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on Feb 20, 2013
> The Stone-Kuznick interpretation contends the atomic bombing of Japan was unnecessary
I find the starting point for these discussions to be very interesting. What is it exactly?
What does "necessary" mean in this case? That in order to win the war and to beat the Japanese and end WWII looking back at cherry-picked information it was not strictly necessary in terms of someone's strategic evaluation from today?
But what I wonder is what do we get out of these kinds of questions and the discussions about them? What are we supposed to learn from this, and those lessons of course would always be predicated on us being the overwhelming winning in whatever military confrontation under discussion.
Maybe it is true that we could have won without using the bomb. Or maybe the equation was X number of American soldier's lives versus the number of Japanese ... i.e. enemy civilians at the time, and in our civilized day and time without passion and purely as a mental exercise we weight them one against the other. But I always wonder, if you or I were a soldier bunking in a ship approaching Japan for that invasion, how would you feel about having your life traded so that the Japanese who started the war would not have to lose 2 cities? I would not appreciate it. Most soldiers I imagine would say hell with it, drop the bomb and end this war without any more risk to people who should not have had to be there anyway.
The whole discussion becomes so complex, convoluted and emotional I don't see any point in ever discussing it any longer, and I have grown tired of hearing the self-righteous or bloodthirsty answers. It's done, it's over, and anything we say or conclude about the dropping of the bomb at this point is useless. It's not up for public vote what kind of military strategy the U.S. uses for what purpose ... that should be obvious.
So why are we wasting the time talking about this when there are really important things to think about and discuss?
I don't know if it is fair or applicable, but think about this on a personal level - this is war, crime and killing on a massive scale, emotions off the scale, do not think that revenge or vengeance is not an issue. The sanity of people or maybe whatever is left might depend on vengeance or closure, and maybe dropping the bomb provided that. we know already that there were worse fire-bombings of cities in both theaters and civilians, and to think that civilians are not part of or part of war is absurd looking at every war that ever was. When things get to war there is no way to keep it civilized.
There are so many factors to a subject like this that it is almost insulting to even see someone try to grasp hold of it for discussion in a movie or a talk. This is just another way to keep stirring American's emotions to keep them off balance and arguing with each other when it might be more useful to talk about why no Wall St. people are in jail and nothing has changed in the corporate world?
Well said Anon. Focus efforts where they will have a measurable effect.
My father was on a merchant Victory ship, which was sunk by a kamikazee (suicide plane) during the early part of the Okinawa battle. Thirteen of the crew were killed, including his best friend on the ship.
An interesting aside is that his friend had been on an earlier merchant ship that was sunk by a Japanese submarine. The sub then surfaced and the offiiers had a lot of fun by machine gunning the floating survivors in the water...the friend survived by ducking under water, behind some floating wreakage. But I digress.
My father eventually recovered from his shock, and was taken back to San Francisco, where he picked a new merchant ship, and headed back into the battle to face the home islands. His ship was carrying Marines, many of whom had faced ugly islands battles. Their hatred for the "japs" was palpable, and they had no intention of taking prisoners, because the Japanese civilians were taught to die for their homeland...the Marines would oblige them. Had the two A-bombs not been dropped, it would have been a bloody mess, despite what revisionist historians, like Barty Bernstien claim.
The fact that Barty is joining Oliver Stone is a real laugher. Remember, Stone is the one who made a movie stating that a magic bullet had to turn in two ways in mid air in "JFK". The truth is that the bullet just went on a straight trajectory to wound two men. Stone doesn't do his research properly. Neither does Barty.
The war with Japan ended up in a much better place, with a relatively quick ending. A prolonged land campaign, like Okinawa, would have left a much worse condition, physically and psychologically and politically for decades to come.
Oliver Stone is an alarmist who exaggerates greatly, and picks only the information that proves the point he wants to make. I do not trust his version of anything. He is the Michael Moore of recent history.
Remember Peleliu. Stretching from mid-September to late-November 1944, the battle materially changed Americans perceptions of the Japanese war machine, in my opinion. The battle was the first evidence of new Japanese defensive tactics. The result was a devastating battle, with relatively high losses on both sides.
"Those who do not remember (or know) the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana. The possibility there may have been an opportunity for a negotiated peace that was ignored in favor of showing the world the enormous power of our new weapon should be of interest to every American citizen. Perhaps then as now there is we were too quick, too eager, to exercise the military option when there may have been another way that would not have cost the lives of tens of thousands.
>The possibility there may have been an opportunity for a negotiated peace....
Yes, and if wishes were fishes....
The Japanese military was in total control, and committed to complete bushido commitment to the last person and last bullet. The two A-bombs convinced the Emperor (Hirohito)to confront his military masters. There was no way that Japan could have been starved out, without a military invasion. Barty presents a sophomoric model of history, regarding the Pacific war.
But hey, it got him tenure at Stanford, and that gets him a lecture room for his public meeting with Stone. Beem me up Scotty!
I used to be a leftist and then I was a right winger, but now I am a leftist again. Oliver stone is right again.
For me it's very simple and very obvious. First atomic bomb dropped 8/6/1945. Second atomic bomb dropped 8/9/1945. WWII over, complete surrender, 9/2/1945, completely due to the atomic bombs. Why do people keep overlooking that?
The BOMB ended the war. The emperor said exactly that: "...the enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb, the power of which to do damage is, indeed, incalculable, taking the toll of many innocent lives. Should we continue to fight, it would not only result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization...." Could it have been done as a demo with the same effect by dropping it in Tokyo harbor or at some purely military facility? Who knows? Never will know. It certainly gave the Japanese military the ability to surrender to over-whelming force ...and it was horrible.
Wow, what a flood of emotions after reading all the comments. My Father was a Marine. Served 4 years in the Pacific Theatre. Fought on Peleliu(thanks for the reference) and lost a good friend there. I thanked him every chance I had for serving. More than likely, if the war were to have continued, I wouldn't have had been born and fortunate to be raised by one if the "greatest generation" Dads. I was going to attend but, I don't think I could make it through the discussion based on what everyone has so eloquently spoke about. Too complex and to emotional for me. He used to tell me, "war is as close to hell as one could ever encounter". Thanks again for actually getting me to think about my fabulous Dad.
Everyone forgets that the Japanese started it by attacking us, we finished it. Period.
However, Japanese revisionist history says that WE attacked Japan first, and they retaliated with Pearl Harbor. This is what Japanese children are taught in school.
I know this because my cousin teaches at Tokyo U and has two daughters in the Japanese public school,system!
My impression is that there was NO debate about whether or not to drop the bomb (correct if I'm wrong). The bomb was developed after a massive and expensive Manhattan Project. To debate the wisdom or morality now? Fine. But to go back in history there was no voice or faction to stop this. Like trying to stop a freight train.
To "Remember Pearl Harbor". Do the Japanese believe we started it by blocking their access to oil? Or is there some actual USA on Japan physical attack which is being alleged in modern Japan schools?
It's also my understanding that, even after the dropping of the atomic bombs, the surrender of Japan happened barely. Japanese militarists were attempting a coup against the Emperor (which almost succeeded).
Hell I wish Vietnam could have dropped an atomic bomb on Nixon 1969-72 era (and yeah some collateral damage) to end that genocidal war. Goose and sauces and gander and such.
No one forgot pearl harbor and what happened. Actually Japan's version is not that the US attacked Japan, but with oil and other stuff cut off, Japan had no choice to attack. Not an excuse, but just their version. If you go to the war museum in Tokyo you can read about it. Maybe when you go visit your cousin in japan
Tokyo U.??? There is the University of Tokyo.
FDR acted to put economic sacntions on Japan, because Japan attacked Manchuria(Rape of Nanking, in case anyone cares anymore). The Japanese military gained political supremacy, and they were on the march. They used the Samarai notion of bushido, the warrior spirit, to engulf their nation into external aggression...and final defeat.
Yes, Japan attacked first, at Pearl Harbor. The USA attacked last, at Nagasaki.
It was the right way to end the war.
Barty Bernstein needs to do his homework.
I think it is worthwhile to hear what they have to say.
It is my opinion that it wasn't the atomic bombs but the Soviet Union's declaration of war on Japan and rapid advance in Manchuria that convinced the Japanese leadership (which was influenced by the military) to surrender. In fact, from what I have seen, the only people who strongly suggest that atomic bombs were decisive are some Americans.
After all, had the atomic bombs been truly decisive Japan would've surrendered immediately, but they didn't. They waited six days with the knowledge that it was only a three day difference between the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombing. The reason why it took nearly one week after Nagasaki to formally surrender is because news reached Tokyo of the capitulation of the Japanese Army in Manchuria to the Soviets.
For Japan, it was the downfall of the military that carried greater weight in their decision to surrender, not the bombing of two cities and death of civilians, which had been going on for 3-4 years. The firebombing of Tokyo in 1944 was more destructive and had more civilian deaths than either of the atomic bombs. It was also on the capital city, yet Japan did not surrender, because the Soviet Union had not entered the war.
In his speech to the people, Emperor Hirohito had only cited the atomic bomb as the reason for Japan to surrender because it would've shamed the Japanese military if he had cited the military defeats in Manchuria. It was easier for the Japanese military to accept defeat due to a new "super weapon" as opposed to a shameful military capitulation - 600,000 Japanese POWs were taken by the Russians (one of the largest surrender of troops in WW2 history). In addition, with all the Japanese propaganda built up during WW2 of the invincibility of the Japanese military it would've been shocking, confusing and shattering to the Japanese public if it was revealed that the army had been beaten on the field. The true losses were never revealed to the public at engagements such as the Battle of Midway. The Japanese public believed that the military was still in good condition right up until the end of the war.
From an American perspective using atomic bombs on two civilian cities was militarily unnecessary - particularly given the fact that President Truman knew exactly the date and time of when the Soviet Union would declare war and invade Japan (due to a previous agreement between Stalin and former President Roosevelt at the Yalta Conference).
The fact that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were deliberately spared from conventional aerial bombing throughout WW2, the fact that two different types of bombs - a uranium based one and a plutonium based one - were used on two different 'fresh' targets, and the fact that Truman set up the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission in 1946 whose purpose was not to treat the victims but to study the impacts of radiation on humans, the motivation for using the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki should be questioned because it was not justified from a military point of view.
A US invasion of Japan was also militarily unnecessary to end the war. Operation Downfall was only planned in anticipation when the Soviet Union inevitably invaded Japan in August 1945. The US Navy in fact had strongly opposed any invasion of Japan, and it was only General MacArthur and the US Army who vouched for it. Interestingly, MacArthur had opposed the use of atomic bombs on civilians when he found out.
American military generals who were there in WW2, such the likes of Fleet Admiral Nimitz, Fleet Admiral Leahy, General Clarke all disagreed with the use of atomic bombs. Even scientists of the Manhattan Project urged Truman not to use it. Therefore, there must be some weight to the argument that the atomic bombs were unnecessary.
I heard Professor Bernstein lecture on the subject about two years ago, and I don't believe he agrees with O.Stone's thesis that the dropping of the Atomic bombs was unnecessary. As I remember it, Nagasaki, yes - Hiroshima, no. Perhaps those who assume that the professor is "guilty by association" because he is moderating a panel discussion would be better informed if they actually read his body of work or attended his lecture next week.
To the person who said discussing this is a waste of time, I disagree; but then I am a history teacher who really does believe we need to learn from the past, to help us be informed citizens and to think about present day issues (Iraq, Iran, drones). I personally that history helps provide context.
As new evidence and documents that were classified during WWII get released, we need to incorporate that evidence into our historical knowledge. And if the narrative changes, we need to follow where the evidence leads. How can we make sound decisions if our understanding of the past is based only on post war propaganda, (or one individual's experience? My late step-father was on the mission to fire-bomb Tokyo. He had no regrets, but I have a hard time accepting that the bombing of civilians is ethical). Thank goodness for professional historians who dedicate themselves to research and scholarship.
See the numerous WWII military leaders who said the bombing was not necessary, including Eisenhower, and C.LeMay - he who was firebombing Japanese cities: Web Link
Huffman, James L., "Japan and Imperialism, 1853-1945" General overview.
Miller, E. "Bankrupting the Enemy: the U.S. Financial Siege of Japan before Pearl Harbor" -recently published by the Naval Institute, a scholarly work based on new unclassified docs. This work provides additional insight into US/Japanese relations before the war.
"Fog of war", documentary/interview R.McNamara (to learn about fire bombing Japanese cities).
"Wings of Defeat: Another Journey," documentary: two 80 yr old U.S. WWII vets who survived a Kamikaze attack travel to Japan to meet Japanese kamikaze vets.
White Light/Black Rain - documentary with Hibakusha, and surviving members of the Enola Gay mission.
>After all, had the atomic bombs been truly decisive Japan would've surrendered immediately, but they didn't. They waited six days with the knowledge that it was only a three day difference between the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombing.
Michael, try to use some logic. If the A-bombs had not been dropped in August, 1945, do you think Hirohito would have surrendered within about a week of Nagasaki? BTW, don't forget about additional strategic bombing by Curtis LeMay, after Nagasaki.
Yes, Stalin understood the opportunity to agress, and gain territory in Manchuria, but even he was not willing to invade the home islands. The Americans were willing...but the Bombs finished it off. Ask Hirohito.
The bottom line is that the Atomic bombs prevented the American land invasion of the home islands, which would have been incredibly bloody. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
An old friend of mine was in Communist Party 1930's to 40's. He was sort of a "spy" of sorts. Infiltrated HL Hunts business and political associations. He got work that Japan would attack just before they did. But everyone thought it would be Wake Island, not Pearl Harbor.
I agree with Anon about history being important. But part of that is realizing that there was just no way to stop the train, so to speak.
The notion that this is not worth discussing is silly. True applying our sensibilities in 2013 to a 1945 nation that had experienced Pearl Harbor, Bataan and the island hopping campaign to prepare for the final invasion is precarious. It was still a valid exercise. We know where Stone comes from, so we include that in the equation. It was still worth listening to what he and Kuznick had to say. He does choose his evidence much the way Moore does, as was stated above. New analysis does not have to be revisionist. I learned a few items to add to what I already knew of the decision to drop the bomb. It did not change my opinion, but I know more.
>I agree with Anon about history being important. But part of that is realizing that there was just no way to stop the train, so to speak.
Japan could have accepted unconditional surrender, as Truman/Churchill/partially Stalin demanded at Potsdam. Hirohito wanted to protect his own position as a god-emperor. His military consistently voted to demand a fight to the last man. Despite the fact that Japanese civilians were on their last legs, they were still willing to make a final bonzai charge on the beaches and in their towns. The U.S. Marines were used to such circumstances, and they would not take prisioners. It would have been a slaughter, especially for the Japanese, but also for the American military.
Few people, today, understand the fantacism of Japan, in that period. A few academics, like Barty B. cherry pick some quotes from various military commanders, but Truman had the bigger picture in mind, especially including the bloodbath of a land invasion.
My own mother was a bucket of tears, as she watched my father go back out there, on his new merchant ship full of battle hardened Marines. The USA wanted the quickest end to war, as possible. Truman and the atomic bomb provided it, and it was the most humane way to achieve it, under the circumstances.
So yes, history is important, but what history? What narrative? What context? Certainly not Oliver Stone or Barty B.
If history was so useful then one would suppose that we might learn a little bit from it and not constantly make the same mistakes and maybe even extrapolate problems and find solutions to them, but we don't. We don't because it does not matter who studies history of what they think about it when they have no input into the decision making process or if the lessons of history clash with the profits of large interests it doesn't matter anyway.
History is just like our own personal memories in a macrocosm, and a lot of people seem to not be so up to date on what happened in their own lives, let alone something that happened in another time and place.
I am not saying I oppose or dislike history - I love history, the problem is that like the present who can possibly think that what you get from history is any more complete or objective that what we get from the present? We can find out more that completely changes the nature of what we previously thought based on history. It's nice to discuss history but it's not any magic bullet for answers.
I have no doubt that the Japanese wouldn't have given a second thought about using the A-bomb against us if they'd had it. That doesn't mean that we had to be the same as them. Unfortunately the waging of war in WWII degenerated into the bombing of civilians by all sides. I have wondered what would've happened if we had done a "demonstration" A-bomb explosion in a fairly uninhabited part of the Japanese islands -- saying that if Japan didn't surrender after seeing the power of the bomb -- then their cities were next.
>I have wondered what would've happened if we had done a "demonstration" A-bomb explosion in a fairly uninhabited part of the Japanese islands -- saying that if Japan didn't surrender after seeing the power of the bomb -- then their cities were next.
Alex, was your father out there, part of invasion force of the home islands? My father was.
Hirohito was only persuaded to concede, because he was about to be crushed, after two atom bombs, along with Curtis Lemay and his B-29s. The Soviets only came in, after the first A-bomb. A demonstration bomb would have useless, because it would have been seen as impotent.
Hirohito made his first statement to his people, because he could no longer face even more A-bombs. Truman got it right.
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