John Lukacs: Why They Dropped; The Bomb It Was War

Roundup: Talking About History

For six decades, historians, commentators and apologists have tried to foist a weighty guilt complex upon the nation's collective subconscious while at the same time attempting to balance President Harry S. Truman's decision to use America's fledgling atomic arsenal to end the war as the moral equivalent of the Nazi holocaust.

In doing so, they continue to display not only a misunderstanding of the myriad exigencies and factors which influenced Truman's decision, but also a profound ignorance of the nature of the conflict that the controversial weapons ended.

It is no surprise, however, to those who fought in it, survived it and study it that the Pacific War -- a conflict unparalleled in history in terms of its brutality, barbarism, seething hatreds and unprecedented physical devastation -- had such an overwhelmingly destructive and historic terminus.

The Pacific War was viewed differently, propagandized differently and, most notably, fought differently than the European War. A conflict of territorial expansion that commenced in Manchuria in 1931 and escalated in the black clouds of roiling smoke above Pearl Harbor ten years later, the war had devolved into a full-blown racial confrontation that by some estimates surpassed the savagery and scale of devastation wrought by the Third Reich in Europe -- a Far East holocaust.

"Asia under the Japanese," commented historian Gavan Daws, "was a charnel house of atrocities."

In China, Japanese soldiers skewered babies on the tips of steel bayonets, conducted germ warfare experiments on Chinese peasants and gushed the streets of Nanking and Hong Kong with crimson rivers of blood.

The infamous Bataan Death March -- the macabre parade of beatings, torture and death involving thousands of American and Filipino POWs in April 1942 -- remains an indelible black mark upon the annals of war.

Thousands of Allied POWs, alongside conquered Far Eastern peoples, died building the Burma-Siam Railroad while others toiled in Japanese factories and mines as slave laborers -- against the Geneva Convention accords. Downed American airmen were beheaded, chained naked in cages in Japanese zoos and hellishly vivisected by sadists masquerading as medical professors.

By 1945, the unofficial policy of extermination and the "take no prisoners" mantra that had been circulating the military ranks in the Pacific Theater was now becoming widely accepted on the homefront, in Congress and by the White House. Yet even as it became obvious that Japan's war machine was being effectively emasculated, the killing seemed destined to escalate.

The introduction of Japanese "kamikaze" suicide planes in the spring of 1945 signaled Nippon's determination to fight to the bitter end. Emperor Hirohito supported his generals' "Ketsu-Go" last-ditch battleplan designed to thwart the looming American-led invasion and on July 26, the fanatical militarists rejected an Allied call for Japan's capitulation.

As such, the invasion plans codenamed "Coronet" and "Olympic" were predicted to incur anywhere from 125,000 to a staggering 1 million American casualties and deaths from late 1945 through early 1946. Some units, such as those of the Second Marine Division, were not issued orders or objectives beyond the first landings; invasion planners did not believe the units would still exist. Japanese civilian deaths were likely to exceed those numbers.

Yet many still believe that America should have staged a demonstration of the bomb's power to convince Japan that further resistance was useless, but such an act would have most likely been nothing more than an elaborate, expensive fireworks show.


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