Hiroshima bombing anniversary

Today, August 6, 2010, is the 65th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, significant for being the first visited by a delegation from the US, as well as by the UN Secretary General himself. There is no shortage of commentary out there, such as this short essay by Nobel-novelist Oe Kenzaburo, or the statement issued by the mayor of Hiroshima, but there are a couple of specific items I want to highlight.

Despite being one of the most famous incidents in all of human history, there is still a surprising amount of speculation, doubt, and conspiracy theorizing regarding the dropping of the atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Foremost among these is Truman’s real motivation for ordering the bombing; did he really believe that it was the only way to end the war without hundreds of thousands, or millions more deaths, or did he believe that Japan was ready to surrender, but could not give up the chance to show off the awesome destructive power of the atom to the Soviets? I could of course investigate that question all day, but instead I want to briefly look at two other issues related to the morality of the bombing.

First of these is a fascinating, some might say disturbing, questionnaire given to over 250 Manhattan Project scientists in July, 1945, which was first published as “A Poll of Scientists at Chicago, July 1945,” in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, February 1948, 44, p63. (Link thanks to i09.com)

The single question poll has been posted online as an interactive web-poll, but since it isn’t working properly for me I will post the actual text here.

Which of the following five procedures comes closest to your choice as to the way in which any new weapons that may develop should be used in the Japanese war:

  1. Use them in the manner that is from the military point of view most effective in bringing about prompt Japanese surrender at minimum human cost to our armed forces.
  2. Give a military demonstration in Japan to be followed by renewed opportunity for surrender before full use of the weapon is employed.
  3. Give an experimental demonstration in this country, with representatives of Japan present; followed by a new opportunity for surrender before full use of the weapon is employed.
  4. Withhold military use of the weapons, but make public experimental demonstration of their effectiveness.
  5. Maintain as secret as possible all developments of our new weapons and refrain from using them in this war.

Please read the full post at Ptak Science Books for far more details, including the results of the original poll, the online poll, and links to their long series of posts on the history of atomic weaponry.

Next we have the following article from the Asahi, one month ago.

Nara honors its Chinese scholar savior

A Chinese intellectual credited with saving historic Nara from annihilation in World War II is to be immortalized in bronze in the ancient Japanese capital.

Liang Sicheng (1901-1972), a renowned Chinese architectural historian who was born and spent his early childhood in Japan, is believed to have interceded with the U.S. military to protect the historic former capitals of Nara and Kyoto from the air raids that flattened many of Japan’s urban centers.

The statue was unveiled in Beijing in mid-June in the presence of representatives from Japan and China and is expected to be installed at the Nara Prefectural Cultural Hall by late October.

Liang was known for his efforts to protect China’s cultural treasures in areas occupied by Japan during the Japan-China war, producing a map, at the request of the U.S. authorities, of key sites in the country.

But he is also believed to have used his connections with U.S. officers to plead on behalf of Japan’s ancient capitals.

“He strived to protect cultural properties from war damage, not just those of his own country but those of an enemy,” said Luo Zhewen, a former senior official of the State Bureau of Cultural Relics.

Luo, 86, who worked with Liang on the China map, is an adviser to the China Social-Cultural Development Foundation, which has helped promote the statue idea.

He said the statue would have “great significance for China and Japan’s friendship.”

There are no written records to confirm Liang’s role in preventing the bombing of Kyoto and Nara. The story of his contribution appears to have originated with Su Bai, 87, a professor of archaeology at Peking University.

In 1947 or 1948, Su attended a lecture by Liang, who told him during a break about the map of cultural properties in China and his request to the U.S. forces to refrain from bombing Nara and Kyoto.

Su mentioned Liang’s comment to a Japanese researcher in the 1980s and the story began to spread.

Liang was born in Japan and lived there until age 11. His father was Liang Qichao, a well-known reformer during the late Qing Dynasty. After graduating from what is now Tsinghua University, Liang studied architectural history in the United States from 1924 to 1928.

He worked for wartime culture protection under the Chinese Nationalist government.

Lin Zhu, Liang’s second wife, said he told her about his request to the U.S. forces during the Cultural Revolution, when he became a target of student criticism.

“He loved Japan, where he spent his early childhood. He was so troubled by Japan’s invasion of China,” said Lin, 82.

Lin said her husband had kept his appeal on behalf of Nara and Kyoto secret because he feared his help for the wartime enemy might make him a target of criticism.

There are competing accounts of why the old capitals were avoided by U.S. bombers. Langdon Warner (1881-1955), an art historian at Harvard University and a mentor to Liang while he was at Harvard, is also credited with calling for the cities’ protection. The decision has been attributed by some to U.S. Secretary of War Henry Stimson.

Liang’s grandson, Liang Jian, 56, says, “I believe my grandfather wanted to protect cultural assets regardless of national borders. It is, however, a fact that no written records exist.”

As far as I’m concerned, that last line is the most important one. While I am willing to believe that Liang “wanted to preserve cultural assets” there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to think that he did, or that Doctor Langdon Warner – who is popularly, and falsely credited for having saved Kyoto despite his own denials – did so, rather than military and political considerations. The fact is that there is no real evidence to suggest that cultural asset preservation was a factor in the decision over where to drop the atom bombs, which is a topic that I plan to make a detailed post on some time in the future.

Really, at it’s core the myth that Kyoto, and perhaps Nara and other historical cities, were saved from the atom bomb due to a strong desire to preserve ancient relics is nothing but a feel-good story for both side. Now, it might sound crazy to some that any aspect of the bombings is a “feel-good story,” but I propose that it actually serves such a purpose for both the Americans and the Japanese. By believing the myth that our government and military was persuaded to significantly alter the bombing plan, we can believe that, even in the midst of a bloody and inhuman war, an appeal by a humble art historian led us to transcend immediate concerns of war between nations for the sake of the historical legacy of humanity as a whole. We can pretend that while on the one hand we possess such godlike power, we also have the humility to use it wisely, and by remembering how we spared history for the sake of a greater good, we can conveniently draw attention away from the decisions to kill hundreds of thousands.

Conversely, for the Japanese side to believe in this myth is to somewhat allay the wounds of defeat by appealing to national pride. After all, for an enemy so terrified and desperate to win that they would unleash the power of the sun itself to, in that very instant of apocalyptic destruction, to deliberately avoid incinerating Japan’s largest concentrations of sacred and historically significant sites can be nothing but a reflection of how truly significant those sites, that culture and history, must be. To believe so strongly in the power of Japanese culture to affect the enemy’s actions in such a moment creates a kind of victory in the face of defeat, much as the common (although, I stress, not universal) portrayal of the bombings as an event of passive victimhood similar to a natural disaster, with neither reason nor aggressor, creates a narrative in which all moral complexity is stripped away, the virtuous suffering, martyrdom, and survival of the victims are the only salient facts, allowing for a sort of moral victory in the face of defeat. The perpetuation of this historical myth may seem innocent to some, but it enables the avoidance of the grave moral and strategic issues that actually were in play, issues of both Japan’s war responsibility and American reasons for the use the atomic bomb (as raised in the survey above), and does a disservice to those who suffered and died.

And finally I leave you, without comment, the official North Korean statement on the anniversary of Hiroshima and its special mix of factual record and – let’s say – colorful political commentary, courtesy of their always entertaining KCNA news site.

Korean A-bomb Victims Have Bitter Grudge against US-Japan

Pyongyang, August 5 (KCNA) — Sixty-five years has elapsed since the United States dropped atomic bombs on Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945, leaving hundreds of thousands of innocent people dead. The death toll is about 159,000 in Hiroshima and 73,000 in Nagasaki.

Among the victims of the nuclear holocaust, the first of its kind in human history, were foreigners and many of them were Koreans.

According to a non-governmental organization of south Korea, the total number of the Korean victims is about 70,000 and the death toll about 40,000. A civic organization of Japan made public that the Korean victims in Nagasaki alone total 21,384, 10,278 of them dead.

The figures show that the Koreans account for more than ten percent of all the victims.

Many Korean people, forcibly brought to Japan for slave labor, lost their lives due to the atomic bombs. Even survivors died later or are still suffering from their aftermath.

Some of the survivors have come back to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

They have been harassed by mental sufferings as they have adversely affected their descendants in the second and third generations from the genetic point of view. They are closing their days with a deep-rooted rancor against the United States and Japan.

Nevertheless, Japan has refused to make any apology and compensation or render humanitarian assistance to them allegedly because it has no diplomatic ties with the DPRK. On the contrary, it is seeking nuclear armament with the backing of the United States.

Meanwhile, the United States, far from feeling guilty of having inflicted the unheard-of nuclear holocaust on humans, has stepped up nuclear war preparations near the Korean peninsula and in other regions of the world.

The Korean army and people are determined to decisively smash the nuclear war preparations of the U.S. imperialists, their sworn enemy, and foil the nuclear ambition of the Japanese reactionaries, who are going for reinvasion of Korea, servile with the United States.

I also have another blog post related to the Hiroshima bombing I plan to put up later, whereupon I will replace this note at the bottom with a link.

34 thoughts on “Hiroshima bombing anniversary”

  1. A lot to think about here, but I’m going to start with this point –

    “The perpetuation of this historical myth may seem innocent to some, but it enables the avoidance of the grave moral and strategic issues that actually were in play, issues of both Japan’s war responsibility and American reasons for the use the atomic bomb (as raised in the survey above), and does a disservice to those who suffered and died.”

    Or does it? The Japanese government said precious little about the atomic bombs until the 1980s. Much of the narrative that has been produced and sunk in was actually a product of the survivors who suffered and the Hiroshima and Nagasaki city authorities effectively representing the survivors and victims. The right also hates the atomic bombings because they’ve brought about a “war aversion” and has never really beaten that drum.

    The overwhelming number of victims of the bombings did not fight in the war. As any resistance to the war would have resulted in them being dragged off and tortured, it isn’t hard to see why most have seen the atomic bombing as something apart, effectively visited upon them by others. To demand the geopolitical context, either from the city or the survivors themselves is asking, to a degree, for them to frame personal experiences, not in the contextless flashes of feeling of memory and trauma, but with reference to historical background that was not part of their experience. Could we ask the family of someone killed on 9/11 (different, I know) to start their story with the Mujahideen? The government, at some point in the 50+ years of conservative rule could have sucked it up and told an honest story in detail so that people wouldn’t demand it of the A-bomb victims or Hiroshima city, but they didn’t and we’ve been stuck with those memory consequences ever since.

    When the story of the bombings went big on the national level through the 50s (Nagasaki no Kane, Genbaku no Ko, Hiroshima) it was typically taken over by the new left and the bombing was DEFINITELY someone’s fault and that someone was “militarists”. This is common to most bombing works that have become famous (think Barefoot Gen), the Americans are let off the hook and “militarists” are condemned. Since these “militarists” didn’t start telling their stories until the 1980s whitewashing attempts, we really ended up with victims wanting to tell THEIR stories, not the national story, and a victimizer group that was more of a trans-historical idea than an identifiable bunch of guys. This resonated with ordinary Japanese for reasons that are seldom discussed but seem especially relevant this year. Atomic bomb commemoration and representation has never just been “history”, either personal or national. It is also about the present threat of atomic weapons. In the postwar period, ordinary Japanese naturally considered nukes to be something “over there” that might be coming “over here” – this is an agency free imagination that wedded present fears with historical understanding. It was easy to imagine the people of Hiroshima as just being bombed one day because that was exactly what Cold War fear was all about.

    This imagination was compounded through the postwar period as most people have encountered the A-bomb, etc. as part of pop drama – which only works if it sees everything from the point of view of ordinary people who are standins for the audience. Think Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, Casualties of War, Born on the Forth of July, The Thin Red Line, Private Ryan – to the best of my knowledge, none of those deal with contexts out of the immediate experience of the characters and thus win over audiences with emotional association. Ordinary Japanese have been stuck with tearjerkers (and militarist jerks) and once again, I don’t think that anyone would be calling this anything other than business as usual if the government had just taken detailed responsibility. What people got (for the most part) was a series of “personal” histories of the war while only “the reading class” got the leftwing critical goods until the 1980s when that went mainstream in newspapers, TV, textbooks, and so on. The government could have decisively bridged the gap, were it not for decades of conservative pigheadedness. Now we have Japanese war crimes confessions on NHK every August, but hardly anyone outside of Japan believes that there is anything other than a collective Hiroshima group hug on Japanese TV. Blame it on the LDP.

  2. Roy, where’d you read about the Japanese perspective on Kyoto/Nara being spared (as a “victory in the face of defeat”)? And have you read Dower’s take on it?


  3. This is an excellent post, and contains much food for thought.

    Had the U.S. leadership decided not to use the bomb, and invaded Japan instead, after trying to starve the Japanese into surrendering, they would be roundly criticized today for having a miracle weapon that could have finished the war at the cost of one city, as opposed to all the cities destroyed in the conventional bombing or would have been destroyed in the invasion, but for some accountable reason deciding not to use it. Truman would have been more unpopular even than he was historically. This is especially the case because without Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear weapons would have been used in some other situation my now, maybe several other situations.

    I don’t think a demonstration would have worked. There was plenty of opposition in the Japanese leadership to surrendering, to the point of organizing a military coup, after the actual bombs were dropped on actual cities. It was really bomb, starve, or invade at that point.

    The U.S. Army, including Eisenhower, generally opposed using the atomic bombs, but smart soldiers oppose terror bombings of cities in general. Unfortunately the U.S. was well on the other side of that bridge by 1945.

  4. “I don’t think a demonstration would have worked.”

    You are assuming that the bombs themselves actually worked to force surrender. That has been a questionable assumption in the scholarly literature for some time now. We have the blockades, starvation, the fire bombings, the Soviets entering the war and the atomic bombs all to account for the Japanese surrender. And the most reliable records of the decision to surrender are the testimonies of those who had an interest in defending the emperor, and who knew in hindsight of the devastation of the bombings.

    Not an open and shut case then that the bombs ended the war, then.

    In fact, given that Japan’s leaders could withstand 60 or so of their cities smashed to smithereens before Hiroshima, its counterintuitive to suggest that the destruction of two more cities would have weighed heavily on their decision. That being the case, if the bombs were a part of the surrender calculus, it was as their status as special new weapons, something that could have been demonstrated without taking out the cities.

  5. “It was really bomb, starve, or invade at that point.”


    Look at what the Japanese military elite were saying in August 1945. The Soviet invasion of Manchuria was a huge shock. We never got to see what kind of effect that would have, just like we never got to see what effect one bombing would have. Japanese army planners in Tokyo didn’t even get a detailed report about Hiroshima until the Nagasaki bomber had already taken off.

    There was also the option of a conditional surrender, given that the only condition the Japanese elite wanted – not trying the Emperor as a war criminal and keeping the imperial institution – was just given to them for nothing anyway.

    “There was plenty of opposition in the Japanese leadership to surrendering, to the point of organizing a military coup”

    This was small scale, and organized against the sizable surrender faction.

  6. Coming at this from a different direction, I think it’s very important to avoid falling into the trap of thinking that there’s something unique, or even somewhat unusual, about Japan’s self-justifying war narratives.

    Britain has the Blitz spirit, and stories about why the Nazis didn’t bomb Oxford or Cambridge. Similarly, Britain has a narrative about the terrible suffering inflicted by racist Japanese imperialist troops on the British soldiers captured in Singapore that signally fails to ask what British troops were doing in Singapore in the first place. (Come to that, why were there US ships in Pearl Harbor?)

    If anything, it’s taken the British far longer to face up to the possibility that bombing Dresden flat was a war crime, and to admitting that invading half of the world was Not A Good Thing, than it’s taken the Japanese to start the same discussion about their imperialist adventures. It took us almost two centuries after deciding to stop doing it to admit that capturing Africans and selling them into slavery was something we should apologise for.

    The unusual case is Germany after WWII, not Japan. Countries involved in a war almost never face up to their responsibility for it.

  7. Continuing what M-Bone said, I think it’s important to view the A-Bomb not as only a military weapon, but as a means to a diplomatic strategy the US implemented to frustrate the Japanese. I’m looking again for the declassified documents, but Wikipedia has useful information about how the Allies, the USSR, and Japan acted diplomatically at the end of the war. Japan had always wanted a negotiated settlement, and knew it could not defeat the US. In that sense, both the USSR and the US used Japan’s strategy against it. Both knew Tokyo could not hold out, and the A-Bomb gave both the means to force Japan to accept unconditional surrender and for both to get more than Tokyo would have given without its deployment. The US and the USSR knew Japanese behavior because of the Russo-Japanese War, which is almost a dress rehearsal for WW2 in every way. In that sense the A-Bomb is not the humanitarian salvation it is portrayed as; it’s the ultimate last-minute ploy.

    And, given how the Japanese managed to undermine and remove almost every stipulation of the surrender, like liberalization and giving up the Imperial Office, when the North Koreans invaded the ROK in 1950, the deaths of those sacrificed for the ploy were unnecessary. For me, the Hiroshima and Nagasaki are monuments to human hubris about the limitations of human rationality, concerning ignorance of the future and contempt for precedent and probabilistic, pragmatic consideration. I’d say Presidents Roosevelt and Truman and Premier Stalin have blood on their hands.

  8. There is a solid academic argument about the bombs and the Japanese surrender that I tend to favor – when you look at what the Japanese elite were saying before the surrender, most of the focus was on the general war situation and Manchuria. After the surrender, however, they switched to the bombs. Why? Well, saving the Japanese people from more atomic bombs made them look humane. One has to ask, however, when during the war did the Japanese elite treat the lives of ordinary people as anything other than an expendable resource for momentary advantage?

    The importance of this comes out clearly when you look at the two different surrender statements – one to the people and the other to the armed forces. The one to the people stressed preventing further damage from the “most cruel weapon” while the one to the army stressed “the situation in Manchuria has made our military situation untenable” (paraphrase). Given what we know about imperial nationalist fears of the Soviets, arrogance about Manchuria as an impenetrable defensive bulwark, and the tragedies on Okinawa and Saipan, which of these seems a more likely explanation?

    Part of the reason why some are absolutely convinced that the bombs were decisive is a style of historical thinking that takes the “plans” of authorities as though they were accurate. There is a big difference in saying however, that (some) American elites THOUGHT that an invasion was 100% necessary and that an invasion WAS 100% necessary. The American command at the time, however, had no clue what the Japanese inner circle were thinking and only the most vague picture of what was motivating them. We have better access to this now, but most people don’t care to look.

    Just because no alternatives were considered by the top few in the US does not mean that no alternatives were credible at the time – the scientists polled above certainly seemed to think differently and MANY US army and navy people expressed deep skepticism about the bombs until around 1950 when the Cold War chill made such doubts unfashionable. In the meantime, we’ve seen the spiraling of casualty estimates of an invasion – from 30,000 – 40,000 in July 1945 to a comment by one of the Nagasaki crewmen in 1995 that 6,000,000 lives were saved. One for each of the murdered Jews of Europe obviously.

  9. “The unusual case is Germany after WWII, not Japan. Countries involved in a war almost never face up to their responsibility for it.”

    I think this may be going a bit far, David. Japan has faced up in important ways, it has just not done as much in two important areas – textbooks and reparations – as Germany. Second place, I guess, is the first loser. Japan is first place in volume and quality of apology and reparation to former colonies, but in that case, first place is the first loser.

  10. M-Bone says: “The American command at the time, however, had no clue what the Japanese inner circle were thinking and only the most vague picture of what was motivating them. We have better access to this now, but most people don’t care to look.”

    I don’t believe this is accurate. I recall documents that I have to find, but that are available online, that the US and Japan were communicating and exchanging views. I believe the Japanese moderates had contacted the US government at some level with a proposal. But, what is important to realize is, that the Roosevelt and Truman administrations had a certain diplomatic position that no other Power had, and also that the US position was crafted in a form that was unprecedented. It was not what the Soviets or Japanese were saying. Without the A-bombs or a successful invasion with few American losses, the US could not have carried out its diplomatic strategy.

  11. Are you talking about Ambassador Sato’s efforts to broker a conditional surrender through the Soviet Union, LF? The Americans knew all about this through espionage.

  12. Japan has faced up in important ways, it has just not done as much in two important areas – textbooks and reparations – as Germany.

    The Japanese have paid reparations to all the countries involved through treaties, including the South Koreans and even the Dutch (for Indonesia), with two exceptions.

    (1) China, which chose not to ask the Japanese for reparations when relations were restored in the 70s, with the intent of putting the past behind them and looking to the future. It’s in the document. Also, the enormous amount of ODA paid to the Chinese since then is de facto reparations.

    (2) North Korea, for obvious reasons.

    As Aceface pointed out elsewhere, something like 15% (or more) of Japanese GDP in the 50s were going to reparations. They were paying The Philippines into the 1970s.

    As for doing as much as the Germans, it’s not really a contest, is it?

  13. “I believe the Japanese moderates had contacted the US government at some level with a proposal.”

    That’s true, through the Soviets and the Swiss.

    “I don’t believe this is accurate.”

    Note that I said the “inner circle”. We STILL don’t know beyond a doubt what they were thinking. There were different factions and a lot of confusion.

    Americans did know that there were people pressing for surrender and yet still took the 3 shocks in 3 days approach (Hiroshima, Manchuria, Nagasaki) instead of, say, taking a month. We’ll never know if a non-combat demonstration or the Soviet invasion may have tipped things, Truman, the air force command and others didn’t try to find out.

    The diplomatic hijinks alluded to above is one factor, but there are sadder reasons why some people pressed for using the bomb – like the bomber command jockeying for more funding postwar. It was also talked about at the time that the massive expense of developing the bombs could hurt the government in elections so they had to use them, just to justify the budget. Sad parochial BS was at play as well.

  14. “As for doing as much as the Germans, it’s not really a contest, is it?”

    No. And you are right about the 50s reparations. What I have in mind, however, is a bit different – reparations to individual forced laborers and individual victims of the Holocaust (yes, not comparable, but why not something like it?) have been Germany’s biggest successes.

    “Also, the enormous amount of ODA paid to the Chinese since then is de facto reparations.”

    The sad thing about this is if the government had just called it reparations or even associated it with reparations, it would have done a lot for PR, and Japan could claim to have paid over twice the German amount.

    This is the problem with Japanese conservatives on history – they put their own preferred stories over the national interest.

    “It’s in the document.” – true, and I’ve made this same point myself many times, but what did this achieve? Chinese have emphasized domestically that this was insisted upon by the Japanese side. Just two simple things – framing the ODA in terms of making amends for wartime destruction and going outside of the treaty to make payments to Chinese individual forced laborers – could have been a PR coup, could have limited the use of China’s favorite “history card”, and by far the most importantly, could have made it easier for Japanese businesses in the Chinese market. That many, many ordinary Chinese hate Japan is not entirely the fault of Japan, however, smoothing that over in the interests of making money would have been smart. Instead we have had a few things that just don’t sit well because of how banal they are – the participation of Abe and dozens of LDP backbenchers in a Nanking denial conference in 1995. Why were politicians even getting together to talk about history nitpicks at all? Why were they inviting people without academic training like Tanaka Masaaki who was known for writing Daitoa propaganda during the war instead of people from Todai, Kyodai, or Kyudai – Japan’s universities with international reputations? And why Yasukuni, when everyone and their dog knew that it would rot the Chinese and there was a perfectly good place to pray for “world peace” or whatever Koizumi thought he was doing, right next door at the Budokan? And why go to Yasukuni and turn around and apologize for the war a half dozen times, pissing off the far right as well? Incoherent politicking at its most petulant.

    Japan has gotten a raw deal on memory, but part of the problem has been conservatives squandering real international relations capital on things that really shouldn’t have been brought into the political sphere at all. It’s not a lack of being sorry that is a problem in Japan, it is a lack of brains about how to communicate that. Almost 90% of Japanese express contrition for the war in some polls, Japan has, as you said, paid billions, apologized dozens of times in different contexts, has reams of detailed academic research about the war, but conservatives kept handing Japan bashers one-liners, couldn’t consent to a full page about war crimes in every textbook leaving it spread out enough for the haters to get bent out of shape (this sort of section could also do some nationalist stuff like talking about how Japan has been a model international citizen in the postwar period), have never sucked it up and built a memorial, and so on. They’ve just been stone dumb. None of this would even cost very much – either financially or ethically – and it might actually stop the never ending demand for apologies (another long one to Korea due on the 15th).

  15. On Tibbets –

    From Kamm – “He was, on the accounts of those who knew him, a humane man who reflected publicly and thoughtfully on the A-bomb decision”

    From Wikipeida – “The U.S. government apologized to Japan in 1976 after Tibbets re-enacted the bombing in a restored B-29 at an air show in Texas, complete with mushroom cloud. Tibbets said that he had not meant for the reenactment to have been an insult to the Japanese.”

    Fake mushroom cloud? Thoughtful reflection?

    “a brave and decent man, who served with distinction in the cause of liberty and the cause of peace”

    Kamm is totally dishonest in depicting Tibbets as opposed to nuclear weapons –

    “In 1985 he told an interviewer that, if asked to drop a nuclear weapon on Hanoi during the Vietnam War, “I would’ve without any question.””

    After 911, he advocated using the bomb against “the terrorists”- “Oh, I wouldn’t hesitate if I had the choice. I’d wipe ‘em out. You’re gonna kill innocent people at the same time, but we’ve never fought a damn war anywhere in the world where they didn’t kill innocent people. If the newspapers would just cut out the shit: ‘You’ve killed so many civilians.’ That’s their tough luck for being there.”

    Humane and reflective?

    Kamm is also one of these guys that you take to task so often Ampontan – he doesn’t know Japanese, hasn’t looked at wartime records. What does he know? The Japanese scholar Asada, that he mentions has been involved in serious debates concerning his assertions and the nature of the existing documentation, Kamm is interested in none of this, shows no awareness of scholarship that is not in English. Asada teaches at a Japanese university, but publishes in English. He is a specialist on Japanese-American relations. He is famous for publishing an essay in English which fits with Kamm’s argument, not for being a central participant in debates on the surrender in Japan.

    In any case, Kamm is another guy who has simply read the American military estimates in 1945 and takes them as irrefutable. They show us what the American elite thought, which explains the reason that the bomb was dropped, but it doesn’t tell us a single thing about the Japanese side. Those three pieces don’t discuss the Manchuria invasion at all. It is a central issue and no credible debate can be had without it.

  16. I’m not going to get into the “were the bombs worth it/needed?” debate, as I don’t think it’s ever going to be solved satisfactorily, or at least not here and now (my quick views: yes Japan would have surrendered without the bomb: the Soviets terrified them far worse than the Americans, but as mentioned, it gave them a lovely way to save face [yeah, they were lying self-serving bastards], and they were near starving anyway; the damage done to Hiro-saki definitely helped in preventing any more; there were strong political pressures not just to use the bombs, but not to give Japan a conditional surrender or anything better than Germany, etc.), but:

    “…the myth that Kyoto, and perhaps Nara and other historical cities, were saved from the atom bomb due to a strong desire to preserve ancient relics”

    Nara, no. There is however the diary entry in Sec. of War Stimpson’s diary in which he specifically took Kyoto off the target list for the A Bomb. He went there on his honeymoon, IIRC, while stationed in the Philippines. The Chinese tale is as tall as Yao Ming…

    It’s apparently a bit of a myth in my current town too that it was spared due to its artistic/cultural heritage, which is a bit of a laugh.

  17. “were the bombs worth it/needed?”

    Skeptics don’t need to argue that they weren’t needed, all we need to do is establish that there is doubt about their effectiveness, which is pretty easy to do.

    Here, I’m not trying to argue for an apology. I’m not trying to argue against the value of deterrence at present. This is a historical point. It doesn’t matter how humane Americans think it was, it was a few Japanese leaders who decided to surrender and their motives were not decided by the postwar American story of saving lives.

    The “bombs were great” side aren’t arguing that they MAY have played an important role in ending the war. They are arguing that they DEFINITELY are the decisive factor in ending the war and saved millions of lives. There is plenty of evidence that they weren’t as important as Manchuria for many of the Japanese leaders and we can’t say for sure if it was the use of the bombs or their existence that was important for others, hence the relevance of a non-combat demonstration to the discussion.

    This is definitely a discussion that needs to be had in America. Tibbets isn’t the only one to think that the bomb was a cure all for Bin Laden (although he’s probably the only one to say it and be eulogized as a humane man of peace). Kill many thousands of civilians to get some shitbird hiding in a cave – that will make us safer. I don’t expect these nutters to win out, but just like the “Obama = Socialist, Socialist = Nazi, Nazi = Hitler, Hitler = Obama” crowd, they poison public debate about American security.

  18. American warmaking is about massive production. The Germans used the Blitzkrieg, the Russians historically retreat eastward and wait for the winter chill to destroy the invading army.

    The atomic bombs were the logical conclusion to a policy of firebombing, which had destroyed virtually every Japanese city by mid 1945. Walter MacDougall discusses this in his book about the history of the North Pacific, “Let the Sea Make a Noise”.

    Of course, the bombs were wrong. It’s hard to say, from a moral perspective, that they were “right”. But the bombings happened in a larger context, as a thread in the story. If the bombings hadn’t happened, something else would have.

    What’s a shame is that I think the people in those cities want to commemorate the event every August, in plain, human terms. People have a need to remember, and to try and make sense of what is unimaginable horror. And to try and heal.

    I think the people there should be respected every August to do that.

  19. Doesn’t the American Embassy have anyone with enough brains to tell Roos that if he’s going to go to Hiroshima, SOMEBODY has to go to Nagasaki too…. Now this whole thing goes down as a PR minus.

  20. Seriously. The first thing I thought when watching the news tonight was: “Does the US ambassador really have anything better to do than that? Whose white-tie party preempted Nagasaki?”

  21. Taking a PR success and turning it into a nosedive = metaphor for the Obama administration.

  22. “Doesn’t the American Embassy have anyone with enough brains”

    Not even. After the relatively benign treatment this got in the American press, one would think Nagasaki was a no-brainer.

    By the way, who else saw the comments over at Real Time Japan. Pretty much what one would expect Americans who don’t focus on Japan to think about the whole thing.


    This was my favorite: “Perhaps we should test the Japanese people’s resolve by attempting to build a big christian church at ground zero.”

    Obviously, more Americans do need to go to Nagasaki…

  23. Better than the Yahoo comments on AP stories. That is turning into the new Youtube discussions hole. Hiroshima discussion brought out – Holocaust denial, nuke Mexico, nuke gays, nuke illegals, etc. I can’t find it again but there was one comment that was seriously like “The Japanese deserved it. They slaughtered millions of innocent dolphins and Chinese people.”

  24. “The Japanese deserved it. They slaughtered millions of innocent dolphins and Chinese people.”

    I don’t know how innocent were the Chinese,but those dolphins definitly ate thousand of tons of fish that should have been on our tables,you know.

    I think Americans were right to use A bomb to Hiroshima.The war was started by our side and only ended after the A bombs,not before.
    And Japanese killed more Asian civilians than Americans had killed Japanese civilians.

    End of moral debate.

    What the Americans and Japanese need to think is how to make Nagasaki,the last city being bombed by A bomb,me think.

  25. I’m with Jade Oc in being slightly confused about the whole idea that Warner or Liang was responsible for Kyoto being taken off the list of potential targets; I fully agree that its removal helps in the assuagion of guilt on both sides but I’m still not fully convinced it wasn’t Stimpson who was responsible. Does anyone have a link to back up either claim?

  26. Andy, what are you confused about? Where the Warner myth comes from? Why people believe it? Why I’m even talking about it?

    As for Stimpson, I have heard that before but I haven’t ever seen a source for it. Of course, I also haven’t looked for it yet so if anyone knows where to find one I would very much appreciate a reference – online or not.

    I think that the responses here have been very good, but I’ve avoided jumping in because I just didn’t feel like getting into the issues of the responsibility for the bombing itself, which means that perhaps my brief comparative reference to that far more substantial controversy was perhaps ill-advised. When I mentioned the dangers and problems of “this historical myth” I was really thinking specifically about the main myth I was discussing, that of why Kyoto and Nara were saved, rather than any theories about the reasons for the bombing, or surrender, itself, which is a point that I think was rather obscured by my linkage of the two.

    As for the decision to use the bombs at all, I remain somewhat ambivalent because I remain uncertain of whether those making the decision were in fact convinced of its total necessity. Without studying the details quite a bit more, I can’t really comment. I can spin counterfactual scenarios in which it was indubitably either vital or an atrocious and conscious war crime, but without a deeper understanding of the status of negotiations, the exact secret intelligence held by the US government and military at the time, the degree to which a desire to scare the communists actually figured into the decision, etc. I can’t make up my mind.

  27. I think at this point everyone would agree that the contribution made to the war against Japan by the Soviets is undervalued in most Western histories. Whether the Soviets or the Bomb were relatively more important may be unclear, but since they were simultaneous factors that together added up to an overwhelming impossibility of victory for Japan, trying to parse which was more important, rather than their cumulative effect, is probably a fool’s errand.

  28. “is probably a fool’s errand”

    A fool’s errand, perhaps. That fool’s errand, however, also now applies to people arguing that the bomb was clearly what did it. If we just don’t know, the mass killing of civilians seems a lot harder to take for granted as a humanitarian act, still the dominant interpretation in the US. You don’t need a definitive argument to make this more morally problematic than it has been.

  29. Looking at the whole discussion, I am suprised to see that “impressing” the soviets doesn’t seem to be a valid reason to drop the bomb.
    The soviet entrance in Asia gave plenty of reasons to accelerate the end of the war by any means. Had the war lasted longer, Moscow could have occupied a part of Japan. Roosevelt had been far too soft with the soviets, encouraging them to intervene in the east was one of its most stupid move.
    The soviets and the potential death toll of an invasion are by no means mutually exclusive explanations for the decision to drop the bomb.

    “You don’t need a definitive argument to make this more morally problematic than it has been.”
    Ultimately, it’s war and politics, the question isn’t really whether it was “right” or “wrong” but whether it was politically convenient or not. It seems to me that there’s a strong case for yes.

  30. “Ultimately, it’s war and politics”

    If that’s all it was, we wouldn’t be talking about it 65 years later.

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