July 23, 2008
August 6th will mark sixty-three years since a blinding light filled the sky above Hiroshima. On that fateful day, the detonation of a single bomb, created a fireball wider than three football fields. The blast heated ground temperatures to 5,000 degrees centigrade, and produced a mushroom cloud that rose nearly 20,000 feet. In a split second, 70,000 unsuspecting people were burned, crushed or vaporized.
In the aftermath, tens of thousands were left milling about the city seeking relief from fire, shock and pain. Many threw themselves into the Ota River which, by day’s end, was awash with thousands of corpses.
Just three days later, American forces dropped a second atomic bomb, this time on the port city of Nagasaki. In a hellish instant, thirty percent of the city and 40,000 of its citizens ceased to exist.
The devastation resulting from the nuclear bombs was clearly of Biblical proportion. All tolled, the loss of human life may have numbered a quarter million.
But merely rehashing the details of the nuclear destruction we imposed does not tell the whole story. The truth is, the bombs accomplished an even greater measure of good. Not only did they end World War II within a week, they prevented an alternative strategy from being deployed — one which would have resulted in far more bloodshed for Japanese and Americans alike.
Many of us know about the atrocities of Nazi Germany, but fail to realize the level of brutality demonstrated by Japan between 1931 and 1945. During those years, barbaric Japanese invaders murdered roughly 2 million civilians and tortured countless others, as they sought to conquer China.
Accounts from both Nanking and Chungking tell of episodes in which the Japanese rounded up Chinese citizens, tied them together in bunches with ropes, poured gasoline over them, and ignited them.
In December, 1937, Japan’s army finally captured Nanjing, at that time the capital of China. In the six weeks that followed, the Japanese forces not only ravaged China’s national treasures, but conducted killing contests in which civilians were buried or burned alive, drowned, decapitated or made targets for bayonet practice.
Like their German counterparts, they subjected children to medical experiments involving germ injections, amputations, and surgeries without anesthetic. Sex crimes committed by Japan against the women of Asia are both numerous and well documented. Certainly no student of history would suggest that the Japanese, who along with the Germans and Americans were frantically attempting to develop nuclear weapons, would have been morally opposed to using “the bomb” against American civilians.
In the absence of nuclear force, Americans would have been left with General George Marshall’s plan for an island-by-island invasion. The projected cost of the mission was estimated as high as half a million American lives.
Few doubt the Japanese would have fiercely resisted such an attempt. Like their suicide-bombing counterparts of today, they had long ago traded reason for fanaticism.
Since they believed their emperor to be divine, carrying out the wishes of the emperor was a sacred duty. At both Iwo Jima and Okinawa, Japanese soldiers abandoned their wounded in order to virtually fight to the last man. Many chose to be burned alive in their caves rather than concede. The well-known Kamikaze pilots, trained in suicidal crash attacks, are the poster children for this mentality.
In phase one of Marshall’s plan, Operation Olympic, 650,000 Americans would have been sent to try to capture the island of Kyushu. The Japanese were prepared to defend their turf with 540,000 troops and 5,000 kamikaze planes, virtually assuring a historic bloodbath.
In Operation Coronet, an assembled invasion force of two million men were deemed necessary to victoriously sustain the long, arduous drive toward Tokyo. The Japanese government, in preparation for such an Allied invasion, added to the cataclysmic potential by supplying domestic households with guns, knives and explosives.
The nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki prevented those dreadful scenarios. But, don’t expect America’s critics, who will use the anniversary of this occurrence to point the bony finger at Uncle Sam, to bring it up in their empty-headed, hand-wringing diatribes.
Those critics may not understand history, but they do understand human nature. They know that it is our tendency to focus on what has occurred without considering what might have happened had the action not taken place.
Consider Iraq. We can easily contemplate the economic costs and loss of life, as well as the myriad of other undeniable downsides of what has occurred. However, the downside of having taken another path cannot be so easily calculated — and is therefore, often minimized. Such is the luxury of the critic.
When we think about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we cannot help being reminded of the horrors of war. But, no apologies from the United States are necessary. The Japanese have only their Emperor and those who blindly followed him to blame for those fateful events in the summer of 1945.
All Americans should be grateful to President Truman for his decision to nuke Japan. In doing so, he not only protected Americans from fanatical tyrants, but he allowed many of our fathers and grandfathers to continue living. For that, he deserves unwavering praise.