The Unnecessary Apology
It hasn't been confirmed, but there was reportedly a small seismic event in northwest Missouri yesterday. The temblor was centered near the town of Independence, where President Harry S. Truman is buried. Mr. Truman, it seems, can no longer rest in peace, given the U.S. decision to send a representative to this Friday's ceremony in Japan, officially marking the 65th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
More from AFP, via Breitbart:
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday that US President Barack Obama "thought it appropriate" to recognize Japan's atomic bomb anniversary as he wants to rid the world of nuclear arms.
The United States, 65 years after a mushroom cloud rose over Hiroshima, will for the first time send an envoy this Friday to commemorate the bombing that rang in the nuclear age.
"President Obama is very committed to working toward a world without nuclear weapons," even if he sees it as a "long-term goal," Clinton told reporters when asked for comment on the anniversary.
"I think that the Obama administration and President Obama himself believe that it would be appropriate for us to recognize this anniversary and has proceeded to do so," she said.
Why has the U.S. never dispatched a representative to the event in the past? Because its solemnity is something of a fig leaf; the annual ceremony has anti-American, anti-nuclear and anti-military overtones, with no effort to explain the events in the broad sweep of history. Listening to some of the participants, you'd never know that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was preceded by almost four years of bloody war that began at Pearl Harbor. That important context is typically missing from the Hiroshima remembrance, but we're still dispatching our ambassador in Tokyo to attend the event.
His presence will be widely interpreted as a de facto apology from the United States. That's hardly surprising; some wags have described President Obama's foreign travels as a global apology tour, and there's genuine speculation that he will offer some sort of mea culpa for Hiroshima and Nagasaki when he visits Japan in November--after the mid-term elections.
Of course, this entire episode leaves us wondering: what does the U.S. have to apologize for? Looking for the quickest way to end the war--and reduce casualties on both sides--Mr. Truman made the fateful choice to use atomic weapons. His decision is more remarkable when you consider that Truman had never been briefed on the Manhattan Project as a senator or Vice-President; he didn't learn of the nation's nuclear program until after President Roosevelt died in April 1945, leaving it up to Mr. Truman to give the final okay.
Harry Truman was every inch a realist. He understood the terrible new weapons would inflict horrendous casualties, and Japanese civilians would not be spared. But Mr. Truman also realized that a planned invasion of Japan's home islands would be even more horrific. U.S. commanders expected our troops would suffer a minimum of 250,000 casualties during Operation Olympic the preliminary invasion of Kyushu (the southernmost of Japan's main islands), scheduled for November 1946.
Olympic would be followed by Operation Coronet, the main landings on the island of Honshu and the Tokyo Plain. Enemy resistance was expected to be determined and fierce; Japan hoped to shatter the invasion forces on land and at sea with massive suicide attacks. Japanese kamikaze pilots sank 32 American vessels during the battle for Okinawa; they hoped to destroy up to 800 U.S. ships supporting the invasion of Japan, using more than 12,000 aircraft still at their disposal.
By comparison, U.S. intelligence believed the Japanese military had only 3,000 planes to defend the home islands, and our estimates were off in other areas as well--mistakes that would have added to the carnage during the planned invasion. Intel officers believed the U.S. would suffer 1,000,000 casualties by the fall of 1946 (less than a year after the first landings on Kyushu), and that estimate was considered conservative in many circles. Casualty totals among enemy military personnel and civilians was expected to be much, much higher, as the Japanese literally fought to the death.
Against that backdrop, President Truman made his decision to unleash atomic weapons. An estimated 64,000 Japanese died at Hiroshima, while 40,000 perished at Nagasaki. While tragic, their deaths were less than 10% of the estimated U.S. casualties in the planned invasion of Japan. When you factor in projected Japanese military and civilian casualties, the death toll at Hiroshima and Nagasaki represents (perhaps) five percent of those who would have been killed, wounded or maimed in a U.S. invasion of Japan.
That is another, vital contextual elements that is missing from the Hiroshima ceremony, but it won't deter the White House or Mrs. Clinton's crew a Foggy Bottom. They view the atomic bombing of the Japanese cities as a wrong that must be corrected, to enhance America's standing in the world. Harry Truman never saw any need for that; he understood that war is a terrible business that sometimes requires leaders to make the most difficult decisions. From what we've read, Mr. Truman had no regrets over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and felt no need to apologize for ending a war that Japan started.
As Sarah Palin would say, the man from Independence had "cajones." That used to be a requirement for the presidency.