Friday, August 6, 2010

An Anniversary That Should Never Be Forgotten

65 years ago, the US committed what would be the first of two final acts in the last brutal chapters of World War II -- dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan.

I'm not going to debate whether it was justified or not, whether it was moral or not, or whether it hastened an end to the war or not.  That's for scholars and historians far more educated and informed than myself.

What I will say is that since that time, there has not been a single nuclear weapon launched in anger at an opposing force, even though there have been numerous times where such a course of action was considered. 

Hundreds of thousands of Japanese lost their lives when we dropped "the bomb" on their country.  Yet those two bombs (Little Boy and Fat Man) were comparatively tiny when seen in perspective.  Little Boy, the one that destroyed Hiroshima, had an estimated blast yield of about 15,000 tons of TNT.  Fat Man, the Nagasaki bomb, yielded just over 21,000 tons.  That's a lot of power packed into a single weapon, but within a few years those yields skyrocketed into the MILLIONS of tons of TNT.  Less than nine years later, in March, 1954, the US set off what would end up being larger than any other tested weapon in the US arsenal -- over 15 megatons.  That single weapon, in an single instant, had over 1000 times the devastating power of Little Boy. 

Wars continue to occur, and many nuclear nations have arisen over the decades.  But not even openly hostile and angry confrontations between centuries-old enemies have persuaded the generals and national leaders to open the nuclear genie bottle again.  I don't think it's coincidental that the horrors and devastation wrought by those two war-fired weapons have impacted the decisionmaking of countless nations, and that fact alone has probably saved many, many millions of lives from absolute destruction by nuclear fire. 

Don't ever forget.  War is hell.

9 comments: said...

Never understood the American pride aobut this - 100,000+ civilians died to stop the war?

Only in America! Frigging crazy.

Sounds like collective punishement at its worst worthy of comparing to Hitlers.

Morrison said...

Or the Gulags.

I am reminded of Oppenhiemer's famous remark, "The Scientists have blood on their hands."

Chuck Lunney said...

Iggy, I don't think anyone is "proud" of the fact that we used the atomic bomb in war - but have you really studied the circumstances of the timeperiod in question?

The world powers were at war, and had been for between 5 to 10 years (central Europe got ugly in the late 1930s). Over 60 million people had already died in the fighting. Three nations were racing to try and build and deploy the first "superweapon" - Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union and the USA. We got there first.

Do you really think that Hitler would have hesitated to use a nuclear bomb to attack London or Paris? Or that Stalin wouldn't have dropped it on cities in Germany and eastern Europe?

The US was facing a still determined enemy, and had shown a tremendous capacity for fighting to the last man, woman and child for every scrap of ground, while trying to inflict as many casualties on the US forces as possible. The fighting for Iwo Jima and Okinawa were horrific and unbelievably bloody. To try and force an invasion of the Japanese home islands, even at the most conservative estimates, would have cost nearly 250,000 American lives and over a million Japanese. More realistic estimates double the American casualties, and send the Japanese dead to over 5 million.

Not to mention the political pressure from the homefront - Nazi Germany was defeated, the troops were tired and the families wanted it all over after years of suffering and privation.

As I said, with the benefit of hindsight and 65 years of learning about nuclear effects, we can certainly be monday morning quarterbacks and criticize as much as we want -- but the fact remains that the bomb was dropped.

And the fact also remains that no other nuclear weapon has been used in war since then.

Morrison said...

Of course, just because one has not been used since then, it does not follow that they will not be used in the future, and keep in mind that there have been close calls.

As to an invasion being needed, that would only be true if we insisted on Unconditional Surrender. which we modified anyway.

It is a false dichotomy that says it had to be invasion or the bomb.

Heck, they built the thing and I think they wanted to test in on a couple of cities.

Oppenheimer was right.

Winston Smith said...

August 9th!

Happy Nagasaki Day!

Yay, Science!!

Chuck Lunney said...

Morrison -- after 5 years of bloody, violent, no-quarter war across the entire Pacific, and with no end in reasonable sight without a complete unconditional surrender, our options were limited. The Japanese military wouldn't accept any surrender, and even AFTER Nagasaki, they tried a military coup to prevent the surrender process from continuing.

These are the potential choices I see that Truman had for ending the war in the Pacific.

1) Invade the home islands, and suffer the hundreds of thousands of American casualties, as well as the millions of Japanese lives lost.

2) Blockade the home islands. We had the technical ability to do this, especially since the European front was finished and we could pull troops and ships to increase the coverage. However, while this would save countless American lives, it would result in the starvation of many tens of thousands (if not millions) of Japanese, almost all of them civilians. The humanitarian and ethical concerns are legion.

3) Continue the aerial and sea-based bombardment, without a full land invasion force. Again, it would save thousands of American lives, but continued attacks on populated cities would destroy hundreds of thousands more Japanese, wreck any remaining infrastructure, and simply harden the overall will of the Japanese military establishment until the home islands were a burning wreck.

4) Drop the atomic bombs, kill several hundred thousand Japanese. Save tens of thousands of American lives. End the war in less than two weeks, preventing starvation, further physical destruction of infrastructure, and allowing the Japanese to rebuild. Additionally, it demonstrated the unbelievable power and destructive might of atomic weapons -- and gave pause to any national leaders from ever considering firing them in anger at another nation-state for at least 65 years.

Don't forget, millions of Chinese, Korean, Indonesian and other SW Asians lost their lives to the Japanese military, and there were still many thousands of Japanese military units invading those other Asian countries and continuing their depradations and killings while the US considered what strategies it would pursue.

Do you have any other potential scenarios that could have ended the war? Do you have any suggestions for why no nation has used nuclear arms against another state since then? Do you have any clue of the number and power of the nuclear arsenals available in the 1950s thru today around the world?

Chuck Lunney said...


I don't understand why you would consider the killing of 150,000 people "happy".

I never once suggested that it was a cause for celebration or anything other than a day for somber and respectful consideration of the consequences.

You really need to start reading for comprehension, rather than just being a petty, obnoxious jerk.

Winston Smith said...

As Morrison pointed out, the problem that forced us into some of the scenarios you point out was UNCONDITIONAL SURRENDER.

Can you think of a more sure fire way of guaranteeing that your enemy woule FIGHT TO THE DEATH?

The demand was insane.

One might almost call it "demonic".

Morrison said...

Chuck, you ask if I have any other potential scenarios that would have ended the war?

Yes, negotiation which the Japanese were desperate to do and tried to get the Swedes and, stupidly, the Russians, to talk to us about.

As well as a demonstration of the bombs power...after all, they had no proof we had such a weapon.

The Japanese were big on "saving face", and we would have had to abandandon Unconditonal Surrender and let them keep their Emperor, which was unthinkable at the time.

Oh, wait, we did let them keep their emperor. Hmmmm.