Re: [sixties-l] Hiroshima as military target (Not a whole lot new here)

From: Craig M. Kind (
Date: Sat Jun 24 2000 - 22:51:09 CUT

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    Greetings all.

    A brief comment in hopes of clarifying some of this discussion on the
    bombing o Hiroshima. I'm not sure any if what I write below really affects
    the question of morality during wartime--or adds much to what has been
    written before--but perhaps a few new facts might assist some in making up
    there mind about this intriguing debate that has been going on.

    It is true that there was a Japanese army base on the outskirts of
    Hiroshima--it was a major staging area for the invasion and occupation of
    Southeast Asia. But historians have questioned the claim that the
    existence of the military base made Hiroshima a "military target." The
    only text I have on the bombing handy is Lifton and Mitchell, _Hiroshima in
    America: Fifty Years of Denial_--not the most objective source--but the two
    most prominent historians who have written on the development and use of
    atomic weapons, Richard Rhoades and Gar Alperovitz, agree on many of the
    basic facts.

    On the military nature of the bombing: It is doubtful that the bomb
    dropped on Hiroshima was intended for any of the military bases. The bomb
    was dropped in the center of the city, miles from either the army or navy
    base. Given that the destructive capability of the bomb was not fully
    known, it is doubtful that the air force would have targeted the center of
    town if the bases were the intended targets. But few historians have ever
    argued that the bombing of Hiroshima was intended as a strategic, tactical
    strike on a particular target.

    Hiroshima was bombed for several reasons, all in hopes of bringing about an
    "unconditional surrender"--a goal that Truman and his advisers refused to
    stray from even when some suggested that the Japanese would give in if the
    Emperor remained in some symbolic fashion. Hiroshima was almost untouched
    during the war, primarily because of its limited military significance but
    also because of its religious and cultural significance. Bombing the city,
    it was thought, would send the message that no city would be safe if the
    Japanese forced the Americans to continue the fight. Also, the devastation
    would seem all the more apparent--a city one day, rubble the next. This
    would also help the military determine the true power of the bomb since
    bomb-impact studies are so much easier on pristine targets--never
    underestimate the importance of such considerations in military or
    political decision-making. The need for a massive psychological impact
    arose out of our ignorance of the Japanese and out of our many racial
    assumptions concerning their willingness to fight to the bitter end--see
    John Dower's _War Without Mercy_. Truman told the American public that
    half-a-million, maybe even a million American soldiers would die in the
    initial invasion of the Japanese home islands. No one knows where this
    number came from, but it had a significant impact on the immediate reaction
    to the bombing--and on revisionist historiography since.
    It should be remembered though, that all of this pertains only to the
    bombing of Hiroshima, since the bombing of Nagasaki is not as well
    documented. Some have suggested that General Groves made the final
    decision to bomb the second target, an example of decision-making inertia.
    What worked well as a message to the Japanese might also work as a message
    to the Soviets, who were mobilizing to enter the war in Asia. I believe
    the old saying goes, "Hiroshima was bombed at the end of WWII, but Nagasaki
    was bombed at the beginning of the Cold War."

    On the morality question,my thoughts are that the bombings of Hiroshima
    and Nagasaki suggest a few important points about both WWII and the Vietnam
    War. The first concerns the uncontrolled use of technology. Many have
    argued that the trick is to know when not to use technology, yet we
    continue to celebrate its creation. Does anyone really think that the US
    would have decided not to use the bomb after spending millions to develop
    it? The bureaucratic and military inertia continued in the post-WWII
    period. The use of napalm, Agent Orange, et al., seems to me an example of
    the fetishization of technology. The second point concerns the importance
    of race in our foreign and military policies. In the post-WW II period,
    our involvement around the globe has been based on racist assumptions; our
    ignorance of other cultures never allowed us to see beyond the bogeyman of
    Soviet Communism during the Cold War. And that ignorance continues to lead
    us by the nose today--why do we get involved in the Balkans yet shy away
    from the conflicts in Africa and Asia? The phrase "American interests" is
    most abused as a justification for both action and inaction.

    Sadly, we have never learned any real lessons from our military escapades.
    And that is perhaps the most immoral thing of all. Successful or
    unsuccessful, American never learn the lessons that wars might teach. As
    much as we think war memorials are about remembering, they are in fact
    about forgetting.

    Not saying anything new here, though.


    At 12:20 PM 6/24/00 -0700, you wrote:
    >jo grant wrote:
    >I do not; however, I recall charts of the destroyed areas of Hiroshima
    >and the military and industrial, along with the naval facilities--to the
    >best of my recollection--were either spared or suffered only moderate
    >Pentagon and Defense Dept public relations painted a convincing
    >picture--to the general public--that the bombs "saved millions of
    >American lives." but those were the acts of a terrorist government.
    >JW reply:
    >I agree with your thought that "those were the acts of a terrorist
    >government." There was no military need to invade Japan in 1945, a
    >naval blockade would have been sufficient although political pressure
    >may have been applied for a more decisive action.
    >As for the military aspect of Hiroshima, in my recollection it was a
    >major army headquarters and I have no idea how the command, supply,
    >communications and intelligence functions were spread throughout the
    >city, and I wonder if the US really knew what kind of damage one bomb
    >would do. I am assuming that they were not thinking of it as some sort
    >of precision weapon. The naval facilities were (and are) at Kure across
    >the bay. How much destroying Hiroshima affected Kure, I have no idea.
    >There was also a naval air base at Iwakuni, about 30 miles south and out
    >of the blast range. What effect cutting the cord at Hiroshima had on
    >the air base is also something which I do not know. Destruction in
    >central Hiroshima on the delta was massive.
    >Jerry West

    >On line news from Nootka Sound & Canada's West Coast
    >An independent, progressive regional publication

    Craig M. Kind
    Department of History Grad Program
    University of California, Irvine

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