Monday, August 06, 2007

A lesson from history

Today is the 62nd anniversary of one of the darkest days in history. On August 6, 1945, the Enola Gay dropped the first nuclear bomb ever used in warfare on the city of Hiroshima. President Harry Truman gave the order for the attack. History remembers him as both a tyrant and a hero. I remember him as a man who faced a difficult decision and did all he could do, which is choose the lesser of two evils.

The other option was a full invasion of the Japanese mainland. Six months earlier, US troops set foot on Japanese soil on the island of Iwo Jima. It is a small volcanic island only eight square miles in size, but to the Japanese it was sacred soil. It was Japanese soil. They defended that island with a ferocity never before seen. The fighting at Guadalcanal, Tarawa and Wake was fierce, but nothing like what the American marines faced at Iwo Jima. It took over one month of naval bombardment, air strikes and constant pushing by America's finest amphibious troops before Iwo Jima was wrestled from Japanese hands. Of the 22,000 Japanese defenders, 21,000 were killed. Only 216 were taken prisoner. In total, there were 27,000 allied casualties. All of this for 8 square miles of real estate. And Truman was faced with invading the Japanese mainland, all 88,000 square miles of it. Despite all of this, there are still arguments that Japan was on the brink of surrender and that Truman's decision was wrong.

On August 6, the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Japan refused to surrender. Even after being hit with the most destructive device ever known in warfare, they were still prepared to carry on the fight. Was this an army on the verge of breaking? Only six months earlier they suffered over 95% casualties defending 8 square miles of Japanese soil. And still Truman is cursed for his decision.

Historians estimate allied casualties from a Japanese mainland invasion would have been over 1 million, while Japan would have suffered 3 times that many. With Iwo Jima as a comparison, is there any doubt about the accuracy of these numbers? Still, Truman is cursed.

Truman will always be hated and cursed, mainly by those who exploit the advantage they have of not knowing the historical outcome of the alternative decision that Truman never made. They can always say that Japan was on the brink of surrender. I am sure Truman considered this. I am sure he listened to those advisors who felt Japan was beaten. He also listened to those who experienced Iwo Jima, and estimated our losses in an invasion at over one million. He listened, and made the right decision.

Maybe Japan would have surrendered within a month. Maybe they would have dug in and carried the war on another 2 or 3 years. The question facing Truman was: Am I willing to wager one million American lives, and 3 million Japanese lives on their supposed willingness to surrender? The answer was obvious.

So, President Truman, wherever you are, this patriot tips his hat to you, a man of courage who did the right thing despite knowing the consequences. He chose the lesser of two evils, which is sometimes the only option available. Here's hoping that kind of courage can be found in today's leaders, and in the leaders of the future.


Dan Trabue said...

"Historians estimate allied casualties from a Japanese mainland invasion would have been over 1 million, while Japan would have suffered 3 times that many."

To be fair, you should note that SOME historians support your estimate. Others disagree strongly.

As do others who were there at the time.

General (later President) Eisenhower, for instance, who said:

"...I told him I was against it on two counts. First, the Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn't necessary to hit them with that awful thing. Second, I hated to see our country be the first to use such a weapon."

Or Admiral William Leahy, who said:

"It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons.

"The lethal possibilities of atomic warfare in the future are frightening. My own feeling was that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children."

The list goes on and on. Including many conservatives of the day.

We can't know what might have been. MIGHT we have saved more lives than we deliberately targeted? Maybe. MIGHT we have jump-started a Cold War that cost trillions of dollars and millions of lives? Maybe.

We can just never know.

What we DO know is that we stated unequivocally with our bombing of Hiroshima and other cities, that it is okay sometimes to target civilians. And that benchmark has come back to haunt us, although not to the level that we set.

When you sow the wind, you reap the whirlwind.


We fought a successful war in those years,
in North Africa & Italy, then we launched the greatest land invasion in world history in what Hitler described as Fortress Europa, while the Russians were busy defending their homeland far to the East.

That War cost 40 to 50 million lives, perhaps more. Most of the victims were Civilian, and that grim & grisly fact was mostly done with Conventional Weapons, Mr. Dan Trabue. Think on that! Most Americans, bless 'em, don't have a clue.

My Division, after a month R & R at home, was sheduled for re-deployment to the Pacific TheaterOfOperations. Harry Truman, President of the United States, Had That Heavy Responsibility. HIROSHIMA!

Now it's Bush's Call. When the Armchair War Gurus & Peace-Activist Dupes Choose To Sow The Seeds Of Discontent, It Is They Who Must Inherit and Harvest The Results Of Their Effort!

This Crop Of Poisonous Fruit Is No Reward. Sowing Seeds In A Whirlwind Has No Value!

We spectulate until the day we see a Nuclear Devise Ignite Here At Home. For a sample-taste of that Reality, I invite you, and all that love the smell of the Peace-Pipe, to visit...


The Loop Garoo Kid said...

Mr. Washburn,

I agree completely. My father, a member of the 2nd Marine Division, was breifly part of the American occupation force in Japan. He saw what would have been the landing beaches.

As another example, in addition to the resistance on Iwo Jima; Bonzai charges; and Kamikazes, of how the concept of surrender was inimical to Japanese culture. in response to the prospective invasion, women and children were trained to attack American soldiers w/ knives and bamboo poles at the sacrifice of themselves.

Predident Truman was confronted w/ a choice of evils and chose the lesser.

Indeed, we should be mindful of those, of whatever political persuasion, who revise history to suit their ends.

Mr. Trabue,

I have not delved into the provenance of your cites but will accept them as authentic for purposes of this discussion.
You state: "What we do know is that w/ our bombing of Hiroshima and other cities that is okay sometimes tro target civilians. And that benchmark has come back to haunt us, although not to the level we set."

By other cities were you perhaps referring to Dresden?

Let me state something obvious: war is a nasty business. I suggest you read The Iliad; then the first few books of the Aeniad; then a history of the Crusader conquest of Jerusalem; then a history of Mongol conquests. That should inform you that when rulers, annointed, elected, or otherwise, go to war, civilians pay the cost.

Although it is true that we can never know exactly to what destination the road not taken may have brought us, I also think it is naive to believe that the confrontation w/ Communism, known as the Cold War, would not have occurred in some form whether we used atomic weapons against Japan.


I think you may have understimated the number of war dead and I am unable to follow you segue as to now it is Bush's turn.

Regards to one and all.

John Washburn said...

Dan, you and I have discussed this before and I guess we will just respectfully disagree.

Reb, I agree with you. As far as Bush is concerned (or perhaps his successor) there may come a time when he is faced with a similar situation. I feel he has the courage if it is needed. But the next President? I don't know.

Loop, well said. At last we agree! And I would also like to extend my sincere and personal gratification for your father's service, and for yours also Reb...part of a generation of extraordinary Americans that made extraordinary sacrifices.

John Washburn said...

gratification?, actually it's gratitude. At any rate, I'm thankful

Anonymous said...

The L.G. Kid,

We have something in common after all! My paternal grandfather was a Navy Seabee in the Pacific Theater during WWII. It is altogether possible to thing that neither you or I would be here right now if the bomb hadn't been dropped and instead the President decided to launch an invasion of Japan similar to Operation Overlord.

My grandfather is no longer with us! Even though,he rarely spoke of the atrocities that he and his buddies observed while dutifully serving our country; I vividly remeber him saying on several occasions that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki probably saved his life!



John, I have a hunch that things
are getting tight; just an uneasy
feeling lately...

If the pre-emptive strike on Iran's
Underground Labs are delayed until
Bush's successor assumes that grim responsibility, it may then indeed be too late to avoid dispersal of the dreaded arsenal of nuke ordinance. We already know they're Insane.

This question is never asked:
How loyal are the Iranian Generals to the Gr.Ayatollah? Military minds tend to be tough pragmatists.

One can only hope that our cia embedded agents in place have the accurate Intel; Timing IS Of The Essence on this one. Check,