Hiroshima Ethics And The Washington Post’s Misleading “Five Myths” Feature

Atom bomb cloud

The Washington Post’s Sunday “Five Myths About…” feature is a weekly irritation, as it begins with a misleading definition, and proceeds to a series of dubious and sometimes dishonest conclusions. In spirit it is like the fact-checking columns,  (though, ironically, the Post’s less than most) in that it claims to “disprove” opinions. This week’s installment, however, was too much.

Gregg Herken was this week’s guest bloviator, and the Post gave the emeritus professor of U.S. diplomatic history at the University of California a chance to plug his books on the atomic bomb, so I don’t blame him for taking it. I do blame him for allowing the column’s format and the editors to turn what could have been informative and edifying into lazy scholarship, sophistry, and nit-picking. Now I don’t want to read his books.

His entry was called “Five myths about the atomic bomb.” As is typically the case, no myths were debunked. Myths, in the parlance the Post is evoking, are a “traditional stories of ostensibly historical events that serve to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon.” They are, by definition, false. Herken, however, neither identifies nor disproves any true myths. What he does is offer contrary opinions to those of others that are as provable as true as the opinions he claims to be debunking, which is to say, not provable at all. That means that the headline/title states an unprovable assertion as fact: “These statements are untrue.” Herken cannot ethically say that, but he does anyway.

Bad historian. Bad.

Herken starts off well:

“On Aug. 6, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Another bomb fell Aug. 9 on Nagasaki. Decades later, controversy and misinformation still surround the decision to use nuclear weapons during World War II. The 70th anniversary of the event presents an opportunity to set the record straight on five widely held myths about the bomb.”

His first myth is that “The (Hiroshima) bomb ended the war.”

Well, that’s obviously a gross generalization, and everyone knows it. We know, for example, that there was a second bomb, three days later, which a) came while the war was still going on, and b) killed an estimated 40,000 people instantly. Anyone who literally believes that the Hiroshima bomb ended the war is just ignorant and has no access to Google. But Herken has another agenda: he thinks the entry of the Soviet Union into the war was a large factor in Japan’s decision to surrender. “But minutes of the meetings of the Japanese government reveal a more complex story,” he writes. “The latest and best scholarship on the surrender, based on Japanese records, concludes that the Soviet Union’s unexpected entry into the war against Japan on Aug. 8 was probably an even greater shock to Tokyo than the atomic bombing of Hiroshima two days earlier. Until then, the Japanese had been hoping that the Russians — who had previously signed a nonaggression pact with Japan — might be intermediaries in negotiating an end to the war.”

Uh, and don’t you think the dropping of the first atomic bomb, and the United States’ announcement that it had the most devastating weapon the world had ever seen had something to do with that decision to enter the war against Japan, professor? That bomb blast was the fat lady clearing her throat, and everybody knew it, and knows it. That’s why, as Merkin writes, “The notion that the atomic bombs caused the Japanese surrender on Aug. 15, 1945, has been, for many Americans and virtually all U.S. history textbooks, the default understanding of how and why the war ended.” It’s essentially true, and no myth. Even he concludes,

“The two events [the Hiroshima bomb and the Soviet Union’s declaration of war] together — plus the dropping of the second atomic bomb on Aug. 9 — were decisive in making the case for surrender.”

Seriously? You call that myth-busting, Professor?

Believe it or not, his second attempted “myth-bust” is even worse.

 Number 2 on the Professor’s myth list:  “The bomb saved half a million American lives.”

He writes:

“In his postwar memoirs, former president Harry Truman recalled how military leaders had told him that a half-million Americans might be killed in an invasion of Japan. This figure has become canonical among those seeking to justify the bombing. But it is not supported by military estimates of the time. As Stanford historian Barton Bernstein has noted, the U.S. Joint War Plans Committee predicted in mid-June 1945 that the invasion of Japan, set to begin Nov. 1, would result in 193,000 U.S. casualties, including 40,000 deaths.”

Guess what, professor? Nobody has the slightest idea what would have happened if the U.S. had to invade Japan. I don’t know why historian Barton Bernstein’s  reverence for the U.S. Joint War Plans Committee projections (which sound awfully conservative to me) are to be taken as fact—they were predictions, and that they will remain. Harry Truman was President and the one who gave the order to drop both bombs: unless someone can prove he was lying, I have to assume that Harry received credible warnings from trusted experts—maybe orally, ya think?— that a land invasion could cost a half-million U.S. lives. Sure, it was a guess, just like Barton Bernstein’s second-hand estimate is a guess. There is no “myth” here to debunk.

Let me say “believe it or not” again (I’ll explain later): Believe it or not, Herken’s arguments have not hit bottom yet.

“Myth” Number 3 is “The only alternative to the bomb was an invasion of Japan.”

“There were two other options recognized at the time,” the professor tells us:

“The first was a demonstration of the atomic bomb prior to or instead of its military use: exploding the bomb on an uninhabited island or in the desert, in front of invited observers from Japan and other countries; or using it to blow the top off Mount Fuji, outside Tokyo. The demonstration option was rejected for practical reasons. There were only two bombs available in August 1945, and the demonstration bomb might turn out to be a dud.”

Ah. So it was not a viable alternative then! The professor is debunking myths by counting as “alternatives to the bomb” plans that were deemed to be worthless at the time! Heck, by this standard, he should argue that there were hundreds of alternatives to the bomb, all bad ones. “Hey! Let’s build a giant loudspeaker, and pump earsplitting recordings of Ethel Merman singing “Ave Maria” off key into Japan until they all commit seppuku! No? Well, it was just an idea….”

Okay, maybe there was one other alternative. One busts the myth, right? Herken writes:

“The second alternative was accepting a conditional surrender by Japan. The United States knew from intercepted communications that the Japanese were most concerned that Emperor Hirohito not be treated as a war criminal. The “emperor clause” was the final obstacle to Japan’s capitulation.”

THEN he tells us, “President Franklin Roosevelt had insisted upon unconditional surrender, and Truman reiterated that demand after Roosevelt’s death in mid-April 1945.” So that “alternative” had already been ruled out. It wasn’t an alternative at all.

Do you get the idea that the professor was straining to get his list to five? So far, he hasn’t found any myths to debunk legitimately.

He is soon to be o for 4, as they say in Japanese baseball,

Herken’s  alleged #4:The Japanese were warned before the bomb was dropped.”

But they were warned, and he says so himself:

“The United States had dropped leaflets over many Japanese cities, urging civilians to flee, before hitting them with conventional bombs. After the Potsdam Declaration of July 26, 1945, which called on the Japanese to surrender, leaflets warned of “prompt and utter destruction” unless Japan heeded that order. In a radio address, Truman also told of a coming “rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this Earth.” These actions have led many to believe that civilians were meaningfully warned of the pending nuclear attack. Indeed, a common refrain in letters to the editor and debates about the bomb is: “The Japanese were warned.”

This is where sophistry takes over. Ah, says the prof, but the Japanese were never specifically warned of EXACTLY what was being dropped, where and when. Well, of course not.  He rebuts his own implied point: “The United States feared that the Japanese, being forewarned, would shoot down the planes carrying the bombs.”  NOBODY gives that kind of warning. The Japanese were in fact warned of an unprecedented and unimaginable cataclysm, given a chance to avoid it, and decided to call what they thought was a bluff. It wasn’t.

That doesn’t mean they weren’t warned.

Finally, we come to the last, and by far the closest to legitimate, of Herker’s “myth” arguments, and even it isn’t very strong.

#5. The bomb was timed to gain a diplomatic advantage over Russia and proved a “master card” in early Cold War politics.

“This claim has been a staple of revisionist historiography, which argues that U.S. policymakers hoped the bomb might end the war against Japan before the Soviet entry into the conflict gave the Russians a significant role in a postwar peace settlement. Using the bomb would also impress the Russians with the power of the new weapon, which the United States had alone,” the Professor Mythbuster writes:

“In reality, military planning, not diplomatic advantage, dictated the timing of the atomic attacks”

Well, again, of course. The Professor is debunking a discredited conspiracy theory, not a “myth.” Some anti-American types like pseudo-historian Howard Zinn maintain that the U.S, fried Japanese civilians to impress the Russians, not to win the war. I don’t believe that. Nobody I respect believes that. It’s not a myth, and it isn’t conventional wisdom, which is what “myth” usually means in this feature.

However, the second part of Myth #5 is no myth either, because it’s true. The fact that the U.S. had atomic bombs and was the only nation to drop one continued to be a decisive factor in the Cold War. Eisenhower repeatedly used the threat, and not just him. Herker’s counter evidence? This…

“In  September 1945, Byrnes returned from the first postwar meeting of foreign ministers, in London, lamenting that the Russians were “stubborn, obstinate, and they don’t scare.”

They sure scared in October, 1962, though.

The exercise reminded me of one of my favorite people, Robert Ripley, the cartoonist, explorer, researcher and oddities hound, who made “Believe It or Not” his trademark. Ripley was a bit of a con man: he never exactly lied in presenting his amazing facts, but he enjoyed engaging in creative deceit, sucking in readers who misunderstood his assertions and were expected to slap their foreheads when he revealed his deception. Ripley’s first big breakthrough was when he drew a picture of The Spirit of St. Louis in flight and wrote,

Believe it or Not!

Lindbergh was not the first to fly non–stop across the Atlantic!

Lindbergh was alive and a national hero, and people went nuts, attacking Ripley and bringing him national exposure. Later he explained that the aviator was the first to fly solo, but that 66 people had preceded him non-stop across the ocean, most in dirigibles. But Ripley knew there was no “myth” about what Lindbergh had done.

Gregg Herken’s article reminded me of Robert Ripley’s con. Ripley, however, was an entertainer.

I expect better from a historian.


51 thoughts on “Hiroshima Ethics And The Washington Post’s Misleading “Five Myths” Feature

  1. These myths were debunked 15+ years ago in “War in the Pacific,” by James Dunnigan and Albert Nofi, and in a far more entertaining read than any of us could write. This was 20 year old boilerplate trotted out because we’re about to hit the 70th anniversary of the bomb and the writer couldn’t be bothered to put anything fresh together. You can pick up the book I just mentioned very cheap online and you should if you want to learn the history readably.

  2. I have in my hands at this minute an article in the American Aviation Historical Society Journal (Vol. 56, Number 4) on the Invasion of Japan. This was written by Brig. Gen. R. Clements, USAF (Ret.) in which he writes “Adm. William Leahy estimated that there would be more than 250,000 Americans killed on Kyushu alone. Gen. Charles Willoughby, chief of intelligence for Gen. Douglas MacArthur . . . estimated American casualties would be one million men by the fall of 1946.” So an estimate of 1/2 million American lives lost is not unreasonable.

  3. I’ve never heard anyone say the Hiroshima bomb literally ended the war such that white flags were immediately raised. If so, I expect Nagasaki would be a war crime.

      • A good argument? Maybe just an argument.

        Though i find the concept of “war crimes” as ethically odd…

        I especially find the notion that the targetting of civilians is necessarily a war crime. I think the nature of the State at war impacts whether or not civilians are legitimate targets…

        If Democracy A votes in Belligerent Government A, the citizens who voted for that war are just as guilty of the war that Govt A starts as Govt A is.

        If Dictatorship B starts a war against the wishes of it’s citizens who have no voice anyway…their guilt is somewhat mitigated.

        • (I do see a time dimension to this of course…initially the citizens of Democracy A are less guilty, but as wars drag on and democracies go through election cycles, the electorate becomes much much more as guilty as the government itself)

          • I wonder how many of Nagasaki’s citizens thought Pearl Harbor was just spiffy, that America needed to be destroyed and that the war should continue until such an objective was met.

            I would submit none after 9 August 1945. Perhaps a few after that thought that maybe peace with America would be just as spiffy if not more spiffy than continuing war.

                  • Possibly. I’d need to do my research on contemporary Japanese military dispositions and possible dispositions.

                    It’s not incumbent on a commander to wait on an enemy’s decision if there is reason to assume the enemy is still capable of inflicting immediate and avoidable damages on your forces.

                    • Not even close. We’d come all the way through the Pacific and we were ready to hit Japan itself. Hiroshima hadn’t produced immediate surrender and the alternative was a costly invasion and continued conventional bombing. We didn’t have to or want to wait – the message was surrender NOW or face utter destruction.

                      After Pearl Harbor and the other sneak attacks that opened the war, the Bataan Death March, and the whole other lexicon of Japanese war crimes, and let’s not forget the Rape of Nanking and a host of other deliberate evil acts that preceded the war, I’m not prepared to tar either Truman or the men of the 509th with the same title we reserved for the authors of the Holocaust. A pretty good case can also be made that the Japanese brought it on themselves, just as Sir Arthur “Bomber” Harris said regarding the fiery Dresden raid that “it was not logical that the Germans to expect they could bomb everyone else and not be bombed back.” The Book of Hosea tells us those who sow the wind shall reap the whirlwind.

              • From what I have read, the second bomb gave the emperor the leverage he needed to surrender. The military was not ready to surrender, they were betting we didn’t have another bomb. The second bomb destroyed that assumption and gave the emperor the opportunity to overrule them.

                • The idea, as I understand it, was to give the Japanese the impression that we could just keep bombing until we ran out of targets. They had no way of knowing that, after the years of development, we had only enough weapons grade material from three bombs at most. Thus, the second bomb was necessary. Additionally, the Japanese were hard at work turning the entire population into a suicide army for use against the American invasion. After the experience of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, American military leaders were under no illusions as to what they would face during Operation Olympic. The invasion of Kyushu alone would have likely cost a million American casualties, along with the virtual annihilation of the Japanese population. The argument that millions of lives (mainly Japanese) were saved by the atomic bomb still seem valid.

          • It would be second after the fire bombing of Tokyo.

            Even Gen Lemay thought that the fire bombing would be considered a war crime if we had lost the war.

            Neither a war crime in my opinion.

  4. If he had called it “Five Things You May Not Have Known about the Bomb”, the article would be OK (not great, but OK). To call this mythbusting makes me want to sic’ Adam and Jamie on him…

  5. Post must have had some material by Gar Alperovitz. Far better assessment despite being dated.

    Place everything into context such as a nation suffering through a massive depression and then a brutal two-front war. Casualty figures in 1945 were greater than 1942-44.

    Even with the surrender renouncement a day away there was an attempted coup to by military fanatics to keep the war going.
    Keeping the emperor in power” was the key – even with unconditional on the table.

  6. It may seem sad, but most of the college-aged people will read such an article and believe it. It comes from a respected source who has impressive credentials in this field. He has, no doubt, taught this information to decades of college students. Todays students have no other knowledge to fall back on. In a class once, I mentioned that we used atomic weapons on Japan to end WWII. That ended the lesson for the day because 3 of the students were unaware of that fact.

    For a lot of people reading that article, their first reaction is going to be “We dropped atomic bombs on Japan?”

    • May I ask what function this revisionism serves? Everyone in this thread so offers reasons in support of the first bomb, and at least some explanation and justification for the second (though Jack suggests it might be a war crime). If the article is designed as revisionism, what goal or aspiration does that revisionism serve?

      • The article was just a lazy attempt to be topical since tomorrow is the 70th anniversary of Hiroshima. I had the honor of meeting both Brigadier General Paul Tibbets and Major Theodore “Dutch” van Kirk, who were pilot and navigator on the Enola Gay and hear them tell the first hand story of the only nuclear unit to actually proceed to release of a weapon, what it was like, and why it was necessary, at least from a “man on the ground/in the air” perspective. It is critical that that perspective be maintained, lest we slip into revisionism and self-hatred for doing what needed to be done to win a war. Thankfully Tibbets recorded his experiences, and I’d certainly recommend his account of the mission: “Return of the Enola Gay.”

        • May I ask a couple of questions about this?

          1) Is a soldier and ‘a man on the ground’ really capable – or perhaps qualified – to explain such an event? (For all I know perhaps such are the only ones qualified).

          2) Is it not a truism that that a ‘victor’s narrative’ will always support the outcome that the victor represents and carries forward? If as you say ‘It is critical to maintain that perspective’, would not your stance function against a more removed and ‘objective’ ethical analysis?

          3) In your view, is a critical or contrarian view (of the war aims and the eventual ascendency of the US on a world scale) possible? It is fairly obvious that you would say ‘No’. But will that not lead not to critical examination but only to ‘defence of the present’ (that present, and the ‘now’ that we now exist in), and explanation of the present as the sole and necessary outcome?

          4) I can understand how a person could ‘self-hate’, and I would say that only an individual could self-hate. But the way you describe it you do not seem to be describing what an individual could feel or think but are describing how a nation might feel or think, and nations don’t think and feel. I would worry about a ‘mass outlook’ that does not allow for parsing the fine points and making fine-tuned ethical assessments. Should not a critical perspective, even if it leads to discomfort, be the criterion? Would not your perspective operate against that?

          5) Isn’t ‘revisionism’ necessary? I mean that all history is interpretation, and interpretations always change, and thus history is always revised, no? Isn’t a given position really only a given perspective?

          I have another question: How do Japanese, now, interpret both of these events? It seems strange that I have heard nor read no particular opinion by Japanese – the ones who should have the most to say about it.

          • Alizia, I don’t know you at all, you are a recent addition and I do not know what perspective you are coming at this from, but I will try to answer in what I hope is good faith.

            In this case I think someone like Tibbets, the commander who went through all the training, the classified briefings, and ultimately the mission itself, is uniquely qualified. He was there, he knew things few others did, and he saw it all. Granted, with a distinct unit like his, with one commander overseeing relatively few pilots and aircrew, it allows for things not to get very confused. With an infantry or armor unit, especially a large one, you are going to have many many different perspectives, both from the pointmen and the commanders. That said, I think it is critical to maintain the perspective of the people who were actually there as opposed to the people who only heard about it. It’s easy to second-guess from a newspaper office or a college campus, but in the actual fighting man’s place I guarantee you’ll see it differently.

            Yes, yes, I’ve heard the victor’s narrative analysis and the idea that history is written by those who have hanged heroes and so on. We can only go by the record as it comes down to us. If both sides maintained records, then we can go by that. If one side destroyed the other’s records, that isn’t our fault. It’s our job to objectively look at what record we do have, but not to try to fill in the gaps by pure guess. Now, if we want to fill in the gaps by playing devil’s advocate and trying to think like the other side might have thought, that’s all right, but that’s analysis, not guessing. It’s all right to try to be objective, but it’s just foolish to try to tear down conventional wisdom for the sake of tearing it down.

            If by critical you mean asking questions, then the answer is yes. If by contrarian you mean trying to tear down the record as we know it what’s the point? You can ask any question you want, of course, but in some cases the answer is going to be very obvious.

            There’s critical in the sense of looking for the truth, and there’s critical in the sense of looking for problems to make a particular player in history look bad. If you are looking over the records of the United States in WW2 to make certain the story we are passing down is accurate, then that’s good. If you are searching for examples of battlefield excess, racially motivated misconduct, bias that’s now considered especially wrong, and so on so you can point the finger at the United States and say “ha, you’re just as bad as the other side” or “Be quiet, your record is nothing to be proud of,” then I submit you are doing nothing of value, in fact you are doing your reader a disservice.

            I reject the statement that all history is interpretation. Interpretation is necessary, yes, but you have to start from facts. Either something happened or it didn’t. Something happened that time, that place, with those people involved, or it didn’t. The whos, whats, and wheres are fixed unless and until we find new facts. The hows are a bit more mutable, but also pretty fixed. The why is where interpretation comes in, but even than we may well have guidance from the records of those present, who we have to take at their word, or judge credible or not, based on the totality of the circumstances. But no one is ever entitled to his or her OWN facts.

            I can’t speak to the Japanese perspective, as I have read little of it.

          • Steve-O-in-NJ wrote: I don’t know you at all, you are a recent addition and I do not know what perspective you are coming at this from, but I will try to answer in what I hope is good faith.

            The questions were in good faith as well, and I do recognize various levels of faith. But I can help you somewhat in locating me ideologically: I am someone who has no idea. I do not know how to interpret the world and ‘modernity’. But there is another, important aspect which helps to explain me: I have the sense that everyone is lying to me. No matter where I turn someone, something – constellations of interests – are offering a viewpoint, and an interpretation, and they structure narratives to suck me in to agreement. It has occurred to me that it might be impossible to arrive at ‘truth’. I am not speaking of US history or the so-called ‘narratives’ of that era alone. The problem as I see it is far more fundamental.

            So, I notice that you don’t like Chomsky. I have read Chomsky pretty considerably, and quite closely too. ‘Year 501-The Conquest Continues’, ‘The New Mandarins’ among numerous, and the one that I think really would help one to understand Chomsky’s point of departure: ‘On Power and Ideology-The Managua Lectures’. I think I have Chomsky figured out: He is a Machiavellian. I mean that is in essence his grasp of man. And I also think that Chomsky, despite no declarations of religious values, is in essence a result of religious formation in yeshiva schools. Yet his critique is one-sided. I mean this: The Machiavellian critique exposes power and how power functions and it removes all distracting ornaments. But if you are going to see things in those terms, or see yourself in those terms, it is only reasonable that you see everyone in those terms, and to describe how everyone, to the degree of the strength available to them, functions in ‘straight power principles’. If you think because of these comments that I am some sort of a Commie, that would be wrong.

            I think Chomsky hold and defends an ethical high ground, and I mean this in an abstract sense. You cannot construct from ‘Chomskian ethics’ a real-world political platform. Chomsky occupies the ultimate critical position but it does not seem to be located on the Earth. So, to undermine Chomsky’s perspective – which is attractive and even addictive to idealists – you actually have to undermine ethics and defend ‘straight power principles’. I am willing to put this out there and see who will correct me, and how. But as a result of mulling over people like Chomsky I have begun to conclude that idealistic ethics is absurd, as a platform. Power has to be the basic principle with a secondary overlay of ethics.

            Steve-O-in-NJ wrote:I reject the statement that all history is interpretation. Interpretation is necessary, yes, but you have to start from facts. Either something happened or it didn’t. Something happened that time, that place, with those people involved, or it didn’t. The whos, whats, and wheres are fixed unless and until we find new facts. The hows are a bit more mutable, but also pretty fixed. The why is where interpretation comes in, but even than we may well have guidance from the records of those present, who we have to take at their word, or judge credible or not, based on the totality of the circumstances. But no one is ever entitled to his or her OWN facts.

            What I meant is that all history – all historical fact – requires interpretation. Interpretations shift as one’s perspective shifts. And in all senses, and in all domains, it seems to me that interpretation (of ourselves, ‘this plane of existence’ and all else) is the basic and underlying problem. We rarely agree at the most fundamental levels!

              • Noam Chomsky to me is simply someone who reached intellectual menopause long ago and can’t be taken seriously. He’s not even a political scientist, he’s a linguist who somehow thought that his success in the field of grammar and language made him an expert on foreign policy. Anyway, he’s 86 years old and no one has paid much attention to him for over a decade. Hopefully he takes the dirt nap soon and his claptrap dies with him.

              • I respect your opinion whatever it is.

                To say that he has reached ‘intellectual menopause’ is outright ad hominem and doesn’t do much for conversation! To say ‘no one pays much attention to him’ is a reverse appeal to authority. The authority is now a mob who has not ever heard of him! To argue that he is a linguist, and therefor can have no opinion in other domains, plays into the presupposition that only experts can explain reality. However, Chomsky has a background in philosophy and a fairly obvious life-long involvement with political science – that ‘by the way’. To imply that he launched into politics and such as a result of success in linguistics is also, fairly strictly, ad hominem which borders into a slanderous declaration and a form of a lie.

                My own view is that this sort of ‘argument’ is intellectually unsound. To wish him death is simply bad form no matter how you look at it.

                I don’t even like the man and I recognize that each of these ‘critiques’ is bogus.

                So as I say: Everyone comes at things from their angle. They weave together narratives and pass them around among their friends.

                If I recognize ‘intellectual dishonesty’ in what you have written, and let us also say that it is ‘factually erroneous’, why should I accept your other views of US history?

                The point is a solid one: Lies surround us. How do we sort through them?

                • You can accept or not accept my view of things. I consider Chomsky’s opinion to have no value. By intellectual menopause I mean he has reached a point where his views have become so ridiculous it is impossible to take him seriously. I don’t think I am intellectually dishonest, I am just plain spoken and truthful. You might not agree with me, but that doesn’t make me dishonest.

                • Steve-O-in-NJ wrote: You might not agree with me, but that doesn’t make me dishonest.

                  This is sort of what I am trying to get at: Who will say: “My views are essentially intellectually dishonest, just let me get that out in the open”.

                  Also, a few posts up you spoke of ‘facts’ as a bedrock of history, and you implied it was possible, really possible, to know things about those facts. But different people looking at those facts will combine them in different ways, and each one will offer up a version of reality.

                  You tell me that you have access to a version of history that is truthful, or the truth, one that is veracious and one I can base decisions on. You tell me it was right and proper to drop an atom bomb (2) on Japan. All the information you will present will, logically, point to the conclusion you have already formed, as in a verification circle. There will be all sorts of ancillary declarations and they will all fit together into a whole and a narrative that can be explained and purveyed.

                  True, I do not and would not say that you or anyone is ‘intellectually dishonest’ – those are not terms I can use for as I say who will ever say, at the start, ‘I function from a dishonest position’? – yet interpretations and versions of ‘reality’ offer us dishonest accounts of reality all the time. We swim and live in LIES.

                  This pushes the whole effort back on the problem of interpretation. And all the factors that arise out of self-deception. It seems to me that no one who is enmeshed or complicit can be relied on for truthful information.

                  And where within this problem shall we place ‘ethics’? What a joke it all seems to become. How did Thracymicus put it: “Justice is nothing but the advantage of the stronger”.

                  And the stronger frames the discourse and controls the discourse.

                  I suggest to you that this is one major aspect of Chomsky’s presentation. I suggest too that it is one of the reasons he is not discounted intellectually (internationally in the main).

                  Now, as I say, I am inclined to reject his whole idealistic platform and to say: “Let us be realistic here. Power determines how truth is defined even though it must be, by definition, a ‘false truth’, that is to say: a lie. Come, let us lie to ourselves and then get as many others to believe our lies”.

                  As I said, a real Machiavellian perspective, or the inversion of Machiavellianism, is really making a statement about ‘the nature of things’.

                  Are we ethical when we are complicit? Or when we reject complicity? Is the question I ask the wrong one?

          • For the most part, Japanese historians do not seem to have actually looked too deeply at the issue of whether the bombs “worked” to hasten a surrender, being more interested in the effects Hiroshima and Nagasaki had on their society as a whole (this isn’t helped by the fact the WWII-era Japanese government destroyed most of their internal records just before the end of the war; what we have left of Japanese primary sources are some surviving diaries, post-war interrogations, and declassified intercepts from US intelligence). There are only two major books I can think of, and their main point of contention between each other is whether it was the bombs or the Russians that got Japan to surrender.

      • The revisionism seeks to paint the US in the most unflattering light possible. Taken together, it makes it seem like we dropped the bombs for no other reason than to kill as many Japanese civilians as possible (probably because we are racist). We gave no warning, there were other ways we could have ended the war, and the bombs didn’t do anything to end the war against Japan anyway, the Russians ended it. This hatred of the United States seems to permeate history as a field. You can see this in the dispute over the College Board’s AP history exam guidelines.


        • Bullseye. Chomskyite, Zinn-ite own-nation-hating drivel. Everything the US did was wrong and never achieved anything. At least Zinn is dead and we won’t be hearing from him again. Chomsky has gotta be on his last legs.

  7. Regarding the notion that the invasion of Japan would have resulted in “193,000 U.S. casualties, including 40,000 deaths”: Maybe so. But the battle for Okinawa alone cost 80,000 U.S. casualties, including 13,000 deaths. So conquering 1% of Japan had already cost a third of the estimated casualties for conquering the whole. It was certainly reasonable for Truman to think the estimate was low. It’s also worth noting that the number of Japanese deaths, military and civilian, in the battle for Okinawa was somewhere between 120,000 to 260,000, depending on whose figures you use. There’s no question that far fewer Japanese were killed by the atomic bombs than would have died in a full-scale invasion of the home islands.

  8. Also, regarding the question of whether, absent the atomic bomb, the Japanese would have fought until the bitter end, defending every foot of their land and killing as many Allies as they could until they were utterly destroyed:

    1. They had told us repeatedly that they would do so.

    2. They had told their own people repeatedly that they would do so.

    3. The Germans had done so.

    I say Truman was justified in believing that they would have done so.

    • On the same point, Allied casualties in the European war in 1945 alone, approximating the number incurred in the last-ditch defense of Germany itself: 900,000 dead and 2,500,000 wounded.

      German casualties: countless.

  9. Watch the opening scene of “Saving Private Ryan.” That would be a ground pounder vacation compared to the home islands. That was already seen on Okinawa and ‘Jima.

  10. Say the United States did not drop the bomb. HST choose another path and that was continued bombing (worked wonders in Viet Nam) and eventually an invasion. Even low estimates are in the 200,000 range for American (and allied) casualties. Then toss in civilian and Japanese military. The campaign itself would be long lasting as it would not be an easy country to pacify.

    Move forward to 1947 and Japan has finally surrendered, but now information becomes available of the bombs we had and never used. What would be American reaction? How would Joe & Jane public react?

    • If this is response to Jack’s commentary regarding the 3 day gap between bombs, I’d submit that he’s on to something about the timing.

      The 1st bomb I’d say is thoroughly justifiable, the 2nd bomb would be as well, if Japan had enough time to transmit an answer and their answer was “thanks but no thanks, we’ll keep fighting”.

      The real debate then is was 3 days enough time or not?

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