Quote of the Day

I knew there would be a hell of a big bang and it would kill a lot of people, including some American prisoners of war. I also knew that if the darned thing worked the way it was supposed to, it would demonstrate to the Japanese the futility of continuing the war.

Paul Tibbets, pilot of the Enola Gay. (More here.)

(This was the best discussion of the necessity of the nuclear attack that I saw during the recent flurry of articles. This section, on Japan’s defensive preparations, was an eye-opener, even for me, and I have been reading about this stuff all my life.)

11 thoughts on “Quote of the Day”

  1. This section, on Japan’s defensive preparations, was an eye-opener, even for me, and I have been reading about this stuff all my life.

    About 20 years ago I saw a film taken by an American recon aircraft, flying low over Japan and gathering intel to help in planning the coming invasion. The body of an Allied prisoner was staked out in a school courtyard while the kids practiced with bamboo spears.

    Nothing surprises me since then.


  2. Thanks, Lex. These links were helpful in giving a perspective I’d never had. A different context (reaching the same conclusion) is Paul Fussell’s essay, Thank God for the Atomic Bomb”; he was on a ship headed toward the Eastern front having served in Europe. (Also referred to in Austin Bay’s column.)

  3. Dad was in China when this happened. I would not be here now if the bomb had not been dropped.

    He was in the Army Air Corps. He was a radio man and navigator on C-47s on the “aluminum highway” between India and China, and a gunner in a B-25 medium bomber. There was a lively discussion in the bomber crew as to whether it was worthwhile to open one’s parachute over Japanese territory. Only 50% of American POWs survived the war, and airmen who were killed on the spot (the majority} did not count toward the 50%.

    It was 30 years before he got on another airplane. “Much better this time. Nobody was trying to kill me.”

  4. The thing that disturbs me most about discussions of nuclear weapons and especially of the use of nuclear weapons during WWII is the idea of the exceptionalism of nuclear warfare. Nuclear weapons are different and unusual but they are nevertheless well in line with many other time honored methods of mayhem and destruction. Indeed, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not the most hurtful acts of WWII. Not by a long shot. Starvation, fire, bullets, and bayonets did more than their share of the work in that war. As we’ve seen in the present in Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Sudan, North Korea, and too, too many damned other places, it doesn’t take nuclear physics to kill thousands or even millions of people in a short time.

    Perhaps this is a corollary to Stalin’s maxim: “A million deaths in a day is a horror, a million deaths in a year is a statistic.”

  5. Robin, you may be right but I think the problem is largely psychological. Nukes, whether medical or power or boom, frighten folks. I think it is all that invisible stuff that worries folks. They even extend it to cell phones, power lines, TV monitors and who knows what.

    It is actually a very old story: Ghosties and Goolies and Long Legity Things and Things That Go Bump In The Night.

  6. I read the linked material from Plunge and some of his other posts. He is apparently a Korean and does not like the Japanese. That does not invalidate what he says, but he does have his biases.

    On the larger question, I think the proponents of the “shouldn’t have dropped the bomb” theory, were far more motivated by their anti-Americanism than by the facts and they simply have not made their case.

  7. Well, the idea that a big enough nuclear war could exterminate humanity or end civilization plays a big part in the fear of nukes and the idea that they’re not just big bombs.

    And that very fear probably saved tens of millions of lives that would have been lost in the conventional WWIII that was never fought, and could never be fought when both sides had nuclear weapons.

  8. Robin Goodfellow,

    I’ve long wondered about the same thing. Why do those who condemn the dropping of nukes on Japan find the instantaneous death of those victims somehow more troublesome than the same, or a far larger, number of people dying by convential bombs and bullets, starvation, etc.

    The response of some seems to be that by using the nukes rather than relying on conventional munitions and blockade (which would have produced death other ways) “let the genie out of the bottle”. I find the idea that if the US had not used the weapons it was merely the first to bring to readiness that nobody else would ever have developed such weapons pretty ludicrous. Whether or not they would have subsequently been used is another matter, but perhaps the dropping of nukes on Japan corked that particular genie in the bottle for at least the major portion of a century.

    None of the arguments I’ve heard condemning the use of the bombs on Japan holds water to my methods of analysis.

  9. Robert, I don’t see any particular bias in his analysis of the defenses the Japanese were preparing. It is consistent with other things I have read. Another thing he does not mention is that the very large numbers of Japanese kamikaze aircraft would have had very short flights, with terrain in the background, to reach the landing ships. This means that the methods to detect and attack kamikazes used at Okinowa, radar pickets away from the fleet to warn the rest of the ships, would have been unusable. The radar was not as good with terrain in the background,either. Many, many more kamikazes would have reached troopships crowded with troops. The carnage would have been incredible.

    The basic idea I have been taking away from modern scholarship on Japan’s defenses is that an Allied landing may not have succeeded at all.

    We also now know that Gen. Marshall was planning to have about ten atomic bombs available in time for the second wave of landings on the main island, Honshu. The Americans were going to drop them tactically, then send our landing force right in behind them, into a cloud of radioactive fallout. God knows how many thousands of our own people would have died from radiation poisoning. They were also planning, once all of Japan’s urban structures had been burned down, to load the B-29 with tanks full of tons of nerve gas and bring them in a hundred feet off the ground and “crop dust” whole areas near and behind the fighting areas. Basically, treat the human population of Japan like insects. This was going to happen. So much for the “unique” horror of nuclear weapons.

    Fussell is right. Thank God for the Atom Bomb. With no irony. It ended the war and kept the peace.

  10. For the anti-American folks, it’s always Truman, never the Japanese militarist who are to blame. The culture of face is to be understood, not the culture of industrial planning. While 20, 30, 60 years later the events in Japan are recalled, what is forgotten are the events in the American Territory of the Philipines were just months before the Imperial forces demonstrated their humanitarian concern for civilians. Don’t you know? Why check here –


  11. Robin and Knucklehead are right on the mark.

    The Japanese have not a single leg to stand on morally, ethically, or otherwise with this atomic bombs in WWII issue. Somehow some Japanese(and many europeans and even american apologists/historical revisionists) have worked it out in their head that…

    starting the war, invading many other nations/island….

    killing millions of innocent civilians around the pacific with bullets, bayonets, fire, torture, poison, etc…

    making plans to use the bomb on the US if they ever worked out a deal with Germany to get some had Germany finished first(Japan and Germany would have turned the bombs on the US in a heartbeat in order to conquer us…not a question of defense there)

    ..that all of this represents a lesser evil than us using the two bombs to END the war and save our own soldiers lives(and possible many more japanese soldiers lives in the defense of the homeland).

    Just overall it really angers me that people KNOW that Germany and Japan would have used the bomb on us as AGGRESSORS and planned to do so actually think the fact that we beat them to it to end the war and return to peace was wrong..

    Whatever, freaks….

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