Cheap Seats 2016
Rewriting History - 06/01
By Rich Trzupek
Last week Barack Obama became the first sitting President to visit Hiroshima, Japan. That was a good thing. He recognized those who died when the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city. Another good thing. He also recognized the South Korean and American prisoners of war who lost their lives in the bombing. Good thing again. And he talked about the brutality of war and the need for peace. Not exactly novel concepts, but ones that every leader of a civilized nation in the modern world should express from time to time, ergo: good thing.
Veteran readers are of course wondering when the other shoe will be dropped. Surely Trzupek is not going to write an entire column that is complimentary of President Obama, is he?
Of course I’m not.
The Hiroshima visit was not as bad as the Great Apology Tour with which he opened his first term, but the tone was similar. The Prez spoke about “escaping the logic of fear” and using words like “morality” and “agony” to describe the bombing and the history of the world that followed. If he didn’t express agreement with the revisionist position that using the A-bomb at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was brutal, unnecessary and uncivilized, he certainly played into it.
Any discussion of Hiroshima and Nagasaki must began with the reality of what Imperial Japan was and what its leaders did. Imperial Japan brutalized huge swaths of innocent civilians in China, Korea and other nations it invaded. Imperial Japan treated prisoners of war horribly. The policies of Imperial Japan were directly responsible for the war in the Pacific that the United States and its allies fought during World War II.
None of the preceding paragraph is in any way an indictment or criticism of the people living in Japan when it was ruled by the Imperial war-lords. Nor is it an indictment of the soldiers, aviators and sailors who carried out the orders of their war-lords.
The Japanese who served in the empire’s armed forces during World War II were brave, skillful and resourceful fighters. Service in the Pacific during the war was far more dangerous for American soldiers, marines and sailors than serving in Europe. In the Pacific, American forces experienced an average of 7.5 casualties per 1,000 men per day. In Europe, the rate was 2.2 casualties per 1,000 men per day.
It must also be noted that the loss of life at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was not the greatest loss of life as the result of a bombing raid during World War II. That gruesome distinction goes to the firebombing of Tokyo by the US Army Air Corps, which resulted in a death toll estimated at about 100,000. The firebombing of Dresden by the Royal Air Force may have also been more deadly, but those figures are in more dispute.
Finally, as horrible and illogical as it sounds, there is a great case to be made that dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved many more lives than it took, not only American lives, but Japanese lives. Harry Truman, who ordered the operation, believed that till his dying day. Paul Tibbets, who commanded the Enola Gay, the B-29 Superfortress that dropped the first bomb did as well. Most Americans at the time believed that using the new weapon was a blessing, not a curse.
The interpretation of Bushido Code that Imperial Japan operated under did not accommodate the “disgrace” of surrender. Any conventional invasion of Japan, with or without Soviet participation, would have resulted in horrendous casualties. Most estimates called for 500,000 to 1,000,000 American deaths before the war concluded, and 5 to 10 million Japanese fatalities. It would have been a bloodbath on a scale the world had never witnessed. In anticipation of the carnage, almost half a million Purple Heart medals were manufactured in the United States.
Those medals would eventually be awarded, but not during the World War II. They would be used later, into the current century, because the bloody invasion of Japan never took place. And the reason it never took place is that American science provided the one out that a culture pledged to never surrender could use to surrender and restore peace.
The atom bomb trumped the Bushido Code, giving Emperor Hirohito a plausible reason to “endure the unendurable” (surrender) because “the enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb, the power of which to do damage is, indeed, incalculable, taking the toll of many innocent lives. Should we continue to fight, not only would it result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization.”
In reality, Nagasaki used up America’s nuclear stockpile for quite a while, but Hirohito had no way of knowing that. In his mind, we had harnessed a quasi-magical, unstoppable force of unlimited availability – something that Bushido had never envisioned to be possible – and that was excuse enough to sue for peace.
Did we thus employ “fear” as President Obama said? You’re damn straight we did, and thank the Lord we did. For, had we not, so very, very much more blood would have been shed.