What if .. Atom Bombs Weren't
says: we're very pleased to present a new story from Quintessential's
excellent blog Iconic Photos.
Please note that the opinions expressed in this post do not necessarily
reflect the views of the author(s).This is an opinion piece. You might want
to skip this post if such things offend you.
It is interesting to see that sixty-five years from the atom bombing of
Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the issue is still controversial. It is not
extremely surprising to me at least because I belong to that small minority
who believed the surrender of Japan would have arrived even without the use
of the atom bombs. Holding this view point as I do, I had a few debates back
in college, beyond college, and in workforce. And writing this post flared
up the debate again - this time with my girlfriend. She wrote this beautiful
piece below to help "elucidate" a few points. I guess it elucidates me not
to date history majors (:P love you). Anyhow, two of us went over the piece,
abridged it, and I suggested we put a few photo-related themes in. And here
days, we often forget that the atomic bombs were nearly used on Japan during
the Second World War. With the anniversary of the Soviet declaration of war
on Imperial Japan (or as they call it in Orwellian jargon of Socialist
Democratic Republic of Japan, "Fraternal Help for Pacification") looming, it
is hard to remember another more obscure non-event that would have also
happened sixty-five years ago today, had it not been for President Truman's
decision two weeks prior.
The bible-quoting haberdasher from Missouri wrote in his diary on July 25th
1945 that with an atomic bomb, military objectives and soldiers and sailors
will be targets indiscrimately along with women and children. He overruled
the Department of War which was advocating its use, by writing: "It is
certainly a good thing for the world that Hitler's crowd or Stalin's did not
discover this atomic bomb. It seems to be the most terrible thing ever
discovered, and it should not be made useful".
A new story by the QuintessentialThe Battle of
Okinawa and its devastating aftermath prompted the United States to look for
alternatives to subdue mainland Japan. But with Truman vehemently against
the atomic bomb and the Soviet invasion of Japan imminent, the United States
had no choice but to go forward with the plans for Operation Olympic. In the
ensuing decades, much had been made of heroism on the beaches of Miyazake,
from Carl Mydans' photos of X-Day landings to Clint Eastwood's box-office
hit Our Boys of Kyushu, but it was tragic and demoralizing that Japan's
strategic geography, its awaiting guerillas and kamikaze troops meant the
Allies casulties were high. Despite these setbacks, the war in the Pacific
was over in eighteen months. With the Soviets invading from the north, and
the Americans blockading the ports, the Japanese morale was soon cracking.
That winter, Emperor Hirohito sat in pallor as his youngest brother
denounced him in the privy council. But the martial law imposed to quell
riots in Tokyo and Yokohama was the signal to the wider world that Japan
would fight to the bitter end. That end arrived on 24th January 1947, with
Emperor Hirohito signing the instrument of surrender inside the war-ravished
Imperial Palace in front of General MacArthur and Marshal Vasilevsky.
next day, the flag used by Commodore Perry when he entered Tokyo Bay in
1853, was flown atop the Imperial Palace. Hidden behind that iconic W.
Eugene Smith photo of flag rising - which now graces the National Pacific
War Memorial in Chesapeake, Virginia - were deeper discomforts that there
might be an "influence gap" between the U.S. and the Soviets. With the war
for mainland Japan consuming most of American manpower, Truman failed to
prevent Turkey, Iran, Greece, Italy and Korea from falling into the
communist camp. Churchill bemoaned this failure in his "Iron Curtain" speech
at Westminster College, London. Encroaching Soviet sphere withered away
America's last remaining shreds of isolationism, but like Wilson before him,
Truman was too occupied by a single issue to fully grasp America's place on
the world's stage. In his magisterial book "Colossus: the Price of America's
Empire", Niall Ferguson wrote, "Truman's moral decision not to use the Atom
Bomb - which rehabilitated his posthumous reputation - was revealed only
after his presidency, the end of which was prematurely facilitated by
hesitance and spinelessness he displayed towards the blockaded citizens of
West Berlin". That November, Gov. Thomas E. Dewey of New York - an
isolationist who reverted his stance to vehemently urge America to join
Britain in her courageous but eventually doomed Berlin Airlift - had all the
good reasons to be smiling manaically from ear to ear when he held up a
newspaper predicting his victory four hours before the polled closed.
In 1950, Japan was divided into North and South Japans with Tokyo itself
jointly administered between the Soviet Union, China and the United States.
In 1955, the Chiyoda Wall dissecting the Imperial Palace went up; in the
years that followed, its importance was underlined in two famous
presidential speeches made in front of it: Adlai Stevenson's "Today we are
all Japanese," and Ronald Reagen's "Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down This Wall", but
back in 1955, so palpable were the fears that the Soviet Union would drive
20 miles down the 36th parallel delimitation line to invade Tokyo that the
wall came as a relief.
idea of using the atomic weapons seems ridiculous now, knowing as we do the
atom's perverse effects. But back in the 1950s, everyone entertained those
ideas; Generals MacArthur and Le May nearly prevailed upon President Dewey
to use them when the Soviets invaded Korea and Hungary and squashed revolts
there. There were proposals to use nuclear weapons to shot down Russian
satellites, to quell insurgants against American-supported dictators in
South America, and to control weather. Senator Joseph MacCarthy of Wisconsin
denounced Dewey as a red agent for his refusal to use them against the
Russian fleet. Only with President Steveson's gentle explanation after the
Cuban Missile Crisis, did we finally come to terms with the dangers of what
Oppenheimer called, "Destoryer of Worlds". Even then, we didn't fully
understand the true horror of nuclear weapons until Richard Nixon
annihilated North Vietnam.
To yearn nostalgically for the destruction of multiple Japanese cities is
definitely a taboo, but it is always tempting to indulge in some alternative
history. Atom bombs would undoubtably have ended the war before the Soviets
joined it, and would have led to the American occupation of entire Japan,
not just its southern parts. And without the constant anxieties about the
Soviet presence in the Far East, America would not have gone into Vietnam.
Without the costly war for Japan, American would have prevented the
communist encroachments in China and East Europe. On the other hand, a Japan
devastated by nuclear bombs and its population alienated by such inhumanity
would not have warmed up to Americans occupiers who dropped the bombs. It is
equally hard to imagine a modern futuristic Japan without the industrial
centers in the south. But all these counterfactuals aside, this much is
certain: despite its high human costs and less-than-satisfactory outcome,
Operation Olympic was America's finest hour.
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Imagine what would be, if history had occurred a bit
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superpower, aliens influencing human history in the 18th century and Teddy
Roosevelt winning his 3rd term as president abound in this interesting