Friday, August 7, 2009

The Nuke Season


What does baseball have to do with atom bombs?

A whimsical baseball movie was the 1949 Ray Milland offering, It Happens Every Spring. It’s an enjoyable tale about a college professor who invents a formula that repels wood, making it impossible for a batter to hit a ball coated with the stuff. The title refers to the annual onset of spring training.

That’s a lot like The Nuke Season. It happens every August with the anniversaries of the A-bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Since we’re now into this year’s Nuke Season, I’ll address the matter.

(Caution: if facts do not matter to you, skip this Rant. Some people prefer emotion to facts.)

Inevitably The Nuke Season features the following:

The bombs were unnecessary since Japan was about to surrender.
Truman only wanted to impress the Soviets.
Racist America used nukes against Asians but not against Germans.
A demonstration should have been made before destroying a city.
Blockade was preferable to bombing.

None of the foregoing assertions bear examination, to wit:

As British historian Max Hastings noted in Retribution (2008), "The myth that the Japanese were ready to surrender anyway has been so completely discredited by modern research that it is astonishing some writers continue to give it credence.” In researching Whirlwind, my upcoming volume on air operations over Japan, I found a wealth of Japanese testimony supporting Hastings’ conclusion. In 1943 Prime Minister Tojo admitted there was no viable plan to win the war, but hostilities continued. Admiral Onishi, the kamikaze master, asserted in March 1945 that the war had just begun. And a general staff officer told POWs that the war would last at least until 1948.

Furthermore, the war cabinet’s actions give 0.00 credence to the notion that Japan was about to surrender. Tokyo rebuffed the allies’ Potsdam declaration calling for capitulation, and then sought intervention by the Soviets, who already planned to invade the Kurile Islands! There is no documentation that any of the eight men ruling Japan (including the emperor) stated before Hiroshima that they would have surrendered under any circumstances—not even when some were on trial for their lives. None stated that Soviet entry--plus some guarantee of the imperial system--would have moved them individually, must less triggered the necessary set of actions within the cabinet, that would have ended the war before the nukes were released. Two weeks before Hiroshima, Tokyo’s ambassador to Moscow said the best possible outcome was capitulation, perhaps with some guarantee of the emperor’s status—a situation rejected by the foreign minister and known by U.S. intelligence at the time.

So: if Tokyo was “about to surrender anyway” why did Hirohito have to over-ride his warlords?

Harry Truman’s presumed intention to cow the Soviets with the nukes is another unsupportable contention. As commander in chief his first obligation was to the American forces facing a horrific invasion. Forcing Japan to surrender soonest was Job One, and any geopolitical fallout (!) was a tertiary concern if it was ever discussed at all.

I encountered the “racism” mantra in college, and it still arises from the moldy PC pond. No less an authority than Malcolm X (!) stated that America would not use nukes against whites—a bald lie when the entire Manhattan Project was spurred by the German nuclear program. Colonel Paul Tibbets’ 509th Composite Group originally was instructed to conduct a dual strike: Germany and Japan. But “the weapon” was not available until July 1945, over two months after Germany surrendered. (When I noted that fact, the tweedy prof merely scrawled, “Are you sure?” and gave me a B+.)

Dropping a demonstration bomb was considered but rejected on at least two counts: it might be a dud, which would only reinforce Tokyo’s resolve; and there existed material for only two weapons at the time. Besides, there were in fact two demonstrations before Japan surrendered: at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

That leaves blockade which, short of invasion, was the only option other than declaring peace and going home. But as my colleague Rich Frank has observed, blockade would have killed more people than the two A-bombs. Precious time would have passed, with at least hundreds of thousands of Japanese starving to death, plus perhaps millions more dead in Asia. As it was, perhaps 100,000 died there every month from famine, disease, and Japanese brutality. I have yet to see any critic even mention that fact. And it does not count the American KIAs sustaining a blockade—a cost that nuke critics seem willing to ignore.

So, here’s the deal:

You are Harry Truman in early August 1945. You have responsibility for ending a war that has killed nearly 400,000 Americans, with many thousands more to die in an invasion. Your military is divided on the subject: the Army under the megalomaniacal General Douglas MacArthur favors invasion while the Navy, which understands the human cost, opposes it. You know from intelligence sources that Tokyo is nowhere near capitulation. The daily cost of hostilities runs in the thousands

You face an enemy unlike any in American history. You have seen the films of mothers throwing their infants off Saipan’s cliffs and jumping after them. You know that Tokyo is impervious to civilian suffering: after Curt LeMay’s B-29s burned down one-seventh of the city and killed at least 85,000 people one night in March, the war cabinet never flinched. You know that the government has closed schools and conscripted most of the civilian population into “volunteer” resistance units.

Now your scientists present you with the supreme weapon with the potential for convincing the samurai zealots in Tokyo to “bear the unbearable.” If you decline that option and the invasion proceeds, eventually the parents of tens of thousands of GIs, Marines, and sailors will demand to know why you sent their sons to their deaths. You may or may not be lynched, but you definitely will be impeached.

What do you do?

It’s the lingering question whenever The Nuke Season rolls around.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post, as usual, but I'm wondering whether you're flogging a dead horse, or rather a dying meme. I'm far from being a news junkie, but what struck me about the post was that the anniversaries of the bombs came and went with only passing and minimal acknowledgements. The only news story I noticed was coverage of the mayor of Nagasaki's speech at their commemoration.
    This is a good thing.
    The point, I guess, is that as more evidence comes to light, the arguments against the use of the bombs lose any sort of credible sustainability, except among the Unreachables.
    Of the arguments against the bombs, the only one really worth looking into seems to be the arguments made at the time by our own military for sustaining a blockade until they capitulated. It does seem to be underexplored, and might be worth looking into in some depth if only to illuminate why that option was discarded.
    Beyond that, it's beginning to appear that evidence may be winning one over opinion. Wonders will never cease.