World War II
Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, Members of the Senate, and of the House of Representatives:
Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan. Continue reading
“Almighty and most merciful Father, we humbly beseech Thee, of Thy great goodness, to restrain these immoderate rains with which we have had to contend. Grant us fair weather for Battle. Graciously hearken to us as soldiers who call upon Thee that, armed with Thy power, we may advance from victory to victory, and crush the oppression and wickedness of our enemies and establish Thy justice among men and nations.”
The famous “weather prayer” of General Patton was written by a Catholic Chaplain, Colonel James H. O’Neill. 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
“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.
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
Justices Murphy and Rutledge wrote memorable dissents: Continue reading
(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
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
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
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 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
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.
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
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
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
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
”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
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
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
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