

    So the reality is that Canada has paid for some nukes that we have, all while playing the “We ain’t a nuclear power” card. Interesting.

  61. Alberta Libertarian
    The problem with most of those quotes is that they are self-serving or not germane.

    For example, Eisenhower’s comments came to light well after the fact, and there is considerable reason to believe that they were developed after the fact as well. It is unlikely that he would have been deeply briefed on the situation in the Pacific. He still had his hands full.

    Nimitz was right — Japan had been defeated. The problem was getting the Japanese to realize it as well.

    Einstein of course was hardly privy to the kind of knowledge he needed to speak with authority on the matter.

    MacArthur, Grew, and Mcelroy are arguing about getting a surrender — something that is hardly a certain thing (see Richard Frank, “Downfall”).

    Only Leahy really speaks to the issue at hand, and one wonders where the hell he was during the firebombing.

  62. As to Truman’s courage, he was for the most part a skilled pol who knew how to bend with the popular winds.

    For example, joining the Klan in the twenties, because that was as normal for a Missouri Democrat as a Connecticut Republican joining the Rotary Club at the time. And then resigning because it might mean losing the Catholic vote.

    Also, recognizing Israel when the established policy of the Roosevelt admin had been to accomodate the Arabs. But it guaranteed the Jewish vote.

    As anyone can see, very little of what he ever did demonstrated anything resembling courage.

    However, credit where it’s due. In spite of his own feelings and the prevailing semtiment in his party, he did order the end of segregration of the Armed Forces.

    To be sure, thes decision was largely one of practicality; the cost of record keeping to maintain segregation was too high to be continued in the modern Army.

    But that aside, the move took guts and he lost votes and I’ll give him credit for doing the right thing.

  63. Jammer,

    I agree that those quotes certainly don’t settle the matter.

    I just think that they demonstrate that the issue was and is militarily controversial and will probably always be so.

  64. Everyone make their own spelling corrections in my previous post. There are too many for me to do it.

  65. ACCOMMODATE!

  66. Les,

    See Jammer’s 6:11 post.

    Did the A-bombs shorten the war? The Japanese surrendered three days after the second bomb detonated.

    Were the Japanese anxious and ready to surrender well before the first bomb was dropped? The Japanese did not surrender after the first bomb was dropped, and in fact waited until three days after the second bomb was dropped.

    Seems prima facia to me.

  67. that Japan had been trying to surrender since January of 1945.

    they tried harder in August. Odd that.

  68. In hindsight, I’d have demonstrated the bomb or dropped it on a purely military target

    There were only three or four bombs in the pipeline. Hard to justify blowing big chunk of your inventory on a demonstration target.

    Hiroshima was a pretty significant part of the Japanese war effort.

    As I recall, the bomb detonated halfway between two “legitimate” military targets.

    The coulda woulda shoulda debate about the terms of surrender is ridiculous hindsight, in my view. As I recall, the Japanese refused to surrender until the Emperor took a direct hand after Nagasaki.

    From an ethical perspective, there is no difference between firebombing and using nukes. Both are equally indiscriminate and destructive. Nukes have an extra psychological impact, which arguably makes them a more humane alternative. They brought about a surrender, after all, when the equivalent damage from firebombing could not.

  69. wayne, it wasn’t that hard to hit a city. Or even a large enough military base.

    ProL:

    The demonstration option was dropped because IIRC, 1) Murphy’s Law: they were afraid of a fizzle, and 2) they had a feeling a warning shot would not have had the necessary impact. Pardon the term.

  70. My take on the ethics of attacking civilian targets.

    I believe that,in wartime, there is no violation of ethics by the side that responds in kind; Germany by bombing civilian centers in England, effectively waived any claim that its own civilian centers should not be bombed. The Japanese atrocities throughout the war against civilians did the same in that theater.

  71. R C Dean,

    I’m not really disagreeing with you; I just think the total war mindset made the Hiroshima/Nagasaki options more inevitable than they had to be. I could be wrong, too–it’s hard to put myself in the place of the people making those decisions. God knows the times were a lot more difficult than today.

    I don’t hold with condemning Truman. Like I said above, we’d already decided that killing civilians en masse was permissible. This was just a more dramatic iteration of that policy. I sure the hell hope we don’t do anything like that again. Or get it done to us.

    Jammer,

    Yeah, I’ve read that. I’m not sure I agree with their decision, but that’s neither here nor there.

  72. If I believed the nonsense story that the bombings were necessary to save a half-million or more American lives (the lives that would’ve supposedly been lost in a planned invasion of Kyushu and Honshu) then I might agree that Truman wasn’t a war criminal. Of course, I’d have to forget about Operation Keelhaul (you know, where Truman helped Stalin round up millions of Soviet expatriates who were then enslaved or killed) and the war in Korea (you know, where napalm was used on civilians and dams were deliberately destroyed flooding villages).

    But, since the only reason to believe that story is faith in pro-state historians, I can’t.

    Hell, Truman himself couldn’t even come up with a consistent reason.

    Who Disagreed?

    Isn’t RC Dean’s “take on the ethics of attacking civilian targets” the same excuse terrorists use for attacking civilians?

  73. Let’s face it, Americans are just evil.

    First, we enticed the Japanese into attacking us at Pearl Harbor by amassing our naval forces there and pretending to be ignorant of their planned attack. Then we fought them all over the Pacific and sacrificed thousands of American soldier’s lives, in such places as Guadal Canal, just to creat the moral climate necessary to justify our use of the atomic weapons we knew we would create in several years. Evil, pure evil!

  74. Germany by bombing civilian centers in England, effectively waived any claim that its own civilian centers should not be bombed.

    So, when one government deliberately murders large numbers of men, women, and children, that means that the government of the murdered people can now morally/ethically murder large numbers of men, women, and children?

    You can understand how this would be confusing.

  75. Seems prima facia to me.

    But it wasn’t to people much more knowledgeable and experienced than you or I.

    Your post at 7:00 is just silly.

  76. “Your post at 7:00 is just silly.”

    Les, I am glad you got that, because based on all of this Monday morning quarterbacking I am reading I was worried I might have to dumb it down a bit.

  77. “I believe that,in wartime, there is no violation of ethics by the side that responds in kind; Germany by bombing civilian centers in England, effectively waived any claim that its own civilian centers should not be bombed. The Japanese atrocities throughout the war against civilians did the same in that theater.”

    My thoughts exactly. The Japanese were absolutely brutal with everyone they encountered, and Truman was supposed to waste hundreds of thousands of American lives (and probably millions of Japanese lives)? If he HADN’T dropped the bomb, he would have been the greatest war criminal in American history.

    It is also worth noting that the bomb was dropped partially to intimidate the USSR, and end the war quickly so that they wouldn’t stake a claim on part of Japan. I’m rather glad that the USSR didn’t get a big chunk of Japan like they did in Germany.

  78. wayne,

    Just to be clear, I think the U.S. was pretty much the good guy in WWII, even more than the other Allies (certainly better than the U.S.S.R.). The war was horrific in scale and in potential repercussions for the loser, so it’s no surprise that things got as out of hand as they did. It’s not like the Nazis–and the Japanese leadership, to a lesser extent–weren’t among some of the worst butchers in history.

  79. ProL,

    I agree.

    In addition, I recognize it is a tragedy for children to die, on either side. I just think this whole thing is a settled issue, and I am not ready to label anybody on the American side a war criminal based on our use of atomic weapons.

  80. “It’s not like the Nazis–and the Japanese leadership, to a lesser extent–weren’t among some of the worst butchers in history.”

    I am not convinced the Japanese weren’t equal to the Nazis in their butchery. Ask a Korean his/her opinion in the matter. Ask a resident of Nanking. A small quibble in any case.

  81. “and the war in Korea (you know, where napalm was used on civilians and dams were deliberately destroyed flooding villages).”

    I assume you are referring to the war between North and South Korea. I would refer you also to the one that ended in 1945, when they were liberated from the Japanese; that is the one that South Koreans celebrate as their independence day.

  82. …a quite mediocre person can do spectacularly wicked things without thereby becoming impressive.

    Actually, this makes me picture Josef Stalin, not Truman.

  83. I never understood the business about limiting war to military targets. The whole idea is to inflict one’s will on a population which is mostly civilian, so why not kill, maim, and destroy mostly — preferably only — civilians? Seems to me it’d be a safer and more effective way to prosecute a war than to go after the more difficult and dangerous, as well as less influential, military establishment.

  84. Jon E Cumlately,

    I clicked on your name and read the editorial… Very good. Thanks!

  85. This debate shows the greatest danger of war: Voluntary liberticide. War is the suspension of the rule of law. It aligns otherwise sane individuals into two or more camps, each bent on the other’s destruction. Utter destruction, often. And the willingness to go to total war and total annihilation is common. Even amongst sane individuals.

    This is why preparation for peace, on many fronts, is so important. War inoculates the mind from freedom and humanity, and turns otherwise good people into proponents of mass murder.

    I am not saying that, once war has started, some horrible things will not have to be supported by at least some otherwise good people. I am just saying the obvious cost of even contemplating war: Mass inhumanity of man to man.

    It is not for no reason that classical liberals in the 19th century were so generally anti-war. They knew good and well that, once war is underway, justice and freedom cease to be possible, at least near-term. And less likely long term, after people’s minds had been warped.

    Try reading Herbert Spencer and Gustave de Molinari on the subject.

  86. Harry Truman did many things wrong; ending World War Two by dropping the a-bomb is not one of them. His duty was to save as many American and allied lives as possible.

    -jcr

  87. This is the best defense of the atomic bombing of Japan I have ever seen

    http://www.pjtv.com/video/Afterburner_/Jon_Stewart%2C_War_Criminals_%26_The_True_Story_of_the_Atomic_Bombs/1808/

    It was in response to Jon Stewart calling Truman a war hero.

  88. 9 August, more than 5 million leaflets about the atom bomb had been released over major Japanese cities. The OWI radio station beamed a similar message to Japan every 15 minutes.

    The Japanese text on the reverse side of the leaflet carried the following warning:

    “Read this carefully as it may save your life or the life of a relative or friend.

    In the next few days, some or all of the cities named on the reverse side will be destroyed by American bombs. These cities contain military installations and workshops or factories which produce military goods. We are determined to destroy all of the tools of the military clique which they are using to prolong this useless war. But, unfortunately, bombs have no eyes. So, in accordance with America’s humanitarian policies, the American Air Force, which does not wish to injure innocent people, now gives you warning to evacuate the cities named and save your lives.

    America is not fighting the Japanese people but is fighting the military clique which has enslaved the Japanese people. The peace which America will bring will free the people from the oppression of the military clique and mean the emergence of a new and better Japan. You can restore peace by demanding new and good leaders who will end the war.

    We cannot promise that only these cities will be among those attacked but some or all of them will be, so heed this warning and evacuate these cities immediately.”

  89. “This is exactly true as an explanation. Like slavery, you can explain it, but you can’t justify it.”

    Justify it to who?

    Whether anything is “justified” or not is strictly a matter of personal opinion. It is not something that can be empirically proven one way or another.

    And since such things cannot be proven, I see no reason to defer to anyone else’s opinion on that matter or any other.

  90. “How come Canada doesn’t have nukes?”

    Because they are getting a free military protection ride off our nukes.

  91. “…Germany by bombing civilian centers in England, effectively waived any claim that its own civilian centers should not be bombed…”

    Not so, it was Britain that began the bombing of civilian targets in Germany.

    Hitler did his utmost to avoid war with Britain.

    People need to get their history from more reliable sources than Hollywood, comic books, or politically correct school books.

    H.F. Wolff

  92. Wolff

    Don’t you have some Jews to kill?

    Oh, right, the holocaust never happened. It just should have.

    And next time you’ll get it right.

  93. Hitler did not want war with England because he thought they were “Aryans”, not because of some moral qualm. He felt that England should not interfere while Germany carried out its “drang nacht osten” and clearing the slavic lands of “untermenschen”.

    And while it is correct that England began deliberate bombing of German cities (in response to accidental German bombing of residential parts of London), there was certainly no attack on German cities by either the Poles or the Dutch prior to the respective bombings of Warsaw and Rotterdam. (The latter was a deliberate terror tactic aimed at breaking Dutch resistance.)

  94. And while it is correct that England began deliberate bombing of German cities (in response to accidental German bombing of residential parts of London), there was certainly no attack on German cities by either the Poles or the Dutch prior to the respective bombings of Warsaw and Rotterdam.

    So, Germans bombed London, Warsaw, and Rotterdam before Churchill bombed any German cities, is that correct?

    Then my statement that the Germans waived any right to complain stands.

    So, when one government deliberately murders large numbers of men, women, and children, that means that the government of the murdered people can now morally/ethically murder large numbers of men, women, and children?

    That is correct. I’m not sure why you find the distinction between aggressor and defender so confusing.

    As a practical matter, allowing one side to violate the laws of war with impunity, without immediate consequences, gives it an advantage in warfighting and ensures that the laws of war will never be honored. A government that exposes its own cities to destruction by destroying its opponent’s cities may think twice about starting down that road.

  95. Seward “…Anyway, if it was a war crime to bomb Japan with atomic weapons it seems just as likely to me that it was a war crime to bomb Japan with incendiary weapons.”
    Agree. and raise people one – dropping bombs on women, children, old people. Maybe we should just understand that war is savage, cruel and heartless.
    But I am not a pacifist. But I understand that war is killing people, in vicious manners.

  96. It’s really very simple. If you bomb and kill thousands of civilians and win, you’re war hero. If you bomb and kill thousands of civilians and lose, you’re a war criminal.

  97. Victor —

    Sure, they were willing to stop fighting back in January. That’s a hell of a lot different than being willing to surrender.

    The cabinet deadlock that Hirohito broke after Nagasaki was 3-3; the latter 3 were insisting that any offer of peace to the Allies included the demands that there both be no occupation of Japan and that the Japanese government would run all trials of accused Japanese war criminals.

    So, after the Japanese were reduced to the Home Islands, had no offensive capability, had two cities nuked, and was facing the imminent prospect of mass startvation . . . half the Cabinet was still unwilling to offer a real surrender until Hirohito pushed them.

    creech —

    Sure, we could have just starved them out. How many millions of Japanese should we have killed by starvation rather than the under a hundred thousand killed with nukes?

  98. Dr. A.R. WESSERLE

    16 March 1981

    PBS Television
    “The Blitz”

    —snip—

    “…Both Germany and Britain initiated air raids on naval and military targets as of 3 September 1939. However, when the British attacks on port installations in Northern Germany ended in disaster, with a devastating majority of bombers downed — the Battle of the German Bight — Britain switched over to less costly night air raids on civilian targets such as Berlin and the Ruhr industrial region. By contrast, Germany replied in kind only in the winter months of 1940/41, a year later.

    Observers indubitably British, such as the late Labour Minister Crossman, the scientist and writer C.P. Snow, and the Earl of Birkenhead, have demonstrated that it was not Germany but Britain that, after May, 1940, unleashed an official policy of unrestricted and unlimited raids on civilian populations under its new Prime Minister, Winston Churchill,…”

    —snip—

    As I wrote earlier, one cannot get history from Hollywood, comic books, or politically correct text books; and ad hominem attacks prove the intellectual shortcomings of that poster.

    H.F. Wolff

  99. Sure, we could have just starved them out. How many millions of Japanese should we have killed by starvation rather than the under a hundred thousand killed with nukes?

    This is exactly correct.

    Typical estimates put the number of fatalities per day during the summer of 1945 at 4000-8000. If the bombs had not been dropped, even the most conservative end of the range would imply that by November, more people would have died due to conventional warfare than were killed by the atomic bombs.

    Japan was not as bad off as people make it out to have been. Sure, they had no offensive capability, but they DID have defensive capability, which it precisely why Nimitz and MacArthur kept pushing back dates for an invasion of the mainland. Japan planned to make any such invasion as bloody as hell in order to win consensions. Given what happened when we took Okinawa, Japan had every reason to expect that they could pull this off.

    The real X-factor in any historical analysis is the USSR. No one knows what they would have done if we had not dropped the bombs. The fact they invaded the day after Hiroshima is almost certainly not coincidence. Stalin knew about the bombs, as he was told at Potsdam several weeks earlier. The invasion was a land and power grab by an empire who knew the game was up. If we didn’t have the bombs, it is very plausible that the USSR would have been quite happy to sit back and let Japan bloody us up, and then jump in at the end to take whatever they could get hold of.

    So even from a perspective of hindsight, it is highly likely that the bombs saved lives. Without them, the war likely would have lasted into winter, with at least as many conventionally caused deaths PLUS hundreds of thousands more caused by disease and starvation in Japan, which really was on the brink of a humanitarian disaster.

    And of course, the historical record indicates that Truman’s thinking was incredibly pure. He honestly believed he was saving tens or hundreds of thousands of American lives, and countless more lives throughout Asia. By any definition I can come up with, being able to pull the trigger and kill a few hundred thousand in order to save a million takes a mountain of courage. I hope no one ever has to make such a decision again.


  100. There were many thousands of US troops preparing for (and dreading) an assault on Japan.

    One of those men was my grand father. I, and many other people of my generation, might not be here today to discuss this matter if it were not for the bombs.

    I think the biggest irony of this whole situation is that the Japanese actually care less about this and we do. They just want to forget WWII because of how attrociously wrong they were. We can’t get over the few murky parts of our otherwise pretty darned good record in the whole affair.

  101. Shut the fuck up, H.F. Wolff, you Nazi shithead.

    Look, the fact of the matter is that the record is full of WWII allied strategists recognizing that “strategic” bombing of Germany, Italy and Japan was nothing but a terror campaign to demoralize the population – a campaign that failed, to a large extent.

    The record is also full of testimony of those Germans (and allies from the occupied lands) of the systematic extermination of the Jews. Some unapolagetic Nazis boasted of their “success” at eradicating “the Jewish menace”.

    If we were to have a true “Truth Commission” on the Archbishop Tutu model in SA we would find atrocities on both sides. But in the end those who followed the model of the Austrian corporal and his allies the Japanese militarists will be found to had committed the lion’s share.

    In spite of my misgivings about the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, and even moreso, Dresden, I remain proud of what Americans did in the Good War.

    And I understand why good Germans and Japanese citizens are ashamed of their countries part in that conflict.

  102. ‘…Shut the fuck up, H.F. Wolff, you Nazi shithead…”

    Intellectual lightweights such as yourself, and much better brains than you, have tried for over 65 years to establish a new secular religion called “the holocaust”.

    Why? To have a shield to hide behind while picking the pockets of the most productive countries this planet has ever known, namely Germany and the USA.

    Germany, a tiny country, was defeated after 5 years by the combined might of all the capitalist and communist countries; yessir, an outstanding achievement indeed. (heavy sarcasm).

    With post-war “re-education” Germans had little choice but to kow-tow to the communists of the USSR and USA. And with torture one can elicit any statements one wishes; just ask your friend Cheney. Germany is, in fact, still an occupied country and must dance to the tune of the corrupt, broke, and thoroughly despised USA and its own occupier AIPAC. But what is the USA’s reason that its people believe in these fairy tales of the holocaust while its pockets are being picked as we write here? Stupidity?

    Look up the definition of “taboo”, and see how closely the treatment of those that defy taboos compares with those that question the new religion of the holocaust. Witch hunts of the middle ages spring to mind?

    Fact is that there is not a single shred of forensic, scientific, or authenticated documentary, evidence, despite claims of “mountains” of evidence by shills like you.

    The judge in the case of Lipstat vs Irving, in Britain, said as much even though he found against Irving. And this was a pretty recent trial.

    Ignorance is bliss they say. Carry on!

    H.F. Wolff

  103. Damn, Wolff, you REALLY ARE a Nazi. Wow! Can we put you in a museum somewhere?

  104. Such wit, such intellectual brilliance!

    If that is your best retort no wonder the USA is tanking.

    H.F. Wolff

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