Thursday, February 24, 2011

"Tough Minded"

Atomic blast at Hiroshima

The dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan in 1945 will remain a bone of contention among historians but it is fascinating how the the decision to drop the bomb is justified. The usual argument, expressed in such books as Thank god for the Atom Bomb by Paul Fussell1 is about how those who gainsay the decision to drop the bomb are foolish sentimentalists, who don't understand war and the then war situation. That they lack the tough mindedness necessary in war and are mired in a sentimental fog.

What of course is absolutely fascinating is how those so called realists and tough minded people are also sentimental in their own way. They refuse to use such words as "massacre" "atrocity" "mass murder" "war crime" "crime against humanity" to describe the bombing. They studiously avoid using such tough minded unsentimental language to describe the bombing.

The fact is the vast majority of the victims were civilians and that the bombs were even more destructive and frankly indiscriminate and hard to escape from than conventional area bombing.

It is remarkable how many people who excuse the bombing use the argument that it helped to end the war don't seem to understand that even if that was the case it still is an atrocity, a mass murder of civilians a violation of the Hague conventions, a war crime and crime against humanity.

As for actually ending the war. Well it should be pointed out that the entry of the Soviets into the war just after the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima was likely even more important than the dropping of either bomb. Certainly it shook the Japanese leadership. Of course what was also important was that the Emperor intervened decisively (finally!!) to get acceptance of the surrender.

There also were available a few more bombs to be dropped just in case these two didn't work.

What is of interest is also that it appears that before the bomb dropped the Japanese were willing to accept almost any terms, what the Japanese were willing to accept was the retention of the Emperor as a condition and surrender unconditionally aside from that. Of course after the bombs were dropped the Americans accepted that the Emperor would be retained and told the Japanese who then surrendered. So ironically despite the bomb the Japanese did not surrender unconditionally.

In war engaging in atrocity to terrorize the enemy into surrender is an all to frequent tactic. And it is also one that works frequently, although at times it backfires or simply doesn't work. Assuming that the bomb worked to hasten the surrender of Japan. (I frankly doubt the argument that an invasion would have been necessary at all; Japan would have more likely than not surrendered before then.) The argument seems to be that some how that it is justifiable / excusable if dropping the bomb resulted in Japan surrendering. If that is the case than all sorts of atrocities throughout history become justifiable / excusable. In fact even if they don't work they become justifiable / excusable because the intention was to shorten the war and get the enemy to surrender. During the war the Japanese engaged in China in various spectacularly brutal campaigns called the "three alls" meaning burn all, loot all, kill all, during which millions of Chinese civilians were murdered directly and indirectly. The purpose was to terrorize the Chinese into submission. The Nanjing massacre could be viewed in a similar fashion.

The dropping of the atom bombs purpose was to terrorize the Japanese by destroying two Japanese cities and massacring large numbers of people in what was then a truly jaw dropping stunning manner. The debate over how much it had to do with Japan finally surrendering will go on with in my opinion no final resolution.

There can be little doubt that if Japan had used a weapon of similar destructiveness on the United States and if they had then still lost the war, those that had authorized the use of such a weapon would have been justifiably tried and found guilty of war crimes.

It is quite grotesque to hear how after the war those involved in the dropping of the atom bombs got so defensive and upset when their acts were described as crimes, atrocities etc. So much for realism, tough mindedness and a lack of sentimentality. About themselves and their decision they seemed to wallow in it.

What will also continue to go on will be those who argue that the bombing was justified will continue to decry their opponents as lacking realism and tough mindedness while avoiding using such tough minded and realistic words to describe the bombing as massacre, atrocity, mass murder, war crime, crime against humanity. They seem to competely lack the realism and tough mindedness to call a spade a spade.

1. Summit Books, New York, 1988. See also Feifer, George, Tennozan, Ticknor and Fields, New York, 1992, pp. 566-584, for another example of “tough mindedness”.


Grayling, A.C., Among the Dead Cities, Bloomsbury, London, 2006, pp. 77-79, 113-116, 147-158, 231-234, 250-254.

Katsuichi, Honda, The Nanjing Massacre, An East Gate Book, Armonk NY, 1999.

Calvocoressi, Peter, Wint, Guy, Pritchard, John, The Penguin History of the Second World War, Second Edition, Penguin Books, London, 1989, pp. 1033-1037, 1181-1208.

Pierre Cloutier

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