Monday, September 15, 2014
"Hiroshima Nagasaki" by Paul Ham (2014)
This is a fascinating book. I say that because it fascinates me the way that two people; in this case the author and myself; can take the same facts and reach two completely separate conclusions about an event. But that is exactly the case with this book. It’s not revisionist history per se; he doesn't change any of the facts; he merely interprets them in a way to make the point that nuclear weapons are bad; and by extension; that the United States is evil for having used them to end the War in the Pacific. So, we are left to examine the facts.
Mr. Ham makes the argument that we killed 130,000 people; that is the death toll from the immediate aftermath of both bombs; in cold blood, knowing that the Japanese had no way left to fight. He makes this assertion in spite of their still drafting 15 year olds as Kamikazes to fly wooden planes to be used as suicide bombs. The Emperor had already declared his opposition to the Potsdam Agreement of July, which stated that Japan would be subject to all the military might of the combined allies should they fail to surrender.
The Emperor and his military staff knew that Russia was about to invade; bringing with her all the hatred stored up since 1905 war between the two. The author makes the claim that Japan would have had to surrender under this pressure from the Soviets; completely ignoring what the post war world would have looked like for both Japan and the rest of the world. Japan would probably have become another North Korea; or become subject to colonial control, like Vietnam when it was returned to France. That worked out really well, didn't it? And North Korea continues to be a threat to the world today.
One alternative would have been to continue the use of the incendiary bombings which killed 100,000 a night. The author is also critical of those raids as being inhumane. I have heard these claims before, in connection to the fire bombings of Dresden in Germany. Had we continued with those raids over Japan while the Emperor still refused to surrender, the death rate would have been much higher than even the long term death rate by the effects of the two nuclear bombs.
Moreover, the raids would not have been confined to just 2 targets, but rather have been spread over the whole country. This would have been akin to genocide of the Japanese people and Mr. Ham would be writing his book with that in mind. In other words, there is little we could have done to end the war which would have pleased him. In a perfect world the Japanese would have apologized and we would all sing around the campfire again.
But the Japanese Emperor, Hirohito, was still worried about his social position even after the devastation of the first bomb. He had been unwilling to accept the terms of the Potsdam Agreement which called for unconditional surrender. And, even after the first bomb he wanted to wait and see if we had more. The author even documents that himself. In school we were always taught that Tojo was the roadblock to peace; in reality it was the Emperor. And, in the end, he got what he wanted. He was never punished for war crimes; as Hitler certainly would have been. He remained in power until his death decades later.
Since we obviously have different opinions concerning whether or not the United States should have even developed the weapon; although the Nazi’s were working on it and the Soviets were poised to steal that information from them after they had surrendered; I won’t even belabor the differences too much. Suffice to say that if we had abandoned our efforts to obtain the bomb, then either the Germans would have had it first and won the war; or Germany would have been defeated and the Russians become the custodians of the new weapon. And while we have never used our nuclear weapons to gain new territory, Russia has tried. Remember Cuba? If we hadn't had the bomb how might that one have worked out? And what about Ukraine right now? If we didn't have nuclear weapons then Russia would already have conquered them.
But the biggest problem with this book is how conveniently the author ignores over 12 years of barbarism by the Japanese as they attempted to take over the Eastern hemisphere. As a matter of fact he never acknowledges that this was their goal. He mentions Pearl Harbor and the Bataan Death March; but there is nary a word about the literal Rape of Nanjing in 1933. Thousands of women were tied to chairs and gang raped to death by the Japanese troops. They even took photos as souvenirs. You can view them online if you doubt me.
The nuns in the Philippines who had their breasts hacked off with bayonets; the babies speared and stuck to trees. These are not things I am making up. These are the facts of what Japan was doing as part of her Co-Asian Prosperity Sphere. As a matter of fact I don’t remember even seeing that name in the book at all.
It is impossible to write a complete and concise history; let alone a conclusive book; about the bomb without exploring all the aspects of what made the development of such a weapon necessary in the first place. When faced with monsters sometimes it requires doing monstrous things in order to survive. Rather than take the position that we are the evil ones for having defeated these monsters, it is more accurate to blame the monsters of expansionism and the architects of war who put us in that position to begin with.