Rethinking Hiroshima/Nagasaki

March 31, 2009


click me^–>

[First published August 28, 2005] I came across an article,“Why Truman Dropped the Bomb” by Richard B. Frank (an historian of World War II, author of Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire) appearing in The Weekly Standard. Frank provides new intelligence (the complete “Magic” intercepts released in 1995 of Japanese communication at the highest levels) and information, and a new slant on the dropping of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki A-bombs that I had not considered.

I should note that Frank believes that dropping the bombs were not only a good decision, but necessitated by what we have now come to understand was the situation at the end of July in 1945 (the Hiroshima bomb was dropped on August 6).

What do we now know we didn’t know or know well a decade or more ago?

1. The Japanese knew we were planning to invade Kyushu, were building up their forces to a make an invasion very difficult, if not impossible, and we knew that from our intercepts of their high and low level communications.

2. Aware of this, and believing that such an invasion would be too costly to be sustainable by the American people, the commander in chief of the U.S. Fleet Admiral King, and Pacific Fleet Admiral Nimitz opposed the invasion and when the final decision had to be made, the Navy would have fought for a blockade and bombardment of the Japanese Islands instead. Frank writes that the invasion “had become unthinkable.” So much for justifying the A-bombing by the cost in lives of such an invasion.

3. While the Japanese inner Cabinet did authorize peace feelers in Moscow, their bottom line strictly adhered to until after Nagasaki, was not only the continuation of the prerogatives of the Emperor, but also of the old fascist order. So, if we had moderated our unconditional surrender demand to allow for the continuation of the emperor, it would not have made any difference. So much for peace feelers.

4. While the dropping of the A-bombs was by all standards of warfare, including the Hague and Geneva Conventions, a war crime and democide in my terms, on balance I have to consider that daily throughout Asia and the Pacific, the Japanese military were murdering vast numbers of civilians and POWs. The American historian Robert Newman put the death toll at about 400,000 Asians a month. By my calculations, this is not too far off, since I tally a total Japanese democide during the war of 5.9 million (Calculated here. See the resulting table in the uper right). In honesty, in considering the morality of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I had completely forgotten about the ongoing Japanese democide.

5. Whether we invaded or not, we can’t ignore Stalin. He entered the war against Japan on August 9. Had we not used the A-bombs and had the Japanese inner cabinet and emperor continued to fight to the end, he would have taken all of Korea, and even perhaps undertaken an invasion of Japan’s northern Island of Hokkaido of western Honshu (Stalin had no compunction about squandering millions of lives). I leave to your imagination what a Korea ruled totally by Stalin and his having a foothold in Japan would have meant for the post-war world, human lives, and Japanese democracy.
So, have I changed my view? By definition and how I have labeled similar actions by the Soviets, Nazis, and Japanese military, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were democide. I can’t change that unless I totally rewrite and recalculate all I’ve done on democide. But morally, is it right to murder hundreds of thousands to save the lives of even more? Or, to save nations (South Korea and Japan) from Stalin’s democidal horrors?
I have to tell you, recognizing these arguments is painful for me. For the last two-decades, I have consistently opposed any democide as a crime against humanity and immoral. Now, the above arguments inexorably force me to accept that massive democide can be necessary to prevent even greater democide (Japanese democide was not speculative, but known, and ongoing; nor was what Stalin did in occupied countries speculative), and thus a moral tradeoff. It is the same for the assassination (an international crime) I recommend of Kim Jung Il, or my approval of torture (an international crime also) when it would save many lives.

Sometimes I envy those on the far left or right. They live in a world of red and blue absolutes, and will not be bothered by conditionals and qualifications; and do not understand that nature, life, and ethics are a balance.

Link of Note

“ENDING THE PACIFIC WAR: HISTORY AND FANTASY” (3/25/01) By Richard B. Frank

Frank says:

The decisions made by President Truman and his subordinates to add nuclear weapons to the campaign of blockade and bombardment cost the lives of between 100,000 and 200,000 Japanese at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, on top of the many tens of thousands of others who died in the incendiary raids or due to the ultimate effects of the blockade. Those Japanese noncombatants, however, held no stronger right not to be slaughtered than the vast numbers of Chinese and other Asian noncombatants dying daily, the Japanese noncombatants on the Asian continent dead or forever missing in Soviet captivity, or the Japanese noncombatants (not to mention Allied prisoners-of-war and civilian internees) who would have perished of starvation and disease in the final agony of the blockade. Thus, alternatives to the atomic bombs carried no guarantee as to when they would end the war and a far higher price in human death and suffering.

Finally, the deaths actually incurred in ending the war were not gratuitous. American goals were not simply victory but peace. Had American leaders in 1945 been assured that Japan and America would pass two generations in tranquility and still look forward with no prospect of future conflict, they would have believed their hard choices had been vindicated- -and so should we.

Yes, well put.


The Wisdom of the Demos

February 24, 2009

[First published January 2, 2006] James Surowiecki’s book, The Wisdom of Crowd (2004) argues that if groups are diverse in membership and their members are independent, then the collective wisdom of the group is often better than that of even the brightest, best informed members. However, there has to be some way of aggregating and organizing the wisdom of the members to arrive at the wisdom of the group.

For example, consider the question as to how many beans (marbles, pennies, etc.) there are in a jar. Now, if each member of large and diverse group independently makes a guess, and then all the guesses are averaged, the average will almost always be closer to the actual number than any one guess. Surowiecki provides many other examples, some real world, such as how the free market illustrates the wisdom of the group (nation). He arrives at the underused concept that I employ for the working of a free market and a democracy, which is Hayek’s idea of a spontaneous society.

Surowiecki concludes his book on democracy, on which he says that democracy:

is not a way of solving cognition problems or a mechanism for revealing the public interest. But it is a way of dealing with (if not solving once and for all) the most fundamental problems of cooperation and coordination: How do we live together? How can living together work to our mutual benefit? Democracy helps people answer those questions because the democratic experience is an experience of not getting everything you want. It’s an experience of seeing your opponents win and get what you hoped to have, and of accepting it, because you believe that they will not destroy the things you value and because you know you will have another chance to get what you want. In that sense, a healthy democracy inculcates the virtues of compromise — which is, after all, the foundation of the social contract — and change. The decisions that democracies make may not demonstrate the wisdom of the crowd. The decision to make them democratically does.

And thus, democracy is a method of nonviolence



A problem with changing one’s mind in public from X to -X, is that it takes a long time for the public to recognize -X, and then one is stuck with saying, “Oh, I no longer agree with myself then.” Thus, regarding Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Anonymous posted a comment yesterday that I should answer now before it confuses visitors. Anonymous says:

With all due respect: Your arguments seem a bit weak and a bit other-wordly.

1) Real people in the real world have to make judgment calls. Your pretending that the millions of lives saved by dropping the bomb – most of them Japanese civilians who would have been killed in the invasion or in continued fire bombings – were speculative and therefore you seem to disregard them altogether. But any real person in a position of real authority would have had to make an estimate of what the costs would have been. They really are not speculative. Based on all the available evidence, it would have been a long, drawn out bloodbath.

2. Your pretending that “maybe Japan would have just surrendered without a large invasion” is a leap into the realm of let’s pretend; maybe such and such could have happened; – but you refused to do any speculating in Issue number 1, above. Not fair.

3. Acoording to Victor Davis Hanson, the Chinese were dying at a phenomenal rate because of continued Japanese occupation. If I recall correctly, they were dying at the rate of 250,000 per month. And the Japanese probably killed about 15 million total. It is difficult to gather much sympathy for a population that supported that kind of slaughter. Plus, your position that they were all brainwashed automatons doesn’t work – they never heard from the soldiers who came home what was happening? And if you insist on the point, are you willing to grant the same to the German population that allowed the extermination of the Jews? Are they totally innocent as well?

4. The very sad part of this is that people who take your position seem to have unlimited sympathy for Japanese children, while speaking not one word about the truly innocent Chinese, Burmese, Vietnamese, Korean, etc. children who were starved to death by the Japanese, used in experiments or just plain murdered. They continued to die every day the war went on. The critical thing about the war was that it be ended as soon as possible.

War is hell. But when an A-bomb saves millions of lives by finally shattering the Japanese war machine it was a very, very good thing. It was the Japanese who put us in a very bad position. They made it very clear they would go on killing Americans and everyone else in their grasp for as long as they could – only American might saved them from becoming one of the most brutal empires ever known.

How odd that it took 60 years – and the deaths of most of the generation who were alive at the time and who actually witnessed these events – for the brave academy to come out in opposition to the dropping of the bomb. And by selectively looking at the conflict from the side of the country that started the entire bloodbath.

RJR: I agree with all that Anonymous says, leaving aside some of the wording. The problem is that Anonymous must have been reading my earlier post, “Hiroshima-Nagasaki was Democide,” where I made the assertions to which Anonymous is apparently responding. He must have missed my reluctant change of mind to accept the bombing in my “Rethinking Hiroshima and Nagasaki”, and especially, my complete acceptance of the bombing, for many of the reasons Anonymous mentions, in “A Just Democide Doctrine?”

While agreeing with Anonymous, I want to be sure that everyone who reads this understands that what is implicitly involved here is a “Just Democide Doctrine. This is to say that under certain conditions, we are faced with the ugly choice of murdering hundreds of thousands of civilians as the lesser of two evils. I want this upfront and faced directly, for it is taken as a moral absolute that one does not commit genocide or democide.

Facing this virtually indigestible moral dilemma even further underlines and capitalizes the moral good of democracy. For as democratic freedom is universalized, then the wars in which such awful choices have to be made will never inflict humanity again.