We know that President Obama is going to visit Hiroshima, and there are remarks being made that he should apologize for the Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. My own view is that we have nothing to apologize for. War made bring out the best in the soldiers and Marines who fight it, but taken as a whole, wars are often barbaric lunacy.
In August of 1945, President Truman wrote a letter to Sen. Richard Russell Jr. in which he said, “I know that Japan is a terribly cruel and uncivilized nation in warfare, but I can’t bring myself to believe that, because they are beasts, we should ourselves act in the same manner. Using the A-Bomb was meant to save young American lives, but Truman added: “…I also have a feeling for the women and children of Japan.”
In 1945, the war with Japan was raging at its height. In January of 1944, Japanese studies had concluded the war was lost. Japan had been defeated long before Harry Truman became President. Yet the Japanese fought on, its soldiers bent on dying to the last man. American casualties in the Pacific war spiked to new heights. There are several excellent books on the battle of Okinawa. With the Old Breed, by Eugene Sledge is one I read again and again. It is the best personal account of the war and is a memoir of the first distinction. There is Robert Leckie’s excellent book, and there is Gerald Astor’s Operation Iceberg which is superb. The horrible U.S. casualties in that battle made the use of the atomic bomb imperative
The three months since Truman took office in April, American battle casualties in the Pacific were half the total of U.S. casualties during the whole Pacific War.
Said a U.S. caption of Military Intelligence at the time, “We had only abundant evidence in those days that surrender was excluded from the Japanese ethos.” He added, “Thousands of Marines and (Army) soldiers had died rooting out Japanese from their fox holes and bunkers when they were perfectly aware that their situation was hopeless.”
He said that even if the Japanese were beaten, “Japan’s soldiers would hold on fighting for months.” The Japanese government wanted to hold on as long as possible to avoid a complete defeat, hoping that they would gain a better bargaining position when defeat came.
According to several books about Truman, the one written by David McCulloch is among the best. According to him, Japan had 2.5 million regular troops in the home island, plus every male between fifteen and forty-five was being drafted while every female between seventeen and forty-five was being conscripted and armed with everything from bamboo spears, brass cannons plus they were taught to how to be suicide bombers, strapping explosives to their bodies in order to throw themselves under advancing American tanks.
In one several accounts I read, a young woman was equipped with a carpenter's awl and was told to stab at the enemy soldiers’ abdomen. The instructor said, "You must aim at the abdomen. Understand the abdomen.” Plus America would face thousands of kamikaze suicide planes.
The senior American military detected no evidence that Japan would quit. U.S. and Australian combat reporters predicted that the war would not end until June 1946, a view held by many.
When Truman saw the plans for the U.S. invasion of the home islands, he knew would mean “”unprecedented carnage.” Yet the estimates of between 20,000 to 250,000 US military dead were not the top issue. Already many cities of Japan were aflame, thanks to B-29’s who daily dropped incendiaries on the Japan people. What was needed now was a blow that so devastating that would administer a vast shock that would bring the Japanese government to its knees.
The means was at hand. The Manhattan Project, which had produced the first atomic bombs in history, and the country’s military and political leadership was eager to use them. As the Secretary of war, Henry Stimson said, “The Japanese were the despised enemy, perpetrators of the treacherous attack at Pearl Harbor (in the midst of peace talks,) perpetrators of the bombing of Manila and the Bataan Death March which had only become known to the American public in Feb. 1945. (Stimson’s memoirs are worth reading.)
Stimson went on, “They were the murderers of American prisoners of war, the fanatics who ordered the seemingly insane kamikaze attacks on the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Other atrocities included the Palawan Massacre, which took place on the Philippines island of Palawan, where the Japanese lured 140 American prisoners of war into air raid trenches, then doused them with gasoline and burned them alive.” What he didn’t add was that the percentage of Allied prisoners who died in the hands of the Japanese was seven times higher than Allied prisoners held by the Germans.
A few days after the German surrender the American newspaper printed a photo of a blindfolded American flyer, down on his knees, about to be beheaded by a Japanese officer whose sword was already raised above the American’s head.
The key question that loomed over President’s Truman’s mind was, why spent the lives of the flower of American manhood in a bloody invasion of the home islands, when America already had a weapon of unsurpassed might that perhaps would end the war. The political repercussions of not using it would be immense.
Of course, they were other options. Continued fire bombing could halt the Japanese or Japan could be choked into submission by a naval blockade. The dilemma of strategy came to a head when American leaders considered the phrase, “unconditional surrender.” The U.S. military and political leadership noted that Roosevelt had concentrated American power to destroy the enemy above all else, rather than laboring to create what others thought to be favorable postwar circumstances, a sure sign that he lacked sound knowledge of other cultures. This is not to say that that U.S. military felt an iota of pity for Japanese. They were eager to use the weapon to stop the war and save the lives of American soldiers. The Japanese stopped at nothing, and now America would stop at nothing. George Marshall, Roosevelt’s chief of staff of the U.S. Army, had been so stunned by the American casualties at Iwo Jima that he considered using poison gas in Okinawa.
In Astor’s book, there is a sickening description of a banzai charge. “About 150 of them stormed up the hill towards our guys, and they said that it was just like shooting ducks. You had to look, or you would step on them. They are scattered all over the place, so much abandoned equipment , these men with beards, no heavier than mine, some with quarter-sized holes in their heads while others had their bodies blown away. One GI stopped to bend over one, and jammed a cigarette into the dead Jap’s mouth. ‘Have a cigarette, you yellow son of a bitch. Sorry I don’t have time to light it for you.’”
Then the cigarette bestowing GI saw his first dead GI. “The color that these men turn just after they die is the most horrible part of the scene. The closest approximation is to say it’s the same color that appears on some men’s fingers if they have smoke a great deal.” Astor is very skilled at using anecdotes like these. “I pulled up short, after hearing a piecing scream; a Marine standing in the middle of the street, holding his crotch with his left hand, his rifle in the other, blood had formed a puddle the seat and legs of his trousers changing from mottled green to red.”
Apparently, there was little variety in the bodies of violently murdered. A few were scattered like rag dolls. In others, death had caused muscular spasms that drew up the legs and arms in a fetal position, their dead hands clenched like boxers’ fists. In a few places there was the detritus of entrails and or dried strings of brains, along with plus splinted bones or mangled flash, all clotted with flies.
One GI explained how fast decomposition occurred in this tropical heat. Within a few hours, the bodies would start to swell. He said they had seen one case where a rotted body had finally burst through its clothes, the entrails spilling out, the penis stuck up in one violent, final erection. He added that it was not uncommon to see a human body where clear bubbles could be seen moving underneath its skin. The body would finally burst, releasing a foul, sick stench that would be smelled for miles.
Truman claimed credit for the decision to drop the A-Bomb, but most U.S. leaders felt there was no decision. The war had made it imperative, not Truman. A Truman advisor, George Eisley, said “Truman “could no more stop it than a train moving down a track.”
At the Potsdam Conference, Truman wrote, the phrase “unconditional surrender” appeared only once. It specified the surrender of Japanese armed forces, not the surrender of the Japanese people. If the armed forces didn’t surrender they faced “prompt and utter destruction, “but the document didn’t define what that phrase meant. The fate of the Emperor was ambiguous. He wasn’t even mentioned.
But savagery was the mood of the day. Truman boasted that after approving the Oder to bomb, he went to bed and slept like a baby.” But advisors present a different account. He had stopped at Babelsburg, after Potsdam, and that he had a strange night mare, and slept very poorly.
Dropping the Big One
“We have discovered the most terrible bomb in the history of the world,” President Truman wrote in his diary, and while he insisted it would he use only against military targets, he that was only partly true. There was a Japanese Army at Hiroshima. (The Second?)
When the crew of the B-29 named Enola Gay, a plane part of the 509 Composite Group, was told that the bomb they were about to drop was the equivalent to 20,000 tons of TNT, they looked sick and stricken. Captain William F. Parsons, was the only man aboard who thoroughly knew the technical side of the new weapon, made the decision before they took off, that if he ended up in the enemy’s hands, he would have to kill himself to keep the secret. He borrowed a pistol from a young intelligence officer nearby.
Captain Robert A. Lewis, the co-pilot of Co. Paul W. Tibbits, Jr., was passing the time writing a letter home to his parents. “I think everyone will feel relieved after we have left our bomb with the Japs and are half-way home. Or better still, all the way home.” When daybreak came at 5 o'clock, he waited an hour and wrote. “Near six o’clock, I think we will have clear sailing for a long spell.”
When the plane entered Honshu, Lewis’ handwriting got cramped and jagged. “We are now loaded,” he wrote.
Now the plane had a straight four-mile run to the target. Tension rose. At 9:15, the bombardier pressed a singe toggle switch, releasing a single missile. It descended in less than sixty seconds, a time recorded on the wristwatches of the severed arms of Japanese who were the targets of the bomb. Captain Lewis had just written , “There will be a short intermission while we bomb our target,” but then he scrawled wildly, “My God!”
The crew were wearing welders’ goggles, and the first ting they saw was “a tiny point of purplish light. Within milliseconds, it had “expanded to a purple fire ball a half-mile wide. The whole monstrous seething mass of red and purples fire rose, accompanied by vast gray smoke rings encircling the column of flames until, at thousand feet, the seething mass roiled outward to form the first mushroom.” At 50,000 ft. the second mushroom appeared. It was flashing every color in the spectrum.
At 9:14 a.m., Hiroshima had been an energetic city of 344,000 people; by 9:16, it lost 60,175 people who were dead or missing. The bomb vaporized and incinerated four square miles. Truman said that America had spent $2 billon dollars on the biggest gambler scientific gamble in history – and we won.” Many thought that speaking of the A Bomb as a gamble was in questionable taste.
Even the U.S. military political leadership was unable to take in what they had done. Four tenths of a weight of a dime could lift a million-ton load to the crest of a mountain six feet high. It was incomprehensible, it was too difficult to grasp.
The strike order to bomb Nakasaki was issued on Aug. 8, 1945. On the morning of Aug. 9, a plutonium bomb hit the city. A total of 39,000–80,000 were killed or wounded; roughly half of the deaths in each city occurred on the first day. During the following months, large numbers died from the effect of burns, and other injuries, compounded by illness and malnutrition. In both cities, most of the dead were civilians, although Hiroshima had a sizable military garrison, as we said earlier.
It pays to view and study the photos of the Japanese burn victims. Some faces had their lips burned off on one side, leaving their teeth exposed. Others had their fingers permanently deformed. I saw the back of a Japanese woman who had her skin burnt off, leaving nothing but red, peeling raw tissue. One man I saw had his eyes burned out. Many were so badly burned they looked like creatures out of a horror movie. Another one, who had one eye penetrated by the first flash said, “It felt like an arrow in my eye.” Many thousands died of radiation sickness.
But the atomic bomb explosions were not the worst that Japanese civilians had suffered. The worst came on the evening of March 9 when the B-29s came over Tokyo flying very low. Said General Power, “It was the greatest military disaster incurred an enemy in military history.” There was a key eyewitness there, one Father Gustav Bitter, German-born rector of Sophia University. “It was like a silver curtain falling,” he said. It reminded him of the tinsel that hung from German Christmas trees. “Everywhere the silver streams touched the earth, red fires would spring up.” He described how the one central fire set started other fires radiating out from it like the ribs of a fan.
He went on,”…the fire in the center sent up a column of air which drew in towards the center the outer circle of flame, and a hot swift wind began to blow towards the center, a twisting wind which spread the flames between the ribs of the fan very quickly. Thus, everywhere the people ran there was fire, in front of them and in back of them, closing in on them from all sides. So that there were only a few who escaped.”
According to the superb historian Eric Larrabee, “Tokyo’s fire chief reported that within thirty minutes the fire was out of control; it consumed 95 fire engines and killed 125 firemen. The destruction of light buildings was total…The police records indicate that 267,171 buildings were destroyed, about a quarter of Tokyo, and over a million were made homeless.. Removing the dead from the ruins took twenty-five days.”
Worse was to come. Many had died in the panic of trying to find safety and shelter in order to flee the fire and wind by jumping into rivers or canals which was fatal since the water in some of the canals reached the boiling point. The official toll was 83,793 dead and 10,40,918 wounded. No other attack in the war, either in Europe or Japan was so destructive of life and property.
I love the Yeats’ poem, the Second Coming. I have read and reread it.At one point it says,
Surely some revelation is at hand; Surely the Second Coming is at hand. The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand; A shape with lion body and the head of a man, A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun, Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know That twenty centuries of stony sleep Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle, And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
I used to think the imagery foretold Hitler and other barbarians, but perhaps he was writing about all of us.