Vail Daily’s Randy Wyrick: Why Hiroshima was necessary
August 5, 2010
Sixty-five years ago today, the United States and the Allies did what was unthinkable, but necessary.
Yes, the nation had blood on its hands, but it was an act of war and war begets blood.
Now six and a half decades later, shielded in the cocoon of political correctness, time and distance, an emerging school of American thought contradicts what we’ve been told all these years. It asserts our government’s military officials believed at the time it was not necessary to drop the atomic bombs and were lying when they said the act was meant to bring about a more immediate end to an entire world at war.
The assertion is revisionist history at its worst.
Researching Japanese historians, we learn that those who encouraged that country’s surrender and an earlier end to the war regarded the bombs as “gifts from heaven,” Mitsumasa Yonai, the Japanese navy minister during World War II was quoted in The New York Times years later.
At that time, Japan’s national policies were governed by a small panel of men who were stalemated about whether Japan should surrender and under what circumstances: 12 for surrender, three against and one undecided. A unanimous decision was required.
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Emperor Hirohito was said to favor surrender but did not meddle in governmental affairs. He was looked upon as a god, and affairs of state were said to be beneath him.
By the time the Enola Gay dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Germany had surrendered and the Soviet Union had declared war on Japan, invading the country and killing 14,000 Japanese soldiers. The United States had already been bombing Japan from raids based in China, and much of Japan’s military manufacturing facilities lay in ruins.
Still, the Japanese military leaders refused to quit, insisting that victory was possible. They were willing to sacrifice millions of other people’s lives for their lost cause.
Continuing the war would have meant firebombing more Japanese cities and an invasion that would have ground up millions of lives on both sides. One needs to look no further than that god-forsaken rock Okinawa, which was important only as a fueling station to put Allied bombers within one-fuel-tankful striking distance of the Japanese mainland.
The cost in lives, time, and material, was a massive factor in the decision to use the atomic bomb against Japan just six weeks later.
More people died during the Battle of Okinawa than all those killed during the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined: more than 38,000 Americans wounded and 12,000 killed or missing and 36,000 wounded, more than 107,000 Japanese killed, and more than 100,000 Okinawan civilians who perished in the battle.
In the Battle for Okinawa fueling station, more troops landed, more supplies transported, more bombs dropped, more naval guns fired against shore targets than any other Pacific operation.
Thirty-four allied ships and craft of all types were sunk, mostly by kamikazes, and 368 ships and craft damaged. The fleet had lost 763 aircraft.
Navy casualties were horrific: one killed for one wounded, one killed to five wounded for the Marines. American losses at Okinawa were so heavy that Congress called for an investigation into the conduct of the military commanders.
Japanese human losses were worse: 107,539 soldiers killed and 23,764 sealed in caves or buried by the Japanese themselves; 10,755 captured or surrendered. The Japanese lost 7,830 aircraft and 16 combat ships. Okinawa was home to about 300,000 civilians. When the battle was finally over, U.S. Army figures showed 142,058 civilian casualties.
The cost of invading the Japanese islands and mainland would have been exponentially higher, and nothing in the way the Japanese had conducted themselves up to that point indicated that anything else would have brought the war to a conclusion.
Even in the face of a new enemy, the Soviets, in the face of two major cities being essentially vaporized and a third bomb on Tokyo threatened, the Japanese military refused surrender. And as Japan’s military situation grew more dire, Japanese soldiers conceived new and more ghastly methods to murder the Allied prisoners of war.
“The atomic bomb was a golden opportunity given by heaven for Japan to end the war,” Hisatsune Sakomizu, the chief cabinet secretary in 1945, said later to the New York Times.
There’s nothing better than a war story. U.S. fighter pilot Marcus McDilda was shot down on Aug. 8, three days after Hiroshima was bombed. The story goes that McDilda was tortured and questioned by Japanese desperate for information about the atomic bombs. While he was being tortured he told them America had 100 more such bombs and within days would drop some of them on Tokyo.
While some historical accounts differ on this, Japan’s war minister told the cabinet what they had learned from McDilda. Yet he still advised against surrender.
According to some Japanese historians, it was the emperor’s direct intervention that finally ended his military leaders’ stubbornness.
For what is considered the first time, after two atomic bombs had fallen on his country, he officially intervened and counseled his governing panel to surrender. Later that day they unanimously agreed and World War II ended.
Author Stephen Ambrose correctly and effectively points out that America and the Allies won World War II because we had more men, money and machines to throw at it, as is the case with most wars. In other words, the Axis powers couldn’t kill us all.
That was true until nuclear weapons were dropped in a wartime situation for the first time, incinerating two cities.
Heaven knows each side did its best to annihilate the other.
In our family our Uncle Eddie is the bonafide hero. He was one of 181 young men from his unit who hit the beaches of Normandy in one of the invasion’s early waves. He fought through Europe and through the Battle of the Bulge. Of those 181 brave young men who landed with him, 179 were killed. The other who lived was wounded and crippled for life.
When it comes to war he has the only historical perspective worth a damn. He spent his life making and teaching music, honored as one of the nation’s top instructors. Only once did he show ill temper toward his teenaged students. He says he has no idea why he was spared, but when you’ve lived through that, almost nothing upsets you.
Bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki seem monstrous acts, killing thousands and thousands of people instantly, and thousands more over time from the effects of radiation.
It seems that way until you consider the alternative — killing one person at a time, house by house, block by block, hand to hand — as Japan fought on for years.
The alternative is worse.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.