Thursday, August 6, 2015

Dropping the Bomb—Alternative COAs


For John, BLUFCOA is Course of Action.  I still say dropping the two nuclear weapons was the best COA.  Were there alternatives?  Nothing to see here; just move along.



Writer Alex Wellerstein, writing on 3 August of this year, asks, "Were there alternatives to the atomic bombings?"

Of course there were.  The question might be asked, were they options in which the political leadership had confidence?  Then there was the fact that the President, Harry S Truman, hadn't had months and months to ponder this new weapon.

From the lede:

As we rapidly approach the 70th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there have been all sorts of articles, tributes, memorials, and so forth expressed both in print and online. I’ve been busy myself with some of this sort of thing. I was asked if I would write up a short piece for Aeon Ideas about whether there were any alternatives to these bombings, and I figure it won’t hurt to cross-post it here as well.

The point of the piece, I would like to emphasize, is not necessarily to “second guess” what was done in 1945. It is, rather, to point out that we tend to constrain our view of the possibilities generally to one of two unpleasant options. Many of those who defend the bombings seem to end up in a position of believing that 1. there were no other options on the table at the time except for exactly what did occur, and 2. that questioning whether there were other options does historical damage. As a historian, I find both of these positions absurd. First, history is full of contingency, and there were several explicit options (and a few implicit ones) on the table in 1945 — more than just “bomb” versus “invade.” These other options did not carry the day does not mean they should be ignored. Second, I think that pointing out these options helps shape our understanding of the choices that were made, because they make history seem less like a fatalistic march of events. The idea that things were “fated” to happen the way they do does much more damage to the understanding of history, because it denies human influence and it denies choices were made.

And, of course our view, from 70 years on, is influenced by all that has gone on since.  From PEW Research we have a Bruce Stokes article, "70 years after Hiroshima, opinions have shifted on use of atomic bomb".
This first use of a nuclear weapon by any nation has long divided Americans and Japanese. Americans have consistently approved of this attack and have said it was justified. The Japanese have not. But opinions are changing: Americans are less and less supportive of their use of atomic weapons, and the Japanese are more and more opposed.

In 1945, a Gallup poll immediately after the bombing found that 85% of Americans approved of using the new atomic weapon on Japanese cities. In 1991, according to a Detroit Free Press survey conducted in both Japan and the U.S., 63% of Americans said the atomic bomb attacks on Japan were a justified means of ending the war, while only 29% thought the action was unjustified. At the same time, only 29% of Japanese said the bombing was justified, while 64% thought it was unwarranted.

But a 2015 Pew Research Center survey finds that the share of Americans who believe the use of nuclear weapons was justified is now 56%, with 34% saying it was not. In Japan, only 14% say the bombing was justified, versus 79% who say it was not.

Not surprisingly, there is a large generation gap among Americans in attitudes toward the bombings of Hiroshima. Seven-in-ten Americans ages 65 and older say the use of atomic weapons was justified, but only 47% of 18- to 29-year-olds agree. There is a similar partisan divide: 74% of Republicans but only 52% of Democrats see the use of nuclear weapons at the end of World War II as warranted.

But, one's position on the use of nuclear weapons depends in part on one's belief that there must have been an alternative.  To be opposed to use does not require one to actually have an alternative in mind.  Just a belief that it wasn't the only way to go.  It probably also depends on how one values the lives of the Dog Faces who were going to assault the beaches of the Japanese homeland.  If you believed it would be only 50,000 dead (a 12% increase in total American war dead), then the tradeoff might have been acceptable.  However, if you believed it might have cost 150,000 American lives (almost 25% of the projected total war dead, including Europe) then it might seem reasonable.

On the other hand, it may have turned on a statement made in Potsdam, Germany, at the end of war in the European Theater.  The Potsdam Declaration was issued on 26 July 1945 and mentioned unconditional surrender.  This was seen as compromising the position of the Emperor.  That may have slowed down the peace party in the Japanese Government, lengthening the war and leading to a second bomb.  By 12 August the survival of the Emperor was tacitly agreed.

Regards  —  Cliff

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