The End of (the) War

Frequent commenter and long-time friend of all things vulnerably pasty, Carr Bomb, contributed what is hopefully the first of many posts.  And its a doozy.

Last week, on August 6th and 9th respectively, citizens of the world observed the 64th anniversaries of the only nuclear attacks in world history, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These events forever changed the face of international relations and raised the stakes of warfare to a point which, to this date, has undoubtedly forced the world’s major powers to seek more creative and peaceful solutions to their disagreements. But was the cost in innocent human lives destroyed by both atomic bombs worth the Pax Americana today’s citizens are lucky enough to enjoy?

61% of Americans say “yes”, according to a recent Quinnipiac University poll. It’s worth noting that the percentage of Americans saying “yes” increases dramatically with age, meaning that those who were alive at the time of the bombing, born shortly after World War II, or who grew up during the imminent nuclear holocaust and paranoia of the Cold War, are far more likely to support the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki than their younger counterparts, many of whom consider the nuclear attacks to have been acts of “State Terrorism.”

Before deciding for myself, I wanted to look at the relevant facts:

(1) World War II was a “total war”, which means that “participants placed their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities at the service of the war effort, erasing the distinction between civilian and military resources.” Due to the complete failure to peacefully resolve World War I through armistice, the Allies insisted on unconditional surrender to end World War II.

(2) The Empire of Japan was an aggressive state controlled by a military dictatorship that had nationalized industry, subjugated its populus through propaganda and fear, and had focused its entire civilizational capacity on military expansion.

(3) Japan failed to observe agreed-upon international law regarding treatment of POW’s and civilians in occupied territories:

(a) Japanese military forces were specifically directed to follow a scorched-earth strategy—to “kill all, burn all, loot all.”

(b) In occupied territories, in addition to cannibalism, contests as to who could decapitate the most civilians, and infant rape, Japanese forces executed as many as 30 million people, including 26 million Chinese civilians. After the war, only 56 Chinese POWs were released.

(4) During the 133 battles of the War in the Pacific (7 July 1937 – 2 September 1945), the Allies suffered 4,440,000+ military casualties and 24+ million civilian casualties. The Empire of Japan suffered 3,340,000+ military casualties and 960,000+ civilian casualties.

(5) The Battle of Okinawa was the last large pitched battle fought in world history. Approximately one fourth of the civilian population of the culturally non-Japanese Okinawa Honto died as a result of the Battle of Okinawa. In terms of number of deaths (altogether over 300,000 people died), this was the bloodiest battle of the Pacific War. 14,000 soldiers had to be discharged for psychological reasons. 90% of buildings on the non-Japanese Okinawa were destroyed. After it became clear the island would be taken by Allied Forces, Japanese soldiers forced Ryukyu civilians to blow themselves up with hand grenades to avoid being captured by the Allies.

(6) The allies were planning on using Okinawa as a base for launching an invasion of mainland Japan, which had approximately 313 times the land area and 117 times the population of Okinawa. Compared to the Japanese mainland, Okinawa was culturally non-Japanese and therefore less susceptible to the nationalism propagated in the schools of all Japanese occupied territories from the 1868 Meiji Restoration. An invasion of the Japanese mainland, it was reasoned, would face civilian opposition even more ferocious than that found in Okinawa. Furthermore, Okinawa is relatively flat compared to the Japanese mainland, which is over 70% mountainous, making a land-based assault even more difficult.

(7) It was estimated using the experience of Okinawa that an invasion of mainland Japan would require at least 5,000,000 allied troops to balance the 5,000,000-strong Japanese standing army and respond to civilian resistance. It was believed that a mainland invasion would result in allied casualties of upwards of 1 million, with a much greater number of Japanese casualties.

(8) The United States strategic bombing of Japan from 1942 to 1945 had resulted in the destruction of 67 Japanese cities, as many as 500,000 Japanese deaths, and 5,000,000 people made homeless. The Empire of Japan ignored the ultimatum demanding its subsequent surrender.

(9) The Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6th and 9th respectively killed 140,000 and 80,000 (together 5% of the total Japanese war dead and three-fifths of one percent of the total number of people killed in the Pacific Theater of War). The Potsdam Declaration demanding Japanese surrender issued after the first atomic bombing of Hiroshima was ignored by the Empire of Japan.

(10) Due to the fact that “Fat Man” and “Little Boy” were the only nuclear devices the US had in its arsenal and together were considered incapable of inflicting damage enough to compel a Japanese surrender, Allied forces decided the only way to end the war would be to (a) convince the Japanese that stocks of this new, powerful bomb were virtually unlimited, and (b) to maximize the psychological impact of the bombs on the Japanese civilization.

(11) Accordingly, Kyoto was chosen as the first city to be bombed using this new technology due to its being the Japanese cultural, artistic, religious, and historical capital. However, US Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson had gone there for his honeymoon and, in a display of complete bureaucratic abuse, thankfully removed Kyoto from the list of potential targets.

(12) Hiroshima, being the main shipping port for western Japan, and Kokura, being the location of a massive Japanese arsenal, were chosen as targets, being of both military and psychological importance to the Japanese. However, Kokura was obscured by cloud cover, so the nearby city of Nagasaki, being another major shipping port, was bombed instead.

The Quinnipiac poll found that support for the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki increases with age. It’s easy to see why those familiar with these relevant facts generally support the dropping of two atomic bombs on the Empire of Japan. The opinions of many younger Americans are doubtlessly colored by current political conditions: (1) we live in a time where “US bombings” are much more morally dubious than they were during the closing years of the Second World War. A terrorist hijacks a plane and America responds by bombing the city of his birth; satellite photos show something suspicious, so the US occupies a country and destabilizes an entire region of the globe; or we don’t like the results of a democratic election in a third world country, so we finance and arm a nationalist dictator; (2) a nuclear event now has the capability to effectively end civilization as we know it. This was not the case with the relatively weak “Fat Man” and “Little Boy”; and (3) Japan is now one of our strongest allies and enjoys a reputation for peace in the international community. Their culture fascinates and entertains us, their tourists visit our national monuments, and we buy their cars and electronics. Given the current shape of the world, it`s understandable, although incredibly ignorant, that younger Americans would consider the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to have been acts of State Terrorism.

The idea that it’s okay to drop a weapon of mass-destruction on a city full of civilians sounds appalling to sane, caring individuals. And it is. But it’s worth examining the realities of the situation at the time before jumping to conclusions on whether or not the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were necessary or not, because during World War II, sane, caring individuals were nowhere to be found, major powers were engaged in Total War, and the maxim was “kill or be killed”.

The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki succeeded, at a relatively small cost in human lives, in subduing (as opposed to simply containing) the destructive, propaganda-riddled, and genocidal Empire of Japan. The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended the worst tragedy in the history of the world, bringing peace to nearly all nations, and setting off an arms race that eventually raised the stakes of major powers going to war to a level where no nation has, ushering in an unprecedented period of world peace.

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4 Responses to The End of (the) War

  1. MAR says:

    Excellent perspective on the relevant points. I wonder what you think, however, about the necessity of Nagasaki. I mean, if we had waited another week, maybe even two, let the word get out around the country about the horrors in Hiroshima. Blanket Japan with propaganda details of the terrible nature of nuclear weapons. Send out multiple feelers to both the emperor and potential coup groups. What might have happened?

  2. Carr says:

    The full implications of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima were not really understood or appreciated at the time. It was reasoned that, after Hiroshima, since Japanese command was now aware of the fact that the Allies possessed some sort of new superbomb, but unaware of just how devastating it was, another demonstration was neccesary to compel surrender.

    The second atomic bomb was originally scheduled to be dropped on Kokura on August 11th. However, weather forecasts suggested a five-day period of cloud cover would begin on August 10th, so the day of attack was moved up to August 9th.

    During the period from August 6th through August 9th, Japanese command did not respond to the Potsdam Declaration demanding unconditional surrender and were considering surrendering with the conditions that (1) the Imperial rule be preserved; (2) Japanese Imperial Headquarters be responsible for diasarmament and demobilization; (3) there be no Allied occupation; and (4) punishment of war criminals be delegated to Japanese authorities, which is really no surrender at all, merely an armistice, which the Allies had previously concluded, on the basis of the dubious peace of World War I and the nature of the Japanese war-machine, was unacceptable.

    US Military Command felt, due to the general crudeness and apparent ineffectiveness of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, that it was neccesary to bring the Soviets into the Pacific War, and persuaded Stalin to declare the Soviet-Japanese neutrality pact to be null and void and begin attacking the Empire of Japan from the North, foreshadowing a two-pronged invasion. The Soviets invaded Machuria, Sakhalin, the Kuril Islands, and North Korea on August 9th, ten hours before the the bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, with the support of US-led forces.

    After Nagasaki, US forces planned for more atomic bombings of Japan and began to doubt whether “Fat Man” and “Little Boy” had created a strong enough psychological effect to compel Japanese surrender.

    Due to the fact that the next bomb wouldn`t be ready until the third week of August, with six more to follow in September and October, the strategic plan for use of the bombs was reconsidered.

    Allied forces wondered whether the bombs would be better used in conjuntion with a mainland invasion, less psychologically and more practically. Meanwhile, Japanese military command prepared for a Soviet invasion of Hokkaido and a US invasion of Kyushu by mobilizing troops and planning to impose martial law on Japanese civilians.

    There was no indication that Japanese command was even considering unconditional surrender as a result of the bombs: troops were preparing for a two-front war, the Potsdam Declaration was ignored, and martial law was being imposed.

    Japanese civilians expected the same treatment by occupied forces as they gave the Chinese and it was generally believed, due to imperial propaganda, that Americans were cannibals and would eat Japanese civilians. And while there were many atrocities committed by occupying forces after the war, including thousands of rapes, child rape, etc., the degree was no where near what had occured during the Japanese Imperial occupation of China.

    In his famous radio address to the Japanese nation announcing surrender, Emperor Hirohito suggested that the new bombs had the capacity to destroy all civilization, but in his address to military command, he did not mention the bombs, but rather suggested that the Japanese military did not have the capacity to fight a two-front war against the US and the Soviets. This begs the question of whether or not the impact of the bombs was what actually compelled Japanese surrender, or whether the Soviet presence to the north was the ultimate reason.

    Hirohito surrendered to the Allies on the condition that the Imperial Rule be preserved. Even this was not the unconditional surrender the Allies had demanded, but was accepted. Effectively, the Japanese had managed to negotiate an armistice, not a full surrender, despite being hit by two atomic bombs.

    Soviet forces continued to attack Japanese territory after the armistice had been negotiated, which compelled President Truman to demand a full US-led occupation of the Japanese mainland and South Korea, using the bomb as leverage, having the bomb be declared the official reason for surrender. However, it is doubtful that the atomic bombings were the real reason for surrender. They were merely the official reason given.

  3. […] discussing Carr’s excellent post with friends, I ended up noting how overrated the nuclear peace theory is.  The theory is that […]

  4. […] Christopher Carr wrote about Hiroshima back in 2009. […]

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