Wednesday, August 06, 2008

August 6th & 9th, 1945 - Necessary Evil






On August 6th, 1945, a B-29 Superfortress, the Enola Gay, dropped an atomic bomb known as Little Boy on the industrial city of Hiroshima, Japan.

It was a Monday.

As many as 140,000 people, most of them civilians, died as a result -- directly due to the explosion or from secondary radiation burns. ( Six weeks later, one of the largest typhoons of the Showa Period hit the city, killed another three thousand people, and wiped out much of what was left of the place.)

On August 9th, 1945, three days after Hiroshima, the Superfortress Bockscar unloaded Fat Man over Nagasaki. That one was worth 80,000 people.

Six days later, after leaflets were dropped all over Japan warning that more bombs were coming, the Japanese Empire surrendered, ending the war.

Hideous things, in an awful conflict, and as terrible as they were, considered necessary evils. An invasion of Japan, it was thought, would cost many more lives on both sides, and so the hammer was dropped. Everybody was tired. Everybody wanted it over. Whatever it took.

Necessary Evil, by the way, was the name of the B-29 that flew scientists and photographers along on the mission to Hiroshima. This plane did not wind up in a museum, but as a gunnery target at the Naval Air Station at China Lake.

Look at the pictures. From the top: Models of Fat Man and Little Boy. The cloud over Hiroshima. The one over Nagasaki. Nagasaki, before and after Fat Man came to dine. The relative sizes of atomic devices.

Look at the microscopic size of the Hiroshima blast, compared to the biggest Soviet H-bomb, Big Ivan.

Think:

About what such a device could do to a city. About what a hundred of them could do to a country. About the notion that you could get third-degree burns more than sixty kilometers away from Ground Zero when Big Ivan got lit. About nuclear winter.

I grew up in the Atomic Cafe days, worrying about being vaporized. I had nightmares as a boy about mushroom clouds. We were taught to duck and cover, to get under our desks at school if we saw the bright flash. I lived in a city that was on the Soviet's American Top Ten Hit List.

There is no glory in war. Just a lot of death and misery, no matter who wins. Men, women, children. Shiva does not discriminate. All is ashes by his touch.

Einstein is credited with an observation. I'm not sure if he really said it or not, but it is appropriate on this date:

"I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones."

14 comments:

Dan Gambiera said...

President Truman was taking one of his famous morning walks, and reporters were barely keeping up with him. One of them kept hammering at him about dropping the atomic bombs on Japan and asking why he did it.

The former President stopped, looked him in the eye and said "Young man, I did it for you."

Ed said...

I think a couple Politician Areas or Military Installations would have been more appropriate - as long as someone was still around to surrender.

William Adams said...

A well-documented researching of this is _Flyboys: A True Story of Courage_ by James Bradley --- anyone who thinks Japan was willing to surrender hasn't considered the consequences of a nation arming all women ages 18--40 w/ sharpened bamboo stakes, which was one of the anti-invasion measures Japan was implementing.

Here's an example of the sort of mentality the Japanese had in World War II:

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article1438491.ece

and there's lots more.

William
(whose maternal grandparents were in Japan for much of World War II as forced-laborers)

Steve Perry said...

And, of course, the fire-bombing of Tokyo with conventional weapons in March of that year probably killed as many or more people than the Hiroshima bomb, most of them civilians, too.

Historians today think the Tokyo Fire Department's estimates that 99.000 killed were considerably low-balled.

Don't hear much about this, thought, compared to The Blitz, which lasted over a year and killed 43,000 British civilians. (The terrifying V-2 rockets, of which 1400 were launched at London, killed an average of two people each, which was not much of a cost-benefit ratio.)

More than five times as many Japanese were killed with Little Boy and Fat Man, two bombs, than in all of England in thirteen months of raids by the Luftwaffe.

Which Japanese bombings, of course, were part of the point. The notion that the bombers were targeting only military targets was by then a complete fiction. The intent was plain: Give up or we will scour you from the face of the Earth. The armies and navies in the field were defeated and the Allies knew it would take.

Was it necessary? The people in charge at the time believed it was, and from our vantage point sixty-odd years later, it is hard to call it fairly -- we weren't there. There were atrocious actions on all sides -- the Japanese Internment in the U.S. is still an ugly and racist action that doesn't bear inspection as necessary.

But my comment that war is inglorious remains.

The road to Hell is littered with corpses. Most of the time, the rationalizations for them don't hold up.

J.D. Ray said...

You missed a picture:
Hiroshima Today

Steve Perry said...

Nah, I didn't miss it. It isn't relevant to the discussion.

That there are black guys making millions playing basketball doesn't make slavery less ugly. Or that the Japanese were able to rebound after being pounded flat to become a world financial power isn't because we twice dropped the Big One on 'em.
We weren't trying to help them do this, we were trying to kill them .

It is a testament to the human spirit that a people can survive awful atrocities and come back. And it is a testament to the reptilian hindbrain that we still inflict such atrocities upon each other.

The acme of stupid is war. It ought to be the last option. Most of history, that hasn't been the case.

We haven't learned that lesson yet.

Dan Moran said...

This is an area where I've done a ton of reading -- I've got a time travel story I may never write ("Earth Angel") centered around Trinity and the end of World War II.

The people in charge at the time believed it was, and from our vantage point sixty-odd years later, it is hard to call it fairly -- we weren't there

I've been all over the map on this one over the years. We did things in WWII that would be epic, historic war crimes had we lost -- Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki ... but we won, and the atrocities of the Germans (and to a meaningful degree the Japanese) helped provide cover for those decisions.

I'm glad we won that war. At the end of the day, if Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the cost of victory, I'd have paid it; morally I'm no better than the people who made those decisions.

End of day, I don't think Dresden was necessary; I'm much less sure about Tokyo/Hiroshima/Nagasaki. Early in 1945 the Japanese were seeking terms of surrender -- whether that was in good faith, God knows; I don't. Roosevelt had the proposals before the Yalta conference and apparently never really entertained them ... elements of the Japanese military were ranting about how 100 million Japanese were prepared to die in the expected invasion. You could make the case that Roosevelt and Truman saved lives -- not just the lives of tens or hundreds of thousands of American soldiers, though that alone might have justified it -- but of hundreds of thousands or even millions of Japanese civilians.

All I have to say is, I'm glad that Roosevelt and Truman had to make those calls, and not me.

Worg said...

There is a cognitive misunderstanding about war.

The way that it works on the surface is that two countries are attacking each other.

In fact, what's happening is that the poor of two countries are attacking each other, egged on and propagandized by the upper class. The upper classes are rarely affected by war.

Therefore, the outcome is indistinguishable from the rich from each country attacking and destroying large numbers of the poor from each country while remaining relatively unscathed themselves.

All war is class war.

The use of atomic weapons in WW2 was a horrible atrocity with no possible excuse. Truman could have demonstrated the first bomb on a deserted island, with a detachment of Japanese and international observers. That would have ended the war right there.

The Japanese ruling class was not harmed. Not a drop of blood was shed by the american aristocracy. It was the poor who bled and died and burned, on both sides, and it was the rich who profited.

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.

Steve Perry said...

I agree that the rich usually get richer and the poor poorer, but that all-war-is-class-war blanket is a little thin. When you say none of the aristocracy got hurt, that's simply not so. The rich white guys -- or yellow guys -- who stayed home didn't get slain on the field of battle, but there were more than a few highly-placed Japanese and Germans who died at home in the fire storms. Or got cooked after it was over for war crimes.

And the sons -- and sometimes daughters -- of some of the rich and powerful from this country also died in the war.

The poor carry a disproportionate share of the load across the board, war included, but unless you include religion in "class," then "all wars" needs a wider net to encompass. Remember the Crusades?

Most of the fighting men in WWII from the U.S. were draftees, as they were in Korea and Vietnam. The boots on the ground and on decks and in the air in Iraq and Afghanistan are all volunteers -- at least they were before stop-loss rotations, and somehow, that doesn't make it any better.

What Edwin Starr said: War! Good God y'all, what is it good for? Absolutely nothin' ...

Dan Moran said...

All war is class war.

Except when it's not. The world is a complex place, and people who have absolute answers are not to be trusted.

Goedel's incompleteness theorem says in essence that no formal representational system can exist that does not contradict itself. And that's for math.

When I find myself typing "all," "never," "always," "absolutely," and so on ... I try to stop and think for a moment.

"All Republicans are crooks" is a fun sentence, but, to borrow a criticism I received on another blog recently, a genuine case of hyperbole. "Republican criminality in the administration of George W. Bush is unmatched in living memory" ... while less enjoyable, is actually true.

Worg said...

Wars are started by the rich, for the interests of the rich, and they are fought by the poor. The poor do not materially benefit from war.

Dan, you were imprecise. Godel's incompleteness theorem states that for any system of sufficient complexity, there exist undecidable propositions.

That being the case, and since language is so complex, we have to agree to one degree of vagueness or another. If you want to enforce something like e-prime, that's one thing, but prepare to have your own statements fisked.

The statement "all war is class war" refers to the fact that the difference between "poor attacking poor to serve the interests of the rich" and "rich attacking poor" is nonexistent, in practice.

You also have to think about how much taxpayer money is spent on propaganda, "public perception management" and other such. In such an environment, when the rich are intentionally distorting peoples' decision processes, you have to ask yourself if it's really volunteering at all.

Sometimes the war pigs do get theirs in the end, but the gamble is always theirs and all the potential gain is theirs and the poor bear the overwhelming brunt of the casualties. Always. That statement would be true even if 100% of the aristocracy died during a war, because the numbers are so unbalanced.

Republicans lying? Imprecise. They only do that when their lips move.

Dan Moran said...

I'm not going to take the bait on Goedel; if we agree that absolute statements are not to be trusted, that's sufficient for my purposes.

All war is not class war.

The use of atomic weapons in WW2 was a horrible atrocity with a variety of possible excuses, including the very real possibility that it saved Japanese lives.

Truman could have demonstrated the first bomb on a deserted island, with a detachment of Japanese and international observers. That would have ended the war right there.

Probably not. The destruction of Hiroshima didn't end the war. The Japanese were themselves researching into the atomic bomb -- Admiral Toyoda figured the Americans couldn't have more than one or two atomic bombs, if they even had that many.

Look, after the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese Supreme Council met ... and deadlocked 3-3 on the question of surrender. After losing two cities and learning that the Russians had invaded Manchuria.

I doubt a light show on a deserted island would have done it. I do agree it should have been tried; the U.S. was out of bombs after Nagasaki, but they did have another half dozen in various stages of construction and would have had more within a month or two -- they could have waited that long if necessary.

Japanese ruling class was not harmed.

Aside from the ones who died in Tokyo or Hiroshima or Nagasaki, of course.

Losing a war's not good for anyone, not even the aristocracy. Ask the Carthaginians. Or do you only mean modern war?

I suppose I could also quibble about the word "harmed." Plenty of Japanese aristocrats suffered short of death in WWII.

Not a drop of blood was shed by the american aristocracy.

Define aristocracy?

Worg said...

Any war can be defined in terms of class war, and the definition is extremely accurate. Class war explains a great many other things as well that may otherwise seem obscure.

What you're saying here is nothing more than rationalization. It's very difficult for some people to believe that the United States is guilty of atrocities that were completely unnecessary. It's also difficult for some people to believe that the super-rich are the puppet masters in this country, and everywhere else, and that they expend our lives like chess pieces.

It seems pretty obvious to me, but for some reason a lot of people seem to have difficulty grasping it.

Once we had the bomb, Japan and the other players in the war at that time-- in fact all other countries, for the time being-- were completely out of their league in comparison to us. Thus, bombing civilian infrastructure was a purely punitive measure.

Over 200,000 people died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Most of them were civilians. Women and children. Your position of claiming the necessity of these attacks is invalid by any standard of morality, and frankly I find it nauseating.

I'm done with this, feel free to argue that war is good for the poor and bad for the rich, or bad for everyone equally, all day. Women and children incinerated? Collateral damage. Just really knock yourself out with all that.

Dan Moran said...

Nausea's not an argument and vehemence doesn't substitute for thoughtfulness.

It seems pretty obvious to me, but for some reason a lot of people seem to have difficulty grasping it.

Being in the minority doesn't make you wrong, but when you find yourself saying "for some reason" ... maybe meditating upon what that reason might be would be helpful.