Of Facts And History

Nagasaki Peace Statue
The Peace Sculpture in the Nagasaki Peace Park. Photo by yours truly.

I was going to write about the Tokyo Olympics coming to an end, but then I noticed today’s date. August 9th. So I decided to write about a different Japanese event.

76 years ago at 11:02 in the morning the United States dropped the “Fat Man” A-bomb on the city of Nagasaki. 74,000 people died, most in an instant, no warning, not even an air raid siren because the Bockscar, the plane carrying the bomb, was thought to be only on a reconnaissance run.

It was Nagasaki’s bad luck that the primary target, Kokura, had poor visibility that morning and thus the plane diverted to their secondary target.  Bad luck. That is about the biggest understatement of all time.

Historians say it ended the Second World War. They say both it and the Hiroshima bomb actually saved millions of people’s lives by negating the need for an amphibious invasion of the home islands of Japan. There is no denying that since those millions were still alive a week later when Japan accepted the surrender terms included in the Potsdam Declaration.

But history is a funny thing. Yes, it’s true that’s it is written by the victors but usually because the victors have the luxury of time and contemplation while the losers are too busy rebuilding their society. In fact it might be said that history is actually a collection of facts whittled and shaped into a narrative that aligns with the views of the victors. Thus, did the US drop the bombs on Japan? Undeniable fact. Did the US drop the bombs on Japan to let the USSR know we had, as Truman had told Stalin in Potsdam, “a weapon of enormous power” and to get them to stay out of the Pacific war? Fact, with a bit of informed supposition, a bit of smoothing and shaping.

The history of the atom bombs makes for strange bedfellows. There are those who decry it’s use, saying a naval blockade of Japan would have brought about surrender before an invasion would have been necessary or that the US should have had a demonstration explosion so as to scare the Japanese into surrender. There are those who praise it’s use, retribution for Pearl Harbor with the added note that for the two weeks prior the US had dropped leaflets throughout Japan saying cities would be destroyed if they did not surrender and thus we were the more “civilized” nation. The former include many conservatives, the later many liberals. The most liberal, anti-nuke teacher I had in high school told the story of being on a troop transport heading for the Pacific when word got to them about the bombs and feeling like his life had been saved and so yes, he was glad the bombs were dropped.

Personally I take the pragmatic view of history. Decisions are made in the moment, especially those related to war. Actions are taken not in a vacuum but in the context of what is happening. The United States had built a weapon that they felt would end the war. If Oppenheimer and his crew had been a bit faster there would be a wide swarth of the Ruhr Valley that would have been vaporized. But Nazi Germany had been defeated by the time the night sky of Alamogordo was turned to day. Using them against Japan was not even a question.  It was only a matter of how many times they would need to use them before the Japanese called it quits. Fortunately it was only twice.

More after the jump.

By the way, there is a common myth that Japan surrendered because they thought we had an arsenal of these weapons when in fact these were the only two bombs we had. Yes, they were the only two at the time of the bombings, but three more were in production and had they been needed they would have been on a B-29 within a week. Japan’s surrender on August 15 made the point moot.

History is a conversation that starts with a concrete set of facts and evolves as new generations of thinkers and writers insert their own thoughts into the dialogue and occasionally new facts emerge. But it has to start with a set of facts. The facts can not be in dispute, only the interpretations are open to debate. It is a fact the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is a fact that a week later Japan surrendered. It is a fact that from that devastation Japan rose to become an economic powerhouse. Did we “really” drop the bomb on the USSR? Debatable. Would a demonstration explosion have achieved a surrender? We don’t know. Perhaps, maybe.  Did Joe Biden win the 2020 presidential election? Absolutely. Was there election fraud in that contest? Absolutely not, because recount after recount and an extensive investigation none was found. Does the COVID vaccine make it so even if you are exposed to the virus you won’t die from it? Absolutely. Is the COVID pandemic just a ruse to insert microchip trackers inside everyone via the vaccine? Are you smoking crack cracker head?

The Japanese have built a park at Ground Zero.  It attracts mostly tourists and the occasional school field trip group. Most tourists come to gawk, either smirking or praying that no other city will ever have to build a park like this again. In the center, approximately at the point the bomb exploded is a statue. The sculptor, Seibo Kitamura, wrote this for the plaque mounted nearby:

The right hand points to the atomic bomb,
the left hand points to peace,
and the face prays deeply for the victims of war.
Transcending the barriers of race
and evoking the qualities of Buddha and God,
it is a symbol of the greatest determination
ever known in the history of Nagasaki
and the highest hope of all mankind.

When you stand in the Nagasaki Peace Park and listen to the birds chirping and the wind gently rustling the limbs of the trees it is easy to think of yourself as one of those who must have watched in amazement at the strange object in the sky that suddenly exploded above your head. Did they think the bomb was a dud that exploded too early? Or did they even have the time to have that thought as the shockwave hit and every atom in their body disintegrated into nothingness?

That is something history can never tell us.

Back in Nagasaki where the men all chew tobaccy and the women wickie-wackie-woo

Shapiro Out

2 thoughts on “Of Facts And History

  1. A side note of unintended (in positive way) of the timing of Japans surrender.
    On many of the islands occupied by the japanese that had been left to whither on the vine starvation was immenent.
    This being the case to strech what resources were available the Japanese were planning mass genocide of local populace and even korean laborers they had brought with them.
    Just to cite 2 cases. In Pohnpei (FSM) the Japanese had dug massive trenches to bury local populace in after being killed. Documents from the Japanese verify this.
    In Chu’uck (FSM) the plan was to herd populace into caves and blast them shut.
    Preparations and scheduling for these actions were documented by captured Japanese documents after the war.
    Since the Jpanese did not see anything wrong with these actions since they were dictated by “military” necessity they did little if anything to cover their tracks.
    If the war had lasted a week or two longer the local population of these islands would have been eradicaited.
    Were the allies aware of this – No.
    Did it factor into their decision to drop the bombs -I doubt it. I have read nothing to suggest they knew, or even cared.
    But the dropping of the bombs and subsequent surrender did save these populations.
    So as horrendous as the bombings were how does one balance using one atroicity to balance against preventing another one?
    One thing I do know is that the Micronesians had not seized control of japan and were threatening to make the japanese people extinct.

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