8:15am

Here is a pocket watch, stopped at 8:15am.

Donated by Kazuo Nikawa
1,600m from the hypocenter
Kan-on Bridge

Kengo Nikawa (then, 59) was exposed to the bomb crossing the Kan-on Bridge by bike going from his home to his assigned building demolition site in the center of the city. He suffered major burns on his right shoulder, back, and head and took refuge in Kochi-mura Saiki-gun. He died on August 22. Kengo was never without this precious watch given him by his son, Kazuo.

— Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum

Sixty three years ago today, on August 6, 1945, at 8:15 in the morning, the American B-29 bomber Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb over the center of the city of Hiroshima, Japan. Hiroshima was the first target ever attacked with nuclear weapons in the history of the world.

The bomb exploded about 200 yards over the city, creating a 13 kiloton explosion, a fireball, a shock-wave, and a burst of radiation. On the day that the bomb was dropped, there were about 255,000 people living in Hiroshima.

The explosion completely incinerated everything within a one mile radius of the city center. The shock-wave and the fires ignited by the explosion damaged or completely destroyed about nine-tenths of the buildings in the city. Somewhere between 70,000 and 80,000 people—about one third of the population of the city—immediately died. The heat of the explosion vaporized or burned alive many of those closest to ground zero. Others were killed by the force of the shock-wave or crushed under collapsing buildings. Many more died from acute radiation poisoning—that is, from the effects of having their internal organs being burned away in the intense radiation from the blast.

By December 1945, thousands more had died from their injuries, from radiation poisoning, or from cancers related to the radioactive burst or the fallout. It is estimated that the atomic bombing killed about 140,000 people, and left thousands more with permanent disabilities.

Almost all of the people maimed and killed were civilians. Although there were some minor military bases near Hiroshima, the bomb was dropped on the city center, several miles away from the military bases on the edge of town. Hiroshima was chosen as a target, even though it had little military importance, because It is a good radar target and it is such a size that a large part of the city could be extensively damaged. There are adjacent hills which are likely to produce a focussing effect which would considerably increase the blast damage. 1. Hiroshima was also one of the largest Japanese cities not yet damaged by the American firebombing campaign. Military planners believed it strategically important to demonstrate as much destruction as possible from the blast.

Thomas Ferebee, a bombadier for the United States Army, was the man who dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. His commanding officer was the pilot of the Enola Gay, Paul Tibbets. Tibbets and Ferebee were part of the XXI Bomber Command, directed by Curtis LeMay. LeMay planned and executed the atomic bombings at the behest of Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson and President Harry Truman.

Kengo Nikawa died on August 22nd, 1945 because of the bombing. This is his pocket watch.

We will never know the names of many of the 140,000 other residents of Hiroshima who were killed by the bombing. We have only estimates because the Japanese government was in a shambles by this point in the war, and countless records, of those that were successfully kept, were consumed by the flames, along with the people whose lives they recorded.

The late, great Utah Phillips called this one of the first songs he ever wrote that ever made any sense. It’s certainly one of his best.

Enola Gay

Look out, look out
from your school room window
Look up young children from your play
Wave your hand
at the shining airplane
Such a beautiful sight is Enola Gay

It’s many a mile
from the Utah desert
To Tinian Island far away
A standing guard
by the barbed wire fences
That hide the secret of Enola Gay

High above the clouds
in the sunlit silence
So peaceful here I’d like to stay
There’s many a pilot
who’d swap his pension
For a chance to fly Enola Gay

What is that sound
high above my city
I rush outside and search the sky
Now we are running
to find our shelter
The air raid sirens start to cry

What will I say
when my children ask me
Where was I flying upon that day?
With trembling voice
I gave the order
To the bombardier of Enola Gay

Look out, look out
from your school room window
Look up young children from your play
Your bright young eyes
will turn to ashes
In the blinding light of Enola Gay I turn to see
the fireball rising
My god, my god all I can say
I hear a voice
within me crying
My mother’s name was Enola Gay

Look out, look out
from your school room window
Look up young children from your play
Oh when you see
the war planes flying
Each one is named Enola Gay.

— U. Utah Phillips (1994), on I’ve Got To Know

As far as I am aware, the atomic bombing of the Hiroshima city center, in which forces acting on behalf of the United States government deliberately targeted a civilian center and killed over half of all the people living in the city at the time, remains the deadliest act of terrorism in the history of the world.

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  1. Belinsky

    The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are one of the most tragic events in all of recorded history, as far as I’m concerned. Counting radiation poisoning and deaths due to cancer caused by the radiation, the U.S. government estimates that the long-term death toll from the Hiroshima bomb may be as large as 200,000. Add Nagasaki, which resulted in between 60,000-80,000 deaths within months of the bombing, and you probably have over 300,000 long-term deaths. For the record, it is recorded that 106,207 Americans died in the Pacific Theater of WWII during the entire war (over the span of four years). Those figures make me pretty skeptical that the bombing saved more lives than it destroyed.

  2. Josh

    How about the Rape of Nanking, which cost 300,000 deaths at the hands of the Japanese? Or the 9 million Chinese civilians that were killed, total, during WW2? It’s convenient to forget what the Japanese did during WW2.

    I suppose that doesn’t count as terrorism though, since apparently nowadays we want to put the Japanese in a sympathetic light. Take a walk through history: while America has shouldered it’s own burden of terrible atrocities, we’re actually doing relatively well (if you want to call it that) compared to other countries. Britian, Japan, Germany, China — they have far outdone on us on these scales. Try not to forget that. Or, if you do, read a damn history book.

  3. Brad Barton

    It must be nice to be like Mr. Belinsky and be able to judge the actions of the US from a distance of over 60 years. How different it would have been to be an American admiral or general in 1945. Knowing that you were going to have to order over a million young men to give their lives on the beaches of mainland Japan. This invasion a herculean effort to finally end a war where the Japanese killed by beheading, refusal of medical care, working to death, starvation, target practice, torture, rape, etc., not only allied prisoners of war, but also hundreds of thousands of innocent Chinese men, women and children. Does anyone remember the Rape of Nanking? Look it up.

    I can think of no better use of this type of weapon than to save the lives of those fine American, British, Australian and Indian soldiers who would have been charged with this horrible duty, by shocking a fanatical enemy to his senses, and forcing him to surrender. Not to mention the fact that whatever the losses to the invading forces (generally estimated at one million), the Japanese losses would have be 3-5 times higher.

    It’s easy to wring your hands today and talk about what a horrible thing the US did back then. It takes a bit more thought to research the events of the day, and see why it might have been necessary. Terrible? Yes. Terrorist? No way.

  4. Rad Geek

    Brad Barton:

    I can think of no better use of this type of weapon than to save the lives of those fine American, British, Australian and Indian soldiers who would have been charged with this horrible duty,

    In other words, Brad Barton believes that it is morally acceptable — in fact, morally excellent — to massacre hundreds of thousands of civilian non-combatants, in order to prevent trained, professional soldiers from risking death in combat.

    Brad Barton:

    It must be nice to be like Mr. Belinsky and be able to judge the actions of the US from a distance of over 60 years.

    In other words, it was a different time. Morality is culturally relative, and people who lived 60 years ago, many of whom are still alive today, came from a culture so alien and bizarre that they cannot possibly be expected to have acted according to the norms of civilization that we hold ourselves to today.

    Brad Barton:

    Not to mention the fact that whatever the losses to the invading forces (generally estimated at one million), the Japanese losses would have be 3-5 times higher.

    But then, hey, what do you expect? Brad Barton believes in all kinds of ridiculous politically correct lies.

    Josh:

    How about the Rape of Nanking, which cost 300,000 deaths at the hands of the Japanese?

    At the hands of the Japanese? Do you mean at the hands of all 79,000,000 of them, all at the same time? Or did they each take it in turns? Do you happen to know when Kengo Nikawa stepped up and did his share of the massacring?

    I mean, really, far be it from me to pick up a history book, but last time I checked, the siege and occupation of Nanjing, the terror-bombing of Shanghai, the occupation of Manchuria, and all the other atrocities committed were committed by the Japanese military, under the orders of the Japanese government, a military dictatorship run by a handful of powerful, unaccountable, and violent thugs, in which the 140,000 civilians massacred in Hiroshima had absolutely no meaningful role, and over which they exercised absolutely no meaningful control.

    As for the semantic point, the siege and occupation of Nanjing were certainly war crimes, and atrocities of the first order. But they were not acts of terrorism. They were extended campaigns, often involving state terrorism, which is something different. If I were including the entire campaign of terror-bombing, of which the massacre of 140,000 people at Hiroshima was only the most dramatic part, then the death count would total somewhere between 800,000 and 1,000,000 Japanese civilians killed in repeated conventional high-explosive bombing, firebombing, and the two atomic bombings, against Japanese civilian centers, from March - August 1945.

    For more information, cf. GT 2005-08-09: A day that will live in infamy

    It’s convenient to forget what the Japanese did during WW2.

    This isn’t a matter of forgetting what the Japanese military did in Nanjing, Shanghai, Manchuria, etc. It’s a matter of not forgetting that Japanese civilians took no part in those atrocities, and had no meaningful control over those people who did take part in them.

    All of these points and more have been repeatedly answered in discussions on this blog. For example, cf. the comments thread on GT 2005-08-09: A day that will live in infamy, or more broadly Rad Geek People’s Daily: posts tagged Hiroshima.

  5. J.C., Sr.

    your comments 63 years and a few months ago my brother Tom was killed fighting those baby bayonetting Jap Bastards. If that bomb helped prevent the deaths of a few hundred thousand more Americans invading Japan. So be it.

  6. Discussed at www.eridu.org.uk

    Liberty Alone » Blog Archive » Hiroshima Memorial Day:

    […] has made a good, well informed, post commemorating the day on which an estimated 140,000 people were killed on the orders of a US […]

  7. quasibill

    One wonders what morality it is that permits incinerating babies for the crimes of the people who rule their parents.

    All I can say to people who hold such morality is “look in the mirror, before calling someone else a bastard.”

  8. Nathan Benedict

    I am convinced that the modern nation-state is one of the most pernicious ideas ever to gain widespread acceptance.

    In the Jim Crow south, when a black man committed a crime against a white man (or worse yet, a white woman), it was not uncommon for the many of the whites in the town to form a lynch mob, indiscriminately targeting anyone in the community who happened to have a similar amount of melanin in his skin as the perpetrator.

    Most people today have no problem recognizing the absurdity of aggressing against individuals simply because they share a noticeable physical attribute with a wrongdoer. And yet people still defend the logic of killing thousands or even millions of people who happen—through no choice of their own—to belong to the same nation-state as those who have committed crimes.

  9. John Markley

    Brad Barton,

    “It must be nice to be like Mr. Belinsky and be able to judge the actions of the US from a distance of over 60 years. How different it would have been to be an American admiral or general in 1945. Knowing that you were going to have to order over a million young men to give their lives on the beaches of mainland Japan.”

    I’ll leave aside addressing the ludicrously inflated casualty projections you claim, and the dubious underlying premise that full-scale invasion was the only other possible course of action, and simply point out this: There were people at the time, including high-ranking members of the U.S. military, who were appalled by the use of nuclear bombs. Truman’s own Chief of Staff, Fleet Admiral William Leahy, said that the nuclear attacks lowered America to “an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages.” He was certainly not “judging from a distance of over 60 years.”

    J.C. Sr.,

    “63 years and a few months ago my brother Tom was killed fighting those baby bayonetting Jap Bastards. If that bomb helped prevent the deaths of a few hundred thousand more Americans invading Japan. So be it.”

    Your post leaves me somewhat confused. Do you disapprove of killing babies, or not? Or is there some sort of important moral distinction between stabbing them and incinerating them?

  10. Shawn P. Wilbur

    Perhaps the incendiary bombings against major Japanese cities weren’t “terrorist” attacks. (There were some military targets in those grid-bombed population centers, and we did drop leaflets announcing that we were going to burn whole cities if we could.) But Operation Meetinghouse, the largest of the Tokyo fire raids, killed more Japanese civilians outright than either atomic attack. Burning 16 squares miles of a city requires planning, even if the city is largely made of paper, and over the course of the fire raids campaign we perfected the systematic destruction of urban centers, to such an extent that there were few choices left for the atomic bomb attacks. 100,000 overnight in Tokyo, March 9-10, 1945. 95-99% of Toyama destroyed. Etc. Etc.

  11. John Markley

    Josh,

    “Take a walk through history: while America has shouldered it’s own burden of terrible atrocities, we’re actually doing relatively well (if you want to call it that) compared to other countries. Britian, Japan, Germany, China — they have far outdone on us on these scales. Try not to forget that.”

    If you want to stand up for the record of the United States, I would suggest that “not as bad as Adolf Hitler and Mao Zedong” is a somewhat weak defense.

  12. anikhaque

    With possible exception of the Mongols, there has been not any human organization as efficient at killing as the U.S Government. When restraint is used, it manages to kill hundreds of thousands, but it’s capacity for exceeds that by orders of magnitude. And this reflects only it’s capacity hard killing, not soft genocide as we have seen inflicted upon the Native American population or proxy killing through friendly dictators.

    What keeps this power is not morality, but the threat annhiliation by rival powers and the sheer economic burden of maintaining such a large military industrial infrastucture. America has become preciesly what Eisenhower, who was against the atomic bombing of Japan, warned about. The biggest threat America comes not from foriegn powers, it comes from overextending its own military industrial complex to the point of economic collapse. This is the real reason for the economic hardships America currently faces.

  13. Nine Lavelac

    (btw the e-mail address is legit).

    I happened upon this discussion as a result of looking into the fine free utility feedpress.

    Mr. Barton, I am intellectually and morally moved by your argument. I have difficulty finding an ethical or logical basis to challenge it.

    But I really, really want to.

    I understand the sentiment of those who are adamant the action was “right.”

    I understand your point that it is hypocrisy, and therefore self-contradictory, to assert killing these babies is wrong but killing those babies is right.

    I have had to sit here and think this through for quite some time. Because I believe it is very important for individuals to be fully aware of their own moral principles, not just their emotional responses. Thinking things through is a little tough some times, but I always find I am the better for the effort.

    I do think you suffer a little bit on this score yourself, with rather broad condemnation of America, rather than condemnation of the American president. To the extent that the American people bear responsibility for a decision that they did not and could not directly make, you must exclude them from your judgment to the same degree you excuse Japanese civilians.

    Regardless I find myself stymied. I put myself in the position of the President of the United States. The “enemy” has been relentless, first having launched an unprovoked literal sneak attack and then demonstrated its willingness to go to any lengths to resist terminating the struggle. I am mindful of the phenomenon of suicide pilots who willingly use their air craft as human-guided missiles. I am acutely pained by the losses of my people and indeed of the Japanese. My generals tell me the only way to end the way is to physically occupy Japan because they will never ever cede. They have shown me footage o Japanese civilians, not only not trying to depose the tyrant, but swearing to fight my soldiers with sticks and stones and to die on their own streets in the name of the emperor. My generals tell to expect massive casualties on both sides and to be prepared for the specter of American soldiers being forced to kill mass numbers of blindly resistant civilians.

    There is a way, a very costly way, to reduce the time and possibly the total loss of life. There is the A-Bomb.

    I know that Oppenheimer himself described it out of mythology, “death the destroyer of worlds.”

    I do not rest easy with the choices I am facing. I do care about all babies. I do see equal value in all human beings. But I am faced with an enemy that does not share that value, not even to the value of the lives of its own people…

    Forget about 60 years ago, it the conditions were the same today, I do not believe the decision would be as facile or obvious as concluding it is wrong to impose civilian casualties. No one doubts that premise. Either in the bombing of Dresden or Coventry, let alone Hiroshima.

    But we do have the benefit of hindsight. What happened after the first bomb? Did Japan surrender? Did the people in the rest of the country rise up to get rid of a dictator bent on bringing destruction?

    No. Instead the decision was to disbelieve the Americans that there was another bomb waiting, to taunt them and reinforce the willingness of every Japanese citizen to die for the greater glory of Japan.

    I simply do not see a way out of this situation for any leader.

    I believe it is immature to cast the choice faced as a choice between good and evil, or right and wrong. It was rather the classic case of a most horrid and burdensome choice between lesser evils.

    Is it possible that the lesser evil would have been to commit to a ground invasion? Yes, that is possible. Can we know that with any reasonable degree of certainty. I believe we cannot.

    I dismiss those who use the bad acts of others in history to excuse bad acts of others. My problem is that I cannot see how one can reasonably conclude that, despite the horror of the result, we have any way of knowing whether or not the choice was in fact the lesser of the evils.

    To not share in condemnation of some act does necessitate the spokesperson to certify the act as “not wrong” or “morally good.” It is just as possible to recognize a deeply immoral choice as preferable to another even more deeply immoral choice.

    I am also not convinced that a population can disclaim all responsibility for the evil acts of its government. Even in tyrannies, the people have the ability to protest, to agitate to demonstrate to themselves if not to their neighbours that they divorce themselves from the acts of their government. The German people feel this so deeply that they continue to this day to pay reparations to individuals and the State of Israel in penance for crimes committed under a tyrant over whom they had “little or no control.”

    I admit my ignorance on this, but perhaps you know: Have the Japanese people through their government provided any reparations to the Chinese families and/or government for the horrors committed against them?

    I also willingly acknowledge my lack of genuine historical knowledge on these events beyond the pieces I learned in school or received through documentaries. If there are historical facts, not retroactive prediction of non-falsifiable claims, that would alter my thinking as set out, I am eagerly willing to see them.

    Sincerely, I appreciate the thoughtfulness of your writing on this subject and am grateful that you initiated the thought process in my own head.

    Nine Lavelac Itinerant

  14. Black Bloke

    For anyone seeking an introduction to the American government’s imperialism, mass murder, terrorism, holocausts, and other terrors I recommend these:

    A People’s History of American Empire http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Arn3lF5XSUg

    John Stockwell: The Third World War http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z9VxnCBD9W4

    You come back and tell me to “[t]ake a walk through history” then.

  15. anikhaque

    With the possible exception of the Mongols, there has not been any human organization as efficient at killing as the U.S Government. When restraint is used, it manages to kill hundreds of thousands, but it’s capacity far exceeds that by orders of magnitude. And this reflects only it’s capacity for hard killing, not soft genocide as we have seen inflicted upon the Native American population or proxy killing through friendly dictators.

    What keeps this power in check is not morality, but the threat annhiliation by rival powers and the sheer economic burden of maintaining such a large military industrial infrastucture. America has become precisely what Eisenhower, who was against the atomic bombing of Japan, warned about.

    The biggest threat America faces comes not from foriegn powers, it comes from overextending its own military industrial complex to the point of economic collapse. This is the real reason for the economic hardships America currently faces.

  16. Anon73

    They have shown me footage o Japanese civilians, not only not trying to depose the tyrant, but swearing to fight my soldiers with sticks and stones and to die on their own streets in the name of the emperor.

    Radgeek, is there any truth to the claim that Japanese civilians would have fought to the death for the emperor? If true it would significantly undercut your case against Truman.

    Also, purely on utilitarian grounds, did the bombing save more lives than it took? People in the comments have been quoting a lot of wild figures.

  17. Nine Lavelac

    Black Bloke: thanks for the links. I am left somewhat confused after watching them. In the Zinn piece he does a thorough job of reviewing real , shall we say “blots,” on the U.S. role in history. He speaks frequently about WWII and his angst about having been a bomber pilot.

    What I’m confused about is this: what alternative is he suggesting would have been better than fighting Hitler?

    Even accepting all of the points he makes as entirely factual and complete representations, okay, then what?

    It implies that the more moral course would have been to allow fascism to embrace as much of the planet as it could get its hands on. It is not surprising or shocking that history is littered with the barbarism of nations and people.

    A close associate and correspondent once pronounced a related thought (conceptually related) in response to some who viciously attacked the very need for the Civil Rights movement in the United States. He wrote:

    “it is not remarkable that the civil rights movement was necessary. What is remarkable is that it was possible.”

    His point is that the history of humanity is a history of horrors and abuse and that these things are common and expected. But the really remarkable feature is how humanity has incrementally and sometimes radically moved up the ethical or moral food chain.

    The fact that the world’s greatest power got there in part through a legacy of slavery followed by brutal men coldly planning world domination is not an oddity in human history. What is an oddity is our ability to talk about it without being shot.

    This does not mean I think it wrong or futile to condemn past or current transgressions. On the contrary. I do believe that blanket condemnation without context or without willingness to also acknowledge the “good” that has been achieved, and in this case specifically by the American Empire, if you like, unwillingness to acknowledge the good does not assist those of us trying to sort through all of the factors to inform our own thinking.

    I am not an American and have never lived there. I was born and raised in Canada and was raised during a period of potent Canadian nationalism that frequently transformed into blind anti-Americanism. Much of the complaints about American imperialism were de rigour for Canadian highschool students during that period. The very term was used and used frequently in social studies and economics classes, “American imperialism.”

    A great deal of what was driving so many Canadians was based in fact. The country was treated as an appendage, or at best a servant to U.S. government interests. So I am not entirely unaware of the concepts although thank chaos I never witnessed the bloody price of the Sandinistas facing the Contras, or the Argentinians being disappeared under an American supported dictator. But I was very conscious of these events as they occurred.

    They were reported on our news. Incredible, that. News reports describing dictators as “propped up” or “installed by” the U.S. government came over Canadian airwaves even as the events were occurring.

    In the history of brutal empires, that small fact is rare beyond diamonds.

    I accept and acknowledge much of the moral outrage directed at the U.S. government. Recent events show how vulnerable the world is to abandonment of rights as basic as habeas corpus.

    But I will not disregard the massive amount of genuine good that has occurred in the world because the United States exists, has a population largely insistent that its government act within ethical boundaries and pursue morally valid means. The American population is so imbued with these notions that they have to be actively lied to, spied on and manipulated to achieve the aims of the cold-blooded planners.

    Compare this to the Age of Empires when entire populations swooned in the notion of imperialism and their own divine right to posses the world.

    We are a much, much better world than we were. As we try to shed ourselves of the barbarism that remains too common, we should not forget the achievements and gains that have been made. And we must have at least in mind, some notion of acceptable alternatives to whatever action we feel must be decried. I know of no alternative to fighting Hitler than fighting Hitler. It really does not matter that there was blameworthiness aplenty to spread around. That evil had to be fought.

  18. Black Bloke

    From: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Debate_over_the_atomic_bombings_of_Hiroshima_and_Nagasaki#Militarily_unnecessary

    The 1946 United States Strategic Bombing Survey determined it had been unnecessary to the winning of the war. After interviewing hundreds of Japanese civilian and military leaders after Japan surrendered, it reported:
    “Based on a detailed investigation of all the facts, and supported by the testimony of the surviving Japanese leaders involved, it is the Survey’s opinion that certainly prior to 31 December 1945, and in all probability prior to 1 November 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated.”

    Also another good source for historical and ethical perspective: http://www.lewrockwell.com/raico/raico22.html

  19. Sergio Méndez

    Mr Lavelac:

    I think you have some confusion respect of the kind of argument here offered. First, Radgeek is not blaming the american people or america. He is blaming the American state, mores sepecifically those who carried out this attacks intelectually and physically.

    Second: your argument concerning the war with Japan, in pure terms of realistic expectations is doubious. Japan had its industry destroyed and completly depleted of prime matters (since the lost of its colonies and the destruction of its fleet to recieve or cover the arrival of new supplies from the sea). So any projection on the casualities on a US led invation, any projects that speaks of very high casualites, is false. The japanesse will have outruned of ammo and equipment very soon. And no matter how fanatic and disposed to war the japanesse were, I doutb that fighting with samurai swords or hand to hand will allow them to cause any serious losses on the allies. But even, who said that the only possible solution was to INVADE Japan?

    Third, I think you and you miss the point on the moral issue. Murdering innocent civilians in mass is not a “choice” at all from a moral point of view EVEN if it is an alternative to war of invasion were many lifes of SOLDIERS are at the stake. War is an ugly buisness, but even it has its rules. You expect that the parts do not bomb innocent civilians. You can argue the japanesse did not respect such rule. Good, but as far I remember their leaders (except the emperor, something the atomic bomb did not accomplish) were tried as war criminals and condemed, by the same logic you don´t want to apply to the allies.

  20. quasibill

    “It implies that the more moral course would have been to allow fascism to embrace as much of the planet as it could get its hands on.”

    Hmmm, sorta like allowing totalitarianism to engulf the majority of Asia and a good part of Eastern Europe? You do know that our allies went on to butcher more of their own people than Hitler did, right? (and no, this is no defense of the Nazis, by any lights).

    Could the evils visited by Stalin and Mao have been avoided if we had just let the opposing evils fight it out?

    No, we don’t know exactly how history would have played out. But, as you say with the benefit of hindsight, we do know that we secured the position of two regimes (Stalin and Mao), by eliminating their natural enemies, which ended up being the largest mass murderers in history. This surely must be balanced against the admittedly good results of ending the horrible regimes leading Germany and Japan.

    What would have happened had we let Hitler and Stalin duke it out for a few years, devestating their economies? Would both perhaps have collapsed on their own mistakes, instead of having one secure for the next 50 years to oppress its people? What would have happened with a Japan that we hadn’t goaded into attacking us (yes, we did - do you think that if someone cut off our oil supply today we wouldn’t treat it as an act of war?) would it have been around to temper the ambitions of Mao?

    We don’t know. We can’t know. We’re only humans. And the only thing we can control is how we act - not how the world responds to it. So we best act according to our morals, or else we become part of the evil.

  21. Bob Kaercher

    Nine Lavelac: I think that generally, you need to check a lot of the assumptions that form the premises of what you’ve written here.

    An example:

    “What I’m confused about is this: what alternative is [Howard Zinn] suggesting would have been better than fighting Hitler?”

    I don’t understand why Zinn is obligated to offer such an alternative (though for all I know, perhaps he has, somewhere), but you are aware that in fighting Hitler, the U.S. enlisted as an ally Josef Stalin, the Russian dictator (and former Hitler ally) who already had the blood of millions on his own hands at the time FDR forged a U.S. alliance with him? Following the defeat of Hitler, Stalin wound up with a hell of a lot more territory and human beings subjected to his dictatorial rule.

    So I see no reason to assume that the U.S. gov’t was concerned with fighting fascsim per se (which it was practicing itself before and during WWII, and to a great degree continues to do so today), as it was seeking other political goals unrelated to combating tyranny as such. (Though to be sure, Stalin’s state-communism wasn’t exactly the same as Hitler’s fascism in terms of the mechanics and other technicalities, but like fascism, it’s a form of statist tyranny. If the fruits of both are massive piles of dead bodies, then what, really, is the difference? And who has the right to decide that one pile of dead bodies should be morally distinguished from another?)

    And I’m curious on what basis you’re assuming that the U.S. “has a population largely insistent that its government act within ethical boundaries and pursue morally valid means”? I’ve lived in the U.S. all my life, and my experience has been that such people are rare in this country (as they probably are in most countries). It seems more accurate to say that Americans are either uninterested in what this country’s gov’t does in their names, are simply resigned to those actions regardless of how much they disagree with them, or even explicitly approve of those actions (as I think has been demonstrated by some of the comments of others made here).

    But even those few who do insist on ethical and moral accountability from the U.S. gov’t are spinning their wheels. Government is in and of itself a moral and ethical abomination—as are the cultural values and attitudes and peculiar ethics and morality that may be reinforcing it—and therein lies the root of the conundrum facing not only the U.S., but the rest of the world.

  22. Peter Sipes

    A bummer of a thing to discover as shares-a-birthday-with-you event when you’re a child.

    Happy birthday to me on Hiroshima Day.

  23. Rad Geek

    Anon73,

    Radgeek, is there any truth to the claim that Japanese civilians would have fought to the death for the emperor?

    Like many other embattled States (the U.S. during World War II definitely included), the Japanese government put on a number of public events aimed at bullying the Home Front into conformity, and making the civilian population feel as though they were in some sense part of the War Effort. I’m sure that in the event of an Allied invasion, some civilians might have used the minimal training and resources they had to take up arms and attack the invading soldiers, and others might be conscripted at bayonet-point, to act as cannon-fodder for last-stand efforts by the professional military. Others likely would have seen the end coming and not bothered or escaped. The notion that the population would have collectively rushed into some desperate banzai charge is ludicrous, and based on little more than interpolating Orientalism over a lack of sympathetic understanding of how ordinary Japanese people related to their tyrannical government.

    If true it would significantly undercut your case against Truman.

    I don’t see how. For two reasons.

    1. The threat of invading Allied soldiers being attacked by civilian defense units would only exist if the U.S. military invaded and attempted to occupy the Japanese home islands. But there was no defensive purpose in invading the Japanese home islands by March - August of 1945. The legitimacy of attacking combatants depends on the legitimacy of the war in which you are doing it. But given the state of the Japanese military and the position of the U.S. military, by this time the war in the Pacific theatre no longer had any defensive purpose whatsoever. Killing hundreds of thousands of people in order to head off potential military casualties in a war of conquest is just mass murder in the pursuit of an illegitimate goal.

    2. No matter how likely a civilian resistance may or may not have been, that’s no defense for massacring hundreds of thousands of non-combatant civilians en masse before any of them ever took up arms, on the theory that some part of a minority subset of them (i.e., military-aged males) might possibly take up arms and enter into combat at some future date. When Serbian militias did exactly that to 8,000 military-aged males at Srebrenica it was — rightly — condemned as a war crime and an act of genocide. I don’t think that the U.S. should be held to a lower standard.

    I think I answered these points already in the comment thread on my Nagasaki post from 2005.

  24. John Delano

    It’s interesting how people believe the US government propaganda after all these decades. I like to hope that much of this myth believing of the lies of the nation state will die with the “Greatest Generation”. Unfortunately I think the Boomers hang on to these lies. People don’t like to recognize that they have believed lies all their lives.

  25. Black Bloke

    Nine:

    For some reason posts weren’t showing up properly for me last night. I think some posts with links were being delayed by the software. Others were simply not appearing until I turned on Safari this morning. I must’ve missed your post in the process.

    You ask, “…what alternative is he suggesting would have been better than fighting Hitler?”

    Honestly, I can’t be sure what Zinn would suggest, but I know what I would’ve suggested. The government of the United States should’ve remained uninvolved. This is of course leaving aside the idea that there would’ve been no Führer Hitler had the United States no gotten involved in WWI. I recommend as first reading this piece by Scott Horton of Antiwar Radio and The Stress Blog: “Saving England Wasn’t Worth It

    After the collapse of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact the Nazis were at war with the Soviets in the east and at war with the British in the west. That was unsustainable, and would’ve destroyed Germany even if the Nazis did have a real economy instead of one based on lies and empty promises. Had the Germans taken down the Soviet Union there likely would’ve been no Cold War. The invading Germans probably would’ve been defeated by a Russian insurgencies’ war of attrition. Seeing how history actually turned out, with the opposite victory, I can’t honestly say that one outcome was better or worse than the other. Perhaps the Soviets and the Nazis would’ve exhausted one another, and simply collapsed from inability to economically calculate. Their respective peoples would likely have revolted or fled.

    In a liberal world immigration would be open, and the United States representing the pinnacle of liberalism would’ve accepted the refugees escaping from Europe. For at least once the words of Emma Lazarus’ poem wouldn’t have been a lie. The escape of the minorities from Europe to the rest of the world would’ve prevented the Shoah against European Jewry, and the genocide attacks against the Romani. Free markets in weaponry would’ve allowed concerned parties to arm minority groups against oppressive states. Black market smugglers/coyotes would’ve secured people across the borders of oppressive states.

    Contrary to the claims our indoctrination centers have led us to believe over the last 60 years, fascism would not have taken the whole world, it likely wouldn’t have even been to sustain itself for even a decade if the rest of the world had not propped it up.

    You say, “I know of no alternative to fighting Hitler than fighting Hitler. It really does not matter that there was blameworthiness aplenty to spread around. That evil had to be fought.” And though it may surprise you to hear this, I agree. Even if I still believed, as I once did, that the ideal minarchist government of the United States should exist (and I no longer believe this), I see no place for the American military in fighting Hitler. Yet Hitler must be fought. Very likely Americans would do a bit of the fighting and dying to bring the beast down. But this is because I believe in the free actions and associations of individuals. Individuals, who would choose, as some Americans did, to fight under the flag of another nation for a cause that they believed in. Whether this was saving England, or saving people from concentration camps and gas chambers.

    I have actually written more on this subject, so I’ll post again if necessary. I feel we’ve drifted away from the original topic.

  26. Nine Lavelac

    Sincere thanks for the patience shown and sincere apologies for occupying so much space.

    Several new (to me) perspectives and facts are causing me to actively revise my thinking.

    Black Bloke’s citation of the Strategic Bombing Survey and Rad Geek’s and others’ reasoning on the state of the Japanese “threat” have collapsed my ability to rationalize the bombings even as the lesser of two evils.

  27. LadyVetinari

    BlackBloke: That was a very informative and thought-provoking comment, so thanks for it.

    There is so much false information about Hiroshima and Nagasaki out there in the U.S. political discourse that it’s really disheartening, to the point where I feel like fleeing when someone brings up the topic. Probably the level of false information has something to do with wanting to maintain the illusion of WWII as “The Good War.” Not too long ago I was very attached to that illusion, too. It’s comforting to think that at least one of the bombastic wars, touted with patriotic fervor and lots of fun cheerleading, actually had a net positive effect and was morally acceptable. It’s a hard thing to question this. Especially, of course, because of the Holocaust. Bringing up Hiroshima is a downer when people are trying to talk about American troops heroically liberating Normandy or a concentration camp.

  28. Discussed at nothirdsolution.com

    no third solution » Blog Archive » August Carnival of Market Anarchy:

    […] and throw out everything you learned in Civics class or American History class in High School. In 8:15 am, the Rad Geek argues that, As far as I am aware, the atomic bombing of the Hiroshima city center, […]

— 2009 —

  1. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Rad Geek People’s Daily 2009-08-06 – 8:15am:

    […] —GT 2008-08-06: 8:15am […]

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