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August 08, 2007


Was it necessary?

Probably not, as all later evidence points to.

I have been to both the Peace Parks/Museums in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The hour by hour retelling of what happened is scary. My Japanese hosts have repeatedly told me with quiet conviction that by the time the bombs were dropped, Japan had decisively lost the war and Emperor Hirohito was ready to surrender and communicated as much to President Truman at least a month prior to the ghastly event. That Japan capitulated on August 15, 1945 only because of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is a military myth.

So, why were they bombed? Well the subject of my sketch, the boneheaded imperialist Churchill may have played a major role here in convincing Truman to go ahead with it as a show of the muscular strength that the US (and by proxy, the west) had come to possess. It may have been nothing more than a lab test for the newly developed weapons and a warning to the USSR to not mess with the west and nothing to do with a decisive end to WWII and conclusive lesson for the Axis powers. Sounds convincing? Does to me. And certainly there was a racial angle here - comfort in bombing "Yello Asians" in a faraway nation. Otherwise, why was Germany spared?

Also, the Little Boy was originally meant for the industrial city of Fukuoka on Kyushu Island. But on August 6, 1945 the skies over Fukuoka were overcast and visibility was poor. So Nagasaki on the same island was targeted instead. It was just a meteorological crap shoot that decided who got incinerated.

A fascinating and chilling addendum to this bit of history, Ruchira. I don't find it at all unbelievable: We are very much into whitewashing history in the US. It's generally a good rule of thumb to question everything they tell you in school and to wonder actively about what they left out. I wonder if the kids growing up today—during this time of more lies and more killing—will be any more likely to question history.

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Sorry, on re-reading Namit's post, found two mistakes in my comment. Fat Man (not Little Boy) was dropped on Nagasaki - on Aug. 9, not Aug. 6. The rest of the story remains unchanged.

On whitewashing history, the Japanese are second to none. In this respect, I admire the Germans for their significant soul searching on their collective madness during WW II. The Japanese have done nothing remotely like it, despite their horrible, horrible deeds in Asia.

Oh! I am not oblivious of Japan's racist, imperialist and nationalistic past, the vestiges of which persist to this day. I also believe that had Japan or Germany acquired the "BOMB," either or both would probably have used it. My sympathies are with the factory workers, school children, church and office workers who died a sudden and ghastly death.

In fact, had the US not dropped the A-bombs, it would indeed have remained the unquestionable "good guy" of WWII in which the Axis powers were far more criminally culpable than the Allies.

As for the relative post war contriteness of Germany vs. Japan, I have my own uneducated guess as to why Germany went through a greater catharsis. The Nuremberg trials, the division of Germany and the undisguised contempt of their European neighbors led Germany to rightly conclude that to get along with the rest of the world, it must play "nice" - at least publicly. As late as the early 1980s when I was in Germany, my perfectly sweet older neighbors assured me that Hitler wasn't "all bad," some Jews were so nice that "you couldn't tell they were Jews" and of course they all swore they had no idea that there were any death camps anywhere doing their grisly business.

The defeated Japanese government on the other hand, had to reckon only with the US which I suspect went a bit soft with it partly because of the guilt over the carnage in Hiroshima & Nagasaki. Also, because of their geographic isolation, the Japanese were not routinely spat upon by other Asians as the Germans were in Europe.

In both countries though I have noticed that the younger generations, with a few exceptions, are truly pacifists in their global outlook but still somewhat racist in individual interactions. Remember the protests on Japanese streets against the Iraq war even when Koizumi decided to be Bush's unquestioning puppet?

History of course is always shaped by the victor. But, with passage of time and a long memory, questions are raised about even the most heroic of events. That I believe is happening in the US to some extent. The Iraq war has pricked the conscience and raised skepticism of Americans. Hopefully, it will be a lasting trend and not a temporary fad. But that said, a large scale global war can rarely have clear winners or losers. Sometimes even the good and the bad guys are often interchangeable. Remember Catch 22 and Slaughterhouse Five? Invoking Churchill and his "boneheadedness" once more, let me quote something I wrote in my review of "No Ordinary Time," the biographies of Eleanor and Franklin D. Roosevelt. "... Of the two, she [E.R.] was the more courageous, speaking truth to power unlike her more charming and diplomatic husband. She agonized over and opposed FDR's decision to intern Japanese Americans and considered it the biggest blot on America's otherwise heroic role in WWII. She had no hesitation in putting America's staunchest ally and bombastic war hero Winston Churchill in his place by pointing out the inconsistency of his position of righteously fighting against Nazi imperialism while maintaining a racist and rapacious attitude towards British colonialism.

This is why I believe that the Mahabharat should be required reading for every world leader.

I think you're right about the younger generation in both countries and old attitudes that still linger in many ordinary people. But one difference I see is the much greater institutional support and openness for soul searching in Germany (from governments, courts, universities, museums, media, etc.), unlike in Japan. The latter, brutalized by the war, simply tried to brush their painful past under the rug and began marching on a different track.

The Mahabharata reference is tantalizing. What would Bush and Cheney get out of it, other than some tips from Duryodhana and Shakuni? :-)

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