Saturday, August 06, 2005

60th Anniversary

Today is the 60th anniversary of the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. If you have Real Player, you can hear the historic announcement by the BBC here. The anniversary of the second bomb is in just three days. In recent years, there has been great debate over the need to drop the two bombs on Japan. It's time for The Grape to weigh in on this debate.

Let's start with a brief timeline of the events leading up to August 6th:
  • The Potsdam Conference was held from July 17th, until August 2nd, 1945. While the primary purpose of the Conference was to discuss post-war Europe, perhaps the most critical document to be issued was the Potsdam Declaration. Issued by the US, Great Britain, and China, the Potsdam Declaration detailed the dire situation with which Japan was confronted. It also detailed the plans for post-war Japan, and the declaration ended with an ultimatum: Japan must immediately agree to unconditionally surrender, or face "prompt and utter destruction". The declaration was issued on July 21, 1945.
  • Japan debated the Potsdam Declaration for a little over a week. On July 29th, they formally rejected the ultimatum. Japan continued to arm their entire population in preparation for the inevitable allied invasion. The emperor vowed to fight to the death of every last man woman and child in Japan. Military estimates show a potential death toll of over 500,000 as a result of any land invasion.
  • On August 6th, Colonel Tibbets of the 509th Composite Group fired the first shot in the nuclear age. While devastating, the attack on Hiroshima did not bring about the required unconditional surrender.
  • From August 6th to August 8th, Japan attempted to convince the Soviet Union to mediate surrendor terms. The Soviets refused and on August 8th, 1945 the USSR issued a formal declaration of war against Japan. Soviet forces then invaded Manchuria and North Korea.
  • On August 9th, warning leaflets were dropped on Japan and Radio Saipan warned of the impending second bomb drop. Major Sweeney dropped the final nail in Japan's coffin, unleashing the plutonium bomb "Fat Man" over the city of Nagasaki.
  • Emperor Hirohito announces Japan's unconditional surrender on August 14th, 1945. The fear of more atomic weapon attacks and the certainty of land defeat by the Soviets combined to secure the complete surrender.

So the question remains, was it all necessary? There is little doubt that the two bombs forced Japan's complete and unconditional surrender. Even the most die-hard pacifist must admit that Japan would not have surrendered unconditionally otherwise. Even after the first bomb was dropped, Japan sought to mediate a conditional surrender through Stalin.

Japan had been preparing for an Allied land invasion for months. There were over 20,000 suicides amongst Japanese civilians, unable to accept the possibility of defeat. The Japanese were preparing to send their civilians - barely armed and untrained - against the allies. British and American military experts at the time estimated the death toll would exceed 500,000 in a land invasion.

Was it necessary? Absolutely. At 7:15 PM EDT August 5th - 8:15 AM Japan time August 6th - The Grape drank a toast to the courageous decision made by President Truman, and to the great men piloting the Enola Gay on the mission that would end the Second World War. Many lives were lost on August 6th, 1945, however far more lives - American and British lives - were saved. Yes, Mr. Truman did the right thing.

Today, Hiroshima stands as a stark reminder to the perils of nuclear war. More importantly, it stands as a stark warning to those that would attack the United States of America. Let us never forget that the decision to destroy Japan was not made on August 6th, 1945 in Washington DC. It was made on December 7th, 1941 on a Japanese fleet in the Pacific Ocean.

1 comment :

Alan Fraser said...

Bertrand Russell, regarding WWII, said that war was not always the worst of all evils. He presented this as 'relative pacifism' and WWII remains the fundamental problem for a pacifist in that there was an evil that could only be defeated through military means. The Gandhi approach could have been taken and would ultimately have won but at an absolutely unimaginable cost in lives.