Generational Dynamics: Forecasting America's Destiny Generational
 Forecasting America's Destiny ... and the World's


Generational Dynamics Web Log for 2-Aug-05
Should America have dropped the A-Bomb at Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

Web Log - August, 2005

Should America have dropped the A-Bomb at Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

On the 60th anniversary, the debate still continues.

On April 12, 1945, Vice-President Harry S. Truman became President of the United States, upon the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt, with World War II still ravaging on. Truman had never been in Roosevelt's inner circle, and suddenly had to make decisions that would affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of American soldiers: Should we invade Japan, and risk the death of thousands of Americans?

The choice was simple: We should not have - according to William M. Burke, who served in WW II, in an article appearing two days ago:

"If American policy-makers had been more rational, in late 1944 they would have tailored their policies to Japan's true situation as a defeated and isolated island nation. After the small fleet of American submarines had gained its stranglehold over Japan's lifeline, policy-makers should have suspended all other operations and waited patiently for Japan to negotiate a withdrawal from its overseas conquests. But considerations of this kind were ignored during the invasion-planning sessions in the Washington of 1945, and in the Smithsonian controversy in the Washington of 1995."

I have to chuckle at statements like this, because nobody is "rational" during a crisis war. America had already seen tens of thousands of its soldiers slaughtered like fish in a barrel on D-Day, 1944. Japan had tortured, beaten and killed American prisoners of war. The level of hatred that the Japanese and the Americans had toward one another was palpable.

Like other countries, America has fought many wars. From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, there are two kinds of wars. Briefly, crisis wars are the most genocidal kinds of wars, the wars where huge masses of people are killed, raped, starved or relocated. America has had only two such wars since its founding. One was World War II, in which America firebombed and destroyed entire cities like Dresden and Tokyo, and dropped two nuclear weapons on Japanese cities. The other was the Civil War, in which northern General Sherman marched through Georgia not only killing everyone in sight, but also destroying all homes and crops so that any survivors starved to death. None of America's other wars -- World War I, Vietnam, the Spanish-American war, etc. -- had this kind of genocidal explosion, and that's why the distinction is important.

An easy way to understand the difference is to ask yourself: Why didn't we drop nuclear weapons on Hanoi to win the Vietnam war? Because there was no public support for any such move. America was defeated politically, and then on the battlefield.

Crisis wars come from the people and non-crisis wars come from the politicians. It was the politicians who led the Vietnam war, and the war was lost because of enormous political opposition from the people.

There was no such political concern over Truman's decision to use nuclear weapons in WW II. Although there were some dissenters, there was no serious political opposition at the time. In fact, there was little political criticism for years. It was the 1960s when the political criticism became serious.

In a sense, Harry Truman was doing what the people wanted him to do. David McCullough, in his biography of Truman, wrote the following: "How could a president, or the others charged with responsibility for the decision, answer to the American people if... after the bloodbath of an invasion of Japan, it became known that a weapon sufficient to end the war had been available by midsummer and was not used?"

The fact is, you can't understand the feelings behind a decision like the use of nuclear weapons after the fact. You can only understand it by studying the attitudes at the time. Let's take a look at what happened in 1945, and what President Truman said at the time (thanks to a web site by Doug Long):

The atom bomb was dropped onto Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.

That same day, Truman made the following statement:

"The Japanese began the war from the air at Pearl Harbor. They have been repaid many fold. If they do not now accept our terms they may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth."

On August 9, an atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki.

That same day, President Harry Truman made the following statement:

"The world will note that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base. That was because we wished in this first attack to avoid, insofar as possible, the killing of civilians. But that attack is only a warning of things to come. If Japan does not surrender, bombs will have to be dropped on her war industries and, unfortunately, thousands of civilian lives will be lost.

"Having found the bomb we have used it. We have used it against those who attacked us without warning at Pearl Harbor, against those who have starved and beaten and executed American prisoners of war, against those who have abandoned all pretense of obeying international laws of warfare. We have used it in order to shorten the agony of war, in order to save the lives of thousands and thousands of young Americans.

"We shall continue to use it until we completely destroy Japan's power to make war. Only a Japanese surrender will stop us."

Truman's words are filled with revenge. The later debates do not take these feelings into account.

Truman was even more explicit in a letter he wrote the same day to a Senator who wanted more bombing:

"I know that Japan is a terribly cruel and uncivilized nation in warfare but I can't bring myself to believe that, because they are beasts, we should ourselves act in the same manner.

"For myself, I certainly regret the necessity of wiping out whole populations because of the 'pigheadedness' of the leaders of a nation and, for your information, I am not going to do it until it is absolutely necessary...

"My object is to save as many American lives as possible but I also have a humane feeling for the women and children in Japan."

On August 10, Japan offered to surrender under certain conditions. However, Truman had demanded an 'unconditional' surrender, so the offer was rejected.

Truman wrote the following letter:

"Nobody is more disturbed over the use of Atomic bombs than I am but I was greatly disturbed over the unwarranted attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor and their murder of our prisoners of war. The only language they seem to understand is the one we have been using to bombard them.

"When you have to deal with a beast you have to treat him as a beast. It is most regrettable but nevertheless true."

These are the emotions of the time. Those words are not "politically correct" today, but it's the way that most Americans felt at the time. (And incidentally, the Japanese felt the same about us.)

That's what happens during crisis wars, when wars come "from the people."

A crisis war is like a raging typhoon or a tsunami. It has no morality, no matter how destructive it is. It destroys and buries almost everything it touches. It's only in retrospect that morality can be assigned to the actions in a war, but while a crisis war is going on, there's little morality.

These crisis wars happen at regular intervals. Generational Dynamics predicts that we're close to a new such war, the "clash of civilizations" world war, and sooner rather than later. (2-Aug-05) Permanent Link
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