A day that will live in infamy

The easiest way to begin is with the numbers.

Some 60 years ago today, at 11:02 in the morning, the American B-29 bomber dropped a 10,200 pound plutonium bomb (nicknamed Fat Man) over the city of Nagasaki, a tourist destination, industrial center and sea-port in southwestern Japan with a population of about 230,000. The bomb exploded about 500 yards above Nagasaki, creating a fireball, a shockwave, and a massive burst of radiation. Some 74,000 civilians — about 1/3 of the population of Nagasaki — were burned alive, crushed to death by the shockwave, or sickened and died over the next few months due to severe radiation poisoning (the burning away of their internal organs by intense radiation) and cancer.

Three days before, with no prior warning, a B-29 bomber had dropped an enriched uranium bomb over Hiroshima, an industrial center in western Japan, with a population of about 255,000. The bomb had exploded about 670 yards above the city. 80,000 civilians were burned alive or crushed to death by the explosion. By the end of 1945, another 60,000 people died due to severe radiation poisoning and cancer, raising the death toll to about 140,000—about 55% of the city’s population.

One of the reasons that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were chosen as targets is that they were considered to be good sites to demonstrate the killing power of the Bomb: they had been mostly untouched during the six months of low-altitude firebombing of Japanese cities. The first major raid of that campaign was the firebombing of Tokyo in the middle of the night on March 9-10, 1945. 334 American B-29 bombers raced over the city at about 7,000 feet, and dropped about 1,700 tons of napalm bombs. It is estimated that about 100,000 civilians were burned to death in one (1) night. Over the next 6 months, from March 10 to Japan’s surrender on August 15, over 100 Japanese cities were firebombed; about 500,000 civilians were burned to death.

All told, the firebombing and nuclear attacks and conventional air raids on Japan killed somewhere between 800,000 and 1,000,000 Japanese civilians over the course of half a year.

Then there are the names.

portrait: LeMay

Curtis LeMay

portrait: Stimson

Henry L. Stimson, Secretary of War

press photo: Truman

Harry Truman, President

The B-29 Bockscar, which incinerated one third of the people of Nagasaki, was piloted by Major Charles Sweeney. The actual dropping of the bomb was carried out by the plane’s bombadier, Captain Kermit Beahan.

The B-29 Enola Gay, which incinerated over half of the people of Hiroshima, was piloted and commanded by Colonel Paul Tibbets. The plane’s bombadier, Major Thomas Ferebee, dropped the bomb over Hiroshima.

Sweeney, Beahan, Tibbets, and Ferebee were members of the XXI Bomber Command, directed General Curtis LeMay. LeMay opposed the nuclear attacks, but he directed it under orders from Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson and President Harry S. Truman, who had made the decision to use atomic weapons in order to terrorize Japan into unconditional surrender. LeMay was also the architect of the low-altitude firebombing campaign, acting on advice and research from his subordinate, Lt. Col. Robert McNamara.

We will never know the names of most of the 1,000,000 or so civilians who were killed in the onslaught. The Japanese government was in disarray in the closing months of the war, and many of the records were consumed by the flames along with the lives of the victims.

Then there are the statements of intent.

The purposes of the bombing was to achieve victory through catastrophic bloodshed and terror. LeMay, when asked about his bombing campaigns, stated There are no innocent civilians, so it doesn’t bother me so much to be killing innocent bystanders. (He also mused, later, I suppose if I had lost the war, I would have been tried as a war criminal.) The interim committee deciding to drop the bomb stated, on May 31, 1945, that we could not give the Japanese any warning before the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. About 24 hours before the incineration of Nagasaki, U.S. planes began dropping leaflets all over Japan, threatening more destruction but naming no targets that could be evacuated. The leaflets did not reach Nagasaki at all until August 10, the day after it was destroyed. The leaflets read:

TO THE JAPANESE PEOPLE:

America asks that you take immediate heed of what we say on this leaflet.

We are in possession of the most destructive explosive ever devised by man. A single one of our newly developed atomic bombs is actually the equivalent in explosive power to what 2000 of our giant B-29s can carry on a single mission. This awful fact is one for you to ponder and we solemnly assure you it is grimly accurate.

We have just begun to use this weapon against your homeland. If you still have any doubt, make inquiry as to what happened to Hiroshima when just one atomic bomb fell on that city.

Before using this bomb to destroy every resource of the military by which they are prolonging this useless war, we ask that you now petition the Emperor to end the war. Our president has outlined for you the thirteen consequences of an honorable surrender. We urge that you accept these consequences and begin the work of building a new, better and peace-loving Japan.

You should take steps now to cease military resistance. Otherwise, we shall resolutely employ this bomb and all our other superior weapons to promptly and forcefully end the war.

Shortly before the leaflets were dropped, Harry Truman also publicly declared his aims: It was to spare the Japanese people from utter destruction that the ultimatum of July 26 was issued at Potsdam. Their leaders promptly rejected that ultimatum. If they do not now accept our terms, they may expect a rain of ruin from the air the likes of which has never been seen on this earth.

Of course, no specific warning was given to the civilians of Nagasaki, at any point.

After the war, Truman defended his decision to burn nearly 1,000,000 civilians to death on the grounds that it was necessary to secure the unconditional submission of Japan to surrender and occupation without a costly marine invasion of the home islands.

Then there are the effects. For most of these there are no words.

photo: burnt corpses lie in a ruined street

Aftermath of the Tokyo firebombing, 10 March 1945

photo: an aerial view of Hiroshima, leveled

Aftermath of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, 6 August 1945

photo: body of a burn victim

A boy caught by the bombing in Hiroshima

photo: a photo of the mushroom cloud rising over Nagasaki, taken from ground level in the city

The explosion and mushroom cloud, seen from ground level in Nagasaki on 9 August 1945.

photo: leveled houses around the Nagasaki railroad station

Nagasaki railroad station

photo: a shattered clock, stopped at 11:02 AM

A clock from Nagasaki, stopped at 11:02 AM

photo: a woman with the pattern of her kimono burnt into her back

A woman caught by the bombing in Nagasaki

photo: a ruined residential neighborhood, with all the homes burnt or toppled

Iwakawa-machi residential neighborhood, Nagasaki

Here are some facts you do not need to remind me of today: that the government of the Empire of Japan launched a war of aggression against American territory and killed both American military and civilians; that they conducted a brutal war of conquest against China in which hundreds of thousands of civilians were mercilessly tortured and killed; that some fanatical elements of the military regime wanted to fight the United States down to the last man. That’s all true, but it’s quite beyond the point. None of these vicious acts by a vicious government justifies doing this to people, to civilians who had no meaningful role in either the decision-making or in the fighting. Nothing could. If you want to make a plea on behalf of terror-bombing, fine; do so. But not here. I’ll post again tomorrow or in a couple days, and we can argue there about the merits and demerits of burning 1,000,000 innocent people alive when you think you can get good results from it. But for now, the dead deserve at least a day of quiet mourning.

Today there’s a memorial for the victims standing in the Hiroshima Peace Park, with an inscription that reads Rest in peace, for this mistake will not be repeated. Let us remember the dead, and pray that those words are true.

Further reading

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16 replies to A day that will live in infamy Use a feed to Follow replies to this article

  1. Discussed at www.thiswomanswork.com

    this woman's work:

    Prayer for an Atomic Age

    Rad Geek does a tremendous job of remembering A day that will live in infamy In the cut below, I’m going to paste something that Brett’s grandmother wrote a little over forty years ago because today, it seems appropriate (I…

  2. asha

    My ex mother-in-law was an 11 year old girl in Nagasaki when they dropped the bomb. She lost 26 members of her extended family, and had to help prepare the bodies for burial. Her mother died within a week from burns suffered when their home caught fire—they had been cooking lunch on hibachis inside when the bomb blast blew the house down on top of them.

    She said they heard the air raid sirens go off. She took three steps towards the stairs when BOOM everything just collapsed.

    She remembers it so clearly.

· September 2005 ·

  1. Discussed at atopian.org

    atopian.org:

    Moral Relativism

    ‘Moral Relativism’ is a phrase being thrown around a lot at the minute, and as RadGeek points out, in this post, most people who use it don’t seem to actually understand what it means.

· December 2005 ·

  1. Justin

    The Japanese government never was, and never will be, run by the elected officials. It is run by the gaijin. The only way to end the war was by murdering civilians, because in going to war against the United States the government that stood for it’s people pulled them into a war. This is a lamentable fact, but a fact nonetheless. The US was at war with Japan, and they could not evacuate as you so akwardly suggest, because, believe it or not, the soldiers would’ve left, too, and you would be sitting with a swastika on your arm.

— 2006 —

  1. Jeanine Ring

    The ultimate reson we must not do evil that good may come of it is that once you believe evil is neccesary for good purposes, you will spread evils to the corners of the Earth. If you want to prove yourself strong by learning the lesson it is neccesary to grow hard to others’ torture which you have learned to inflict, please kill yourself after your show of strength. Because what you will do to the world after acquiring that kind of hardness is horror.

    Justin, I don’t care if you wrote this eight months ago or if you ever read this. But go to Hell.

  2. Alona

    It’s very terrible. The people who does it they haven’t got character.It was stupid to throw this Two bombs.

  3. Cris

    This is first post on this web site.

    I have to say I am pleasantly surprised. As a conservative running in conservative circles I of course expected to see a lot of ranting and lamenting of a phallic based society from this site. On the contrary I found the posts to be informative and intellectual. Nowhere else have I seen Boolean logic used to dissect an argument. Incredible! I felt it important to say this because you never know the impression your words make until someone says, “Wow, you’ve changed my impression.” And you have.

    Alright now back to the topic. I have long believed the bombing of Japan was a necessity of war. I still do, it will probably take a lot to change my opinion, but you’re off to a good start.

    First, I believe that western civilization has been successful in large part because we have sought decisive and unconditional victory in war. If we had achieved a half victory that let Japan retain elements of its undemocratic government or it’s military then it is possible, though we will never know, that we may have had to face a militant and expansionist Japan once again. Possibly even a nuclear Japan. So my first premise is that there can be no compromise on unconditional victory. That being said it was not necessary to fire bomb or nuke Japan to achieve decisive victory. However with even marginal infrastructure left in Japan a full scale invasion would have been a terribly bloody mess. Marines would’ve had to fight through what was left of Japan’s army and then occupy (from what I understand) a hostile population. It may have been necessary to enlist Russian or Chinese aid in taking and keeping that isle. After most other countries take land they rarely give it up. If we had not taken the Japanese main land by ourselves we would’ve had to deal with a split Japan with us controlling half and either communist Russia or China occupying the other half. I am defiantly not in favor of another Viet Namese, Korean, or cold war German situation.
    Even if you disagree with my basic premise that unconditional victory was necessary, you can not disagree with the fact that politicians and generals who were in charge in 1945 believed that unconditional victory was necessary. If fire bombing and nuclear options were not available at that time we would have invaded main land Japan and taken the isle and occupied it. There were plans to do precisely that which were scrapped in favor of using nuclear weapons.

    So undoubtedly taking the isle by ourselves would have been costly and bloody, but I believe it could have been done, and unconditional victory could have been achieved without the use of fire bombing or nuking Japan. The only question remains, “what would have been the cost?” I don’t doubt the figure offered by the post. One million Japanese dead. So can anyone quote me how many lives a full scale invasion and occupation of Japan would have cost? I have read by historians that the army estimated much more than one million dead Japanese and Americans. I also know that military estimates are notoriously low ball. Which brings me to my last point, surely the more controversial one.

    The President of the United States of America is elected to do a job. The requirements for that job are out lined in the US Constitution which clearly states that The President must defend and protect the citizens of The United States and United States property. If The President is faced with two options in order to complete the requirements of his job and the first option is to get many American soldiers and Japanese killed to end a war or option two kill many Japanese but not loose a single American to end the war. Well I’m sorry but I do not believe The President has a choice. His job is to safeguard American lives and he can end a war without a single American casualty, then that is what he is required to do, end of discussion.

    There’s an old left brain vs. right brain way of solving a problem. The problem is to cut in half the production costs at a factory. The left brain solution is to improve the line and cut half the labor. The right brain solution is to find out the only way to cut costs is to fire half the labor but not do it because you will feel really really bad about it, and thus the problem remains.

    There may be a third option that allows you to save labor and still cut costs. I think I have to insist that if you are going to say the bomb should not have been dropped because it killed so so many people in such a horrific way. Then you must suggest that third solution otherwise you are not solving any problems.

    My last thought. As far as warning Japanese civilians before dropping the bomb, do you give a dead line to leave the city by? What if that dead line is not met, do you bomb while civilians remain? What militarily is achieved by destroying empty building? If the entire city is evacuated and the bomb drops and the city is destroyed and then tens of thousands drop dead because they have no shelter and food and medicine can not be distributed to 250,000 refugees, then what? Are you telling me that you would not still decry that atrocity? I don’t believe you. I think this idea that we should have warned them of the imminent attack is a cop out, you would not have been happy with either scenario. The “we should have warned the civilians” argument exists in my opinion simply to play on the guilt of week minds.

    Well that’s a conservative’s opinion, enjoy.

— 2007 —

  1. Jonathan Harlin

    Well Asha, maybe your mother-in-law’s mother and the 26 members of her family shouldn’t have been supporting the war effort. Ah, there’s a thought.

  2. Rad Geek

    Jonathan,

    How in the world would you know anything about whether Asha’s grandmother-in-law or the 26 members of her family supported the war effort? Do you imagine that the atomic bombs gave off a special kind of heat and radiation that killed only those who were supporting the war effort? Or do you suppose that only war supporters lived in the residential areas that were incinerated and irradiated by the bombing? Or do you just assume that anyone who got killed must have supported the war effort, simply because they were Japanese?

    And why in the world would you think that it’s O.K. to slaughter civilians, even if they are supporting the war effort in some attenuated sense? Buying into wartime propaganda, however regrettable, is not a crime that merits the punishment of being burned alive.

    A little human decency, please.

— 2008 —

  1. Cpl Kemp

    I don’t agree. Think in American philosophy before the Geneva convention and before modern technology. Think, our nation has been attacked, all we know is what the president says, Japan is evil, we’ve lost many lives, and we can end it all by nuking Hiroshima and Nagasaki, then, the President says, we’ll be an uncontested free nation again! The farmer boy logic.

    The historians logic was that America would never have suffered such casualties as in the priojected Island Hop to the end Campaign that you suggest, millions of Americans who were forced into service just like the Japanese were, only difference, why not kill more of their unwilling innocents than ours?

    Politicly, the President had this new unknown power that had never been used on mortal man, he was facing a great enemy, and knew it would inevitably defeat this great threat… Imagine the 63 years after this bombing how much anguish and contempt other countries give America out of subtle “little-wuss” mumbles and jumbles, kidnapping, but no actual engagement on large scale. America, in essence, pulled the “man-card” on the entire world, and everyone thought, “Screw that, dude, I ain’t getting nuked by the President of the United States!” … Wala, we become the biggest scariest threat, thus are left alone.

    In retrospect, there were many unjust, uncivil, cruel, and downright harsh atrocities commited on the Japanese people, same as on the American Service Members whom were beheaded, starved, worked-to-death, beaten, run-over, blown-up, shot, stabbed, and in any form burnt and or dismembered and killed by the Japanese soldiers. Then we shot them without accepting surrender, began atrocities of our own. But down to the nitty-gritty, war ir ugly, war is sad… war is a game, and neither team wins or loses over the other, aside from the political goals that lay underneath all the death, destruction, extinction of whole families and so forth, but the end result is the conquering of an opposer as has been doen throughout all human history… so what if it’s more cruel and large scale than before, one day there will be something that makes this look like a joke.

    The nature of the war machine.

  2. Rad Geek

    Kemp,

    I have no idea what the confused notions of ignorant farm boys has to do with anything I’ve said here. The farm boys didn’t make the decision to burn half the population of Hiroshima or 1/3 the population of Nagasaki alive. Powerful policy-makers, up to and including the President himself, who certainly did know something about the situation, did make that decision. And those who carried it out knew perfectly well that they were dropping bombs on civilian centers in major cities. Both the top and the bottom of the chain of command are certainly morally responsible for the deaths that they knowing, deliberately, and unrepentantly caused.

    The historian’s logic that you cite is, in fact, a complete fabrication, originating in Harry Truman and Henry Stimson’s self-serving excuses after the war. (Truman claimed 250,000 would have died on each side; Stimson and his ghost-writer McGeorge Bundy invented the ludicrous claim of over a million American casualties alone in a 1947 article for Harper’s.) No declassified military documents from World War II support either claim. The highest estimate of casualties that military planners gave during the war was 40,000-46,000 for a full-scale landing and invasion of the home islands. Cf. Rufus E. Miles, The Strange Myth of Half a Million Lives Saved and Gar Alperovitz’s The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb. However, even if it were true (as it is not) that the use of nuclear terrorism against Hiroshima and Nagasaki averted hundreds of thousands of American combat deaths, I can’t conceive of how you think this is a moral justification for using it. Since when did it become acceptable to slaughter hundreds of thousands of civilians in order to decrease the number of soldiers killed in combat? That kind of strategy is so obviously immoral that the use of it as a defense of the bombings defies comment.

    I am not interested in the United States’ government’s demonstration of its manly power on the world scale. For the government to prove itself the big man on campus is certainly not worth the slaughter of 800,000-1,000,000 living, breathing people with real, precious, and absolutely irreplaceable lives. If injustice, incivility, cruelty, atrocity, ugliness, death, destruction, extinction of whole families, in the name of bullshit political power games are inseparable from the nature of the war machine, then that certainly is not any kind of argument for accepting the injustice, incivility, cruelty, atrocity, ugliness, death, destruction, and extinction of whole families. It is a reason to reject the war machine. Aerial bombardment of cities and total war between rival states is not a universal, inevitable, or unquestionable part of the human condition. It has not always been with us, and there is no reason that it always must in the future. It is a conscious choice made by a powerful handful who almost never pay the price. Different choices can be made, and structures of power can be changed.

  3. Sean

    Stumbled on your site/exchange and…

    …it occurs to me that there is a subtle suggestion that all civilians are innocent. I am not sure, from the last post, however, if there is a suggestion that some ratio is appropriate for lives saved?

    For instance, if a country defending itself (as the US was during the war) that to save X US military lives Y Japanese civilians will be killed, is that not an acceptable premise? It’s foolish to think zero civilian lives will be lost (as it would be to think zero civilians would take up arms, by choice or otherwise). So what is fair? If the US losses would have been the lower figure of 40-46k US lives how can that loss be dismissed? Were not US soldiers (by and large) civilians who had taken up arms to defend their land?

    This highly artificial (and self-serving) pt of view of civilian innocense and military…guilt? evil? colors many of the above posts. To presume that Japanese citizens were not behind the war, or would not have taken up arms, is naive indeed.

    These ideas of innocense may lie behind much of the arguments over these war acts. As do subtle suggestions that war and weapons are precise. No, nukes do not kill only soldiers. Nor do mortars, tanks, etc. But every person killed who is trying to defend themselves, their families and their country is acting in defense. They don’t want to be put in that position. And thus in the process of defending they use the means at hand.

    In this instance, by those estimates, 40,000+ innocent citizens went home to their precious families.

  4. Rad Geek

    … if a country defending itself (as the US was during the war) …

    As a matter of history, the United States government was certainly not defending itself, or anyone within U.S. territory, in March-August 1945. What would they defend against? The broken and desperate Japanese military no longer had any capacity whatsoever to attack, or even pose a credible threat, to anyone in the United States, or for that matter, much of anywhere else. The war continued, not because the U.S. military was defending anyone, but rather because Franklin D. Roosevelt, and then Harry S. Truman, were determined to keep on killing until Japan not only ceased to threaten anyone, but also until the Japanese gave in to the aggressive demand of unconditional surrender—i.e. to conquest of their own territory. Whatever military action may ever have been justified against Japan at the beginning of the war, there was certainly no reason for, and no excuse for, continuing the attack in March-August 1945.

    For instance, if a country defending itself (as the US was during the war) that to save X US military lives Y Japanese civilians will be killed, is that not an acceptable premise?

    No, it’s not, if you believe that there is any moral distinction between the deaths of armed and trained soldiers in combat, who knowingly take on the risk, as against the slaughter of unarmed and non-combating civilians, who have done nothing other than existing in the wrong place at the wrong time. Whatever claims U.S. soldiers may have had against Japanese soldiers who were trying to kill them, they certainly had no moral claim at all to attack non-combatant third parties in order to save their own skins.

    Note that this has relatively little to do with some overall judgment of moral vice or virtue in either the soldiers or the civilian victims. The only issue at hand here is whether or not the people being killed ever attacked the people killing them. If not, we are talking about murder, indeed, massacre, not self-defense.

    To presume that Japanese citizens were not behind the war, …

    At the worst this convicts them of having evil thoughts. That’s not a hanging crime.

    … or would not have taken up arms, is naive indeed.

    If they took up arms, then, once they did, they would become combatants, and my comments about the deliberate killing of civilians would no longer apply (although other considerations might; it would in any case mean a different sort of discussion). But that’s no argument for deliberately massacring them before they ever took up arms, together with all those hundreds of thousands who never would take up arms anyway, on the assumption that it’s O.K. to slaughter the lot of them before-the-fact if some small fraction of them might possibly someday become combatants.

    I find it hard to believe that you would seriously endorse this notion, if you had stopped to think at all about what it would entail if applied consistently as a matter of principle. When Serbian rebels did it to 8,000 military-age males at Srebrenica, it was — rightly — condemned as a war crime and an act of genocide. I do not think that U.S. military forces should be held to a lower standard.

    In this instance, by those estimates, 40,000+ innocent citizens went home to their precious families.

    And all it took to save those 40,000+ from the deadly consequences of a campaign of conquest that the U.S. military had no defensive reason to fight, was the deliberate massacre of 800,000+ Japanese civilians, who never posed any threat to the 40,000+ in question. What kind of defense is that?

  5. Sean

    I read with interest your thoughts. And it sparked me to learn more about the tail end of the war. I was, in the process, stunned to see that Japan was bombed for 5 months before the two key bombings in question. Those facts present a few of points to consider.

    First, the destruction from those raids (which came in, effectively, two blocks, several months apart) may have equalled the two atomic bombs’ destruction. Second, little comment is made about those bombings. Third, Japan did not surrender following those bombings, thus showing no sign that it would do so under utterly crippled (a mindset demonstrated by years of fighting throughout the Pacific theater up to that point).

    So you remain naive in continually inferring that few Japanese civilians would have fought, that Japan would readily have surrendered, that Japan would not have rebuilt its military might, and (if I understood you right) that the US didn’t really need to defeat Japan. [did you really mean to imply that there is reason to doubt the US had justification in responding to Pearl Harbor?] Simply put, the Japanese culture was not, at that time, one that would just give up. Nor is the terrain such that an easy land victory would ensue. It would have been the Vietnam before Vietnam.

    If you just hate the US and war that is fine. But you don’t appear to be even-handed with the facts or logic. If 100,000 were killed in the March Tokyo raids, and perhaps a million were injured/homeless, and similiar devastation came through August raids, why do you believe the blame lies w/ the US? A war is not over until one side surrenders. Japan clearly chose not to save the lives. Why don’t you and others rail against that mindset? Clearly if they would not surrender even with that level of destruction on their homeland and its people, they would not have ended the mindset of militaristic aggression and expansionism that got them to that point.

    Should I fail to check back again, Charles, I wish you dialogue that gives you pause. Likely my comments will not.

  6. Rad Geek

    Sean,

    1. I have my own opinions why the conventional aerial bombardment and low-altitude firebombing of Japanese cities is not discussed as often as the atomic bombs. I think it’s understandable that the atomic bombs receive the most attention (because they were new and different, because they killed much larger proportions of the population than any weapon yet invented, and because they became very important events in the later geopolitics of the Cold War). But I think it’s a damned shame that the firebombing and conventional bombing is hardly ever discussed at all, because these were war crimes of the first order, no less than the nuclear terror-bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. However, I don’t know why, exactly, you bring this up as if it were new information, since, however much other sources may ignore the firebombing of Tokyo and other Japanese cities, this page does not; I directly discuss it at several points and place the atomic bombings in the context of the longer bombing campaign.

    2. Your claims about the Japanese government’s unwillingness to surrender are overstated. Prior to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, there were prominent factions within the military dictatorship who wanted to surrender, and other factions who were dead-set on fighting until the bitter end. Before the atomic bombing the peace faction had already begun trying to make contact with the U.S., through Russian diplomatic channels, to see if they could persuade the U.S. to accept terms for surrender, because they believed, probably rightly, that the U.S.’s relentless demand for unconditional surrender and conquest of the home islands was strengthening the position of the war faction. Had the United States government agreed to hear terms for surrender, while also waiting for the effects of the Soviet declaration of war and invasion of Manchuria, it’s quite likely that the peace faction within the Japanese government would have gained the upper hand.

    3. You speculate about what would have happened if the home islands were invaded, instead of the U.S. bombing Japanese cities from the air. But I never proposed that the U.S. should have invaded the home islands. I don’t think that the U.S. government should have been fighting at all by March-August 1945. As I stated directly above, the United States had no defensive reason whatsoever to continue the war by that time, whether or not the Japanese government ever formally surrendered. You can only have defense where you first have a threat, and the justification of defense ends when your attacker is beaten, not necessarily he or she cries Uncle!

      If the U.S. government ever did have a reason to fight the Japanese military — something I haven’t commented on one way or the other, because I think that the issue is complicated — it certainly did not have any reason to continue doing so in March-August 1945, by which time any threat that the Japanese government might originally have posed to anyone in the United States was decidedly over.

      The claim that A war is not over until one side surrenders is, of course, flatly false; many wars end with a negotiated settlement rather than surrender, and some wars (e.g. the Korean war) just peter out without any formal end to the hostilities. When the United States government decided to continue the war, long past the destruction of the Japanese government’s offensive capabilities, and refused to accept any terms on which the war might end other than conquest, occupation, and reconstruction of the country of Japan, it certainly gave up any claim to still be fighting a war of self-defense, and pursued a war of conquest instead.

    4. But, more to the point, morally speaking, your claims about the Japanese government’s unwillingness to surrender are also completely irrelevant to the point that I am making. Whatever defensive claims the United States government might have had against the Japanese government, at any point in the war, it certainly had no claim to go around slaughtering Japanese civilians, i.e., the first victims of the Japanese military dictatorship, who did not make the decisions, did not take up arms, did not pose any threat, but who were nevertheless deliberately targeted by the United States government in an effort to break Japanese morale and the will of the Japanese government to fight. When other people do that, we call it terrorism.

    5. You seem to be replying to several points that I never made. For example, I made no claims about whether or not some Japanese civilians would have taken up arms if the United States government had invaded the Japanese home islands. I’m sure that, if the last-standers continued to block efforts at peace, and the U.S. invaded, then some civilians would take up arms willingly, and others would be coerced into it by the last-standers’ home guard. What I did say, however, is that the mere possibility that some fraction of a group of non-combatants might, at some later date, become combatants, doesn’t justify massacring non-combatants. I pointed to exactly analogous cases that are rightly condemned as war crimes — e.g. the massacre of 8,000 Bosniak military-age males at Srebrenica during the civil war in Bosnia-Hercegovina — but as far as I can tell you haven’t even attempted to answer this point.

    6. You ask, If 100,000 were killed in the March Tokyo raids, and perhaps a million were injured/homeless, and similiar devastation came through August raids, why do you believe the blame lies w/ the US? Because they dropped the fucking bombs. Why else?

      You attempt to shift the blame for the deaths from the people who actually, directly caused those deaths onto another party — the Japanese government. But while the military dictatorship that ruled Japan in 1945 was certainly evil, and certain factions within it certainly deserves a lot of blame for its bullheaded belligerence, even once the war was clearly unwinnable, and even as Japanese civilians paid terrible costs for aggressive government wars that they never consented to. But while that puts some blame on the shoulders of the Japanese government, it certainly shifts no blame at all off the shoulders of the U.S. government. If Smith takes a pot-shot at Jones, and then Jones responds by firebombing Smith’s whole neighborhood, in the process killing scores of Smith’s neighbors, who had nothing to do with the original pot-shot, then Smith certainly deserves some blame for needlessly provoking Jones. But the person primarily to blame for killing all those innocent neighbors is Smith, because Smith did the bombing, knowing full well that scores of innocent third parties would be killed by it. If Smith tries to pass the buck by saying Oh, well, Jones shot first; he made me firebomb that neighborhood, then this will rightly be dismissed as bullshitting. I don’t think that governments in wartime — which exercise powers far greater and more terrible than anything an individual could ever do — should be held to a lower standard on this point.

    7. As for whether I just hate the U.S. and war, I will say that I do hate all forms of modern total war, and especially all forms of aerial bombardment (including not only the U.S. terror-bombing of Japan and the Allies’ terror-bombing in Europe, but also the Nazi blitz-bombing of England, the Japanese bombing of Shanghai and Nanjing during their conquest of China, etc.). But my conviction that modern total war is morally criminal is a conclusion, not a premise, and the argument for that conclusion is based precisely on the fact that it requires committing atrocities like those I discuss in this post. So if you think that the conclusion is mistaken, you’ll need to show what’s wrong with the argument; dismissing the argument because you don’t like the conclusion is putting the cart before the horse. And as for the U.S., I will point out that the phrase X hates the U.S. is ambiguous; there is a big difference between hating the U.S. *government* and hating the *country* over which that government claims the right to rule. But whatever my opinions about both the government and the country may be (which are easy enough to find out by poking around elsewhere in this blog), my argument can certainly be evaluated on its own merits, without the ad-hominem speculations on my motives in making it.

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