Breaking the Nuclear Taboo

Avatar

Will

Will writes from Washington, D.C. (well, Arlington, Virginia). You can reach him at willblogcorrespondence at gmail dot com.

Related Post Roulette

48 Responses

  1. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    “… I am always amazed by people who just assume that leveling two cities with atomic weaponry wasn’t a morally unambiugous decision.”

    We can find people who point out that Pol Pot thought that he was right. Why would finding people that are willing to give Harry Truman the benefit of the doubt be any less surprising?Report

  2. Avatar Scott
    Ignored
    says:

    More morally ambiguous than what, killing millions by invading Japan? Fire bombing killed more than the atomic bombs. The US should apologize for the nukes when they apologize for starting the war in the first place. Not to mention that my grandfather was one of those saved by our use of the bomb as he was drafted near the end of the war. Since Obama is already bowing to the Japs I’m sure he apologize as wellReport

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Scott
      Ignored
      says:

      If someone, oh, 65ish or older uses that particular slur, I tend to think “oh, grampa, the things you say” because, hey. My Grandad was in WWII and he fought in the Pacific and he said a lot of stuff about people from that part of the world. It wouldn’t surprise me if someone raised by someone like that would have such things rub off.

      That said, when I encounter people under, say, 40ish who say such things, my eyes widen a little and I wonder phrases in which the word “sense” shows up quite often.

      Are you under 40ish? I’d like to know which essay I ought to be inclined to write.Report

      • Avatar Scott in reply to Jaybird
        Ignored
        says:

        I’m slightly under 40 and you can save your essay for someone who cares.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Scott
          Ignored
          says:

          It’s no trouble, don’t worry about it.

          Do you not have any goddamn sense?

          We don’t even have to go into the whole “you shouldn’t feel this way, you should feel *THIS* way” discussion. We can go meta.

          Imagine, if you will, that you were on a website where you knew that even the self-identified right-leaning folks were pretty much hippies. Now imagine that you are writing a post in which you are giving an argument against the argument against dropping the bomb. Imagine bringing up alternatives… fire bombing, say. Staying in the Pacific a lot longer, say. Now, I’m going to ask you to do this:

          Imagine the response of all of those hippies out there reading this turn into a diatribe against Obama that uses a racial slur.

          You see all of them rolling their eyes at once now, don’t you? With that one sentence yelling at Obama that uses a slur, you have completely undercut any point you might have had arguing against the arguments against dropping the bomb on Japan *AND* have succeeded in poisoning the well for anyone who is inclined to argue WWII history for the rest of the post.

          If that was not your intention, it’s fair to ask “why didn’t you see such a thing happening?” when you were writing the sentence.

          The conclusion I reached is that you don’t have any goddamn sense.Report

    • Avatar Ian M. in reply to Scott
      Ignored
      says:

      You can make a pretty good argument that demonstrating nuclear might avoided a bloody land invasion by Allied forces. But why not drop it off the coast where the Japanese military could observe? Why only give a nation three days before destroying Nagasaki? There were ways of scaring Japan that did not involve killing hundreds of thousands of people.Report

      • Avatar Scott in reply to Ian M.
        Ignored
        says:

        How were you going to scare people that had already proven time and again that they were willing to participate in human wave attacks against dug in positions and be slaughtered wholesale for little if no gain?Report

        • Avatar Ian M. in reply to Scott
          Ignored
          says:

          Probably by the same method that caused them to surrender – demonstrating overwhelming technological superiority.Report

          • Avatar Scott in reply to Ian M.
            Ignored
            says:

            That was considered and if you had read anything about the decision to use the bomb, you would know why it was rejected. First b/c the test could have very well failed which would have been a propaganda coup for the Japs and second, if we had made a test bomb we would have consumed very scarce fissile material that would have taken months to replace. Not to mention that the use of the bomb on Hiroshima didn’t get them to surrender so what makes you think a test would have?Report

            • Avatar Ian M. in reply to Scott
              Ignored
              says:

              Scott, considering you haven’t cited a source in this entire thread it’s pretty bold to call me out. Cite your sources so I can see how old the historiography is and we’ll move from there.Report

            • Avatar James in reply to Scott
              Ignored
              says:

              Scott, the official military report on the matter stated that it was unneccessary. That Japan was going to surrender anyway.Report

              • Avatar Scott in reply to James
                Ignored
                says:

                I’m not sure which “official military report” you are referring to. However, it is is so easy and convenient to say that after the fact but no one knew that Japan was going to surrender at the time, especially given their continuing fanatical resistance up to the point. As I said in previous post on Nov 16 in response to Will, “Last time I checked, military decisions aren’t usually made by what facts might be known after the fact. Also, if you read the article it said the Strategic Bombing Survey assumed increased fire-bombing of Japanese cities.”Report

              • Avatar Ian M in reply to Scott
                Ignored
                says:

                Note the continued lack of sources and the posturing – these are signs of weakness. Scott you have called me out for lack of background and I’m asking for your bona fides. Cite some damn sources or give it up.Report

              • Avatar Scott in reply to Ian M
                Ignored
                says:

                Sorry I don’t keep a bibliography of all of the books I’ve read to provide references to folks like you that don’t seem to have a basic grasp of the subject. It is always much easy to second guess folks and say well they should have done this or that. I’ve been able to find the link below which should allow you to learn something, though I usually am loath to trust internet sources. Please don’t forget to post that I was correct.

                http://www.history.army.mil/books/70-7_23.htmReport

              • Avatar Ian M. in reply to Scott
                Ignored
                says:

                Let’s go through some of your statements.

                “my grandfather was one of those saved by our use of the bomb as he was drafted near the end of the war.”
                You cannot know this although it is certainly has powerful meaning for you.

                “How were you going to scare people that had already proven time and again that they were willing to participate in human wave attacks against dug in positions and be slaughtered wholesale for little if no gain?”
                You do not have to scare all the Japanese people, you have to convince the governing elite who have nothing to do with human wave attacks. More correctly, you would say who do you dissuade a military elite with such disdain for the lives of their own troops. Given that this indoctrination was primarily super nationalism combined with state Shinto, really have to convince Hirohito who was considered a direct descendent of Amaterasu the sun goddess. Hirohito was already asking his ministers to draft a surrender plan in June of 1945. We have no idea how that would have played out.

                “That was considered and if you had read anything about the decision to use the bomb, you would know why it was rejected. First b/c the test could have very well failed which would have been a propaganda coup for the Japs and second, if we had made a test bomb we would have consumed very scarce fissile material that would have taken months to replace. Not to mention that the use of the bomb on Hiroshima didn’t get them to surrender so what makes you think a test would have?”
                I know the reasons that the US military chose to drop the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I just disagree this was the only decision and I wonder whether it was the right decision. Your casual dismissal of alternates and unquestioned acceptance of the sound reasoning from that time ignores the fact that it is not 1945. The article you posted showed an array of options that were considered and rejected. The US military decided to use the bombs on military targets, but this was not the preferred option of the scientists involved with the project. There was a dissent of opinions about this most of which are not considered important because of what actually happened. On your last point, the bombing of Nagasaki happened three days after Hiroshima. I have always thought they should have let the Japanese stew a bit more. Russia declared war on Japan on August 9, 1945. We will never know whether this alone would have convinced the Japanese to surrender, but the threat of Soviet invasion was certainly a reason for the surrender.

                “Sorry I don’t keep a bibliography of all of the books I’ve read to provide references to folks like you that don’t seem to have a basic grasp of the subject. It is always much easy to second guess folks and say well they should have done this or that. I’ve been able to find the link below which should allow you to learn something, though I usually am loath to trust internet sources. Please don’t forget to post that I was correct.”
                You have regurgitated the considered opinion of the US military. Your intellectual mistake is to assume that correctly relating their thoughts ends the argument. You are certainly correct in transcribing the reasons, just as you aggressively push away any attempt to question whether it was the best possible thing to do.
                “I don’t think at the time the decision to bomb was morally ambiguous as it clearly was meant to and did in fact save American lives. Of course it is easy to wring your hands after the fact and say it wasn’t necessary or that the decision was morally ambiguous after all the facts were in. Clearly, the US would have gone on fire-bombing Japan and killing scores that way which I can hardly say is any more or less moral than nuking them.”
                It is morally ambiguous in that there were other options which did not involve destroying a city on the table and everyone involved in the decision struggled with it. The decision makers at the time did wring their hands, read the article at the end of the link you provided (by the way Louis Morton is a respected scholar). Also considering Russia’s involvement in the decision to surrender you cannot jump to saying the atomic bombs avoided fire bombings.
                Let me make something totally clear. There is a branch of historiography on the decision to use the bomb which argues that it was primarily for management of post-war Russian relations. I reject this line of scholarship, which has simply not stood the test of time. I have not argued here that the decision to use the bomb was anything other than an attempt to end the war with Japan.Report

  3. Avatar Transplanted Lawyer
    Ignored
    says:

    Well, I agree that a statement like “Oh noes! If Obama admits that dropping nukes (or firebombs) on Japan had any level moral ambiguities whatsoever, he’d be surrendering American sovereignty!!!! When are we going to impeach this guy already?” is remarkably silly. The use of any weapon that causes collateral damage to the civilian population, even during wartime, creates moral ambiguities and to pretend otherwise is to demonstrate the morality of a simpleton.

    But that doesn’t mean I would approve of an apology. The fact is, we were at war with Japan when we dropped the nukes, a war that we didn’t invite or initiate. The nukes were no more morally ambiguous than the use of any other weapon which could be anticipated to cause civilian collateral damage. The use of military techniques causing harm to noncombatants has been an incident of war since time immemorial and will continue to be so for as long as there is war.

    Better to simply regret that our nations were ever at war in the first place, to demonstrate sympathy for the wounded and respect for the veterans (yes, on both sides), and to express gratitude that our peoples and our leaders have found that friendship, free trade, diplomatic ties, and a common commitment to the rule of law has taken us both out of those dark days of the past and into a future where we can peacefully co-exist — and to express hopes that we will continue in that manner for the foreseeable future.Report

    • Avatar Will in reply to Transplanted Lawyer
      Ignored
      says:

      Transplanted Lawyer –

      If civilians are killed in the course of an attack on a legitimate military target, I can accept that as a regrettable but justifiable consequence of warfare. The military value of leveling Hiroshima and Nagasaki, however, was marginal at best. The attacks were aimed at convincing Japan’s civilian population and political leadership that further resistance was futile, a rationale that strikes me as dangerously close to justifying terrorist attacks on civilian targets. This doesn’t erase Japan’s culpability for attacking the United States, but the military rationale for nuking two major Japanese cities seems remarkably thin in retrospect.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Will
        Ignored
        says:

        We were not merely sending a message to the Japanese, but Stalin as well.

        Patton, I seem to recall, said something to the effect of “we’re going to go to war against this SOB, we might as well do it now when we’ve got an army here anyway.”

        Saying “if we didn’t do X, Y would have happened!” is one of those things that really can’t be explored at this point in time but it should be fair to point out that people who were in the know back then seriously considered a land war against Russia to be not only a possibility but an inevitability.

        If the bomb dropping on Japan prevented Patton’s vision of the future, then I imagine that it would become somewhat more understandable to imagine how some might see the bomb dropping as something moved from morally unambiguous to morally ambiguous.Report

        • Avatar North in reply to Jaybird
          Ignored
          says:

          Yeah Jay I thought about that myself but I don’t know if the subtle messaging to the Soviets can be counted into that. Still, there was a long period of comparative peace that came about under the shadow of the mushroom cloud.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to North
            Ignored
            says:

            I don’t know if it was that subtle, given what happened with, say, Berlin.

            From what I understand, Eisenhower made sure that Stalin got his “share” of scientists capable of making a bomb. I see the end of WWII as a deliberate set-up to the 70-year staring match that followed.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Will
        Ignored
        says:

        I don’t know Will. I join you in recoiling at the thought of the destruction caused by those bombs. But there is merit to the arguments that support their use.

        -It should be noted that it was only after the second bomb was deployed that the Soviets ended the Sino-Soviet non-aggression agreement and entered the war. We should keep in mind that this act probably was almost as decisive if not more decisive in swaying the opinion in the Japanese command and populace in favor of surrender.

        -Prior to the bombs and the Soviets entering the war the Japanese were strongly of the opinion that an invasion of the home islands was to be resisted at all levels of society including a mass arming of the populace for strenuous resistance. The human cost both to the Americans and to the Japanese of a ground invasion of Japan proper should not be lowballed.

        -In response to the American bombing the Japanese had (aptly really) decentralized and scattered their war industry among the population centers. While I don’t think they really thought of it as human shields per say rather than situating their micro factories where the workers were it can be argued that both cities had significant military value and considering that these were wars where very general bombing and firebombing was employed I don’t know if the nukes could have been considered any more general and civilian targeting; just more efficient.

        -It is also important to consider that even after both bombs and the Soviet entry into the war there was a significant attempt at an internal military coup when the Japanese moved to make terms. The indoctrination of some levels of their society at this time has been extensively documented.

        Obviously incinerating thousands of people in nuclear fire is not a step to be taken lightly but I don’t see that Truman really had any moral options. I am very strongly skeptical that the body count of those two poor doomed cities is higher than the toll in lives that would have been exacted had the war ground on. I’m dubious even that the civilian toll would have come in lower considering how many steps the Japanese command was taking to militarize the general populace against an American incursion. In light of all of those thoughts I do genuinely believe that Truman made the less bad choice of the terrible choices offered to him.Report

      • Avatar Scott in reply to Will
        Ignored
        says:

        “The military value of leveling Hiroshima and Nagasaki, however, was marginal at best.”

        According to whom? Both were sea-ports, vital to an island nation. Hiroshima was home to a Japanese Army HQ and military supply depots. Nagasaki was a center of heavy industry, its main industry was ship-building again vital to an island nation. It seems to me both were legitimate military targets. If there is any city the Allies might apologize for bombing it is surely Dresden.Report

  4. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    Hey! Unambiguous turned into ambiguous!

    This completely changes my attitude about the post!!!!!!Report

  5. Avatar Nob Akimoto
    Ignored
    says:

    …Japs…Really?

    I mean I suppose I should be happy you weren’t calling us “nips” but come the fuck on…Report

    • Avatar Nob Akimoto in reply to Nob Akimoto
      Ignored
      says:

      Okay now that my outrage is out of the way…

      I’m not going to say the issue is morally unambiguous. One can make arguments versus counterfactuals that the atom bombs were on the whole a net positive. But that sure as hell doesn’t mean you go around telling people (much less your allies) to “shut up and stop whining” or that it was “deserved” or whatever other jingoistic bullshit you guys are trying to peddle.

      What would the American response be if say a serving head of state (Oh I dunno Sarkozy) came to Pearl Harbor and said “Good thing you guys got bombed here in ’41, imagine all the other lives that would’ve been lost if you hadn’t entered the war!”

      …yeah, that’s what I thought.Report

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *