This month will see the 60th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. There have been the usual columns from both sides. Should we have used the bomb? Should we have not used the bomb? I can’t say what my decision would have been if it had been mine to make based on the information that was available in August of 1945.
I don’t think it’s fair to judge based on what we’ve learned since the end of the war. All we had to go on was the cost in casualties that had occurred already. The Americans had 800,000 casualties and counting. The Japanese, over 1,000,000, My mom lost a classmate at Tarawa. My uncle got blown off one baby aircraft carrier and woke up on another one. There had been approximately eight million civilian casualties in the areas of Asia occupied by Japan alone.
We’d managed to totally devastate German cities like Dresden and Hamburg with conventional weapons and were well on our way to doing the same thing to the Japanese cities. In some ways it was horrifyingly easier to do the job. Most of their cities were built of wood. Nice well-seasoned wood. Aside from their Kamikaze pilots Japan had lost control of the airspace over their country.
One raid on Tokyo in the spring of 1945 destroyed sixteen square miles of the city and killed nearly 80,000 people. And that was one raid. The general commanding the Army Air Force estimated that the bombers would run out of useful targets by September of 1945. The low, that’s the low estimate of Allied casualties in an invasion of the Japanese home islands, was 30 to 35 percent.
The worst-case scenario we beloved we were facing was that the Japanese army was planning to mobilize the entire surviving population to resist the invasion planned for the spring of 1946.
The last major battle before the invasion of Japan was the battle of Okinawa ending in July of 1945. Approximate casualties-72.000 American, 130.000 Japanese, and 150.000 civilians.
There were no indications that invading Japan was going to be any easier. And there had never been a successful invasion of the Japanese home islands.
We know now that the civilian members of the Japanese government were trying to open negotiations through the Soviets. Unfortunately they didn’t know that the Soviets had promised to enter the Pacific War within three months after the end of the war in Europe and had no intention of negotiating on their behalf or acting as an intermediary.
In some ways I’m afraid the Japanese were stuck in God’s little acre. West of the American rock and East of the Soviet hard place as both sides maneuvered for post war positions of power. The Americans were hoping to end the Pacific War before the Soviet’s entered the war and had the chance to carve up parts of east Asia they way they were carving up eastern Europe.
I can understand the decision to use the bombs in 1945. What I have never been able to understand are the decisions to not only keep building atomic bombs but to upgrade to hydrogen bombs. To build so many of those demons' spawn that we could not only destroy ourselves but every other living thing on the planet.
I’ve seen some statistics that place the total casualties from WWII at close to fifty million. The Viet Nam War memorial has fifty thousand names on it. I wonder how far a similar memorial would reach with fifty million names on it.
I think that at this point everyone was so exhausted by the war that it was easier to make the decision to use the bombs than it should have been.
This entry has been hard. It refuses to come easily but it's the best I can do. Sixty years, who can believe it.
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