Monday, August 11, 2008

Who You Calling Fat Man, Little Boy?

Some recall with horror the events that occurred 63 years ago. Others look back on history with the belief that something this tragic had to be done or worse would occur.

While we should never forget the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we should also not forget the reasons why Little Boy and Fat Man were dropped in the first place. To end a war that was costing countless lives and would continue with untold casualties. The Japanese did not even surrender after Little Boy was dropped on Hiroshima - that is how stubborn their military leaders were.

"The blast — equivalent to about 13,000 tons of TNT — literally scoured out the center of the city and the resulting fires took care of most of the rest. About 70,000 people perished within hours of the blast with another 70,000 dying before the end of 1945.

Three days later –63 years ago today– history would repeat itself over the city of Nagasaki. This time, a plutonium bomb was used, increasing the efficiency of the device dramatically. Due to some topographical quirks (there were no large hills as in Hiroshima to focus the blast effect), the casualty rate was lower. Still, Fat Man managed to kill more than 40,000 that day and another 40,000 before that fateful year faded into history."

Was it necessary to kill 120,000 in the blink of an eye and cause the ultimate death of another 120,000? I'm no great military expert, but from my knowledge of history and the events that led to the final decision, yes it was necessary.
"Army Air Force Commander of Strategic Forces in the Pacific Curtis LeMay believed if given six months and freedom to target whatever he wished, he could bring Japan to its knees by completely destroying its ability to feed itself. Victory assured — at the cost of several million starved Japanese.

The navy thought a blockade would do the trick. Starving the Japanese war machine of raw materials and the people of food they were importing from occupied China would have the Japanese government begging for peace in a matter of six months to a year. Again, visions of millions of dead from starvation came with the plan.

The army saw invasion as the only option. A landing on the southernmost main island of Kyushu followed up by an attack on the Kanto plain near Tokyo on the island of Honshu. Dubbed Operation Downfall, the plan called for the first phase to be carried out in October of 1945, with the main battle for Japan taking place in the spring of 1946. Casualty estimates have been hotly debated over the years, but it seems reasonable to assume that many hundreds of thousands of Americans would have been killed or wounded while, depending on how fiercely civilians resisted, perhaps several million Japanese would have died in the assault."
It seems that people conveniently forget the ferocity with which the Japanese - both military AND civilian - fought. They were prepared to fight to the death - no surrender - down to the last woman and child - who would rather commit suicide than be captured.
"It is hard to grasp the wave of helplessness that descended on many in the civilian and military leadership as they watched the Japanese on Okinawa fight so fanatically and to the death. The prospect of invasion and continued combat throughout the Pacific was frightening."
Was dropping the bombs a "good" thing? Undoubtedly no. But I believe that history has shown us that it was right thing to do.
"...the allies issued an ultimatum to Japan: surrender or suffer the consequences. The die was cast and the fate of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was sealed."
Japan is one of our great allies today - something my maternal grandfather still finds amazing and my paternal grandmother can't really believe. She still sees them as the "Japs" who floated weather balloons across the sea and started forest fires here in the Pacific Northwest. She sees them as invaders who tried to take the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. She sees them as enemies who forced her husband to leave for war and her to work at Boeing as a "Rosie the Riveter" for her children. Some wounds never fully heal.

"But once –just once– I would like to hear the horror stories of the men and women of Pearl Harbor as counterpoint to the suffering of the Japanese and a reminder of who started the war and how they did it. I want to hear from those who can tell equally horrific tales of death and destruction. How Japanese aircraft strafed our men with machine gun fire while they were swimming for their lives through flaming oil spills, the result of a surprise attack against a nation with whom they were at peace. Or how the hundreds of men trapped in the USS Arizona slowly suffocated over 10 days as divers frantically tried to cut through the superstructure and rescue their comrades.

Perhaps we might even ask surviving POWs to bear witness to their ordeal in Japanese prison camps — surely as brutal, inhuman, and gruesome an atrocity as has ever been inflicted on enemy soldiers.

While we’re at it, I am sure there are thousands of witnesses who would want to testify about how the Japanese army raped its way across Asia. This little discussed aspect of the war is a non-event for the most part in Japanese histories. But the millions of women who suffered unspeakable mistreatment by the Japanese army deserve a hearing whenever the tragedy of Hiroshima is remembered."

The decision to drop the bombs saved not just American lives, but those of China as well. We forget the horror that the Japanese military wrought on civilians.
"Between 1932 and 1945 Japan experiments included testing biological weapons on humans, and attacked 11 Chinese cities with biological weapons.


Open air testing on prisoners was conducted at the the officially named "Water Purification Unit 731" at Pingfan near Harbin, a remote, desolate area on the Manchurian Peninsula.


In 1940, a plague epidemic in China and Manchuria followed reported overflights by Japanese planes dropping plague-infected fleas. The Japanese attacked hundreds of heavily populated communities and remote regions with germ bombs. There appears to have been a massive germ war campaign in Yunnan Province bordering Burma. Planes dropped plague-infected fleas over Ningbo in eastern China and over Changde in north-central China, and Japanese troops also dropped cholera and typhoid cultures in wells and ponds. In all, tens of thousands, and perhaps as many 200,000, Chinese died of bubonic plague, cholera, anthrax and other diseases. "
So it is all well and good to mourn the dead and ask why. But we need to be able to honestly answer that question with the truth of those times and understand the true reasons behind the ultimate decision.

1 comment:

Michael said...

Very nice write-up! People will sit around and whine about human rights without looking at the big picture. That seems to be the source of 3/4 of our country "disapproving" of G. W. B. currently. I wish the American people would grow a pair... FWIW,