Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Another Take

Longtime (and therefore long-suffering) elementropy reader and fellow Primate Michael Humphreys offers the following meditation on the moral fallout of the nuclear attacks on Japan that concluded WWII:

Been listening on public radio to shows about Hiroshima and Nagasaki and reading related articles in the FT Weekend edition. Depressing to hear how Truman lied to the American public about Hiroshima being a military target.

When I was in college I wrote a paper about the decision to drop the bomb, and, sorry as I am to admit it, I took the conventional view that it saved lives. (Of course, I didn't really know what the hell I was talking about.)

All nations need to examine their consciences. Few do. Almost none do unless forced to (e.g., Germany).

In addition to coming to terms with the profound evil of slavery and Jim Crow apartheid, the conquest and destruction of native American culture, the Mexican-American War, at least a century of colonialist/corporatist outrages in South America and the Phillipines, the Indochina disaster, and now the conduct of the war in Iraq, America must come to terms with the profound evil of nuking Hiroshima and Nagasaki (and firebombing Tokyo). (Now that I think about it, in the recent documentary about Vietnam featuring extensive reminiscences of McNamara, the latter said that the Air Force general in charge of Tokyo (some madman named Curtis LeMay) admitted to Bob Mac that he would have been charged with war crimes if the United States had lost the war. . . . I believe that LeMay later distinguished himself by recommending to President Kennedy the reasonableness of preemptive nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis.)

Even leaving aside the issues of whether unconditional surrender was appropriate (perhaps it was, even if MacArthur subsequently allowed Japan to keep its Emperor anyway, as MacArthur did insist the Japanese abandon their belief in the young man’s divinity), the understandable motivation of frightening one of history's handful of insane mega-monsters (Stalin), and lest it not be forgotten, the horrific, truly horrific cruelties committed by the Japanese, I simply do not understand why the United States couldn't at least have shown as much respect for human life as the Irish Republican Army.

The IRA has sometimes had the decency to warn when they were about to blow up a building. Why couldn't we have warned the Japanese to evacuate some remote island that was part of Japan before demonstrating our power to eliminate it? (Not to be callous, but Japan was uniquely “qualified” geographically to “absorb” a “contained” nuclear strike.)

This is hardly an original idea. Yet the only argument against it I have heard—that we were so unsure about whether the bomb would function that a failed “demonstration” was a great risk, and that such “failure” would have emboldened Japanese resistance and Stalin’s ambitions—makes no sense. We had already “successfully” nuked New Mexico. Furthermore, we could have warned the Japanese to leave the area evacuated for some specified period of time—say three days—so that if the “Hiroshima”-technology bomb had “failed”, we’d have had time to try the several “Nagasaki”-technology bombs we had in reserve.

The other tragedy inflicted by the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs (again, not an original observation) is that for the Japanese people, nuclear victimhood completely vaporized their sense of culpability—and thus made impossible reconciliation between the Japanese and their neighbors in East and Southeast Asia. (Appalling extended metaphor intended.)