On the 5th of August, the first day that marked the Japanese to “endure the unendurable and bear the unbearable” in a post-WWII era, hundreds gathered for the annual Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony in Japan for the 65th anniversary of America’s atomic bombing on Hiroshima. Prominent attendees included Japan’s Prime Minister Naoto Kan, the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, and for the first time – a U.S ambassador. The annual event is both an event to “never forget” the effects of nuclear weapons and a political move to discourage further nuclear proliferation.
At exactly 8:15 A.M, the ceremony was silent for a few moments to honor the memory of the dead.
Additionally, the United Nations held another memorial ceremony in Austria for both Hiroshima and Nagasaki victims today.
While news of U.S presence at the ceremony has spurred speculations on the significance of the presence of the only nuclear power to ever use nuclear weapons, it renewed an old debate: was it the right decision to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
The Americans and the Japanese
The Pacific theatre in World War II was appallingly brutal and unforgiving to both Japanese and American sides. Scarcely any prisoners of war were taken during and after battles that raged throughout the islands of the Pacific. Countless photos, accounts, and statistics show this savagery to the modern observer.
Propaganda played an important role in pushing the savagery to its limits: The Japanese thought American soldiers were cruel devils that were unfit to live as they supposedly had a feeble will in battle. The Americans thought the typical Japanese soldier was a buck-toothed, glass-wearing yellow primate intent on raping and killing every human being in sight.
As American soldiers island-hopped, the frightening conviction shown by their Japanese enemies made U.S strategists reconsider the invasion of homeland Japan. After all, if this kind of conviction was shown for islands not part of the homeland, what’s to be expected in Japan? Thousands of casualties kept racking up on the list, the ratio of the dead to the wounded, particularly on the Japanese side, showed such a large gap it started to make U.S commanders wonder if “the Japanese people would be extinct” by the end of the war.
Meanwhile, the Japanese Imperial military command hoped that “one important victory” would have American diplomats scurry to the table and discuss a compromise between the two warring nations. As Japan’s Imperial Navy tried to gain enormous naval victories, at Midway and such, the Imperial Army was simply unnotified of major defeats at sea and was told to fight to the death as an effort to deter American forces from ever setting foot on Japan.
At this point, Japanese soldiers had ‘evolved’ from banzai charges to digging in trenches dotted on targeted islands withstanding even the most fearsome naval barrages and aerial bombings. Most Japanese fought to the death on Saipan, Okinawa, Iwo Jima, the Phillippines, Shuri, and elsewhere which considerably slowed the inevitable movement to Japan.
Despite the Potsdam ultimatum of unconditional surrender, Japan’s leaders refused to surrender.
The Alternative Plan
Before Truman approved the use of the atom bomb, Allied forces built up an invasion plan called “Operation Downfall” with a few other plans which would include an amphibian invasion several times larger than D-Day in hypothetical cooperation with Soviet Russia. One theory presented that the U.S would invade and seize important areas such as Honshu and Kyushu while Russia would sweep down into present-day Manchuria, northern China, Korea and invade the northern part of Japan. From its foothold Okinawa, the American navy actually pummeled coastal cities with thousands of shells while “precision bombings” were carried out on more than 60 cities including Tokyo.
The Allies were dismayed when decoded messages showed the stubborn Japanese government was training tens of millions of civilians to “each kill at least two Americans” with crude weapons. Even more unfortunate for the Allied planners was the news of Japan’s preparation for an Operation Downfall and the almost insane enthusiasm shown by Japan’s leaders for a invasion. They actually hoped for an invasion! Even at this point in the war the Japanese clunged to the belief a prolonged war would bring about a Japanese-controlled negotiation.
The Japanese leadership knew their country’s layout well and figured out most of Operation Downfall’s targets; consequently they quadrupled existing forces in targeted areas. Reports of Japan’s reserved air force of some 5,000 functional fighters to be used as kamikazes also troubled the Allies.
Strategists at that time estimated that 1 to 3 million American soldiers were to die in the subsequent invasion.
For the average American soldier, it meant one out of every three of them would die. The time it would have taken for the invasion to occur would have been more morally wrong than dropping the atomic bombs as civilians would be subject to starvation and disease especially after the firebombings.
If the war was to continue indefinitely, the 168,000 American POWs in Japan could have been subjected to ’rough treatment… treatment similar to the treatment of prisoners of war in Bataan. Moreover, Japanese casualties were estimated to skyrocket up to 20 million if the invasion was to occur.
My opponents say the atomic bombings were “unnecessary”, particularly the bombing on Nagasaki, and further argue that the bombings were one of the most horrifying war crimes! Weren’t the Allies’ carpet bombing campaign, without atomic bombs, on countless European cities that killed hundreds of thousands of civilians a war crime? Should we not focus on the Rape of Nanking or the ghastly purges in Stalin’s Russia? It was war and it had to end quickly with minimal casualties and the atomic bomb was the weapon to use to achieve that end.
Those who demonize the historic use of atomic bombings as a sudden terror forget thousands of leaflets advising civilians to evacuate were dropped on Hiroshima days before the Enola Gay came along. Yet there was no mass exodus, the Japanese government had downplayed the warnings of a “terrifying weapon”. Even after the Hiroshima bombing, the Japanese military again downplayed the effects of the blast that stripped flesh from bone and turned many into radiated ghouls. This of course led to the Nagasaki bombing.
War crime, ‘unnecessary’, and terroristic are not the words that should be applied to the twin atomic bombings. While unfortunate for the victims and survivors, the two events at Nagasaki and Hiroshima ensured an end to the second World War and the protection of millions of lives quickly and efficiently.
(Cover Picture: Arch-Hiroshima)