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Yes, But

December 19th, 2006

I tend to challenge statements that I encounter, and that sometimes gets me into trouble. If someone makes a statement and there is a possible alternate view, I have a tendency to blurt out the alternate view, even if I don’t agree with it or have no stance on the issue myself. This sometimes makes people think I disagree with them when I really do not. One example might be the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; if an American says they were necessary, I challenge that; if a Japanese says they were criminal, I challenge that, too. Probably because both sides deserve challenging, mostly because of who is saying it. If an American said that the bombings were a crime, or a Japanese said that they were necessary, I probably would be less inclined to challenge either one–probably because the statements would sound much less self-serving.

I just came across this news story:

NAGASAKI — The policy chief of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, Shoichi Nakagawa, on Sunday called the U.S. atomic bombing of Nagasaki in 1945 a “crime” that was impermissible from a humanitarian viewpoint.

In a speech given in the city of Nagasaki, Nakagawa said, “The U.S. decision to drop such a thing was truly impermissible on humanitarian grounds…Atomic bombings are a crime,” referring to the Aug 9, 1945 bombing of the city three days after an atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. [no link due to the site’s ephemeral nature]

My immediate response? I would want to ask this person if he was aware that during WWII, Japan had not one but two atomic weapons programs. And how come that never comes up when a Japanese politician is speaking out against the evils of atomic weapons? Yes, some might think that it would give the politician less moral standing to make a claim of outrage. But in my opinion, stating such a thing would give him much more more standing to make such a claim. However, somehow I don’t think that this is the kind of moral statement that Nakagawa was thinking about, considering that he has recently suggested that perhaps Japan should consider arming itself with nuclear weapons.

And that’s where I start to worry a bit about statements like the one Nakagawa made about the U.S. bombings being a crime. Within the context of his other recent statements, it could be building to something less than encouraging. “It’s a country’s right to protect itself,” Nakagawa said about a month ago. “Of course we need to examine all options, including missile defense.” The “all options” bit is further worrying.

OK, so perhaps Nakagawa is simply raising the nuclear specter in order to put a few bargaining chips on the table for Japan, maybe to rattle the North Koreans a bit. For all I know, Nakagawa might be stridently anti-nuclear. But the things he has said are too close to what I would classify as ‘pulling a reverse-Santayana.’ I opined on the dangers here, but in short, if a nation forgets the bad things it did and focuses on its own victimhood, then starts saying that it has special standing to defend itself in light of that victimhood–it’s time to start watching out for armbands.

Within the context of moral superiority, the claim of Hiroshima and Nagasaki being crimes falls a bit flat due to Japan’s own atomic programs, and the rather inescapable fact that had Japan developed nukes first, there would have been no hesitation or remorse in using them first. Remembering that about yourself and your people is far more a claim to moral standing than is the claim of victimhood.

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  1. Frankie
    December 19th, 2006 at 05:52 | #1

    I posted my opinion some time ago when you first talked about the A-bomb. I personally against nuclear weapons. Do you know that all Amercian scientists during the second WW were against dropping the bomb? The incredible fact is that the petition letter signed by all scientist never reached the president. Truman had no idea what damage and side-effects the A-bomb could have. His first declaration after the bomb was dropped, he said that the bomb was dropped on an industrial factory base and not on a city. Anyway, my point is that the U.S. was the first to use it and dropped it on innocent Japanese ciitizens. It does not make sense to say that Japan was also working it etc. History says that the bomb was dropped more then 60 years ago. To me this is really incredible. People today talk about nuclear bombs as if it is something unreal, but they forget that it really really happen in 1945. I think when the last survivor of the A-bomb will pass away, it will become more difficult to remind people about the danger of these weapons. Japan has a real important role to keep the memory alive so that the same mistake will not be made. I have never been to Hiroshima or Nagasaki, but I think all of us should go there at least once in our life time.

  2. Tim Kane
    December 19th, 2006 at 07:40 | #2

    The Atomic Bombing of Japan wasn’t necessary, but then neither was the “Rape of Nanking”.

    I had a real nationalistic friend in College from a military family. On this topic, I recall him saying, “If you come to play you better be prepared to play. The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, they can’t turn around and say bombing Japan, by any means, is not fair play. Look at their track record. If they had that bomb they would have used it early and often.”

    This is an extreme position. But it does point to some duplicity in the anti-bomb position coming from Japan and the lack of context.

    Japan had other war plans like sending balloons over the U.S. with biological weapons agents or what not.

    Just as criminal as the atomic bomb usage was the bombing of cities by more conventional forms. History proves that those bombings did little strategic affect. The Atomic bombs, however, did demonstrate strategic affect, in that Japan surrendered a few days later.

    The invasion of Japan would have cost America as many as one million casualties. The deprivation it would have cost the Japanese would have been greater still. Millions of Japanese nearly starved to death in the winter following Japan’s surrender because the rail system was knocked out (McAurthur’s request “send me aid, or send me coffins”)so an invasion would have been devestating.

    On the American side, place yourself in Truman’s spot. He’s facing a major invasion of Japan and millions of calsualties. If America has huge casualties and later found out Truman had a weapon that could have avoided it, the outrage would have been huge.

    Yes, there was also the spector of Soviet Power. And that spector was real. On the ground, the Soviet Army was the real power in the world. The Russians were the real power to defeat Germany and showed they were willing to take tens of millions of casualties. They had arguably the best tank in the world and in the tens of thousands in numbers. No doubt that Army made American leadership nervous.

    I am, I should confess, a big Truman fan.

    Having said that, Japan’s protestations against the use of the Atomic bomb sounds more like they think its a crime because it was done against them. I cannot understand the psychology of a people who have been on the receiving end of such a bombing. War is hell, its hard to contain when it breaks out, there’s no telling whether it will last six days or a hundred years. Only fools venture into it, as Bush has demonstrated.

    A broader and more troubling pattern, to me, is the massive denial of Japanese ‘criminal’ behavior in World War II and the notion that there is an unrepentent nationalistic strain in Japanese society. This suggest that Japan has a latent capacity to repeat history.

    What history you say: After its defeat in WWI, nationalist Germans were unrepentent, and claimed they were stabbed in the back by liberals and jews et al.. The problem with the stab in the back myth is that when they gain power, the ‘persecuted majority’ tends to stab back as Germany demonstrated to devestating effect. Later those nationalist came to power and attempted to ‘right’ the outcome of WWI. In WWI, Germany won in the east and lost in the west. In WWII Germany won in the west and lost in the east. The outcome, the same, only much worse the second time around.

    In the U.S., ardent southerners harbor a grudge over the out come of the civil war, still. Those same folks help deliver to the U.S. a reactionary fascist government in the present. Likewise, many liberals claim the U.S. was stabbed in the back by liberals in the 1960s. They are trying to “right” history in Iraq. Again to devestating effect.

    After WWII, Germany immersed itself in its guilt and came out of the bath a much better society. Japan continues in denial, prepared to point out America’s crimes, while ignoring its own. That denial has latent harmful potential to Japanese society and the world in general.

    Troubling. All very troubling.

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