Thursday, August 6, 2015
The Day the Bomb Fell
What cannot be denied by anyone was that the atomic attacks were horrific and whether one considers them justified or unjustifiable, they were certainly cruel. Of course, so was the conflict as a whole. The conventional bombing of Japanese cities had already taken a devastating toll on the country and far more died in that way than were killed in the nuclear attacks. Japan had also done the same, bombing and shelling civilian areas in the course of the war. One reason why no one was convicted of war crimes for bombing civilians after the war was that both sides had done it and the Allies had to recognize that they were just as or even more culpable in that regard as the Axis. Yet, there were also limits that both sides adopted. Neither the Axis or the Allies ever resorted to the use of chemical weapons and as both sides were capable of employing such weapons it would have been needlessly cruel to do so as neither would have gained a clear advantage in their use. World War I was the example of that. That war also saw an international outcry about the unrestricted use of submarine warfare. The United States was the most vociferous in condemning the unrestricted submarine warfare policy of Germany and yet, in World War II, the United States waged unrestricted submarine warfare against Japan from the very outset. There again was a case of both sides using tactics that they had at one time criticized when done by the “other” side.
Having often talked to people in and from Japan, I have often been asked my own opinion on the use of the atomic bomb and it is a difficult question to answer. I am rather repelled by those who seem to take a simplistic view of it and take for granted that it was either absolutely right or absolutely wrong. It is far too terrible a thing to take lightly or adopt a knee-jerk reaction to without serious thought. Originally, my point of view reflected that of most people around me. It was a terrible thing but it had to be done to end the war. “They started it, we finished it” was a phrase I often heard. Later, however, I took the opposite view after learning about Japanese efforts to make peace which long pre-dated the nuclear attack and of the numerous and often very prominent American military leaders who were critical of the decision. Anyone who would be quick to adopt the Allied position without thinking would also do well to really read and understand the details of the attack. If you can read that and not be horrified by the gruesome, catastrophic suffering of so many truly innocent people, well, I think you need to turn in your membership card for the human race. Fairly early on, it also seemed to me that even if one could justify the attack on Hiroshima, the subsequent attack on Nagasaki, coming so soon after the first, was totally despicable and unjustified.
I do have a position on the issue though, as I hope I have demonstrated, it is not necessarily unchangeable. The atomic bombing was a horrific event that I hope I never become so insensitive to as to not have doubts and questions about. Currently, in any event, my position is that the use of atomic weapons was acceptable in theory but unjustifiable in fact. In theory, I say, drop the bomb if it means ending the war quickly and saving the lives of your people. The other side would do the same if they were able to. However, given the facts that existed in August of 1945, I do not see how it was absolutely necessary to do so. I know the invasion of Japan would have been very costly and even more so for the Japanese than the Allied nations. However, why did the Allies have to invade Japan at all? Why is it taken for granted that such a thing had to happen? After all, Germany came very close to winning World War I without ever giving the slightest thought to invading Britain itself because the submarine campaign was so successful. In World War II, by August of 1945 the Allies held complete naval and air supremacy over and around Japan. There were practically no Japanese air defenses left and the Imperial Japanese Navy had long been wiped out. A total blockade of the Japanese islands would have eventually forced a surrender without endangering the life of a single Allied soldier. It would have taken resources and patience but no great sacrifice of lives to have done that.
The bottom line, of course, is that Japan was fighting a war that could not be won and the suffering was going to be great until the Japanese leadership admitted defeat and surrendered. Personally, I think the Allied demand for unconditional surrender for all Axis powers was a bad decision. It never made sense to me why you would want to make it harder for your enemy to give up but, that decision having been made, the war and misery was going to go on for as long as the Japanese leadership refused to surrender. The use of nuclear weapons in bringing that about was, to my mind, unnecessary though it can be theoretically justified and, under different circumstances, could have been necessary. But, that inevitably leads back to my overall view that the war itself was unnecessary and should never have happened. The Allies should not have been antagonizing Japan and the Japanese should not have launched attacks that unquestionably doomed their empire (and which guaranteed the defeat of all the Axis powers for that matter). The antagonism arose over the Sino-Japanese war in which Japan had no clear goal in mind and which was being waged against the wrong party in China anyway.