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May 8, 2008 11:34 pm


Atomic Tragedy



Atomic Tragedy: Henry L. Stimson and the Decision to Use the Bomb against Japan (Cornell University Press, 2008) is a new book by Sean L. Malloy, a young scholar at the University of California, Merced, that has received praise from many quarters, including Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, author of the much acclaimed Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan (Harvard University Press, 2005), and Lloyd C. Gardner. Gardner is author of many books including Economic Aspects of New Deal Diplomacy (1964), Architects of Illusion: Men and Ideas in American Foreign Policy, 1941-1949 (1970), and The Long Road to Baghdad: A History of U.S. Foreign Policy from the 1970s to the Present, to be published this fall by The New Press.

To view ten never-before-published photographs illustrating the immediate aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing that dramatically convey the human as well as material destruction unleashed by the atomic bomb, go here. Hat tip to Manuel Lora at LewRockwell.com.

For an important earlier book on the atomic bombing of Japan, read Gar Alperovitz's Atomic diplomacy: Hiroshima and Potsdam: The Use of the Atomic Bomb and the American Confrontation with Soviet Power (1965/1985/1994). And if you want to follow the controversy, you may care to read Robert James Maddox’s essay here on History News Network. Regrettably, but not surprisingly, Maddox fails to raise, let alone discuss, the question of whether the U.S. decision to demand the unconditional surrender of Japan was either wise or moral.

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John Kunze - 5/12/2008

"But why was it necessary to invade and occupy Japan?"

I hadn't considered alternatives to full Japanese surrender, but I don't know that there were good options.

In August, 1945 Japan still occupied Korea, much of China, etc. Perhaps the demand for "unconditional" surrender kept the war going unnecessarily, but would anything short of a Japanese retreat to pre-war (1931) borders along with Japan's demilitarization have been adequate? Would Japan have agreed to anything close to that without other battles costly to both sides? I don't claim to know the answers, but don't think these questions can be simply dismissed.

"After all, the U.S. decided against waging a "hot war" against the Soviet Union and who now regrets that decision?"

Who now has practical grounds for regreting the U.S. occupation of Japan? (Other than it threatens to give a good name to nation-building.)

There never was an opportunity to force the Soviet Union out of Eastern Europe and put them under a regime of peace and democracy without the loss of many American lives. If that could have been done at the cost of only 220,000 (albeit mostly innocent)Soviets, wouldn't that have been tempting? How many innocents were killed by the Soviets in the ensuing years? How many enslaved?

Non-interventionists know that war is never that easy. A cheap end to the Soviet Empire through war is pure fantasy. But the U.S. occupation of Japan was as cheap as it gets.


Mark Brady - 5/12/2008

"I don't how one could say that the death of 220,000 Japanese by atomic weapons was clearly worse than the killing of a somewhat greater number in non-nuclear bombing runs on Japan."

Agreed, and, as far as I can tell, Sean Malloy is not saying that. According to this account as many as 500,000 Japanese were killed in the U.S. non-nuclear bombing of Japanese cities.

"Nor are the photos cited more horrific than some from the Blitz, Pearl Harbor, Stalingrad, Dresden, Okinawa, etc.

"I don't mean to minimize Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but rather to point out that nuclear war is of a piece with the Total War which was WWII."

Agreed. And let’s not forget that the concept of total war goes back at least as far as the American Civil War.

"Heavy bombing by all sides had already killed large numbers of civilians even when targets were ostensibly military. Solders on all sides had made decisions to kill rather than take prisoners, to strafe enemy seamen as their boats were sinking, or to send their comrades on suicide missions.

"We think we are fortunate that after poison gas was tried in WWI it was discredited and has rarely been used in 90 years. Likewise humans have somehow managed to avoid using atomic weapons again for 60 years."

Agreed.

"One can speculate whether a non-lethal test of an atomic weapon would have brought Japanese surrender; or whether different diplomacy could have brought a Japanese surrender on reasonable terms. I don't think either question is easily answered. But I am afraid that if you look at the Battles of Okinawa (and others like it), it is hard to discount the loss of Allied soldiers -- and Japanese soldiers and civilians that would have resulted from an attemped Allied occupation of Japan."

But why was it necessary to invade and occupy Japan? After all, the U.S. decided against waging a "hot war" against the Soviet Union and who now regrets that decision?


John Kunze - 5/9/2008

I don't how one could say that the death of 220,000 Japanese by atomic weapons was clearly worse than the killing of a somewhat greater number in non-nuclear bombing runs on Japan.

Nor are the photos cited more horrific than some from the Blitz, Pearl Harbor, Stalingrad, Dresden, Okinawa, etc.

I don't mean to minimize Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but rather to point out that nuclear war is of a piece with the Total War which was WWII.

Heavy bombing by all sides had already killed large numbers of civilians even when targets were ostensibly military. Solders on all sides had made decisions to kill rather than take prisoners, to strafe enemy seamen as their boats were sinking, or to send their comrades on suicide missions.

We think we are fortunate that after poison gas was tried in WWI it was discredited and has rarely been used in 90 years. Likewise humans have somehow managed to avoid using atomic weapons again for 60 years.

One can speculate whether a non-lethal test of an atomic weapon would have brought Japanese surrender; or whether different diplomacy could have brought a Japanese surrender on reasonable terms. I don't think either question is easily answered. But I am afraid that if you look at the Battles of Okinawa (and others like it), it is hard to discount the loss of Allied soldiers -- and Japanese soldiers and civilians that would have resulted from an attemped Allied occupation of Japan.

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