Thursday, May 14, 2009

Jon Stewart is wrong about Truman and here's why

Alright, alright. Jon Stewart has always been a Keynesian Statist. Fair enough. But he's pretty damn funny and I enjoy watching his show -- not for informational content -- but for light entertainment. But when I learned he called Harry Truman a War Criminal I had one of those "Whaaa???" moments, wholly paralyzed by disbelief. Then, practically seconds later, I found out he retracted the statement. Take a look.

For a moment it was like a flashbulb of truth illuminating the faces of America. Yes, Truman was a War Criminal. No honest survey of the complete history of the Pacific Theater could lead to any alternate conclusion. But then Stewart equivocated and finally cratered beneath the religion of Nationalism. If needlessly dropping two Atomic Bombs on non-military targets is not the height of wickedness then what could ever qualify as evil?

Was it necessary? Well, not really, in fact, not at all. In the year leading up to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki Japan had by all calculations already been militarily defeated. The allies had surrounded the island and choked it into submission with sanctions, meaning the people were starving, no fuel or ammunition was permitted to enter the country and Japanese cities suffered heavy aerial raids which left the nation ruined.

"Even before the Hiroshima attack, American air force General Curtis LeMay boasted that American bombers were 'driving them [Japanese] back to the stone age.' Henry H. ("Hap") Arnold, commanding General of the Army air forces, declared in his 1949 memoirs: 'It always appeared to us, atomic bomb or no atomic bomb, the Japanese were already on the verge of collapse.' This was confirmed by former Japanese prime minister Fumimaro Konoye, who said: 'Fundamentally, the thing that brought about the determination to make peace was the prolonged bombing by the B-29s.'"(source)


According to no less of an authority than General Douglas MacArthur Japan even attempted to surrender not once, not twice but a whopping five full times nearly conforming perfectly to the terms the Allies had laid out. Still, America rejected the offers and these attempts were censored by the media until after the end of the Second World War. In the 40-page secret memorandum, that was never denied by the White House or the State Department, the terms of surrender included:

  • Complete surrender of all Japanese forces and arms, at home, on island possessions, and in occupied countries.
  • Occupation of Japan and its possessions by Allied troops under American direction.
  • Japanese relinquishment of all territory seized during the war, as well as Manchuria, Korea and Taiwan.
  • Regulation of Japanese industry to halt production of any weapons and other tools of war.
  • Release of all prisoners of war and internees.
  • Surrender of designated war criminals." (source)
This memorandum was received by President Roosevelt on January 20, 1945, almost a full 8 months before the decision to drop the bombs. Sorry, Bill O'Reilly -- wrong again.


But all of this obscures the human cost of Truman's actions. The number of casualties and devastation is beyond human comprehension.

The explosion utterly destroyed more than four square miles of the city center. About about 90,000 people were killed immediately; another 40,000 were injured, many of whom died in protracted agony from radiation sickness. Three days later, a second atomic strike on the city of Nagasaki killed some 37,000 people and injured another 43,000. Together the two bombs eventually killed an estimated 200,000 Japanese civilians. (source)

A fundamental distinction many fail to acknowledge is the actions of the government should not result in the collective punishment of its citizens. The state is not the people. It is essential to understand that subtlety. The lessons of that day can be transposed quite readily over American foreign policy today. Imagine being a citizen of the Hirohito regime, having all of your information regulated, swimming in a toxic sea of zealous devotion to the Divine Emperor and at every stop your culture is designed to disrupt your ability to reason. It starts during the most formative years and continues onward regulating your entire inner life. A little empathy on the part of Americans and the Allies toward the Japanese and accepting the calls for peace would have prevented one of the most vile atrocities man has every inflicted upon man.

"Yoshitaka Kawamoto was thirteen years old when the bomb exploded over Hiroshima, in a classroom less than a kilometer away from the hypocenter:

'One of my classmates, I think his name is Fujimoto, he muttered something and pointed outside the window, saying, "A B-29 is coming." He pointed outside with his finger. So I began to get up from my chair and asked him, "Where is it?" Looking in the direction that he was pointing towards, I got up on my feet, but I was not yet in an upright position when it happened. All I can remember was a pale lightening flash for two or three seconds. Then, I collapsed. I don t know much time passed before I came to. It was awful, awful. The smoke was coming in from somewhere above the debris. Sandy dust was flying around. I was trapped under the debris and I was in terrible pain and that's probably why I came to. I couldn't move, not even an inch. Then, I heard about ten of my surviving classmates singing our school song. I remember that. I could hear sobs. Someone was calling his mother. But those who were still alive were singing the school song for as long as they could. I think I joined the chorus. We thought that someone would come and help us out. That's why we were singing a school song so loud. But nobody came to help, and we stopped singing one by one. In the end, I was singing alone.'" (source)



Benjamin said...

Rich, I think I can appreciate your POV, although I think there were other considerations in the matter which you fail to discuss, and which are essential to understanding the issue at hand. I should say right off the bat, I'm not a conservative or liberal, but am looking at this from a world historical perspective. I am interested in the motivations that would have justified, in the military leaders' own eyes, the decisions to bomb Japan.

While I am personally a proponent of non-violence as a matter of general principle, I also understand the impetus of the US gov to demonstrate its military superiority in such a way as to preemptively curb longterm resistance. I think preemptive military action has certain difficult consequences, but is not entirely irrational.

No doubt, one of the many effects of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was to powerfully intimidate anti-US regimes, who could see by this act the full capacity AND WILLFULNESS of the US Gov. The major reason that today resistance continues is because the USSR succeeded in developing nuclear weapons, and this arsenal has now gotten diffused into various foreign powers. It seems to me that had the USSR not managed to develop a nuclear arsenal, the US would have attained a military "monopoly", and this could have potentially ensured the US's place of prominence in the world for centuries to come.

Moreover, I doubt the US would have been as willing to share its nuclear secrets as disbanded regimes have been. On an historical scale, the decision to bomb Japan makes sense. But you can't tell citizens things like this, bc then they realize that the gov thinks of them as cattle.

I'm not trying to justify these actions in the sense of saying, 'oh, you shouldn't be upset. Our leaders, after all, are good men who are trying to protect us, their 'children''. Rather, I'm interested to see how you respond to the issue I'm pointing to. What other military options existed, and what would have been the longterm historical consequences of taking another of those options? While we cannot predict with perfect accuracy how things 'would have' gone down, since it is hypothetical, military action has to take hypotheticals into account. So, had America not been the first to use the Nuke, who would have been? And what would the world be like today had someone else gotten there first? This issue alone complexifies the morality of WWII.

Rich_Of_Spirit said...

I admire you playing Devil's Advocate. It is certainly an interesting debate, however, there are quite a few alternate scenarios and presuppositions in your statements which I feel are incomplete or flawed.

You assume the benevolence, or at least the lesser of evils, of the U.S. as you say we would have most likely been unwilling to share our Nuclear technology with other rogue regimes. Actually, when Iran was an ally of the U.S. Kissinger gladly collaborated with the Iranian government in developing nuclear technology until the revolution. And to assume the permanent hegemony of American military power would be, in my opinion, a grave mistake. Look at the terrible leaders we have supported since the second World War all in the name of containing Communism. Suharto, Idi Amin, the Contras in Central America, Pinochet, just to scratch the surface. This is a classic case of the cure being more hazardous than the disease, especially when examining the actions and policies of the U.S.S.R. When Stalin took power two competing theories took center stage. Either follow Trotsky's international socialism scheme or adhere to Stalin's more insular plan of containing efforts within the U.S.S.R. without expansion. Obviously, Stalin's ideas prevailed.

For more information I suggest a highly detailed and laboriously sourced book called "Killing Hope".

Of course, hindsight is always 20/20, but I have given all of the immediate, non-Machiavellian reasons why the U.S. should not have engaged in mass murder in my post, namely the Japanese military had no resources left in which to win and American Military officials demonstrated their knowledge of this fact. The resulting atomic bombs were, by any other terminology, American bullying.