Saturday, August 6, 2016

American Use of Atomic Bombs to Show Power

On August 6 and August 9, 1945, the United States under Harry Truman and despite criticism from General Eisenhower and Manhattan Project scientists dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, respectively. 

The first explosion destroyed 90 % of Hiroshima and immediately and indiscriminately killed 80,000 people alongside tens of thousands afterwards due to radiation exposure; the second nuclear bomb killed 40,000 people in Nagasaki, according to the History.Com website.

The official pretext for the dropping of the atomic bombs was to defeat the adamant and even suicide-driven Japanese army and to avoid or cut down on American casualties. Dropping the bombs, according to US authorities, would lead Japan to its knees and would accelerate their complete surrender, thus ending the war more quickly in the Americans’ favor.

Although most of that is true (lives, on the American side at least, had been spared and the war came to a much faster conclusion) I believe that the main motives for dropping the atomic bombs are, in fact, comprised of other more strategic reasons.

I think that the first and main reason was to show the rest of the world the power and might of the United States with its newly acquired arsenal of destructive weapons. The second reason was that this would serve as a type of real-life experiment on the effects and consequences of the atomic bomb, both as a vivid and indelible warning to others and as a type of research project using the Japanese as guinea pigs.

Particularly after World War II, the United States was preparing to become a superpower and the capability and addition of nuclear weapons managed to reinforce that status. After the plight and chaos that had befallen upon Europe via the Nazis and the subsequent defeat of their Third Reich, the two powers that came into global focus were the United States and the Soviet Union, setting the stage and groundwork for the ensuing decades-spanning Cold War. 
Although the US government claimed that the atomic bombs were a necessary evil to ensure the winning of the war against Japan, in reality, the war with Japan was not a significant threat to the US at that stage. In fact, Japan was already on the losing side and it would have been only a matter of time until they would have had to surrender anyhow.

Yet this situation posed an occasion for the US to flex its muscles before the eyes of the world. This was the perfect opportunity to use atomic bombs without fearing any kind of serious or damaging reprisal by the enemy as Japan was weaker and had no manner of responding in a similar vein.

In fact, the Japanese did not have access to any even remotely destructive weapons of that ilk. By utterly destroying Japan through the devastating use of nuclear weapons, the US would then be able to instill fear in all of its enemies and adversaries and would begin to dictate global politics.

Yet my question has always been, why did the US drop two instead of one bomb and why in such successive fashion with a time span of merely a few days? There are claims that Japan was ready to surrender after the effects of the first bomb on Hiroshima, but that they were given little time to make this known or to be able to respond.

As the war was not that pressing from the point of view of the United States, meaning they were not cornered in any substantial way, why not wait at least a week before such devastating destruction? In fact, the first bombing would have sufficed, so why did they do it twice and kill additional Japanese civilians in the process?

One of the possible factors could be the study of the after-effects of the bomb. What would it be like to unleash this mega-bomb on a real city with civilians? The second plutonium-based bombing provided additional cases and data with which Americans could study more closely what happens to the cities and the people; in fact, the second bomb known as “Fat Man” was even stronger and more powerful than the first one, the uranium-based bomb entitled “Little Boy” dropped on Hiroshima.

All of this might also be the underlying motive for sending doctors and scientists to Japan for supposedly aiding them; in fact, they were more interested in documenting what happens to people that are exposed to radiation.

Seen from a moral perspective, this has been a very shameful blot in the history of the United States. Had they just dropped one bomb and shown regret at the devastation, it would have been perhaps somewhat - to a very small degree, of course – understandable. But to repeat the same deplorable and highly immoral action twice is unforgivable and reeks of injustice.

All of this puts certain matters into perspective as well. The US, as a superpower, is in the driver’s seat of deciding who can and who cannot have access to nuclear power. The recent talks regarding Iran is a clear example of that. Yet ironically, the US is also the only power in the world that has actually used nuclear weapons, so they might not be the best judge in such matters due to their own checkered history.

From a compassionate and humane point of view, I think that nuclear weapons should have been banned from the get-go, especially after one has clearly witnessed their catastrophic effects on the Japanese populace. Yet, in reality, it had the opposite effect and was used as a driving force to gain power over others, leading to the nuclear arms race between the Americans and the Soviets.

They say that today’s bombs have a much more devastating effect than the ones used in Japan. I do not doubt that. Yet I also find it hard to understand the logic behind it all. How can more nuclear weapons make any country, let alone the world, safer?

This is not a Second Amendment issue as the Founding Fathers could not have remotely fathomed what degrees of destruction this land of opportunity would be capable of inflicting down the line. Also, with recent threats of atomic weapons falling into fanatic hands or volatile presidents, this danger has only increased the gravity of this situation.

Come to think of it, how can atomic bombs possibly protect us from the enemy? This is one of the cases where using it would not only wipe out your enemy but yourself in the process. So what exactly is the point here? Who wins a war that both sides will lose?

Finally, I would like this horrible tragedy in Japan some seventy years ago to serve as a stark example for future generations and politicians in the world to refrain from ever using weapons of such kind, no matter what the underlying circumstances.

In addition, one should stay far away - preferably a million miles away - from gung-ho cowboy presidents who think that wars and bombs are the solution for world peace. It happened once in Japan, and it ought to never ever happen again!


Vincent said...

If you read any factual account, such as this one in Wikipedia you'll see that the Japanese Government made no response to the Hiroshima bombing, which had been preceded by massive leaflet-dropping warning the people and also fire-bombing of other cities. The Japanese Government actively suppressed any anti-war feeling among the people. Although the atomic bomb was pursued as less costly to American forces, America was fighting against Japan not to further its power interests but to put an end to the cruel Japanese incursions throughout South-East Asia, which cost so many civilian lives and resulted in Allied soldiers being imprisoned in inhuman conditions, dying from starvation, disease and overwork with no prospect of being stopped by any rational negotiations.

My own involvement in this was to have been born in Australia after my mother fled from Singapore. My father joined the Australian Army as soon as he was 18 and though he survived the privations came back "half-alive" from Indonesia months after Hiroshima & Nagasaki. Millions of people in Malaya, Burma, Indonesia etc were grateful that the atomic bombs finally brought hostilities to an end.

American experts after the war then helped the reconstruction of Japan after the war. The one I know about was W Edwards Deming, who in 1950 and 1951 taught quality management methods & thus contributed to the creation of Japanese companies known for their innovation and quality throughout the world.

You make a point near the end of your piece, "Who wins a war that both sides will lose?" This was precisely the justification for the nuclear stand-off between Americans and Soviets.

It breaks down when there are crazy states and insurgents, who don't have ordinary standards of winning and losing. Let's not forget that the Japanese in WWII were suicidally fanatical (backed up like IS by ideologies - the state religion Shinto and the Samurai warrior ethic). The bombings ended that craziness and made them renounce belligerence for generations. I wonder what else could have achieved that, in the circumstances?

Arash Farzaneh said...

Hey Vincent,

As an academic I always wince when anybody tries to serve me "facts" by providing a Wikipedia link.

Notwithstanding, leaflets in such a war are completely useless. What did they expect, people to leave cities whole-scale or did they think those warnings would suddenly stop an egomaniac emperor?

And finally, since little was known about atomic bombs at the time and they were untested, those warnings were equally useless as people expected the regular type of bombings and not one with repercussions that would haunt future generations as well.

Also, giving 16 hours to surrender was not sufficient time. Remember that most likely phone lines had been destroyed. This point was brought to light during a lecture I attended and I do believe it to be true. I insist that the Americans should have waited and I do not understand the sudden haste of dropping yet another atomic bomb in such a short time span.

Sure, the Americans were fighting the expansion of Japan but that was again due to their own desire of expansion. And yes, I am also certain that there were very good and decent efforts to rebuild Japan thereafter, no doubt.

I am also very sorry to hear of experiences that have haunted you and your family. But my point is that such vicious large-scale attacks on civilians, regardless of nationality or ideology, are cruel and inhumane.

None of this was justified in my view as I do not believe in the ends justifying the means, especially when the means include deliberate mass slaughtering of civilians. Nor do I think that North America, both US and Canada, were right to forcefully and illegally deport people of Japanese ancestry to concentration camps.

But I would like to reiterate that I do not in any way condone the actions of a power-hungry Japanese emperor nor do I mean to arouse anti-American sentiment here (though a formal apology of the use of those atomic bombs is still outstanding).

All I would say is that Americans should think (at least) twice about who they choose as president and I will, somewhat uncharacteristically, support the words of Ted Cruz, that they ought to vote their conscience.

Vincent said...

Thanks for so graciously responding to the points I made. I really regret the challenges I put forward, which must have been a considerable irritation to you, putting you under pressure to defend the position you'd already set out clearly.

I don't like it when that's done to me. Bad behaviour on my part, it won't happen again!

Arash Farzaneh said...

No worries, dear Vincent! I enjoy your questions, comments and occasional challenges and do not think of them as irritating. Please do not be discouraged and keep them coming!

In fact, I am thrilled to see your comments. There will be an upcoming post in about a week or so on early American history and I can't wait to hear your thoughts on the matter!