Streetwise Professor

August 6, 2015

70 Years Ago, A Violent Ideology Was Destroyed By A Better Idea: Nuclear Fission

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 10:48 am

Today is the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. In commemoration, we are being bombarded with moralizing criticisms of the US’s actions. Japan is playing the victim card for all it is worth, and it is getting considerable support in the predictable quarters of the US and Europe.

These criticisms only survive in a vacuum in which history begins on 6 August, 1945.  Put into proper historical context, Truman’s decision to drop the bomb is readily understood and easily defended.  Real decisions require an understanding of the choices at hand, and Truman’s choices were grim.

The alternative to the bomb was a continued relentless air assault on Japan with conventional weapons, likely culminating with a series of invasions of the home islands, combined with a Soviet assault in Manchuria and then into China. The human toll of this alternative would have far exceeded that of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, especially in Japanese lives.  Curtis LeMay’s firebombing campaign inflicted horrific casualties: the firebombing of Tokyo on 8/9 March, 1945 alone killed over 100,000 Japanese civilians. The collective toll of the conventional bombing campaign was over 300,000 from November 1944-August 1945, and its continuation would have killed more Japanese than the atomic bombs did.

Then there is the invasion itself, for which the Japanese had prepared a last ditch defense that would have put every civilian in the front lines with bamboo spears, grenades and old rifles. On Okinawa, April-June 1945, an estimated one-third of the civilian population died, many by suicide.  The civilian toll on Saipan a year earlier was also large.

Then add in the horrific military casualties the Japanese would have suffered. In  most previous island battles, Japanese death rates were above 90 percent due to the fanaticism with which they fought. The same fanaticism would have been inevitable in a defense of the home islands, with similar results.

And I haven’t even gotten to the American (and British) casualties, which were rightly Truman’s first responsibility. On Okinawa, the US lost 20,000 KIA, approximately 8 percent of the peak US force.

To this add the massive Chinese civilian casualties that would have resulted from an extended Soviet attack.

Many critics of the dropping of the bomb counter that these horrors would have been avoided, because the Japanese were on the brink of surrender. This is the most ahistorical claim of all. Any leader contemplating the recent experience on Okinawa and Iwo Jima would have thought the idea of an impending Japanese surrender utterly delusional. Further, the most fanatical elements of the Japanese military were violently opposed to the idea of surrender even after the bombs were dropped. Officers mounted a last ditch coup in an attempt to prevent the playing of the recording of the Emperor’s surrender statement. There was a large hardcore element in Japan that would have resisted to the last had not the Emperor ordered them to lay down their arms.

In sum, by any reasonable calculus, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as horrific as they were, saved lives.

Japanese claims of victimhood ring particularly hollow. The fire in the sky was not a bolt from the blue. It was the climax of an orgy of destruction and death brought on by the Japanese, and carried out by them with a ruthlessness perhaps rivaled only the the Nazis in eastern Europe and the USSR. Indeed, Japanese atrocities pre-dated Nazi ones: millions of Chinese died at Japanese hands, often in the most brutal and inhumane ways, starting in 1931 (in Manchuria) and 1937 (in China proper).  Babies on bayonets were not a figment of wartime propaganda. They were a reality. Indeed, the Japanese reveled in such conduct, in large part because of a belief in their racial superiority. And don’t forget that Japan: (a) had its own nuclear program, (b) had an extensive chemical and biological warfare program which involved testing on POWs and civilians, and (c) waged chemical and biological warfare in China.

Further, while the Japanese make a moral claim against the US, they are adamant in their refusal to admit the validity of any such claim against them. Unlike the Germans, who have for the most part come to grips with their past and acknowledge and have paid reparations for the actions of the Hitler government, the Japanese have largely obfuscated and denied what their forebears did with no justification even approaching Truman’s.

Japan sowed the wind, and it reaped the whirlwind. That should be the focus of Japan’s commemoration of Hiroshima.

Some weeks ago, Obama said “ideologies are not defeated with guns but better ideas.” There is at least one instance where that is true. In August, 1945, the violent ideology of Bushido was defeated by an idea. The better idea was nuclear fission.

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  1. “Obama said “ideologies are not defeated with guns but better ideas.””

    Hey brother, it’s working in Syria, ain’t it?

    Comment by SD3 — August 6, 2015 @ 11:06 am

  2. The Japanese seem to still consider themselves as the master race. They are being challenged on that front by the Chinese.They can sort that out between themselves.
    Let’s hope they both lose.

    Comment by Podargus — August 6, 2015 @ 1:09 pm

  3. Hello Streetwise/ Social D, Would you please recommend a good biography on Curtis LeMay.

    Comment by TomHend — August 6, 2015 @ 6:35 pm

  4. Well put.

    Comment by Phil Rothman — August 6, 2015 @ 7:17 pm

  5. @TomHend-I haven’t read any LeMay bios, but Victor Davis Hanson wrote a favorable review of Warren Kozak’s biography.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — August 6, 2015 @ 7:48 pm

  6. The Japanese may seem to consider themselves the master race, but with population dwindling, economy stagnant and pacifism a core tenet of the young–they won’t be proving to anyone, anytime soon.

    Comment by The Pilot — August 6, 2015 @ 8:52 pm

  7. Not to mention that the iron curtain was already beginning to rise in Europe and hope for a free eastern Europe was already dashed by August 1945. All the signs of an antagonistic USSR were there for all to see. Had the Soviets joined in against Japan (as they committed to in Yalta), they would have first seized land in northern Japan (including the northern islands whose ownership they fought a brief war with Japan over 20 years earlier). Once in, the Soviets would have never left. We’d then be dealing with a divided Japan — partly ruled by a puppet communist. The Japanese would likely never have achieved the economic successes they did along with its associated wealth and economic might.

    Comment by Scott — August 6, 2015 @ 10:41 pm

  8. It has to be said that having their cities torched from the air has knocked all the expansionist aggression right out of Japan and Germany, apparently permanently. Certainly something persuaded them to stop invading their neighbours. I wonder what that could be?

    George Macdonald Fraser relates, in ‘Quartered Safe Out Here’, what he said to anyone who argued the A-bombings shouldn’t have taken place. He used to ask them if they personally would like to offer themselves up to die, right now, instead. To spare a few hundred thousand Japanese lives, would the objector personally be prepared to die immediately? Because if not, all they’re arguing is that they think our conscripted civilian soldiers should have died instead of Japan’s.

    Comment by Green as Grass — August 7, 2015 @ 2:46 am

  9. Hiroshima today is a bright shining city , go figure. What I’d like to know is the point of Nagasaki, days later. Is it just to emphasize that there were more where Hiroshima came from? Or a riposte to the hard militarists who opposed surrender?

    Comment by t c phillips — August 7, 2015 @ 6:30 am

  10. Interesting analysis…

    Comment by Viennacapitalist — August 7, 2015 @ 8:44 am

  11. “What I’d like to know is the point of Nagasaki, days later. Is it just to emphasize that there were more where Hiroshima came from?”

    More or less, as I recall. If you dropped only one it looked like you only had the one. Two sent the message that this was going to continue for as long as it took.

    In fact the USA had, by August 1945, made enough fissile material for a total of only four bombs. One was expended in the Trinity test, two more were used in action, and the third weapon was the reserve. It was another three or four months before a fifth bomb could be assembled.

    Presumably a third bomb would have been aimed at Kokura, as this had been the main target for the Nagasaki bomb.

    Comment by Green as Grass — August 7, 2015 @ 11:32 am

  12. @t c & @green: The Japanese did not respond to a US surrender demand issued after Hiroshima.

    Part of the reason was uncertainty as to whether the US had more than one weapon. Chief of the Naval General Staff, Admiral Toyoda was openly skeptical that the US had more than one weapon. The skeptical judgments were in part based on the experience gained in Japan’s own nuclear program, which had taught them how difficult it was to amass sufficient fissile material. This was one reason that the Japanese did not capitulate immediately. The second bomb created enough concern that the US in fact had a stockpile that the surrender party was able to overcome the resistance of the implacable militarists and persuade the Emperor of the necessity of surrendering.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — August 7, 2015 @ 11:45 am

  13. Interesting that the Japanese who survived are known as survivors.
    Whereas Victims of Chernobyl are known as victims.
    And the life expectancy of victims is much lower than the life expectancy of survivors.
    Go figure.

    Comment by James Harries — August 7, 2015 @ 2:08 pm

  14. Scott:
    ” Once in, the Soviets would have never left. We’d then be dealing with a divided Japan — partly ruled by a puppet communist. The Japanese would likely never have achieved the economic successes they did along with its associated wealth and economic might.

    Comment by Scott — August 6, 2015 @ 10:41 pm”
    Germany achieved them, why wouldnt a divided Japan?

    Comment by d — August 7, 2015 @ 3:08 pm

  15. @d: To make a long story short… The US populace was growing weary of the war. Many considered the war “won” once VE was achieved. If we hesitated about using the A-bomb and invaded the Japanese mainland instead, we would likely have quickly lost our taste for the war due to the huge losses the SWP alluded to. This would have left the door open for the USSR; which showed no such hesitancy to suffer massive losses to achieve an objective. I suspect the USSR might have taken all (or most) of Japan. If that happened, Japan of 1990 would have looked like East Germany of 1990.

    Comment by Scott — August 8, 2015 @ 12:38 pm

  16. SInce, as was mentioned above, conventional bombings up to A-day were rather worse than both A-bombs, and were streamlined as a Ford factory, the application of A-bombs could hardly be decisive. Instead, I’ve read that the Soviets’ declaration of war on Japan just at that time was the crucial factor. For whatever reasons, possibly including their own experience of the Soviets as well as what Scott mentioned above, the Japanese preferred to surrender to the Americans. Note also that Russians are never shy of spending manpower like water – arguments about projected casualties which would have swayed Truman wouldn’t make any impression on Stalin, who in fact proceeded to incarcerate and destroy a couple million ex-POWs after the war ended.

    Comment by Candide III — August 9, 2015 @ 9:17 am

  17. I think you are ignoring another reason for the Japanese surrender. On Aug. 8, 1945 the Soviet Union declared war on Japan and quickly overwhelmed defenses in Manchuria. The Japanese realized the Soviets could invade the home islands very quickly. All of the Japanese defenses were oriented to counter the American forces and would not have time to reposition these forces, which couldn’t be spared in any case. Surrender was the only option and the Americans were the obvious choice. The atom bombs gave the Japanese a convenient excuse, but it was an excuse. Conventional ordnance had created far greater destruction and hadn’t resulted in surrender. Why would atomic weapons? It was in the interests of both the Japanese and the Americans to pretend – and then believe – that atomic weapons provoked the surrender.

    Comment by Ben — August 9, 2015 @ 9:55 am

  18. @Ben, sounds plausible: Russian administration is obviously far more devastating than a couple of nuclear bombs, that’s some risk that would have been insane for the Japanese to take.

    Comment by Ivan — August 9, 2015 @ 3:33 pm

  19. A case in point: a Russian publisher has published a fake book by Luke Harding titled “Nobody but Putin”. Gamma-spectrum radiation cannot cause such degeneracy, TV-spectrum radiation produced by Russia can:

    Comment by Ivan — August 9, 2015 @ 3:52 pm

  20. Another case in point: Russian minister of industry and trade has declared that Russian labor productivity has “for the first time overtaken that of the US”: . He must have meant that the U.S. farmers cannot produce food as fast as the Russians can bulldoze it into landfills. Or something.

    Comment by Ivan — August 9, 2015 @ 4:01 pm

  21. SWP- another great post. And I wish to add to the theme that Truman may have saved far more than millions of Japanese lives, and thousands of American soldiers. The 70 year drought of dropping more nuclear weapons is clearly a visceral response to viewing first-hand their incredible power and devestation. If the power of nuclear weapons had remained classified in the Trinity Test and not evident to all people around the world, I would bet a nuclear volley between nations would have already arisen. Our 70 years of relative peace is largely due to Truman’s actions. Rejoice in Truman’s decision and nuclear fission.

    Comment by Cypriot — August 10, 2015 @ 7:36 am

  22. On Aug. 8, 1945 the Soviet Union declared war on Japan and quickly overwhelmed defenses in Manchuria.

    They retook Sakhalin, at considerable cost. The memorial – a row of marble plinths with the portraits of the main commanders – is still there, between Victory Square and Glory Square.

    Comment by Tim Newman — August 10, 2015 @ 7:59 am

  23. Ivan,
    Luke Harding denies writing “No One But Putin”

    Comment by Мудак — August 10, 2015 @ 8:45 am

  24. @Ivan-Thanks. Meanwhile, back here on earth, “Russian Workers Vie With Greeks in Race to Productivity Abyss.” LOL!

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — August 10, 2015 @ 3:30 pm

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