Monday, August 10, 2015

Paul Fussell, 1981, The New Republic: "Thank God for the Atomic Bomb"

John Kenneth Galbraith is persuaded that the Japanese would have surrendered surely by November without an invasion. He thinks the A-bombs were unnecessary and unjustified because the war was ending anyway. The A-bombs meant, he says, “a difference, at most, of two or three weeks.” But at the time, with no indication that surrender was on the way, the kamikazes were sinking American vessels, the Indianapolis was sunk (880 men killed), and Allied casualties were running to over 7,000 per week. “Two or three weeks,” says Galbraith. Two weeks more means 14,000 more killed and wounded, three weeks more, 21,000. Those weeks mean the world if you’re one of those thousands or related to one of them. During the time between the dropping of the Nagasaki bomb on August 9 and the actual surrender on the fifteenth, the war pursued its accustomed course: on the twelfth of August eight captured American fliers were executed (heads chopped off); the fifty-first United States submarine, Bonefish, was sunk (all aboard drowned); the destroyer Callaghan went down, the seventieth to be sunk, and the Destroyer Escort Underhill was lost. That’s a bit of what happened in six days of the two or three weeks posited by Galbraith. What did he do in the war? He worked in the Office of Price Administration in Washington. I don’t demand that he experience having his ass shot off. I merely note that he didn’t.

Likewise, the historian Michael Sherry, author of a recent book on the rise of the American bombing mystique, The Creation of Armageddon, argues that we didn’t delay long enough between the test explosion in New Mexico and the mortal explosions in Japan. More delay would have made possible deeper moral considerations and perhaps laudable second thoughts and restraint. “The risks of delaying the bomb’s use,” he says would have been small—not the thousands of casualties expected of invasion but only a few days or weeks of relatively routine operations.” While the mass murders represented by these “relatively routine operations" were enacting, Michael Sherry was safe at home. Indeed when the bombs were dropped he was going on eight months old, in danger only of falling out of his pram. In speaking thus of Galbraith and Sherry, I’m aware of the offensive implications ad hominem. But what’s at stake in an infantry assault is so entirely unthinkable to those without the experience of one, or several, or many, even if they possess very wide-ranging imaginations and warm sympathies, that experience is crucial in this case. In general, the principle is, the farther from the scene of horror the easier the talk. One young combat naval officer close to the action wrote home m the fall of 1943, just before the marines underwent the agony of Tarawa: “When I read that we will fight the Japs for years if necessary and will sacrifice hundreds of thousands if we must, I always like to check from where he’s talking: it’s seldom out here.” That was Lieutenant (j.g.) John F. Kennedy.

Paul Fussell

Complete Essay HERE

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