August 06, 2015

Horse 1953 - Hiroshima and Nagasaki - Deeply Disturbing

70 years ago and almost at the very end of five months of fire bombing Japan, during which at least 241,000 people and and as many as 900,000 people were killed, the United States would unleash the only two examples of using nuclear weapons during warfare, when it dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 1945 and August 8 1945.
It seems that there were plans for yet more bombs to be dropped and that the first of these might likely have been operational around August 19.

If you read through the official correspondence from various people written to the President and his replies, we very much get the impression that as this was a case of total war, the people with the power to press the nuclear button would have kept on doing so for as long as it was deemed necessary:
"The foul attack on Pearl Harbor brought us into war and I am unable to see any valid reason why we should be so much more considerate of Japan and lenient in dealing with Japan than with Germany.
I earnestly insist Japan should be dealt with as harshly as Germany and that she should not be a beneficiary of a soft peace... If we do not have available a sufficient number of atomic bombs with which to finish the job immediately, let us carry on with TNT and firebombs until we can produce them.
I also hope that you will issue orders forbidding the officers in command of our Air Forces from warning Japanese cities that they will be attacked. These generals do not fly over Japan and this showmanship can only result in the unnecessary loss of many of our fine boys in our Air Force as well as our helpless prisoners in the hands of the Japanese, including the survivors on the march of death on Bataan who are certain to be brought into the cities that have been warned.
This was a total war as long as our enemies held all the cards. Why should we change the rules now, after the blood, treasure and enterprise of the American People have given us the upper hand. Our people have not forgotten that the Japanese stuck us the first blow in this war without the slightest warning. They believe that we should continue to strike the Japanese until they are brought groveling to their knees. We should cease our appeals to Japan to sue for peace. The next plea for peace should come from an utterly destroyed Tokyo..."
- Senator Richard Brevard Russell Jr, Aug 7 to 9, 1945

Even when President Truman was writing in response to church groups, he was entirely unrepentant in his justification for the use of the atomic bomb; even to the point of dehumanising an entire people.
My dear Mr. Cavert:
I appreciated very much your telegram of August ninth.
Nobody is more disturbed over the use of Atomic bombs than I am but I was greatly disturbed over the unwarranted attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor and their murder of our prisoners of war. The only language they seem to understand is the one we have been using to bombard them.
When you have to deal with a beast you have to treat him as a beast. It is most regrettable but nevertheless true.

Sincerely yours,
- Letter from Harry S Truman to Samuel McCrea Cavert, General Secretary
Federal Council of The Churches of Christ in America, 11th Aug 1945.

I note that in historian J. Samuel Walker's 1997 book "Prompt and Utter Destruction: Truman and the Use of Atomic Bombs Against Japan" he cites five main reasons that Truman justified the use of dropping the bomb:
- it would end the war successfully at the earliest possible moment
- it justified the effort and expense of building the atomic bombs
- it offered hope of achieving diplomatic gains in the growing rivalry with the Soviet Union
- there were a lack of incentives not to use the weapons
- because of America's hatred of the Japanese and a desire for vengeance
There might be some merit in the first and third of those answers but the second reason is basically "we've paid for the bomb, why shouldn't we use them?"; the fourth reason is a cop out and the fifth is purely based on revenge.

Quite apart from the fact that the firebombing of Japan for five months had achieved almost nothing militarily (which is similar to the thousand bomber raids on Dresden), the two bombs were dropped during a climate of political deadlock in the Japanese Government whilst they were considering the demands for unconditional surrender in the Potsdam Declaration of July 28, 1945; so Japan probably wouldn't have immediately surrendered without the final approval of the Empower anyway. (See Horse 1022 and Justify This!)

I my mind, the dropping of the two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki amounts to nothing short of a war crime. If the results of the war had gone the other way, then I think that there would have been a good case to be made against President Truman to be  prosecuted as a war criminal at The Hague. The indiscriminate destruction of mankind for precisely no good reason and whose effects are felt for decades after, is awful.

The last line in Item 10 of the Potsdam Declaration rings out oh so hollowly:
Freedom of speech, of religion, and of thought, as well as respect for the fundamental human rights shall be established.
- Article 10, Potsdam Declaration, 26th Jul

There is a chilling book called "Yoko's Diary" which is just the diary entries of a high school girl Yoko Moriwaki living in Hiroshima as she started high school in April 1945. The diary talks about her dreams and about mundane things such as sweeping the floors at school until the last entry when there's something almost biblical in the way the story ends: she was not.
In former times kings and generals would often be either amidst battlefields or on horseback directing troops. President Truman conducted his correspondence from the Oval Office which was more than 7000 miles away. It is difficult to feel any kind emotions towards people whom you've dehumanised and so far away. It is pointless to feel any kind emotions towards people who no longer are.
Just how do you show respect for the fundamental human rights when those rights which include freedom of speech, of religion, and of thought are instantly vaporised?

If Truman had bothered to look outside the windows to his office and thought that there were actually real people on the ground going about their business, who were probably already fearful of what would rain down from the skies, would he have thought twice about dropping the bomb?
Seventy year on and I am still greatly disturbed.

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