Tuesday, August 7, 2012

It's Hiroshima time, when Harry's second-guessers all come out to say what they'd have done

There's a thread on nuking Japan in the Amazon.com History discussion forum, and every anniversary of our nuking H&N we hear how Harry shoulda coulda woulda.

One repeated the old saw about a demonstration bombing in Tokyo Harbor. I said:

Sorry, Bro, it couldn't have been done in any better way.

Do your homework. For starts, we couldn't reach Tokyo harbor with a B29 with either Fat Man or Little Boy in its belly. So that option was out.

Moreover, do you have any idea how rational the Japanese high command was not? Opposition to surrendering was so great even after nuking two cities that they almost didn't. Anything less and they would have armed the Japanese populace with sharpened bamboo spears and waited for us on the beaches, figuring--probably correctly--that they were more willing to die than we were, and that we'd eventually give up.

Read Von Clausewitz. Or if that's overly tough slogging, try his most outstanding modern interpreter, the late Col. Harry G. Summers. He didn't write a book on WWII, but his classic purely military apolitical On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War provides a great intro to Von Clausewitz for the lay reader.

If you want to know what the Japanese high command was like and how it was thinking during that critical week, The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1936-1945 (Modern Library War)--amazingly well-researched and studiously nonpartisan. First-class historical research.

The real alternatives we faced were to either nuke them or go home. America is a democracy. Germany had already surrendered. We could not have mounted a blockade or a land invasion--the national will wasn't there. Maybe if we were a strong monarchy, but that wasn't the America we had.

So then you have to play out the consequence of leaving Japan in a state of war with us.

Good Japanese historians know the first thing that would have happened: the Soviet Union would have invaded, taking Hokkaido and possibly even northern Honshu. The Russian people were exhausted too, but Stalin wasn't, and he got what he wanted. And he wanted ports on the Pacific.

The Japanese were desperately trying to forge an alliance with Stalin, but that was a bizarre fantasy. Shows how desperate they were. And imminent Russian invasion helped persuade them to surrender to us, but it wasn't enough by itself, because the Japanese high command had gotten into a Gotterdammerung mindset.

So we'd have had an expanded Soviet Union, a Japanese nation south of the Soviet conquest still at war with us though helpless to do anything about it until they could rearm and find sources of raw materials. We might have been able to keep raw materials from flowing into the country. Of course countless Japanese would have starved to death with the rest suffering every day under a fanatical regime.

Which is wny astute Japanese historians believe, but can't say out loud, that we did them a favor by nuking them.

One tiny current hint as to the Japanese mentality: their domestic Olympics coverage. You think ours is rah-rah America jingoism? Theirs is nothing but Japanese. You'd think no one else was in the Olympics. The only thing the Japanese public wants to hear about is what and how Japanese did there. Period.

Every Hiroshima anniversary people come out and make confident declarations about the morally and strategically superior decisions they would have made if they were in President Truman's position.

They all sound vastly worse to me, both for the American people and the Japanese people.

Lastly, conquering them the way we did helped convince them to surrender without guerrilla warfare, and the kindness with which we treated them astonished them and made them into a staunch ally to this day.            

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