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Hiroshima and Nagasaki: “We Had Adopted an Ethical Standard Common to the Barbarians of the Dark Ages”

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Sorry for the delay in posting. I have been so busy working in the house with our repairs and renovations that I missed my deadline for publishing this article. I think that it is important, I actually started in Wednesday evening but was too tired to make it work. So after a long day of work in which I walked over nine miles moving stuff around, making trips to Lowe’s and Home Depot, working with the contractors, and preparing for tomorrow which is actually now today.  So later this morning, after I go to bed and wake up I will be working with a friend to lay down new flooring while the contractors do the final touches with their work. But it will be worth it and I do digress…  

Yesterday was the anniversary of the second and hopefully last nuclear weapon used in war, the bomb called the Fat Man which was dropped on the Japanese city of Nagasaki. Three days before the city of Hiroshima had been destroyed by the first atomic bomb used in combat. It is a decision that forever changed the consequences of waging total war. It was a decision that still haunts humanity and which policy makers and military strategists wrestle with in an age where at nine nations have deployable nuclear weapons and a number of other nations are developing or trying to obtain.

It is also the subject that is wrestled with by students of major military staff colleges and universities. I know, I taught the ethics elective at the Joint Forces Staff College. In each of our classes at least one brave officer did a presentation detailing the ethical issues involved the decision and the implications today. For those not familiar with the military the truth is that most officers are quite circumspect and much more grown up about the subject than the average citizen, politician, or even the current President or National Security Advisor. But then there are probably some some who would be like Colonel Paul Tibbets who flew the B-29 bomber Enola Gay which dropped said these words in an interview in 1989:

“I made up my mind then that the morality of dropping that bomb was not my business. I was instructed to perform a military mission to drop the bomb. That was the thing that I was going to do the best of my ability. Morality, there is no such thing in warfare. I don’t care whether you are dropping atom bombs, or 100-pound bombs, or shooting a rifle. You have got to leave the moral issue out of it.”

Tibbets, like Truman justified his position based on his view of the bestiality of the crimes committed by the Japanese during the war. It was quite a common point of view.

It was a decision made by President Truman one reason was purely pragmatic. It was a wonder weapon that promised to end the war with a minimum of American casualties. He noted in 1952:

“I gave careful thought to what my advisors had counseled. I wanted to weigh all the possibilities and implications… General Marshall said in Potsdam that if the bomb worked we would save a quarter of a million American lives and probably save millions of Japanese… I did not like the weapon… but I had no qualms if in the long run millions of lives could be saved.”

But Truman’s decision was also based on the factor of revenge and viewing the Japanese as animals.  In response to a telegram from the Reverend Samuel McCrea Cavert, the General Secretary of the Federal Council of The Churches of Christ in America, the predecessor of the National Council of Churches. Reverend Cavert was a Presbyterian minister. Cavert’s telegram stated:

“Many Christians deeply disturbed over use of atomic bombs against Japanese cities because of their necessarily indiscriminate destructive efforts and because their use sets extremely dangerous precedent for future of mankind. Bishop Oxnam, President of the Council, and John Foster Dules, Chairman of its Commission on a just and durable peace are preparing statement for probable release tomorrow urging that atomic bombs be regarded as trust for humanity and that Japanese nation be given genuine opportunity and time to verify facts about new bomb and to accept surrender terms. Respectfully urge that ample opportunity be given Japan to reconsider ultimatum before any further devastation by atomic bomb is visited upon her people.”

Truman’s response to the telegram revealed the darker side of his decision to use the bomb.

My dear Mr. Cavert:

I appreciated very much your telegram of August ninth.

Nobody is more disturbed over the use of Atomic bombs than I am but I was greatly disturbed over the unwarranted attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor and their murder of our prisoners of war. The only language they seem to understand is the one we have been using to bombard them.

When you have to deal with a beast you have to treat him as a beast. It is most regrettable but nevertheless true.

The President’s senior military advisors were certainly of a different point of view about the use of the weapons. Admiral William Leahy who served as Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief and was the senior Naval Officer in service disagreed and told Stimson of his misgivings about using the atomic bomb at this particular point in the war. In his memoirs which were released in 1949 he wrote:

General Dwight D. Eisenhower disagreed with the use of the atomic bomb and recorded his interaction with Stimson:

“In 1945 Secretary of War Stimson, visiting my headquarters in Germany, informed me that our government was preparing to drop an atomic bomb on Japan. I was one of those who felt that there were a number of cogent reasons to question the wisdom of such an act. During his recitation of the relevant facts, I had been conscious of a feeling of depression and so I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives.”

Stimson did not agree with the Eisenhower, he would later recall words that echoed those of Truman in 1952, not his words to Revered Cavert immediately after the event.

“My chief purpose was to end the war in victory with the least possible cost in the lives of the men in the armies which I had helped to raise. In the light of the alternatives which, on a fair estimate, were open to us I believe that no man, in our position and subject to our responsibilities, holding in his hands a weapon of such possibilities for accomplishing this purpose and saving those lives, could have failed to use it and afterwards looked his countrymen in the face.”

Admiral William Leahy who served as Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief and was the senior Naval Officer in service disagreed and told Stimson of his misgivings about using the atomic bomb at this particular point in the war. In his memoirs which were released in 1949 he wrote:

“Once it had been tested, President Truman faced the decision as to whether to use it. He did not like the idea, but he was persuaded that it would shorten the war against Japan and save American lives. It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons… My own feeling was that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make wars in that fashion, and that wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.”

General Hap Arnold, the Commander of the Army Air Forces noted: “It always appeared to us that, atomic bomb or no atomic bomb, the Japanese were already on the verge of collapse.” 

Those who questioned the decision would be vindicated by the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey study published in 1946. That study laid out the facts in stark terms:

“Certainly prior to 31 December 1945, and in all probability prior to 1 November 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated.” 

Later, Dr. J. Samuel Walker, the Chief Historian of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission wrote:

“Careful scholarly treatment of the records and manuscripts opened over the past few years has greatly enhanced our understanding of why Truman administration used atomic weapons against Japan. Experts continue to disagree on some issues, but critical questions have been answered. The consensus among scholars is the that the bomb was not needed to avoid an invasion of Japan. It is clear that alternatives to the bomb existed and that Truman and his advisers knew it.” 

Thus the moral question remains and perhaps is best answered by the words of Dr. Leó Szilárd who first proposed building atomic weapons. In 1960 he noted to U.S. News and World Reports:

Suppose Germany had developed two bombs before we had any bombs. And suppose Germany had dropped one bomb, say, on Rochester and the other on Buffalo, and then having run out of bombs she would have lost the war. Can anyone doubt that we would then have defined the dropping of atomic bombs on cities as a war crime, and that we would have sentenced the Germans who were guilty of this crime to death at Nuremberg and hanged them? 

But, again, don’t misunderstand me. The only conclusion we can draw is that governments acting in a crisis are guided by questions of expediency, and moral considerations are given very little weight, and that America is no different from any other nation in this respect.

I think now some 73 years later we need to ponder that question before it can happen again.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Hiroshima, Nukes, and Trump

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Hiroshima, August 6th 1945

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today is the 71st anniversary of the first atomic bomb being used against the city of Hiroshima. In an instant ninety percent of the city was destroyed, 80,000 people killed, and tens of thousands more would die of radiation exposure in the weeks, months, and years following the bombing. Three days later another atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. In the decades that followed, the United States, the Soviet Union, Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan, probably Israel, and maybe even North Korea have constructed thousands of nuclear weapons, most of them more powerful than the ones used by the United States against Japan.

In the decades since, none of the countries that have built these weapons have used them. There is a good reason for that. Once a nation crosses the nuclear threshold today there is no going back. It was something that President John F. Kennedy understood, and he led the nation through a potential nuclear Armageddon during the Cuban Missile Crisis, “We will not prematurely or unnecessarily risk the costs of worldwide nuclear war in which even the fruits of victory would be ashes in our mouth.”

I have always been concerned about the character and temperament of Donald Trump, especially when I think of the possibility of the use of nuclear weapons, Back in the 1980s during the Cold War I was a Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Defense Officer. I had to learn all about the effects of nuclear weapons on people. I could tell you how many Rads, or the absorbed radiation dose that a soldier could be exposed to and still function. I could tell you how best to survive a nuclear strike, what kind of structure, or vehicle would provided you some amount of protection from radiation exposure. I could tell you how long you could remain in an area where a nuclear blast, or in the case of the Chernobyl meltdown occurred, and I could plot fallout patterns. The maps we used to plot those things in our training included the city that I lived in. I know more about this than I ever wanted to, and those when I hear politicians or for that matter anyone advocating for the use of nuclear weapons, especially as a first strike option, I get concerned.

This week, Joe Scarborough of the MSNBC morning show “The Morning Joe” reported that a senior national security policy adviser was asked by Donald Trump “why can’t we use nukes?” three times within less than an hour. When I heard Trump’s acceptance speech, he said that he would defeat the Islamic State “quickly,” even as he derided the U.S. Miltary as a “disaster.” To me that meant only one thing, that he would use nuclear weapons as a first strike option against an enemy that has no capacity to destroy us. The Islamic State is evil, but it is not an existential threat to the United States or any of its allies, thus from an ethical, moral, legal, and military standpoint the use of nuclear weapons would be criminal.

I believe that it spoke volumes as to why he is unfit to lead this country, and why so many military and national security experts are not supporting him. The fact is that Trump has no self-control. He acts on emotion and perceived slights to his person. His prejudices are now legend, and his ignorance of basic national security strategy policy, government, and even the Constitution itself are shown on a daily basis. Barbara Tuchman wrote something that I think is very applicable to Trump. “Strong prejudices and an ill-informed mind are hazardous to government, and when combined with a position of power even more so.” [1]

When I read Tuchman’s words I can only think about Donald Trump with his finger on the nuclear trigger.

Anyway, it is something to seriously ponder. Have a great weekend.

Peace

Padre Steve+

[1] Tuchman, Barbara The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam A Ballantine Book published by Random House, New York 1984 p.138

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The Long Shadow of Hiroshima

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Seventy years ago the world changed. A remarkably destructive weapon was introduced in combat, a single bomb that annihilated the city of Hiroshima Japan. The effects were immediate, 70,000 to 80,000 people were killed, tens of thousands of others wounded, many of whom would suffer from the effects of radiation and radiation burns the rest of their lives. Within days a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki with similar results, and Japan sued for peace. The Second World War was over and a new world was born, a world under the shadow of nuclear weapons.

John Hersey in his book on Hiroshima wrote: “The crux of the matter is whether total war in its present form is justifiable, even when it serves a just purpose. Does it not have material and spiritual evil as its consequences which far exceed whatever good might result? When will our moralists give us an answer to this question?” I have to echo his thoughts.

I teach the ethics of war to senior military officers at a major US. Military Staff College. One of the things that we do in the class is to have the officers do presentations on different historical, or potential ethical problems faced by national policy makers, military commanders and planners. The goal is to have these men and women dig deep and examine the issues, and think about the implications of what they will do when they go back out to serve as commanders, staff officers, advisors to civilian leaders and planners.

In each class at least one student deals with the use of the Atomic bombs, often these are Air Force or Navy officers who have served with nuclear forces. Unlike the depiction in the classic movie Dr. Strangelove or other depictions that show officers in these forces as madmen, the fact is that I have been impressed with the thoughtfulness and introspective nature of these men and women. The sincerely wrestle with the implications of the use of these weapons, and many are critical of the use of them at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That is comforting to me to know that at least in the U.S. military that there are many who can reflect and do try to look at things not just from a purely military standpoint. Of course since I know humanity I figure that there are others in our ranks who are not so reflective or sensitive to the moral implications of the use of these weapons.

I am no stranger to what these weapons, as well as chemical and biological weapons can do. Thirty years ago when I was a young Army Medical Service Corps lieutenant I was trained as a Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Defense Officer. I learned the physical effects of exposure to these weapons, how many Rads of radiation a person could receive before they became sick and died. I learned what radiation exposure does to people at each stage. We trained with maps to chart fallout patterns, and the maps had the cities and towns that we lived in, this was Cold War Germany and yes both NATO and the Warsaw Pact expected that tactical nuclear weapons and chemical weapons would be used and we had to be able to operate in contaminated environments. We operated under the idea of Mutual Assured Destruction or MAD as a deterrent to war. It was chilling and made me realize that the use of these weapons today would be suicidal. When Chernobyl melted down we were in the fallout zone and were given instructions on what we could and could not do in order to minimize any possible exposure to radiation poisoning.

So when it comes to the first use of the Atomic bomb I am quite reflective. As a historian, military officer, chaplain and priest who has been trained on what these weapons can do I have a fairly unique perspective. Honestly, as a historian I can understand the reasons that President Truman ordered its use, and I can understand the objections of some of the bomb’s designers on why it should not be used. I’ve done the math and the estimates of casualties had there been an invasion of the Japanese home islands is in the millions, most of which would have been Japanese civilians.

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My inner lawyer can argue either point well, that being said the manner in which it was used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki troubles me. Hiroshima did have military targets, but a big part of the choice was its location, surrounded by hills, which created a bowl that would focus the explosion and maximized its effect. Many of the larger military and industrial targets lay outside the kill zone. The designers and officers on the committee wanted to show the Japanese, as well as the world the destructive power of the weapon. Those who opposed its use hoped that it would convince the leaders of nations that war itself needed to be prevented. The recommendation of the committee can be found here:

http://www.atomicarchive.com/Docs/ManhattanProject/Interim.shtml

Of the 150 scientists who were part of the bomb’s design team only 15% recommended the military use without a demonstration to show the Japanese the destructive power of the bomb and a chance to end the war. The poll of the scientists can be found here:

http://www.atomicarchive.com/Docs/ManhattanProject/Poll.shtml

Leo Szilard wrote a letter to Edward Teller seeking his support in sending a petition to President Truman regarding his opposition to the use of the weapon based on purely moral considerations. Szilard wrote:

“However small the chance might be that our petition may influence the course of events, I personally feel that it would be a matter of importance if a large number of scientists who have worked in this field wont clearly and unmistakably on record as to their opposition on moral grounds to the use of these bombs in the present phase of the war.

Many of us are inclined to say that individual Germans share the guilt for the acts which Germany committed during this war because they did not raise their voices in protest against those acts, Their defense that their protest would have been of no avail hardly seems acceptable even though these Germans could not have protested without running risks to life and liberty. We are in a position to raise our voices without incurring any such risks even though we might incur the displeasure of some of those who are at present in charge of controlling the work on “atomic power.”

The entire text is here:

http://www.atomicarchive.com/Docs/ManhattanProject/SzilardTeller1.shtml

The two petitions of the scientists to the President are here, the second letter concludes with this recommendation:

“If after the war a situation is allowed to develop in the world which permits rival powers to be in uncontrolled possession of these new means of destruction, the cities of the United States as well as the cities of other nations will be continuous danger of sudden annihilation. All the resources of the United States, moral and material, may have to be mobilized to prevent the advent of such a world situation. Its prevention is at present the solemn responsibility of the United States–singled out by virtue of her lead in the field of atomic power.

The added material strength which this lead gives to the United States brings with it the obligation of restraint and if we were to violate this obligation our moral position would be weakened in the eyes of the world and in our own eyes. It would then be more difficult for us to live up to our responsibility of bringing the unloosened forces of destruction under control.

In view of the foregoing, we, the undersigned, respectfully petition: first, that you exercise your power as Commander-in-Chief to rule that the United States shall not resort to the use of atomic bombs in this war unless the terms which will be imposed upon Japan have been made public in detail and Japan knowing these terms has refused to surrender; second, that in such an event the question whether or not to use atomic bombs be decided by you in the light of the consideration presented in this petition as well as all the other moral responsibilities which are involved.”

http://www.atomicarchive.com/Docs/ManhattanProject/SzilardPetition.shtml

http://www.atomicarchive.com/Docs/ManhattanProject/Petition.shtml

Ralph Bard, Undersecretary of the Navy wrote to Secretary of War Stimson his opinion on July 17th 1945:

“Ever since I have been in touch with this program I have had a feeling that before the bomb is actually used against Japan that Japan should have some preliminary warning for say two or three days in advance of use. The position of the United States as a great humanitarian nation and the fair play attitude of our people generally is responsible in the main for this feeling.”

I think that those who debate the history of this need to look at the entire picture and read the letters, the documents and take into account everything. My hope is that leaders, policy makers, legislators and we the people continue to work to eliminate nuclear weapons. It is true that the nuclear stockpiles of the United States and Russia are significantly smaller than when the Cold War ended, but even so what remain are more than enough to extinguish human life on the planet. Add to these the Chinese, French, British, Indian, Pakistani and the hundreds of undeclared weapons of Israel the fact is that there remains the possibility that they could be used. Likewise there are nuclear programs in other nations which given enough time or believing them necessary could produce weapons, including Iran and Saudi Arabia. Add to this the possibility of a terrorist group producing or acquiring a weapon the world is still a very dangerous place.

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That is the world that we live in and the world in which policy makers, legislators and educated people who care about the world must attempt to make safe. If you asked me I would say outlaw them, but that will never happen. Edward Teller wrote Leon Szilard:

“First of all let me say that I have no hope of clearing my conscience. The things we are working on are so terrible that no amount of protesting or fiddling with politics will save our souls…. Our only hope is in getting the facts of our results before the people. This might help to convince everybody that the next war would be fatal. For this purpose actual combat use might even be the best thing…. But I feel that I should do the wrong thing if I tried to say how to tie the little toe of the ghost to the bottle from which we just helped it to escape…”

The ghost is out of the bottle, and nothing can ever get it back in. We can only hope and pray that reasonable people prevent any of these weapons from ever being used and that war itself would end.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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September 1st 1939: The Day the World Changed Forever

In the early dawn hours of September 1st 1939 the the Panzer spearheads of the German Wehrmacht rolled across the Polish Frontier. In the Free City of Danzig the elderly battleship Schweswig-Holstein fired her 11” guns into Polish positions on the Westerplatte at point blank range. In the air the Luftwaffe swept the small Polish Air Force from the skies. Ju-87 Stuka dive bombers screeched down in merciless attacks on Polish units, cities and even refugees. Behind the front lines came the Einsatzgruppen their mission to exterminate the elite of the Polish nation and the Jews.

It was a different kind of war. Hitler told his military chiefs  at Obersalzburg the week before the before the campaign:

“Our strength consists in our speed and in our brutality. Genghis Khan led millions of women and children to slaughter—with premeditation and a happy heart. History sees in him solely the founder of a state. It’s a matter of indifference to me what a weak western European civilization will say about me. I have issued the command—and I’ll have anybody who utters but one word of criticism executed by a firing squad—that our war aim does not consist in reaching certain lines, but in the physical destruction of the enemy. Accordingly, I have placed my death-head formation in readiness—for the present only in the East—with orders to them to send to death mercilessly and without compassion, men, women, and children of Polish derivation and language. Only thus shall we gain the living space (Lebensraum) which we need. Who, after all, speaks to-day of the annihilation of the Armenians?

The war would be marked by brutality unseen in modern warfare, especially on the Eastern Front and between the Allies and the Japanese in the Pacific. It would end with the dropping of the Atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. By the end of the war between 50 and 78 million people were dead. Europe was divided between the Soviet dominated East and the Western Allies by the Iron Curtain. Proxy wars would be waged by the United States and the Soviet Union as a Cold War settled over the world.

The Cold War has been over for over 20 years now and now other wars rage around the world and war clouds loom, especially in the Middle East. Madmen threaten to exterminate their enemies.

Pray for peace

Padre Steve+

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