Ce qui se vit aujourd’hui est une forme de rivalité mimétique à l’échelle planétaire. Lorsque j’ai lu les premiers documents de Ben Laden, constaté ses allusions aux bombes américaines tombées sur le Japon, je me suis senti d’emblée à un niveau qui est au-delà de l’islam, celui de la planète entière. Sous l’étiquette de l’islam, on trouve une volonté de rallier et de mobiliser tout un tiers-monde de frustrés et de victimes dans leurs rapports de rivalité mimétique avec l’Occident. René Girard
As for their accusations of terrorizing the innocent, the children, and the women, these are in the category of ‘accusing others with their own affliction in order to fool the masses.’ The evidence overwhelmingly shows America and Israel killing the weaker men, women and children in the Muslim world and elsewhere. A few examples of this are seen in the recent Qana massacre in Lebanon, and the death of more than 600,000 Iraqi children because of the shortage of food and medicine which resulted from the boycotts and sanctions against the Muslim Iraqi people, also their withholding of arms from the Muslims of Bosnia-Herzegovina leaving them prey to the Christian Serbians who massacred and raped in a manner not seen in contemporary history. Not to forget the dropping of the H-bombs on cities with their entire populations of children, elderly, and women, on purpose, and in a premeditated manner as was the case with Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Osama bin Laden (Nida’ul Islam magazine October-November 1996)
Allah has ordered us to glorify the truth and to defend Muslim land, especially the Arab peninsula … against the unbelievers. After World War II, the Americans grew more unfair and more oppressive towards people in general and Muslims in particular. … The Americans started it and retaliation and punishment should be carried out following the principle of reciprocity, especially when women and children are involved. Through history, American has not been known to differentiate between the military and the civilians or between men and women or adults and children. Those who threw atomic bombs and used the weapons of mass destruction against Nagasaki and Hiroshima were the Americans. Can the bombs differentiate between military and women and infants and children? America has no religion that can deter her from exterminating whole peoples. Your position against Muslims in Palestine is despicable and disgraceful. America has no shame. … We believe that the worst thieves in the world today and the worst terrorists are the Americans. Nothing could stop you except perhaps retaliation in kind. We do not have to differentiate between military or civilian. As far as we are concerned, they are all targets, and this is what the fatwah says … . The fatwah is general (comprehensive) and it includes all those who participate in, or help the Jewish occupiers in killing Muslims. Osama bin Laden (May 1998)
La CIA a intercepté l’année dernière un message sibyllin mais qui fait froid dans le dos d’un membre d’al-Qaeda se vantant qu’Oussama Ben Laden préparait un ‘Hiroshima’ contre l’Amérique, selon des sources officielles. Le NYT (le 14 octobre 2001)
Les agressions très flagrantes perpétrées dans tous les coins de Gaza par l’aviation de guerre de l’occupation nous rappellent des images très horribles et choquantes de Hiroshima et Nagasaki. Ismail Haniyeh
I’m only seven although I died. In Hiroshima long ago. I’m seven now as I was then. When children die they do not grow. Nazim Hikmet (Hiroshima and Gaza)
L’horreur des photos pose une nouvelle fois la question : la bombe A était-elle le seul moyen de mettre fin à la guerre du Pacifique ? En 1945, le Japon était à bout de force. A Potsdam, le 26 juillet, les Etats-Unis avaient exigé sa capitulation sans condition, que Tokyo refusa. Mais la décision de larguer ses bombes sur l’Archipel avait déjà été prise, la veille, à Washington. Dans ses Mémoires, le général puis président des Etats-Unis, Dwight Eisenhower, écrit qu’en août 1945 « le Japon était déjà battu, le recours à la bombe était inutile ». A fortiori, la seconde, sur Nagasaki, qui fit 70 000 morts sur le coup. Plus que la capitulation nipponne, il s’agissait de montrer la suprématie américaine à l’URSS, qui avait entre-temps déclaré la guerre au Japon. Le Monde du 18 mai 2008
Les militaristes japonais avaient juré de se battre jusqu’aux derniers homme, femme et enfant. Les bombes atomiques ont permis à la faction pro-paix d’aider les militaristes à « sauver la face » en arguant du fait que le Japon avait été battu par une science supérieure plutôt que par la force des armes. Robert Maddox
La vérité, comme nous le rappelle si souvent le conflit actuel, est que généralement dans la guerre il n’a pas de bonne alternative, et les dirigeants doivent choisir entre un très un mauvais et un encore plus mauvais choix. Hiroshima était l’option la plus terrible imaginable, mais les autres scénarios se seraient probablement avérés encore pires. Victor Davis Hanson
Après le “camp de concentration” du cardinal du Vatican et de Le Pen, le “ghetto” de Le Pen à nouveau, « l’enfer” et le “laboratoire de fabricants de la mort », les « crime de guerre » et « génocide” du docteur Mads Gilbert et tant d’autres, voici… Hiroshima!
A l’heure où le débat sur la prétendue « disproportion » et les soi-disant « crimes de guerre » israéliens fait rage …
Où, d’un site pro-iranien à l’Association des maires pour la paix ou à un cercle de prière international et de la lettre du maire de Téhéran à son homologue japonais à la reprise de service de la fameuse petite fille du poète turc Nazim Hakmet mort comme il se doit à Moscou, l’association des mots Hiroshima Gaza en est déjà à 1,370,000 sur Google …
Et où, comme auparavant avec leurs homologues nippons, la question est effectivement reposée avec les jihadistes du Hamas du que faire face à un ennemi prêt à se battre jusqu’à la dernière goutte de sang de sa population …
Militaires et population fanatisés prêts à se battre encore pendant des mois et des années jusqu’au dernier (dizaines de milliers de morts des dernières batailles comme Okinawa, jusqu’à 20 millions de victimes des Japonais dans la région), dizaines de milliers de kamikazés, refus de se rendre après non seulement une première bombe atomique (qui, contre l’argument de l’essai dissuasif, n’existait alors qu’en deux exemplaires!) mais des bombardements au napalm de villes entières qui avaient déjà largement dépassé Hiroshima (150,000 pour la seule ville de Tokyo et peut-être jusqu’à 500 000 envisagés par l’émule américain du « bombardier fou » de Dresde Curtis LeMay lui-même!), tentative jusqu’à la dernière minute de coup d’État ultranationaliste, blocus qui aurait pu affamer et faire jusqu’à deux millions de victimes …
Retour sur une autre polémique et source sans fin de désinformation et de munitions pour l’anti-américanisme (dont la justification du 11/9 pour Ben Laden lui-même ou les fausses photos du Monde de mai dernier!), à savoir le bombardement des bases militaires japonaises d’Hiroshima et de Nagasaki d’août 1945.
Avec la confirmation, via un récent livre de l’historien américain Maddox et contre la plupart des mythes colportés par la propagande soviétique et anti-américaine (y compris de la part de certains généraux américains de l’époque!), que c’était très probablement la pire des solutions… à l’exception, comme aurait dit Churchill, de toutes les autres!
Hiroshima Revisionism: An Interview with Robert Maddox
History News Network
Mr. Fic is a Seoul-based freelance writer and broadcaster. This interview is part of Fic’s « Voices of History » series with men and women who shape or interpret our world. He is at firstname.lastname@example.org.
« I regard Hiroshima [revisionism] as the greatest hoax in American history. »–Robert Maddox
If the atomic bombing of Hiroshima released tremendous heat and blast physically, the debate over its justification can be intellectually incindiary. Robert Maddox, a veteran historian, is now the leading thinker in a broad effort that exposes revisionist critics of the atomic strike as guilty of impoverished or dishonest analysis. Maddox was trained at Rutgers University and taught at The Pennsylvania State University. He edited a volume of essays, The Myths of Revisionism: Hiroshima in History.
VF: Have you ever been to Hiroshima?
RM: I was in Japan in the early 1950s while in the army — have never visited Hiroshima.
VF: How did you get interested in the complex topic of bombing justifications?
RM: [It was] in the 1970s while doing a book on what was then called “New Left Revisionism.” I [read] a number of blatant falsifications in the work of William Appleman Williams, and realized that other new left authors used some of his distortions. Williams, following the lead of [English scientist] P. M. S. Blackett, had accused [US President] Harry S. Truman of using the bomb to bully the Soviets rather than merely to end the war against Japan. Whereas Williams had devoted only a few passages to the subject, Gar Alperovitz published an entire, heavily footnoted book. Williams, Alperovitz and others were included in my 1973 book, The New Left and the Origins of the Cold War (Princeton University Press: 1973).
VF: Cite the chief mistakes that you insist the leading revisionists make.
RM: Without question, Alperovitz’s most significant “contribution” was his assertion that Japan would have surrendered as early as spring, 1945 provided only that it be permitted to retain its sacred emperor. Truman and [Secretary of State] James F. Byrnes knew this through intercepted Japanese messages but refused to make the offer because they wanted the war to continue until the bombs could be used. This appeared to support his theme that the bombs were not dropped to defeat an already defeated Japan, but rather to awe the Soviets. His “evidence” consisted of pretending that whenever the word “peace” appeared in a Japanese message, it referred to surrender. See my first chapter in « Hiroshima in History » for details, and for other examples of his methods. Despite [how] this scam has been exposed numerous times, some revisionists still use it. See my essay on the recent Pulitzer Prize winning book, « American Prometheus » (www.http://shafr.org/newsletter/2007/december/index.htm).
VF: Your accuse Alperovitz of misusing ellipses to alter meaning and combining different passages into misleading combinations. Can you cite a concrete example of each?
RM: For examples, see pages 7-19 of « Hiroshima in History. »
VF: You cite huge American casualty numbers in an invasion. Explain how you came to them.
RM: The 900,000 figure is from Edward J. Drea’s superb MacArthur’s Ultra: Codebreaking and the War Against Japan, published in 1992. The 900,000 figure…is the number of Japanese defenders on Kyushu by the time the war ended. This is significant because there were only about 350,000 there when Truman authorized the invasion on June 18th, 1945.
VF: The Dennis Giangreco chapter seeks to show that a large casualty count was bandied about before the bombing. How is this timing important?
RM: This is significant because many revisionists have argued that the [high] figure cited in Truman’s memoirs is a post war “creation” designed to make dropping the bombs more palatable to the American people, and that actual estimates were far lower. Giangreco has shown that such [massive] figures indeed were being talked about at the higher levels and that Truman knew.
VF: You claim a great discovery: Truman’s papers reveal that Herbert Hoover’s memo to Truman warned of those staggering casualties. Who found this? Is it revolutionary?
RM: [R]ead Dennis Giangreco’s chapter in « Hiroshima in History » as the whole story is far too involved. Giangreco did not “find” the Hoover memo, historians had known about it for years. His contribution, and it is major, is to show how seriously Truman took the memo…He circulated the memo among close advisers and asked for their responses. Not one of them questioned the high casualty figures Hoover cited. The memo also sufficiently impressed Truman that he had Admiral Leahy call a meeting with the Joints Chiefs of Staff on June 18th 1945 to discuss, among other things, casualty estimates.
VF: The Asada essay purports to prove that Tokyo was zealous about fighting on. He is Japanese — does that stand out?
RM: I think Asada’s article is very persuasive because it is based largely on Japanese sources. Japanese militarists had vowed to keep on fighting to the last man, woman, and child. The atomic bombs permitted the peace faction to help the militarists “save face” by arguing that Japan had been defeated by superior science rather than by force of arms.
VF: Is his analysis isolated among experts?
RM: Richard B. Frank’s magisterial Downfall: The End of the Japanese Empire, also based on extensive use of Japanese sources, reinforces Asada’s conclusions. Frank wrote, “Those insisting that Japan’s surrender could have been procured without recourse to atomic bombs cannot point to any credible supporting evidence from the eight men who effectively controlled Japan’s destiny: the six members of the Supreme Council for the Direction of the War, Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal [Koichi] Kido, and the Emperor.” Revisionists proclaim that the Soviet declaration of war [not] the bombs, caused Japan to surrender. While this was an important setback to Japan, it did not come as a shock as did the bombs because the Japanese had been observing the Soviet buildup in the Far East for months.
VF: Is Asada’s stance courageous?
RM: Asada has come under a lot of criticism in Japan but tells it like it is. He goes against the grain. He was trained at Yale rather than going through the Japanese education system so he sees both sides.
VF: Truman said that he sought to avoid another Okinawa from one end of Japan to the other. Did this battle obsess him?
RM: While I would not use the word “obsessed,” certainly Truman’s main concern was to avoid the bloodbath an invasion would have entailed.
VF: As late as August 9th, 1945, Japanese war minister Korechika Anami wanted to reject the Potsdam declaration calling upon Japan to surrender unless the Emperor system was retained, there be no large-scale occupation of Japan, and the Japanese preside over their own disarmament and conduct their own war crimes trials. Is this weighted well in the debate?
RM: Of course, the revisionists fail to mention Anami’s last three “absolute” conditions because they are devastating to the fiction that retention of the Emperor was the sole obstacle to surrender.
VF: The critics argue that Japan would quit if Washington guaranteed the Emperor system over unconditional surrender. Why didn’t Truman relax the terms and so avoid the bombing?
RM: Truman and those around him believed that after WW 1, the Allies missed the bus because they did not occupy Germany and root out the causes of militarism. Twenty years later, there was a second war. So liberals — for instance Dean Acheson – wanted to get rid of the entire imperial system, as well as other Japanese institutions that they believed were responsible for causing the war. Conservatives, who feared the Soviet Union more than they did a resurgent Japan, tended to favor retaining the emperor. Some Americans were so tired of the war they would do anything to end it.
VF: A key revisionist charge insists that Truman bombed to scare the Soviets so they would not enter the war but would bow to US power after it. What is your defense?
RM: [He] asked the USSR all along to get into the war. Truman went to Potsdam for the main or the major reason of getting Stalin in. When the Soviets entered the war on August 8th, Truman called an impromptu press conference to make the announcement because he was enthusiastic. The US ambassador to Moscow Averill Harriman was told how effective he had been in following instructions for getting the Soviets in. It was psychologically important and would pin down Japanese troops on the homeland away from Kyushu [the designated invasion beach].
VF: But Tokyo was trying to negotiate surrender through Moscow. Doesn’t that seem to disprove Maddox?
RM: The Japanese were not trying to negotiate a surrender through Moscow. They were trying to persuade the Soviets to broker a negotiated peace that would have permitted them to retain their imperial system as well as their prewar empire. Decryptions of Japanese diplomatic messages have been available in all good research libraries since the 1970s. Revisionists simply choose to ignore the many statements by the Japanese ambassador in Moscow that Tokyo’s efforts to gain a negotiated peace were futile: “Your way of looking at things and the actual situation in the Eastern Area [are] absolutely contradictory.” For a fuller discussion, see my Weapons for Victory (University of Missouri Press, 1995).
VF: But we read strong statements from American officials and officers who panned the bombing. Don’t these contradict you?
RM: Revisionists are fond of citing various officials — [General Douglas] MacArthur, [US Admiral Chester] Nimitz and [US Army Air Force General Curtis] LeMay, etc. — who later criticized using the bombs. There is little doubt that some of these men had axes to grind. There is no credible evidence…that any of them criticized using the bombs before or immediately after they were dropped. Indeed, some Alperovitz cites as opposed to the bomb actually urged that a third bomb be dropped on Tokyo.
VF: Why not demonstrate the weapon on a desert island, as the critics say was possible?
RM: I treat the issue on pages 44, 63-64, and 67-69 of Weapons for Victory. When this question was raised during a March 31st, 1945 meeting between the Interim Committee and its Scientific Panel, head of the panel Robert Oppenheimer replied that he could think of no demonstration…sufficiently impressive to induce the Japanese to surrender. [Also], it might prove to be a dud…the Japanese might bring prisoners of war to the demonstration site, and that they would make every effort to destroy the carrier in flight.
VF: The peace movement condemns the attack as triggering the nuclear arms race. Is this the right cause-effect chain? If so, isn’t it impossible to support the mission?
RM: This is absurd on its face. The Soviets had their own atomic program in place long before Hiroshima and knew through espionage all about the US effort. There would have been an arms race even if the US did not use the bombs against Japan. Can anyone imagine that, if only the United States had not used the bombs, Stalin would have permitted the US to enjoy a perpetual nuclear monopoly [with] the Soviets…helpless? The idea that Hiroshima and Nagasaki caused the arms race merely provides revisionists with another stick…to beat Truman.
VF: The Hiroshima Peace Museum displays a Byrnes memo noting that the bomb cost two billion dollars and so US politicians had to show the tax payer that it worked — that is why they attacked the city. Agree?
RM: Use of the Byrnes memorandum [here] represents another… »grab at any straw » attempt to deny that the real goal was to end the war as quickly as possible. It is sheer nonsense. Byrnes was [then] skeptical about the Manhattan Project. He had recently received a memorandum from an aide suggesting that it was foisted on the government by « professors who dream that by [atomic bombing] the Japanese and others wars can be brought to a speedy and successful termination. » (Robert L. Messer, End of an Alliance: James F. Byrnes, Roosevelt, Truman, and the Origins of the Cold War [University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1982, p. 251]). As Director of the Office of War Mobilization (OWM), he was sure to incur his share of the blame after the war…for wasting resources and manpower if the program proved to be a 2 billion dollar boondoggle. Like any good bureaucrat, he wanted to protect his fanny by proposing that the project be scaled back or…vetted by a committee of eminent scientists not directly involved. Byrnes lost his skepticism by May at the very latest [as] he was no longer head of OWM, and began urging…full speed ahead. The test explosion of July 16th proved [its] feasibility…thereby precluding future charges [of] wasted effort. [For] justifying costs, actually dropping the bombs became superfluous for the administration could boast that it had acquired…the most powerful weapon in history.
VF: Critics cite the US official Paul Nitze’s post-war bombing survey finding that Tokyo would have quit the conflict because of conventional air attacks even without being hit with the nuclear stick. So the American study exposes a crime, correct?
RM: You will have to read Gian Gentile’s chapter in History in History as it is far too complicated to do justice to here…Gentile shows that the survey’s conclusion, written under the direction of Nietze, misrepresented what former Japanese officials stated to interrogators. With one possible exception, none of them claimed that Japan would have surrendered before November 1st. In one sense the issue is irrelevant, as the report was written after the war had ended and was not available to Truman at the time the bombs were used.
VF: How common is the revisionist view, say in major US journals?
RM: The three leading journals — Journal of American History, American Historical Review, and Diplomatic History — have long since been…house organs for revisionist history. They routinely give revisionist works to other revisionists or…those favorable to revisionism, while “orthodox” books are also sent to revisionists. One, for instance, sent my Weapons For Victory to a…coauthor of one of Alperovitz’s books. I wrote the book review editor asking him why he did not send it directly to Alperovitz, thereby eliminating the middleman. Not surprisingly, I received no reply. Many newspapers including the New York Times and Washington Post have swallowed revisionist fictions because they make good copy. Alperovitz, Kai Bird and others have on several occasions called press conferences to announce the discovery of some “new” document that proves their case…[that] invariably [were] public for decades…Surveys have shown that public approval of using the bombs has dropped sharply over the years. No doubt at least part of the reason is…revisionist distortions in the press, books and t.v. documentaries. The Peter Jennings special in 1995 provides a case in point. The entire program could have been written by a revisionist. I was the only “orthodox” scholar to appear. McGeorge Bundy was on, but he could easily be dismissed as a former [biased] official. [My] few statements were sandwiched in with others [as if] I supported the revisionist position.
VF: Can you at least assert that your perspective is heard on campus?
RM: Countless studies have shown that university faculties in the liberal arts are overwhelmingly on the left. The “hate America” view of history is congenial to them and has little to do with what the historical record actually says. Whenever revisionists are caught…the response inevitably is that this is nit-picking or…McCarthyism. Leftists owe a great debt to McCarthy for providing them with a shield. I know, for I [was] called a McCarthyite myself — see the review of my new left book in the NY Times in 1973.
VF: What is the trend line among the US public?
RM: For now, most American history departments are skewed to the left. They are prone to look with favor on such obvious charlatans as Howard Zinn. They are impervious to evidence. But eventually the anti-revisionist interpretation will prevail. In the past 10 years or so, there has been some progress as we see more books that are anti-revisionist by authors such as Wilson Miscamble who says its time to retire revisionism
VF: Some 90% of Japanese condemn Truman. Do you know that you are arguing against Mt. Fuji-sized opposition?
RM: What is Hiroshima revisionism in the United States is orthodoxy in Japan. The Japanese, with few exceptions such as Asada, like to see themselves as victims — this [distracts] from the some 20 million people they killed throughout Asia.
VF: These same Japanese insist that racism factored into their ordeal — do you think it did? Your book overlooks the issue.
RM: I ignore the charge because it is preposterous. The bomb initially was developed to use against Germany, which surrendered months before it was ready. Surely the massive bombing campaigns by the US/GB air forces during the war indicated that there was little compunction about devastating German cities. Should the US have gone back and dropped one on a German city months after V-E Day just to show we were not prejudiced?
VF: Reveal your motive in exposing the revisionists’ flaws and how wrong were they — minor distortions, deceit?
RM: Back in the 1970s, I wrote a book criticizing what was then known as the « new left » version of the origins of the Cold War. I tried to show how these historians had falsified the historical record…to show that the United States bore primary responsibility for the conflict. Hiroshima revisionism was a part of this effort, and became enormously popular in academic circles. I regard it as the greatest hoax in American history [because] ideology trumped scholarship.
VF: Do you have a sense of mission?
RM: It became that way [after] I came to study the new left and saw its errors accumulating, especially regarding Hiroshima. I was shocked to find numerous professors, some with endowed chairs, writing such patent nonsense. They had to know better.
VF: Where does the debate between you and your sparring partners stand now?
RM: [See] the exchange between Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin and me in the latest issue of « Passport. » Their response [is] a perfect example of the poverty of Hiroshima revisionism. They cite [Tsuyoshi] Hasegawa’s book « Racing the Enemy » in support of their « early surrender » thesis when in fact it explicitly rejects the notion [see http://www.hup.harvard.edu%5D. Either Bird and Sherwin had not read the book or…hoped their readers had not. In any event, pretty shabby.
VF: As a capstone take home message, what is truly new in your book?
RM: All the information has appeared before with the exception of my essay on Alperovitz, which is a critique of his shenanigans over the years. The other chapters demolish revisionist positions on a number of issues: That Japan was ready to surrender, that expected casualties for the invasion of Japan were far lower than Truman would later claim, and that Truman wanted to keep the Soviets out of the war. Robert Newman has a chapter analyzing the Enola Gay fiasco that took place at the Air and Space Museum in 1995 [the] fiftieth anniversary of Hiroshima.
VF: Professor Maddox, thank you for sharing your expertise on what is arguably the 20th century’s leading controversy. Let us follow up one day to learn the new academic and public verdicts on the bombing.
60 Years Later
Victor Davis Hanson
August 05, 2005
For 60 years the United States has agonized over its unleashing of the world’s first nuclear weapon on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. President Harry Truman’s decision to explode an atomic bomb over an ostensible military target — the headquarters of the crack Japanese 2nd Army — led to well over 100,000 fatalities, the vast majority of them civilians.
Critics immediately argued that we should have first targeted the bomb on an uninhabited area as a warning for the Japanese militarists to capitulate. Did a democratic America really wish to live with the burden of being the only state that had used nuclear weapons against another?
Later generals Hap Arnold, Dwight Eisenhower, Curtis LeMay, Douglas Macarthur, and Admirals William Leahy and William Halsey all reportedly felt the bomb was unnecessary, being either militarily redundant or unnecessarily punitive to an essentially defeated populace.
Yet such opponents of the decision shied away from providing a rough estimate of how many more would have died in the aggregate — Americans, British, Australians, Asians, Japanese, and Russians — through conventional bombing, continuous fighting in the Pacific, amphibious invasion of the mainland, or the ongoing onslaught of the Red Army had the conflict not come to an abrupt halt nine days later and only after a second nuclear drop on Nagasaki.
Truman’s supporters countered that, in fact, a blockade and negotiations had not forced the Japanese generals to surrender unconditionally. In their view, a million American casualties and countless Japanese dead were adverted by not storming the Japanese mainland over the next year in the planned two-pronged assault on the mainland, dubbed Operation Coronet and Olympic.
For the immediate future there were only two bombs available. Planners thought that using one for demonstration purposes (assuming that it would have worked) might have left the Americans without enough of the new arsenal to shock and awe the Japanese government should it have ridden out the first attack and then become emboldened by a hiatus, and our inability to follow up the attacks.
As it was, after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, General Tojo’s followers capitulated only through the intervention of the emperor. And it was not altogether clear even then that Japanese fanatics would not attack the Americans as they steamed into Tokyo Bay for the surrender ceremonies.
These are the debates that matured in the relative peace of the postwar era. But in August 1945 most Americans had a much different take on Hiroshima, a decision that cannot be fathomed without appreciation of the recently concluded Okinawa campaign (April 1-July 2) that had cost 50,000 American casualties and 200,000 Japanese and Okinawa dead. Okinawa saw the worst losses in the history of the U.S. Navy. Over 300 ships were damaged, more than 30 sunk, as about 5,000 sailors perished under a barrage of some 2,000 Kamikaze attacks.
And it was believed at least 10,000 more suicide planes were waiting on Kyushu and Honshu. Those who were asked to continue such fighting on the Japanese mainland — as we learn from the memoirs of Paul Fussell, William Manchester, and E. B. Sledge — were relieved at the idea of encountering a shell-shocked defeated enemy rather than a defiant Japanese nation in arms.
About a month after Okinawa was finally declared secure came Hiroshima. Americans of that age were more likely to wonder not that the bomb had been dropped too early, but perhaps too late in not avoiding the carnage on Okinawa — especially when by Spring 1945 there was optimism among the scientists in New Mexico that the successful completion of the bomb was not far away. My father, William Hanson, who flew 39 missions over Japan on a B-29, was troubled over the need for Okinawa — where his first cousin Victor Hanson was killed in the last hours of the battle for Sugar Loaf Hill — when the future bomb would have forced Japanese surrender without such terrible loss of life in 11th-hour infantry battles or even more horrific torching of the Japanese cities.
Hiroshima, then, was not the worst single-day loss of life in military history. The Tokyo fire raid on the night of March 9/10, five months earlier, was far worse, incinerating somewhere around 150,000 civilians, and burning out over 15 acres of the downtown. Indeed, “Little Boy,” the initial nuclear device that was dropped 60 years ago, was understood as the continuance of that policy of unrestricted bombing — its morality already decided by the ongoing attacks on the German and Japanese cities begun at least three years earlier.
Americans of the time hardly thought the Japanese populace to be entirely innocent. The Imperial Japanese army routinely butchered civilians abroad — some 10-15 million Chinese were eventually to perish — throughout the Pacific from the Philippines to Korea and Manchuria. Even by August 1945, the Japanese army was killing thousands of Asians each month. When earlier high-level bombing attacks with traditional explosives failed to cut off the fuel for this murderous military — industries were increasingly dispersed in smaller shops throughout civilian centers — Curtis LeMay unleashed napalm on the Japanese cities and eventually may have incinerated 500,000.
In some sense, Hiroshima and Nagasaki not only helped to cut short the week-long Soviet invasion of Japanese-held Manchuria (80,000 Japanese soldiers killed, over 8,000 Russian dead), but an even more ambitious incendiary campaign planned by Gen. Curtis LeMay. With the far shorter missions possible from planned new bases in Okinawa and his fleet vastly augmented by more B-29s and the transference from Europe of thousands of idle B-17s and B-24, the ‘mad bomber’ LeMay envisioned burning down the entire urban and industrial landscape of Japan. His opposition to Hiroshima was more likely on grounds that his own fleet of bombers could have achieved the same result in a few more weeks anyway.
Postwar generations argued over whether the two atomic bombs, the fire raids, or the August Soviet invasion of Manchuria — or all three combined — prompted Japan to capitulate, whether Hiroshima and Nagasaki were a stain on American democracy, or whether the atomic bombs were the last-gasp antidote to the plague of Japanese militarism that had led to millions of innocents butchered without much domestic opposition or criticism from the triumphalist Japanese people.
But our own generation has more recently once again grappled with Hiroshima, and so the debate rages on in the new age of terrorism and handheld weapons of mass destruction, brought home after an attack on our shores worse than Pearl Harbor — with more promised to come. Perhaps the horror of the suicide bombers of Japan does not seem so distant any more. Nor does the notion of an extreme perversion of an otherwise mainstream religion filling millions with hatred of a supposedly decadent West.
The truth, as we are reminded so often in this present conflict, is that usually in war there are no good alternatives, and leaders must select between a very bad and even worse choice. Hiroshima was the most awful option imaginable, but the other scenarios would have probably turned out even worse.
— Victor Davis Hanson is a military historian and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. His website is victorhanson.com.