The Bomb

I posted this where I blog daily at Points and Figures. I am on the Board of Trustees for the National World War Two Museum in New Orleans, LA. 70 years ago today was a pretty important day in WW2 history, and in the history of human kind.

On August 6, 1945, the US dropped the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. Many think it was the end of the war, but it wasn’t. It was the beginning of the end. After the first bomb was dropped, the Japanese were given a chance for unconditional surrender. They didn’t. During the time between the dropping of the Nagasaki bomb on August 9 and the actual surrender on the August 14, the war pursued its accustomed course: on August 12th, eight captured American fliers were executed (heads chopped off); the fifty-first United States submarine, Bonefish, was sunk (all aboard drowned); the destroyer Callaghan went down, the seventieth to be sunk, and the Destroyer Escort Underhill was lost.

It’s worth noting, because there is a lot of revisionist history about the bomb. Some feel guilty. Some think it was American racism. It wasn’t. It was a strategic decision that President Truman made. He didn’t enter into it lightly. The revisionist historians are dead wrong in their analysis on the use of the bomb.

Talking to people that were there at the time reveals more. Eugene Sledge author of the book, “With the Old Breed” at Peleliu and Okinawa, noticed at the time that the fighting grew “more vicious the closer we got to Japan,” with the carnage of Iwo Jima and Okinawa worse than what had gone before. He points out that what we had experienced in fighting the Japs on Peleliu and Okinawa caused us to formulate some very definite opinions that the invasion . . . would be a ghastly bloodletting. It would shock the American public and the world. Every Japanese soldier, civilian, woman, and child would fight to the death with whatever weapons they had, ride, grenade, or bamboo spear. In fact, the Japanese had set up daily training in which women and children learned how to fight with sharpened bamboo spears.

Sledge’s First Marine Division was to land close to the Yokosuka Naval Base, “one of the most heavily defended sectors of the island.” The marines were told, he recalls, that due to the strong beach defenses, caves, tunnels, and numerous Jap suicide torpedo boats and manned mines, few Marines in the first five assault waves would get ashore alive — my company was scheduled to be in the first and second waves. The veterans in the outfit felt we had already run out of luck anyway…. We viewed the invasion with complete resignation that we would be killed — either on the beach or inland.”

Both of my grandfathers were nearing 40 years old at the time. They each had to take physicals to see if they were fit for military service in case of an eventual invasion of Japan.

In Robert Ray Akins oral history he said, “The Marines knew they would be getting into “a yellow jacket’s nest” if they had to invade Japan.” Here is a link to the complete oral history of Enola Gay navigator Theodore Van Kirk. Segment 8 is where he talks about the after effects of the bomb. Van Kirk thinks it was the right decision to drop the bomb. Anybody that understands the history of the time knows that dropping the bombs saved lives in the long run. There were about 6,000 people dying in the Pacific and China every week during the war. Japan had no navy or air power left. If they had to invade, it would have been a slaughter.

It is important to reflect on history and the lessons it teaches us. Today, depending on who you believe, President Obama has either opened the door wide open to a nuclear Iran. Or, he has successfully appeased them.

What’s clear from speaking to the people that were there is this: Atomic weapons should probably never be used again in a war. If they are used, it’s not as a first strike-but a way of ending a bloody conflict. The opportunity cost of using the weapon ought to be far lower than the cost of not using it.

The fear today is that atomic weapons will be used first. That’s why in his oral history, Mr. Van Kirk is correct when calls people that say, “Nuke ‘em” as stupid.