Thursday, August 05, 2010

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.

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.


sargon said...

Like Churchill not warning Coventry of the German raid to protect Ultra. Terrible decisions that must be made.

fboness said...

I would recommend to you the book Japan at War an Oral History by Haruko Taya Cook and Theodore F. Cook. It is a series of interviews with Japanese about their experience of the war.

An excerpt from the very last interview in the book with photographer Hayashi Shigeo who visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki with a research team:

Eventually we travelled to Nagasaki, and repeated the same process there. One day, I went to the Mitsubishi arsenal and was photographing the torpedo plant. I was being escorted around by a Mitsubishi man. At some point he said to me, "This is where we made the first torpedoes, the ones dropped on Pearl Harbor at the onset of the Pacific War." The wrenches and other tools used by the workers were lying there, all around me, as if they'd been set down a minute ago. I could have reached out myself and picked them up. Finally he said quietly, "Mr. Hayashi, the very first torpedo was launched from here in Nagasaki, and in the end here's where we were stabbed to death. We fought a stupid war, didn't we?" The two of us just stood there in silence.

owr084 said...

The bombs are also the reason why the US has not had to manufacture any Purple Hearts for the last 65+ years. We are still using the 500,000 made in anticipation of the invasion of Japan...

BTW - please send me an e-mail - I have a story for you...

planethou said...

Your last paragraph would make a wonderful bumper sticker.

Brian said...

Will the Japanese Ambassador be present at the annual Nanjing Massacre Commemoration in December?

davod said...

"Like Churchill not warning Coventry of the German raid to protect Ultra. Terrible decisions that must be made."

Sargon, You are not alone in believing that Churchill sacrificed Coventry to protect Ultra. Fortunately this incorrect.

The Bletchley Park web site has a very informative entry on this subject, part of which is included here:

"There are numerous examples of Churchill not hesitating to suppress valuable intelligence derived from Bletchley Park decrypts, when there was no other plausible source for that Intelligence, in order to preserve the vital secret that BLETCHLEY PARK was breaking the major German codes such as Enigma. The raid on Coventry on 14th November 1940 (Operation Moonlight Sonata) was NOT one of them.

Bletchley Park frequently played its part by providing warning of forthcoming raids, but unfortunately on the occasion of 14th November, though warning that a major raid was coming on about the 14th, BLETCHLEY PARK was unable to provide evidence that the target was Coventry as the codeword ‘Korn’ had not appeared in decrypts before and so was not recognised as referring to Coventry. It was the RAF who identified the target as Coventry at about 3 pm that afternoon from the German navigation beams, once they were set-up. The defences were immediately warned..."

Churchill Let Coventry Burn To Protect His Secret Intelligence by Peter J. McIver explains how the myth evolved and includes accounts by some of Churchill's staff.

"...What did Churchill know and when did he know it? The most succinct summary came from one of Churchill's private secretaries, John Colville, in his book, The Churchillians (London, 1981), page 62:

...That same afternoon, Thursday 14 November 1940, Churchill set off with [private secretary] John Martin for Ditchley, Mr. and Mrs. Ronald Tree's house in Oxfordshire, generously made available to the Prime Minister once a month when the moon was full and the PM's official residence, Chequers, was vulnerable. Just before Churchill left, word was received that "Moonlight Sonata" was likely to take place that night. In the car he opened his most recent yellow box and read the German signals in full. He immediately told the chauffeur to turn round, and went back to Downing Street.

On arrival he decided that due precautions must be taken, for he assumed the operation to be aimed at London and to be a more massive assault than had ever been made before. He ordered that the female staff be sent home before darkness fell. He packed John Peck and me off to dine and sleep in a sumptuous air-raid shelter prepared and equipped in Down Street underground station by the London Passenger Transport Board. They made it available to the Prime Minister as well as to their own executive. Churchill called it "the burrow," but used it himself on only a few occasions.

John Peck and I dined apolaustically in "the burrow." I commented, with a blend of gratification and disapproval, "Caviar (almost unobtainable in these days of restricted imports); Perrier Jouet 1928; 1865 brandy and excellent Havana cigars." Meanwhile Churchill, impatient for the fireworks to start, made his way to the Air Ministry roof with John Martin and saw nothing. For on their way to Coventry, the raiders dropped no bombs on London..."

lgude said...

Yes, many American lives were saved as were many Japanese lives, but less well know is the fact that the Japanese Military showed it was capable of extracting a terrible toll for being forced to relinquish its conquests. They killed 100,000 in Manila unnecessarily. Without the A-Bomb they may - and we can not know this for sure - have killed many more as they left Indonesia and China and pother conquered territories in Asia. Different people died as a result of the A-Bomb, but many fewer died overall.

sargon said...

I stand corrected. Though if it had been true, I think it would be a correct decision in a cruel calculus.