The Primate Diaries


Japanese artists’ depiction of the horrors at Hiroshima.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum

On August 6, 1945 the United States dropped “Little Boy,” the first of only two nuclear bombs ever used in warfare, on the Japanese civilians at Hiroshima. In an instant flash of light an estimated 140,000 people were either incinerated or suffered an agonizing death that lasted several days. The standard mythology is that President Truman dropped the bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki (three days later on August 9) in order to avoid having to send half a million American soliders to their deaths in a ground invasion of Japan.

The problem with this narrative is that military estimates at the time (later found to be exaggerated) came nowhere near that level. Furthermore, it has since been revealed that Japanese officials had approached US representatives to consider their surrender on two conditions: that the Emperor be allowed to remain and that some territory be retained by the Japanese.

Writing in the conservative foreign policy journal Diplomatic History, J. Samuel Walker discounts the idea that Truman was thinking of American servicemen in his decision to use nuclear weapons:

The consensus among scholars is that the bomb was not needed to avoid an invasion of Japan and to end the war within a relatively short time. It is clear that alternatives to the bomb existed and that Truman and his advisers knew it. . . It is certain that the hoary claim that the bomb prevented one-half million American combat deaths is unsupportable.

Barton J. Bernstein, writing in the same journal, held that the United States had no intention of allowing this powerful new weapon, which they had already spent millions of dollars developing, to go to waste:

In 1945, American leaders were not seeking to avoid the use of the A bomb. Its use did not create ethical or political problems for them. . . They did not regard it as profoundly immoral, they were largely inured to the mass killing of the enemy, and they also looked forward to the A-bomb’s international-political benefits – intimidating the Soviets.


This in spite of the fact, as Bernstein reveals, that there were numerous peace offers from Japanese officials that could have been pursued:

During the summer, Japanese middle-level diplomats and military attaches in Switzerland and elsewhere in Europe approached intermediaries and American officials to try to move toward a surrender. In June, one Japanese group proposed continuation of the emperor and retention of Korea and Formosa as the main terms for surrender.

These overtures were ignored and one of the greatest war crimes in history was perpetrated. However, as bad as the initial attack was, the resulting nuclear Cold War with the Soviet Union put the planet itself in peril. As I related in my recent post The Population Bomb, Nuclear Winter and the Role of Science in Public Advocacy, the threat of nuclear war was not just one for those affected by the explosion itself. The radioactive fallout would continue to poison people for decades and smoke from the burning cities could radically alter the Earth’s climate. Why would any rational nation risk such calamity? What is remarkable is that, to this day, there are some who still hold on to the erroneous idea that US planners were responding to a threat from Soviet aggression.

For example, in a recent editorial in the Wall Street Journal, Liz Cheney (the eldest of the two Cheney daughters) repeated one of my favorite Cold War fairy tales: the United States won the Cold War because we are good and they were evil.


The truth, of course, is that the Soviets ran a brutal, authoritarian regime. The KGB killed their opponents or dragged them off to the Gulag. There was no free press, no freedom of speech, no freedom of worship, no freedom of any kind. The basis of the Cold War was not “competition in astrophysics and athletics.” It was a global battle between tyranny and freedom. The Soviet “sphere of influence” was delineated by walls and barbed wire and tanks and secret police to prevent people from escaping. America was an unmatched force for good in the world during the Cold War. The Soviets were not. The Cold War ended not because the Soviets decided it should but because they were no match for the forces of freedom and the commitment of free nations to
defend liberty and defeat Communism.

The reality is a little different. Allow me to lay it out as simply as I can:

We started the Cold War.
Russia repeatedly sought negotiations with the United States.
Reagan’s policies only extended the conflict.

(As a side note, it’s somewhat telling how free and open the United States is considering that Cheney was appointed to be Assistant Deputy Secretary of State while her father was Vice President, and that her husband was given the plush job of Acting Associate Attorney General at the Department of Justice. No Soviet-style nepotism happening there, I’m sure.)

Of course, the Soviet regime was nothing to celebrate. Stalin was a ruthless thug intent on maintaining power, but he was not interested in world domination. Subsequent Russian strong men were far more concerned with domestic issues than international ones. The exception, of course, was the threat felt from the United States. From the Russian point of view the idea that the United States might initiate another attack using nuclear weapons was very real. The historical record largely confirms these fears.

For example, in 1961 Lord Solly Zuckerman, chief scientific advisor to the British Ministry of Defense (also, interestingly enough, a pioneering primatologist), met with Robert S. McNamara’s Assistant Secretary of Defense where he was told:

First we need enough Minutemen [silo-launched missiles] to be sure that we destroy all those Russian cities. Then we need Polaris [submarine-launched] missiles to follow in order to tear up the foundations to a depth of ten feet. . . Then, when all Russia is silent, and when no air defenses are left, we want waves of aircraft to drop enough bombs to tear the whole place up down to a depth of forty feet to prevent the Martians recolonizing the country. And to hell with the fallout. (cited in Sagan and Turco, A Path Where No One Thought, p. 228).

Writing in The Atlantic, Fred Kaplan revealed that President Kennedy was considering a “first strike” option against the Soviet Union in 1961. As Kaplan reported from declassified documents, the plan:

included a very detailed description of the existing U.S. nuclear-war plan. SIOP-62, as the plan was known, called for sending in the full arsenal of the Strategic Air Command–2,258 missiles and bombers carrying a total of 3,423 nuclear weapons–against 1,077 “military and urban-industrial targets” throughout the “Sino-Soviet Bloc.” Kaysen reported that if the SIOP were executed, the attack would kill 54 percent of the USSR’s population and destroy 82 percent of its buildings.

However, in 1963 Kennedy insisted that a “no first use” clause be added to the Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP) on tactical nuclear planning (the idea being that US nuclear strikes would only be carried out in the event of a Soviet strike, or a preemptive one if US planners feared a strike was imminent). In the late 60s and early 70s the policy migrated back from the notion of nuclear weapons as a counterforce to their actual use as offensive weapons.


Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger in 1972 / AP

According to William Burr in the Journal of Cold War Studies:

Declassified documents disclose for the first time the extraordinary characteristics of the SIOP and U.S. strategic planning as of the late 1960s and details on Nixon’s first SIOP briefing. The war plan comprised five attack options involving strikes by thousands of weapons targeting Soviety military forces, nuclear and non-nuclear, and urban-industrial centers, with huge numbers of casualties expected. Consistent with targeting strategy since the 1950s, the attack options were retaliatory or preemptive, depending on the warning time available to decision makers. In addition, a launch-on-warning option was available, although senior officials understood its great risk.

It was estimated that nearly a hundred million Russians would die. While the official policy was that such an attack would only be used in response to a Russian surprise attack, the Nixon administration effectively eliminated the “no first use” doctrine. But, even though Nixon felt the United States should be perceived as a “madman” in order to intimidate their adversaries, Nixon wasn’t a complete monster. As Henry Kissinger expressed the president’s opinion about US involvement in a nuclear war, “to have the only option of killing 80 million people is the height of immorality.” Therefore, as internal documents show, Nixon wanted more options in his use of nuclear weapons, and charged Henry Kissinger “to devise ways to give the president more useful military choices.”

Among these choices Nixon was interested in employing was in the conflict in Vietnam. As Burr, along with Jeffery Kimball, reported upon the release of new documents at The National Security Archive:

Nixon told Kissinger about his interest in using “a nuclear bomb” as an alternative to bombing North Vietnam’s dike system, which was also a step he strongly favored. A nuclear attack against another target, he assumed, would cause fewer civilian casualties yet make a powerful “psychological” impact on Hanoi and the Soviets.

Fortunately, Nixon was dissuaded from his plan. Soon after, however, Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger, outlined his policy of limited nuclear options (LNOs) that was considered a “compromise between the optimists of the minimum deterrence school and the pessimists of the so-called war-fighting persuasion,” according to Colin Gray and Keith Payne writing in the establishment journal Foreign Policy.

However by 1980, with Ronald Reagan on the political stage, military hawks didn’t feel this “compromise” was sufficient. As Gray and Payne continue in their article “Victory is Possible”:

If American nuclear power is to support U.S. foreign policy objectives, the United States must possess the ability to wage nuclear war rationally. . . The United States should plan to defeat the Soviet Union and to do so at a cost that would not prohibit U.S. recovery.

However, they are careful to point out that “a U.S. president cannot credibly threaten and should not launch a strategic nuclear strike if expected U.S. casualties are likely to involve 100 million or more American citizens.” Less than that, however, is appealing considering the victory to be achieved:

The USSR, with its gross overcentralization of authority, epitomized by its vast bureaucracy in Moscow, should be highly vulnerable to such an attack. The Soviet Union might cease to function if its security agency, the KGB, were severely crippled. If the Moscow bureaucracy could be eliminated, damaged, or isolated, the USSR might disintegrate into anarchy . . . Once the defeat of the Soviet state is established as a war aim, defense professionals should attempt to identify an optimum targeting plan for the accomplishment of that goal.

Naturally, Gray and Payne insist that “the primary interest of U.S. strategy is deterrence” but they add a caveat that was certain to be understood by those of the “war-fighting persuasion”:

However, American strategic forces do not exist solely for the purpose of deterring a Soviet nuclear threat or attack against the United States itself. Instead, they are intended to support U.S. foreign policy . . . Such a function requires American strategic forces that would enable a president to initiate strategic nuclear use for coercive, though politically defensive, purposes.

Imagine that you’re a Russian leader reading these words (as they were certain to have). The only rational response was to actively promote your own nuclear deterrence so that the Americans wouldn’t feel so confident that they could wipe out your entire capacity. This is, incidentally, the exact same rationale that North Korea and Iran have today (considering what took place in Iraq, it would appear their concern is justified). However, despite claims that the United States was trailing behind the Soviet Union in nuclear capability, the reality is exactly the opposite throughout most of the Cold War.

According to a 2006 study by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, while John F. Kennedy was campaigning in 1960 on the idea that there was a “missile gap” between the United States and Russia, we possessed 20,434 tactical nuclear weapons compared to their paltry 1,605. A missile gap certainly existed, but to claim that the Russians were ahead was a delusional fantasy or a deliberate lie.



The United States maintained nuclear supremacy throughout most of the Cold War.
Data from Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, July/August 2006

In fact, the United States maintained a decisive nuclear advantage for the first 33 years of the Cold War. Interestingly, it was only at Russia’s peak nuclear capability of 45,000 weapons in 1986 that Reagan began making serious overtures for peace. Looking at just the numbers, it appears as though it was Russian deterrence that won the day rather than that of the Americans. However, it was a peace that was established following incredible waste and a very real threat of global annihilation. To this day, most people still have no idea how close we actually came.

In 2002, at a conference that was held in Havana to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis, it was revealed that the world was spared a nuclear war thanks to the actions of a single individual. As Noam Chomsky relates in his internationally acclaimed Hegemony or Survival:

They were informed that in October 1962 the world was “one word away” from nuclear war. “A guy named Arkhipov saved the world,” said Thomas Blanton of the National Security Archive in Washington, which helped organize the event. He was referring to Vasili Arkhipov, a Soviet submarine officer who blocked an order to fire nuclear-armed torpedoes on October 27, at the tensest moment of the crisis, when the submarines were under attack by US destroyers. A devastating response would have been a near certainty, leading to a major war.

As we reflect on the horror that was unleashed on the Japanese civilians of Hiroshima 64 years ago today, perhaps we can offer a silent thank you to that Soviet officer who did the right thing in a moment of crisis. I only wish the leaders of my country had done the same.

Comments

  1. #1 prelevent
    August 6, 2009

    Hello Eric. Thank you for the blog post, it was a good read, and it really got me thinking.

    I have a couple comments and a question or two.

    The terms of surrender that the Japanese were hinting at in the last few months of the war included the three things you mentioned: The Emperor remains enthroned, and they get to keep Formosa (Taiwan) and Korea. While I am sure that there were many other details to these proposed terms, the idea that the aggressors of the war in Asia and the Pacific would get anything at all seems a bit absurd.

    There were of course other options, conventional non-nuclear options. We could have continued to fire-bomb them for several more months (which likely would have killed far more people than both “little boy” and “fat man” combined). We could have cut them off from the rest of the world and let them starve further. Perhaps we could have gone home and let the soviets invade, as they had plans to do so(and do you think they would have let go of Japan after they did that?).

    Dropping the bombs was evil (and perhaps it is the “pandora’s box” that was opened by this that made it much more so) but was there any actual option that would not be discussed for generations to come that would not have the taint of evil.

    It has been said that the bombs could have been dropped far out at sea, to simply demonstrate the power of these terrible new weapons, but this would simply have launched a series of rumors and many would have simply not believed it. On the other hand, the absolute destruction of two cities nearly instantly with only two bombs… this was the proverbial check mate. Evil? Hell yes. Did it work? Yes. Can anything be done to change this fact? No.

    Secondly.

    The cold war was inevitable even before the day that Oppenheimer set foot in Los Alamos. The bombs were made, there were already spies gathering and passing on information about them. The two giants left standing at the end of the war would stare each other down mexican stand-off style for five decades afterwards… that is the coldwar in two sentences.

    You make several comments about plans detailed through several administrations on possible nuclear war. Both preemptive and retaliatory. It seems to cause you great consternation that these things were discussed in such frank and stark terms. I have to wonder though, do you think that the USSR did not have mirror-like plans of their own? Would it have made you feel better to discover in all of these de-classified documents that we had no plans? Not planning for the outcome of certain events or necessities seems like a terrible idea to me. It would have been a wonderful fantasy life where such things never need be imagined, but this is not that life.

    There are many other things I would like to say, but it is far too late at the moment. I thank you for your blog post, it gave me a good read, and much to think about.

  2. #2 JLowe
    August 6, 2009

    A thought-provoking article. It makes a good point that the U.S. was not going to make any other decision than to use the atomic bomb. A couple billion dollars had been spent on it, completely outside the oversight of Congress, creating a need to justify the expense. And, that decision was made easier because we already had experience with slaughtering civilians by strategic bombing with conventional munitions. By early 1945, U.S. distrust of the Soviets was growing.

    With regard to Liz Cheney’s rantings, I offer up that your response is appropriate – it becomes necessary to reply strongly to spinning and shading of the truth by right wingnut “thinkers”. However, it’s arguable that some of the formulation is overly simplistic. There are arguments just as compelling that Soviet provocation (including not honoring post-war agreements and Communizing Eastern European countries overrun by the Red Army in 1944/45; walking out on Marshall Plan talks; massively spying on the U.S. even as an ally against Axis aggression; giving Kim Il Sung the wink when he wanted to invade South Korea) contributed to starting the Cold War. We didn’t help matters of course, by viewing Communism as this monolithic entity and responding inappropriately in places such as Vietnam, starting the nuclear arms race, and perpetuating the insane notion that you could actually fight wars with nuclear weapons when it was apparent after Hiroshima and Nagasaki that they were instruments of national suicide.

  3. #3 Greg Laden
    August 6, 2009

    The belief of the millions of Americans to invade Japan is, of course, based partly on reality in that there was an invasion planned. Zillions (I have no idea how many) of US soldiers were shipped to the west coast in preparation. My father was one. He had just finished defeating Hitler (with some help from some other guys) and was put on train to San Francisco. I believe the A-bombs were dropped during his trip west or within a couple of days thereafter.

    So, for the rest of his life, he thanked Harry Truman for dropping the bombs, and although he hardly ever talked about the war, he would mention now and then how important dropping the A-bomb was. AS I grew up and began to question things like assured nuclear destruction times 100, he would point this out. He taught me to believe that dropping the A-bomb was the right thing to do even if the nuclear buildup was bad, and I think a lot of other people of my generation were taught this as well.

    So, of course, today, giving the version you give here will probably bring a few people around to complain that you’ve revised history! But this is quite an excellent summary, and thanks for writing it up.

  4. #4 Pierce R. Butler
    August 6, 2009

    Dwight D. Eisenhower:

    … Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary … I thought our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. It was my belief that Japan was, at that very moment, seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of “face”.

    Truman’s Chief of Staff Adm. William D. Leahy:

    [T]he use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender. . . . [I]n being the first to use it, we . . . adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.

    As for “Soviet provocation”, I would suggest anyone who finds that the dominant theme of the early Cold War read Christopher Simpson’s Blowback, for starters.

  5. #5 Eric Michael Johnson
    August 6, 2009

    @prelevent: I agree that rewarding the aggressor by offering them to negotiate surrender seems absurd, afterall, they attacked Americans unprovoked (though, there are suggestions that the US forced their hand and that some Japanese response was anticipated). However, I think it’s telling that on their major point (that the Emperor remain) the US agreed even after the bombing. It was felt it would be easier to get Japanese consent this way. So, there was definitely room for negotiation if the US had been interested. But it seems we were out for revenge. Truman knew that Russia was going to break their treaty and declare war against Japan. This would have made it even more likely that Japan would surrender, but then Russia would be at the table as well. The decision to drop the bomb so quickly may have been to prevent Russia from having any influence over the island (perceived as a useful American stronghold).

    As for your second point, I agree. The USSR did have plans proposing preemptive attacks. But, as far as I’m aware from studying the internal documents, it was always from a position of fear that they needed to undercut an expected US strike. Certainly many in the US feared the same, but the Russians win out in the historical analysis since the US superiority was so extreme (US fears were mostly delusional on this point). In addition to sheer numbers, the US also had nukes positioned in 27 countries (including Japan and Turkey). Russia’s decision to put missiles on Cuba was an attempt to contain US nuclear expansion.

    Does this cause me consternation? Sure it does. There were avenues available for concessions and negotiation. The Russians made their share of mistakes, but I think the evidence shows that it was the Americans that were truly pig-headed and inflexible. Both wanted to maintain control of their Empires (Russia in Eastern Europe and the US in Western Europe and the Americas). The US wanted control of the Middle East and Russia was viewed as the primary obstacle. We had the democratically-elected President of Iran removed by the CIA in 1953. But Russia wouldn’t tolerate us playing in their backyard in the following decades. Therefore, the Russians were a threat to “US national interests.” There you have the Cold War.

  6. #6 Eric Michael Johnson
    August 6, 2009

    @Greg: My hat’s off to your Dad. The European theater was an ugly business. However, the documentation suggests that Truman invented his explanation as a way to distract from the true motives. To quote from Walker (2007):

    In explaining why the United States had dropped the bomb, Truman and others argued that an invasion of the Japanese islands could have caused one-half million American deaths. But Rufus E. Miles, Jr., pointed out in an article published in 1985 that during the war military planners never projected casualty figures that were even close to those cited by Truman after the war. Even in the unlikely event that an invasion had been necessary, the presurrender estimates did not exceed twenty thousand. Barton J. Bernstein, drawing on recently opened records, found the worst-case prediction to be a loss of forty-six thousand lives, still far short of the policymakers’ claims. “The myth of the 500,000 American lives saved,” he concluded, “thus seems to have no basis in fact.”

  7. #7 John Gathly
    August 6, 2009

    The A-bomb was not used because it cost too much money not to use it, or because Truman gave one fuck about the troops. It was used in the manner of any gangster who wants to make a play for new territory. It was a world-sized drive-by. It let the world know there was a new power in town and DO NOT FUCK WITH US.

  8. #8 tl
    August 6, 2009

    That’s a rather skewed view of the situation at the time. While there were those in the Japanese government making overtures towards a negotiated surrender, they were not necessarily in the dominant or strongest position, and it is unlikely they would have succeeded in their attempts. In fact, there is no reliable evidence to indicate that those overtures had any official government approval.

    As to their aggression, the attack on the US at Pearl Harbor was not the start of their aggression. They were viciously attacking, conquering and brutalizing territory after territory. The US, in your words, “forced their hands”, by refusing to supply them with materiel necessary for them to sustain their aggression in the Pacific (oil, steel, etc.). What an evil thing for the US to do!

    As to your overheated rhetoric, dropping the bomb was no more a “War Crime” than any of the other massive bombing raids conducted during the course of the war.

  9. #9 Eamon
    August 6, 2009

    Eric,

    I’m very wary of ‘new historical revelations’ – especially those that seem to be completely at odds at the perceived wisdom at the time in history they concern.

    General opinion was that, given the tenacious defence shown by the Japanese in the Pacific Theatre, large numbers of casualties were inevitable.

    Also, lots of men and material were being dedicated to the operations to invade Japan: Operations Olympic and Coronet. These were to be supported by large number of bombers. The RAF’s contribution, Tiger Force, was to number 600 Lincoln Heavy Bombers. These would undoubtedly cause great causalties to the Japanese populace. Possibly one factor in using the bomb.

    Another reason for using the bomb is the hope that a sudden defeat would prevent Allied POWs and civilians being massacred by the Imperial Japanese forces. It could be argued that it had that effect.

    Also, there seems to be a bit of a twisted perspective as far as the cold war goes. I’ll note this particular paragraph in the “We started the Cold War” link:

    The cold war began because of Russia’s reluctance to allow independence to Poland. Stalin was held to have reneged on promises at Yalta. Roosevelt and Churchill had demanded that Poland be allowed a government that would be “free” and also “friendly to Russia”. It was a dishonest formula. As recently as 1920, the two countries had been at war. No freely elected Polish government would be friendly to the USSR. Furthermore, as Stalin pointed out at Yalta, Russia had been twice invaded through Poland by Germany in 26 years, with devastating consequences. The invasion of 1941 had led to the deaths of 20 million Russians. Any postwar Russian government – communist, tsarist or social democratic – would have insisted on effective control at least of Poland, if not of larger areas of eastern Europe, as a buffer zone against future attacks.

    So basically, the West is bad for not aquiesing to the quashing of democracy in Eastern Europe? That’s your point there?

  10. #10 Eric Michael Johnson
    August 6, 2009

    @Eamon: This is not a new historical revelation. It was known that Truman’s troop figure was bogus in the mid-80s. As for your point about democracy being quashed in Eastern Europe, if you’d read a little further I think Alexander’s point was made clear:

    So Russian interference in countries essential to its safety was evil. But exclusive US domination of its own sphere of influence was righteous. In any case, a programme based on “no compromise with evil” is a preposterously naive basis for a foreign policy, destining a country to permanent warfare.

    The post-war agreements divided territories according to the victors’ desires. Democracy had nothing to do with it. Not for the US, not for Britain and not for Russia.

  11. #11 Russell
    August 6, 2009

    It seems to me the key point of the unconditional surrender was the subsequent occupation and reconstruction of Japan. Japan is a very different nation today than it would have been had it been allowed to retain self-governance in the years following its defeat.

  12. #12 Eamon
    August 6, 2009

    Eric, what territories were divided for the US and the UK?

  13. #13 Eric Michael Johnson
    August 7, 2009

    @Eamon: That’s a great question and deserves a considered response. The US and UK didn’t receive territories but, as I said, the areas were divided according to the victors’ desires. A better way to think about it is “spheres of influence”.

    It was after WWII that Britain first became the “junior partner” of the US and assisted in post-war security operations. It was the US State Department official George Kennan who suggested the division of Germany into East and West, to which Stalin heartily agreed. Obviously the US maintained control of Japan, but we were also the dominant power controlling post war development throughout Western Europe. But this wasn’t always smooth.

    Soon after the victory in Japan, the US and Britain began military operations in Greece against the anti-Fascist forces who had developed strong independent political organizations (these were called “communist” because they maintained strong labor controls, but there was little Soviet influence). We helped return the Greek Nazi collaborators to power. Russia only urged that the Allies show “restraint” against the Greek guerrillas (understanding full well that this region was within the American sphere). In exchange, Poland was understood to be in the Russian sphere.

    What’s important to understand is that neither side should be considered “good” in this scenario. The Truman Doctrine expressed lofty rhetoric, but the reality on the ground was the same form of realpolitik that Russia embraced. To properly understand the Cold War we need to let go of good guys and bad guys, winners and losers. There were two alpha male powers engaging in a political struggle over regional hegemony.

    However, to put this in perspective, imagine that this was taking place in Canada or Latin America rather than Eastern Europe. If Russia was ever as close to the US as we were to them, General Curtis LeMay’s head might possibly have exploded.

  14. #14 Phil
    August 7, 2009

    What gets me is that the condition for surrender, the emperor, which held up Japan’s surrender-we kept him anyway. What a waste.

  15. #15 Ian
    August 7, 2009

    “In an instant an estimated 140,000 people were either incinerated or suffered an agonizing death that lasted several days”

    How do people suffer an agonizing death that lasts for several days in an instant? Perhaps a little less “journalism” and more “blogging” might solve this unfortunate juxtaposition?!

  16. #16 tl
    August 7, 2009

    That sounds like some massive false equivilency there. To claim that the brutal repression of the eastern block by the Stalinists was the same as small scale meddling done by the Americans is quite absurd.

  17. #17 Eric Michael Johnson
    August 7, 2009

    @tl: I wouldn’t call it “small scale meddling.” These were significant military operations intended to install a government favorable to the US and UK. Nevertheless, I agree with your point that the US was not engaged in widespread repression of Western Europe the way Russia was of the East. But for equivalency we’d need to go no further than Korea, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. And lest we forget Latin America?

  18. #18 Eamon
    August 8, 2009

    @Eric,

    I was thinking along the ‘spheres of influence’ lines when I posed the question in Post 12.

    To me the congent point was that the Soviets didn’t have ‘spheres of influence’ per se – but ‘spheres of dominance’.

    Whilst the West did some nasty things throughout the Cold War, the Soviets right from the start did worse.

    Consider this: The Soviets agreed with the Nazis to partition Poland. The fact that they were ‘invaded’ through what once was Poland cannot be held up as a reason for the dominance of Poland in the post-war era – as Poland did not exist de facto when the Nazis launched Barbarossa: the Nazis and the Soviets had absorbed it.

    To be honest the Soviets are lucky they ended up on the Allied side at all: they conspired to divide a sovreign state (Poland)with an ally (Nazi Germany) and launched a war of blatant agression (Finland). They continued this form after the war – which is why I consider you saying ‘we’ started the cold war to be wrong.

    As for Greek Nazi Collaborators, the UK, of which I’m a citizen, supported the Greek Governement in Exile – Nazis didn’t come into it.

    Also as a UK Citizen – we commited, finally, to war with the Nazi because of the subjugation of the Polish. To find them subjugated at the end of the war was not a situation that would stand easily with us.

  19. #19 Eamon
    August 8, 2009

    Phil@14,

    actually, Japan surrendered because the Emperor declarated Japan should surrender.

    There was a major series of programmes in Japan on the 60th anniversary of VJ-day. I was struck by a comment by a witness to the Emperor’s radio address of August 15th 1945. To paraphrase, they said:

    “I expected him to tell us to fight to the death – instead he told us to surrender”

    Whatever you say about Hirohito, at the end of the war he had the welfare of the Japanese People in his heart – not the glory of the race.

    Anyway – the Japanese would not have accepted a peace that entailed giving up the Emperor.

  20. #20 Eamon
    August 8, 2009

    Eric@17

    what point have Korea, Indochina, and Latin America have right at the start of the Cold War?

  21. #21 Chris O'Neill
    August 9, 2009

    Even in the unlikely event that an invasion had been necessary, the presurrender estimates did not exceed twenty thousand.

    This is absolutely laughable. There were more than 12,000 directly killed or missing on Okinawa and several thousand later from their injuries. The Navy lost 4,900 dead as well. Between 42,000 and 150,000 Okinawan civilians were killed, so maybe more than the number killed in Hiroshima. There were 107,000 Japanese combatants killed and another 20,000 were sealed in caves alive.

    Any suggestion that invading any home island of Japan would have caused a comparable number of deaths to the invasion of Okinawa is out of touch with reality.

    Something also usually ignored is that the Japanese killing machine was killing about 250,000 innocent people per month. So even just the delay from the Hiroshima bombing until the date of surrender caused the death of another 75,000 innocent people. Perhaps their lives and the lives of the hundreds of thousands saved by not waiting for an invasion were insignificant.

  22. #22 Eric Michael Johnson
    August 10, 2009

    Eaton@18:

    Eastern Poland had been a part of Russia ever since 1795. Napolean controlled it briefly in the early 19th century and then Russia was again granted the territory at the Congress of Vienna. During the Russian Revolution Poland became part of the Central Powers (which had controlled Western Poland for a century). Just after WWI Britain and the US provided arms to Poland in order to fight against the Russians. Churchill even proposed an alliance with Germany to set up a joint invasion, which was rebuffed. The US and UK invaded Russia in 1917 but were pushed back soon after. Then followed a brief period of Polish autonomy with a government that became increasingly despotic. As the Nazis were growing in power Russia sought a buffer zone from German invasion. After seeking support from England and France (who declined, hoping the two would fight and sap one another’s resources) they signed the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact that divided Poland into its historical zones between them. None of this excuses Russia’s actions, but it places them in a historical context.

    It’s touching that you believe England had such high ideals in it’s support for Poland (it reminds me of how the US needed to rescue Cuba and the Philippines from Spanish totalitarianism). The reality is that Poland was a prime piece of real estate that all European powers wanted within their sphere of influence. If there was any source of optimism in this whole imperial affair, it would be the courageous Poles who fought bravely against their various conquerors, often not realizing that they were being supported by those with imperial designs of their own.

  23. #23 Eric Michael Johnson
    August 10, 2009

    Eamon@20:

    The US had designs on Asia and the Middle East from the moment WWII ended. Russia was viewed as it’s primary competitor. In 1945 the US and Russia agreed to divide Korea between them, taking over from the Japanese imperialists. This decision was widely condemned by the Koreans (both North and South) who desired autonomy after 35 years of Japanese control. The US claimed they would be out in 3-4 years, while Russia said they wanted this to happen sooner. Neither side would remove troops until the other did. Both sides set up puppet governments with little Korean involvement, which became the foundation for the brutal Korean war of the 1950s.

    Right after the war the US and UK supported the French return to its former colonies in Indochina. The French were resisted by those who sought to be free of foreign control and the US provided military aid thinking (wrongly) that the resistance was being directed by the Soviets and, later, China under Mao Tse-tung. By the late 50s the US provided most of the funding for the French invasion and soon took over completely once France couldn’t maintain the assault.

  24. #24 Eric Michael Johnson
    August 10, 2009

    Chris@21:

    These estimates are taken directly from internal preinvasion planning documents. If you have any objections I suggest you take them up with J. Samuel Walker, historian for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

  25. #25 Chris O'Neill
    August 10, 2009

    If you have any objections I suggest you take them up with J. Samuel Walker, historian for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

    As far as I’m aware, J. Samuel Walker was presenting the revisionist position as part of a literature survey, not his position. My objection is to the revisionist position, not J. Samuel Walker.

    These estimates are taken directly from internal preinvasion planning document.

    That’s the revisionist assertion. It would be nice to have real evidence. I was merely pointing out how circumstances would have to have been vastly different from Okinawa to get such an optimistic outcome invading a home island. In any case the consequences of an invasion would probably have been academic because the Japanese would probably have surrendered after losing at least a few hundred thousand more civilians in conventional bombing raids.

  26. #26 Eric Michael Johnson
    August 10, 2009

    @Chris: Walker agrees with the conclusions of Miles and Bernstein (see comment #6 and the first quote in the text). His point (and mine) is that Truman’s post hoc justification for dropping the bomb is not supported by the internal planning documents nor the necessity to force surrender. The preinvasion estimates could very well have been low, but even if they were it doesn’t support Truman’s claim that dropping the bomb saved 500,000 American lives because that figure isn’t based on any evidence whatsoever. Given this, the onus is on those supporting Truman’s contention, not the other way around.

    This being the case, there are three potential hypotheses that can be constructed: 1) Truman made a mistake about the casualty estimates (possible), 2) the estimates supporting Truman’s claim have not been found or released (highly unlikely at this stage), 3) Truman exaggerated the estimates. The evidence points to the third option. The question as to why Truman did this was one of the purposes of Walker’s review.

  27. #27 Chris O'Neill
    August 11, 2009

    the Japanese would probably have surrendered after losing at least a few hundred thousand more civilians in conventional bombing raids.

    The Japanese wouldn’t have been thinking about them but the Allies should also have been thinking about the 250,000 non-Japanese being killed per month as well as Japanese. Of course, these people are usually ignored.

  28. #28 Chris O'Neill
    August 11, 2009

    The preinvasion estimates could very well have been low, but even if they were it doesn’t support Truman’s claim that dropping the bomb saved 500,000 American lives because that figure isn’t based on any evidence whatsoever.

    The preinvasion estimates were also pre-Okinawa estimates as far as I know.

    3) Truman exaggerated the estimates. The evidence points to the third option. The question as to why Truman did this was one of the purposes of Walker’s review.

    OK so there’s no argument about whether it was the right or wrong decision. The argument is about why Truman might have exaggerated the number. If he had wanted to be really careful he didn’t need to exaggerate at all. Any of the alternatives would probably have killed a lot more than 140,000 people in total. And even if the only lives worth considering were 20,000 American military, Truman could have used just that figure as justification. I wouldn’t think Truman would have been particularly interested in making a carefully crafted justification at the time he made his statement and as such he would not have been careful to avoid exaggeration.

  29. #29 Eric Michael Johnson
    August 13, 2009

    In 1947 Harvard historian and OSS officer (the precursor of the CIA) had this to say about American foreign policy as we entered the Cold War:

    Our fear of Communism, partly as an expression of our general fear of the future, will continue to inspire us to aggressive anti-Communist policies in Asia and elsewhere, [and] the American people will be led to think and may honestly believe that the support of anti-Communist governments in Asia will somehow defend the American way of life. This line of American policy will lead to American aid to establish regimes which attempt to suppress the popular movements in Indonesia, Indochina, the Philippines, and China. . . . Thus, after setting out to fight Communism in Asia, the American people will be obliged in the end to fight the peoples of Asia.

    This American aggression abroad will be associated with an increasing trend toward anti-Communist authoritarianism within the United States, which its victims will call fascism and which may eventually make it impossible to have discussions like this one today. This American fascism will come, if it comes, because American liberals have joined the American public in a fear of Communism from abroad rather than fascism at home as the chief totalitarian menace.

    A rather prescient statement considering the wars of choice throughout Asia that followed.

  30. #30 Eamon
    August 31, 2009

    This may be of interest:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8230387.stm

    1st Paragraph:

    “Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has condemned the Nazi-Soviet pact signed a week before Germany’s 1939 invasion of Poland as “immoral”.”

  31. #31 Bursa haber
    September 5, 2009

    The preinvasion estimates could very well have been low, but even if they were it doesn’t support Truman’s claim that dropping the bomb saved 500,000 American lives because that figure isn’t based on any evidence whatsoever.

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