World War II
He was a thundering paradox of a man, noble and ignoble, inspiring and outrageous, arrogant and shy, the best of men and the worst of men, the most protean, most ridiculous, and most sublime. No more baffling, exasperating soldier ever wore a uniform. Flamboyant, imperious, and apocalyptic, he carried the plumage of a flamingo, could not acknowledge errors, and tried to cover up his mistakes with sly, childish tricks. Yet he was also endowed with great personal charm, a will of iron, and a soaring intellect. Unquestionably he was the most gifted man-at arms- this nation has produced.
William Manchester in a great one paragraph description of Douglas MacArthur, American Caesar
One sure way to get a fight started among American students of military history is to mention Douglas MacArthur. About 40% will regard him as a vastly overrated egotistical incompetent, and another 40% will regard him as perhaps America’s greatest general. Twenty percent will try to say that both sides have their points, just before a heated debate begins. My own perspective is that we are still too close to MacArthur’s stormy time to render a judicious verdict on his career. MacArthur is both the hero and villain of his biography and it will take generations to sort him out.
Seventy years ago today the Marines raised the flag over Mount Suribachi during the battle of Iwo Jima and a mass was said at the summit. Iwo Jima probably has the sad distinction of being the most expensive piece of worthless real estate in the history of the globe. Expensive not in something as minor as money, but costly in something as all important as human lives. In 1943 the island had a civilian population of 1018 who scratched a precarious living from sulfur mining, some sugar cane farming and fishing. All rice and consumer goods had to be imported from the Home Islands of Japan. Economic prospects for the island were dismal. Eight square miles, almost all flat and sandy, the dominant feature is Mount Suribachi on the southern tip of the island, 546 feet high, the caldera of the dormant volcano that created the island. Iwo Jima prior to World War II truly was “of the world forgetting, and by the world forgot”.
The advent of World War II changed all of that. A cursory look at a map shows that Iwo Jima is located 660 miles south of Tokyo, well within the range of American bombers and fighter escorts, a fact obvious to both the militaries of the US and Imperial Japan. The Japanese forcibly evacuated the civilian population of Iwo Jima in July of 1944. Awaiting the invading Marines was a garrison of approximately 23,000 Japanese troops, skillfully deployed by General Tadamichi Kuribayashi in hidden fortified positions throughout the island, connected in many cases by 11 miles of tunnels. The Japanese commander was under no illusions that the island could be held, but he was determined to make the Americans pay a high cost in blood for Iwo.
On February 18th, 1945 Navy Lieutenant, (the Marine Corps, although Marines are often loathe to admit it, is a component of the Department of the Navy, and the Navy supplies all the chaplains that serve with it) Charles Suver, Society of Jesus, was part of the 5th Marine Division and anxiously awaiting the end of the bombardment and the beginning of the invasion the next day. Chaplain Suver was one of 19 Catholic priests participating in the invasion as a chaplain.
Father Suver had been born in Ellensburg, Washington in 1907. Graduating from Seattle College in 1924, he was ordained as a priest in 1937, having taught at Gonzaga University in Spokane. Prior to the war, while teaching at Seattle Prep, he rigorously enforced the no running rules in the hall, even going so far as to tackle one errant student! Father Suver was remembered as a strict disciplinarian but also a fine teacher. Shortly after Pearl Harbor, he joined the Navy as a chaplain.
On February 18th, 1945, Chaplain Suver was discussing the upcoming invasion with other Marine officers. A lieutenant told him that he intended to take an American flag onto the top of Mount Suribachi. Suver responded that if he did that, he would say mass under it.
At 5:30 AM the next morning Father Suver said mass for the Marines aboard his ship, LST 684. (The official meaning of LST was Landing Ship, Tank; the troops designated them Large Slow Target.) After mass, nervous Marines, more than a few of whom had not much longer to live, bombarded the chaplain with questions, especially questions about courage. He responded, ” A courageous man goes on fulfilling his duty despite the fear gnawing away inside. Many men are fearless, for many different reasons, but fewer are courageous.” Continue reading
(Today is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. I am taking this opportunity to rerun this post from All Saints Day 2009.)
Today we celebrate all the saints who now dwell in perfect bliss before the Beatific Vision, seeing God face to face. All the saints love God and love their neighbor, but other than that they have little in common. We have saints who lived lives of quiet meditation, and there are saints who were ever in the midst of human tumult. Some saints have easy paths to God; others have gained their crowns at the last moment, an act of supreme love redeeming a wasted life. Many saints have been heroic, a few have been timid. We number among the saints some of the greatest intellects of mankind, while we also venerate saints who never learned to read. We have saints with sunny dispositions, and some who were usually grouchy. Saints who attained great renown in their lives and saints who were obscure in life and remain obscure after death, except to God. Among such a panoply of humanity we can draw endless inspiration for our own attempts to serve God and our neighbors. For me, one saint has always stood out as a man with a deep meaning for this period of history we inhabit: Saint Maximilian Kolbe. Why?
Released in 1945, The Stilwell Road, narrated by Ronald Reagan while he was a Captain in the Army Air Corps, tells the story of the forgotten theater of the War, the China-Burma-India theater where the Allies, fighting over some of the most rugged terrain on Earth, wrested victory from the Japanese. The Stilwell Road refers to a section of the Burma Road by which Nationalist China was supplied by the United States and Great Britain during the War.
The unit known as Merrill’s Marauders is mentioned in the film. Officially designated by the uninspiring title of 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional), the press tagged them as Merrill’s Marauders and thus they have come down through history. 3000 volunteers, most of them veterans of the fighting in the Pacific, including some veterans who volunteered from military stockades and who were known as The Dead End Kids, the Marauders were organized to fight behind Japanese lines. Led by Brigadier General Frank Merrill, the Marauders were trained in the deep penetration tactics supported by air drops pioneered by British General Orde Wingate, with Merrill throwing in some American touches, for example the importance of marksmanship, as old as Roger’s Rangers, wilderness fighters of the French and Indian War, famed for their long distance raids. Continue reading
Lead out the pageant: sad and slow,
As fits an universal woe,
Let the long long procession go,
And let the sorrowing crowd about it grow,
And let the mournful martial music blow;
The last great Englishman is low.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Something for the weekend. I Vow to Thee My Country set to scenes from the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill on January 30, 1965. Hard to think that half a century now separates us from that sad event. Churchill planned his own funeral and he made certain that all the great old hymns he so loved were well represented in the ceremonies. When he was asked if he was a pillar of the church, Churchill, whose attendance at services was sparse, said he was a flying buttress of the church, supporting it from outside. His beliefs about God were ambiguous, with contrary statements about religion being made about God and religion in the course of his life. I think that like many of his European generation coming of age in the late nineteenth century that he initially embraced agnosticism. Then, in battle he noticed that he was always praying for assistance, whatever his head thinking his heart obviously still believing in God! As he grew older I think a belief in God began to grow in him as he became acutely aware during his very long life of the mysteries of life and death. He sometimes spoke enviously of those who had religious faith untroubled with doubt, and perhaps at the end he joined their ranks. In a striking part of the funeral, two buglers played: the first one Taps and the second one Reveille, a symbol of the Resurrection.
The greatest man in secular history of the last century, Churchill wrenched the course of history and ensured that Hitler’s talk of a Thousand Year Reich would be remembered as a tyrant’s empty boast and not the beginning of a waking nightmare for all mankind. Politicians are always with us, as ubiquitous as fleas on a dog and often about as useful. A statesman like Churchill, who can see beyond present turmoil and disaster and point the way forward, is rare and precious indeed. On V-E day in Great Britain Churchill was hailed as the man who won the war. Churchill denied this and said that the victory belonged to the British people and it had merely been his privilege to give voice to the roar of the British lion. He was then promptly tossed out by the British people at the general election, his task completed. He would once again become prime minister in 1951, but it was anti-climactic, a mere epilogue to his career. His great moment had been when he sustained British morale and kept his nation in the fight against Nazi Germany at a time when victory seemed hopeless and even mere survival doubtful, and thus gave his people their finest hour.
For that he deserves to be remembered and honored, and not just by the British, but by all free men and women everywhere. Continue reading
In 1944, seventy years ago, at Christmas the American and German armies were fighting it out in the Battle of the Bulge, the last German offensive of the War.
Patton’s Third Army fought its way through to relieve the Americans desperately fighting to defeat the attacking German forces. The weather was atrocious and Allied air power was useless. Patton had a prayer written for good weather. Patton prayed the prayer, the scene from the movie Patton depicting this may be viewed below.
The skies cleared after Patton prayed the weather prayer, and a personal prayer he said on December 23, 1944, and Allied air power was unleashed on the attacking Germans.
During the Battle of the Bulge, the 101rst Airborne Division made a heroic stand at Bastogne from December 20-27 which helped turn the tide of the battle. On December 25, a packed midnight mass was held in Bastogne, with Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe, who commanded the 101rst troops at Bastogne, in attendance. Afterwards the General listened to German POWS singing Silent Night, and wished them a Merry Christmas.
General McAuliffe issued a memorable Christmas message to his troops: Continue reading
“Almighty and most merciful Father, we humbly beseech Thee, of Thy great goodness, to restrain these immoderate rains with which we have had to contend. Grant us fair weather for Battle. Graciously hearken to us as soldiers who call upon Thee that, armed with Thy power, we may advance from victory to victory, and crush the oppression and wickedness of our enemies and establish Thy justice among men and nations.”
The famous “weather prayer” of General Patton was written by a Catholic Chaplain, Colonel James H. O’Neill, Chief Chaplain of the Third Army. Here is his article on the incident written in 1950.
The incident of the now famous Patton Prayer commenced with a telephone call to the Third Army Chaplain on the morning of December 8, 1944, when the Third Army Headquarters were located in the Caserne Molifor in Nancy, France: “This is General Patton; do you have a good prayer for weather? We must do something about those rains if we are to win the war.” My reply was that I know where to look for such a prayer, that I would locate, and report within the hour. As I hung up the telephone receiver, about eleven in the morning, I looked out on the steadily falling rain, “immoderate” I would call it — the same rain that had plagued Patton’s Army throughout the Moselle and Saar Campaigns from September until now, December 8. The few prayer books at hand contained no formal prayer on weather that might prove acceptable to the Army Commander. Keeping his immediate objective in mind, I typed an original and an improved copy on a 5″ x 3″ filing card:
Almighty and most merciful Father, we humbly beseech Thee, of Thy great goodness, to restrain these immoderate rains with which we have had to contend. Grant us fair weather for Battle. Graciously hearken to us as soldiers who call upon Thee that, armed with Thy power, we may advance from victory to victory, and crush the oppression and wickedness of our enemies and establish Thy justice among men and nations.
I pondered the question, What use would General Patton make of the prayer? Surely not for private devotion. If he intended it for circulation to chaplains or others, with Christmas not far removed, it might he proper to type the Army Commander’s Christmas Greetings on the reverse side. This would please the recipient, and anything that pleased the men I knew would please him:
To each officer and soldier in the Third United States Army, I Wish a Merry Christmas. I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty, and skill in battle. We march in our might to complete victory. May God’s blessings rest upon each of you on this Christmas Day. G.S. Patton, Jr, Lieutenant General, Commanding, Third United States Army.
This done, I donned my heavy trench coat, crossed the quadrangle of the old French military barracks, and reported to General Patton. He read the prayer copy, returned it to me with a very casual directive, “Have 250,000 copies printed and see to it that every man in the Third Army gets one.” The size of the order amazed me; this was certainly doing something about the weather in a big way. But I said nothing but the usual, “Very well, Sir!” Recovering, I invited his attention to the reverse side containing the Christmas Greeting, with his name and rank typed. “Very good,” he said, with a smile of approval. “If the General would sign the card, it would add a personal touch that I am sure the men would like.” He took his place at his desk, signed the card, returned it to me and then Said: “Chaplain, sit down for a moment; I want to talk to you about this business of prayer.” He rubbed his face in his hands, was silent for a moment, then rose and walked over to the high window, and stood there with his back toward me as he looked out on the falling rain. As usual, he was dressed stunningly, and his six-foot-two powerfully built physique made an unforgettable silhouette against the great window. The General Patton I saw there was the Army Commander to whom the welfare of the men under him was a matter of Personal responsibility . Even in the heat of combat he could take time out to direct new methods to prevent trench feet, to see to it that dry socks went forward daily with the rations to troops on the line, to kneel in the mud administering morphine and caring for a wounded soldier until the ambulance Came. What was coming now?
“Chaplain, how much praying is being done in the Third Army?” was his question. I parried: “Does the General mean by chaplains, or by the men?” “By everybody,” he replied. To this I countered: “I am afraid to admit it, but I do not believe that much praying is going on. When there Is fighting, everyone prays, but now with this constant rain — when things are quiet, dangerously quiet, men just sit and wait for things to happen. Prayer out here is difficult. Both chaplains and men are removed from a special building with a steeple. Prayer to most of them is a formal, ritualized affair, involving special posture and a liturgical setting. I do not believe that much praying is being done.” Continue reading
There’s absolutely no reason for us to assume the Germans are mounting a major offensive. The weather is awful, Their supplies are low, and the German army hasn’t mounted a winter offensive since the time of Frederick the Great — therefore I believe that’s exactly what they’re going to do.
George C. Scott as Patton, as he guesses what the Germans are up to at the start of the Battle of the Bulge-Patton (1970)
Seventy years ago on December 16, 1944 the largest battle in American history, the Battle of the Bulge, began. The last desperate throw of the dice by Hitler to try to snatch victory from obvious defeat, the battle would involve some 600,000 American troops and 125,000 Allied troops. 19000 Americans were killed, and 23,000 missing or captured, to some 67,000-100,000 killed, missing and wounded among the Germans. Fighting raged until January 25, 1945 with the German counterattack decisively defeated.
The Germans relied on bad weather to neutralize Allied air power, and it did for a time, until enough fair weather broke to allow Allied bombers to aid General Patton and his Third Army in their drive to relieve the courageous men of the 101rst Airborne in their epic stand at Bastogne, the turning point of the battle.
Here is the prayer said by Patton, on his knees, at a chapel in Luxembourg City on December 23, 1944. It is a rough soldier’s prayer and some may find it offensive. Indeed, I would have phrased the prayer quite differently myself. However, Patton believed with all his being in God, and when Patton requested His aid, he was never shy about stating to the Almighty precisely what was on his mind:
Sir, this is Patton speaking. The last fourteen days have been straight from hell. Rain, snow, more rain, more snow – and I’m beginning to wonder what’s going on in Your headquarters. Whose side are You on, anyway?
For three years my chaplains have been explaining that this is a religious war. This, they tell me, is the Crusades all over again, except that we’re riding tanks instead of chargers. They insist we are here to annihilate the German Army and the godless Hitler so that religious freedom may return to Europe. Up until now I’ve gone along with them, too. You have given us Your unreserved cooperation. Clear skies and a calm sea in Africa made the landings highly successful and helped us to eliminate Rommel. Sicily was comparatively easy and You supplied excellent weather tor our armored dash across France, the greatest military victory that You have thus far allowed me. Continue reading
FROM THE COMMENTS OVER AT ACE’S some Pearl Harbor Day thoughts.
During the 3-1/2 years of World War 2 that started with the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941 and ended with the Surrender of Germany and Japan in 1945, “We the People of the U.S.A.” produced the following:
22 aircraft carriers,
420 destroyer escorts,
34 million tons of merchant ships,
100,000 fighter aircraft,
24,000 transport aircraft,
58,000 training aircraft,
257,000 artillery pieces,
3,000,000 machine guns, and
2,500,000 military trucks.
We put 16.1 million men in uniform in the various armed services, invaded Africa, invaded Sicily and Italy, won the battle for the Atlantic, planned and executed D-Day, marched across the Pacific and Europe, developed the atomic bomb, and ultimately conquered Japan and Germany.
It’s worth noting, that during the almost exact amount of time, the Obama Administration couldn’t even build a web site that worked.
Of course we were a serious people back then and did not spend all our time composing arguments as to why we couldn’t do something and we didn’t have elites who specialize in gridlock. We were still the people described by Winston Churchill: Continue reading
Directed by John Ford and produced by the US Navy, this is a stunningly good film on the attack on Pearl Harbor, winning an academy award. Released in 1943, the film asks hard questions about why Pearl Harbor was so unprepared and expresses sympathy for the Japanese-Americans in Hawaii and the suspicion they found themselves under after the attack. Fifty minutes of the film was cut as a result, and for decades only a truncated 32 minute version was available.
War is brutish, inglorious, and a terrible waste.
Combat leaves an indelible mark on those who are forced to endure it. The only redeeming factors were my comrades’ incredible bravery and their devotion to each other. Marine Corps training taught us to kill efficiently and to try to survive. But it also taught us loyalty to each other – and love. That esprit de corps sustained us.”
Until the millennium arrives and countries cease trying to enslave others, it will be necessary to accept one’s responsibilities and to be willing to make sacrifices for one’s country — as my comrades did. As the troops used to say, “If the country is good enough to live in, it’s good enough to fight for.” With privilege goes responsibility.
Mr. Vice President, and Mr. Speaker, and Members of the Senate and House of Representatives:
Yesterday, December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.
The United States was at peace with that Nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its Government and its Emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific. Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American Island of Oahu, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. And while this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack.
It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time the Japanese Government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace. Continue reading
And I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: Whom shall I send? and who shall go for us? And I said: Lo, here am I, send me.
Isaiah 6: 8
If a man loves the world, the love of the
Father ain’t in him. For all in the
world, lust of the flesh, lust of the
eyes, the pride of life, is not of the
Father. But of the world.
Don “Wardaddy” Collier quoting John 2:15
I saw the movie Fury with my family on Saturday. It is a superb, albeit grueling, look at an American tank crew in Germany in April 1945. Go below for my review. The usual caveat as to spoilers applies. Continue reading
Thanksgiving 1944 saw Americans fighting around the globe, with their families back home praying for their safety. FDR recognized this with his 1944 Thanksgiving Proclamation:
By the President of the United States of America
In this year of liberation, which has seen so many millions freed from tyrannical rule, it is fitting that we give thanks with special fervor to our Heavenly Father for the mercies we have received individually and as a nation and for the blessings He has restored, through the victories of our arms and those of our allies, to His children in other lands.
For the preservation of our way of life from the threat of destruction; for the unity of spirit which has kept our Nation strong; for our abiding faith in freedom; and for the promise of an enduring peace, we should lift up our hearts in thanksgiving.
For the harvest that has sustained us and, in its fullness, brought succor to other peoples; for the bounty of our soil, which has produced the sinews of war for the protection of our liberties; and for a multitude of private blessings, known only in our hearts, we should give united thanks to God.
To the end that we may bear more earnest witness to our gratitude to Almighty God, I suggest a nationwide reading of the Holy Scriptures during the period from Thanksgiving Day to Christmas. Let every man of every creed go to his own version of the Scriptures for a renewed and strengthening contact with those eternal truths and majestic principles which have inspired such measure of true greatness as this nation has achieved.
Now, Therefore, I, Franklin D. Roosevelt, President of the United States of America, in consonance with the joint resolution of the Congress approved December 26, 1941, do hereby proclaim Thursday the twenty-third day of November 1944 a day of national thanksgiving; and I call upon the people of the United States to observe it by bending every effort to hasten the day of final victory and by offering to God our devout gratitude for His goodness to us and to our fellow men.
In Witness Whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States of America to be affixed.
DONE at the City of Washington this first day of November in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and forty-four and of the Independence of the United States of America the one hundred and sixty-ninth.
FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT
Mine eyes have seen MacArthur
With a Bible on his knee,
He is pounding out communiqués
For guys like you and me,
And while possibly a rumor now,
Someday ’twill be a fact,
That the Lord will hear a deep voice
Say, “Move over God, it’s Mac!”
Anonymous Marine on Corregidor (1942)
The most controversial of American commanders in World War II, MacArthur has always roused strong emotion. Reviled by some as a supreme egotist and an overrated general, and hailed by others as the greatest general in American history, MacArthur will be fought over in history books from now until Doomsday, a fate which I think would not have displeased him. However, I suspect critics and admirers alike can agree on one thing. Seventy years ago MacArthur had the supreme moment of his life:
TO THE PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES:
I have returned. By the grace of Almighty God our forces stand again on Philippine soil — soil consecrated in the blood of our two peoples. We have come, dedicated and committed, to the task of destroying every vestige of enemy control over your daily lives, and of restoring, upon a foundation of indestructible, strength, the liberties of your people.
At my side is your President, Sergio Osmena, worthy successor of that great patriot, Manuel Quezon, with members of his cabinet. The seat of your government is now therefore firmly re- established on Philippine soil.
The hour of your redemption is here. Your patriots have demonstrated an unswerving and resolute devotion to the principles of freedom that challenges the best that is written on the pages of human history. I now call upon your supreme effort that the enemy may know from the temper of an aroused and outraged people within that he has a force there to contend with no less violent than is the force committed from without.
Rally to me. Let the indomitable spirit of Bataan and Corregidor lead on. As the lines of battle roll forward to bring you within the zone of operations, rise and strike. Strike at every favorable opportunity. For your homes and hearths, strike! For future generations of your sons and daughters, strike! In the name of your sacred dead, strike! Let no heart be faint. Let every arm be steeled. The guidance of divine God points the way. Follow in His Name to the Holy Grail of righteous victory!
I finished watching Ken Burns, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History. A fair amount of liberal hagiography for FDR and, especially, Eleanor, but on the whole I liked it, and I will review it in a future post. However, I was struck by a vignette that occurred in the final episode last night.
By 1944 FDR was in visibly failing health. Diagnosed with congestive heart failure, Dr. Howard Bruenn, a Navy Lieutenant Commander and cardiologist, followed him everywhere. He recommended extended bed rest which was an impossible diagnosis for a Commander-in-Chief during a World War.
At the Quebec Conference with Churchill, in the evening for entertainment, FDR had the film Wilson (1944) shown. A film biopic of the life of Woodrow Wilson from his election as Governor of New Jersey in 1910, the movie is largely forgotten today. It won several Oscars, but was a financial flop, people being too preoccupied with the current World War to want to see a movie about the first one. Alexander Knox, relegated through most of his career in character actor roles, does a good job in the role of Wilson. Making the dessicated, pedantic Wilson into a heroic figure was difficult, but the film, taking a fast and loose approach with much of the history of the period, and with the help of a majestic musical score, accomplishes the feat. It is definitely worth watching. Continue reading
Hattip to Instapundit. A salute to Dalrock for coming up with another example of the font of stupidity that was Margaret Sanger:
In my last post I quoted from a radio program delivered by Margaret Sanger discussing the hardships women face in marriage and the importance of marriage counseling. Sanger described a young mother she met the day before on the train:
…she was beginning to feel very bitter toward her husband because she said that she could tell from his letters that he was actually enjoying the ↑excitement of↓ war! Already he had been to Iceland, England, Africa, and Italy! Oh, she was willing to admit there were plenty of hardships connected with it… but what had she been doing all this long while? Just staying home day after day minding the baby! “When he gets home,” she told me, “he can just sit with the baby for a while and she what it’s like. I’m going out and have some fun!”
I could see her point of view… what woman couldn’t. You don’t have to be a war bride to feel trapped… many a house-wife gets that feeling just watching her husband go off to the office every morning while she stays home facing the same meals, dishes, and children. How many divorces have their beginnings in just this very feeling of imprisoned futility.
The date of the program was July 19, 1944. This was just a little over a month after D Day and before the Normandy breakout. World War II was very much still raging in Europe, and American men were still fighting and dying there. Yet at this very time we had (if we believe the story), a woman complaining to strangers on a train about the exciting adventures her husband was enjoying in the European theater (most likely as a result of being drafted). Continue reading
We have discovered the most terrible bomb in the history of the world. It may be the fire destruction prophesied in the Euphrates Valley Era, after Noah and his fabulous Ark.
Harry Truman, Diary entry-July 25, 1945
A bit late for the annual Saint Blog’s August Bomb Follies, but here is a new Prager University video by Father Wilson Miscamble defending Harry Truman’s decision to use the atomic bombs to bring World War II to a rapid conclusion. I will repeat here what I wrote back on July 24, 2012 after Father Miscamble made an earlier video on the subject:
Getting the annual Saint Blogs August Bomb Follies off to an early start. Father Wilson Miscamble, Professor of History at Notre Dame, and long a champion of the pro-life cause, defends the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the video above. The video is a summary of the conclusions reached by Father Miscamble in his recent book, The Most Controversial Decision. Go here to read a review of the book by British military historian Andrew Roberts. Go here to read a review of the book by Father Michael P. Orsi. Go here to read a review by Michael Novak.
I echo the conclusions of Father Wilson Miscamble and appreciate his heroic efforts to clear up the bad history and inane American self-flagellation that has distorted a very straight-forward historical event. I also appreciate his willingness to take the heat that his position has caused him. Go here to read his response to a critique by Professor Christopher Tollefsen. This portion of his response is something I have noted in regard to many critics of Truman, an unwillingness to address the consequences of not dropping the bombs:
It is when one turns to alternate courses of action that the abstract nature of Tollefsen’s criticisms becomes apparent. He criticizes Truman’s actions as immoral but offers no serious proposal regarding a viable alternative. Elizabeth Anscombe had naively suggested that Truman alter the terms of surrender, but such an approach only would have strengthened the hand of the Japanese militarists and confirmed their suicidal strategy. Tollefsen concedes that “it might well be true that greater suffering would have resulted from a refusal to use the atomic weapons in Japan,” but he backs away from any genuine discussion of what Truman should have done and of what that “greater suffering” might have involved. He provides no evidence that he has considered this matter at all. But should philosophers be able to avoid outlining what they would have done in the demanding circumstances that Truman confronted? I have always thought that moral reflection wrestles with the awful and painful realities. Tollefsen seems to want to stand above the fray, to pronounce Truman’s actions as deeply immoral and to leave it at that. It would have brought greater clarity to this discussion if he had confronted the alternatives seriously.
If Tollefsen were to engage the military issues involved in the war in the Pacific, I suspect he would be forced to raise further objections to the American military practices pursued well before the Enola Gay flew toward Hiroshima. Take as but one example the early 1945 Battle for Manila, in which approximately one hundred thousand Filipino civilians were killed. Some were killed by the Japanese, but many of this large number were killed by aggressive American air and artillery bombardments used, without particular regard for civilian casualties, as the American forces sought to dislodge an established enemy that refused to surrender. These harsh tactics could not meet Tollefsen’s criteria with regard to means. Given his unbending approach on moral absolutes, I assume he would condemn the action; but just what military means would he support in trying to defeat a foe that considered surrender the ultimate disgrace and who fought accordingly? Similarly, Tollefsen could hardly approve of the military force utilized in the taking of Okinawa and the high number of civilian casualties that resulted.
I suspect that Professor Tollefsen would be willing to say that it would be better to do absolutely nothing and to live with the consequences, if I may use that word, than to use morally questionable tactics. But the decision not to act undoubtedly would have incurred terrible consequences. Surely such inaction would carry some burden of responsibility for the prolongation of the killing of innocents throughout Asia, in the charnel house of the Japanese Empire. Is it really “moral” to stand aside, maintaining one’s supposed moral purity, while a vast slaughter is occurring at the rate of over two hundred thousand deaths a month? Isn’t there a terrible dilemma here, namely, which innocent lives to save? Would Tollefsen really have rested at peace with the long-term Japanese domination of Asia? Would that be a pro-life position?
Let me confess that I would prefer that my position had the clarity of Professor Tollefsen’s. It is a large concession to admit that Truman’s action was the “least evil.” Arguing that it was the least-harmful option open to him will hardly be persuasive to those who see everything in a sharp black-and-white focus. Yet this is how I see it. If someone can present to me a viable and more “moral way” to have defeated the Japanese and ended World War II, I will change my position. I suppose my position here has some resonance with my support for the policy of deterrence during the Cold War. I could recognize the moral flaws in the strategy but still I found it the best of the available options, and the alternatives were markedly worse. Interestingly, I think the author of Veritatis Splendor thought the same thing and he conveyed that view to the American bishops as they wrote their peace pastoral letter.
I trust that my pro-life credentials will not be questioned because I refuse to denounce Truman as a “mass-murderer.” Unlike Tollefsen, I do not think that my position initiates the unraveling of the entire pro-life garment. I believe Truman pursued the least-harmful course of action available to him to end a ghastly war, a course that resulted in the least loss of life.
Harry Truman knew that if he ordered the dropping of the bombs, a very large number of Japanese civilians would be killed. He also knew that if he did not drop the bombs it was virtually certain that a far larger number of civilians, Allied, in territory occupied by Japan, as well as Japanese, would be killed, as a result of the war grinding on until the war ceased due to an invasion of Japan, continued massive conventional bombing of Japan, or a continuation of the blockade which would result in mass famine in Japan. He also knew that an invasion of Japan would have led to massive, almost unthinkable, US military casualties, to add to the 416,000 US deaths and 670,000 US wounded that World War II had already cost. The morality of Truman’s dropping of the bombs has been a subject of debate since 1945. Comparatively little attention has been paid to the practical and moral consequences of Truman failing to act. Father Miscamble is to be congratulated for examining this facet of Truman’s Dilemma. Continue reading