Friday, August 05, 2005

It's a day to thank Harry Truman again

by Wesley Pruden

August 5, 2005

Sixty years ago tomorrow "the Enola Gay," a shiny new B-29 with a bomb named Little Boy in its bay, lifted off the runway on tiny Tinian island and settled on a course for Hiroshima. History wrote finis to its most destructive war with the dawn of the nuclear age six hours later.

Hundreds of thousands of American soldiers, sailors and Marines, along with millions of their wives, parents, sons and daughters back home, celebrated their great, good and unexpected fortune at having cheated death, the appointment in Samarra, lying in wait on the beaches of the Japanese home islands.

A second bomb for Nagasaki three days later sealed victory for civilization.

But before anyone could beat a sword into a plowshare the euphoria of triumph and the hymns of gratitude gave way to voices of doubt, shame and guilt. The Japanese warlords and the men and women who followed them to a national grave became the innocents, the victims of the war they imposed on the world. The Americans of Pearl Harbor, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and the Bataan Death March were rendered evil. This would be the message for the next half century from the faculty lounges, the churches of the empty pews and the preachers with nothing to say, the newsrooms of the elite media and the covens of the degenerate left, ever eager for an occasion to despise themselves.

"Most writers have looked to the ashes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to find the answers for the use of those atomic weapons," Col. Paul Tibbets, who commanded Enola Gay, recalled 50 years later when the Smithsonian proposed to observe the anniversary with a malignantly goofy exhibit of manufactured history. "The real answers lay in thousands of graves, from Pearl Harbor around the world to Normandy, and back again."

A Gallup Poll taken on the occasion of that anniversary a decade ago found that Americans who had lived through the war agreed that President Truman, a decisive man who never imagined he was dealing with a religion of peace, only did what he had to do. He never looked back; 20 years on he said he would do it again. Ironically (though the irony went largely unappreciated), only young Americans, many of whom would never have been born if he hadn't dropped the bomb, said the 32nd president made the "wrong," even "immoral," decision.

The academic critics call the Truman decision wrong, or worse, on three counts: that Japan was already beaten, that Japan was trying to surrender by late summer of 1945, and that Mr. Truman knew all this and dropped the bomb anyway to intimidate the Russians. These arguments were made at the time, and Harry Truman, never a shrinking flower when someone accused him of bad judgment, curiously never defended his decision.

Now, six decades later, we know why. Newly opened archives of radio intercepts of messages between Tokyo and its diplomats abroad, which President Truman was sworn never to talk about, ever, reveal that the Japanese generals and their emperor did not consider themselves defeated. Some of these intercepts were conversations between Tokyo and diplomatic officials of U.S. allies. They reveal that even if Washington agreed to preserve the emperor that Japan regarded as "divine" there was no likelihood that Japan was ready to cry uncle.

The conversations between President Truman and his service chiefs further reveal, as historian Richard B. Frank writes in the current Weekly Standard magazine, that the Army and Navy were at bitter odds over whether the Japanese home islands should or could be invaded. The Army said yes. The Navy, having taken casualties at Okinawa in April and May that exceeded those in the Normandy landings, said no, a naval blockade and ship-to-shore bombardment was the way to go.

"Finally," he writes, "thanks to radio intelligence, American leaders, far from knowing that peace was at hand, understood ... that 'until the Japanese leaders realize that an invasion [of the home islands] can not be repelled, there is little likelihood that they will accept any peace terms satisfactory to the Allies.'?"

We were a different America then. No one apologized for a survival strategy of "whatever it takes." It's difficult to imagine Harry Truman bothering to argue with aides over what to name the war. Little Boy was the inevitable answer to the Axis challenge: "You want a war? We'll give you one." We can thank the man from Missouri for that.

Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.


JL Pagano said...

I don't think there is any point in us trying to debate this one, for judging by our respective posts on the subject, we are even more poles apart than usual.

As for the generation card, however, I wish to make one point.

Ever heard of propaganda?

Of course people who were in America at the time would be convinced that dropping the bomb was the right thing to do - the wartime media was reminding them every minute of every day of this questionable fact.

Perhaps the younger generations are as not tarnished by naivety as you suggest; maybe instead they have the ability to view the events with a more open mind.

James Shott said...

During the 1940s, the older generation (I was only a few months old at the time of Hiroshima and Nagasaki) had lived through the Great Depression, a time of unparalleled suffering and poverty in the United States. They knew pain and suffering, first hand. They also knew full well the threat posed by Germany, Japan and Italy (and the lesser members of the Axis powers). They read and heard of the attacks on Poland, France and Britain. They each and every one knew some number of the 16 million American servicemen who served during the war, as well as some of the 400,000 Americans who died in the war. Some communities in the U.S. were virtually wiped clean of their young men as a result of the conflict. Americans were no doubt appalled at the six million Jews killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust, the unprovoked attacked on Pearl Harbor and the slaughter of thousands of Europeans as the Japanese, Germans and Italians wreaked havoc on a broad front.

Informing American citizens of the events that created the opinion among them that A-Bombs were justified (which you so blithely toss off as their being manipulated into it) would have been, and was, easily accomplished by straight news reporting. No propaganda was necessary. Indeed, it would have been unthinkable for Americans to not be outraged at the actions of the Axis thugs.

It is easy for the current generations, who have had lives of relative ease and security (and I include myself in this group), to look back on those dark days and rationalize them away, because they have had no such horrors in their lives to help them understand the threat the Axis posed to freedom and the lifestyle they now enjoy. They fail to appreciate that the good times they enjoy came as a direct result of the Axis countries being defeated, through whatever means that was accomplished. The fortunate sons and daughters of WWII Europe virtuously cast aspersions on those who were in the thick of the conflict, either on a battlefield, or in a national leadership position. Hindsight offers great advantages. Even then the picture often is not clear.

These are the same people, many of them, who believe that it is a worldwide crisis that Africans persecute other Africans. They produce rock concerts and meaningless rhetoric to fight that injustice. Yet, bringing a swift and effective end to a war that promised to produce even more lost lives, and to challenge the freedom of free people everywhere is somehow wrong. Even with the quick end to the war brought on by the bombing of Japan, Allied military and civilian deaths totalled 44 million. Axis countries lost 11 million. Who knows how many thousands more would have died if the war had been allowed to continue?

Perhaps the younger generations are indeed tarnished by naivety, and worse, by an inability to view events through the eyes of those who lived them.

What can be worse than to condemn the acts of people whose motives and influences one has no capacity to understand?

Buffalo said...

I met H S T. He and my Dad were personal friends. Dad served under him in WWI, belonged to the same Masonic Lodge and the same Democratic Party Club.

In my opinion he was a great man.

James Shott said...

I agree, Buff. I think it's marvelous that you knew him. I've never met a President, or someone who became one.

H S T had to make a decision to unleash the most powerful weapon known to man at the time. That had to be a difficult decision. I admire him greatly for making the right decision.