With President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima, Japan, the seventy-one-year controversy has risen again: Was America justified in using a horrific weapon on a civilian population? Or did we let the proverbial genie out of the bottle to initiate an era of potential nuclear destruction?
Americans are usually a compassionate people. News stories reminding us of thousands of innocents in 1945 dying the most brutal deaths sicken many of us. We personalize the thought of suffering Japanese civilians.
The other side of the proverbial coin indicates that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were entirely necessary. President Truman later wrote that ending the war saved hundreds of thousands of American and Japanese lives.
The hypothetical question then becomes: Were the bombs the only strategies to compel a Japanese surrender? A brilliantly researched book, “The Fall of Japan,” by William Craig, offers eye-opening information about Japan, following the Nagasaki bomb, three days after Hiroshima. Craig’s research is factual, compiled from sources like historical Japanese records, interviews with Hiroshima survivors, and personal letters. The author offers no opinion, hypothetical assumptions, or answers to the historical debate.
But the book includes word-for-word conversations between Japanese officials, military leaders, prominent civilians and family members. For example, Craig references anecdotes, about Japanese leaders discussing suicide with their wives, with some couples committing suicide together. In one case, a man contemplated suicide, then changed his mind, causing his wife to berate him publically for his cowardice and dishonor.
Japanese officials, even the Emperor— worshiped as a god by the entire Japanese population—could not sign a surrender. The very idea of surrender was so abhorrent that many military units revolted, vowing to fight on to death.
Craig’s picture of the Japanese population in 1945 reveals an entire country—millions of people—trapped mentally in hatred against America that is comparable to today’s Islamic jihadism. Though Craig makes no such comparison, it’s easy to conclude that the Japanese people of 1945 would have followed their fanatical leaders, with bloodshed that would have dwarfed the number of deaths caused by the atom bombs.
In America today, many of us have friends, neighbors, co-workers, and family members who are Japanese-Americans. We genuinely like these people and often love them. Many Japanese Americans rank at the top of their fields, from the business world, medicine, the sciences, the arts, and professional sports. When we hear a discussion of the people who died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we may associate them with the Japanese American faces we know today. We identify the 1945 fanatics with our Japanese American friends and ask ourselves why so many had to die. Sadly, millions of innocent people have died in wars since biblical times. We cannot, however, honestly compare the isolated culture of the 1940s with the today’s free-thinking Japanese people.
When zealous leaders can indoctrinate an entire country with a faith-based belief in hatred of an enemy, nothing but a horrifying future can compel surrender.
One lesson that we need to learn from this story is that wars are not chess games, where every move follows logically. Logical thinkers would have expected Japan to sue for peace after its military became decimated. But we learned after-the-fact that the expectation of a logical move was a fantasy. Japan’s fanatical leaders would have fought on for years.
When leaders today make pronouncements about what we should do with an enemy like ISIS, they are playing chess as some Americans did in1945. When political sound bytes become strategies, we are fooling ourselves. Our only realistic protection is to prepare for every possible move by the enemy—logical or unpredictable—and hope we haven’t missed any. If our leaders continue to reduce our military capability and rationalize that we’re only playing chess, they leave us vulnerable to destruction.
To build and maintain the most powerful, capable military in the world is the path to continued peace. Reducing our military in a misguided plan to provide more money for politically popular, “social justice,” is sadly a recipe for war.