Christmas at Bastogne

In 1944 at Christmas the American and German armies were slugging it out in the Battle of the Bulge, the last German offensive of the War.

Patton’s Third Army rammed 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, along with an extemporaneous one he prayed for good weather on December 23, 1944.  The skies cleared after Patton prayed, 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

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December 23, 1945: Funeral of General Patton

And I see not in my blindness
What the objects were I wrought,
But as God rules o’er our bickerings
It was through His will I fought.

George S. Patton, Jr.

 

 

 

Fate denied General Patton the death he deserved:  in battle, at the head of his men.  His death was much more prosaic, the result of an automobile collision on December 8, 1945 caused by drunk joyriding GIs.  He spent most of the next 13 days in traction, paralyzed from the neck down.  His verdict on his situation was succinct and characteristically blunt:  “This is a hell of a way to die.”  He died on December 21, 1945 in his sleep.  It is perhaps superfluous to note that Patton met death with calm courage.  At West Point as a cadet he had already discerned the essential reality of death:  “What then of death?  Is not the taps of death but the first call to the reveille of eternal life?”  Per his request he was buried with other Third Army dead in the Luxembourg American Cemetery, the simple white cross above his grave precisely the same that marked the graves of the Christian GIs who had fallen in what Eisenhower had aptly called the Great Crusade. Continue Reading

3

The Master Sergeant Was a Modest Hero

Roddie Edmonds

 

A nightmare for every Jewish GI serving in the European Theater of Operations was to be captured by the Nazis.  For a group of American Jewish POWs on January 27, 1945, their worst nightmares seemed about to come true.  The previous day Commandant of Stalag IXA, Major Siegmann, had ordered that the Jews among the thousand American POWs report outside their barracks the next morning.  Their probable grim fate could be imagined.  Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds of the 422nd Infantry Regiment, a resident of Tennessee, was the ranking NCO at the camp and he was not going to allow the Nazis to murder some of his men.  He ordered every American in the camp to show up outside the barracks, and informed the astonished Commandant that they were all Jews.  The Commandant exclaimed that they could not all be Jews and took out his pistol.  Edmonds remained calm:  “According to the Geneva Convention, we only have to give our name, rank and serial number. If you shoot me, you will have to shoot all of us, and after the war you will be tried for war crimes.”   The Commandant turned around and stalked off.  No further attempts were made by him to get his hands on the Jewish GIs. Continue Reading

Pearl Harbor: 1945

Seventy years ago the nation remembered Pearl Harbor for the first time in peace time.  Japan was now conquered, our troops occupying it.  Pearl Harbor had been avenged many fold.  It would perhaps have seemed that it was time to relegate the Pearl Harbor attack to the pages of History, but such has not been the case.  Spurred on by the families of the men who were murdered that day in the sneak attack, Pearl Harbor has been remembered each year.  As the World War II generation began passing from the scene, Congress passed on August 23, 1994 an act designating each December 7th as National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.  Only a handful of Pearl Harbor survivors remain with us, but still news stories, blog posts and other events mark the day and it is fitting that this is done.  The heroism of the Americans who fought at Pearl Harbor should be remembered, along with the terrible price that a nation can pay when it puts its guard down in the face of an aggressive would be adversary.

To Rouse a Sleeping Giant

i-fear-all-we-have-done-is-to-awaken-a-sleeping-giant

At the end of the epic movie Tora, Tora, Tora, (1970), Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the head of the combined Japanese fleet, after the successful attack on Pearl Harbor, refuses to join in the elation of his staff, and makes this haunting observation: “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”  The line is almost certainly apocryphal.  The director of the film, Elmo Williams, claimed that Larry Forester, the film’s screenwriter, had found the line in a 1943 letter written by Yamamoto.   However, he has been unable to produce the letter, and there is no other evidence that such a letter exists.

However, there is no doubt that Yamamoto would fully have endorsed the sentiment that the line contained.  He had studied at Harvard in 1919-1921, and served two tours as a naval attache at the Japanese embassy in Washington DC.  He spoke fluent English, and his stays in the US had convinced him of that nation’s vast wealth and industrial power.  He had also developed a fondness for both America and Americans.

In the 1930’s Yamamoto spoke out against Japan allying with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, fearing that such an alliance would lead inevitably to a war with the US that Japan would lose.  He received frequent death threats as a result from fanatical Japanese nationalists.  These were not idle threats, as such nationalists did assassinate a fair number of Japanese politicians and military men during the Thirties who were against war with the US.  Yamamoto ignored the threats with studied contempt, viewing it as his duty to the Emperor and Japan to speak out against a disastrous course.  Yamamoto wrote in a letter to one nationalist:

Should hostilities once break out between Japan and the United States, it would not be enough that we take Guam and the Philippines, nor even Hawaii and San Francisco. To make victory certain, we would have to march into Washington and dictate the terms of peace in the White House. I wonder if our politicians (who speak so lightly of a Japanese-American war) have confidence as to the final outcome and are prepared to make the necessary sacrifices. Continue Reading

Patton’s Weather Prayer

 

 

“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.  Here is his article on the incident written in 1950.

Patton was an interesting mixture of contradictions in his spiritual life.  Foul mouthed even by the standards of an army known for profanity, and much too fond of war for a Christian, he also read the Bible and prayed each day.  A firm Episcopalian, yet he also firmly believed in reincarnation.    While in command in Sicily he began attending mass, initially largely for political reasons to build a bridge to the Catholic population, but then found that he enjoyed worshipping at mass.  He believed firmly in God and did not think that He stood aloof when men were fighting against one of the most evil regimes ever devised by Fallen Man. Continue Reading

November 20, 1945: Nuremberg Trials Get Underway

“But the most interesting — although horrible — sight that I encountered during the trip was a visit to a German internment camp near Gotha. The things I saw beggar description. While I was touring the camp I encountered three men who had been inmates and by one ruse or another had made their escape. I interviewed them through an interpreter. The visual evidence and the verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty and bestiality were so overpowering as to leave me a bit sick. In one room, where they [there] were piled up twenty or thirty naked men, killed by starvation, George Patton would not even enter. He said he would get sick if he did so. I made the visit deliberately, in order to be in position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to ‘propaganda’.”

General Eisenhower letter to General George Marshall 4/15/45

The Nuremberg Trials got under way seventy years ago today.  One may cavil at some of the procedures used during the trials and the presence of Soviet judges and prosecutors at the trial, but no decent human being can ever claim that the crimes committed by the leaders of the Third Reich, in Eisenhower’s phrase, beggar description.  The video at the beginning of this post consists of film shot by the Army Signal Corps, at Eisenhower’s order, of the Nazi death camps and was admitted into evidence at the Nuremberg trial.  It makes for grim viewing, but the reality it reflected must never be forgotten.

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In re Yamashita

As I said in the Manila Supreme Court that I have done with my all capacity, so I don’t ashame in front of the gods for what I have done when I have died. But if you say to me ‘you do not have any ability to command the Japanese Army’ I should say nothing for it, because it is my own nature. Now, our war criminal trial going under your kindness and right. I know that all your American and American military affairs always has tolerant and rightful judgment. When I have been investigated in Manila court I have had a good treatment, kindful attitude from your good natured officers who protected me all the time. I never forget for what they have done for me even if I had died. I don’t blame my executioner. I’ll pray the gods bless them. Please send my thankful word to Col. Clarke and Lt. Col. Feldhaus, Lt. Col. Hendrix, Maj. Guy, Capt. Sandburg, Capt. Reel, at Manila court, and Col. Arnard. I thank you.

Yamashita’ s last statement, through a translator, on the gallows.  February 23, 1946

General Tomoyuki Yamashita won early fame in World War II by leading the conquest of Malaya.  With inferior forces he decisively defeated the British and earned the popular title of Tiger of Malaya.  Troops under his command did engage in massacres and looting, but Yamashita, unlike most Japanese commanders, severely punished the troops involved, up to and including execution of the guilty.  His humane attitude towards prisoners placed him at odds with the Japanese government, and he spent much of the war in virtual exile in Manchukuo commanding the First Area Army.  Worsening Japanese military fortunes caused him to be placed in command of the Philippines, ten days before MacArthur and his army returned.  Yamashita conducted a skillful defense of the Philippines, marred by massive atrocities against civilians in Manila.  It must be noted that Rear Admiral Sanji Iwabuchi commanded the forces defending in Manila.  Yamashita had ordered the evacuation of Manila which Iwabuchi disobeyed, just as his men disobeyed Yamashita’s standing orders against ill treatment of civilians.

Yamashita was put on trial for war crimes in Manila from October 29, 1945-December 7, 1945 by an American military tribunal.  The principal accusation was that he had failed to keep his troops in the Philippines under control and that as a result he was responsible for their crimes.  This was a novel theory of criminal responsibility either under American military or civilian jurisprudence as his military defense counsel pointed out time and again.  Yamashita was impressed by the dedication and zeal of his defense counsel and stated several times that his respect for the United States had been reaffirmed by their efforts.

Behind the scenes MacArthur expressed impatience at the length of the trial, clearly wanting a quick guilty verdict.  When Yamashita was found guilty and sentenced to death, he swiftly affirmed the verdict and sentence when it was appealed to him.  Yamashita’s defense team then appealed to the US Supreme Court. The Supreme Court, In re Yamashita, 327 US 1, rejected the petitions for habeas corpus and writ of prohibition ruling:

It thus appears that the order convening the commission was a lawful order, that the commission was lawfully constituted, that petitioner was charged with violation of the law of war, and that the commission had authority to proceed with the trial, and, in doing so, did not violate any military, statutory, or constitutional command. We have considered, but find it unnecessary to discuss, other contentions which we find to be without merit. We therefore conclude that the detention of petitioner for trial and his detention upon his conviction, subject to the prescribed review by the military authorities, were lawful, and that the petition for certiorari, and leave to file in this Court petitions for writs of habeas corpus and prohibition should be, and they are

Denied.

Justices Murphy and Rutledge wrote memorable dissents: Continue Reading

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Thank You

(I originally ran this post back on Veteran’s Day 2010.  I have updated it and am running it again since the passage of time renders it more urgent.)

Time is doing what the Nazis and the Imperial Japanese could not do:  vanquishing our World War II generation.  The youngest American veteran of that conflict would now be 88, and in the next fifteen years or so they will all be in eternity.  Time now to express our heartfelt gratitude for what they accomplished for the country.  They have been called the greatest generation.  I am sure that most of them would reject that title, maybe putting in a vote for the generation that won the American Revolution or the generation that fought the Civil War.  Modesty has been a hallmark of their generation.  When I was growing up in the Sixties, most of them were relatively young men in their late thirties or forties.  If you asked them about the war they would talk about it but they would rarely bring it up.  They took their service for granted as a part of their lives and nothing special.   So those of us who knew them often took it for granted too.  Uncle Chuck, he works at the Cereal Mills, and, oh yeah, he fought in the Pacific as a Marine.  Uncle Bill, he has a great sense of humor and I think he was in Tokyo Bay when the Japanese surrendered to MacArthur.  When they talked about the war it was usually some humorous anecdote, often with some self-deprecating point.  They’d talk about some of the sad stuff too, but you could tell that a lot of that was pretty painful for them, so you didn’t press them.  They were just husbands and fathers, uncles and cousins.  The fact that the janitor at the school won a silver star on Saipan, or  the mayor of the town still walked with a limp from being shot on D-Day, was just a normal part of life, like going to school or delivering papers. Continue Reading

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Hero Priest of Guam

Father Jesus

Eighth of December 1941
People went crazy
Right here in Guam.
Oh, Mr. Sam, Sam
My dear Uncle Sam,
Won’t you please
Come back to Guam.

Resistance song sung by the people of Guam during World War II

Acquired by the US pursuant to the treaty that ended the Spanish-American War in 1898, by the time of the Japanese invasion of Guam in 1941, the people of Guam, Chamorros, were largely pro-American, enjoying prosperity under American rule.  Thus they were hostile to the Japanese invasion of Guam which occurred in December 1941.  The Japanese occupation was brutal, murdering 1000 of the 20,000 people of Guam.

Devout Catholics, the people of Guam looked to the Church in this dark hour, and they did not look in vain.  The head of the Church in Guam was a young priest, Father Jesus Baza Duenas, the second Chamorro to be ordained a priest.  He became the head of the Church when Bishop Miguel Olano was taken away as a prisoner of war by the Japanese.  The Bishop’s parting instruction to Father Duenas was that he defend the Chamorros from the Japanese.  He was an untiring advocate of his people with the Japanese military, fearlessly demanding food and shelter for the many people displaced by the Japanese invasion.  At the same time he instructed his people not to cooperate with the Japanese, telling them that the Americans would be back some day and drive the Japanese out.  He knew about the six Americans who had initially escaped Japanese capture, including sailor George Tweed who would be the only one of the six to survive and evade capture successfully until the liberation of Guam, and who radioed information about the Japanese defenses to the Navy, and that members of his flock were risking their lives, and always paid with their lives when caught by the Japanese, to help the Americans.  Father Duenas refused to give any information about any of this to the Japanese although often questioned by Japanese officers.

Father Duenas was looked upon by the people of Guam as a hero, riding upon his white horse around the island to say mass in remote areas, and to conduct marriages, baptisms and funerals.  To attempt to lessen his influence, the Japanese imported two Japanese Catholic priests, which had absolutely no impact on the esteem in which the people of Guam held their priest.  In frustration, the Japanese would often literally hold a gun to the head of Father Duenas as he said mass, and beat him periodically in public.  This only certified his hero status  and increased his influence among his people, to the rage of the Japanese.

On July 8, 1944, with the liberation of Guam coming close, Father Duenas and his nephew, Attorney Eduardo Duenas, were arrested by the Japanese.  Tortured, they refused to give up information about the whereabouts of George Tweed.  Father Duenas when questioned said that he answered only to God and that the Japanese were not God.  Father Duenas was offered a chance to escape by some of his people who got a message to him.  He refused, saying:  “You must know what would happen to our families if we escape. I’m positive the Japanese will retaliate against them. Go look after you families. God will look after me. I have done no wrong.”

As the sun rose on July 12, 1944, just nine days before the American marines and soldiers stormed ashore on Guam, a date known as the holiday Liberation Day ever since on Guam, Father Duenas and his nephew were beheaded.  Father Duenas was thirty years old. Continue Reading

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August 15, 1945: The Voice of the Crane

Something for the weekend.  Kimigayo, the Japanese national anthem.

And so World War II ended with the people of Japan standing at attention or bowing as they heard their Emperor tell them, in a classical Japanese that most of them probably found hard to follow, that it was time to endure the unendurable:

TO OUR GOOD AND LOYAL SUBJECTS:

After pondering deeply the general trends of the world and the actual conditions obtaining in Our Empire today, We have decided to effect a settlement of the present situation by resorting to an extraordinary measure.

We have ordered Our Government to communicate to the Governments of the United States, Great Britain, China and the Soviet Union that Our Empire accepts the provisions of their Joint Declaration.

To strive for the common prosperity and happiness of all nations as well as the security and well-being of Our subjects is the solemn obligation which has been handed down by Our Imperial Ancestors and which lies close to Our heart.

Indeed, We declared war on America and Britain out of Our sincere desire to ensure Japan’s self-preservation and the stabilization of East Asia, it being far from Our thought either to infringe upon the sovereignty of other nations or to embark upon territorial aggrandizement.

But now the war has lasted for nearly four years. Despite the best that has been done by everyone – the gallant fighting of the military and naval forces, the diligence and assiduity of Our servants of the State, and the devoted service of Our one hundred million people – the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage, while the general trends of the world have all turned against her interest.

Moreover, the enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb, the power of which to do damage is, indeed, incalculable, taking the toll of many innocent lives. Should We continue to fight, not only would it result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization.

Such being the case, how are We to save the millions of Our subjects, or to atone Ourselves before the hallowed spirits of Our Imperial Ancestors? This is the reason why We have ordered the acceptance of the provisions of the Joint Declaration of the Powers.

We cannot but express the deepest sense of regret to Our Allied nations of East Asia, who have consistently cooperated with the Empire towards the emancipation of East Asia.

The thought of those officers and men as well as others who have fallen in the fields of battle, those who died at their posts of duty, or those who met with untimely death and all their bereaved families, pains Our heart night and day.

The welfare of the wounded and the war-sufferers, and of those who have lost their homes and livelihood, are the objects of Our profound solicitude.

The hardships and sufferings to which Our nation is to be subjected hereafter will be certainly great. We are keenly aware of the inmost feelings of all of you, Our subjects. However, it is according to the dictates of time and fate that We have resolved to pave the way for a grand peace for all the generations to come by enduring the unendurable and suffering what is unsufferable.

Having been able to safeguard and maintain the structure of the Imperial State, We are always with you, Our good and loyal subjects, relying upon your sincerity and integrity.

Beware most strictly of any outbursts of emotion which may engender needless complications, or any fraternal contention and strife which may create confusion, lead you astray and cause you to lose the confidence of the world.

Let the entire nation continue as one family from generation to generation, ever firm in its faith in the imperishability of its sacred land, and mindful of its heavy burden of responsibility, and of the long road before it.

Unite your total strength, to be devoted to construction for the future. Cultivate the ways of rectitude, foster nobility of spirit, and work with resolution – so that you may enhance the innate glory of the Imperial State and keep pace with the progress of the world. Continue Reading

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August 14, 1945: Surrender and a Coup Attempt

 

 

Allied bombers had been used on August 13, 1945 dropping leaflets over Japan which described, in Japanese, the surrender offer and the Allied response.  On August 14, 1945 Hirohito met with his military leaders, several of whom spoke in favor of continuing the War.  Hirohito urged them to help him bring the War to an end.  Meeting then with the Supreme Council for the Direction of the War and heard out those who recommended a rejection of the Allied offer unless there was a guarantee that the Emperor would continue to reign.  Hirohito then spoke:

I have listened carefully to each of the arguments presented in opposition to the view that Japan should accept the Allied reply as it stands and without further clarification or modification, but my own thoughts have not undergone any change. … In order that the people may know my decision, I request you to prepare at once an imperial rescript so that I may broadcast to the nation. Finally, I call upon each and every one of you to exert himself to the utmost so that we may meet the trying days which lie ahead.

In normal times in Japan that would have been that.  It was quite rare for the Emperor to so overtly intervene in a decision of the government, indeed it was forbidden under the then current Japanese constitution, but when he did, it would have literally been unthinkable for any Japanese not to instantly obey.  However, these were far from normal times.

The rest of the day was taken up with Hirohito preparing an address to his people and having a recording played to be broadcast on August 15, 1945.  Washington was advised that Japan had surrendered via the Japanese embassies in Switzerland and Sweden and the Allied world went wild with joy. Continue Reading

37

Father Barron and the Bomb

Here is a guest post by Greg Mockeridge:

 

It should go without saying that readers of TAC are familiar with the work of Fr. (soon to be bishop) Barron. His presence on You Tube is ubiquitous. He has also produced the Catholicism series, featured not only on Catholic media outlets like EWTN, but also on secular outlets like Pbs. In and of themselves, using outlets such as these to get the message of the Church out are commendable. And certainly Fr. Barron has done some good work along these lines and has earned a rather immense popularity as a result. Again, in and of itself, being popular is not a bad thing. But popularity can be just as dangerous in Catholic circles as in secular circles. In fact, I would say it is even more dangerous in Catholic circles than secular, given that it is done under the aegis of Catholic orthodoxy.

Any honest Catholic who has paid attention to what has gone on in popular orthodox Catholic circles cannot deny that there are serious problems with the way many Catholics, clergy and lay alike, prominent in orthodox circles have conducted themselves over at least the last decade. For example, we have seen the mean spirited and calumnious treatment by Mark Shea of those, Catholic and non-Catholic, who take views on geopolitical matters that conflict with his. It doesn’t matter to Shea that such views are both consistent with Catholic teaching and factually compelling. Even worse is the manner with which bishops like Archbishops Chaput and Cordileone speak on matters such as capital punishment, going to the extreme of falsely asserting that the death penalty system is administered in a racist manner against minorities. We have also seen Cardinal Timothy Dolan engage in race baiting calumny against the state of Arizona over SB 1070, which allows, pursuant to what has been federal law since 1940, for local law enforcement to inquire about the immigration status of those they have reason to believe are in the country illegally. We also have the scandal of the USCCB, in their annual Fortnight for Freedom campaign, listing certain state immigration laws as violations of religious liberty equal to that of the Obama Goonsquad (err Administration) forcing employers to provide coverage for contraception in their health insurance plans, despite conscience objections baed on religious conviction. Equating these two things cannot by justified by any stretch of the Catholic imagination.
Although I wouldn’t say Fr. Barron has gone to the lengths of the examples listed above, he is not without his serious problems. I first saw problems with Fr Barron when he gave a glowing review of Ross Douthat’s book Bad Religion. This book was bad in its own right, bad research methodology and some bad religion of its own. Douthat nakedly  misrepresents Catholic teaching with regard to socio-economics as well as misrepresenting Michael Novak. Douthat’s portrayal of the torture issue is no different in substance than that of Mark Shea, sans the snark. How any respectable orthodox Catholic, much less one who is an influential cleric, can give a glowing review of such a dishonest piece of work is beyond baffling.
Then Fr. Barron, in this article for the National Review of all publications, draws parallels between the anti-Catholic sentiment of many of the American Founding Fathers and the pro-abortion movement of today. To be sure, many of our founders did harbor anti-Catholic sentiment, but to draw the parallels Fr. Barron did is not only without merit, but downright appalling. No such parallels are anywhere close to existent. I would say that the pro-abortion movement is not anti-Catholic as an end in itself, but sees Catholic opposition to abortion as a threat. In fact, these very same people are very favorable to the elements of Catholicism they think comports with their “social justice” worldview and often invoke it in an attempt to buttress their views.
So, it should be of no surprise that when Fr. Barron deals with an issue like the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (the 70th Anniversary of which passed a few days ago), his analysis would be woefully devoid of Catholic moral principles and a real good faith attempt to accurately present the circumstances within which President Truman made the decision to drop the atomic bombs.
Recently, I came across a video he did last year where he deals with the subject. In it, he confirms that hunch. And in the same manner he juxtaposes the anti-Catholic sentiment of our Founders with the pro-abortion movement of today, he does the same with drawing parallels with support for the bomb drops with rejecting Catholic sexual teaching. First of all, his assertion that “very few” wars in human history were just vis-a-vis Catholic moral teaching is a matter of opinion, namely his, not of fact. He repeatedly says “clearly” that things like carpet bombings as well as the atomic bombings did not comport with the principle of proportionality. Well, clearly, he is either ignorant of the circumstances within which these actions were taken or he is counting on the ignorance of his viewers. And, unfortunately, counting on the ignorance of many orthodox Catholics on issues like this is a well-founded assumption. Proportionality has do with the bad effect being avoided being greater than the bad effect inflicted. And in the cases he discusses, especially with regard to the atomic bombings, the case for the principle of proportionality being met is compelling. I would say it is incontrovertible. He says nothing about the principle of double effect and how it may apply to this situation.

Continue Reading

4

Japan’s Atom Bomb Program

 

Most Americans are unaware that during World War II Japan had two programs seeking to build an atomic bomb.

In 1939 Dr. Yoshio Nishina,  a Japanese nuclear physicist, recognized the potential of the then theoretical atomic bomb.  ( In 1934 Professor  Hikosaka Tadayoshi theorized about such a bomb.)  In 1940 he spoke with Lieutenant-General Takeo Yasuda, director of the Army Aeronautical Department’s Technical Research Institute, about the potential of an atomic bomb.  The Japanese Army began its program to develop an atomic bomb in April 1941.

Meantime, the Japanese Navy began its own program creating the Committee on Research in the Application of Nuclear Physics chaired by Dr. Nishina in 1942.  The Navy’s project ended in 1943 when the Committee reported that while such a bomb was feasible it predicted that it would be difficult for even the United States, with all its resources, to harness the power of the Atom in time to have an impact on the War.

However, the Navy dropping out had no effect on the Army’s program which continued on to the end of the War, hampered both by lack of materials and by ever heavier US bombing.  How far the Japanese got is open to speculation as the project was veiled in the deepest secrecy during the War, and most documents pertaining to it were destroyed by the Japanese prior to the Surrender. Continue Reading

August 11, 1945: US Responds to Surrender Offer

Harry-Truman-The-Buck-Stops-Here-silverman-21

On receipt of the Japanese offer to surrender, the decision was quickly made by Harry Truman as to the US response.  From his August 10, 1945 diary entry:

“Ate lunch at my desk and discussed the Jap offer to surrender which came in a couple of hours earlier. They wanted to make a condition precedent to the surrender. Our terms are ‘unconditional’. They wanted to keep the Emperor. We told ’em we’d tell ’em how to keep him, but we’d make the terms.”

Truman ordered that no more atomic bomb attacks be made, although conventional attacks be continued.  When the press misinterpreted an Army Air Corps briefing that mentioned that no bombers were flying over Japan due to bad weather on August 11, 1945, Truman ordered a halt to conventional attacks so the Japanese would not be confused on his willingness to give them a short time to consider the Allied response.  The response went out on August 11, the Soviets signing on reluctantly as they were busily conquering Manchuria from the Japanese and did not want the War to stop until they had wiped out Japanese opposition.  Here is the text of the Allied response: Continue Reading

6

August 10, 1945: Japan Offers to Surrender, With One Condition

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Meeting just after midnight on August 9, 1945, in the first hour of August 10, 1945, with Emperor Hirohito present, the Supreme Council for the Direction of the War deadlocked yet again, 3-3 between peace and war factions.  Looking to Hirohito to break the deadlock, the Emperor suggested acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration if the Imperial Throne were preserved.  The Japanese government asked the Swiss government to present to the US its conditional acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration.  Here is the text of the American Charge d’Affaires  to the Secretary of State conveying the news:

 

 

August 10, 1945

Sir; I have the honor to inform you that the Japanese Minister in Switzerland, upon instructions received from his Government, has requested the Swiss Political Department to advise the Government of the United States of America of the following:

“In obedience to the gracious command of His Majesty the Emperor who, ever anxious to enhance the cause of world peace, desires earnestly to bring about a speedy termination of hostilities with a view to saving mankind from the calamities to be imposed upon them by further continuation of the war, the Japanese Government several weeks ago asked the Soviet Government, with which neutral relations then prevailed, to render good offices in restoring peace vis a vis the enemy powers. Unfortunately, these efforts in the interest of peace having failed, the Japanese Government in conformity with the august wish of His Majesty to restore the general peace and desiring to put an end to the untold sufferings entailed by war as quickly as possible, have decided upon the following.

“The Japanese Government are ready to accept the terms enumerated in the joint declaration which was issued at Potsdam on July 26th, 1945, by the heads of the Governments of the United States, Great Britain, and China, and later subscribed to by the Soviet Government, with the understanding that the said declaration does not comprise any demand which prejudices the prerogatives of His Majesty as a Sovereign Ruler.

“The Japanese Government sincerely hope that this understanding is warranted and desire keenly that an explicit indication to that effect will be speedily forthcoming.” Continue Reading

2

August 9, 1945: Bombing of Nagasaki

 

 

On August 9, 1945 the second atomic bombing mission was launched.  The target was the city of Kokura, with Nagasaki, a seaport and a vital part of the military industrial power of Japan, as the secondary.  Fat Boy was being flown in Bockscar, commanded by Major Charles W. Sweeney.  Kokura was obscured by clouds and by smoke from a nearby US fire bombing raid.  After three abortive bombing runs over Kokura, and with fuel running low from a failed fuel pump, Bockscar headed for Nagasaki.

 

Nagasaki too, was largely obscured by clouds.  At 11:01 AM, a break in the cloud cover allowed the dropping of the bomb.  Fat Man exploded 47 seconds later over a tennis court, halfway between the Mitsubishi Steel and Arms Works and the Nagasaki arsenal.  The blast was confined to the Urakami Valley and the rest of Nagasaki was protected from the initial blast by the hills around the valley.  Immediate deaths on the ground are estimated from 22,000-75,000.

Bockscar due to the fuel leak, had to make an emergency landing on Okinawa with about five minutes of fuel to spare.

Contrary to mythology popular among more paranoid Catholic circles, Nagasaki was not chosen in an evil Masonic plot by Truman to wipe out Japanese Catholicism.  Urakami Cathedral was not the aiming point for the bomb, which was the Mitsubishi Steel and Arms Works.  The Cathedral was destroyed because the bomb missed its aiming point by three-quarters of a mile and exploded 500 feet from the Cathedral. Continue Reading

15

The Asian Holocaust

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”I want to make sure with my own eyes about this cruelty, so I can someday tell others about it as a witness.”

John Rabe, German Nazi businessman credited with organizing the efforts to save the lives of some 200,000 Chinese during the rape of Nanking that saw the murder of 300,000 Chinese civilians by the Imperial Japanese Army.

 

One of the problems of the analysis of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is that the events are often treated as if they occurred in a moral vacuum.  They did not.  Here are a few of the crimes of the Empire of Japan:

 

1. Launching a sneak attack against a country you are not at war with.

2. Murdering approximately 20 million civilians in a war of aggression.

3. Using live enemy POWs and civilians for bayonet practice.

4. Forcing enemy civilian women to serve as “comfort women” for your troops.

5. Starving POWs and interned enemy civilians.

6. Beheading enemy POWs and civilians for such serious crimes as stealing a bowl of rice or failing to bow low enough to a camp guard. Continue Reading

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Hiroshima Survivors

 

At my first law firm I worked with a charming Irishman, Tom Ryan.  Dead now sixteen years, during World War II he was a staff officer with the Eighth Air Force in Europe.  At the conclusion of the struggle on that continent he was slated to participate in the invasion of Japan.  He referred to himself as a Hiroshima survivor.  The late Paul Fussell, literary critic, I heartily recommend his The Great War and Modern Memory, served as an infantry Lieutenant in the fighting in France and Germany during  World War II.  He too was tagged to take part in the invasion of Japan. A political liberal after the War, in 1981 he wrote an essay entitled Thank God for the Atomic Bomb  in which he spoke for Hiroshima survivors like him:

 

When the atom bombs were dropped and news began to circulate that “Operation Olympic” would not, after all, be necessary, when we learned to our astonishment that we would not be obliged in a few months to rush up the beaches near Tokyo assault-firing while being machine-gunned, mortared, and shelled, for all the practiced phlegm of our tough facades we broke down and cried with relief and joy. We were going to live. We were going to grow to adulthood after all. The killing was all going to be over, and peace was actually going to be the state of things.

When the Enola Gay dropped its package, “There were cheers,” says John Toland, “over the intercom; it meant the end of the war.” Down on the ground the reaction of Sledge’s marine buddies when they heard the news was more solemn and complicated. They heard about the end of the war with quiet disbelief coupled with an indescribable sense of relief.

We thought the Japanese would never surrender. Many refused to believe it. . . . Sitting in stunned silence, we remembered our dead. So many dead. So many maimed. So many bright futures consigned to the ashes of the past. So many dreams lost in the madness that had engulfed us. Except for a few widely scattered shouts of joy, the survivors of the abyss sat hollow-eyed and silent, trying to comprehend a world without war.

These troops who cried and cheered with relief or who sat stunned by the weight of their experience are very different from the high-minded, guilt-ridden GIs we’re told about by J. Glenn Gray in his sensitive book The Warriors. During the war in Europe Gray was an interrogator in the Army Counterintelligence Corps, and in that capacity he experienced the war at Division level. There’s no denying that Gray’s outlook on everything was admirably noble, elevated, and responsible. After the war he became a much-admired professor of philosophy at Colorado College and an esteemed editor of Heidegger. But The Warriors, his meditation on the moral and psychological dimensions of modern soldiering, gives every sign of error occasioned by remoteness from experience. Division headquarters is miles—miles—behind the line where soldiers experience terror and madness and relieve those pressures by crazy brutality and sadism.

Indeed, unless they actually encountered the enemy during the war, most “soldiers” have very little idea what “combat” was like. As William Manchester says,

“All who wore uniforms are called veterans, but more than 90 percent of them are as uninformed about the killing zones as those on the home front.”

Manchester’s fellow marine E. B. Sledge thoughtfully and responsibly invokes the terms drastically and totally to underline the differences in experience between front and rear, and not even the far rear, but the close rear. “Our code of conduct toward the enemy,” he notes, “differed drastically from that prevailing back at the division CP.” (He’s describing gold-tooth extraction from still-living Japanese.) Again he writes:

“We existed in an environment totally incomprehensible to men behind the lines . . . ,”

even, he would insist, to men as intelligent and sensitive as Glenn Gray, who missed seeing with his own eyes Sledge’s marine friends sliding under fire down a shell-pocked ridge slimy with mud and liquid dysentery sh-t into the maggoty Japanese and USMC corpses at the bottom, vomiting as the maggots burrowed into their own foul clothing.

“We didn’t talk about such things,” says Sledge. “They were too horrible and obscene even for hardened veterans…. Nor do authors normally write about such vileness; unless they have seen it with their own eyes, it is too preposterous to think that men could actually live and fight for days and nights on end under such terrible conditions and not be driven insane.”

And Sledge has added a comment on such experience and the insulation provided by even a short distance: “Often people just behind our rifle companies couldn’t understand what we knew.” Glenn Gray was not in a rifle company, or even just behind one. “When the news of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki came,” he asks us to believe, “many an American soldier felt shocked and ashamed.” Shocked, OK, but why ashamed? Because we’d destroyed civilians? We’d been doing that for years, in raids on Hamburg and Berlin and Cologne and Frankfurt and Mannheim and Dresden, and Tokyo, and besides, the two A-bombs wiped out 10,000 Japanese troops, not often thought of now, John Hersey’s kindly physicians and Jesuit priests being more touching.

If around division headquarters some of the people Gray talked to felt ashamed, down in the rifle companies no one did, despite Gray’s assertions. “The combat soldier,” he says, knew better than did Americans at home what those bombs meant in suffering and injustice. The man of conscience realized intuitively that the vast majority of Japanese in both cities were no more, if no less, guilty of the war than were his own parents, sisters, or brothers. I find this canting nonsense. The purpose of the bombs was not to “punish” people but to stop the war.

To intensify the shame Gray insists we feel, he seems willing to fiddle the facts. The Hiroshima bomb, he says, was dropped “without any warning.” But actually, two days before, 720,000 leaflets were dropped on the city urging everyone to get out and indicating that the place was going to be (as the Potsdam Declaration had promised) obliterated. Of course few left.

Experience whispers that the pity is not that we used the bomb to end the Japanese war but that it wasn’t ready in time to end the German one. If only it could have been rushed into production faster and dropped at the right moment on the Reich Chancellery or Berchtesgaden or Hitler’s military headquarters in East Prussia (where Colonel Stauffenberg’s July 20 bomb didn’t do the job because it wasn’t big enough), much of the Nazi hierarchy could have been pulverized immediately, saving not just the embarrassment of the Nuremberg trials but the lives of around four million Jews, Poles, Slavs, and gypsies, not to mention the lives and limbs of millions of Allied and German soldiers.

If the bomb had only been ready in time, the young men of my infantry platoon would not have been so cruelly killed and wounded.  All this is not to deny that like the Russian Revolution, the atom-bombing of Japan was a vast historical tragedy, and every passing year magnifies the dilemma into which it has lodged the contemporary world.

As with the Russian Revolution, there are two sides—that’s why it’s a tragedy instead of a disaster—and unless we are, like Bruce Page, simple-mindedly unimaginative and cruel, we will be painfully aware of both sides at once.

To observe that from the viewpoint of the war’s victims-to-be the bomb seemed precisely the right thing to drop is to purchase no immunity from horror. To experience both sides, one might study the book Unforgettable Fire: Pictures Drawn by Atomic Bomb Survivors, which presents a number of amateur drawings and watercolors of the Hiroshima scene made by middle-aged and elderly survivors for a peace exhibition in 1975. In addition to the almost unbearable pictures, the book offers brief moments of memoir not for the weak-stomached:

While taking my severely wounded wife out to the river bank . . ., I was horrified indeed at the sight of a stark naked man standing in the rain with his eyeball in his palm. He looked to be in great pain but there was nothing that I could do for him. I wonder what became of him. Even today I vividly remember the sight. I was simply miserable.

These childlike drawings and paintings are of skin hanging down, breasts torn off, people bleeding and burning, dying mothers nursing dead babies. A bloody woman holds a bloody child in the ruins of a house, and the artist remembers her calling, “Please help this child! Someone, please help this child. Please help! Someone, please.”

As Samuel Johnson said of the smothering of Desdemona, the innocent in another tragedy, “It is not to be endured.” Nor, it should be noticed, is an infantryman’s account of having his arm blown off in the Arno Valley in Italy in 1944:

I wanted to die and die fast. I wanted to forget this miserable world. I cursed the war, I cursed the people who were responsible for it, I cursed God for putting me here … to suffer for something I never did or knew anything about. (A good place to interrupt and remember Glenn Gray’s noble but hopelessly one-sided remarks about “injustice,” as well as “suffering.”) “For this was hell,” the soldier goes on, and I never imagined anything or anyone could suffer so bitterly I screamed and cursed. Why? What had I done to deserve this? But no answer came. I yelled for medics, because subconsciously I wanted to live. I tried to apply my right hand over my bleeding stump, but I didn’t have the strength to hold it. I looked to the left of me and saw the bloody mess that was once my left arm; its fingers and palm were turned upward, like a flower looking to the sun for its strength.

The future scholar-critic who writes The History of Canting in the Twentieth Century will find much to study and interpret in the utterances of those who dilate on the special wickedness of the A-bomb-droppers. He will realize that such utterance can perform for the speaker a valuable double function. First, it can display the fineness of his moral weave. And second, by implication it can also inform the audience that during the war he was not socially so unfortunate as to find himself down there with the ground forces, where he might have had to compromise the purity and clarity of his moral system by the experience of weighing his own life against someone else’s. Down there, which is where the other people were, is the place where coarse self-interest is the rule. When the young soldier with the wild eyes comes at you, firing, do you shoot him in the foot, hoping he’ll be hurt badly enough to drop or mis-aim the gun with which he’s going to kill you, or do you shoot him in the chest (or, if you’re a prime shot, in the head) and make certain that you and not he will be the survivor of that mortal moment? Continue Reading

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August 7, 1945: No Japanese Surrender

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One of the arguments of critics of Truman’s use of the atomic bomb, is that a demonstration could have been made of it without blood being shed, over the ocean for example, the Japanese would have seen the power of the bomb and surrendered.  Well, we know that is incorrect.  We know that because the Japanese did not surrender after Hiroshima.  We also know that the Japanese had no intention of surrendering after Hiroshima.  Discussions within the Japanese cabinet were deadlocked until the second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, with the dominant war faction claiming that the US probably had no more atomic bombs and that their strategy of holding out, inflicting a defeat on an American land invasion, and then negotiating from strength, was the best strategy for Japan.  The deadlock continued on August 9, 1945 when the atomic bombing of Nagasaki caused the war and peace factions to agree to bring their differences to the Emperor. Continue Reading

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Truman Announces the Bombing of Hiroshima

 

Truman’s statement after Hiroshima was classic Harry Truman:  blunt, concise and no confusion about who had made the decision and what he intended to do next if Japan did not capitulate.  Truman did not write it, he was still at sea returning from the Potsdam conference, but Arthur W. Page who did captured Truman’s style perfectly.  His statement in the text given to the press that Hiroshima was an important army base has engendered a lot of criticism, although considering that the Second General Army, that commanded Japanese defenses in southern Japan, was headquartered in Hiroshima, and that on the day of the bombing there were 43,000 Japanese troops stationed in Hiroshima, of which 20,000 died, a good argument can be made for his interpretation.  Here is Truman’s statement:

A short time ago an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima and destroyed its usefulness to the enemy. That bomb had more power than 20,000 tons of TNT. It had more than two thousand times the blast power of the British “Grand Slam” which is the largest bomb ever yet used in the history of warfare.

The Japanese began the war from the air at Pearl Harbor. They have been repaid many fold. And the end is not yet. With this bomb we have now added a new and revolutionary increase in destruction to supplement the growing power of our armed forces. In their present form these bombs are now in production and even more powerful forms are in development.

It is an atomic bomb. It is a harnessing of the basic power of the universe. The force from which the sun draws its power has been loosed against those who brought war to the Far East.

Before 1939, it was the accepted belief of scientists that it was theoretically possible to release atomic energy. But no one knew any practical method of doing it. By 1942, however, we knew that the Germans were working feverishly to find a way to add atomic energy to the other engines of war with which they hoped to enslave the world. But they failed. We may be grateful to Providence that the Germans got the V-1’s and V-2’s late and in limited quantities and even more grateful that they did not get the atomic bomb at all.

The battle of the laboratories held fateful risks for us as well as the battles of the air, land, and sea, and we have now won the battle of the laboratories as we have won the other battles.

Beginning in 1940, before Pearl Harbor, scientific knowledge useful in was pooled between the United States and Great Britain, and many priceless helps to our victories have come from that arrangement. Under that general policy the research on the atomic bomb was begun. With American and British scientists working together we entered the race of discovery against the Germans. Continue Reading

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August 6, 1945: Bombing of Hiroshima

 

In 2002 Studs Terkel interviewed retired General Paul Tibbets about the Hiroshima bombing:

 

Paul Tibbets:  I think I went to Los Alamos [the Manhattan project HQ] three times, and each time I got to see Dr Oppenheimer working in his own environment. Later, thinking about it, here’s a young man, a brilliant person. And he’s a chain smoker and he drinks cocktails. And he hates fat men. And General Leslie Groves [the general in charge of the Manhattan project], he’s a fat man, and he hates people who smoke and drink. The two of them are the first, original odd couple.

 
Studs Terkel:  They had a feud, Groves and Oppenheimer?

 
Paul Tibbets:  Yeah, but neither one of them showed it. Each one of them had a job to do.

 
Studs Terkel:  Did Oppenheimer tell you about the destructive nature of the bomb?
Paul Tibbets:  No.

 
Studs Terkel:  How did you know about that?

 
Paul Tibbets:  From Dr Ramsey. He said the only thing we can tell you about it is, it’s going to explode with the force of 20,000 tons of TNT. I’d never seen 1 lb of TNT blow up. I’d never heard of anybody who’d seen 100 lbs of TNT blow up. All I felt was that this was gonna be one hell of a big bang.

 
Studs Terkel:  Twenty thousand tons – that’s equivalent to how many planes full of bombs?

 
Paul Tibbets:  Well, I think the two bombs that we used [at Hiroshima and Nagasaki] had more power than all the bombs the air force had used during the war in Europe.

 
Studs Terkel:  So Ramsey told you about the possibilities.
Paul Tibbets:  Even though it was still theory, whatever those guys told me, that’s what happened. So I was ready to say I wanted to go to war, but I wanted to ask Oppenheimer how to get away from the bomb after we dropped it. I told him that when we had dropped bombs in Europe and North Africa, we’d flown straight ahead after dropping them – which is also the trajectory of the bomb. But what should we do this time? He said, “You can’t fly straight ahead because you’d be right over the top when it blows up and nobody would ever know you were there.” He said I had to turn tangent to the expanding shock wave. I said, “Well, I’ve had some trigonometry, some physics. What is tangency in this case?” He said it was 159 degrees in either direction. “Turn 159 degrees as fast as you can and you’ll be able to put yourself the greatest distance from where the bomb exploded.”

 
Studs Terkel:  How many seconds did you have to make that turn?

 
Paul Tibbets:  I had dropped enough practice bombs to realize that the charges would blow around 1,500 ft in the air, so I would have 40 to 42 seconds to turn 159 degrees. I went back to Wendover as quick as I could and took the airplane up. I got myself to 25,000 ft and I practiced turning, steeper, steeper, steeper and I got it where I could pull it round in 40 seconds. The tail was shaking dramatically and I was afraid of it breaking off, but I didn’t quit. That was my goal. And I practiced and practiced until, without even thinking about it, I could do it in between 40 and 42, all the time. So, when that day came….
Studs Terkel:  You got the go-ahead on August 5.

 
Paul Tibbets:  Yeah. We were in Tinian [the US island base in the Pacific] at the time we got the OK. They had sent this Norwegian to the weather station out on Guam [the US’s westernmost territory] and I had a copy of his report. We said that, based on his forecast, the sixth day of August would be the best day that we could get over Honshu [the island on which Hiroshima stands]. So we did everything that had to be done to get the crews ready to go: airplane loaded, crews briefed, all of the things checked that you have to check before you can fly over enemy territory. General Groves had a brigadier-general who was connected back to Washington DC by a special teletype machine. He stayed close to that thing all the time, notifying people back there, all by code, that we were preparing these airplanes to go any time me after midnight on the sixth. And that’s the way it worked out. We were ready to go at about four o’clock in the afternoon on the fifth and we got word from the president that we were free to go: “Use me as you wish.” They give you a time you’re supposed to drop your bomb on target and that was 9:15 in the morning , but that was Tinian time, one hour later than Japanese time. I told Dutch, “You figure it out what time we have to start after midnight to be over the target at 9 a.m.”
Studs Terkel:  That’d be Sunday morning.’

 
Paul Tibbets:  Well, we got going down the runway at right about 2:15 a.m. and we took off, we met our rendezvous guys, we made our flight up to what we call the initial point, that would be a geographic position that you could not mistake. Well, of course we had the best one in the world with the rivers and bridges and that big shrine. There was no mistaking what it was.

 
Studs Terkel:  So you had to have the right navigator to get it on the button.

 
Paul Tibbets:  The airplane has a bomb sight connected to the autopilot and the bombardier puts figures in there for where he wants to be when he drops the weapon, and that’s transmitted to the airplane. We always took into account what would happen if we had a failure and the bomb bay doors didn’t open; we had a manual release put in each airplane so it was right down by the bombardier and he could pull on that. And the guys in the airplanes that followed us to drop the instruments needed to know when it was going to go. We were told not to use the radio, but, hell, I had to. I told them I would say, “One minute out,” “Thirty seconds out,” “Twenty seconds” and “Ten” and then I’d count, “Nine, eight, seven, six, five, four seconds”, which would give them a time to drop their cargo. They knew what was going on because they knew where we were. And that’s exactly the way it worked; it was absolutely perfect. After we got the airplanes in formation I crawled into the tunnel and went back to tell the men, I said, “You know what we’re doing today?” They said, “Well, yeah, we’re going on a bombing mission.” I said, “Yeah, we’re going on a bombing mission, but it’s a little bit special.” My tail gunner, Bob Caron, was pretty alert. He said, “Colonel, we wouldn’t be playing with atoms today, would we?” I said, “Bob, you’ve got it just exactly right.” So I went back up in the front end and I told the navigator, bombardier, flight engineer, in turn. I said, “OK, this is an atom bomb we’re dropping.” They listened intently but I didn’t see any change in their faces or anything else. Those guys were no idiots. We’d been fiddling round with the most peculiar-shaped things we’d ever seen. So we’re coming down. We get to that point where I say “one second” and by the time I’d got that second out of my mouth the airplane had lurched, because 10,000 lbs had come out of the front. I’m in this turn now, tight as I can get it, that helps me hold my altitude and helps me hold my airspeed and everything else all the way round. When I level out, the nose is a little bit high and as I look up there the whole sky is lit up in the prettiest blues and pinks I’ve ever seen in my life. It was just great. I tell people I tasted it. “Well,” they say, “what do you mean?” When I was a child, if you had a cavity in your tooth the dentist put some mixture of some cotton or whatever it was and lead into your teeth and pounded them in with a hammer. I learned that if Ihad a spoon of ice-cream and touched one of those teeth I got this electrolysis and I got the taste of lead out of it. And I knew right away what it was. OK, we’re all going. We had been briefed to stay off the radios: “Don’t say a damn word, what we do is we make this turn, we’re going to get out of here as fast as we can.” I want to get out over the sea of Japan because I know they can’t find me over there. With that done we’re home free. Then Tom Ferebee has to fill out his bombardier’s report and Dutch, the navigator, has to fill out a log. Tom is working on his log and says, “Dutch, what time were we over the target?” And Dutch says, “Nine-fifteen plus 15 seconds.” Ferebee says: “What lousy navigating. Fifteen seconds off!”
Studs Terkel:  Did you hear an explosion?

 
Paul Tibbets:  Oh yeah. The shockwave was coming up at us after we turned. And the tail gunner said, “Here it comes.” About the time he said that, we got this kick in the ass. I had accelerometers installed in all airplanes to record the magnitude of the bomb. It hit us with two and a half G. Next day, when we got figures from the scientists on what they had learned from all the things, they said, “When that bomb exploded, your airplane was 10 and half miles away from it.”

 
Studs Terkel:  Did you see that mushroom cloud?

 
Paul Tibbets:  You see all kinds of mushroom clouds, but they were made with different types of bombs. The Hiroshima bomb did not make a mushroom. It was what I call a stringer. It just came up. It was black as hell and it had light and colors and white in it and grey color in it and the top was like afolded-up Christmas tree.

 
Studs Terkel:  Do you have any idea what happened down below?

 
Paul Tibbets:  Pandemonium! I think it’s best stated by one of the historians, who said: “In one micro-second, the city of Hiroshima didn’t exist.”

Go here to read the rest of the interview. Continue Reading

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August 5, 1945: Briefing For the Hiroshima Mission

At midnight August 5-6, Colonel Paul Tibbets held a final briefing for the 26 men who would fly the three planes for the Hiroshima mission.  Enola Gay, named after Tibbets’ mother, would carry the atomic bomb and be piloted by Tibbets.  The Great Artiste would measure the blast with special instruments.  A then unnamed plane, later known as Necessary Evil, would photograph the bomb and carry scientific observers.  At the end of the briefing a 25 year old Protestant Army Chaplain, Bill Downey, gave the following prayer:

Almighty Father, Who wilt hear the prayer of them that love Thee, we pray Thee to be with those who brave the heights of Thy heaven and who carry the battle to our enemies. Guard and protect them, we pray Thee, as they fly their appointed rounds. May they, as well as we, know Thy strength and power, and armed with Thy might may they bring this war to a rapid end. We pray Thee that the end of the war may come soon, and that once more we may know peace on earth. May the men who fly this night be kept safe in Thy care, and may they be returned safely to us. We shall go forward trusting in Thee, knowing that we are in Thy care now and forever. In the Name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Interviewed in 1985 he noted that he was often asked what he would say to the survivors of the bombing: Continue Reading

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Volunteer Fighting Corps

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On March 23, 1945 the Japanese government ordered the formation of the Volunteer Fighting Corps.  Contrary to the name of the organization, there was nothing voluntary about it.  All Japanese males from 15-60 and all Japanese women from 17-40 were considered to have “enlisted” in this organization.  This produced a force of approximately 28,000,000, overwhelmingly made up of old men, girls and women, since the Japanese had already conscripted virtually every male of military age.  The Japanese military was made responsible for training and arming this huge force.  In practice this often resulted in masses of Japanese civilians drilling with spears, Japan lacking sufficient small arms to intially arm the civilian-soldiers.

Hiroshima Volunteers

Although it had its comical “Dad’s Army” aspect, the mobilization scheme was deadly serious.  Volunteer Fighting Corps units in the event of invasion were to be “married” to regular units and provide combat support and combat services.  They would in effect serve as cannon fodder to spare the trained and armed Japanese regular Army units.  They were planned to serve as garrisons for the host of defensive bastions being constructed throughout Japan.  Special units were trained to conduct a guerilla war behind American lines as the invasion progressed.  The Japanese were proceeding forward with these plans with their usual efficiency, and by the planned invasion time of November 1945 the Volunteer Fighting Corps would have been a formidable force multiplier for the Japanese Army, albeit at the cost of hideous casualties among the impressed civilians. Continue Reading

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One Hundred Million Die Proudly

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As the Americans prepared to drop atomic bombs on the Japanese, the Japanese government was mobilizing the entire population of Japan to impose massive casualties on any Ameircan invasion.

According to the Japanese defensive plan Ketsu-Go, there were now precious few civilians in Japan:

“The defensive plan called for the use of the Civilian Volunteer Corps, a mobilization not of volunteers but of all boys and men 15 to 60 and all girls and women 17 to 40, except for those exempted as unfit. They were trained with hand grenades, swords, sickles, knives, fire hooks, and bamboo spears. These civilians, led by regular forces, were to make extensive use of night infiltration patrols armed with light weapons and demolitions.(43) Also, the Japanese had not prepared, and did not intend to prepare, any plan for the evacuation of civilians or for the declaration of open cities.(44) The southern third of Kyushu had a population of 2,400,000 within the 3,500 square miles included in the Prefectures of Kagoshima and Miyazaki.(45) The defensive plan was to actively defend the few selected beach areas at the beach, and then to mass reserves for an all-out counterattack if the invasion forces succeeded in winning a beachhead.(46)” Continue Reading

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July 31, 1945: Letter From Stimson

Little Boy was assembled on Tinian on July 31.  The bomb could in theory be dropped the next day.  However a typhoon was moving towards Japan and weather would delay the bomb drop for several days.  Secretary of War Henry Stimson sent to Harry Truman a proposed statement to be released after the bomb drop:

Letter of Statement Draft
From: Henry Stimson, Secretary of War
To: Harry S Truman, President of the United States of America
Date: July 31, 1945

July 31, 1945
Dear Mr. President:

Attached are two copies of the revised statement which has been prepared for release by you as soon as the new weapon is used. This is the statement about which I cabled you last night. 

The reason for the haste is that I was informed only yesterday that, weather permitting, it is likely that the weapon will be used as early as August 1st, Pacific Ocean Time, which as you know is a good many hours ahead of Washington time.

This message and inclosure are being brought to you by Lt. R. G. Arneson, whom Secretary Byrnes will recognize as the Secretary of the Interim Committee, appointed with your approval, to study various features of the development and use of the atomic bomb. 

Faithfully yours,
Secretary of War.

  Continue Reading

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July 29, 1945: 509th Composite Group Receives Attack Order

Nobody knows

Into the air the secret rose
Where they´re going, nobody knows
Tomorrow they´ll return again
But we´ll never know where they´ve been.
Don´t ask us about results or such
Unless you want to get in Dutch.
But take it from one who is sure of the score,
the 509th is winning the war.

When the other Groups are ready to go
We have a program of the whole damned show
And when Halsey´s 5th shells Nippon´s shore
Why, shucks, we hear about it the day before.
And MacArthur and Doolittle give out in advance
But with this new bunch we haven´t a chance
We should have been home a month or more
For the 509th is winning the war

Anonymous, doggerel made up by pilots of other air groups about the “hush-hush” 509th

Activated on December 17, 1944, the 509th Composite Group of the United States Army Air Corps was commanded by Colonel Paul Tibbets, at 29 already a seasoned air combat veteran in Europe. The flying units of the Group, in addition to support units, consisted of the 393rd Bombardment Squadron and the 320th Troop Carrier Squadron, 1767 personnel, 15 B-29 bombers and 5 C-54 transports.  The Group was based and trained at Wendover Air Force Base in Utah.

Training was conducted in intense secrecy with the officers and men advised that any breach of security would be punished with the utmost severity, which might well include the death penalty.  Curious officers and men of other units were warned away at gun point.

The unit re-deployed to Tinian on June 11, 1945.  The unit engaged in numerous practice bombing missions, including twelve over targets over the Home Islands, with special “pumpkin bombs” replicating the dimensions of the “Fat Man” atomic bomb. Continue Reading

July 28, 1945: B-25 Bomber Crashes into Empire State Building

Aviation was only 42 years old in 1945 and flying a plane, especially in fog, was as much an art as a science.  This was demonstrated on Saturday, July 28, 1945 when a B-25 Mitchell bomber, Old John Feather Merchant, struck the north side of the Empire State Building between the 78th and 80th stories, striking the building where the National Catholic Welfare Council, the predecessor organization of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Flying to Newark Airport, the pilot, Lieutenant Colonel William Franklin Smith, Jr., was advised of zero visibility conditions by the landing tower at La Guardia and advised to land which he declined to do.  A 1942 graduate of West Point, the 27 year old Smith was an experienced combat pilot with forty missions with the Eighth Air Force, and had earned a Distinguished Flying Cross with cluster.  It is theorized that Smith became confused and thought he was over New Jersey when he was actually over downtown New York at a hair-raising 500 feet.  He managed to avoid three skyscrapers before careering into the fourteen year old Empire State Building.

All three men on the bomber were killed instantly and eleven people in the building, with twenty-five wounded.  Twenty year old elevator operator Betty Lou Oliver survived a 75 floor elevator plunge caused by the crash.  The resulting fire was put out in 45 minutes. Continue Reading

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July 26, 1945: Prompt and Utter Destruction

At the Potsdam Conference on July 26, 1945, the governments of the United States, Great Britain and China announced their terms of surrender for Japan.  The key points of the Declaration:

1.  Any occupation of Japan would be temporary until a democratic, peaceful, government was established and firmly in control, and the other goals of the occupation had been achieved.

2.  Japan, by trade, would have access to overseas raw materials and food.

3.  Japanese military forces would be disarmed and allowed to return to their homes.  Japan was to be deprived of any war making capability.

4.  Japan would consist of the Home Islands and such other minor islands as determined by the Allies.

5.  Stern justice would be meted out to Japanese war criminals.

6.  The Japanese were warned that the terms would not be deviated from and that failure of Japan to immediately surrender would result in prompt and immediate destruction.  Here is the text of the Declaration: Continue Reading

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July 17, 1945: Szilard Petition

Leo Szilard was perhaps the most important figure in initiating the Manhattan Project.  His drafting the letter for the signature in 1939 by Albert Einstein to FDR, began the process which led to the development of the atomic bomb.  Szilard, like many of the top atomic scientists, was a Jewish refugee from Europe.  They had a completely understandable hatred of the Third Reich and a fear that Nazi Germany would discover the atomic bomb first and go on to win the War.  With the fall of Germany, the use of the atomic bomb raised moral questions in their minds that had not existed when Nazi Germany was the target.  Below is the Szilard petition signed by him and 69 other scientists and technicians who worked on the bomb.  What is usually overlooked in discussions of the petition, is that the US followed precisely the policy outlined in the Petition: Continue Reading

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July 16, 1945: Trinity Test

Batter my heart, three person’d God.

John Donne

At 5:29 AM Mountain War Time, seventy years ago, the first atomic bomb, nicknamed The Gadget, exploded with the force of 20 kilotons of TNT.  The test was called Trinity.  J. Robert Oppenheimer, the director of the Los Alamos Laboratory, gave the test its name.  He couldn’t recall why he chose the name, but suspected that his interest in some of the religious poetry of John Donne played a role, pointing to the verse at the beginning of this post as a possible source.

A brilliant physicist, Oppenheimer was inclined to be melancholy and had an eclectic interest in religious mysticism, rather at odds with his secular Jewish upbringing and the leftist academic milieu in which he led his life.

His visible reaction to the success of the test was rather prosaic:  “It worked.”

Twenty years later he said this was going through his mind:

I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita; Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and, to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” I suppose we all thought that, one way or another. Continue Reading

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Last Voyage of the Indianapolis

 

Hours after the successful test of the first atomic bomb on July 16, 1945, the USS Indianapolis left San Francisco with a top secret cargo that mystified the crew.  The cruiser delivered Little Boy, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, to Tinian on July 26, 1945.  On July 30, 1945 it was sunk by Japanese sub I-58.  900 of the crew made it into the water.  SOS signals, contrary to the Jaws video clip, were sent off.  Three Navy stations received the SOS signal.  At the first station the commander was drunk.  At the second station the commander had left orders not to be disturbed.    The third station wrote off the SOS signal as a Japanese prank.  The Navy denied that the SOS signals had been received for years, and only the release of declassified material revealed the criminal negligence involved.  When the ship failed to dock at Leyte as expected on July 31, 1944, the port operations director Lieutenant Stuart B. Gibson inexplicably failed to report that the Indianapolis had gone missing.

This resulted in the men of the Indianapolis being in the water for 3 and a half days until they were spotted by a routine air patrol.  Heroic efforts were then undertaken to rescue the survivors.  321 men were rescued, four of whom died soon thereafter.  Most of the almost 600 men who escaped the ship and died in the water had been killed by hundreds of sharks who swarmed about the survivors.  Among the dead was Lieutenant Thomas Conway, the ship’s Catholic chaplain.  He spent his time in the water swimming from group to group, praying with the men, encouraging them, and reasoning with men driven to despair.  When Father Conway died on August 2, 1945, he was the last American chaplain killed in World War II.

Captain Charles B. McVay III, the skipper of the Indianapolis, had been wounded in the sinking and was among those who survived to be rescued.  He repeatedly asked why it took so long for the Navy to rescue his men, a question the Navy did not answer.  Instead, McVay  was court martialed, a scapegoat for an episode that had tarnished the image of the Navy.  He was convicted for not zigzagging, which was farcical since he had been told to use his discretion in regard to zigzagging, and with high-speed torpedoes and improved aiming devices aboard subs, zigzagging was not an effective technique for a ship to avoid being torpedoed by the end of World War II.

Admiral Chester Nimitz, the commander of the Pacific Fleet, recognizing the fundamental injustice of the court martial, restored McVay to duty and he retired as a Rear Admiral in 1949.  Although most of the surviving crewmen of the Indianapolis regarded him as a hero, McVay was eaten away by guilt over the deaths of his crewmen, guilt that was exacerbated by hate mail and hate phone calls he periodically revealed from a few of the families of some of the men who died in the sinking and its aftermath.

After the death of his wife in 1966, McVay took his own life, clutching in his hand a toy sailor given to him by his father.  In 1996 a twelve year old school boy, Hunter Scott, launched a campaign to clear McVay’s name.  The campaign to clear McVay was supported by former Lieutenant Commander Mochitsura Hashimoto who had commanded the I-58 and who noted in a letter that zigzagging would have had no impact on his torpedo attack. Continue Reading

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Father Thomas Michael Conway: Last US Chaplain to Die in World War II

Father Thomas Michael Conway

 (Much of the information contained in this post was taken from a post on Father Conway written by Bill Millhome.  Go here to read his post.)

Early this year the Navy rejected efforts to have Father Thomas Michael Conway awarded the Navy Cross.  I would be angrier at this injustice if I was not certain that the Chaplain had not been awarded the ultimate blessing of sainthood and the Beatific Vision immediately after his heroic death in shark infested waters at the tail end of World War II.

Born on April 5, 1908 in Waterbury, Connecticut, he was the oldest of three children of his Irish immigrant parents.  Ordained a priest in 1934 he served as a priest in various parishes in Buffalo, New York.  His main leisure activities was sailing a boat on Lake Erie.  On September 17, 1942 he enlisted in the Navy and was commissioned as a chaplain.

On August 25, 1944 he was assigned to the cruiser USS Indianapolis as a chaplain.

July 29, 1945 was a Sunday, and the Chaplain had said Mass for the Catholic sailors, and conducted a service for the Protestant sailors.  Fourteen minutes past midnight two torpedoes fired by the Japanese sub I-58 ripped into the starboard bow of the Indianapolis.  The ship sank in twelve minutes, taking 300 men to the bottom with it.  Nine hundred sailors, including the chaplain, were adrift in the pitch black shark infested waters.

Frank J. Centazzo, one of the 317 survivors of this ordeal, recalled what the Chaplain did, as he swam from group to group, tending the wounded, leading the men in prayer and giving the  Last Rites to sailors beyond all human aid:

“Father Conway was in every way a messenger of our Lord. He loved his work no matter what the challenge. He was respected and loved by all his shipmates. I was in the group with Father Conway. … I saw him go from one small group to another. Getting the shipmates to join in prayer and asking them not to give up hope of being rescued. He kept working until he was exhausted. I remember on the third day late in the afternoon when he approached me and Paul McGiness. He was thrashing the water and Paul and I held him so he could rest a few hours. Later, he managed to get away from us and we never saw him again. Father Conway was successful in his mission to provide spiritual strength to all of us. He made us believe that we would be rescued. He gave us hope and the will to endure. His work was exhausting and he finally succumbed in the evening of the third day. He will be remembered by all of the survivors for all of his work while on board the ‘Indy’ and especially three days in the ocean.” Continue Reading

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Returning Soldiers: It’s Your America

The Army during World War II had training films for everything including demobilization.  This one, Returning Soldiers: It’s Your America, stars actor Arthur Kennedy who spent his war making training films for the Army Air Corps.  This film told the returning troops an essential truth:  they were coming back different men.  It also reminded them why they had gone through this life changing experience:  America.  Unusually well done for a training film, and I appreciated the device of using a Lincoln penny to convey the meaning of America to the soldier in the film.

At the end of his harrowing combat memoir, aptly entitled To Hell and Back, Audie Murphy, the most decorated US soldier in World War II, I think spoke for a lot of combat veterans when he ended with these lines (They are made more poignant because Murphy would continue to have nightmares about the War for the rest of his life.): Continue Reading

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Death of General Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr.

LtGen__Simon_Bolivar_Buckner_Jr__and_MajGen__Roy_Geiger_at_Okinawa

The final remnants of resistance on Okinawa were crushed on June 21, and the United States was stunned by the American casualties of approximately 80,000.  For a nation that was becoming weary of war, this was a bitter victory.  One casualty stood out:  Lieutenant General Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr, the commander of the Tenth Army, the invasion force.

The product of a May-November marriage, Buckner’s mother was 29 and his father, Simon Bolivar Buckner, a former Confederate Lieutenant General, was 63 when he was born in 1883, like his father he was a West Point graduate, class of 1908.  Much of his career was spent either attending or teaching at Army schools, including a stint as Commandant at West Point.  Prior to being tabbed to command the Tenth Army, Buckner spent most of the War in the Pacific sideshow of Alaska.

On June 18, 1945 Buckner was inspecting an observation post when a Japanese artillery shell exploded in nearby coral driving fragments into his chest.  He died on the operating table.   The General was warned just prior to the artillery barrage to remove his helmet with three stars that might attract enemy fire.  He did so, but by that time the Japanese, ever on the alert, had probably targeted him. Continue Reading

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June 12, 1945: Guildhall Address By Eisenhower

Seventy years ago General Eisenhower was honored at the Guildhall in London by being presented with a ceremonial sword and being made an honorary Londoner.  His speech, that he gave without notes, is quite eloquent and belies his usual reputation of being a poor public speaker.  It deserves to be better known and here is the text of the speech:

 

The high sense of distinction I feel in receiving this great honor from the city of London is inescapably mingled with feelings of profound sadness. All of us must always regret that your country and mine were ever faced with the tragic situation that compelled the appointment of an Allied Commander-in-Chief, the capacity in which I have just been so extravagantly commended.

 

Humility must always be the portion of any man who receives acclaim earned in the blood of his followers and the sacrifices of his friends. Conceivably a commander may have been professionally superior. He may have given everything of his heart and mind to meet the spiritual and physical needs of his comrades. He may have written a chapter that will glow forever in the pages of military history. Still, even such a man, if he existed, would sadly face the fact that his honors cannot hide in his memories the crosses marking the resting places of the dead. They cannot soothe the anguish of the widow or the orphan whose husband or whose father will not return.

 

The only attitude in which a commander may with satisfaction receive the tributes of his friends is a humble acknowledgement that, no matter how unworthy he may be, his position is a symbol of great human forces that have labored arduously and successfully for a righteous cause. Unless he feels this symbolism and this rightness in what he has tried to do, then he is disregardful of the courage, the fortitude and the devotion of the vast multitudes he has been honored to command. If all the allied men and women that have served with me in this war can only know that it is they this august body is really honoring today, then, indeed, will I be content. Continue Reading

May 7, 1945: Nazi Germany Surrenders

 

Home alive in ’45 was the watchword of US troops as they headed into Germany in the spring of 1945, although I imagine that many of them could not quite believe it.  Then it was all over.  Hitler added to his lengthy murders by killing himself on April 30, and his successors wasted no time in putting an end to a hopeless struggle.  V-E day was celebrated in Europe on May 7 and in the US on May 8.

Not all Americans celebrated.  Those fighting in the Pacific realized their war was far from over, as Eugene Sledge, serving with the Old Breed (1rst Marine Division) recalled: Continue Reading

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April 24, 1945: Death of Father Cyclone

father-larry-lynch

 

Larry Lynch was born, the first of 12 kids in his family, in the City Line neighborhood of Brooklyn on October 17, 1906.  He grew up on some pretty tough streets while also serving as an altar boy at Saint Sylvester’s.   He came to greatly admire the Redemptorists, an order of missionary priests founded by Saint Alphonsus Liguori in 1732.  In America the order had distinguished itself by its work in some of the roughest slums in the country and thus it was small wonder that a tough street kid would be attracted to them.  Larry Lynch was ordained a priest in the Redemptorist Order in 1932.

His initial assignment was as a missionary priest in Brazil, in the parishes of Miranda and Aquidauana in the State of Mato Grosso, quite a change from Brooklyn!  In 1937 he served at Old Saint Mary’s in Buffalo, New York with mission assignments to Orangeburg, North Carolina and Ephrata, Pa.

Prior to Pearl Harbor, in September 1941, Father Lynch enlisted in the Army as a chaplain.  He served at Camp Wheeler, Georgia, Fort Polk, Lousiana, and in the Mojave Desert in California with the 31rst regiment of the 7th Armored Division.  In December 1943 he was sent overseas to New Caledonia in the Southwest Pacific.

Assigned initially to the 42nd Quarter Master Battalion in Noumea, Captain Lynch quickly began making himself unforgettable.  The commander of the outfit was Lieutenant Colonel Julius Klein, a remarkable man in his own right who had served as an American spy in Germany during World War I.  Klein, to his astonishment, found himself agreeing that he and all the staff officers in the battalion would be at Christmas Mass that evening, although he wondered what a Jew like him would be doing at a  Catholic Mass!  Father Lynch had that type of effect on people, his enthusiasm tended to overwhelm all opposition.  He decided that the chapel was too small for the Mass and it was held in the base amphitheater.  The amphitheater filled to capacity, the Christmas carols at the Mass were led by a soldier named  Goldstein, a great tenor, who Father Lynch had met on the troop transport.  Father Lynch explained the priest’s vestments prior to beginning for the benefit of the non-Catholics present:

“Father Stearns of the Navy will celebrate the Mass.   Before he begins, there’s a lot even Catholics should know and I’ll bet a nickel there are some right here who couldn’t explain why a priest wears all those vestments, for example.  Well, it’s time we all knew why and it won’t hurt you non-Catholics to know either.”

“Father Stearns will begin to put on his vestments, and while he does, well talk about them a little. First, as to the why. Every one of them is a symbol, a symbol of service to God.”

He picked up the amice and held it high. “This, for example. It’s just a piece of linen, and it is called an amice: A-M-I-C-E. Jesus was blindfolded, and the amice represents that blindfold. Okay, Father.”

He extended the amice to Father Stearns who put it on.

“Herod placed a garment on Jesus to make a fool of Him. You remember that.  This white robe white to signify purity is an alb: A-L-B, and the alb is symbolic of that garment.  Incidentally there are six colors used by the church and each one of them is significant: white for purity and joy, red for blood and fire, green is the symbol of hope, violet for penance. . . .”

The Mass had a huge impact on everyone present, and Colonel Klein announced that he was glad he came. Continue Reading

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Quotes Suitable for Framing: William Manchester

 

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.

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February 23, 1945: The Mass on Mount Suribachi

mass-on-mount-suribachi1

 

 

 

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.

Tasked with the mission of seizing the island was the V Marine Amphibious Corp, under the command of General Holland “Howlin’ Mad” Smith, consisting of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Divisions.

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

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Prisoner 16670

(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?

Continue Reading

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The Stilwell Road and Merrill’s Mauraders

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

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Churchill Tribute

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

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Christmas 1944: Battle of the Bulge

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

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Patton on Prayer

 

 

“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

5

Patton’s Prayer

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

4

Time to be Great Again

 

 

 

 

Hattip to Instapundit:

 

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,
8 battleships,
48 cruisers,
349 destroyers,
420 destroyer escorts,
203 submarines,
34 million tons of merchant ships,
100,000 fighter aircraft,
98,000 bombers,
24,000 transport aircraft,
58,000 training aircraft,
93,000 tanks,
257,000 artillery pieces,
105,000 mortars,
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.

Ouch.

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