Thursday, August 09, 2007

The other one

This is slightly garbled and more than slightly rambling. But after I sat down to write it this evening, I quickly found that the more I wrote the more I wanted to write, the more sources I wanted to cite - and I chose to cut myself off in order to get this up tonight. Take it as you find it.

The photo above was taken by Japanese photographer Yosuke Yamahata. The date was August 10, 1945. The place was Nagasaki. One day earlier it had become the second city, the "other" city, hit with - devastated by, leveled by, ruined by - a nuclear bomb, an event which was in a number of ways an even greater crime than Hiroshima.

A crime? A war crime? Yes.

The shock of that first blast was still reverberating through Japan's councils of war when Nagasaki was attacked. Three days was simply not time enough to take it all in, not time enough to decide to admit total defeat. Not time enough to truly understand, as our own difficulty in understanding, in comprehending the level of destruction, even at this distance, makes more than clear.

But if the military and political leaders in the US grasped that fact, they apparently didn't care: The second bombing was originally scheduled for August 20 but was moved up to August 11 when the fissionable material became available sooner than expected. It was then pushed forward to August 9 by a day-and-night effort in order to get the next attack in ahead of some days of bad weather predicted for Japan. General Leslie Groves, director of the Manhattan Project, claimed that speed was the only consideration:
Admiral Purnell and I had often discussed the importance of having the second blow follow the first one quickly so that the Japanese would not have time to recover their balance.
The statement has an oddly forced quality about it: After all, if the intent was to drop the second bomb "quickly," why not wait a bit on the first one so you actually have two bombs ready to go instead of being prepared initially to wait two weeks? But take Groves at his word. It is then legitimate to ask if the purpose was to stun the Japanese into instant surrender - or to get the second bombing in before it had a chance to.

Bear in mind first that the minutes of the meeting of the Target Committee on May 10-11, 1945 specified the three factors the Committee determined for deciding on targets for atomic weapons. They were:
(1) they be important targets in a large urban area of more than three miles in diameter, (2) they be capable of being damaged effectively by a blast, and (3) they are unlikely to be attacked by next August. [Emphasis added.]
When the bombing order came down on July 25, 1945, it contained no references to civilians.

So while there certainly were military considerations involved, there was a good deal more of "Let's see what these babies can do." If Japan surrendered too quickly, well, that would mean fewer opportunities for what amounted to nuclear experiments. That didn't matter; after all, they were only Japanese - only "Nips." And indeed, one of the uses for atomic weapons was, in the words of Secretary of State James Byrnes, to allow the US "to dictate our own terms [with the USSR] at the end of the war" and "make Russia more manageable in Europe." How can you do that if you don't prove you have not only the technology but also the willingness to use it?

Bear in mind next this excerpt from Article VI of the Nuremberg Principles, which were declared, eerily enough, on August 8, 1945:
The following acts, or any of them, are crimes coming within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal for which there shall be individual responsibility:

(c) Crimes against humanity: namely, murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian populations, before or during the war....

Leaders, organizers, instigators and accomplices participating in the formulation or execution of a common plan or conspiracy to commit any of the foregoing crimes are responsible for all acts performed by any persons in execution of such plan.
So were the bombings war crimes? Is deliberately choosing to bomb "a large urban area" while making no mention of avoiding or reducing civilian casualties a war crime? Is doing so for the purpose of finding out just how destructive to an urban area the bomb can be a war crime? How can it not be? Yes, I'm fully aware that the prohibition on bombing civilians had already been broken, in Hamburg, in Dresden, in Tokyo. But one immorality does not excuse another, committing one crime does not free you to commit others, guilt there is not exoneration here. (And yes, I'm also fully aware of the Blitz. But the Blitz was spread over eight months, over which time total casualties did not match those inflicted on any one of those three cities in their one day of infamy. More importantly, it's irrelevant: Someone else's guilt in one case is not evidence of your innocence in a different one.)

And please, no, none of the "necessary to end the war, saved lives, blah blah." They were not necessary and even the much-mentioned land invasion of Japan - projected casualties supposedly associated with which grew like Topsy over the years - was not necessary, as growing numbers of historians agree. Many of them agree that the bombings may have shortened the war but, because the invasion was not necessary, reject the claim that lives were saved on either side. Now, however, Ward Wilson of Rethinking Nuclear Weapons has gone beyond that, declaring in the Spring 2007 issue of the Harvard University-based "International Security" that
[my] historical research shows that the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had apparently little or no impact on the Japanese decision to surrender,
relating it more to Japan's overall state of defeat and the Soviet Union's declaration of war on Japan on August 9, 1945. (Full article here in .pdf format.)

But still, that leaves on last thing: a greater crime than Hiroshima? Yes. Because even among those who will call the bombing of Hiroshima "a necessary evil," there are many who will call Nagasaki "a tragic mistake" and wholly unnecessary. Even the defenders of devastation cringe at Nagasaki. Yes, a greater crime.

Footnote: Not all of the painful memories of Nagasaki reside with the hibakusha. NPR for August 9 tells the story of South Dakota farmer Rudi Bohlmann.
Bohlmann's ship received orders to sail to Nagasaki, where the sailors could smell the stench of death before they arrived.

"We knew something was up - the stink," Bohlmann says. "You just about gagged, just by breathing it. I hadn't eaten breakfast yet that morning, 'cause I'd just come off watch. And I couldn't go eat. Nobody could eat."

The ship pulled into Nagasaki harbor on Sept. 23, 1945. It was the first U.S. ship there.

Bohlmann remembers how sailors tossed oranges and apples down to two Japanese boys who helped tie the ship to the dock. The starving boys - covered in festering sores and exhibiting other symptoms of radiation sickness = devoured every one.

The boys were the only living people anyone on the Tyrrell saw in Nagasaki - and the ship moored there for five days. ...

Massive cranes in the shipyard were crumpled like pretzels, Bohlmann recalls. He says when looked through binoculars, he couldn't even make out where streets had been - just a few concrete foundations here and there, the stone remains of a shrine. ...

When Bohlmann came home from the war to South Dakota, his father wanted to celebrate his safe return with smoked fish, then a real delicacy on the prairie. But for Bohlmann, it only reminded him of what he'd experienced at Nagasaki.

He took one bite, got up, walked outside, and threw up. His mother asked what was wrong, and he told her he could not eat the fish.

"And I says, 'Boy, I can't tell you, something in the back of my mouth, it just smells like it was over in Japan,'" Bohlmann says. "And to this day I don't eat … smoked fish. I don't even try it no more."
No, his pain is not the same as those who were actually targeted. That makes it no less real.

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