Tomorrow is the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. If you go to Wright-Patterson Air Force base in Dayton, Ohio, you can see the plane that delivered the bomb — Captain Bock's B-29, appropriately nicknamed Bockscar. At the display you will find a description of the airplane's combat history and a replica of the Fat Man bomb. There is also a sign that identifies the plane as "the aircraft that ended WW II".

The other night, on the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, my wife, my 22-year old daughter, and I watched White Light/Black Rain, an HBO documentary I recommend. When it was over our daughter asked if the film's judgment of President Truman and the United States as "war criminals" was fair. The only answer I could offer was "perhaps". But, I went on, if the atomic bombings were war crimes, it is hard to see how the fire bombings of Tokyo were any less of a crime. And, I said, you get into some very deep ironies.

Our daughter, who has always been kind, knew that it was time to throw her dad a fat one belt high and over the middle of the plate. What ironies, she asked?

Well, the few people I have met from China who were old enough to remember the Second World War would not be likely to share the filmmakers' deep sympathies towards the Japanese victims. Why? Given what the forces of Imperial Japan did, it is still very hard for older Filipinos, Koreans, Chinese and East Asians to avoid thinking that the Japanese deserved equal misery. The trouble is that almost all the men, women and children incinerated, blasted and irradiated to death in 1945 had little or nothing to do with the bayoneting, shooting, bombing and starving of other men, women and children in Nanking in 1938.

That is why moralizing about war and history is so dangerous; you end up with the Marxist illusion that you can pick and choose only the parts you like. But how can you justify Hiroshima and Nagasaki? I can't.

But what the filmmakers refused to consider is what the alternatives were in summer 1945. That is a story that does not fit their retrospective bystander holier-than-others moral outrage. "What is that story?" Admiral Nimitz, who was angered by the waste and irrelevance of the Battle of Okinawa (which in a matter of weeks took the lives of 50% more sailors than all the Americans who have died in the multiple years of the two Iraq wars), wanted to blockade Japan and literally starve the country into surrender. He and Admiral King thought that General MacArthur's enthusiasm for invasion of Kyushu was near lunacy.

George Marshall was initially in favor of MacArthur's plan but became more doubtful as the estimates of likely casualties continued to rise above the Army's first estimate of only 31,000 casualties in the first 30 days. That estimate had been based on a comparison with the Battle of Luzon as had Nimitz and King's initial estimate of 41,000. Okinawa made Marshall rethink everything. In the 82 days of the Battle of Okinawa the U.S. forces had over 72,000 casualties, including 18,900 killed or MIA (including those who later died from their wounds, the total deaths rose to over 20,000).

Normandy — the battle that everyone still remembers as the supreme sacrifice –had had 9,000 fewer casualties, including British, Canadian, French and Polish forces. By the time the first bomb was dropped the casualty estimates for the invasion of the home islands of Japan had risen to as high as 1.7-4 million Americans (including 400,000-800,000 deaths) and 5-10 million Japanese. In anticipation of that slaughter nearly half a million Purple Heart medals were procured. After Korea, Vietnam, Iraq I, Afghanistan, and Iraq II, the U.S. still has 100,000 left in storage.

Steve Leslie writes:

Even today, as debates run rampant about exit strategies pertaining to Afghanistan and Iraq, there is never an easy outcome to any war, for in the end the real victims are the innocent civilians left to the morass that is blown-out buildings and ruined homelands. They are exploited and destroyed as their lives are forever and irretrievably torn asunder. There is no glamour in any war despite references to the contrary.

Politicians declare wars and soldiers fight them. The pols in their well-protected ornate offices forget that war is so much more than statistics, 30 second sound bites, or dots on a map.

Patton once said "compared to war, all other acts of human endeavor pale in comparison." Sadly he was much too correct.


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