Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Bad Boy

It's not my intention to offend people with this post or start an e-war. I also fully recognize that for those military experts among you I probably don't know what the hell I'm talking about. But hey, I can only think about this from a moral point of view. And I don't see why that should make my argument deficient.

I'm not sure why the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have been on my mind. Possibly I caught the end of a documentary last week. Certainly my family has always had a brief (and admittedly tenuous) link with Hiroshima in that my mother used to have a penfriend there. Sadly, she died of leukemia some years ago. And yes, it was as a result of the bombings. I'm not sure of the state of play now but back when my mother was a teen in the 60's people were still dying as a result of illnesses caused by radiation and the fall-out (literally) from the bomb.

Now, I can remember talking to an old war horse about ten years ago who'd fought in WWII. Back then, just before I'd met him, well into his retirement, he had taken a trip to Japan and undertaken a tour of the islands that took in the old military installations. He came home totally convinced that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were absolutely justified. "They were completely dug in," was his evaluation, "There was no way we'd ever have got them out; the war would have dragged on for years and years with thousands of lives lost. The A bomb was the only way."

I kind of quashed my misgivings at the time and let it go. He'd fought in the war and lost friends; I hadn't. What the hell did I know? Was it for me to say he should have given more? More blood? More years?

Now though, isolated in my own thoughts and my own 21st century world I can look back on it and feel a little braver.

It was wrong. Totally wrong.

To bomb innocent civilians - women, children, babies, the poor, the rich, doctors, plumbers, thieves, dentists, whatever - was wrong. Their only misfortune was to be Japanese at a time when the allied forces were at war with Japan. They were as loyal to their country as our countrymen were to ours. There is no crime or blame in this.

To kill these civilians was unjustified. Just as the Blitz in the UK was wrong. Just as our firebombing of Germany was wrong. I can understand why it was done. But it was wrong. There is something truly heinous about bombing the very people that all those soldiers were fighting and dying to protect and preserve.

And don't we all agree now in this modern world of ours? Isn't that why we voice such outrage when terrorists target innocent civilians? Civilians who are as innocent as those who lived in Hiroshima, or Coventry, or Dresden? Isn't that why our militaries now have to be so damned careful in choosing only military targets to hit? Why they have to show footage of their bombing campaigns on TV to prove to us that, look, we're only hitting military installations, not civilians?

This isn't squeamishness. It's the modern world at last showing some signs of being answerable to a popular moral outlook even in the face of dirty, bloody war. Well, things don't suddenly become immoral. They either are or they're not. Period.

I don't doubt that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki hastened an end to the war. I don't doubt that the soldiers at the time were relieved and thanking God for delivering them from a campaign that had become hell on earth. But - and I don't mean to sound callous when I say this - they were soldiers. They'd in some way agreed to fight. To partake in that hell. Civilians, by their very definition do not do that. They were just trying to live.

They should not have been used as political collateral.

It was wrong.


Being Me said...

It is far too simplistic of me to say, but.... there wouldn't be war without soldiers. Sooooo.... the solution seems obvious, and yet, apparently there will always be souls who would prefer to sign up and fight. I can't understand that. But I accept it is their way.

Very thought-provoking post, Steve.

AGuidingLife said...

There's not really any 'right' at all in war is there. I don't know enough about the causes of the war with Japan to say what the alternatives were but with Germany something had to stop the march of evil. The wholesale destruction of the innocents is of course wrong but the country had to be brought to a halt to stop the war machine. It is all so wrong and futile but something had to stop Hitler and I have to say I am proud of the people that fought the war on all sides (those fighting against evil and those that felt they had no choice and did what they had to do at the time) and am in awe of what they all lived (and died) through. Your post has left me with a big and sorrowful *sigh*

Saz said...

indeed.. l couldnt agree more

saz x

The Joined up Cook said...

I diagree with you here.

The 'soldiers' you describe were not the career soldiers we have today. They were you and me of yesterday. Our parents and grandparents.

Conscipts - civilians in uniform.

You cannot discriminate between the civilian who works in a munitions factory and one who wears a uniform.

How could we expect our leaders to condemn more of those uniformed civilians to death so as to preserve some notion of morality?

The use of nuclear weapons, of carpet bombing and the rest was done to hasten the end of the war, to save the lives of 'civilians' in uniform.

Whether it worked or not is a separate debate. I think it probably did. We can debate anything in hindsight, in the comfort of our modern day world with its health and safety and all the rest.

At the time though, that luxury was not available. They were desparate to end a desparate war.

War is immoral. Not to try to shorten it would have been even more immoral.

Steve said...

Being Me: sometimes being simplistic is the only way to dismiss all the bullshit and get to the truth!

Kellogsville: I'm as proud of my grandfather for what they did in the war but know for a fact they would much rather not have done it. As for stopping Hitler... well, he was stopped at this point. But the race for nuclear weapons began with him. How evil begets evil...

Saz: thank you.

AWB: I fully accept that most of the soldiers at the time were drafted. They were armed and trained - not so the civilians. As for the war is immoral argument - well, yes, it most certainly is. But as I'm arguing from a moral point of view I can't get away from the simple truth that a wrong thing done for the right reasons is still a wrong act. it doesn't become right just because of the side of the fence (or which army) you were fighting from.

Löst Jimmy said...

Steve, I am certainly no expert nor a historian and although I have read extensively about Japan's history. But if you permit me I'd like to share my personal opinion, and that is the dropping of Atomic Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was wholly unneccesary. For those who might use the 'dug in' theory so often quoted as the justification to unleash the bombs, they might well remember that Japan was already on its knees, the Pacific campaign lost and the regime wholly isolated due to the fall of their allies in Europe, under blockade, economically bankrupt, without raw resources and facing the Soviets' imminent invasion of Manchuria. Just read the quotes by US contemporaries - the likes of Chief of Staff Leahy, Herbert Hoover for perhaps a true indication of Japan's weakened stance and even great Ike himself who said "the Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn't necessary to hit them with that awful thing."

If then Japan's surrender was inevitable before the bombs then for what purpose were they deployed?
Perhaps we should use a wholly unrelated quote of another 1945 contemporary Allen Dulles "at least we're getting the kind of experience we need for the next war."

I lost several of my family members in WW2 (from my grandparents generation), including 2 as POWs to the Japanese both were on THAT Death Railway. I fully understand the horrible human cost on all sides.

I recommend, as an ordinary persons experience of the Hiroshima attack, for those interested, the haunting manga Barefoot Gen by Keiji Nakasawa (he himself a Hiroshima survivor).

Steve said...

Löst Jimmy: thank you for that. Funny, I was just thinking myself that I was sure the war against Japan was all but won by the time they dropped the bombs; you have confirmed it. Even worse then to think that the bombs were dropped merely to expedite nothing more than information gathering for an experiment. I may, if you don't mind, refer other commenters to your own comment above for clarification on this point.

Anonymous said...

Crikey, bit heavy for me being a simpleton but very interesting and extremely thought-provoking. I'd like to think I'm a modern woman; I think the wars are often pointless but often necessary, if only for political reasons. And that, is a whole different ballgame!

CJ xx

French Fancy... said...

Innocent men and women throughout the ages have been used as fodder by generals and we just don't really think about it unless it affects or directly confronts us.

I recently heard an interview with the little girl whose face and body is synonymous with the tragedy of the Vietnam war - the little girl running along without her clothes on because they had been burnt from her body by the South Vietnamese bombing her village. Obviously a grown woman now, the programme reunited her with the film crew that took those ghastly iconic images. The film crew did in fact drive her to hospital as she ran towards them screaming and when she and the main cameraman were reunited in this programme - well my tears just fell - and so did theirs.

No, there is no justification for actions like this, nor Hiroshima and all the others. Bravo for this post.

(this is a link to that famous image

Steve said...

CJ: I guess if our politicians were worth their weight then war would never be a necessary outcome of any negotiation that they undertook. War is usually about simple greed and hatred manipulated for the advantage of the very few.

FF: I wish I'd watched that programme. Can't think why I didn't as I recall it being advertized on TV; possibly I was out. Thank you for the link though - and your kind response!

French Fancy... said...

It was actually on the radio - Radio 4 about ten days ago - I wonder if it's still on i-player. Thoroughly recommended.

Steve said...

FF: I have to admit I never listen to the radio so the programme I saw must have been on one of the cable channels. I'm pretty sure it was the BBC though. Further investigation might be required...!

Gappy said...

I agree with you Steve.

Nuclear weapons are immoral in and of themselves in my opinion. To drop them on innocent people - whatever the reason - can never be justifiable.

Anonymous said...

Totally unnecessary, not just a war crime but a crime against humanity, given the generations still suffering ( like the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam)Had Germany used it, I think they'd have been tried and convicted at Nuremberg, then shot.

I want to second Jimmy's recommendation of " Hadashi no Gen",it should be compulsory reading in schools.

In case anyone is planning Asian travel this summer, an hour outside of Bangkok, in Kanchanaburi, there is an excellent museum, honouring those men who died on the death march and the building of the bridge on the Kwai River and in Ho Chi Minh city, there is the Vietnam War Museum, which represents in a very detailed and cohesive way, the many differing perspectives.

Steve said...

Gappy: spot on - thank you.

MissBehaving: the Kanchanaburi museum sounds like it offers a very balanced, humane and humbling experience. I shall have to see if "Hadashi no Gen" is available on Amazon... it sounds compulsive reading.

MommyHeadache said...

Well said and I agree with you. 'All's fair in love and war' is a rather poetic sentiment that people like to bandy about to justify the most inhuman of atrocities.

Steve said...

Emma: things are rarely if ever fair in love and war, let alone in the quiet unspoken xenophobia of peace time.

the fly in the web said...

For the most part, they were conscripts.
Have you read George Mcdonald Frazer
'Quartered safe out here'...
most interesting from the 'soldier on the ground' viewpoint.

lunarossa said...

So many unnecessary bombs, so many unnecessary weapons, so many innocents deaths, so many tragedies. When will we learn that violence bring pnly more violence? That lying to justify violence and war will only bring more war?
The British cost of fighting the Taliban has passed £12bn. This means £190 for every man, woman and child in the UK and would pay for 23 new hospitals, 60,000 new teachers or 77,000 new nurses, etc. What else can I add? Ciao. A.

Steve said...

the fly in the web: I haven't but would be interested to. I know most were conscripts but as has been pointed out above, Japan was already beaten. The bombs really were unnecessary.

Lunarossa: the cost of war is terrifying. More terrifying is the fact our governments are able to find this money and divert it to destructive ends when there is so much good it could do instead.

meva said...

The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were crimes against humanity. They should be recognised as such.

Steve said...

Meva: to the point. And quite right in my opinion.

the fly in the web said...

Not being picky, Steve, but as Frazer says, no one told the Japanese soldiers in Burma that.

Steve said...

the fly in the web: be as picky as you like; this is a very thorny issue. My other grandfather was one of those poors souls in the Burma campaign. But does that justify the bombing of Hiroshima? It makes it understandable in this fallible human world of ours. But it doesn't justify it or make it right.