Or so my father told me at the dinner table one night in the 1960s when, having just read John Hersey's Hiroshima, I was expressing my shock, sadness and indignation that a US president could kill 80,000 people in one fell atomic swoop. What did innocent Japanese people have to do with the war, I'd asked. Children did not deserve to die, or survive that horrific day only to develop leukemia and other cancers decades later.
That's when Dad told me that as a soldier stationed on the island of Okinawa in 1945, he was to be part of Operation Olympic, the first stage of the invasion of Japan. Since the Japanese were fully aware of the planned attack, it was believed at the time to be essentially a suicide mission. American casualties were forecast to be in the millions, what with the Japanese heavily fortifying the southern island of Kyushu, where my father's unit was scheduled to land.
I had always known that my father was in the war, but like so many World War II vets, he never talked about it much. Those were the days before PTSD became a diagnosis, those were the days when men had to be macho. One story he loved to tell revolved around some exquisite watercolors which a Japanese P.O.W. he'd been guarding painted for him in exchange for a carton of Lucky Strikes. Those paintings were among his most prized possessions, along with some autograph and photo memorabilia of star-studded welcome-home parties and studio tours thrown for him and other GI's in Hollywood. He also loved to tell the story of how he'd accidentally barged into Lucille Ball's dressing room, and how warm and gracious she was in her semi-nudity. Diehard "I Love Lucy" fans that we kids were, we were suitably impressed. (My mother, not so much.)
As he rather gruffly pointed out to me that night at the kitchen table, were it not for the atomic bomb I might never have been born. When Truman dropped the bomb, the war ended, Dad got to go home, party, get a good job, get married, and procreate.
I stared at him in stunned silence, my appetite gone right along with my indignant words.To be told that you are alive because of the mass deaths of others is quite the revelation, instilling not a little of ye olde survivor guilt.
Since that long-ago conversation, recently declassified documents reveal that if Truman hadn't dropped the bomb and Operation Olympic had proceeded as planned, my father might have encountered more weaponized civilian draftees (teens and old people) on the island of Kyushu than seasoned Japanese soldiers, who were busy elsewhere. If he'd gotten killed, it likely would have been from an aerial bomb instead of from a bayonet.
If existential gratitude is indeed in order, I should also probably thank Albert Einstein and J. Robert Oppenheimer. Because if anybody went on a guilt trip after the bombing of Hiroshima, and later of Nagasaki, it was those two guys.
As for Truman, he had some regrets over the loss of human life, but apparently suffered no guilt. From his diary:
Give Em Hell Harry's statement that he dropped the bomb to save flowering masculine lives had some truth in it, if I do say so my selfish self. But as his critics point out, he also might have been ignoring Japanese overtures for peace. The estimates of millions of American casualties might have been overblown in order to justify the ultimate reality of a quarter-million Japanese casualties. And Truman's atomic attack on Nagasaki was most assuredly done as a warning to the Soviets, who had their own goal of taking over post-war Asia. The bombing of Nagasaki was an act of monumental brutality and pure, chest-thumping hegemony.“It was a decision to loose the most terrible of all destructive forces for the wholesale slaughter of human beings. The Secretary of War Mr. Stimson and I weighed that decision most prayerfully. The President had to decide. It occurred to me that a quarter of a million of the flower of our young manhood was worth a couple of Japanese cities and I still think they were and are.
“But I couldn’t help but think of the necessity of blotting out women, children and more combatants. We picked a couple of cities where war work was the principle industry and dropped the bombs. Russia hurried in and that war ended.”
What is also brutally clear is that in the 70 years since Hiroshima, not one country has attacked the United States. And yet American leaders have used the same Trumanesque rationale of "saving American lives" to justify every invasion, every bombing, every drone strike, every construction of every one of its thousand military bases around the world. The dropping of the atomic bomb set the stage for American dominance, with the Soviet Union the scapegoat until its collapse in 1991.
By then, of course, it was too late to rein in what Dwight Eisenhower had warned about: the Military Industrial Complex (MIC). Since the end of the Cold War, the US has unleashed its military might against the Balkans, northern Africa and the Middle East. In just the past year, the Obama administration has staged a coup in Ukraine and sent troops to Russian border countries, and begun what is euphemized as "a pivot to Asia."
In yesterday's Faux-Peace In Our Time speech to his Iran deal critics, President Obama manfully boasted,
As commander-in-chief, I have not shied away from using force when necessary. I have ordered tens of thousands of young Americans into combat. I have sat by their bedside sometimes when they come home.And while the US chickenhawks in both parties wring their hegemonic hands and thump their imperialistic chests over the proposed de-nuking deal with Iran, the MIC continues to build up its own nuclear arsenal with a vengeance.The Obama administration last fall announced plans to invest another trillion dollars in a renewed nuclear arms race. The first phase was the building of a sprawling plant twice the size of the Pentagon in America's heartland. One thousand people have been hired to build new warheads in Kansas City, MO. From the New York Times:
I've ordered military action in seven countries. There are times when force is necessary, and if Iran does not abide by this deal, it's possible that we don't have an alternative.
This expansion comes under a president who campaigned for “a nuclear-free world” and made disarmament a main goal of American defense policy. The original idea was that modest rebuilding of the nation’s crumbling nuclear complex would speed arms refurbishment, raising confidence in the arsenal’s reliability and paving the way for new treaties that would significantly cut the number of warheads.
Instead, because of political deals and geopolitical crises, the Obama administration is engaging in extensive atomic rebuilding while getting only modest arms reductions in return.Meanwhile, the Nobel Peace Prize president sanctimoniously scolds critics of his Iran "peace" deal. Without the ability to peacefully threaten Iran over its own nonexistent-to-modest nuclear program, he boomed yesterday, war will become inevitable. He is kindly giving Iran a chance to behave before bombing it to smithereens.
Supporters of arms control, as well as some of President Obama’s closest advisers, say their hopes for the president’s vision have turned to baffled disappointment as the modernization of nuclear capabilities has become an end unto itself.
Meanwhile, over at New Mexico's Los Alamos National Laboratory, they just completed a massive renovation of their plutonium processing plant.
Meanwhile, over at the Y-12 Security Complex in Tennessee, they just completed a $550 million Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility.
Meanwhile, over at the 3,000-worker Pantex Plant in Amarillo, they're building a "high explosives pressing facility" at a cost (so far) of $145 million.
Meanwhile, over at the Savannah River Site, more than 5,000 gainfully employed Americans are enjoying the brand new Tritium Engineering Building. Tritium is a highly radioactive form of hydrogen gas.
And that's just the tip of the iceberg. For more information about what they're building and improving, be sure to visit the National Nuclear Security Administration website. Look at all the happy employees. Read all about how weapons of mass destruction keep you safe and secure. Read all about how thousands and thousands of lucky workers with good-paying jobs are "giving back" to their communities as they build, refurbish, maintain and stockpile the American nuclear arsenal. Whoever said Americans don't manufacture stuff any more is nuts.
Their faces are literally glowing. They are grateful, and they want you to be grateful too.
|Nuke University, Class of 2014|