7 years ago: Nagasaki

August 9, 2006, on this blog: Nagasaki

You may not both 1) intentionally target and incinerate 140,000 noncombatants and 2) not be a monster.


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  • Jim Bales

    With all due respect, I prefer your post from 3 years ago instead. In fact, it is my starting point for any discussion of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,

    ” I am not interested in judging the actors. I am interested only in the act.”

    “And the act was wrong. It was monstrous and impermissible. It is always impermissible to deliberately target non-combatants with a weapon of mass destruction. That is the rule, and the rule must be preserved long after the rule-breakers and everyone vehemently interested in condemning or defending them is dead.”

    “But … but … but we just agreed there may have been no better choice, no decent choice, no choice not even worse. We just allowed that it may be the case that this was one of those scenarios when a monstrous evil was the least evil of several monstrously evil options.”

    “That’s the whole point. The least evil is still evil. The least monstrous is still monstrous.”

    “When, as will happen, you are yourself forced to choose between two bad things, then choose the lesser of the evils and choose it boldly. That will be the right choice and, if circumstances are truly as circumscribed as you believe them to be, that will be the right thing to do in that situation.”

    “But it still won’t be a good thing. It isn’t a good thing and cannot be made good.”

    “When history perversely forces us to break the rules, then we must break the rules. Violate them. But we must not then pretend that this was not a violation. We must not say that the rule did not apply or that the rule does not exist or that there are no rules.”
    —- End Quote from Fred Clark —

    Every single day of that war was monstrous. Any candid account of what the soldiers (many, if not most, conscripted) went through, of the uncountable ways their bodies were torn apart, seared, poisoned, and broken, of the myriad mind-shattering horrors that were an inescapable part of their lives, is enough to show that we can never enter into a just war, that the best we can do is fight a necessary war.

    The slaughter at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was the atrocity that ended the atrocities; the evil that ended the evils. The fact that it ended the evils does not make it good. But, the evils ended, and people could begin to seek peace.

    Jim Bales

    (Edited to italicize the extensive quote from Fred Clark’s 2010 post, with thanks to Figs for noting the ambiguity)

  • aunursa

    “And the act was wrong. It was monstrous and impermissible.

    “But … but … but we just agreed there may have been no better choice, no decent choice, no choice not even worse…”

    “That’s the whole point. The least evil is still evil. The least monstrous is still monstrous.”

    These statements seem to contract each other.

  • Jim Bales

    I believe that this is Fred’s point. There may be times when the least bad option is still bad. In which case one does the least bad thing, but one cannot claim that it is good!

    Jim Bales

  • aunursa

    No. He seems to be saying that a particular option, although it may be the least bad option, can nevertheless be evil, monstrous, and impermissible.

  • Ross Thompson

    And the alternatives were more monstrous and less permissible.

  • Jim Bales

    I agree that Fred is saying that the least bad option, as aunursa notes “can nevertheless be evil, monstrous, and impermissible.”

    But Fred also writes:
    “When, as will happen, you are yourself forced to choose between two bad things, then choose the lesser of the evils and choose it boldly. That will be the right choice and, if circumstances are truly as circumscribed as you believe them to be, that will be the right thing to do in that situation.”

    “But it still won’t be a good thing. It isn’t a good thing and cannot be made good.”

    I paraphrased this as “There may be times when the least bad option is still bad. In which case one does the least bad thing, but one cannot claim that it is good!”

    Jim Bales

  • dpolicar

    Can you expand on the nature of the contradiction?

  • Figs

    It’s confusing to understand what you’re saying and what you’re quoting, since it appears several paragraphs of Fred’s post appear to be in quotation marks, and several paragraphs of your reply appear likewise to be in quotation marks.

    But you’re making a presumption here, that dropping the atomic bombs was definitively the least monstrous thing that could have been done. If you’re going to make that argument, you’ve got to make it, not just assert it.

  • Jim Bales

    First off, thanks to Figs for noting the confusing formatting — all quotes are from Fred’s post of 2010.

    My core point is that any discussion of the morality of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki must acknowledge that they did end the war. Such discussion must also acknowledge the suffering that a continuation of the war would have inflicted on people other than those in Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Such discussion must also acknowledge that those people’s injuries and deaths and madnesses would have been just as monstrous as those inflicted by the atomic bombs.

    When I can (and it may be late this evening before I can) I will put forward what evidence I have to support the contention that the continuation of the war would likely inflicted pain and death and suffering comparable to (if not greater than) the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    Jim Bales

  • Figs

    I don’t see that anybody here is refusing to acknowledge that the dropping of the bombs ended the war. Is anybody saying that? I haven’t seen it.

    More, does this argument become even stronger for, say arguing that Truman didn’t pursue development of atomic weapons fast enough? After all, if they had been available earlier, more of the war would have ended, right?

    Why aren’t nuclear weapons used in other places where genocide is perpetrated, if they’re so effective? Why didn’t we roll into Afghanistan, nuke them, and rebuild afterwards? Likewise Syria? Etc.?

  • AnonaMiss

    Without taking a position on the morality of the bombing – not to maintain a tactical neutrality, but because the arguments overwhelm me – I think a good part of the war-ending force of the bombs was that they were using a technology which no one had ever seen before – which was practically science fiction. I don’t think the claim is that the sheer level of violence was sufficient to force surrender, but rather the level of technological advancement (especially as exaggerated by that one pilot).

  • Figs

    Sure, absolutely. I agree with that. It wasn’t just the scale, but also that it may as well have been FUTURE WEAPONS FROM SPACE doing it, as far as people in 1945 were concerned.

  • TheBrett

    A big part of it was they potentially allowed the US to destroy Japan without taking significant casualties or getting into the kind of final invasion confrontation that the Japanese Command was hoping for (since they thought they could make the US suffer enough in the attempt to force a negotiated treaty on better terms for them).

  • AnonaMiss

    I slightly disagree. Firebombing/conventional explosives were capable of the same amount of devastation e.g. Tokyo, Dresden. The final invasion confrontation they hoped to provoke would have included a heavy campaign of conventional bombing that would have been comparable in scale to the nuclear threat they thought they faced – and they were willing to endure this conventional bombing campaign rather than surrender. I don’t think it was fear of destruction without the chance to fight back that changed minds: they already lived in the shadow of this eventuality and had apparently accepted it.
    That’s why I attribute the political force of the nuke as much or more to its sci-fi qualities as to its devastation/death toll.

  • Jim Bales

    Figs writes:

    “I don’t see that anybody here is refusing to acknowledge that the dropping of the bombs ended the war. Is anybody saying that? I haven’t seen it.”

    It is not just that the bombings ended the war. By ending the war, the bombings ended much pain and suffering and injury and death. Many of those who did not die or were not injured or did not suffer were civilians and non-combatants. Many were combatants.

    The fact that these others were saved does not make the deaths at Hiroshima or Nagasaki “good” or “moral”. Conversely, had the soldiers and civilians in Nagasaki and Hiroshima been saved, and these others died instead, those deaths would not have been “good” or “moral”, and the fact that many of the dead would have been wearing uniforms does not make their deaths “good” or “moral”.

    Jim Bales

  • Figs

    Ugh. Again, who is making this argument?

  • Jim Bales

    Figs states up thread:
    “But you’re making a presumption here, that dropping the atomic bombs was definitively the least monstrous thing that could have been done. If you’re going to make that argument, you’ve got to make it, not just assert it.

    The calculus that Figs requests requires weighing lives. The lives to be weighed include civilians and soldiers.

    Figs seems to place greater value on the lives of civilians than of soldiers. I am not willing to devalue the lives of those in uniform.

    I am setting out some of my reasons for my beliefs, in preparation of presenting the calculus Figs requested. I am not reacting to arguments of others.

    My apologies for the confusion!

    Jim Bales

  • Figs

    Sure, there’s some moral calculus going on. But I think it trivializes the discussion to imply that I’m somehow devaluing the lives of soldiers over the lives of civilians. We’re talking about decisions made once we’re already in the frame of war, not about the decision to go to war in the first place.

  • caryjamesbond

    Because there is a slight difference between Imperial Japan conquering about half the planet, and Afghanistan’s and Syria’s civil war. Namely, there were DAYS in which the Japanese killed more people than either of those battles have consumed in their entire duration.

  • Figs

    So this is the game we’re playing now?

  • caryjamesbond

    No- its’ not a game- its pointing out that you’re making a massive false equivalence- Imperial Japan is nothing like Afghanistan or Syria, and the situation at any point in WWII was nothing like the situation with those two countries.

    Further, the Empire of Japan WAS as a matter of record, exponentially worse than either of those two nations, even considering it statistically and not in toto. These are not comparable situations, and trying to compare them is just a strawman argument.

  • Figs

    You’re assuming my intent was to say something about comparable badness. My question, which you can read in this very thread, is why nuclear weapons aren’t used more often if they’re so good at stopping bad people from doing bad things. This needs not entail a presumption that all badness is as bad small other badness, and I’m confident you’ll see that my post contains no such presumption.

  • caryjamesbond

    No one has ever argued that the nuclear weapons dropped on Japan stopped bad people doing bad things.-except in the sense that they stopped the war, and the bad people were doing bad things in the course of the war. It didn’t magically make the Japanese army or military commanders into moral paragons. They were nuclear weapons, not moral ones.

    The consequences of NOT stopping the war at that point would, in every professional estimation, have been worse than what happened to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It would’ve been worse FOR Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    The argument isn’t that nuclear weapons magically changed the Japanese attitude- its that they were a bad thing done to prevent worse bad things.

    There is no evidence that nuking Syria or Afghanistan would prevent things worse than nuking them. Primarily because a nuke would kill more people than would’ve died if we hadn’t nuked them.

  • Figs

    Yes, I fully understand this argument, and for reasons that many others have alluded to, it feels a bit wanting to me. Both because it assumes premises that aren’t obviously indisputable (but are treated as such), and because it conveniently casts our decision as not only justified, but necessary.

  • caryjamesbond

    ssumes premises that aren’t obviously indisputable (but are treated as such),

    Then DISPUTE THEM. All you’ve been doing is saying “oh, that’s questionable, oh that isn’t certain.”

    Put some skin in the game. The process that led to the surrender of Japan isn’t a freaking archaeological dig. It’s pretty well spelled out, it’s been hashed out over and over for seventy years now. The documents, the opinions of the major actors both in the moment and afterwards are easily accessible right here on this world wide web.

    If my assertations are disputable- dispute them. Quit with the weasel words and insinuations- cite some facts, or admit you don’t know what you’re talking about.

  • Figs

    I’m not saying that what you say absolutely would not have happened. But the certainty with which your types come in is, at the very least off-putting. Especially when coupled with borderline racist assertions about Japan being entirely peopled with mass-murdering psychopaths, whether or not you took it back later. I’m inherently skeptical of attempted reviews of our actions in a war that come to the conclusion that not only was what we did justified, it was absolutely necessary because the enemies were bloodthirsty subhuman monsters. Again, whether or not you walk that back, it makes it sure seem like you’re putting a thumb on the scale from the start.

  • BaseDeltaZero

    No, Japan was not entirely peopled with mass-murdering psychopaths. It was ruled by a cadre of totalitarian mass-murdering psychopaths, who proceeded to do their level best to encourage everyone else to be mass-murdering psychopaths as well. It didn’t succeed, of course, but it certainly did lead to the Japanese army being inundated with really, really terrible people.
    Hitler was a terrible murderer, and he caused people commit terrible crimes in his sake – not because of any innate racial characteristic of the German people, but because he did his level best to reshape the German society to his horrific will. That was what was *wanted* and selected for.

  • Mary

    Ummm…agree with you mostly,except that there was a strong racist element among the people also. They were mostly Christians and Hitler used Christian rhetoric to get into power. He blamed their bad economy on the Jews and reinforced his message by saying the Jews killed Jesus. There is some debate as to whether Hitler was in fact a Christian but there is no debate that he used Christian arguments in his book Mein Kamf and in speeches. He said that the Aryan race and other races were created separately and that others were inferior creations.

    He was part of the Christian Socialist Party and they gave him the power to become a dictator. He didn’t need to use violent force at all. They just changed their constitution.

    The Catholic Church was a big supporter as well.

    Hitler did not happen in a vacuum. I read a book once saying that the best way to prevent people like Hitler from ever getting into power is to create a society where no one would listen to a person like that.

    Having said that I am also sure that not all Germans supported him and I also suspect that they did not know about a lot of the nasty stuff, like concentration camps. It would be difficult to determine whether they were wilfully ignorant or just snowed by propoganda.

  • BaseDeltaZero

    Yeah, which is why I was careful to use ’caused’ instead of ‘made/forced’. While some people were forced to serve at the point of a gun, there were plenty of willing volunteers. My point was that it wasn’t an innate racial characteristic *of the Germans* that caused them to support Nazism. Even a dictatorship cannot long act unsupported, but once they get into power, their ideology tends to feed into itself…

  • BaseDeltaZero

    This. The choice wasn’t between ‘Nothing happens, or 200,000 people die’. It was between ‘200,000 people die, Japan surrenders *to us*, and we win the war’ or ‘the war continues, we’re forced to either starve the islands out or invade, possibly tens of millions die, American and Japanese (and Russian), and the Soviet Union takes half the country’.

    I suppose we could have also withdrawn, put in place an embargo tight enough to prevent them from getting oil, but not so they couldn’t have any food, and just let them stew… but that comes back to the reason they were so insistent on an unconditional surrender. The ideology of Imperial Japan, extreme even by Bushido standards, was extremely destructive, both internally and externally, possibly even worse than Nazism (which in a very small relief, directs its wrath only at a *subset* of humanity) – it could not be allowed to survive. The utter defeat – and ruin – of Japan, followed by several decades of occupation (arguably ongoing), served to effectively annihilate that ideology, except in the heads of idiots who have seen far too much anime. This is a good thing.

    Afghanistan? The choice here was between doing nothing… arguably bad, but also arguably not your responsibility… and nuking them, killing probably tens of thousands, and accomplishing… what? Giving Al-Qaeda an entirely legitimate reason to hate us?

    Syria? You realize that the regime there is quietly supported by the Russians and Chinese (mainly Chinese), right? Does nuking their puppet sound like a good idea?

    Vietnam? Ignoring the fact you’d end civilization as we know it, it wouldn’t actually do any good. The US had no problem bombing everything in sight. It was the ‘in sight’ part that was the problem – even a nuke does nothing without a target. Nevertheless, note that it *was* considered, and rejected as absurd.

    Korea? (Pick a date) You must really love the idea of nuclear winter. Also, wouldn’t work.

    If using nuclear weapons is the *only way* to resolve the situation favorably, then yes, using them is… not morally right, but appropriate. There have been no such situations since the end of World War II (and, as witnessed here, even that was debatable).

    Wow. I seem to be *really* tired. I should probably stop posting.

    (Odds I will stop posting < 5%)

  • Mary

    I can think of a very good reason why we don’t use nuclear weapons although we do keep them for self-defense of our country. Our advantage back then was that we were the only ones that had them. Now many nations have them or are developing them. This puts us in a difficult situation because whatever conflicts we get into using nuclear weapons we are likely to have others use them against us as well. Even if the nation we are fighting with doesn’t have them, there are others who most likely would give assistance to our enemies. So instead of ending a war it most likely would intensify the war instead. So it would backfire on us big-time. With all out nuclear warfare we would have massive destruction and possibly the “cure” for global warming. which would be a nuclear winter.

    I am not entirely comfortable with what our country did, however the Japanese leaders did have an opportunity to avoid what happened and protect their people. They were warned first, but they didn’t believe that we had such a weapon. Even after the first bombing, they did not surrender. Why? I don’t have a clue.

    What I will say is that it might have been better to find some way of demonstrating our weapons without actually using it on people. I don’t know whether the Japanese would have gone for that though. A remote uninhabited island would have been a perfect target, Or else just detonate it over the ocean in a place where it would not trigger a sunami.

  • general_apathy

    Someone advocated your last point on a facebook friend’s Hiroshima memorial post, in a not-at-all-ironic manner. But only for the “radical Muslims”, of course. The level of cognitive dissonance is beyond belief.

  • http://www.oliviareviews.com/ PepperjackCandy

    Why aren’t nuclear weapons used in other places where genocide is perpetrated, if they’re so effective?

    If this is a genuine question, then perhaps they aren’t used because the “collateral damage” is so extensive that it makes use of them, you know, evil.

  • Ygorbla

    There are several reasons we don’t use nukes anymore:

    First (and this is extremely important to understand), back in 1945 we didn’t fully understand the effects of nuclear fallout. I mean, we knew it was bad to stay near nuclear materials, but we didn’t understand that a bomb would irradiate debris that would then be distributed through the atmosphere over a wide area by local weather patterns — it was thought that the radiation threat would be localized, temporary, and irrelevant. We didn’t understand that nuclear bombs would poison a wide area for an extended period of time.

    Second, early nuclear bombs were not as strong as the ones we have today — they were not immediately recognized as planet-threatening weapons, at least not by the people setting policy.

    Third, related to these two things, at the time there was only one nuclear state, and it was involved in a world war (either on the same side as or directly opposed to) anyone else who could have developed nuclear bombs in a reasonable timescale; so there was no real risk of escalating things by using nukes.

    After WWII ended (because the situation regarding the first two points changed) the major world powers made a tacit agreement not to use nukes. Additionally, the world settled into a cold war, which could be threatened by a weapon of such sudden and extreme power (because a nuke leaves little time to respond, it gives overwhelming advantage to whoever strikes first; this means that a nation that believes its enemies are likely to use nukes may use nukes itself in self-defense.) Paradoxically, if you want to use nukes as a deterrent, you have to convince your opponent that you will use them if attacked, but will never use them first (because if your opponent thinks you may use them first, they’re likely to use them first in self-defense.)

    This makes it extremely dangerous to use nukes for reasons that have nothing directly to do with morality (although it leads to moral implications specific to that situation, since most people would agree that threatening the entire planet has moral implications.)

    Anyway, the point is that none of these circumstances applied in 1945. The dangers we associate with nukes today were either not understood or were not present. This doesn’t excuse targeting civilians (that’s a whole different issue), but from their perspective targeting Hiroshima and Nagasaki with two nuclear bombs was no different than eg. targeting Dresden or Tokyo with many smaller firebombs; and I think that if you understand the historical context, it’s a mistake to put Hiroshima and Nagasaki in a different moral category than Dresden or Tokyo.

    (Not that this is comforting, because Dresden and Tokyo were also terrible.)

    But what I’m really getting at is that there are specific reasons we don’t use nukes today, which didn’t apply in 1945.

  • Figs

    Yes, I understand this. I had thought it was somewhat clear, at least, that the question was asked with tongue somewhat in cheek, and more out of frustration than anything. Though I think I might quibble slightly (but only slightly) on your second point: modern nuclear weapons are not monolithic, and have been designed with various purposes in mind, some with higher yields, some with lower. But the general point stands that even smaller modern tactical nukes are more powerful in most senses than the bombs dropped at the end of WWII.

  • http://thisculturalchristian.blogspot.com/ michael mcshea
  • SergeantHeretic

    There is, in today’s politically Correct academic circles a trend toward a sort of historical Amnesia.

    The general sense seems to be that on August sixth and August eighth of 1945 The United States Army Air Corps , for pure grinss and giggles and with no justification whatsoever, Dropped an Atomic bomb on Hiroshima and then on Nagasaki.

    See, the subconscious academic belief is that there was nothing going on anyone’s part that could have provoked the use of these two weapons in any capacity.

    It certainly could not have been because of, or in an attempt to bring an end to the largest war in human history, could it?

    Perhaps a little memory prompting is in order, Ehhh?

    1937: Imperial Nippon Invades and Occupies Manchuria.

    1938 Japan Invades and occupies Nanking, Singkiang and most of the seaport and border provinces. Save Shanghai. Things are not going well for the Kuomintang Govt. under Chiang Kai Shek.

    From 1939 to 1941, the Japanese death grip on the Far East only grows stronger despite Chinese and British Commonwealth efforts to stop it.

    TO be fair the American State Department and War Department are, at this time living in a dream world where the Japanese are concerned.

    The British have been waging their part of the Second World War for years. They are very much wondering when the United States is going to get off her kiester.

    In Early 1940, the Flying tigers are attempting to wage an Air war against the Japanese on a private basis. They are doing pretty well given the givens. The Lion’s share of the Royal Air Force is a tad busy elsewhere. You understand.

    By early 1941 the U.S. Finally remembers that they have a treaty with Nationalist China and formally objects to Japan’s war of Conquest. The State Department even goes so far as to declare an Embargo on sale of oil to Japan.

    (Five bucks says some Idiot uses the above Comment to call World War two “Blood for Oil”.)

    The Japanese know that without American Oil, they will only have six more months of Operational fuel. Nevertheless, they begin diplomatic entreaties to Washington for some kind of Peaceful settlement.

    Washington seems Amenable to this, as Roosevelt is more worried about Germany than Japan.

    December seventh 1941. The Japanese Navy executes an across the board offensive in the Pacific. Attacking The American Territory of the Philippines, Guam, New Georgia, the Solomon’s, New Guinea, and the British Dominion of Burma and India.

    And the American Territory of Hawaii at Peal Harbor.

    They have been spending the past three weeks at minimum blowing smoke up America’s Hind end.

    The United States has just been royally cold cocked. Her battleship navy has been smashed and her peacetime territorial forces knocked for a loop. In the fall of 1941, the War Department does not know whether to poop or go blind. For the Moment, at least Imperial Japan has got Game and it is all about the “Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere”.

    The British Forces in Burma and the American Forces in the Philippines are forced by tactical losses to surrender. As bad as the fighting was, what happens next is worse.

    The British P.O.W.’s are forced to build the China Burma India Rail way under destructive force labor conditions. Let it be noted here and now by this author that the British personnel in captivity conduct themselves with sterling military professionalism and bearing. Bedeviling the Japanese at every opportunity.

    The remains of the Philippines guard and American Army are the victims of the Bataan death march and the brutality of the camps that follow. A systematic cruelty that goes on for years, causing a terrible rate of attrition.

    It takes the American Navy and Marine Corps and the Pacific detachment of the U.S. Army four years to slog across the Pacific theater to reach the cusp of Japan. Even at that, hundreds of thousands of lives are lost.

    By 1945 the war, for Japan is over both tactically and strategically. But Masamune Tojo, Prime Minister of Japan, and General of her Armies STILL will not surrender. Instead, he is determined to craft the entire Japanese Population into an Army of suicide soldiers to fight the American Invasion of the Islands.

    Washington offers terms for the Surrender of the Japanese with some vestige of Honor. Tojo Answers,


    “Answer with Silence.”

    Projected Casualties for Operations Olympic and Coronet are in the hundreds of thousands for the Americans and in the Millions for the Japanese. Even after the Invasion, projected hostilities are estimated to last until 1950.

    President Truman has a classified weapon of unheard of power, delivered to him out of the New Mexico Desert by the Nation’s greatest Savants and Scientists.

    The Atomic Bomb.

    President Truman very much does NOT want to use this weapon. Nevertheless, as the operational year nears the end of its third quarter, more and more he does not appear to have a choice. Plans are already being laid for spring of 1946 to invade the Japanese home islands. The consensus is that, as the doctor said when Tojo was born,

    “It’s going to get Ugly.”

    As much as he does not want to. As much as he wishes he did not have to. And as much as he agonizes over it.

    President Harry Truman. A man who inherited his job from FDR, Gives the go ahead to use the weapon in a combat air operation against a Japanese military target.

    Hiroshima is a strategic military Seaport the Japanese are using at that time.

    The weapon is used. The war still does not end.

    The second and last weapon is then used on the transportation hub of Nagasaki. Again the war still does not End.

    Navy Aviation Lt. Matthew J. MacDilda is sent on a reconnaissance flight over Japan to see the general picture on the ground and give his assessment. While doing so, he is shot down and captured.

    The Japanese beat the living tar out of him and question him endlessly about the new weapon. It was at that time highly classified and way beyond the poor kid’s pay grade.

    Despite this, he figures he has nothing to lose and commences to lie his butt off.

    The interrogators take the News of the “Impending Bombing of Tokyo” to the Prime Minister and the Peace party in the DIet finally gets what they want.

    The Prime Minister agrees to end the war.

    Now, Class. As we can see, despite the breast beating on the part of the radical left, we can see from this that the two uses of the Atomic bombs were used, not to kill, but to put a stop to further bloodshed.

    They ended a war that was figured to last another five years.

    SO let us not have any more talk about how “Evil” you all think we are for using these weapons.


  • Figs

    Preemptively slandering people who disagree with you isn’t really a way to win an argument.

  • Carstonio

    Fred isn’t calling the nation evil. That’s merely your misinterpretation. The labels of good or evil should never be used for people, only for actions.

    Any claim that the Japanese would have surrendered anyway, or that that would never have surrendered without the bombings, amounts to speculation. Any conclusive evidence for either of these is forever out of our reach. My own objection is when defenders of the bombings equate both the Japanese and the Soviets to animals who respond only to force.

  • aunursa

    The labels of good or evil should never be used for people

    Why not?

  • Carstonio

    Because the implication of such labels for people is that some deserve to prosper and others deserve to suffer. That’s not a judgment that anyone should make.

    Part of the problem is the morality of all an individual’s actions doesn’t lend itself to simple arithmetic. Is a firefighter who puts his life in danger to save others evil because he also abuses his spouse? Any judgment as to whether one outweighs the other is going to be worse than subjective.

  • caryjamesbond

    ” Is a firefighter who puts his life in danger to save others evil because he also abuses his spouse?”

    No. But a man, or an army, that systemically, as a matter of official policy, systemically rapes, tortures, enslaves, experiments on, etc etc. civilian populations, than they’re evil.

    The Japanese did this in a more complete and all encompassing manner. Even in Nazi Germany, the special viciousness was saved for special units- the average Wehrmacht private didn’t take part in them, or, for the most part, know about the worst abuses.

    In Japan, the average imperial army private DID take part in the worst abuses.

  • Michael Pullmann

    Because people are more complicated than that. MLK cheated on his wife. Hitler was awarded medals for bravery for his service in WWI. Ghandi hated black people.
    Real lie isn’t an ’80s cartoon, and real people are neither He-Man nor Skeletor.

  • Ross Thompson

    “Only when man’s life comes to its end in prosperity can one call that man happy.”

  • vladmac

    “The general sense seems to be that on August sixth and August eighth of
    1945 The United States Army Air Corps , for pure grinss and giggles and
    with no justification whatsoever, Dropped an Atomic bomb on Hiroshima
    and then on Nagasaki.

    See, the subconscious academic belief is that there was nothing going on
    anyone’s part that could have provoked the use of these two weapons in
    any capacity.”

    Well, that sure makes for something easy to argue against. But how about the argument that the first one could have been used purely as a demonstration in an unpopulated area rather than in the middle of a city? Or offering a conditional surrender, the condition being something immaterial but symbolically significant such as allowing them to keep their emperor, rather than insist on a completely unconditional surrender?

  • caryjamesbond

    Because we had two, and weren’t entirely sure they would both work, and it was quite a while before we made a third.

  • Mary

    Well yeah that makes a bit more sense. But maybe we should have made sure to stockpile a few of these before making a move.
    I also question too whether there were any unpopulated areas in Japan since it is a small island and densely populated.

  • BaseDeltaZero

    The argument I believe I’ve seen, and I think is pretty sensible, is that a ‘demonstration’ detonation would simply be seen as a sign of American weakness, that they weren’t actually willing to (or capable of) use their new weapon, and just made the Japanese military leadership more determined. At that point they’d either have to invade or drop another atomic bomb anyways. They were entirely ready to fight on after Hiroshima, an unpopulated target certainly wouldn’t have changed that. It wasn’t so much among the general population, but the high generals were convinced of their superiority, having inundated themselves in an ideology of honorable death and a glorious last stand – they didn’t expect to win, but they entirely intended to take the entire country with them. Only with the second bomb, when they realized the US was able and (theoretically, maybe) willing to bombard them into dust without ever giving them the chance to turn the invasion into a bloodbath, and they literally had no way of even fighting back, let alone winning, did they consider surrender – and even then, there was a small insurrection of hard-liners who *still wanted to keep fighting*.

    Of course, there’s also racism. To put it simply, the war in Europe was a fight against Facism. The war in the pacific was against the Japanese race, and the official statement was ‘there is no such thing as a Japanese civilian’, so… that probably didn’t help. The IAJ was one of the most brutal armies in history, but the US forces were not going to win any awards in that theater, either. In Okinawa, where many citizens killed themselves out of fear they would be brutalized by the invaders? Those fears were not unfounded. Contrast to the Western theater, where such things rarely happened (in Europe, sometimes soldiers took Lugers or the like as trophies. In the Pacific, they took heads. Witness also the practical stampede of German civilians and defectors westwards to surrender to the Americans/British and therefore get away from the Russians, from whom a similar sort of animosity existed.) Racism is a very, very good way to make sure that any attempt at ‘peaceful’ occupation does not happen (as oxymoronic as that might sound anyways…)

    There’s also racism on the part of the Japanese, who still considered the American soldier to be of inferior mettle and character, and who were convinced they were superior in a fair fight, and that they deserved to rule – if not the world, then at least Asia.

    This racism was probably at least part of the unwillingness to consider a negotiated surrender (under the terms of guaranteeing the Emperor’s safe-conduct…), part a realistic assessment that the Japanese junta didn’t really acknowledge the idea of a surrender at all, conditional or otherwise, and part because the Emperor, was, in fact considered a war criminal (he didn’t give the orders, but he was not at all a figurehead, and gave tacit approval for all the major atrocities (the background noise of day-to-day slaughter required no instruction, the vicious indoctrination of the IAJ achieved that)). Hirohito was, of course, never actually prosecuted, though effectively put under house arrest, but they did not want to guarantee the immunity of him or any other of the really, really nasty people that ruled Japan.

    Oddly enough, the unconditional surrender forced at the end of WWII ended up with arguably less harsh de-facto terms than the conditional surrender of WWI.

  • caryjamesbond

    Point the first-

    Dude, edit for grammar.

    Point the second- lost the attitude, homes. You’re acting like garfield on a monday.

    Point the third- unless you were actually scheduled to be in a landing craft headed for the Home Islands, chillax. We’re having a moral argument over something that happened decades before most of us were born, ok, cuddles?

  • Mary

    Um I think his point has some validity to it. Revisionist history is a big deal. We get upset with the Holocaust Deniers, don’t we?

    Personally I appreciate the history lesson since I know very little about WW2. I would like to learn more before jumping to conclusions.

    And being the grammer police is just plain rude. It is the message that matters. You might have a point if he were completely illiterate, but he clearly isn’t.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    And yet none of this changes the fact that you’re not allowed to kill civilians. Killing civilians is what the bad guys do. ANd maybe killing civilians was the best thing that could be done under the circumstances, but it was still wrong. We are still guilty. It’s not a fucking competition, and “But they were worse!” doesn’t bring those civilians back to life.

    It is always wrong to kill civilians. It’s just that sometimes “right” isn’t on the table.

  • Mary

    Civillians would have been killed no matter what. And the emperor allowed his own people to die by not surrendering. Apparently he changed his tune when he realized that his own life was in danger. Maybe we should have bombed Tokyo instead? I don’t know for sure but probably there were far more people living there than in the cities that were bombed.

    That in no way changes the fact that this was a great tragedy.

  • Figs

    Boy, it’s crazy how this topic brings out people who respond to a post that wasn’t written.

    I’ve struggled with this as well. I understand the argument that it stopped what would have been worse, but that argument presumes a perfect knowledge about the future which is not at all in evidence, from where I’m sitting.

  • Carstonio

    Some folks who condemn the bombings insist that Japan was preparing to surrender anyway. While I doubt that we can really know one way or the other, I can understand their desire to prevent the massive wrong.

    What’s far more disturbing is when jingoists go to incredible lengths to defend the bombings, almost always framing them in Cold War terms. About 30 years ago, a conservative magazine ran a long alternative history of the war that had the invasion of Japan lasting several years. In the scenario, the effort dramatically sapped US military strength and the Soviets swept in and finished the job, taking control of Japan and then almost immediately threatening the US.

    Whether this was plausible, these folks seem to be arguing that scaring the hell out of the Soviets justified sacrificing hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians. That’s a bully’s mentality.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Given Japanese and German atrocities during WW2 the only miracle is that Germany didn’t get nuked too.

  • Carstonio

    Early in the war, Axis bombings of Allied civilians provoked shock and outrage. But a few years later, Allied bombings of Axis civilians in targets like Dresden were seen as simply part of modern warfare. I suspect that in a war of any appreciable length, the distinction between military and civilian is increasingly ignored as the fighting continues, and that assumes that both sides valued the distinction at the start of the conflict.

  • Michael Pullmann

    Also, there’s the key difference of who was doing the bombing. Of course the Allies are going to regard Axis bombings of civilians as an outrage, and Allied bombings of civilians as a regretful necessity.

  • Ross Thompson

    A wedding in Afghanistan gets hit with a missile: “There was probably a bad guy there”.

    Some people in a military base in America get shot: “Terrorism! They hate us for our freedom!”

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    The “medical experiments” of the Germans and Japanese alone are a pretty unique brand of… I’m not even sure if I can call it evil, or if I should call it an exercise in utter dehumanization.

    EDIT: Also, histories of the atomic bomb indicate that in fact the US Army wanted it ready for Germany, but shifted focus when it was clear WW2 in Europe was going to end by June.

  • Mary

    That would make sense in light of the fact that there were only two bombs. We were just lucky that Hitler didn’t get them developed first.

  • BaseDeltaZero

    Not quite ‘lucky’ so much as ‘extremely good at blowing his manufacturing/testing facilities to bits’.

  • Mary

    Good point.

  • Turcano

    Speaking of which: a lot of people know about Unit 731 and its human experimentation with biological weapons. What most people don’t know is that the physicians in Unit 731 were given immunity from prosecution by the United States in exchange for exclusive access to their research data. When our scientists received their data, they discovered that the experiments had no controls, making them absolutely worthless. These Japanese war criminals bought their lives with a pig in a poke.

  • connorboone

    Actually, there’s an argument to be made that the bombings were early Cold War posturing by the US – seeing as how the Soviets were wrapping up their European war machine and gearing up for an invasion of the Japanese home islands. By dropping bombs, Stalin was denied a chance to grab part of Japan to occupy (see East Germany) and was shown that the US had a big bomb and that he had best curb his territorial ambitions.

    When combined with Japanese surrender overtures made in April of 1945, it makes the bombings really heinous.

  • Mary

    What Japanese surrender overtures are you talking about? They wouldn’t surrender even after they were nuked!

  • connorboone

    Link removed.

  • themunck

    …youknow, up until now, I was fairly ambivalent about the bombs. I believed that the bombs were chosen instead of the complete destruction of Japan via conventional weapons, not in addition to it. Then I read this thread. I believed that the bombs were used to prove to the Japanese that they couldn’t even bring allied soldiers down with them, so they’d have to surrender. Then I read that article you just linked.
    I have learned something today. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki aren’t complex issues and dark shades of grey. They were completely and utterly wrong.

  • themunck

    ….Although, I do think this is worthy of comment. I wiki’d the IHR, and…well, read for yourself. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Institute_for_Historical_Review
    Holocaust-deniers calling for axis sympathy are inherently suspect.

  • Mary

    Thank you! Any damn fool can put up a website, but that does not make it trustworthy in the least.

  • themunck

    In fact….I’m sorry, but I take my comment above supporting you back, until you can find more credible sources :/

  • Mary

    Yes of course I am perfectly willing to learn something from a Neo-Nazi Jew-Hater (sarcasm). Go peddle your wares somewhere else. I doubt that Fred would like your ilk spreading filth on his blog.

  • connorboone

    Wait, what?

    *looks up the thing*

    Well, don’t I feel like an idiot now. I read that years ago, and never investigated the source like I ought. Shame on me, I apologize.

  • GuestPoster

    You know, the more I think about those bombings, the more I find myself unsure that they were any more evil than any other act of war. Much like ‘terrorism’, in its many guises. I mean, unless you want to argue that war is a GOOD thing, then you’re left with a lot of different evil actions. And… who guides those actions? Not the soldiers – the civilians do it. In the US, the civilians elect representatives, but are ultimately responsible for what those representatives do, given that there ARE tools to remove them immediately.

    In Japan, the people could have removed their particular leader with ease – the army was exhausted, there was low morale, a single bullet would have ended the war. They chose to keep attacking others instead. Now, the same is true of the US, but at least the US was, in that case, fighting a defensive war, which I find at least a bit more justifiable.

    Anyways – why SHOULD there be a difference between killing civilians and soldiers? I mean, from first principles here, not from gut reactions or high and mighty morality – why is it right to kill the soldiers, but wrong to kill the people telling the soldiers what to do?

    For an easy-to-solve scenario, consider if the soldiers were Terminator machines, and the civilians were Skynet. After all, Skynet didn’t kill anybody in the movies – it built terminator soldiers to kill people. Why would it have been wrong to kill/dismantle Skynet, thus bringing the enemy to a halt? Or is that ok because Skynet is just one ‘person’, rather than whole cities of them?

    I can see why we targeted those two cities, and realize that it had nothing to do with this particular line of argument. It was a terror attack, upon two cities that we had saved from damage specifically so that we could go in and create terror at a time of our choosing. It’s when we taught the world the vast value of terrorism. But still – how could it be any MORE wrong than killing the soldiers? Failing all else, those civilians had a choice. Soldiering, by its very nature, means that you don’t have a choice.

    As the original post said, all choices are evil. But why do we so easily view the killing of those making the choices in war as so much worse than killing those who execute those choices? Why don’t you count as a soldier holding a gun if, from behind a safe wall, you tell actual men holding actual guns where to point them, and when to pull the trigger/

  • depizan

    How do civilians have more of a choice than soldiers?

  • mattmcirvin

    Osama bin Laden made a similar moral argument in support of the September 11th attacks, as articulated in his videos. The United States, he said, is basically a democracy. The government answers to the people, so when it commits atrocities, these are carried out in the name of the people and implicitly approved of in elections. Therefore, he said, the people of the United States are legitimate targets for killing in retaliation for those atrocities. (If I recall correctly, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were in his list, among many other incidents.)

    Japan during World War II was nothing like as democratic as the US in 2001, so ObL’s chain of reasoning presumably applies more to the US.

    I’ve thought about this a lot since then. I think that, given that all violence is an evil, there have to be firebreaks, lines we don’t cross without at least a better reason than Osama bin Laden gave. It may well not be any less evil to kill a soldier, but you can at least think of more situations in which it’s necessary, such as when the soldier is actively trying to kill you.

    In the case of the atomic bombings, the US had already crossed the line with targeted bombings of civilians long before they did it with atomic bombs. Tokyo had been demolished as thoroughly as Hiroshima with incendiary weapons. I’m not going to say I would personally have done anything differently were I in control of Allied forces during the war; I don’t know that there was another way. But I also don’t know that there wasn’t.

  • Figs

    Soldiers have made a choice to assume the risks of combat. Civilians haven’t. Moreover, civilians disagree. Are you going to say that civilians who voted against the people in power who started the war deserve to live more than civilians who voted for those people? What if the people in power did not campaign on starting that war, so the civilians didn’t know that’s what they were voting for? There’s more holes in your argument than is reasonable to spend time filling.

  • Jim Bales

    Figs writes:
    “Soldiers have made a choice to assume the risks of combat.”

    This is certainly true of volunteers, but not true of the conscripted (many, if not most soldiers in WWII were conscripted*). And, once in the military, soldiers are told that they will be executed if they do not fight, and some are — quite conspicuously. So any volunteer who changes their mind after enlisting is then coerced into accepting the risks of combat and coerced into killing.

    Some soldiers disagree with the war they are fighting in, yet go and fight anyway, for any of a number of reasons. Some soldiers, once in combat, decide that reasons for the war are not worth the experience of combat. Yet, if they try to leave they may be executed.

    Are the men and women I just described less deserving of life than civilians? Why?


    Jim Bales

    * A brief search online did not find much on what fraction of US troops were conscripted in WW II. An economics paper I found states:

    “By virtually any measure, WWII was the largest war or military conflict in U.S. history. In the peak year of 1945, over 12 million men served on active duty in the armed forces … The vast majority were conscripted.”

    The paper is:
    “The fiscal role of conscription in the U.S. World War II
    effort”, by Henry E. Siu, published in the Journal of Monetary Economics, Vol. 55, Issue 6, pages 10-94-112 (2008). The quoted passage is just above Table 1.


  • Figs

    Yes, these are all questions that crop up in response to the post to which I was replying. Conscription is an edge case, especially now, but one worth considering. In many cases, conscripts enthusiastically embraced their roles. In others, not so much. Some opted out through conscientious objection. Etc.

    But there is a clear divide in international law between soldiers and civilians. Your question about conscription muddies the waters a bit, but not too much. That line still exists, and it’s a bright one. Invoking democracy as erasing that line with one stroke is specious.

  • Lori

    It’s la ess bright than even international law would like it to be when you’re talking about an army with a high percentage of conscripts and a society engaged (as much as possible) in total war.

  • Figs

    Sure, like I said, that muddies the waters some. But not to the point where the line is obliterated, or as the OP would have it, reversed.

  • Jim Bales

    Figs writes:

    “But there is a clear divide in international law between soldiers and civilians. … That line still exists, and it’s a bright one.

    Agreed, the line exists. It had been crossed by all belligerents long, long, before August 1945.

    Many Japanese cities had been firebombed by the US before August 6, 1945. (This source claims 67 cities http://www.ditext.com/japan/napalm.html)

    FWIW, I did not “invoke democracy as erasing that line”, I believe that Figs is referring to the earlier comment by a GuestPoster.

    I do, however, contend that it is incorrect to assert that (in the context of WW II)
    “Soldiers have made a choice to assume the risks of combat.”

    In this situation where (as best I can find) that the vast majority of those in uniform were conscripted, it is hard for me to accept that killing civilians who have been coerced into uniform is intrinsically more moral than killing civilians not coerced into uniform.

    Jim Bales

  • Figs

    This assumes an absolute equivalency between conscripts and non-combatants that requires more evidence, I think. I don’t think it’s wrong to bring up the distinction between volunteers and conscripts, but again, I don’t see that it erases the line between combatants and non-combatants, especially given that some conscripts DID actively make the choice to embrace their roles as combatants, and others chose not to pursue avenues that would have allowed them to avoid combat.

    Part of the distinction lies in the fact that combatants have been licensed with the right (and responsibility, often) to kill enemies.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    Calling conscription an “edge case” is kind of dicey given that almost every soldier who ever served in any army ever was a conscript of some sort.

  • Figs

    You’re right about that, and I ought to have considered more before saying that, especially in the context of history. But it’s not the conversation we were having, and the point you made below speaks to that. We were talking about killing civilians once we’re already in the context of a war. Somehow the discussion veered into equating civilians and soldiers at the point of civilians being conscripted, rather than during combat, which is what the thread has been about.

  • mattmcirvin

    I would say that soldiers are, indeed, no less deserving of life than civilians… but that this should cause us to be more reluctant to fight wars, instead of causing us to be less reluctant to bring them home to civilians.

    In some cases, you can’t avoid it, such as when somebody else brings the war to you. But our bar should be high.

    What we mustn’t do is downplay the seriousness of a war before it happens, and then turn around and say “war is hell; these things happen in war” when somebody condemns the killing of civilians. I saw a lot of that going on during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    Whether or not they want to be there or volunteered doesn’t change the fact that they are combatants, on account of I am no less dead if the soldier who shoots me is an unwilling conscript than I am if he’s a gleeful volunteer.

  • David S.

    There was a draft on in WWII. Many soldiers did not make the choice to assume the risks of combat; they were drafted.

  • Figs

    Read the rest of this discussion. Your point has been exhaustively discussed.

  • William Rhea

    “given that there ARE tools to remove them immediately.”
    What would those tools be? Guns?

  • Figs

    That was the implication, right? I mean, he said “a single bullet would have ended the war,” as though the emperor was just walkin’ around the streets susceptible to any random schmo, and as though political assassination is a legitimate tool to achieve your ends.

  • mattmcirvin

    And as though it really would have ended the war. Some of those Germans who were constantly plotting to assassinate Hitler probably would have been more formidable enemies than he was, through greater competency.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Actually IIRC there were military-coup conspiracies brewing among the more fervent military high officials who intended to keep pursuing the war even when it was clearly all but lost.

  • caryjamesbond


    This was AFTER Nagasaki, notably. After the emperor had decided to surrender.

  • BaseDeltaZero

    In the middle of a total war? Yes, political assassination is a legitimate tool to achieve your ends. The citizens of the other country are not your enemy. The soldiers of the other country are not your enemy. The people in charge, the ones who actually made the decisions that led to war? They are the true enemy.
    And, possibly, all ‘just’ wars are total (in the sense they are expected to end with the complete defeat/destruction of one side). I cannot think of any way to justify a limited war, of the sort that might be fought over a scrap of land or resources (a formal trial-by-combat, maybe, but not a war) – if there is a reason to start a fight, there is a reason to finish it.

  • Veleda_k

    I urge people to remember that among those civilians were women and children, neither of which could vote in Japan at the time. Can anyone reasonably argue that children deserve to die because they have the wrong leaders?

    In Japan, the people could have removed their particular leader with
    ease – the army was exhausted, there was low morale, a single bullet
    would have ended the war.

    It seems that you’re saying that the Japanese deserved to be slaughtered because they didn’t assassinate their leaders. (Tell me if I’m wrong.) If that is what you meant, does the same hold for the U.S.? Is every person who was alive during the Vietnam War responsible for said war because they didn’t try to kill Johnson or Nixon? Is every person posting here personally responsible for the Iraq war because none of us tried to kill Bush?

    I’ve never told a soldier what to do. I’ve voted to minimize war whenever I can. But according to your logic, I should be prepared to be killed at any time.

  • TheBrett

    They weren’t targeting the civilians, they were targeting the military and industrial facilities in the city (the atomic bomb in Nagasaki was detonated directly over an armaments plant IIRC). The problem is that strategic bombing – and bombing in general – was incredibly inaccurate back in World War 2. You have to drop a whole ton of bombs over a large area just to try and hit some key military targets, which was even more so in the Japanese case because they tended to spread out industrial production throughout cities. The atomic bomb was the same way – destroying military targets had a lot of collateral damage along the way.

    Honestly, if they hadn’t been on the targeting list for nukes, the alternative wouldn’t have been much better. They would have just been fire-bombed along with the rest of Japan’s cities during the bombing raids, with probably even greater destruction of life and property.

  • Figs

    An atomic weapon dropped near a city can’t be targeted precisely enough to not kill a whole lot of civilians. The scale of its destruction is uniquely huge. It makes it entirely disingenuous to claim that the atomic weapons were simply targeting military facilities. And it presumes that the people who ordered the dropping of those bombs didn’t know how destructive they were (see how “bombs” is plural? That means by the second one, three days later, they DEFINITELY knew).

  • TheBrett

    I’ll dispute the “uniquely huge” factor. The Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings didn’t do as much destruction overall as some of the massive conventional bombing campaigns on Japanese cities. They were just more compact – what previously took a massive bombing raid now just took a single bomber.

  • Figs

    AKA uniquely huge. Thanks.

    EDIT: Ignoring, as well, lingering terrible effects of radiation.

  • Jim Bales

    What Figs said!

  • BaseDeltaZero

    A uniquely huge bomb. Not a uniquely huge raid.

  • AnonaMiss

    While they knew the scope of the destruction of the bomb in the immediate future, I would argue that they didn’t understand the long-term health ramifications of nuclear weapons for decades to come. While there had been some horrific cases of radiation poisoning which they would have been aware of, at the time there was not a wide understanding that low levels of radiation over long periods of time would produce negative effects comparable to high levels of radiation over a short period of time

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    mm-hmm. It’s well-understood that high doses concentrated in a short period of time will cause illness or death. However research into low-intensty, long-term radiation exposure is severely limited by the fact that doing any experimental work with it would be extremely unethical*, so people who research this have had to look at cases of accidental exposure, and do some modelling based on extrapolating from known cases of high exposure.

    * there are two exceptions: monitoring dose effects on fruit flies and on bacteria, neither of which require ethics board approcals as far as I know. That said, one can only get limited useful data from such experiments.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    They already knew. There was the test in New Mexico.

  • Figs

    Sure, of course. I was just disputing the notion that anybody could fall back on “they were just targeting military installations!”

  • BaseDeltaZero

    The ‘just target military installations’ options was one of the first considered – tactical use of the bombs against the beachheads targeted for Operation Downfall. It was rejected, as it would require them to invade anyways, and while amphibious assaults are very casualty-heavy, extreme resistance was still expected.

  • Jim Bales

    I have to say that I endorse the second paragraph of TheBrett’s comment almost as strongly as I dispute the first paragraph!

    My “almost” is because it is not clear that conventional firebombing would have “probably [caused] even greater destruction of life and property.”

    However, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were (I believe) both on the short list of Japanese cities that received little conventional bombing to preserve them for the atomic bomb (as hideous as that thought is).

    Jim Bales

  • TheBrett

    Hiroshima suffered something like 90,000 to 166,000 casualties in the atomic bombing. Tokyo suffered similar casualties in just one conventional bombing raid (Operation Meetinghouse), and probably even greater destruction of property in the resulting firestorm.

  • Jim Bales

    Tokyo suffered ~100,000 deaths in operation Meetinghouse out of a population of 6+ Million. Hiroshima suffered 70-80,000 immediate deaths out of a population of some 340,000. Now, Tokyo is so large that many of its 6+ Million lived outside of the area firebombed. The wikipedia article on the tokyo firebombing states that the area of greatest destruction had some 1,000,000 inhabitants, so we might take 10% as the immediate death toll for a conventional firebombing that creates a firestorm.

    Hiroshima suffered a death rate that exceeded 20% of its entire population (not just the area of most concentrated damage), so It is not likely that firebombing could have caused the same death toll as the Hiroshima bombing.

    Nagasaki had a lower death rate (some 40,000 out of 270,00), approximately 15%. In part this was due to the hilly terrain, which might have also limited deaths in a conventional firebombing.

    So, it is not clear to me that conventional fire-bombings would have killed as many in Hiroshima and Nagasaki as the atomic blasts killed.

    Having said that, a conventional firebombing, killing a mere 1.5% (or 10%) of the people in a city is horrifying and monstrous. It is an atrocity, pure and simple.


    Jim Bales





  • GuestPoster

    Errr, not really. Those two cities were among a set specifically left untouched by US forces because there were only minimal military targets there, and the US knew it wanted a few unscathed cities that it could eventually do massive damage to.

    It was, honestly, the world’s largest ever terrorist act. The bombs were dropped to cause terror. Destruction of military targets was merely a bonus. The goal was to terrorize the Japanese into surrendering – and it worked. The US, effectively, invented terrorism with those two attacks, and showed what a useful tool it could be. War over, no US soldiers slain in the final assault.

  • TheBrett

    They had military targets, and of course military production was taking place in both cities. Hiroshima was the headquarters for the Japanese 2nd General Army. And as I mentioned, the Japanese spread military production out throughout their cities – destroying it in the age of highly inaccurate bombs usually ended up destroying most of the city in the process.

  • dpolicar

    > The US, effectively, invented terrorism with those two attacks

    It sounds like you’re suggesting here that prior to the 1940s, the idea of frightening an enemy into surrendering by means of an extreme show of force had never before been tried in warfare.
    I assume that’s not what you mean, since that seems like an absurd statement on the face of it, but I’m not really sure what you do mean.
    Can you clarify this a little further?

  • mattmcirvin

    The US sure as heck didn’t invent it.

    (The word “terrorism” comes from descriptions of Robespierre’s heyday in France; but terrorism as we best know it, bombings and such against soft civilian targets by usually non-state actors pursuing political grievances, was very definitely a thing in the 19th century.)

  • dpolicar

    I’m aware of that, which is why I’m wondering what GuestPoster might actually have meant. (I generally try to avoid interpreting other people in ways that make them obviously wrong; it seems uncharitable, to say the least, and isn’t how I’d prefer to be treated myself.)

  • Alix

    Not only that, but it describes a lot of warfare in the ancient world pretty well, too.

  • GuestPoster

    I suppose I mean ‘in the modern sense’? Perhaps it’s merely my lack of knowledge of history hitting me in the face – I certainly don’t pretend to know everything. But I can’t think of any other mass-bombings like that of basically-civilian-targets for the purpose of getting an enemy to fold. And ever since, after all, the ultimate theoretical goal of terrorism has been a nuclear strike – happily unsuccessful so far, but it’s what we worry about.

    And, as has been covered here (I think) and elsewhere (I know), terrorism today basically means ‘big explosion’. That’s why gun rampages aren’t ‘terror attacks’… guns are GOOD, you see.

  • dpolicar

    Would you consider the firebombing of Dresden to be an example of the kind of thing you’re talking about?

  • caryjamesbond


  • Ursula L

    The fire-bombing of Hamburg was intended to have that effect – terrorizing the civilian population into turning against their government, and surrender. Over 40,000 dead in one night, and the fire generated its own hurricane-force winds, drawing into the fire, so that one had to run into the wind to escape.

    The problem, of course, is that if you drop bombs on people, it doesn’t endear you to them. Who are they going to hate, their own government, or the people dropping the bombs on them?

  • Mary

    Yep..and that is where the argument of us being in Iraq falls apart too. Most of them didn’t appreciate us killing their friends and neighbors. Funny how people would feel that way. How dare they reject us for trying to “liberate” them? (saracasm)

  • Mary

    There is a flaw in your reasoning. A terrorist attack as I understand it usually refers to a sudden secret attack. However we warned the emporer several times and gave him plenty of time to surrender. Osama ben Ladin never showed us that kind of courtesy. Not only that but even after we nuked them the emperor stil refused to surrender.

    Another factor is that terrorist attacks are usually used IN PLACE OF actual warfare. The reason for 9/11 was to strike terror and destroy key elements of our government but the reason they did that was because they knew that they could not ever win a real battle with us on our own soil.

    Contrast that with the fact that we were ALREADY in a war with Japan. This was a country that considered it an honor to die in battle, even if they couldn’t win. It kind of reminds me of the Klingons in Star Trek.

    The $64,000 question is how long would they have kept the war going if we had not done what we had done? It is impossible to know for sure.

  • friendly reader

    Um, ground-zero for Nagasaki was near the largest church in Asia. Both bombs were dropped over the downtown centers of the cities, NOT near the military centers at the edge of the cities.

    It boggles me the misinformation that people have about the bombings. It does not boggle me that most of this misinformation fits the narrative of “these bombings were totally morally justified.”

  • TheBrett

    They dropped the bomb in the middle of industrial production of Nagasaki – the fact that a church may have been nearby doesn’t change that.

  • Figs

    When you’ve got a weapon with the destructive power of an atomic bomb, the concept of “targeting” gets a lot fuzzier than you’re using it here.

  • TheBrett

    Not really. Mistargeting a nuclear bomb can detract from most of its effectiveness. They’re not “kill everything” weapons.

  • Figs

    They give you a LOT more room for margin of error. I don’t really understand why you’re pretending this isn’t the case.

  • BaseDeltaZero

    True. Which is why it wasn’t a matter of ‘atomic bomb or single 500 lb conventional bomb’. It was ‘atomic bomb or fleet of heavy bombers dropping thousands of tons of explosives, so you can be damn sure *one* of them will hit what you’re actually trying to hit.’ You could be reasonably sure, with their bombsights, that unless something went badly wrong, what you were aiming at would be somewhere within the blast radius… but that doesn’t mean it would necessarily destroy it. Structures (and people) survived at 150 meters…

  • Albanaeon

    Uh, no.

    Go read the some of the books the air power theorists wrote in the thirties. They were always proposing that the large scale bombing of civilians would help weaken the resolve of powers to fight. To quote future PM Stanley Baldwin, ” The bomber will always get through… the only defense is in offense, which means that you have to kill more women and children more quickly than the enemy if you want to save yourself.”

    It also became ‘tactical necessity’ when actual combat experience combined with primitive technology made accurately hitting military targets a joke. See the Battle of Britain, the night bombing campaign by the British, our bombings of Dresden and Tokyo for examples. The RAF Bomber Command also pretty much considered ‘destroying civilian morale’ its reason for existing.

    Given that most of our narrative for our bombing campaigns appears to be bullshit (damage to warmaking infrastructure was minimal, civilians were not just accidentally targeted, but considered viable and even preferred targets, and that indiscriminate bombings do not seem to break those targets ((something we should probably pay attention to now with our drones))), I am always hesitant to say that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were necessary. There were a lot of big egos out to prove their pet theories then and they did not care how many people died in proving them. We should be cautious in accepting their version of events.

  • Jim Bales

    Albanaeon gives an elegant capsule summary of the history of strategic airpower and its failure to live up to the pre-war expectations.

    Albanaeon also rightly notes that “There were a lot of big egos out to prove their pet theories then and they did not care how many people died in proving them. We should be cautious in accepting their version of events.”

    Fortunately, we don’t have to rely upon their version of events. Rather, we know that Japan surrendered 6 days after Nagasaki was destroyed. I, for one, cannot conceive of any alternative scenario that would have had the same outcome.

    Jim Bales

  • Figs

    Argument from personal incredulity isn’t terribly compelling.

  • Jim Bales

    According to Emperor Hirohito, the bombings led him to surrender his nation. Perhaps Figs can tell us why the emperor was wrong, or present some scenario that would have had Japan surrendering by August 15, 1945 without the bombings. Until Figs (or someone else) produces either of these, I’ll stand by my incredulity.

    Jim Bales

  • Figs

    I’m not questioning your incredulity. Only noting that using it as an argument is fallacious by definition.

  • caryjamesbond

    Figs, you seem to be arguing from a position of less knowledge. Other people, including myself, have been able to cite the words, the actions, the directives, the culture and the beliefs of the Japanese population in pointing out why the atomic bombs were necessary acts of war.

    I would also cite Von Clauswitz, who points out that the point of war is not to cause military defeat, but to break the enemies will to fight. I would point to the entire history of European warfare which consists of primarily military victories- even smashing military victories, which only led to another war a few years later, once the next group of soldiers was old enough to fight.

    Most tellingly, I would cite the example of the Germans in the post-WWI period. That interregnum was more or less exactly what Fred proposed in the post he links too- military defeat, sanctions, blockade, etc. etc.

    Notably, it didn’t work. And that was with a complete change of regime- something that was NOT going to happen in Japan.

    The narrative for unconquered but defeated nations is almost cliche at this point- were weren’t defeated- the brave soldiers would never have been beaten if it wasn’t for betrayal on the home front. See- the Franco-Prussian war, Germany after WWI, The American South, Post-Vietnam rhetoric, etc.

    Any attempt to do anything but completely subjugate the Japanese home islands to the point where their completely and utter defeat was beyond question, combined with the sort of post-war reconstruction you notably did not see in Germany in the post-WWI era, would simply set up another war a few years down the line.

  • Figs

    You also said that Japan was a nation composed of mass murdering psychopaths. I think your position is clear.

  • caryjamesbond

    Pre-war Japan overwhelmingly supported the Emperor, his racial policies, and the enslavement of millions to a degree that, again, Hitler couldn’t even have dreamed of. They were prepared to make mass suicide charges to prevent allied landings. They only changed these beliefs when the semi-divine emperor ordered them too.

    The pre-war period was modeled heavily after the Samurai culture of the Edo period, and, in case you never bothered to read about Japanese Samurai- they were essentially psychotic mass murderers.

    “Entire nation” was, i admit, exaggeration for effect. Undoubtedly there were plenty of Japanese who opposed the war, or who would’ve surrendered rather than suicide charged. But a quorum of them were prepared.

    Again, you’d have to go back and read accounts of Japanese society and the Japanese mindset in the prewar period. For example, an obsession with complete obedience and subjugation in the Army, the complete worship of the Military, the awareness of atrocities being committed by their military to a level that, again, you simply do not see even in Nazi Germany.

    But since that would require you to read things, keep an open mind, and not simply blindly repeat half-relevent talking points and imply that people are racists, I doubt you’ll do it.

    So lets just agree to disagree, shall we?

  • Mary

    I think you are a little confused about what he said. He is talking about the Japanese culture at the time rather than a blanket condemnation of the Japanese. Again think Klingons. It was glorious to die in battle.They were as brainwashed by their emporer just as much as the Germans were by Hitler.

    I am sure you have heard of the Japanese not only crashing planes in suicide attacks, but also think about the fact that if they failed in anything then suicide was mandated. Even some feel that way now. Some Asians consider it perfectly proper for a woman who becomes pregnant out of wed-lock to kill herself because she has brought shame to her family.

    I don’t think it is racist at all to comment on cultural influences, although it should have been phrased in a better way.

    But the bottom line is that these people just did not think the way that we think and so the usual measures that would be used to stop a war would not work with them. Because surrendor meant failure, failure meant shame and shame meant having to kill yourself.

    That is why it is a good idea when looking at history to look at the cultural influences as well when making judgments.

  • BaseDeltaZero

    Though, again.. the Japanese are/were not a monolith. Still, that kind of thinking, the brutal death-worship of that kind of pseudo-Bushido? That was what the leaders, who had far more power than any American politician, believed, and what they encouraged, what they had taught. Imagine if the Dominionists actually won. I imagine you’d see a lot more fundamentalist ways of thinking, because those people are the ones who get promoted, and those who *don’t* think that way learn to shut up or die.

  • Mary

    You have a fair point, however I will say that the Samuri-warrior philosophy had been around for centuries, as I recall. Where can you draw the line as to whether the leaders were responsible or whether the cultural beliefs were at fault?

    Even here in America we have plenty of fundamentalist thinking that has led to approval of Bush starting a war with Iraq. At the same time if we became a dictatorship under a fundamentalist wacko then certainly you are correct that a lot of people would go along out of sheer preservation.

    What can be said is that no matter what that it is certain that not all Japanese supported the war just as I am sure that not all people in the defunct Soviet Union were communists. And for that matter not all Muslims support terrorism. But unfortunately sometimes it is hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys. When we are in a war we really can’t take the time to try and figure out which is which.

  • BaseDeltaZero

    You have a fair point, however I will say that the Samuri-warrior philosophy had been around for centuries, as I recall. Where can you draw the line as to whether the leaders were responsible or whether the cultural beliefs were at fault?

    It’s never really clear which of two related things is the cause, and obviously, there was an undercurrent of support prior to the military takeover of Japan – but it was a take-over, and prior the old feudal ideology was in the process of dying out. Furthermore, while they obviously drew on the centuries old Bushido tradition, the new thing was that Tojo et al combined it with European style racial imperialism, creating a combination that was not only toxic but extremely aggressive…

  • Mary

    Ok that makes sense. Thank you for the elaboration on that point.

  • Figs

    I’m not at all confused about what he said. You are trying to clarify what he meant.

  • Mary

    Well yeah you are technically correct but you missed my point and apparently his point as well. He in fact did clarify what he meant but I elaborated on it. Basically though you are not addressing what either one of us said. If you don’t want to do that then don’t complain.

  • Figs

    His point that Japan was a nation full of mass-murdering psychopaths? That’s something that’s difficult to take back, when its where you start. This thing hadn’t gotten heated before he threw that out there. Ignoring it is, in fact, not responding to what he said.

  • Mary

    How is that any different than calling the Nazi’s mass-murdering psychopaths? And you are ignoring the fact that this was a cultural issue in large part. That is not the same as saying that ALL Japanese people were evil. But a lot of them did support the Emporer, for whatever reason.

  • Figs

    The dehumanization implicit in saying it in a conversation about the obliteration of a whole bunch of civilians makes it qualitatively different than saying not-nice things about the nazis. I’ve got to assume you’re being willfully obtuse at this point.

  • Mary

    You don’t think innocent non-Nazi people got killed in Germany?

    I did not take what he said to mean that civilians deserved to be killed because they were all mass murderers.. What I get out the that was that perhaps the bombings were necessary to stop the war because of the ones who were mass murderers would never give up fighting.

    Look I am not entirely sure myself whether our leaders made the right decision but it seems like you are the one being deliberately obtuse by not considering other points of view and quite frankly your grasp of history is very poor Not only that you even seem to not have a good grasp of even modern day warfare! The whole question about why we haven’t nuked people in Syria and elsewhere shows a complete lack of critical thinking on your part. I notice that.you have not responded to anyone who called you out on it.

    Frankly you seem to be someone who is simply throwing peanuts from the gallery rather than wanting to engage in any kind of serious discussion. You haven’t done your homework…and it shows.

  • Figs

    Yes, the question about why we don’t use nuked now was obviously not intended to be a serious one. Did you not understand that? Perhaps I let frustration get the better of me in asking it in the first place, but its pretty clear that it was not intended as a serious question about the tactics of warfare.
    I’ve got a fine grasp of history. What I don’t have is the certainty that everything we’ve done is the exactly right and proper decision, and I’m not at all sure that other factors like the soviets entering the war against Japan wouldn’t have led to a Japanese surrender even absent the bombs. Maybe not that week, because again, I’m not omniscient. But I’m also not the one claiming to be.

  • Mary

    Okay Fig, thanks for the clarification. However you might want to pay more attention to how you come across because I wasn’t the only one that took you seriously.

  • Figs

    I’ll pay more attention to how I come across in the future. Likewise, people inclined to defend the idea of Japan’s disproportionate tendencies toward mass murdering psychopathy might want to do the same.

  • Mary

    I will certainly try to make myself clearer next time.

    I may have to come back to this later because I am having trouble posting which is a problem that I have with Discis,

  • Figs

    I know now what you’re saying. I’m just reminding you that admonishments to be mindful about how you’re coming across go both ways.

  • caryjamesbond

    Germany was full of mass-murdering psychopaths. The USSR was full of mass-murdering psychopaths. In both those cases, long standing cultural traditions stressing obedience and order (see the Russian focus on the serf/near worship of the Czar and landlord which Lenin subverted to the Communist part and the Prussian mentality of military valor and obedience) were subverted to create militarized societies where human life was systemically devalued. This leads to societies that CAN be very orderly and happy- see many aspects of Japanese society today- but only when their leaders are instilling good values.

    Japan STILL struggles with a lot of issues caused by fallout from the code of obedience- and this is seventy years after they brutally lost a war, and radically changed their entire society and its goals. Imagine a Japan that had never lost a war, and had spent a couple generations being systemically indoctrinated with militant and racist rhetoric, and yes- Japan was a society with an unusually high porportion of mass-murdering psychopaths, even compared to Germany and the USSR. This isn’t because they had a different shaped eyelid, this is because the underlying cultural concepts were correspondingly older and stronger in Japanese culture.

  • Figs

    Your assumption here, as you’ve been saying all along, is that Japan was uniquely predisposed to violence through their crazy culture, and as such needed to be smacked down as hard as possible in order not to try this kind of stuff again. Then you give the example of Germany as a society which wasn’t treated harshly enough after WWI, thereby precipitating WWII. I needn’t point out the myriad differences between the situations, as you seem to have acknowledged them in the post to which I’m replying. But you must know that there is scholarly opinion that one of the main precipitating factors of WWII wasn’t that Germany wasn’t beaten hard enough in WWI, but that sanctions imposed in the Treaty of Versailles were too harsh to be realistic and would incur instability and resentment in Germany.

  • caryjamesbond

    Yes, I am aware of that. Which is why I specifically cited a massive rebuilding program of the sort that we saw in the Marshall Plan and in Post-war Japan.

    and as such needed to be smacked down as hard as possible in order not to try this kind of stuff again.

    You’re mistaking my point, again. The purpose wasn’t punitive. As we’ve cited again and again- it was the only way to end the war. Nuking TWO CITIES very nearly DIDN’T end the war- members of the ruling counsel of Japan attempted a coup against the Emperor at the last minute.

    And it wasn’t “so they wouldn’t try this again.” It was ending the war while preventing the greater amounts of bloodshed. And arguing that the leaders involved “couldn’t know it would save lives because they couldn’t see the future” is massively disingenuous. That argument could have been honestly made in 1939….maybe. (More like 1914, IMO)

    But by 1945, we’d DONE landings against islands the Japanese held. We’d seen what street fighting looked like in Stalingrad, in Berlin, in Okinowa. Just LANDING on Peleliu cost 6,000 dead. NOT 6,000 casualties- which is dead and wounded. 6,000 dead soldiers to take a beach on an Island that neither side particularly wanted. Imagine landing on the Home Islands.

    Japan was uniquely predisposed to violence through their crazy culture,

    No, NOT uniquely. Did you not see my German and Russian examples above? There were underlying currents of culturally inculcated obedience in all three cultures that helped facism take root.

    Was Japan’s culture crazy? Well, they blindly followed their leaders into an obviously unwinnable war, shot other soldiers and themselves before allowing surrender, flew planes into ships, and were on the verge of mass suicide charges before the Emperor canceled it.

    No, WWII era Japanese culture was a totally sane and normal thing and not utterly fucked up at all. And yes, you can say the same thing about Nazi Germany and the USSR, but we aren’t debating them, are we?

  • Figs

    Nobody said, until you felt the need to backpedal, that Germany and Russia were full of mass-murdering psychopaths.
    You are aware, are you not, that there is a body of scholarship with differing opinions on this, right? I don’t begrudge you yours, but there are scholars and military historians who have researched this and do not agree with your conclusions. Stating baldly that the atomic bombs were “the only way to end the war” disregards all of the learned opinions that have reached a differing conclusion.

  • caryjamesbond

    I’ve backpedaled nothing at all. I said at the begining of the discussion that Japan had a society fulll of MMPs and I contine to say that. No one felt the need to bring Germand and the USSR into it because this discussion isn’t about them. It’s about the use of nuclear weapons on Japan to end a war against Japan. If Fred wrote a post about the bombing of Dresden, we wouldn’t be discussing the society of Japan, but of Nazi Germany.

    The only reason Germany and the USSR came into it was because you started tossing around accusations of racism because you were losing an argument.

  • Figs

    I wasn’t tossing an accusation around because I was losing an argument. I was noting a nonsense slander of an entire civilization, which is especially egregious given that its obviously a lot easier to argue that killing civilians is morally permissible when those civilians come from a country full of mass murdering psychopaths.

  • caryjamesbond

    Yeah, it’s not nonsense when you can trace egregious, widespread, repetitious and standard behavior of Japanese soldiers and civilians directly to the twisted interpretation of Bushido followed by the leaders of the nation.

    I think you’re falling into a fairly common fallacy, which is to assume that just because a population has been mistreated in the past, or suffered from racism, that they are somehow sanctified. You see this a lot in dealing with Israel- the fact that the Jews suffered through the Holocaust is supposed to somehow be a response to accusations that they are now perpetuating organized and unnecessary violence on their own behalf.

    Yes, there were elements of racial hatred present in the treatment of the Japanese that were not present in the treatment of the Germans, particularly in propaganda. (Interestingly enough, however, the Italians caught some quite racist imagery- primarily because the 40’s was still a period when “wops” and “dagos” were considered different from white people.)

    Yes, the Japanese were interned, and were interned only because of the color of their skin, and that was wrong.

    None of this changes that fact that the empire of Japan systemically perpetuated horrors on a scale as great as or greater than the Nazi’s, and with much more involvement of the ordinary soldiers. In Germany, most of the worst atrocities were reserved for special squads, kept separate even from the the rest of the SS, let alone the Wehrmacht. In Japan, events like the rape of Manchuria, systemic rape of women, murdering and torturing prisoners, suicide charges and etc. were perpetuated by the ordinary rank and file of the military.
    Something went wrong with a lot of places in the 20’s and 30’s. Of those places that went wrong, Japan is potentially the most egregious example.

  • Figs

    Maybe try a different field next time. Armchair psychology isn’t your forte.

  • caryjamesbond

    And your evidence is? The closest you’ve come to a citation or an example is saying “There is significant scholarly debate on this subject!”

    Meh. I’m through. I’ve been to fifth grade. Arguing with someone whose only contribution is “Nuh-uh!” is a waste of both our times.

  • Figs

    So are you not acknowledging that there is any division on this? You are holding yourself out as an expert, but have you actually been exposed to scholarship that doesn’t agree with what you’re saying?
    I’m not at all claiming to be an expert. I’ve done a little bit of reading on this, but not all that much. But I’ve done enough to see that there are respected, intelligent thinkers and historians who argue both sides of this. Military leaders such as Eisenhower, MacArthur, Leahy and Nimitz thought that the bombings were unnecessary.

  • Jim Bales

    Sadly, Figs has yet to tell us why Emperor Hirohito was wrong in saying that that atomic bombings led to Japan’s surrender, nor has Figs yet presented any scenario that would have had Japan surrendering by August 15, 1945 without the bombings.

    Figs position seems to be:
    1) Don’t drop the atomic bombs
    2) … then a miracle occurs …
    3) Japan surrenders.

    My position is that, without the acts the Emperor cited as the cause of the surrender, we have no reason to believe Japan would have surrendered when it did.

    One of these positions, it seems, is fallacious.

    Jim Bales

  • Figs

    1) I don’t know why you keep responding to me as though you’re talking to someone else. It’s creepy and weird.
    2) You’ve moved the goalposts. Now its not enough to say that the bombings may have (may, I’m saying) caused more civilian deaths, intentional or otherwise, than the alternative. Now you’re saying I have to present a plausible scenario without the bombs that gets Japan to surrender later that week? Why? I was never arguing that the bombs weren’t an integral reason for the war in the pacific ending, especially on the timetable it did. I don’t know why you seem to think I was arguing this.
    3) I’d like to reiterate point 1. If you’re replying to me, you can say “you.” If I had written that sentence as you would have, I would have said, “If Jim Bales is replying to me, Jim Bales can say “you.”” See how silly and weird that is?

  • Jim Bales


    First, let me reply to your point one.

    Please accept my apologies, it is not my intention to creep you out or make you feel weird by using the third person, and I can see how you might feel that way.

    I use the third person for two reasons. First, it is my intent to talk to more people than just you, and by using the third person I hope to help others to feel invited to join in. Second, I have found over the years that the third person provides a bit of distance in the on-line communication and (I believe) reduces the likelihood of flame wars compared to loading comments with “you did this”, and “you did that”.

    I will try to break a long-ingrained habit and say “you” when I am writing for you alone, but continue to use the third person where I hope for others to be engaged in the conversation.

    Jim Bales

  • Jim Bales


    I believe that there may be a misunderstand that has led to your point 2. In this thread, I was responding to Albanaeon statement that “There were a lot of big egos out to prove their pet theories then and they did not care how many people died in proving them. We should be cautious in accepting their version of events.”

    My point was simply that we do not need to accept the version of events put forth by the “big egos” of LeMay and others. We have instead our own observations of what really happened. In particular, I wrote:
    “Rather [than relying upon the version of events put forth by the “big egos”], we know that Japan surrendered 6 days after Nagasaki was destroyed. I, for one, cannot conceive of any alternative scenario that would have had the same outcome. ”

    In short, all I was saying here is: It was the atomic bombings that led to the Japanese surrender on Aug. 15, rather than a later date.

    I took you statement, “Argument from personal incredulity isn’t terribly compelling,” as saying that there was reason to believe that the Japanese would have surrender by Aug. 15, even if there had not been a bombing. If that was not your intent, my apologies for misunderstanding you!

    Jim Bales

  • Figs

    There were other factors as well, though, right? The ussr entering the war against Japan on August 8, right? Was that not cited by the Japanese as a reason for surrender? Given that the Japanese were hoping for the soviets to help mediate on their behalf, the soviet entry into the war was a pretty devastating development.
    Do I share some measure of incredulity that absent the bombs the war might not have ended quite as quickly? Sure, a little. Do I know this to be the case? Not at all. And if we are into moral calculus land, its not really the relevant question anyway.

  • Jim Bales

    Figs asks, “There were other factors as well, though, right? The ussr entering the war against Japan on August 8, right? Was that not cited by the Japanese as a reason for surrender? ”

    I’ve not found a Japanese source from the end of war, or immediate post-war, period that cited the Soviet invasion of Manchuria as a reason for surrender. (I have seen such statements from 1948/9 and later.)

    From my readings, I would say it was certainly a factor. However, the Japanese strategy at that time (Ketsu-go) was focused on awaiting a US-led invasion, defeating it and destroying the beachhead (and the men on it) and then negotiating a peace. This strategy did not require holding Manchuria.

    Richard Frank (in his work, “Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire”. writes:

    ‘Why did the Emperor finally intervene? He consistently gave three reasons. When he first announced his decision in the early morning hours of August 10, he said that he had “given serious thought to the situation prevailing at home and abroad.” The allusion to Japan’s internal situation is significant. There is a great deal of direct and indirect evidence demonstrating that fear (perhaps exaggerated) of a domestic upheaval provided … [others] and the Emperor with a powerful impulse to end the war. … The Emperor also explicitly cited two military considerations: inadequate preparation to resist the invasion and the vast destructiveness of the atomic bomb and the air attacks, He did not refer to Soviet intervention.”

    Prime Minister Suzuki was one of the six members of the “Supreme Council for the Direction of the War”. These six, along with the Keeper of the Privy Seal, Koichi Kido and the Emperor, were the ruling body in Japan at the end of the war. In December of 1945 Suzuki stated (again my source is Frank’s “Downfall”) that the Supreme War Council “had proceeded with the one plan of fighting a decisive battle at the landing point and was making every possible preparation to meet such a landing. They proceed[ed] with that plan until the Atomic Bomb was dropped, after which they believed the United States … need no land when it had such a weapon; so at that point they decided that it would be best to sue for peace.”

    Frank notes: “Suzuki’s assessment goes to the heart of the matter; Soviet intervention did not invalidate the Ketsu-Go military and political strategy; the Imperial Army had already written off Manchuria.”

    Frank reports that ‘In a postwar commentary, Kido reinforced Suzuki’s analysis with the insight that the atomic bombs served not only as an important cause buy as an indispensable excuse for the surrender; “If military leaders could convince themselves that they were defeated by the power of science but not by lack of spiritual power or strategic error, they could save face to some extent.’

    (These quotes are from page 347 of the first edition of “Downfall”.)

    Jim Bales

  • Figs

    Sure, though as I’m sure your readings must have told you, unless you’ve only been looking for things that support your own view on things, there is indeed scholarly debate among academics as well as military thinkers on this question.

  • Jim Bales


    Yes, there is indeed scholarly debate among academics as well as military thinkers on this question.

    Now, one need not be an academic or a military thinker to read that debate and assess the arguments presented (FWIW, my degrees are in engineering and physics, and I teach engineering courses these days, so I am neither a historian nor a military thinker). I have assessed those arguments in the scholarly debate I’ve read, I find some more plausible and persuasive than others.

    In particular, I have quoted one researcher on the matter, and (more importantly) quoted what one of the most senior Japanese leaders stated in December 1945 on the matter. I cite these sources because I consider them representative of the voices in the scholarly debate that I find persuasive.

    Now, perhaps I am wrong — and I have been before, as you have pointed out. If you think I am wrong, find the voices in the debate that convince you I am wrong, and cite them. If you think I am overlooking a key argument against my stated position, tell me what it is!

    Also, I have stated that I will give statements by senior Japanese officials more weight the closer they occur to the surrender. If you believe I am wrong to do this, please say so and explain why you believe that way!

    Jim Bales

  • Figs

    I do not claim to be an expert and never have. I don’t have ready access to a lot of sources on this. My reading has been top level on this. But as to your last point, about why senior Japanese officials may have given certain reasons weight over others, we’ve discussed in this thread the rigid honor culture of Japan, right? Is it plausible that they might cite the factors that allowed them the most ability to save some face (no matter how little that was)? I don’t know that I’ve been convinced that the statements of senior officials in the surrendering leadership are absolutely the best sources on this. But my reasoning may be faulty, and I’d welcome that being pointed out if it is.
    A question: how come, after the firebombing runs that devastated other Japanese cities, the devastation of these two particular cities would have been intolerable? Apart from statements from Japanese officials, that is. We know that the killing of their civilians with massive destructive power, delivered by wave after wave of bombers, did not cause them to surrender. Why after this?

  • BaseDeltaZero

    Well, yeah. Strategic saturation bombardment never really worked for ‘breaking the spirit’ of the enemy, with the possible exception of the nuclear attacks themselves (though, I suspect, they were more the final straw against a nation that had already been effectively defeated). As I stated above, however, targeting military (and, to an extent, industrial, although it takes a massive amount of firepower to make a significant impact, which implies a massive disparity *anyways*) assets *is* effective. As the war went on, targets began to have more of a military focus… partly doctrinal, partly a matter of opportunity (allied light bombers could freely fly low and drop bombs with relative accuracy)… and I believe it definitively proved that anti-civilian strikes do not even *work*… if it did, the Axis should have won, given the sheer number of Soviet (and everyone else) civilians they killed… unless you want to argue that it’s mitigated if you start killing your own citizens?

  • BaseDeltaZero

    Actually, at least in the case of Hiroshima, it was spared from firebombing because the target they were interested in, the garrison, was all concrete, as were most of the factories. I encountered a very good website recently, detailing precisely the decision, the reasons the targets were chosen You’re essentially right, though, in that hitting the military targets would possibly require as much explosive power…

    However, while Hiroshima was targeted for its weapons depot/distribution center/garrison and high degree of functioning industry, and Nagasaki for its status as one of Japan’s few remaining functional ports (and because the actual target, Kokura, was too stormy), they knew they weren’t only going to hit military targets. They weren’t idiots, they knew they were going to kill civilians, and they chose to do it anyways. Indeed, while all the chosen targets were militarily significant, that they were *not* isolated was specifically a criteria, as a small, hardened target might escape major damage if the bomb went significantly off course.

    The thing is, this was true of conventional bombings anyways. They didn’t have smart bombs, even superficially (now, we have smart bombs, and drop them on civilians anyways, because fuck those Arabs, I guess?). Actually hitting a target would require saturating it with enough explosives to destroy the entire area – any sort of attack would kill civilians. They knew this, and they chose to do it anyways.

    Strategic saturation bombing has never really succeeded in breaking the spirit of a target populace as advertised. Strategic bombing of military assets, however, is inarguably important… but in WWII, you could not do the latter without the former.

  • Graeme Sutton

    “Strategic Saturation Bombing has never really succeeded in breaking the spirit of a target populace as advertised”
    Minor quibble as the Dutch and Poles in the early years of WWII are the exceptions that prove the rule, seeing as how these countries knew that defeat was more or less inevitable anyway, but the bombings of Rotterdam and Warsaw broke their will and hastened their surrender.

  • BaseDeltaZero

    I’m not deeply familiar with that part of the conflict, but from a quick overview, those attacks served more as a demonstrator of total German military superiority. And also destroyed their water supply, in Warsaw, ‘starving’ them out (which *will*, work, eventually…)
    Rotterdam? They had already surrendered anyways, and civilian casualties were relatively small – but what little remained of the Dutch air defenses were utterly destroyed.

  • TheBrett

    Good post.

    Smart bombs are a lot more accurate, but they still miss (I read somewhere that it was something like 14% of them go somewhat off-target, but I can’t remember the source or how far they go off target).

  • Carstonio

    One can deem the bombing to be monstrous on its own without second-guessing the decision. I’m very reluctant to say that Truman’s decision was right or wrong. Any judgment would be tainted by my knowledge of the consequences of one particular choice, and very likely he had knowledge that I couldn’t possess.

    This is partly the old question about going to 1930 and killing Hitler – it’s possible that history could have turned out even worse. (If the original Dead Zone novel were a Twight Zone episode, Johnny Smith would have found at the end that his actions had little effect on the future. ) I’m more interested in the assumptions behind any second-guessing.

    As I mentioned earlier, I’ve encountered too many defenses of the bombing that imply that the Japanese or the Soviets (or both) were subhuman monsters whose only thoughts were conquering and killing. I like Michael Pullman’s point that real people are neither He-Man nor Skeletor. At best, that false dualism blinds one to the larger moral questions in the war. Such as how millions of Germans went along with the worsening persecution of Jews, or how a nation that proclaimed freedom and equality could morally justify taking away the freedom of Japanese descendants but not German or Italian ones.

    Instead of justifying the decision to bomb, our long-term goal should be a world where no leader is faced with a decision such as Truman’s, ultimately a world without war.

  • Sereg

    “(If the original Dead Zone novel were a Twight Zone episode, Johnny
    Smith would have found at the end that his actions had little effect on
    the future.)”

    gung’f rknpgyl jung unccraf ng gur raq bs gur gi frevrf… sehfgengrq gur uryy bhg bs zr.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    (If the original Dead Zone novel were a Twight Zone episode, Johnny
    Smith would have found at the end that his actions had little effect on
    the future. )

    Whereas if it was The Outer Limits, it would turn out that he was Hitler the whole time.

    (Saw it coming.)

  • Carstonio

    For comics fans, this is worth a read if you can find it. It was my first exposure to the moral questions we’re discussing here.


  • mattmcirvin

    Wow! Earth-Two Superman and Wonder Woman, totally punked by Franklin D. Roosevelt.

  • mattmcirvin

    …unless they were trying to imply that FDR would never have done it, it was all that nasty Harry Truman’s fault?

  • Carstonio

    Not quite. The summary is incorrect – FDR in the story pledges that the US will never use the bomb in war as long as he is president. A the two heroes leave the White House, Diana observes that the bomb’s use in war is inevitable.

  • teglet

    I try to stay out of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki debate because I do scholarly work on modern Japan (that is, Meiji Restoration and onwards). The debate is usually reduced to this-is-wrong/no-it’s-not. And just…it’s so complicated, so fucking complicated. In addition to everything everyone here has mentioned, there’s the elephant in the room of how the Japanese are not white, and how much that influenced…everything. The high school history books tend to paint it as “and then Japan suddenly got evil and fascist in the 30s and they had to be stopped,” but really, the groundstones for the war in the Pacific were being laid all through the preceding century, from when the League of Nations dealt with the Racial Equality Proposal to when the kurofune sailed into the bay at Edo. Yes, Imperial Japan wrought horrible things, monstrous things, and it did them for a reason because after its discourse and intercourse with the rest of the world prior I don’t know what the fuck else anyone expected. Essentially, my answer not only to the Hiroshima-Nagasaki question but the myriad other this-or-that and if-this-then-that hindsight-is-20-20 questions regarding WWII conflicts is “WWII was evil in ten thousand forms.”

  • caryjamesbond

    Well, I think the rest of the world could’ve expected “expansionist facists” seeing as how that was sort what all the cool kids were doing. I don’t think they saw “Rape of Nanking” coming, though.

  • robtish

    How about we replace “noncombatants” with “people”?

  • caryjamesbond

    Well, the reason we don’t nuke Hanana is that Cuba has never demonstrated the military capability to take over half a fucking hemisphere. And that Japan HAD, what with, you know- the entire course of the 1930’s.

    Second- the only reason the Japanese went from “entire nation of psychotic mass murderers”* to “Peaceful makers of electronics and cartoons” is the complete and through ousting, and destruction of the Japanese army and naval elite, who’d controlled the Emperor and thus, all power in Japan.
    Hell, it wasn’t even the “big Six”, the Japanese military leaders, that surrendered, it was the personal intervention of Hirohito, and he was only able to surrender AFTER an attempted coup d’etat.


    And, frankly- Nagasaki seems a strange place to draw the line- Firebombing Tokyo killed more people and did more destruction.

    The reason the Japanese (and the Germans) had to be broken- not just defeated, not just contained, but broken of the will to fight, was that in both cases, removing the ability to fight without removing the WILL to fight wouldn’t solve anything. This can be clearly seen in Germany from 1919-1935.

    The Japanese, like the Germans, would’ve been driven back to their homeland, but not invaded. Not occupied. And the Army, which had held power through one crushing defeat after another, would have convinced the citizenry that they had miraculously stopped the invaders- perhaps told them that the Kamikaze attacks had finally worked. The people of Japan who, even under the massive firebombing campaigns of 1945, were still stockpiling BAMBOO SPEARS to fight the invasion, probably would’ve bought it.

    And then cue the standard post-defeat-but-not-destruction rhetoric. We were betrayed from within. We were defeated by naysayers, not in the field. It would’ve been the German

    Was it nice? No, it was brutal, and fucking awful. But it was completely necessary. “You aren’t allowed to kill civilians” is a wonderful sentiment and while it speaks highly of Fred’s moral sensibilities, it doesn’t speak so highly of his understanding of warfare in general, or the situation in Japan circa 1945.

    Finally, I’d point to this article, which notes the complete and utter change effected in the Japanese mentality and situation by Hirohito’s surrender speech.


    *The Germans, while they had a freakish level of loyalty to Hitler, were losing that loyalty very rapidly by the end of the war, and by the time of the invasion were fairly happy to see us. The Japanese were still loyal to the Emperor, and all accounts of the immediate pre-nuke period I’ve read, including those written by the Japanese, indicate that the civilian population was ready to fight for every inch of the home islands. The WWII era Japanese mentality is a very interesting case study in mass psychosis.

  • BaseDeltaZero

    I think you’re right, here… but also not. To truly win a war, now and forever, the enemy nation must be totally defeated. Not ‘massacred’ – as you yourself pointed out, many in Japan were still quite ready to face down the invaders, even after millions had been killed. The Soviet Union took more losses than anyone, and pushed the Germans back anyways. In WWI, many millions died, but did that stop anyone? No, because while it may be necessary to break the enemy’s fighting spirit, that is not done through general slaughter – the only thing that seems to work is complete and total military victory. Rout their armies, break their lines, seize their homeland and kill (or imprison) their leaders, make it so that *you* are in charge now, not the people who just fought you in the first place. It’s that which seems to matter, not the sheer number of people you can kill.
    I think, in a sense, World War I was an anomaly – the last gasp of an old breed of war, before total war took over. Modern wars seem to be to the death, not just of soldiers but of governments – its simply too costly, and too dangerous, to fight for anything else. Among industrialized nations, at least, you don’t see the kind of almost recreational warfare that was commonplace in, say, Medieval Europe (or Japan!) Despite the Bush gang’s best efforts. (And even that was far more than a simple territorial war).

  • Liralen

    Thanks for the remembrance, Fred. I was born in Japan, but raised in the US. The opinion was so one-sided when I was growing up that it never occurred to me until well into adulthood that what happened to Hiroshima and Nagasaki was an atrocity.
    It’s good that it’s being discussed now to help firm up our moral beliefs so we’ll know what’s the right thing to do if the occasion occurs where it could happen again. However, it’s also important to remember that it’s really unlikely that any of us reading this blog had anything to do with the atrocities that happened during WWII. Or slavery. Or the treatment of native Americans. It really bugs me when people feel guilty for things they didn’t do.

  • Jim Bales

    The following is a continuation and concatenation of topics in various threads below. As such, I’ve started a new thread with this post, and hope that it will not cause confusion. Also, I have promised commenter Figs a response to their quite-valid point “But you’re making a presumption here, that dropping the atomic bombs was definitively the least monstrous thing that could have been done. If you’re going to make that argument, you’ve got to make it, not just assert it.

    Let me spell out my position as clearly as I can before embarking on the moral calculus Figs asked of me. Before I do so, I want to lay out my general belief. If time permits I will then give a detailed reply to Figs request.

    It seems to me that some would call out the atomic bombings of Japan as unprecedented moral outrage, and would raise them to be a greater offense than the years of war that preceded the bombings. I disagree with that stance.

    It seems to me that some would deprecate the moral offense that was the atomic bombings of Japan, and would pull the bombings down to being just the level of ordinary war. I disagree with that stance.

    Rather, I insist that the war itself and its conduct be held to the high standards that we typically reserve for the atomic bombings. The atomic bombings were an atrocity. They were evil and monstrous and without moral redemption. So was the war itself.

    I hold this position from having read some of the more candid accounts of what it meant to be in combat in WW II. I read what the soldiers and sailors and marines and air crews went through, and I cannot bring myself to say that it is better that those young men (almost all of them men) be vaporized and seared and drowned and suffocated and torn asunder than the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki be vaporized and seared and drowned and suffocated and torn asunder.

    Furthermore, I cannot accept that, because many of those in uniform volunteered for what happened to them, it is OK that they suffered and died. When they volunteered they had (with rare exception) no concept of what they were in for. Their consent was not informed consent. Their consent was driven by enormous social forces calling on their honor, their sense of adventure, and their fear of shame and ostracization to induce them to volunteer.

    Also, the volunteers were the minority (although many were conscripted who would have volunteered under other circumstances). All were subject to brainwashing in boot camp. That brainwashing was, of course, appropriate and necessary, and increased their odds of survival. It was still brainwashing. All were subject to summary execution should they flee combat and subject to trial and execution if they refused to enter combat.

    And this is why Fred’s post of 2010 resonates with me. It recognizes that we need not deprecate the suffering of those in uniform in order to recognize the horror of the atomic bombings. It takes 2007’s You may not both 1) intentionally target and incinerate 140,000 noncombatants and 2) not be a monster” and adds to it ”When, as will happen, you are yourself forced to choose between two bad things, then choose the lesser of the evils and choose it boldly. This addition means that I am not forced to zero out the lives and pain and suffering of those in uniform.

    Which, of course, leads us to the moral calculus Figs requested. Unfortunately, because of family obligations, I do not know that I will be able to carry that out tonight, though if time permits I will.

  • Jim Bales

    [Please look farther into the comment thread for a discussion of a math error of mine discovered by Figs and of a typo of mine, also discovered by Figs. I’ve marked the corrections in the body of this post. -Jim]

    Let us enter the moral calculus Figs requested. My primary source for
    most of this is “Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire”, by Richard
    Frank (1999). I am using the hardbound first printing of the first edition.

    We are now asking, “What were the consequences of the continuation of hostilities without the atomic bombings?”

    According to Paul Fussell (“Thank God for the Atom Bomb”, http://www.college.columbia.edu/core/sites/core/files/pages/Paul%20Fussel-Thank%20God%20for%20the%20Atom%20Bomb-August%201981.pdf) at the end of the war, US casualties (injured or killed) were running at over 7,000 per week. Overall, 27% [correction 37.8%] of all US casualties were fatalities, so we are looking at 2,500 (I rounded down from Figs 2,650) Americans in uniform dying every week.

    We need to add to these combatant casualties those in south-east Asia, where the British, were consolidating their gains in Burma and preparing to invade Japanese-held Malaysia as a prelude to recapturing Singapore. One presumes that, as the region of operation was smaller, and operations were at a lower tempo, the casualty rates would be lower. Lacking a good source of data, let us take them as 500 allied deaths per week. Similarly, we need to add the combatants in China. Again, I have no good sources for data here, let us assume 500 allied deaths per week here as well.

    On August 9, the Soviets invaded Manchuria. In reality, some 9,000 Soviets were killed, some 84,000 Japanese were killed, and some 640,000 Japanese surrendered. Let us assume that both sides would have suffered 50% additional deaths had the bombs not been dropped. (After all, without the bombings there were over a half million Japanese troops under arms to continue the fight against the Soviets.)

    Now we can consider Japanese combatant deaths. We estimate above some additional 42,000 Japanese soldiers dying in combat against the Soviets. Let us estimate that the deaths from ongoing operations for the Japanese are the same as for the allies, some 3,500 per week (2,500/week against the US and 500/week each against the Chinese and British). If anyone has better sources for numbers, please let us know.

    So, additional combatant deaths from not dropping the bomb are 51,000 [Correction, 46,500] from operations in Manchuria and 7,000 each week from ongoing operations. Before we say, “only 7,000 per week”, let us listen to Fussell to try to grasp the significance of that number:

    Those weeks mean the world if you’re one of those thousands or related to one of them. During the time between the dropping of the Nagasaki bomb on August 9 and the actual surrender on the fifteenth, the war pursued its accustomed course: on the twelfth of August eight captured American fliers were executed (heads chopped off); the fifty-first United States submarine, Bonefish, was sunk (all aboard drowned); the destroyer Callaghan went down, the seventieth to be sunk, and the Destroyer Escort Underhill was lost.”

    The execution of the 8 American fliers was an atrocity. The downing of the 60 men aboard the USS Bonefish was horrifying. The death of each and every soldier on the ground in the Philippines, or New Guinea, or Okinawa, or anywhere else “mopping-up” operations were taking place was monstrous, as their wives and mothers and fathers and children and brothers and sisters would attest.

    In the next installment we consider civilian casualties.

  • Figs

    Your link doesn’t work (I found the problem, you put a parenthesis at the end of it; same problem with your next post). And 27% of 7,000, if I take your numbers at face value, is 1,890, not 2,500. Not a big difference, but once you bring numbers into it, you’ve gotta have at least a little rigor, right? Also, later in the comment, you add 2,500 and 500 to get 3,500, when really you should be adding 1,890 and 500 to get 2,390. Multiplying that by two (to cover both sides) gets you to 4,780, not 7,000. And assuming half again the number of deaths in Manchuria that you quoted gets you to 46,500, not 51,000.

    This gets tiresome, obviously. And to show you that I’m not just trying to quibble and put a thumb on the scale and deflate everything, if I go to wikipedia and look up totals for soldiers wounded and killed/missing in WWII, I get 37.8% of US casualties killed, which is more like 2,650 out of 7,000. It’s a decent way to get a baseline number, though it could be higher or lower depending on any number of factors. My only point here is that if you’re going to do an analysis like this, you’ve got to have some rigor, and you’ve got to at least add properly.

  • Jim Bales

    [Minor edits about 35 minutes after originally posted, to correct a misreading I made of Figs post] My thanks to Figs for checking into my numbers, and catching both my math error in the Manchurian case.

    For the US weekly casualties, I went to the same Wikipedia page, and rounded 37.8% down to 37% (to be conservative) and then made a typo I made, writing 27% instead of 37%.

    I don’t think our numbers are good enough to justify choosing 37.8% over 37%, and the round down makes my case harder, not easier.

    There are two estimates of 500 allied deaths per week. One is in the Burma theater, where British forces were fighting the Japanese, the second is in China (excluding Manchuria) where Chinese nationalist forces under Chiang Kai-Shek and Chinese Communist forces under Mao Tse-Tung were fighting the Japanese. That gives us 2,5o0 (US) + 500 (British) + 500 (Chinese) for 3,500, rather than the 3,650 we get with the more precise ration of killed to total casualties.

    So, I propose we go forward with the corrected values of 46,500 additional Soviet and Japanese combat deaths in Manchuria, absent the atomic bombings, and stay with 7.500/week combatant deaths from all other forces, absent the bombings.

    Figs, does this work for you?

    Jim Bales

  • Figs

    Why are you assuming half again as many deaths in Manchuria?

    Ps, Wikipedia has got a pretty decent article on the supporting and opposing viewpoints of the use of atomic weapons in Japan. It goes through a lot of positions better than either of us has been doing here, and addresses the numbers in a more rigorous way.

  • Jim Bales

    Figs asks, “Why are you assuming half again as many deaths in Manchuria?”

    Because this was a major military operation that was cut short by the Japanese surrender.

    Jim Bales

  • Figs

    Aren’t you implicitly assuming that the soviet declaration of war had nothing to do with the surrender?

  • Jim Bales

    Well, there are three possibilities:

    A) Japan would have surrendered when it did had the bombings taken place, but there was no Soviet intervention

    B) It took the concurrent bombings and Soviet intervention to trigger Japan’s surrender

    C) Japan would have surrendered with the Soviet intervention even without the bombings.

    I believe that the answer is most likely A), and the Soviet intervention reinforced the decision to surrender.

    In particular, I note that the decision to surrender was (to the best of my knowledge) a unilateral action by the Emperor. Consider the situation the Emperor faced.

    As of August 5 (the day before Hiroshima), Japan was in a dire military and political position, and the Supreme Council for the Direction of the War had set forth Japan’s last-ditch plan (Ketsu-go) for extracting a negotiated peace by destroying a US-led invasion of Japan.

    By August 10 (the day Hirohito made the decision to surrender) the two atomic bombs has destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with a scale of death and destruction still unclear to the Emperor, but obviously unprecedented (and the descriptions of conditions kept getting worse as time went on). Also by August 10, the Soviets had declared war on Japan (Aug 8) and started their invasion of Manchuria (Aug 9). (FWIW, Frank includes a footnote on p. 347 of “Downfall” stating that when Hirohito made the decision to surrender, he had not yet learned of the Soviet invasion.)

    There are three strands of evidence I believe are important here.

    * First strand: When Hirohito announced the decision to surrender, he gave three reasons for the action.

    1) The “situation prevailing at home and abroad”, particularly (according to Frank) concern over internal unrest within Japan.

    2) Inadequate preparation to deal with the US invasion (the core of the Ketsu-Go strategy)

    3) The vast destructiveness of the atomic bombs and air attacks.

    — quoted at

    If the Soviet intervention was a reason for surrender, Hirohito did not find it worth mentioning at the time. So, either Soviet intervention was not a reason, or Hirohito had cause to hide that it was a reason for surrender. Until we can identify some plausible cause for Hirohito to hide his reasoning behind the decision to surrender, there is no support here for the contention that Soviet intervention played an important role in the surrender.

    * Second strand: Japan had a plan, and its leaders had committed to it. The plan (Ketsu-go) was a desperate and last-ditch plan, but a plan nonetheless. The only reason to give up that plan would be if events had invalidated the plan. The plan was to endure the bombings, wait for the US to invade Japan, crush the invasion, and then negotiate a settlement with the USSR as an intermediary.

    Clearly, once the USSR intervened, they could no longer be the political and diplomatic intermediary between the US and Japan. However, other neutral nations (e.g., Switzerland and Sweden) existed that could perform that role, even if not as well as the USSR. The loss of Manchuria itself, and of the enormous Japanese army in Manchuria did not substantially affect Ketsu-Go, which did not draw on those forces or resources. Thus, Soviet intervention did not invalidate Ketsu-Go, although it did lower the odds of success in opening up negotiations with the US after crushing the invasion forces.

    In contrast, once the second bomb was dropped the US had shown that it was able and willing to destroy Japan city by city. The US no longer needed to invade, and without a US-led invasion, Ketsu-Go could not work. Thus, the atomic bombings completely invalidated Ketsu-Go.

    * Third strand: Hirohito did not consult with his military and diplomatic leaders in the Supreme Council before deciding on surrender.

    If the drive to surrender had been the military or diplomatic consequences of the intervention of the USSR, I would expect the Emperor to have consulted with his military and diplomatic leaders on the Supreme Council before unilaterally deciding to surrender. If the Supreme Council did not acquiesce to the Emperor’s decision they could be an attempted coup (and, in fact there was one). I would expect Hirohito to gain their concurrence that the Soviet intervention had made the situation untenable. Hirohito did not do so.

    Not consulting with the council is consistent with a recognition that the atomic bombings had invalidated Ketsu-Go, and there no longer being any viable plan. Hirohito’s act certainly looks like Hirohito choosing to act unilaterally to save their lives.

    Jim Bales

  • Jim Bales

    The next step in the moral calculus Figs requested is to estimate the civilian deaths had the atomic bombings not occurred.

    Four Japanese cities were spared firebombing because they were selected as candidates for atomic bombing. These four (Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Kokura, and Niigata) had a total population at the time of approximately 900,000. (Sources are http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Imperial_Japan and http://www.nytimes.com/1995/08/07/world/kokura-japan-bypassed-by-a-bomb.html).

    Presumably, they would have been subject to conventional firebombing in the absence of the atomic bombing. As noted in a earlier comment, Tokyo lost 1.5% of its population killed in the firebombing of 10 March 1945 (100,000 out of just over 6,000,000). However 1,500,000 lived in the burned out areas, so the area affected had more like 6.7% of its population killed. If we assume that the four cities in question suffered fatalities at 4% (the rough average of the two rates above) we get an estimate of an additional 36,000 Japanese killed in firebombings of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Kokura, and Niigata. (These victims would be mostly civilians, but with some soldiers, particularly in Hiroshima.)

    Other bombings would have continued in the period from Aug. 15 (when Japan surrendered) until whenever Japan would have surrendered without the atomic bombings. I don’t have a good estimate of the casualty rate. The “London Blitz” bombing campaign of Sept. 1940-May 1941 killed some 40,000 civilians over a 10 month period, or roughly 1,000 per week. Having no better estimate, let us use this to assume 1,000 Japanese civilians would be killed each week by bombing campaigns. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Blitz)

    Of course, there were civilians in the active war zones throughout the Pacific theater, including China, Manchuria, Burma and SE Asia, the Philippines, and New Guinea. I don’t have a good estimate for these. However, given that this includes both the ongoing repressive rule of the Japanese in China and the active combat of the Soviet invasion of Japanese-held Manchuria, I think an estimate of 1,000 per week is not unreasonable.

    Now we are looking at 36,000 Japanese civilians killed in firebombing of the four cities spared firebombing, along with an additional 2,000 civilians per week of the ongoing war.

    Adding in the military deaths from the previous post, we estimate 87,000 [correction 82,500] additional dead from the Soviet invasion of Manchuria and the firebombing of the four cities on the atomic target list – another Hiroshima in terms of acute (immediate or near term) deaths. There are also an additional 9,000 dead each week from ongoing operations.

    Next estimates required are of the long-term effects of the prolonged war on the Japan’s agricultural and transportation infrastructure, and their implications for famine in immediate post-war Japan, and consideration of just how long Japan would have held out absent the atomic bombings.

    My heart is heavy from this exercise.

  • Jim Bales

    Unfortunately for this discussion, I’m taking the family on our summer vacation this evening, and today needs to be spent packing, so this may be my last chance to comment in this thread.

    My thanks to all who have commented on my posts, and a particular thanks to Figs for catching some errors I made!

    One more important factor to be aware of is the state of the agricultural and transportation infrastructure of Japan late in the war.

    Again, using Richard Frank’s “Downfall” as my source (pp. 350-354, in particular).

    Frank notes that Japan was quite dependent on food imports, which the US submarine campaign (and other military efforts, including the mining of Japanese sealanes under the aptly named “Operation Starvation) had succeeded in reducing dramatically. By 1945 the average Japanese citizen consumed 1,6800 calories per day. The rice harvest of late 1945 was disastrous (by the end of the harvest, in Feb 1946, only 60% of the government quota had been achieved).

    Japan staved off famine for a while by consuming in late 1945/early 1946 the food that would have been saved for consumption in the Spring and Fall of 1946. By May 1946, the official daily ration was 1,042 calories/day and the government only issued 800 calories/day (no doubt supplemented by a black market).

    Famine was averted by large scale shipments of food from the US, and the presence of sufficient surviving railroads within Japan to deliver that food from the seaports to the people (only 3% of Japan’s highway network was paved at the end of the war).

    A US targeting directive of August 11 (four days before Japan announced it would surrender) listed 54 railroad yards and facilities as well as 13 bridges as targets to be destroyed.

    Had the war continued (even for just a few more weeks), it is likely that these assets would have been substantially damaged, if not destroyed, likely resulting in widespread famine in Japan at the end of hostilities and in the early post-war period.

    I know of no way to estimate the loss of life this would have entailed, but deaths of order one hundred thousand of the some 72 Million Japanese would have been quite possible (this would represent 0.14% of the population).

    Jim Bales

  • Justme

    Dan Carlin had a good episode of his podcast “Hardcore History”, where he talks about the decision to drop the atomic bombs, where he traces the history that leads up to the bombing, and the way that the question of the morality of inflicting civilian casualties and terror bombing developed so that things like the dropping of the atomic bombs and firebombing of Tokyo, which, a generation before would have been seen as morally reprehensible, became seen by the people doing it as not only a moral good, but the only logical alternative.


    You should check it out if you get the chance, because it’s a good podcast.