August 16, 2005
No more self-flagellation on Hiroshima and NagasakiBy James Chen
Now that our annual self—flagellation over Hiroshima and Nagasaki is over, we Americans owe it to ourselves to look back at the wartime events leading up to the dropping of atomic bombs on Japan. For 60 years, opponents of President Truman's decision to use atomic weapons have sustained a steady drum beat of criticism in the unassailable forums of America's newsrooms and college classrooms. Their second—guessing has led to a gradual erosion of America's perceived moral superiority over our enemies as well as negative repercussions for our present conflicts on the world stage—much to the delight of our adversaries.
The debate over Hiroshima has its roots in the remorse expressed by several prominent Americans—including atomic bomb—designer Robert Oppenheimer and Gen. Dwight Eisenhower—and has gained momentum with recent claims that Japan was already on the verge of surrender when the bombs were dropped. If we continue down the current path of deliberation, the apologists for Japanese aggression will likely succeed in rewriting history, leaving little or no voice for the millions of victims of Japan's attempted conquest of East Asia.
Traditionally, the terms of the historical discussion on Hiroshima have been set by the liberal elites of the press and academia, who focus solely on the question of whether it was necessary to use the bombs at all. The revisionists' belief is that Japan was already a beaten nation in August 1945, and that use of the atomic bombs was an immoral act tantamount to a war crime. To add punch to their argument, numerous survivors of the bombing provide first—hand accounts of the devastation and death wrought by the bombs.
This self—doubt is sometimes followed by rebuttals from American veterans of the Pacific Theater, who praise Truman's decision as a necessary evil, giving him credit shortening the war and saving lives. They often point out that the Japanese surrender on August 14 came only five days after the dropping of the second bomb on Nagasaki. Their numbers dwindling, grizzled veterans from the Battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa recall their joy when they learned that they would not have to invade the Japanese home islands at a cost of untold thousands of American lives.
As one might expect, the few surviving crew members of the B—29s bombers Enola Gay and Bock's Car are interviewed each August by reporters from around the world, who invariably ask them the same question with mind—numbing familiarity: "Do you have any regrets?"
In response to this question, Lt. Col. Paul Tibbets, the pilot of the Enola Gay, recently issued this statement:
As a bomber pilot, Tibbets had the impeccable ability to see the target underneath layers of cloud cover. By exposing the role that the media has in perpetuating the myth of the Hiroshima bombing as unnecessary, he demonstrates why he was selected to lead the first atomic bomb mission:
There are two kinds of newspaper reporters. Those that print the truth the way it is, and those other kind who print B.S.
Unfortunately for Tibbets and our allies who fought against the Japan, the advantage has swung in favor of the revisionists who see wartime Japan as a victim of American cruelty. By focusing solely on the dropping of the bombs, we are ignoring the millions of deaths and untold suffering caused by Japanese aggression, and unwittingly assist the Japanese government's attempts to whitewash history.
The historical record is rich with examples of barbaric Japanese behavior towards its enemies, some dating as far back as ten years prior to the December 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. But few people outside of Asia remember that Japan exploited millions of slave laborers, forced hundreds of thousands of women and girls to work as prostitutes serving their armed forces and killed outright millions of civilians and several hundred thousand Allied prisoners—of—war. Even fewer realize that Japanese scientists developed and used biological weapons on Chinese civilians and American prisoners—of—war—the only use of such weapons during World War 2—and were in the process of developing atomic weapons themselves when the war ended.
To try to comprehend the human costs of Japan's rampage across the Pacific, one should consider that the generally accepted casualty figures for the Hiroshima attack include at least 100,000 people killed outright by the blast and fire that destroyed the city. Thus, if we are to quantify the loss of life across Asia due to Japanese aggression in terms of Hiroshima, then the minimum number of Hiroshimas inflicted by Japan onto its neighbors, including China, Korea, Indochina, Burma, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) is at least one hundred. Beginning in 1931 with the invasion of Manchuria, Japan unleashed wave after wave of death and destruction on her Asian neighbors, the rough equivalent on one Hiroshima per month for more than 14 years.
While it is somewhat understandable why the Japanese are interested in whitewashing their bloody past, the motivations of American revisionists are less clear. Rather than attribute the Japanese surrender to the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Truman's critics usually cite the Soviet Union's entry into the war on August 8 as the true reason for the capitulation. The correct course of action, they explain, would have been for the US to either publicly demonstrate the power of the bomb on an uninhabited area in Japan or to wait for the inevitable surrender just around the corner.
Never mind that the US only had two atomic weapons in its entire arsenal, and that Japanese diplomatic and military messages during the period [US codebreakers had cracked the Japanese codes years earlier] contained no indications that surrender was imminent. It is also of little use to remind the revisionists that the Battle of Okinawa that ended just 5 weeks earlier resulted in the deaths of over 200,000 people—including 18,900 Americans killed and 33,096 wounded—with still no word from the Japanese government, which was by then divided on the issue of surrender.
With their "slight—of—hand" approach to history, the revisionists have nearly succeeded in turning the United States into the villains of the Pacific War, despite the fact that the US was the nation most responsible for stopping the Japanese killing spree across Asia. The passage of time only helps their cause, for as the number of American World War 2 veterans shrinks to zero, the press will likely stop presenting the soldiers' "Hiroshima was necessary" point—of—view, but continue to endlessly recycle their "Never Again" editorials every August 6th & 9th. Only God knows how long 90—year—old Paul Tibbets and his fellow B—29 crew members will be around to refute the naysayers, but rest assured the press will use the occasion of their deaths to once again ignore the fifteen years of mass murder (1931—1945) committed by the Japanese armed forces to drive home their point of American guilt.
In arguing that Hiroshima's destruction was unjustified, the revisionists have shown themselves to be incapable of making moral distinctions between totalitarian ideologies and our democratic ideals. The consequences of their position are becoming clear in our present—day struggle against the "Axis of Evil" that President Bush defined in his 2002 State of the Union speech. Most significantly, they hold the viewpoint that the United States—being the only country to use atomic weapons in wartime—has no moral standing to deny their possession by any other nation, including Iran and North Korea. Furthermore, given Japan's documented use of chemical and biological weapons on Chinese civilians prior to Hiroshima, they also disavow the use of atomic bombs as a retaliatory measure against nations using such weapons.
Hiroshima's significance goes beyond the Axis of Evil. As scary as it seems, the revisionists would also seem to have a fan in Osama bin Laden. In speeches, the al Qaeda terrorist leader has referred to the bombing of Hiroshima as an "war crime", citing it as justification for the September 11th attacks" along with a litany of grievances against the United States.
As we once again grapple with an enemy that has attacked us directly on our homeland, it is time for Americans to place the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the correct historical context. Japan's declaration of Total War on her enemies, beginning with the "Killl All, Burn All, Loot All" campaign against China, should leave no doubt that the Pacific War against the United States was a war of annihilation. The wartime events leading to the destruction of Hiroshima were set into motion long before Truman made his fateful decision. In Japanese savagery towards the enemy lay the seeds of Japan's eventual defeat at the hands of the United States.
James Chen blogs at Where Have You Gone, Joe DiMaggio?