The “Black Rain” – A Re-assessment on the Dropping of “Little Boy” and “Fat Man” on Japan, pp. 3 of 8

In retrospect, why did Japan go to war with the most powerful nation in the world when they knew very well that the odds of victory is practically zero? Why did the military men, civilian politicians, diplomats – and even Emperor Hirohito – make a decision that was doomed from the start? Very few, if any, of the textbooks will cover this issue. Most will put forth the reasons for the outbreak of the war in Asia Pacific – such as, the economic crisis in Japan and its demand for oil and other natural resources from countries in Southeast Asia, and the weakness of the League of Nations. This is also an important question to stimulate class discussion. It brings into the picture human frailties, desires, ambitions, honour, motivation and pride. Recent interpretations points to the muddled Japanese leadership that was eager to avoid war but remained confrontational to the West. It was a leadership that was deluded by reckless militarism couched in traditional notions of pride and honor, and tempted by the gambler’s dream of scoring the biggest win against all odds. Eri Hotta (2013) reveals just how divided Japan’s leaders were, right up to (and, in fact, beyond) their eleventh-hour decision to attack. Hotta’s research exposes the all-too-human Japanese leaders torn by doubt in the months preceding the Pearl Harbour attack. She emphasizes the multitude of choices Japanese leaders opted out of, concluding that Japan was never “forced” into an inevitable war with the West. In the end, Japanese leaders convinced themselves through selective amnesia that they were being “bullied and humiliated” by the West and needed to respond in an appropriately strong manner (2013: 269). Ultimately, Japan's decision to expand its already costly war in China to include a front on the Pacific was a “huge national gamble” (2013: 19).

In our history textbooks, the end of the Pacific War is usually depicted by the picture of the “mushroom cloud”. Nothing is mentioned of what happened at ground-zero after the bombing. It is also not surprising that, in most cases, the history teacher will end the topic at this point as well. The unspoken message seems to be that to deal with things evil, we need to inflict the ultimate in pain and destruction. The danger here is that pupils wittingly or unwittingly believe this is retribution for all the evils that Japan had wrought on the people in China and Southeast Asia. “They (the Japanese) deserve it.” could become a common verbal response by the pupils if asked of their opinion on the use of the bomb.  Japan must pay the price of attacking Pearl Harbour and the sufferings its imperial soldiers inflicted on the peoples in Southeast Asia. Hence, the students are likely to justify their own assessment of the use of the bomb. Moreover, unlike Germany, Japan’s political leadership has been elusive in admitting and apologizing for the war atrocities. But, perhaps unknown to many of us, post-war Japanese did admit that Imperial Japan was indeed responsible for the years of trauma and mass sufferings in Asia. A Yomiuri poll conducted in October 1993 indicated that 61.7% of Japanese in the twenties agreed that Japan was the aggressor. Twelve years later, in October 2005, 68% of Japanese citizens believed that Japan was the aggressor of war.  

The debate as to the motivations for the use of atomic bomb still rages on. Former U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Hiroshima in May 2016 had also rekindled the discussion on the justification for the nuclear bombing of the two Japanese cities. The common consensus is that President Truman saw it as a quick solution to the ending of the war and thus potentially saving the lives of many young American soldiers. The counter-argument is that by 1945 Japan was a nation at the brink of defeat. In a famous essay, the late cultural historian Paul Fussell (1981), declared “Thank God for the Atomic Bomb”. His stand is that the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had prevented terrible slaughter of American soldiers that would have been lost in a protracted invasion of the Japanese mainland. Such a perception or belief was baseless because Japan simply did not have the military prowess to fight the Americans on Japanese soil. How could Japan defeat the Americans when the military had to exhort the emperor’s loyal subjects to take up bamboo spears to defend the homeland? The military had deceived the people and led the country against a war which they could never win. Investigation of a “Bombing Survey” sanctioned by President Truman, had concluded that, certainly prior to 31 December 1945 and in all probability prior to 1 November 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated. Dwight Eisenhower was reported to have said after the war: “It wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing”.

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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