Sunday, February 26, 2012

Fat Man and Little Boy

That’s a facsimile of the Little Boy bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima up above.

In the aftermath of the Allied victory in the Pacific it became popular to theorize that the bomb would be used in a final war that would end the human race. There was even a cheapie movie made, a composite of three episodes from a Swedish TV show, called The Devil’s Messenger that I saw as a teenager back in the 1960s. The premise of the film was that Satan was running out of room, so he sent some people back to reveal the secret of a 500 megaton bomb. His expectation was that humans would “play hell with it.” Needless to say the Nagasaki bomb remains the last nuke used in war.

Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), despite its horrific name and acronym, never caused the loss of any life, and may have saved a few. After the Soviet Union obtained nuclear weapons and a delivery system capable of reaching the US, there were really only two valid options: 1) mutual disarmament; 2) a balance of terror. Unilateral disarmament could never be a serious option for either party because it would leave the disarming party at the mercy and under the domination of the armed party, who would have no motive to disarm. However, the balance of terror will only work as long as both players recognize that they are both rational, and as long as both operate from rational premises. If either or both players are non-rational, or if their premises are thought by the other player to be non-rational, then it is in the interest of the sane player to eliminate the insane one. If it is suspected that an insane player will obtain nuclear weapons and will use them, the most sensible option is to remove the insane player.

In retrospect though the decision to drop the bomb has been subject to intense criticism. Some critics claimed that we should have warned the Japanese beforehand. I’m not sure what good a leaflet that said the equivalent of “We’re going to drop a big, scary bomb on you that will level your buildings, kill you and turn you into cinders, irradiate people miles from the blast site, and make your lives completely and utterly miserable,” would have done. The Japanese were warned in fact of the prospect of bombing, though not of the nature of the bomb, and were most certainly not forewarned in advance as to which sites would be bombed whether by Lemay’s conventional bombs or by atomic bombs.

Fr. Wilson D. Miscamble, C.S.C,* provides a brief history of the events leading up to the decision, and the rationale behind the use of the bombs.

If you’re like me, you’ve probably heard of the Einstein letter that was sent to Roosevelt in 1939. You may be under the impression that the U.S. then engaged in 6 years of massive research that finally ended with the bombs being exploded. In fact research was a bit more lackadaisical, and the project didn’t really get going until 1942.

The initial idea was to use the bomb against Germany, which few of the scientists had any problem with. Roosevelt, Miscamble makes clear, had no problems with using the bomb should it prove successful in its development. When Truman took over in April 1945, he had not been fully briefed on the bomb, and had no idea of its capability, but neither he nor anyone else in the administration had any qualms about its use. “As the astute Robert James Maddox has noted, among the responsible decision makers  ‘there was no debate over whether to use the bomb when it became available; the question was how.’”*

Contrary to the assertion that the Japanese were ready to surrender there was no evidence of that eagerness to be found anywhere. It is well known that the Japanese code was broken, and none of the decrypts reveal any eagerness to quit.

Another assertion that is made is that the suffering was terrible. By the time of the use of the bomb the horrors of the treatment of the FEPOWs (Far East Prisoners of War) was coming to light. Thousands of American, British, and other Allied military perished in conditions of utter horror either in camps, on marches, such as the Bataan Death March, or in “hell ships.” Thousands of the FEPOWs would have been executed upon the invasion of the home islands. Nor do the losses inflicted compare with the horror done by the Japanese to China and its population: “The losses in Hiroshima and Nagasaki assuredly were horrific, but they pale in significance when compared to the estimates of seventeen to twenty-four million deaths attributed to the Japanese during their rampage from Manchuria to New Guinea.”

It’s been said before, but it bears repeating, that an invasion of the home islands would have been costly both to the Allies and to the Japanese. By bringing about an early surrender the bomb saved lives.

Miscamble brings together all of these arguments and more and buttresses them with facts in a small, compact, easily readable text.

This is another one to keep on your nightstand and to give to your liberal friends.

Next up, a book about the spies of the early Cold War.

1. *Congregation of the Sacred Cross (Congregatio a Sancta Cruce).
 2. *Miscamble (2011-05-04). The Most Controversial Decision (p. 45). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition. 
 3. *Miscamble (2011-05-04). The Most Controversial Decision (p. 114). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.