August 05, 2005

Hiroshima, It's Personal

Tomorrow is the 60th anniversary of the destruction of Hiroshima by an atomic weapon dropped by the Enola Gay. I suppose it should go without saying that I despise the historical revisionism that goes on these days, especially concerning the actions surrounding the use of the atomic bomb to end the conflict with Japan and bring WW II to a close. President Truman then believed it was the right thing to do and I've seen nothing that is even marginally convincing that he acted in anything other than the best interests of the American people and the Japanese people.

Yes, I said the Japanese people. Victor Davis Hanson touches on this today in response to those who feel President Truman acted rashly, or in a racist, militaristic, and vindictive manner in an excellent essay that helps provide some context that is sorely lacking in most revisionist histories:

For 60 years the United States has agonized over its unleashing of the world’s first nuclear weapon on Hiroshima on August 6, 2005. President Harry Truman’s decision to explode an atomic bomb over an ostensible military target — the headquarters of the crack Japanese 2nd Army — led to well over 100,000 fatalities, the vast majority of them civilians.

Critics immediately argued that we should have first targeted the bomb on an uninhabited area as a warning for the Japanese militarists to capitulate. Did a democratic America really wish to live with the burden of being the only state that had used nuclear weapons against another?

Later generals Hap Arnold, Dwight Eisenhower, Curtis LeMay, Douglas Macarthur, and Admirals William Leahy and William Halsey all reportedly felt the bomb was unnecessary, being either militarily redundant or unnecessarily punitive to an essentially defeated populace.

Yet such opponents of the decision shied away from providing a rough estimate of how many more would have died in the aggregate — Americans, British, Australians, Asians, Japanese, and Russians — through conventional bombing, continuous fighting in the Pacific, amphibious invasion of the mainland, or the ongoing onslaught of the Red Army had the conflict not come to an abrupt halt nine days later and only after a second nuclear drop on Nagasaki.

Truman’s supporters countered that, in fact, a blockade and negotiations had not forced the Japanese generals to surrender unconditionally. In their view, a million American casualties and countless Japanese dead were adverted by not storming the Japanese mainland over the next year in the planned two-pronged assault on the mainland, dubbed Operation Coronet and Olympic.

The key word in that excerpt is "countless." My mother-in-law was a teenager living in Tokyo in 1945. Who knows what would have happened to her and perhaps tens of millions of Japanese had we been forced to actually invade Honshu, Shikoku, Kyushu and Hokkaido? Suffice it to say that the rules of engagement for our troops would have been noticeably harsher and less forgiving for the Japanese in 1945 than they are for the various nationalities they encounter in Iraq and Afghanistan today. The brutality experienced by both sides on Okinawa would only have intensified with an invasion of the main islands.

My mother-in-law lived through the fire-bombing of Tokyo in March of that year that killed 150,000 people, and she has some truly horrible, disturbing stories to tell about the war and its aftermath. As Sherman said, war is all hell. But would she have survived an American invasion? Who knows, buteven if she had, is it likely that she would have ended up marrying an American serviceman nine years later? As it was, she was castigated by her family for doing so. I can only imagine how much more unlikely all this might have been had the war not ended after the second atomic bomb fell on Nagasaki.

Is it too much of a stretch to imagine that my wife, her sister, our children, and her niece and nephew owe their lives to President Truman's decision to drop the bomb?

DOWNDATE: I see that others share my sentiments:

Sixty years later, Tomiko Morimoto West still remembers the low drone of the B-29 that flew over Hiroshima and changed her life forever. She was just 13. The horrific atomic blast on Aug. 6, 1945, all but wiped out her hometown in an instant. Her widowed mother was killed, and her grandparents would die later in agony.

"They left me all by myself," she said.

All alone, she suffered the effects of radiation sickness, which may have contributed to her inability to have children. But she is not bitter.

West, now 73 and a retired Vassar College lecturer, believes the atomic bomb that robbed her of her family and her innocence saved countless lives - Japanese and American.

"If it was not for the atomic bomb, we [Japanese] were in such a mental state, we would have fought until the last person," said West, who was taught as a little girl how to fight with a sharpened bamboo stick in the event of an invasion.

Posted by Charles Austin at August 5, 2005 09:58 AM

Do you know, I have an aunt who's Japanese - she and my uncle met while he was serving in the occupation - and I had literally never thought of her life in the context of the war before. I need to ask her about it...

Posted by: Tanya at 07:53 PM