Monday, 6 August 2007

History by the winners.

History as we know is written by the winners.

Which is why nobody is making much noise about an anniversary today that marks the start of the modern age:

The first dropping of an atomic bomb - on the Japanese city of Hiroshima.

In the immediate aftermath of the dropping of the bomb 70,000 largely civilian Japanese were killed. Estimates vary, but up to double this number were casualties by December of 1945. And within days, a similar bomb was also dropped on Nagasaki. Apparently there were plans for a third bomb that were cut short by the Japanese surrender.

And this is the great lie that is propagated to justify the bombing as a necessary evil to shorten the war and thereby halt the casualties that would otherwise have followed the Japanese refusal to surrender. (Notice how Churchill's refusal to surrender in 1940 was heroic determination but Japan's refusal in 1945 was oriental fanaticism ?)

But at the time this rationale was not universally accepted within the US military. Eisenhower. McArthur and even the US Strategic Bombing Survey were all of the opinion that the Japanese war machine was on its last legs and that actually surrender was likely within months, even without an invasion. In fact in the tentative communications before the bombs were dropped, the main obstacle to surrender was that the Japanese emperor be able to retain his title. This of course was something that the US readily agreed to after the bomb had been dropped.

With the benefit of forty years hindsight we now know that dropping the bomb didn't mark the end of one war so much as the start of a new one; the Cold War. It sent a very un-ambiguous message to the Soviets who having defeated the Nazis in Eastern Europe were poised to invade Japanese Manchuria and were now asserting themselves as a superpower.

So the last word should go to Einstein, grand-father of the bomb who was appalled at his progeny:

"Let me say only this much to the moral issue involved: 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?"

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