Seventy-four years af­ter the bomb

The Prince George Citizen - - Opinion - NATHAN GIEDE

The bomb – that is, the atomic bomb – has been on my mind this week, as it was for all the world 74 years ago when Perry Como crooned: “A friend of mine in a B-29 dropped an­other load for luck.” More than seven decades later, de­bate con­tin­ues to rage about whether nu­clear weapons were nec­es­sary to achieve fi­nal vic­tory in the Pa­cific theatre, or if the Al­lies know­ingly com­mit­ted a heinous war crime, con­fi­dent that their vic­tims would be pow­er­less to re­tal­i­ate.

In May of 1945, Ger­many sur­ren­dered un­con­di­tion­ally to the Al­lied forces, leav­ing Ja­pan as the only Axis bel­liger­ent still stand­ing. Ul­ti­ma­tums were made, but both the mil­i­tary junta and the Em­peror re­fused to ca­pit­u­late.

Thus, the Man­hat­tan Project con­tin­ued, giv­ing birth to the atomic bomb, which was suc­cess­fully tested on July 16, 1945. Ja­panese cities, left un­touched by the fire­bomb­ing cam­paign, were then cho­sen for the drop­ping of “Fat Man” and “Lit­tle Boy.”

To be clear, the de­struc­tion from na­palm bombs far ex­ceeded the toll in­flicted by atomic weapons. Gen. Curtis Lemay, who had im­ple­mented area bomb­ing tac­tics in Europe, was put in charge of the Mar­i­anas B-29 bomber group, which un­til spring of 1945 had failed to af­fect the Ja­panese home­front. The Su­per­fortress was a pres­sur­ized, high al­ti­tude precision bomber with $3 bil­lion dol­lars in RD: Lemay turned it into a 400 MPH fly-by-night flamethrow­er at 5,000 ft.

The re­sults were dev­as­tat­ing. A sin­gle raid on Tokyo caused over 100,000 ca­su­al­ties. Lemay sim­ply took a world al­manac, and con­tin­ued down the list of Ja­pan’s most pop­u­lated cities, de­mand­ing his crews de­stroy the en­emy or face a court mar­tial. Asked about his tac­tics later, Gen. Lemay said he knew war crim­i­nal charges would come if the Al­lies had lost the con­flict; but there’s no ar­gu­ing his Clause­witzian at­ti­tude to­wards mod­ern war­fare short­ened it.

Long be­fore ei­ther mushroom cloud, the tac­tics be­ing used to bring Ja­pan to its knees would

have even­tu­ally left noth­ing but scorched earth. Iwo Jima and Ok­i­nawa had just been taken at great cost be­tween Fe­bru­ary and June of 1945, putting Ja­pan within range of the bombers sit­ting idle in Europe. Weekly de­struc­tion would have turned into daily raids, the only lim­i­ta­tion be­ing how many na­palm bombs could be pro­duced and shipped out from Amer­ica.

The one-two punch of nu­clear fis­sion made this strat­egy re­dun­dant, though it ought to be noted the per­va­sive myth “the Al­lies were out of nukes” is com­plete hog­wash – more were be­ing built and new tar­gets were listed. Af­ter con­sult­ing with physi­cists re­gard­ing the at­tacks, Em­peror Hiro­hito made the sov­er­eign de­ci­sion to sur­ren­der to the Al­lies, with the lone caveat that Ja­pan’s monar­chy be pre­served in the post-war regime. On Sept. 2, 1945, the Sec­ond World War ended.

The re­sources ex­pended through­out the Pa­cific War are be­yond com­pre­hen­sion: noth­ing would con­tend with split­ting the atom or de­sign­ing the B-29 un­til the Apollo mis­sions. Add to this the ca­su­al­ties – an es­ti­mated 900,000 in fire­bomb­ing and 200,000 by atomic bombs – and the scope be­comes truly un­fath­omable, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing this was in­flicted from the air by a small num­ber of com­bat­ants. Such costs had no prece­dent in hu­man­ity’s long vi­o­lent his­tory.

The atomic bomb­ings of Hiroshima and Na­gasaki, as well as the in­dis­crim­i­nate tac­tics used by Al­lied forces, per­ma­nently mar the vic­tor’s tri­umph. But the in­tended ef­fect came to pass: peace was con­cluded, and no nu­clear weapons have been used since. In the end, con­flict is al­ways bru­tal, and the temp­ta­tion to re­spond dis­pro­por­tion­ately is con­stant. Per­haps that old rule of war­fare is all we can hope for: the only thing worse than a mis­take is not learn­ing from it.

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