False equivalence enabling apologetics for treason

by Eric on October 23, 2013

The state of Georgia will move the statue of populist hero and white supremacist demagogue Tom Watson from its prominent spot near the state capitol. Beautifully, the state claims it’s nothing to do with politics.

“This is just part of an ongoing project to renovate the steps around the State Capitol,” said Paul Melvin, a Georgia Building Authority spokesman. “We’re moving the statue because of the construction. To move it back would be a prohibitive cost that’s not in the budget.”

Republican state representative Tommy Benton sees it differently and blames, well, “them.”

“They’re attempting to whitewash history so that only the things that are pertinent to them are remembered,” Mr. Benton said. “I’m not a big fan of William Sherman’s, but I’m not out there protesting his statues in other states because he did $100 million worth of damage in Georgia.”

The New York Times does its readers a disservice by failing to mention that at the time the vandal William Sherman did this terrible property damage to Georgia, the state was treasonably waging war on the United States of America in defense of slavery. (Tom Watson, who merely supported an unconstitutional form of racial segregation with viciously bigoted rhetoric, was a piker compared to supporters of the rebellion.) Whatever his many failings, Sherman did defend the republic of the United States against the acts of traitors. It is a pity an elected official of the Republican party cannot describe himself as a fan.

{ 216 comments }

1

Eric 10.23.13 at 4:41 pm

Corey is welcome to dispute my use of the term “treason.”

2

Marshall 10.23.13 at 5:39 pm

On the contrary, Sherman did not do $100 million in damage in Georgia. His economic effect on Georgia was almost certainly a net positive, IF you take into account the securitized value of the slave labor he returned to the slaves themselves. Of course, that calculation pre-supposes that slaves are people, which is probably the real subject being disputed.

3

thompsaj 10.23.13 at 5:52 pm

As a southerner I disdain the southern tendency toward entitlement, victimhood, and pettiness, and it’s ever been thus. Look at the war monuments thing during the shutdown – reject all attempts to avoid a big fight, but complain bitterly about the negative and very foreseeable consequences that they bring on themselves and could end at any second.

4

SamChevre 10.23.13 at 6:03 pm

Whatever his many failings, Sherman did defend the republic of the United States against the acts of traitors.

I’m unconvinced that “he defended his country” is a sufficient reason for “he re-invigorated the tactics of total war and committed massive war crimes”

5

Derek Bowman 10.23.13 at 6:19 pm

I agree with SamChevre. How can those of us who don’t accept the evil of the Taliban or Saddam Hussain as a justification for war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq be complacent with the idea that the evil of slavery justified Sherman’s march?

What’s gross about Benton’s remark is that he makes the moral equivalence while putting his complaints about Sherman’s march in purely monetary terms.

6

Substance McGravitas 10.23.13 at 6:25 pm

I’m unconvinced that “he defended his country” is a sufficient reason for “he re-invigorated the tactics of total war and committed massive war crimes”

I might understand the sense of this, but what’s it got to do with the post?

7

Hektor Bim 10.23.13 at 6:41 pm

Were Sherman’s tactics worse than those of other generals in the Civil War?

After all, Lee sold US soldiers and Northern civilians into slavery.

8

Herschel 10.23.13 at 6:42 pm

I’m unconvinced that “he defended his country” is a sufficient reason for “he re-invigorated the tactics of total war and committed massive war crimes”

Oh come. It was the officially articulated policy during the Georgia campaign that the local civilian populations should be secure and unmolested in their homes. Compare and contrast with, say, the Allied conduct of the Second World War.

9

PGD 10.23.13 at 6:53 pm

Agree with Herschel. Sherman (and other Union generals in e.g. the Shenandoah Valley) seized food, destroyed infrastructure, and burned supplies that they felt would go to the Confederate Army, but to my knowledge there was no killing of civilians whatsoever by Union armies, including by Sherman.

10

Captain Bringdown 10.23.13 at 6:56 pm

11

Marshall 10.23.13 at 6:58 pm

On the other hand, local populations lynched slaves who fled plantations to join or follow the Union Army. Seriously, this is offensive false equivalence. While the humanitarian argument for Sherman’s campaign (and the war in general) “sound” like bullshit rationalizations for misguided aggressive wars as we’ve heard in Iraq and Afghanistan, there’s one key empirical difference. The Civil War **actually was** fought and won to secure humanitarian aims.

12

Eric Titus 10.23.13 at 7:19 pm

This is good for a laugh. Benton doesn’t want to bring up the Civil War, but “$100 million of property damage” is clearly a yardstick for villainy. Next, he will be noting the damage done by the Civil Rights movement to small businesses and job creators. And lambasting Lincoln as a big-government regulator.

13

Bloix 10.23.13 at 7:27 pm

Tom Watson: Agrarian Rebel by C. Vann Woodward (1938, reissued 1973) is one hell of a good book.

14

Bloix 10.23.13 at 7:28 pm

15

SamChevre 10.23.13 at 7:44 pm

Were Sherman’s tactics worse than those of other generals in the Civil War?

Probably (so far as I know only he and Sheridan attached civilians), but his real reputation as a war criminal comes from his later command of the Army against the Indians.

16

Hektor Bim 10.23.13 at 9:08 pm

SamChevre,

Selling civilians into slavery doesn’t count as attacking them?

17

Harold 10.23.13 at 9:49 pm

Local populations lynched hundreds of white Union supporters in Texas (800, as I recall).

18

L2P 10.23.13 at 10:49 pm

“Probably (so far as I know only he and Sheridan attached civilians), but his real reputation as a war criminal comes from his later command of the Army against the Indians.”

I guess if you ignore the thousands of black civilians kidnapped and forced into slavery by dozens of Confederate generals that might ALMOST seem like a sensible statement! But most of say that kidnapping and enslaving civilians, if nothing else, is “attacking” them.

(Let’s just ignore the thousands of civilian casualties (at least 50,000) that certainly weren’t ALL suffered through Sherman’s march to the sea).

19

ronbailey 10.23.13 at 11:55 pm

You won’t find a more devoted anti-confederate than me, but even I couldn’t condone praise for Sherman – he was an inhuman monster, and his name should down beside those like Hitler and Pol Pot. Not just for his war crimes in the Civil War, but for what he did to thousands of Native American children. He was an embarrassment to his country, and not worthy of the colors he fought under.

20

Corey Robin 10.24.13 at 1:22 am

I’m reluctant to call wars of secession or civil wars treason — even though I suppose they do meet the technical definition according to the Constitution — but that doesn’t seem so important to the argument here. I’ve long wondered how it is that a country that still vilifies members of the Communist Party, regardless of whether they committed acts espionage or not, as traitors, could remain so indulgent of figures who actually made war against the national government and slaughtered hundreds of thousands of US citizens.

21

Daniel 10.24.13 at 1:33 am

Watson did oppose U.S. entry into WWI. On race he was a nasty piece of goods.

22

rmgosselin 10.24.13 at 1:48 am

This isn’t the first time Georgia has indulged in such hyperbolic equivalency. When Sherman took Atlanta in 1864 and began ejecting the local citizens, he received a letter from J.B. Hood which read, in part, “And now, sir, permit me to say that the unprecedented measure you propose transcends, in studied and ingenious cruelty, all acts ever before brought to my attention in the dark history of war.”

Unprecedented? All? Ever? DEATH BY GOVERNMENT, Chapter 3, Pre-Twentieth Century Democide

The only way Sherman’s order was historically “unprecedented” in war was that the entire population of Atlanta was not immediately put to the sword.

23

Bloix 10.24.13 at 3:30 am

Since no one seems to want to talk about Tom Watson, and instead everyone prefers to recycle nonsense about Sherman, permit me:

Sherman did not attack civilians. He attacked civilian property. He destroyed the civilian infrastructure that supported the Southern military machine. And he did it, as best he could, without putting his own men’s lives in danger – that is, he saved the lives of Northern soldiers and Southern soldiers both. He really did believe that war is all hell, and he tried to do as little fighting as possible, so as to kill as few soldiers as he could.

Before Sherman, Union generals thought that the way to conquer the Confederacy was to seize and hold territory. That meant fighting along long and vulnerable supply lines, linking up armies along fronts, consolidating and pacifying the territory behind the lines. It was slow and static. It allowed the Confederate armies to stay out of reach of the Union fronts and to move around at will. It meant that the Confederate generals could choose when and where to fight. It was a recipe for interminable warfare, and interminable warfare meant that the South would win. Why? Because the South, being partially occupied, could not quit – it had to fight until it was beaten. But the North could give up at any time – and that was what the South was counting on. The South could never defeat the North militarily but if it did not give up, then Northerners would get tired of the war and the South would win. Or so it thought.

Sherman changed all that. He understood that holding territory was not necessary. Supply lines weren’t necessary. Pacifying the countryside wasn’t necessary. All you had to do was move through the South destroying the infrastructure that supported the war: railroads, farms, warehouses, docks, factories, and most important – slave labor. Once the slaves were freed they would never return and southern fields could not be harvested.

This is not to denigrate Grant’s importance. But Grant was a butcher. He put his armies up against the Confederates and lost 5,000 men, and then he did it again the next day, and the next. Before Grant, if you fought one day a month you were doing your job. Grant fought every day he could, and because the Union had more men and more materiel he could fight day after day until the Confederates were bled white. In the Wilderness Campaign of May-June 1864, Grant lost 55,000 of 120,000 men. The Confederates lost 33,000 of 65,000 – and it was a Union victory.

Sherman’s tactics were merciful – his soldiers pillaged and rampaged, and they lived. Grant’s fought and died.

24

bad Jim 10.24.13 at 5:32 am

Presumably that’s why they complain of the toll in dollars and not in lives.

25

bad Jim 10.24.13 at 5:45 am

And why the last Confederate general who faced him served as one of his pallbearers.

26

Asteele 10.24.13 at 7:19 am

The idea that we have any statues of those that persecuted the genocide of the Native Americans is gross.

27

bad Jim 10.24.13 at 7:43 am

Ending slavery was nevertheless worthwhile.

28

Tim Worstall 10.24.13 at 8:01 am

“I’m reluctant to call wars of secession or civil wars treason”

Quite: for the definition seems malleable to who wins that war. Geo. Wash. and Ben Franklin were most certainly committing treason 80 years before the Civil War. It could be argued that De Gaulle committed treason against Vichy France.

29

ajay 10.24.13 at 9:00 am

“he re-invigorated the tactics of total war and committed massive war crimes”

A bit of detail would be nice. Burning supplies intended for the front isn’t a war crime. Neither is destroying infrastructure, even if it has a dual use. If I blow up a bridge to stop enemy tanks from crossing it, it’s legal, even if the bridge was also used by civilians.

Now, enslaving enemy POWs? That’s a war crime.

30

Peter Erwin 10.24.13 at 10:27 am

But Grant was a butcher.

Well, as long we’re complaining about Civil War calumnies…
“Grant as butcher” is, among other things, an old postwar Southern accusation, a way of making Lee’s failures more palatable and romantic: Lee as the dashing, brilliant, gentlemanly aristocrat, Grant as the unimaginative, single-minded, industrial butcher.

In fact, Lee was a worse “butcher” of his own troops: the chances of a soldier in Grant’s army surviving the war were better than the chances of a soldier in Lee’s army doing so. You can see it even in the relative losses of the Wilderness Campaign: Grant lost 46% of his own soldiers, but Lee lost 51% of his.

31

ajay 10.24.13 at 12:56 pm

In fact, Lee was a worse “butcher” of his own troops

Good point, and I’d add “especially since he did so pointlessly” – he kept fighting long after it was (or should have been) obvious that the South couldn’t win.

as long we’re complaining about Civil War calumnies…
Time to mention “Beast” Butler, whose terrible, unforgivable, atrocious crime was (while military governor of New Orleans) to threaten to put civilians in jail overnight if they shouted abuse at Union soldiers.

32

Barry 10.24.13 at 1:41 pm

Peter Erwin 10.24.13 at 10:27 am
” In fact, Lee was a worse “butcher” of his own troops: the chances of a soldier in Grant’s army surviving the war were better than the chances of a soldier in Lee’s army doing so. You can see it even in the relative losses of the Wilderness Campaign: Grant lost 46% of his own soldiers, but Lee lost 51% of his.”

And Lee was fighting a defensive campaign in great defensive territory in an age where the defense was very strong.

33

Kaveh 10.24.13 at 2:06 pm

” he kept fighting long after it was (or should have been) obvious that the South couldn’t win. “

Which just makes him all the more romantic…

34

Derek Bowman 10.24.13 at 2:47 pm

“It’s my estimation that every man ever got a statue made of ’em was one kinda sombitch or another.”

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0579530/quotes?item=qt1066982

35

Bloix 10.24.13 at 3:56 pm

By “Grant was a butcher” I meant that Grant consciously fought a war of attrition whose goal was to kill as many Confederate soldiers as he could, even if that meant losing as many or more of his own men to do it.

36

musical mountaineer 10.24.13 at 4:00 pm

The New York Times does its readers a disservice by failing to mention that at the time the vandal William Sherman did this terrible property damage to Georgia, the state was treasonably waging war on the United States of America in defense of slavery.

Agreed. NYT readers don’t know stuff like that.

37

rea 10.24.13 at 4:27 pm

“Beast” Butler, whose terrible, unforgivable, atrocious crime was (while military governor of New Orleans) to threaten to put civilians in jail overnight if they shouted abuse at Union soldiers.

Well, that wasn’t quite it–there was a sexual element:

“As the officers and soldiers of the United States have been subject to repeated insults from the women (calling themselves ladies) of New Orleans in return for the most scrupulous non-interference and courtesy on our part, it is ordered that hereafter when any female shall by word, gesture, or movement insult or show contempt for any officer or soldier of the United States she shall be regarded and held liable to be treated as a woman of the town plying her avocation.”

Not that he was wrong

38

rea 10.24.13 at 4:38 pm

As for Sherman, he and his men were generally quite scrupulous in following the laws of war. But as his army moved across Georgia, it was surrounded by a cloud of thousands of atrocity-prone stragglers and deserters from both armies. These he could not, and did not control, and (as he pointed out to the locals) this sort of thing is inevitable when you start a war.

39

rea 10.24.13 at 4:53 pm

Grant consciously fought a war of attrition whose goal was to kill as many Confederate soldiers as he could, even if that meant losing as many or more of his own men to do it

No, that was never Grant’s plan. He repeatedly tried to beat Lee by manouver–he wasn’t trying for a win by attrition–it’s just that he was willing to accept a win by attrition if all else failed.

40

TM 10.24.13 at 6:18 pm

“Were Sherman’s tactics worse than those of other generals in the Civil War?”

Am I the first to observe that this is, like, kind of, the wrong question? And am I the first to observe that even though “Republican state representative Tommy Benton” may be an a***hole and a hypocrite, it doesn’t follow that leftists have to defend the record of General Sherman? Unless, of course, it’s worth defending, but if “he massacred for a good cause” or “others committed similar or worse atrocities” is the best you can do, shame on you.

And thanks to those pointing out Sherman’s crimes against Native Americans.

41

Substance McGravitas 10.24.13 at 6:34 pm

it doesn’t follow that leftists have to defend the record of General Sherman? Unless, of course, it’s worth defending

Let’s say I know nothing about General Sherman. Who, on this thread, is misleading me?

42

LizardBreath 10.24.13 at 7:03 pm

And am I the first to observe that even though “Republican state representative Tommy Benton” may be an a***hole and a hypocrite, it doesn’t follow that leftists have to defend the record of General Sherman?

No, we have to defend the Civil War record of General Sherman as part of defending the principle that the destruction of property intended, at least in part, to support the enemy military is not a significant war crime compared to, e.g., the enslaving of civilians. The rhetoric around Sherman as history’s greatest monster implies that Confederate property was more important than African American lives and freedom.

43

SamChevre 10.24.13 at 7:16 pm

efending the principle that the destruction of property intended, at least in part, to support the enemy military

The “at least in part” is doing an awful lot of work. (I think what Sherman did was in the same class as the WWII bombings of Tokyo and Dresden, and I think those were war crimes; the military goals were trivial relative to the damage to purely civilian concerns.)

(Can I just note how amusing it is to compare this discussion to discussions of Israeli destruction of houses and property of those who actively attack them?)

44

MPAVictoria 10.24.13 at 7:17 pm

“The rhetoric around Sherman as history’s greatest monster implies that Confederate property was more important than African American lives and freedom.”

Best comment of the thread. Turn off the lights. Anyone want to grab a beer on the way home?

45

Anderson 10.24.13 at 7:27 pm

I think what Sherman did was in the same class as the WWII bombings of Tokyo and Dresden

Jesus fucking christ. Sherman burned tens of thousands of people to death? What the fuck are you talking about?

The March to the Sea was devastating to Georgia and the Confederacy. Sherman himself estimated that the campaign had inflicted $100 million (about $1.4 billion in 2010 dollars)[17] in destruction, about one fifth of which “inured to our advantage” while the “remainder is simple waste and destruction.”[16] The Army wrecked 300 miles (480 km) of railroad and numerous bridges and miles of telegraph lines. It seized 5,000 horses, 4,000 mules, and 13,000 head of cattle. It confiscated 9.5 million pounds of corn and 10.5 million pounds of fodder, and destroyed uncounted cotton gins and mills.[18] Military historians Herman Hattaway and Archer Jones cited the significant damage wrought to railroads and Southern logistics in the campaign and stated that “Sherman’s raid succeeded in ‘knocking the Confederate war effort to pieces’.”

Not even in the same fucking ballpark, as Jules Winnfield would put it. Compare it to what Louis XIV did to the Palatinate or Marlborough to Bavaria.

46

medrawt 10.24.13 at 7:42 pm

42: Indeed, and the record of Sherman’s deplorable activities against the Native Americans doesn’t bear on the record of his activities against the Confederacy. I am no kind of expert on the Civil War, so I can certainly be further educated on this point, but nothing anyone in this thread has leveled as a charge against Sherman-fighting-the-rebels (or that I’m otherwise aware of) bothers me in the context of a general fighting a war in the 1860s. He set out to destroy the Southern capacity to make war, and performed admirably. That it was a terrible experience for people in South I have no doubt, but I don’t find Sherman’s march to the sea deplorable as a result, I find war deplorable, and Sherman (and Lincoln) aren’t the folks I’m blaming for this one.

Tim Worstall at 28 points out that historical accusations of treason are malleable depending on who won the war. We don’t call Washington a traitor because (a) we like him, and (b) he won (and we like that he won). At this late date I assume the British, who went on over time to negotiate independence with most of their other territories without having to have wars over it, aren’t too angry about it either. But sure, Washington, a citizen of the British empire and subject of the King of England, committed treason against what was then his government. The important question is, do we judge him to have committed it in service of a good cause? I’d say most do (though I’m aware there are those who argue that the Revolution was ultimately unnecessary).

All the Southern generals who broke their oaths to serve the government of the United States to fight for the CSA betrayed those oaths and their previously committed loyalties to the American military and government. (Leaving, for a moment, all the civilian architects of the Confederacy.) Did they do turn traitor for a good reason? Not as far as I’m concerned.

47

Roy Belmont 10.24.13 at 7:47 pm

Andersonville didn’t have a lot to do with freeing slaves. Not that Sherman was running it. But Union jingoism’s pretty facile, considering. And Sherman’s record with the indigenous does undercut his liberator of the oppressed pr.

48

jackd 10.24.13 at 7:53 pm

Rep. Benton’s position is odd or disingenuous or both.

[Benton]cautioned that Georgia should not erase its past.
“I’ve learned to take the good history with the bad history.”

His argument is based on the idea that Watson was a bad character and getting rid of the statue is papering over an ugly portion of Georgia history. Now I’m not 100% sure that Rep. Benton really feels this way, but he seems to recognize that you couldn’t erect a statue to Tom Watson today. My expectations are low, so I’ll grant that it’s a good thing to find a Republican state rep who admits it: Building monuments to racists: bad.

The disingenuous part is the ‘erasing the past’ bit. Watson is there in the past, and more or less in the textbooks and histories. I doubt that moving (or completely doing away with) the statue will make the slightest difference in what the public at large knows about him. Regardless of what Benton says for public consumption, he has to know that the only people who will be pleased by putting ol’ Tom back in front of the Capitol are the ones who admire the later stages of his career. So, unavoidably, Benton is saying: Keeping monuments to racists: good.

I have to wonder what Rep. Benton would think of changing the plaque on the statue from “a champion of right who never faltered in the cause,” to something more like “a one-time populist turned racist and anti-Semite.”

49

AcademicLurker 10.24.13 at 7:54 pm

Andersonville didn’t have a lot to do with freeing slaves. Not that Sherman was running it. But Union jingoism’s pretty facile, considering.

Um…you do realize that Andersonville was a prison run by the Confederates, right?

50

Anderson 10.24.13 at 7:59 pm

23: Bloix is extremely unfair re: Sherman and Grant, since he acts like Sherman thought this up himself. Who was the general who cut loose from supply lines and fed his troops off the countryside, thus providing the proof-of-concept for Sherman’s March? That would be Grant in the Vicksburg campaign, studied around the world to this day for its technical brilliance.

Grant vs. Lee was a different problem, as other commenters have already noted. Recall the reaction of “butcher” Grant’s troops in the Army of the Potomac after their first bloodying under Grant’s command? When they realized they weren’t going to retreat and lick their wounds for a month or three, this time, but were going to advance against Lee, they *cheered*, those men who were going to die in the Wilderness and at Cold Harbor.

Grant knew that the thing Lee could afford least was attrition, and he gave it to him.

51

medrawt 10.24.13 at 8:16 pm

I don’t think cheerleading any war, even the ones you do support (currently or historically) is proper, and I admit that it may be a touch childish of me, but

But Union jingoism’s pretty facile, considering.

jingoism is my response when I run into someone making mealy mouthed excuses for those noble sons of the south fighting for the right to own people. I seem to be some sort of unreconstructed abolitionist Yankee, and of my many failings that’s not one I’m remotely embarrassed about. There’s a slice of the American citizenry that can’t reconcile themselves with the idea that their possibly hypothetical great-great- or great-great-great grandfathers fought a bloody war for a worthless cause, and one of the results is a lot of milquetoast “on the one hand on the other hand” nonsense (in public discourse and in our schools) and the celebration of brave generals who decided to fight against the nation that gave them their commission. Some of my great-great-great-grandparents were bad people, in my estimation, and just as it wouldn’t be proper to attack me for their sins it wouldn’t be proper for me to defend them against a fair accounting, either.

52

TM 10.24.13 at 9:16 pm

“The rhetoric around Sherman as history’s greatest monster implies that Confederate property was more important than African American lives and freedom.”

People on this forum should be able to distinguish between
a) refuting the rhetoric of (in this case) Southern apologists, and
b) defending the record and methods of (in this case) General Sherman.

Since Tokyo and Dresden have already been mentioned – I guess that was unavoidable – this is analogous to dealing with German revisionist rhetoric concerning the Dresden bombing or the so-called Vertreibungsverbrechen. One can correctly point out that many of these claims are exaggerated and that they are being made by hypocrites who don’t care much about Germany’s victims, and of course that Germans bear the full responsibility for the war in the first place. But that doesn’t mean that one also has to defend Bomber Harris.

53

Substance McGravitas 10.24.13 at 9:24 pm

But that doesn’t mean that one also has to defend Bomber Harris.

All right, since you won’t answer the other question, who in the thread has Sherman right?

54

SamChevre 10.24.13 at 9:28 pm

Substance McGravitas

I’d say ronbailey.

55

SamChevre 10.24.13 at 9:41 pm

With regards to my previous comment, this article would provide one of the many reasons. (Note both Sherman and Sheridan in the story? There’s a reason they are still hated.)

56

Collin Street 10.24.13 at 10:02 pm

His argument is based on the idea that Watson was a bad character and getting rid of the statue is papering over an ugly portion of Georgia history.

So you leave the statue there and nail a great big sign to it, “this man was a prize arsehole, and yet the people of geogia stuck a statue up, because they liked arseholery. Lest we forget”.

57

matt 10.24.13 at 10:06 pm

I live in Annapolis, MD, where a Beaux-Artish statue of Justice Taney sits, overlooking the lovely State House grounds. Once in a while someone suggests removing it. On the other side of the State House is an ugly statue of a truly great man, Thurgood Marshall. But I don’t like the idea of pretending, not only that we were never ruled by racist villains, but that we never celebrated the racist villains. That is, I like being reminded, as I look down at the Annapolis Harbor, that the charming city was a major slave-trading port, and that this state produced Taney as well as Marshall. The odious monuments of past eras can be valuable Denkmaeler for the present.

58

rea 10.24.13 at 10:40 pm

Since no one else is going to say it here, and since my mother played a (very small) part in building the atomic weapons used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, let me point out that the Japanese and German nations made a choice to engage in total war, that they engaged in campaigns of atrocities as deliberate policy, and that the attacks on places like Dresden and Hamburg, or Tokyo, Hiroshima and Naasaki, were in retaliation for the attacks on Coventry and Rotterdam and Nanking. Rules of war only work if both sides follow them, and retaliation is the enforcement mechanism. Whenever she heard someone complain about the use of atomic weapons on Japan, my mother would tell the story of her relatives and friends in a National Guard unit captured at Battaan.

“You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out.”–Sherman to the Atlanta City Council

59

Herschel 10.25.13 at 12:15 am

the attacks on places like Dresden and Hamburg, or Tokyo, Hiroshima and Naasaki, were in retaliation for the attacks on Coventry and Rotterdam and Nanking

That the commission of some war crimes was in retaliation for others obviously doesn’t excuse them or decriminalize them. But beyond that, the equivalence you suggest here is hogwash. The German bombing of Coventry and of Rotterdam did not have as their principal objective to kill large numbers of non-combatants. (Obviously Germany did a lot of killing of non-combatants in other areas.) The Rotterdam bombing was in support of the German army’s attempt to capture the strategically important industrial port city of Rotterdam, not to kill all the people in Rotterdam. The death count on the ground was measured in hundreds, not tens of thousands. Coventry was an important industrial center of war production, and again, the death count was in the hundreds, not the tens of thousands. The “rape of Nanking” was certainly a huge crime against the people there, but I have to wonder about a retaliation that came a full eight years after the fact. None of this is to excuse or condone the actual crimes committed by the Axis powers, but in the matter of bombing civilian populations, the Allied air-raids were disproportionately horrifying, and were among the greatest crimes in history.

I have yet to see anyone in this thread name a specific war crime committed by General Sherman in the Georgia campaign.

60

CharleyCarp 10.25.13 at 1:54 am

I doubt you could get a war crime conviction of Gen. Sherman even for the Marias Massacre. The attack he authorized was completely different from the one executed.

61

sherparick 10.25.13 at 2:11 am

As Sherman, who thought about this stuff quite a bit remarked, war is itself a crime. And in the case of both the Southerners and Native Americans of the Plains he considered that he was reacting to criminals who were making war on the United States. Being a descendant of an ancestor who had his father and mother and most of his siblings massacred in north Texas in 1866 by the Commanche (a story that makes the movie “the Searchers” particularly troubling for me), I perhaps understand Sherman’s logical, if cruel solution to the problem of a white migration into the Native American territories and Native resistance to that migration. The Commanche tried their best to defend their territories with their own Shermanesque terror tactics and strategy, but in end their were to just many white fools and guns, and not enough buffalo.

As for the South, I must admit I am fond of the sentiments in “Marching through Georgia’s” closing verses:

“Sherman’s dashing Yankee boys will never reach the coast!”
So the saucy rebels said and ’twas a handsome boast
Had they not forgot, alas! to reckon with the Host
While we were marching through Georgia.

Verse 5
So we made a thoroughfare for freedom and her train,
Sixty miles in latitude, three hundred to the main;
Treason fled before us, for resistance was in vain
While we were marching through Georgia.”

And speaking of Native Americans, most of Georgia was stolen from the Cherokee and Creek 40 years before. Frankly, W. T. Sherman looks like a saint next to Andy Jackson.

62

CharleyCarp 10.25.13 at 2:36 am

This, by the way, is what Montana schoolchildren are taught about the Marias Massacre. I wonder what kids in Georgia are taught about Sherman.

63

roy belmont 10.25.13 at 5:21 am

49- My only excuse is writing in a moving truck’s passenger seat on someone else’s i5. I wasn’t myself. Of course I wasn’t.
51-Having completely disqualified myself from the discussion(see above) I just don’t know what to tell you. There’s nobility all over the place, sometimes. Both sides of awful contests. Something beyond nobility too. If I thought the Civil War was fought about slavery primarily and specifically and entirely, I’d agree with something like your attitude, but I don’t think it was. But then for a few minutes today, don’t ask me why, I sincerely thought Andersonville was a Union prison.

64

jb 10.25.13 at 8:29 am

On the Allied bombings of German and Japanese cities:

I agree that these were war crimes, and morally repugnant (Though to describe them as “among the greatest crimes in history” strikes me as overkill)

But one could make the argument that these were necessary to win the war. And they paled in comparison to what the Axis did.

The same, quite frankly, could be said for Sherman’s March in that it (a) was a war crime, but (b) was again possibly necessary to win the war, and paled in comparison to the crimes and horrors of slavery.

Moreover, I wonder if it is actually possible to fight and win a long, large-scale war, without at some point committing a war crime. I can think of no major wars where any side was pristine in it’s conduct, or did not at some point commit a war crime. It seems to me that these crimes are basic to the nature of war, and that the best way to reduce them is to make sure there are as few wars as possible. This may be what Sherman meant when he said that “war is hell”.

Frankly, I hope that one day mankind will outgrow war.

65

jb 10.25.13 at 8:30 am

sorry for screwing up the formatting

66

jb 10.25.13 at 8:32 am

Roy-

Andersonville was in the South, (Georgia I believe?), so it was pretty obviously a Confederate camp.

The Union did operate a prison camp at Elmyra that was slightly better than Andersonville, but still pretty bad. (Confederate POW’s called it “Hellmyra”).

This may be what you were thinking of.

67

ajay 10.25.13 at 9:23 am

59: There’s something particularly special about reading an attempt to minimise and excuse mass killings of civilians by the Nazis that’s written by someone called Herschel.

68

ajay 10.25.13 at 1:47 pm

The same, quite frankly, could be said for Sherman’s March in that it (a) was a war crime, but (b) was again possibly necessary to win the war, and paled in comparison to the crimes and horrors of slavery.

Again, destroying stuff in time of war isn’t necessarily a war crime. Even destroying civilian private property in time of war isn’t necessarily a war crime. Even destroying civilian private property and causing civilian suffering thereby isn’t necessarily a war crime. (The key concept here is “proportionality”.) And comparing Sherman’s March – which destroyed a lot of stuff and freed a lot of slaves – to the kinds of raids that burned people to death in the thousands is completely bizarre.

69

SamChevre 10.25.13 at 2:02 pm

Even destroying civilian private property and causing civilian suffering thereby isn’t necessarily a war crime.

Correct; however, destroying civilian private property with the intent to cause civilian suffering and no military objective beyond that is generally considered a war crime.

And even by “destroying civilian property if the civilians have military relatives is OK” standards, the treatment of the Roswell Women was fairly problematic.

70

Herschel 10.25.13 at 2:55 pm

67: There’s something particularly special about reading an attempt to minimise and excuse mass killings of civilians by the Nazis that’s written by someone called Herschel.

59: None of this is to excuse or condone the actual crimes committed by the Axis powers

Ajay: Is there anything particularly special about your inability to read plain language?

71

Rob in CT 10.25.13 at 3:05 pm

“The rhetoric around Sherman as history’s greatest monster implies that Confederate property was more important than African American lives and freedom.”

Yeah, this pretty much nailed it.

72

LizardBreath 10.25.13 at 3:12 pm

the treatment of the Roswell Women was fairly problematic

I hadn’t heard that story before, but on following your link, the deportation of skilled factory workers who had been producing military supplies, in order to ensure that they did not return to military production, doesn’t sound obviously disproportionate.

73

ajay 10.25.13 at 3:59 pm

however, destroying civilian private property with the intent to cause civilian suffering and no military objective beyond that is generally considered a war crime.

Sherman’s Field Order 120 has quite a lot in it aimed at preventing unnecessary hardship to the civilian population. Things like “In all foraging, of whatever kind, the parties engaged will refrain from abusive or threatening language, and may, where the officer in command thinks proper, give written certificates of the facts, but no receipts, and they will endeavor to leave with each family a reasonable portion for their maintenance” don’t imply that the intention was to cause suffering to the civilian population simply for the sake of it.

It did, however, also allow army commanders to destroy things like cotton mills in areas where they had met resistance. This sort of retaliation against the civilian population would (probably) qualify as a war crime. (“Probably” because it’s supposed to be an antiguerrilla measure and I’m not sure if burning the house of a known guerrilla is OK or not. He is, after all, a combatant.)

70: “You’re a badly-dressed, incompetent idiot. But that’s not meant to insult you” is still insulting. Making excuses for the killing of civilians is still making excuses for the killing of civilians, even if you then say that isn’t what you’re trying to do.

74

AcademicLurker 10.25.13 at 4:21 pm

“In all foraging, of whatever kind, the parties engaged will refrain from abusive or threatening language, and may, where the officer in command thinks proper, give written certificates of the facts, but no receipts, and they will endeavor to leave with each family a reasonable portion for their maintenance”

Ah yes…just exactly like the firebombing of Tokyo.

75

Tim Wilkinson 10.25.13 at 4:43 pm

“You’ll have to answer to the Coca-Cola Company”

76

anon 10.25.13 at 5:23 pm

jb # 64 wrote:

“On the Allied bombings of German and Japanese cities:
I agree that these were war crimes, and morally repugnant (Though to
describe them as “among the greatest crimes in history” strikes me as
overkill)”

The deliberate bombing of German and Japanese citizens to destroy enemy morale is, indeed, a war crime. Especially since the Stratgegic Bombing Survey made after the war showed that little, if anything, of substance to end the war was accomplished in either theater.

Unfortunately, the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were different. Both cities were important war manufacturing areas.

Hiroshima was bombed first because it was thought that when the Imperial Japanese Military Staff visited the city afterward it would be so stunned that they would implore the Emporer to ‘sue for peace’. Some argue a demonstration on some island destroyed by the US would have worked. In point of fact the FIRST bomb dropped on Japanese territory
– where they could be no question of Americans using ‘Hollywood Techniques’ to demonstrate the destructive power of the weapon – was not sufficient.

So, because the Japanese were unable to accept that they were defeated, the SECOND bomb was dropped. Could it have been used on an unpopulated area? Perhaps. But why would that have convinced the Japanese of anything if the first one did not?

So, in a seemingly perverse way, the use of the Atomic bombs on Japan was not a war crime in the way that the fire bombing of multiple Japanses and German cities was.

It would be best if all Human Beings realized that “War is Hell!” and stop trying to use violence to advance their own political causes. But since most of those advocating War are not those who will do the actual fighting and dying, there isn’t much chance of that.

Dueling between the leaders resulting in the death of the loser with his side paying some sort of ‘damages’ would be much more rational. Not very likely though.

77

Tim Wilkinson 10.25.13 at 6:07 pm

the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were different
– ‘exceptional’, you might say.

78

Anderson 10.25.13 at 6:48 pm

Unfortunately, the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were different. Both cities were important war manufacturing areas.

Killing 60,000 people, say, to knock out a few factories – when Japan’s warmaking capacity was already reduced to zilch – is not particularly proportional. And to be honest, you have to admit that we didn’t drop the A-bombs in order to eliminate some pesky war manufacturing. We did it to kill LOTS of people and scare the hell out of the Japanese government. It’s called “terrorism.” It worked. It was a war crime.

If you disagree, I invite you to imagine that Germany or Japan had somehow cobbled together a one-off A-bomb, exploded it in Seattle or Boston, but still lost the war: that wouldn’t have been tried as a war crime at Nuremberg or Tokyo?

79

Tim Wilkinson 10.25.13 at 7:55 pm

scare the hell out of the Japanese government and – perhaps especially – the Soviets

80

Anderson 10.25.13 at 8:05 pm

79: that was an added bonus, but regardless, the Bomb was the most expensive weapon in history, and we were going to drop it on the enemy.

I think some people forget that Japan wasn’t even our original motive for building the thing – had it been ready in August 1944, we would have dropped it on Germany, easy.

81

Herschel 10.25.13 at 8:10 pm

73: 70: “You’re a badly-dressed, incompetent idiot. But that’s not meant to insult you” is still insulting. Making excuses for the killing of civilians is still making excuses for the killing of civilians, even if you then say that isn’t what you’re trying to do.

If I had been making excuses for the killing of civilians, perhaps your comments would be apt. I was taking exception to an argument that the Allied bombing campaigns targeting large population centers were appropriate retaliations for the German bombing of Coventry and Rotterdam. War is hell, and people get killed in them, but not all bombing of cities is the same kind of hell. Much as the Nazis killed a whole lot of people just because they wanted them dead, the civilians killed in the bombing of Rotterdam and Coventry were not the point of the operations, unlike the Allied bombing of cities in Germany and Japan, the purpose of which was to kill as many civilians as possible. Let the Nazis and their enablers stand convicted of the monstrous crimes they committed. But letting the Allies off the hook for their own monstrous crimes because of Rotterdam and Coventry is not acceptable.

There. Get it?

82

Anderson 10.25.13 at 8:18 pm

Wikipedia has a category for “World War II city bombing,” which makes it easy to cut and paste this rather somber list:

Acre Aomori Augsburg Baedeker Blitz Barrow-in-Furness Bangkok Belfast Belgrade Berlin Birmingham Braunschweig Bremen Breslau Brighton Bristol Bucharest Caen Cardiff Chongqing Clydebank Cologne Coventry Darmstadt Darwin Dresden Dublin Duisburg Essen Foggia Frampol Frankfurt Frascati Gibraltar Greenock Haifa Hamamatsu Hamburg Hanau Heilbronn Helsinki Hildesheim Hiratsuka Hiroshima Hull Innsbruck Jaffa Kassel Kobe Kōfu Königsberg Kure Leeds Leipzig Leningrad Liverpool London Lübeck Malta Manchester Mannheim Minsk Nagasaki Nagoya Naha Nanjing Naples Nottingham Numazu Osaka Pearl Harbor Pforzheim Ploiești Plymouth Podgorica Prague Rabaul Rome Rotterdam Schaffhausen Schwäbisch Hall Shanghai Sheffield Shizuoka Allied Singapore Axis Singapore Sofia Southampton Stalingrad Stuttgart Swansea Taipei Tallinn Tel Aviv Tokyo Toyohashi Toyokawa Treviso Ulm Vienna Warsaw Wesel Wieluń Wilhelmshaven Wuppertal Würzburg Yawata Zadar Zagreb

83

Bloix 10.25.13 at 9:11 pm

#81 – the purpose was not to “kill as many civilians as possible.” The purpose was to end the war as quickly as possible with as few Allied losses as possible. Get it?

Oh, and are you offended by my use of “get it,” which implies that you’re a fool or a knave or both? You are, aren’t you? So don’t say it to us. We’re not fools and knaves and we don’t need to be schooled by you.

Something worth reading on Allied bombing in WWII is this, which I recommend to you and everyone else who may still be here:

http://www.college.columbia.edu/core/sites/core/files/pages/Paul%20Fussel-Thank%20God%20for%20the%20Atom%20Bomb-August%201981.pdf

84

Anderson 10.25.13 at 9:38 pm

83: the problem with that argument is that ANYTHING is okay if the purpose is “to end the war as quickly as possible” etc.

85

LFC 10.25.13 at 10:06 pm

Unfortunately I’ve forgotten how to search (via google or some other engine) for one’s past comments on CT (I believe Substance McGravitas once mentioned how to do that), but in a thread of quite some ago I had occasion to quote Richard Evans to the effect that there is at least a solid (if not completely knock-down) argument to be made that the Allied bombings of German cities continued well after any justification of military necessity could have been convincing.

As for the fire-bombing of Japanese cities, Robert McNamara basically said in the movie ‘The Fog of War’ (and others have mentioned this here before) that those bombings were war crimes, and that those involved in ordering them could have been put on trial had the U.S. lost.

Re the link at 83: Paul Fussell was a WW2 infantryman, wounded in the war, so he’s going to have a particular view of the atomic bomb decision. I would no more take Fussell as the final word on this whole subject than I would take the completely opposite view of Nicholson Baker (in ‘Human Smoke’).

86

LFC 10.25.13 at 10:07 pm

correction: “thread of quite some time ago”

87

Anderson 10.25.13 at 10:43 pm

LFC, I don’t have an Evans quote at hand, but you are correct. Max Hastings in Bomber Command, 336:

Harris “continued remorselessly with his personal programme for the leveling of Germany’s cities until the very end. In the first four months of 1945, 181,000 tons of bombs were delivered to Germany, a fifth of the tonnage dropped throughout the entire war.”

This while disregarding his orders and frustrating the “Oil Plan” aimed at German industrial targets … because, see, Harris had a list of German cities, and it was important to cross them all off.

88

LFC 10.25.13 at 10:52 pm

Anderson,
thanks for that Hastings quote.

89

Anderson 10.25.13 at 11:15 pm

A minor obsession of mine, LFC. Like German war guilt!

90

SamChevre 10.25.13 at 11:50 pm

LFC @ 85

To search on the site for your comments, use site:[address] [search term].

It’s an extremely useful feature which I use a lot.

91

Herschel 10.25.13 at 11:55 pm

83: #81 – the purpose was not to “kill as many civilians as possible.” The purpose was to end the war as quickly as possible with as few Allied losses as possible. Get it?

The goal may have been to end the war quickly with few Allied losses, but the immediate object of the raids was to kill as many civilians as possible, supposedly in pursuit of that goal. I seem to recall some saying involving “ends” and “means” and “justify”. Perhaps you have your own version.

Oh, and are you offended by my use of “get it,” which implies that you’re a fool or a knave or both? You are, aren’t you? So don’t say it to us. We’re not fools and knaves and we don’t need to be schooled by you.

No, I’m not offended by your use of “get it”, as you are free to say whatever you like and I’m not a delicate flower. I also didn’t say it to you, so I don’t understand where your “us” comes from. My use of “get it?” arose from frustration at what seems to me to be obdurate point avoidance, and the ridiculous (and, indeed, offensive) suggestion that I (someone named Herschel!) was making excuses for the Nazis. I’d say that “get it?” is pretty mild stuff compared to that. I had no idea it would wound anyone’s tender feelings. If I have inadvertently given offense to anyone, please accept my apology.

92

LFC 10.26.13 at 12:10 am

@samchevre
thanks

93

johne 10.26.13 at 3:59 am

That General Sherman may have been at least somewhat racist, in a period when a large proportion of the world’s academics were racist? Perish the thought!

Also, the justification presented for the fire-bombing of Japanese cities was that some factories had dispersed their machinery and operations to their employee’s homes. I happen to think that the cities were fire-bombed because they took fire easily and burned well, but that isn’t what a lawyer for the Allied defense would bring up in the fantasy war-crimes trials that are being imagined here. (For no good reason I’ve always found it especially disturbing that meticulous replicas of German and Japanese homes were built on a military reservation in the American Southwest, on which the effects of various varieties of incendiaries were tested.)

And the atomic bomb justification always presented, at the time and now, is that they were dropped in the effort to avoid an invasion of the Japanese home islands, which would have resulted in an enormous loss of Allied life, at least.

Long ago I read the memoirs of a Japanese diplomat (sorry, can’t remember the author’s name, but in the film of the USS Missouri’s surrender ceremony, he is the young man who leans forward to blot the signature of Foreign Minister Shigemitsu). His belief was that the atomic bomb left the military establishment relatively unfazed; it was so obviously new that the Allies couldn’t have many of them, and when the second bomb was dropped, why that meant a third such strike was even less likely.

What did get the generals’ attention was the entry of the Soviet Union into the war — the possibility that it might had apparently been giving them nightmares ever since Zhukov’s victory at Khalkhin Gol. The third factor that tipped the balance toward surrnder, in the estimation of the diplomat, was the emperor’s consent.

94

js. 10.26.13 at 7:10 am

What Anderson’s said is dead right.

There’s just no reason to defend the bombing of Hiroshima/Nagasaki. And most importantly, objecting to it doesn’t make the enemy seem one tiny bit better.

95

LFC 10.26.13 at 11:50 am

johne@93
What did get the generals’ attention was the entry of the Soviet Union into the war

On that, see these posts and the comment threads:

http://howlatpluto.blogspot.com/2013/06/what-caused-japan-to-surrender-in-1945.html

http://ipeatunc.blogspot.com/2013/06/atomic-bombs-and-audiences.html

96

Anderson 10.26.13 at 12:42 pm

Just saw that follow up on your linked post, LFC. Your commenter finds “A good bit of evidence the first bomb was dropped to signal to the Soviets”… Whatever. There was zero chance the bomb, once built and tested, would not be used vs an enemy. You don’t spend a gazillion bucks on a weapon and not use it. Same with the huge UK investment in heavy bomber fleets.

97

Ronan(rf) 10.26.13 at 12:48 pm

“Just saw that follow up on your linked post, LFC. Your commenter finds “A good bit of evidence the first bomb was dropped to signal to the Soviets””

This run down of the lit disagrees with that claim now as well

http://www.theamericanpresident.us/images/truman_bomb.pdf

98

LFC 10.26.13 at 2:32 pm

Want to make clear, first, that I am not endorsing any particular position, just linking. Not conversant enough w the relevant historiography.

Re the Michael Kort piece linked by ronan above: Looked at it quickly. He obvs is an expert on the Hiroshima decision etc. I would note however the statement toward the end ( i think it’s p.12 of the pdf, something like that) where he refers in passing, in the course of criticizing a bk by Andrew Rotter, to the Allied military measures, “including the bombing of German cities, that were vital to winning the war.” That I think is, at best, an overstatement. Kort criticizes Rotter for coming “perilously close” to equating Nazi genocide w Allied bombings, but the issue of (false) equivalence is *separate* from the question whether the bombings were “vital to winning the war.” That is at least a contested issue (see comments above) and he just throws the statement in there as if it were completely uncontroversial.

99

LFC 10.26.13 at 2:34 pm

Just re-checked and yes, it is on page 12 of the pdf.

100

LFC 10.26.13 at 2:44 pm

P.s. Further on this:
Although I think the basic premises and main argument of Mearsheimer’s The Tragedy of Great Power Politics are wrong, his judgment on this particular issue, which I happen to have to hand, may be worth noting: “The best case that can be made for the…Allied strategic bombing campaigns is that they helped finish off opponents who were already well on their way to defeat….” (p.101) That’s quite a distance from Kort’s “vital to winning the war.”

101

Anderson 10.26.13 at 3:35 pm

LFC, agree entirely re: Kort. For the sheer investment, redirecting some 88s from the Eastern Front is a ridiculously small payoff (particularly if we don’t ask the Red Army how they felt about it).

The “oil campaign” was a good idea, but as noted upthread, Harris & others were more devoted to burning down cities, for various reasons, not all of them entirely psychopathic.

102

Ronan(rf) 10.26.13 at 3:45 pm

Kort might be hyperbolic, and prone to making definitive declarations here and there, but his main point vis a vis the revisionist histiography of what drove the decision to drop the atomic bombs (that it ‘aint holding up to well) seems well supported

103

Tim Wilkinson 10.26.13 at 4:10 pm

Ronan – that run-down reads like a polemic rather than a judicious literature survey.

Anderson – I’m sure you’re right that the US were keen to use their new toy on some real human bodies, but the precept ‘ignore sunk costs’ is not exactly controversial, and one of the reasons for wanting to drop the bomb, an the second bomb, was pretty obviously to demonstrate their fearsome power, for all the usual standing reasons (scaring opponents into compliance, forcing them to expend resources on counteracting the threat, etc. And at this point, with Cold Warrior Truman at the helm and the distant WW2 clearly all over bar the shouting, the relevant opponent was obviously the USSR.

Skimming the doc reminded me that what I find most irritating about historians is their obsession with and exaggerated respect for the content of official documents. Obviously being able to rely on those would be very convenient, and going through musty old boxes in a cellar no doubt inclines one to expect hidden treasure, but that don’t make it so.

It’s hard to imagine a point at which one is going to be more guarded than when composing such documents – the idea that hypocrisy and the hiding of agendas don’t apply to official records and communications borders on the absurd. (And yes, obviously some are better than others in this regard, and my description is slightly caricatured for effect – but Chris Auld aside, I think most people can still get my point.)

I recall going on about some of the ways this kind of thing works in relation to the US diplomatic cables leak.

104

Tim Wilkinson 10.26.13 at 4:13 pm

‘Skimming the doc’ etc: the doc in question being that referred to in reply to Ronan.

105

jeff 10.26.13 at 4:16 pm

The attacks on Sherman are part of the rewriting of history that Confederate sympathizers gave us in the late 19th century. Someone needs to mount a defense of this hero. With Sherman in charge, it is doubtful the Southern aristocracy would have be reinstalled and Jim Crow would never have come to be.

And all this tsk-tsking from a country that obliterated Fallujah in the last 10 years.

106

LFC 10.26.13 at 4:32 pm

ronan:
Kort might be hyperbolic, and prone to making definitive declarations here and there, but his main point vis a vis the revisionist histiography of what drove the decision to drop the atomic bombs (that it ‘aint holding up to well) seems well supported

He may be entirely right that the revisionist historiography is not holding up well. I only looked at it quickly so I am making no judgment on that and, as I said earlier, I don’t consider myself competent to make a judgment on that. My comment was restricted solely to the one line on p.12. I would not want anyone to think that I am dismissing a piece I have only glanced through on the basis of one phrase I disagree with. My objection was limited to that phrase and was not an objection to the whole piece.

On Tim Wilkinson’s point re the polemical tone: this is an area where historians have disagreed sharply so tempers are prob. going to get frayed. There may be personal things involved too, who knows. Historians are human. Anyway, my pt is I wouldn’t discount it on the basis of the tone. TW’s pt re official docs may be more substantial, I don’t know. Depends on the kind of official docs, i wd think. Unlikely, istm, that a whole line of motivation on a decision like this is not going to show up anywhere in the (official) docs. but again, i’m not sure.

107

Mao Cheng Ji 10.26.13 at 5:20 pm

“We did it to kill LOTS of people and scare the hell out of the Japanese government.”

Hmm. I was told at school that the main reason for the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was to demonstrate the cool new weapon to the Soviets. And this explanation still makes a lot of sense.

108

Ronan(rf) 10.26.13 at 5:30 pm

Tim, that might be the case
Personally tone doesnt matter so much to me if the argument seems correct
My impression until recently was that the bomb was dropped for diplomatic reasons vis a vis Stalin
I was then told by someone to disabuse myself of such notions.
This (Kort) is where my own opinion stands at the moment after doing a bit of googleing and asking around
Im open for it to be wrong and am no expert
I will allow those of deep knowledge and good intentions advise me otherwise

109

Ronan(rf) 10.26.13 at 5:34 pm

And come on , it’s not *that polemical*
Phrases like ‘the debate is over’ or ‘the revisionist argument lies in tattters’ might be a bit much, but Kort deals extensively with the literature, and unless he’s willing to put his reputation at risk by completly misrepresenting it, I think he clearly has an argument worth dealing with without dismissing it because of ‘tone’ or irritation with historians

110

Anderson 10.26.13 at 5:36 pm

Tim, saying “pretty obvious” isn’t proof. It usually masks the lack of proof.

If the claim is that dropping the A-bombs was motivated by fear of the Soviets (which IMHO requires reading the Cold War back into July 1945), then we have to imagine: had Russia been no kind of threat, real or imagined, would the US -not- have dropped them?

That’s absurd. What evidence supports such a notion? Even leaving aside Chicago-esque nostrums about “sunk costs” that ignore politics and human nature. The Bomb was built to be used. The US built it and used it.

Part of the ire this issue raises is due to people ignoring facts in the service of their ideology. I have no brief for the US; I’ve said using the bombs was a war crime. But it wasn’t some political dick-measuring contest with Stalin either. It was bombs, blockade, or invasion; Hiroshima saved American lives and ended a long war much sooner than blockade would have. To the politicians in charge, that was reason enough.

111

Anderson 10.26.13 at 5:37 pm

Mao: the defects of your schooling are a separate topic.

112

Mao Cheng Ji 10.26.13 at 5:57 pm

“the defects of your schooling” – look who is talking. I like my schooling.

“motivated by fear of the Soviets”? What a silly interpretation. Bullying the Soviets, more like.

Anyway, it’s funny how the link distinguish the “orthodox” and “revisionist” views, while outside the US-UK circles, I imagine, this “orthodox” view has never been a view at all, the “revisionist” one was just the view. And if it has changed now, then his “orthodox” is certainly their “revisionist”.

113

LFC 10.26.13 at 6:08 pm

Back to the Allied air campaigns for a moment: more supportive of Kort’s view that the air war was v. important is Richard Overy, Why the Allies Won, who argues it caused Hitler to divert resources from the ground war, esp on the Eastern front (and which Mearsheimer squabbles with in an endnote: Tragedy, p.439, n.47). I think some aspects of the air campaigns prob helped make the war shorter than it otherwise would have been, but that doesn’t justify the area bombing of cities, esp toward the end.

114

LFC 10.26.13 at 6:17 pm

@Mao
what you were “told at school” is rather irrelevant, esp. w/o any indication of what country you went to school in; for example, a grade-school student in Moscow in the 60s wd probably have been told something different from a student in NY, and one in Tokyo might have been told something still different. It’s all irrelevant; what counts is the work of historians, and that is difficult enough to untangle as it is.

115

Mao Cheng Ji 10.26.13 at 6:41 pm

No, it’s not irrelevant, because, like I said in 112 it demonstrates that at least in some places the “revisionist” view has been, in fact, the only view from the beginning. Lends it some credence, y’know.

And I don’t think the work of historians (in the sense of who said what, or wrote in a cable) counts all that much in this case. People don’t need to declare their intentions, or even have clear intentions; events like this have their own logic. It’s just common sense, Occam’s razor.

116

roy belmont 10.26.13 at 6:45 pm

Anderson-
“Hiroshima saved American lives and ended a long war much sooner than blockade would have. To the politicians in charge, that was reason enough.”
To have done it.
Or the prospect of the result was reason enough to do it.
N/H nuke-drop happened, war ended, our WW2 ancestor soldiers stopped dying.
Therefore the bombs did it. Causal chain.
But presenting your argument the way you do has the accomplishment given as reason for the attempt. A kind of inverse chronology or something.
Possibly revealing a desire to have the tidiness and fitness complete, with no erky intrigue and stuff behind it.
We could discuss the likelihood of a mind-set capable of napalm (Viet Nam), obscene proxy thuggeries (Latin America etc.), and DU saturation with consequent teratologies (Fallujah), also capable of nuke-show demo in that strategic little vector of north-east Asia in 1945.
But what mind is that? AmGov zeitgeist? Late-stage Judeo-Christian Capitalist angel drones? Or simple moral bewilderment, and fear with a huge gun in its hand, and no one bigger and wiser to say “Don’t or else…”?
Armchair quarterbacking nuclear weapons can be pretty unsettling when it’s so emotionally remote from the consequences. This “Think of the lives we’re saving!” rationale shows up behind a lot of heinous shit, imo.

117

Tim Wilkinson 10.26.13 at 7:09 pm

The tone wouldn’t matter, but when there’s manifest bias, and one is supposed to rely on this author (who he?) for the accuracy of his reports and assessment of others’ claims of yet others’ errors, with no detail provided, that’s when I think you might want to think again about treating this as if it were a handy God’s-eye view summary of the current state of human knowledge, let alone the old actualité. I’d add that right at eth beginning there seems some confusion abot which propositions are under discussion and what their import is.

The main target is an Alperovitz – Kort goes on about his book having too many endnotes – swarming like flies to be swatted away – which provide a ‘veneer’ of scholarship. The main critic is a Maddox, and it’s impossible to assess the reported criticisms without taking the author’s word for it.

Given the obvious bias – even hostility – he manifests, I won’t do so. I did think it just about worth looking one step further down the chain of sources, but couldn’t find Maddox’s criticism (it’s on JSTOR,to which I’ve just discovered I’m entitled to free lifetime access but until the Oxford Alumni Office manages to flail itself into some semblance of activity- if it ever does – it costs $19). I did find another Alperovitz critic who sides with Maddox – http://www.mmisi.org/ir/23_02/shapiro.pdf – and he has a handful of criticisms (presumably his best shots) of which while some appear subtantiated, at least one was utterly without merit (re: the 2nd block quote on p32 as numbered).

And none of this really gets us very far, because obviously the topic is not Alperovitz but (I suppose) Truman. Shapiro even states (p31, 3rd full para) that he – and he thinks ‘perhaps’ Maddox – wasn’t trying to refute A., only discredit him. That comment was in relation to the outrageous suggestion that the orthodox position which sought to overturn the initial ‘revisionist’ one (see Kort; NB too that by now ‘revisionism’ as a label has a nasty taint to it in pop discourse) was heavily influenced by patriotism under Cold War conditions. (BTW I haven’t quoted Shapiro as it’s an image and OCRing or copying is too much effort for negligible benefit.)

So anyway, a couple of things I notice about this debate in general – one is that too often (i.e. more than never), objective fact is brought to bear on assessing the subjectve state of mind of Truman et al.; e.g. what hs been discovered about Japanese intentions well after the evets in question. The other is that little emphasis seems to be placed on the sheer enormity of the decision to use this new holocaust machine; that is something that can’t have been overlooked by Truman, and means that mere number crunching about expected casualty figures is not the whole story by a long chalk.

Three things – because that reminds me, and this goes back to bias embedded in official records – either S or K say that that revs’ hypothesis must be that after the fact, Truman fiddled the figures for projected (US) casualties in case of an invasion of Japan. Thus S/K claims that documents suggesting higher figures before the fact (because of ULTRA intercepts showing troop build up at the planned invasion site) show that Truman didn’t exaggerate them. But as we know from later examples of facts being fixed around policy, it’s entirely plausible that assessments were ramped up in anticipation and thus fiddled figures written into the official record. I have no idea how plausible this is, but these commens aren’t going to ettle the substative issue anyway so I put the point forward primarily as an illustration of the kind of thing I was referring to earlier.

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Mao Cheng Ji 10.26.13 at 7:09 pm

I don’t believe the prospect of soldiers dying enters the equation at all. As Napoleon once said (something else they told me at school): ‘one night in Paris bordellos restores the loss.’ Or something to that effect. People are not a scarce resource.

119

Tim Wilkinson 10.26.13 at 7:28 pm

actually, don’t NB too that by now ‘revisionism’ as a label has a nasty taint to it in pop discourse since the epithet was in use in this context well before it gained its pop connotation. But the fact that the ‘revisionist’ view among historians predates the orthodox one (accordig to K) is, pace Mao’s remarks, not entirely uninteresting.

Also, while I obviously think Mao has a point about the detail obscuring the big picture and the obvious logic of the situation, I wouldn’t bring Occam’s razor into it.

One more thing – K calls the revisionist account ‘frankly conspiratorial’ or rather K ‘frankly’ calls it ‘conspiratorial’. Which is a tinfoil coronation if ever I saw one – as if the hypothesised motives or machinations are any more ‘conspiratorial’ than geopolitical strategies in general.

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Ronan(rf) 10.26.13 at 7:40 pm

Tim, it deals specifically with specific ‘revisionist’ arguments and offers specific sources which refute specific claims; about US projections (at the time) for fatalities in an extended war in the Pacific, about whether the Japanese were lose to surrender, about what the primary concerns were in the Truman admin

It’s not about a ‘main target’ called Alperovitz

121

Ronan(rf) 10.26.13 at 7:43 pm

One more thing – K calls the revisionist account ‘frankly conspiratorial’ or rather K ‘frankly’ calls it ‘conspiratorial’.

No. He says it about Alperovitz:

“While even many revisionist historians shied away from Alperovitz’s essentially conspiratorial thesis about he bombing of Japan, they borrowed some of his ideas to construct their own critiques of American policy during World War II and the early postwar period.”

122

Anderson 10.26.13 at 7:57 pm

Mao: Napoleon was not worried about re-election.

Roy: this is a poor substitute for thought;

“But presenting your argument the way you do has the accomplishment given as reason for the attempt. A kind of inverse chronology or something.
Possibly revealing a desire to have the tidiness and fitness complete, with no erky intrigue and stuff behind it.”

Attempts are usually made with some desired accomplishment in view, no? You run indoors to escape getting wet?

Thanks to Nimitz, we had several examples of ferocious, tenacious Japanese defenses against invasions. The Home Islands looked particularly gory; the JCS maybe inflated the numbers in a CYA mode, but the risk looked quite real. Meanwhile, the scientists were promising a bomb straight out of Amazing Stories, which had cost, what, a billion $$ to produce? Thus the redirection from “get the Bomb before Hitler does” to “maybe this will break the Japanese.” We were after all quite committed to massacring civilians; more died in the Tokyo firebombing than at Hiroshima.

The danger here is a passion for “intrigue and stuff behind it” as an aim in itself, or in service of the notion that everything had to be abt the Soviets, which as I’ve noted is a much stronger example of confusing the timeline.

123

medrawt 10.26.13 at 8:34 pm

jeff @ 105 –

indeed. and the conversational drift in this thread – from the question of Sherman’s activities during the Civil War, to the point that under Sherman’s command terrible crimes were later perpetrated against the Indians, to the comparison between Sherman and the bombardments of German and Japanese cities, and finally into an interesting and lengthy discussion of military crimes against civilians in WWII – is … interesting.

The thread drift is natural, and it’s understandable that many would be more interested in the turn it took, and there are too many folks on Crooked Timber from places other than the US (and I’m not enough of a regular reader to remember who’s are who) for me to just map my US-centric cultural observations onto the more diverse community here, but I’ve seen and participated in conversations like this among educated liberal Americans, who are sort of embarrassed by Sherman’s march through Georgia as the ne plus ultra of their general awkwardness around the topic of the Civil War. Too many people are unwilling to oppose the kind of Confederacy-ennobling that cloaks itself in the protection of starting every paragraph with “Of course slavery was terrible, but …” Mr. Benton up top doesn’t dislike Sherman because he was responsible for massacring Indians, ferchrissakes, he dislikes him because he burned his way through Georgia and helped ruin the South’s capacity to continue waging war.

Incidentally I just learned that while progressing from Atlanta to Savannah Sherman’s personal escort was the 1st Alabama Cavalry Regiment, a unit made up entirely of white Southerners who stayed loyal to the United States.

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Tim Wilkinson 10.26.13 at 8:47 pm

Ronan – No, it’s all ‘he said, some annoying idiot said’. Alperowitz being the main annoying idiot. You should have seen this immediately. Take the casualties business you mention – everything is slightly out of focus, and we have to accept K’s slanted opinions. The ULTRA intercepts about Japanese troop movements are mentioned – these increased assessments of troop numbers. We are led to suppose that this means lower numbers cited by revisionists should be revised upwards. If so, then the numbers coited by revisionists must pre-date the presumed receipt of the new info by the assessors. But we don’t actually quite get a statement to that effect.

Then there’s this (emph mine):

Giangreco explained that in military hands these projections took three forms: medical estimates, manpower estimates, and strategic estimates. He then dem
onstrated that there was substantial documentation for high-end casualty
projections – which, to be sure, varied widely – from both military and civilian sources that reached upward of 500,000. Equally important, one estimate that reached Truman – from former president Herbert Hoover, who had high-level government contacts – led the president to convene an important meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and top civilian advisors on June 18, 1945, to discuss the projected invasion of Japan. In short, as Giangreco stressed in a later article in the
Pacific Historical Review, Truman both saw and was concerned about high-end casualty estimates prior to the scheduled invasion.

Which doesn’t really say what it’s meant to sound as if it says. So then how much faith do we put in K’s claim that Maddox also cited solid documentary evidence that Truman and his advisors saw casualty estimates for the anticipated American invasion of Japan of 500,000 or more and that the president feared [i.e. expected? Then say so. TW] staggering losses should the invasion take place.

I tend to agree with Mao that (given that the war was clearly all over bar the shouting, as I said) even US casualties weren’t necessarily as much of an issue as one might findly imagine. I mean it’s not as if there was going to be a big outcry about the US casualties that could have been prevented had Japan been nuked. And obviously Japanese casualties weren’t a concern – the nuke killed a lot. Certainly considered less important than insisting on unconditional surrender rather than allowing the subjugated Japanese to retain a titular Emperor.

I did misremember the ‘frankly’ – it was indeed ‘essentially’. And yes, it was all-minus-‘many’ revisionists, not all, that were smeared with the actually irrelevant but rhetorically effective ‘conspiratorial’ smear.

Anderson – do you really think that it’s confusing the timeline to suppose that Truman at this time had turned his sights on the Soviet ‘threat’? It’s not as if there hadn’t been concern about it before the war intervened, and Truman was pretty hard-line anti-Soviet, wasn’t he?

As for the danger of geting carried away by ‘a passion for intrigue and stuff behind it’ – again, given we’re talking about war and geopolitics, I’d say a distaste for intrigue would be at least as much of a handicap here.

I note, finally, that positing a desire to use the bomb ‘because we’ve gone to all this rouble and expense’ is as much or as little – at odds with the orthodox account as ‘because we want to flex our muscles for the benefit of the Soviets’.

BTW – if you’re

125

Tim Wilkinson 10.26.13 at 8:52 pm

last bit is edit-dross, not an unfinished remark.

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Anderson 10.26.13 at 9:03 pm

Since my history books are up at the office, I’m hard put for facts here, but I’m not hearing any from the other side. Truman’s suspicion of Stalin is neither here nor there; people imagine there was some internal debate whether to use the Bomb, and the surprising thing (to us) is how little debate there was. Why NOT use it? Only in hindsight does it even look like a question. Did some (Byrnes) hope the Bomb would give Stalin something to think about? Probably. But that had nothing to do with whether to use it or not. (Imagine the headlines in 1946: TRUMAN HAD WONDER BOMB, CHOSE INVASION INSTEAD.)

Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb, and Frank, Downfall, are two solid books on the subject, Frank more on point here.

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Ronan(rf) 10.26.13 at 9:11 pm

The long bit you quoted begins:

“The claim that after the war Truman and some of his advisors exaggerated casualty
projections of an invasion and final defeat of Japan––specifically that those projections reached 500,000 or more––for decades was one of the main pillars of the revisionist case. That pillar collapsed with the first thorough examination of the issue, “Casualty Projections for the U.S. Invasions of Japan, 1945-1946: Planning and Policy Implications” by military historian D. M. Giangreco. Writing in The Journal of Military History, Giangreco explained that in military ..”

the paragraph you quoted then continues to show that those projections did reach 500,000, so Im not sure what you’re disputing here?

To the reply you made to Anderson’s ‘they had the bomb so had to use it’. It can be about more than one thing.
It can be *in part* about the Soviets,( but we have to define what that ‘about’ is), and it can be in part due to the bombs existence pressuring the Truman Admin to use it, but then it can also be *primarily* for the stated reason – to end the war

Anyway Ill leave it there for a bit

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Suzanne 10.26.13 at 11:57 pm

@9: ” Sherman (and other Union generals in e.g. the Shenandoah Valley) seized food, destroyed infrastructure, and burned supplies that they felt would go to the Confederate Army.”

A delicate way of putting it. The fires that rose from the valley blotted out the sun. Grant had told Sheridan to make of the place a barren waste, and he did so, rendering large stretches of the land uninhabitable. Houses were burned and people left homeless. The burning, looting, slaughter of livestock, and related depredations took place in autumn and the inhabitants were left with little in the way of food and shelter for the coming winter. Many went hungry and worse. Of course they were all traitors and got what was coming to them.

These methods were to prove useful to Sheridan in the Indian wars, attacking the tribes in winter quarters, destroying food sources, and slaughtering buffalo, thus “bringing the war home to the people” so they’d get the message and head for ther reservations, those that could still walk.

Sherman’s march caused great destruction and harm to civilians but his men were more inclined to ordinary acts of brigandage and the burning of Columbia, South Carolina, was apparently not ordered by him, but caused by several factors, including bad decisions by the Confederate defenders.

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LFC 10.27.13 at 12:38 am

TW:
I tend to agree with Mao that (given that the war was clearly all over bar the shouting, as I said) even US casualties weren’t necessarily as much of an issue as one might fondly imagine. I mean it’s not as if there was going to be a big outcry about the US casualties that could have been prevented had Japan been nuked.

The war with Japan was NOT “all over bar the shouting”. In the ‘island-hopping’ campaign in the Pacific, Japanese soldiers fought v. fiercely and, very very often, to the death rather than surrender. U.S. casualties in such battles as Okinawa and Pelelieu (sp? sorry) were v. substantial; these were extremely bloody engagements. The whole Pacific war was conducted w an unparalleled ferocity on both sides: see the title alone of Dower’s prize-winning War without Mercy. Or just read Jones’ The Thin Red Line.

The Japanese defense of the home islands was going to be, if possible, even more to-the-last-man than that of the other islands. (That’s why Paul Fussell btw, linked by Bloix way upthread, said later “thank God for the a-bomb.” He thought it saved his life and those of his fellow soldiers. Again, this is separate from the question of moral justification: the a-bombings can’t be *justified* by ref to these considerations, but they might well be *explained* by them.) If an invasion of the home islands had ensued and resulted in high casualties, and IF it had come out that there were alternatives that might have averted that, it wd have caused an outcry. Anderson’s imaginary 1946 headline (see above @126) is to the point.

Without taking sides on all the intricacies here, I wd register strong disagreement w Mao’s statement that no one cared about soldiers’ lives. There was obvs more public tolerance for casualties in WW2 than the attitudes that came later, but to say casualties were of no importance in the calculations b/c no one cared about them is, I think, wrong.

130

LFC 10.27.13 at 12:40 am

p.s. “Or just read The Thin Red Line”
Or Sledge’s ‘With the Old Breed’

131

Anderson 10.27.13 at 3:38 am

If the Manhattan Project cost $2B in 1945$, that may equate to $25B in 2013.

132

Peter T 10.27.13 at 5:48 am

Reverting to the topic if the post, the British Houses of Parliament boast statues of Cromwell (war criminal, traitor), Richard I (rebel, tyrant) and Churchill (of Bengal Famine fame), while more of like ilk dot all capital cities and the Aurelian column in Rome celebrates genocide. Who will we keep?

133

Mao Cheng Ji 10.27.13 at 6:41 am

I find it intriguing, the idea that the bombs were dropped to help Mr. Truman win the election. Never occurred to me, frankly. It still seems highly unlikely, but now I’m saddened by the realization that I’m obviously not anywhere near cynical enough.

134

Hector_St_Clare 10.27.13 at 7:16 am

I don’t particularly give two ****s how many American soldiers lives were saved by the atomic bombs. they were soldiers, in war soldiers die. cry me a river. none of that was worth violating the moral law by willfully killing civilians.

If you think otherwise, then I submit you’re essentially no different from the New Guinea cannibals who justify killing people because they like to eat them afterwards.

135

bad Jim 10.27.13 at 7:46 am

In comparison to the bombing of the rest of Japan, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not notable as moral exceptions. At that point we were getting pretty good at starting firestorms. (I’ll repeat an earlier borrowed contention that Hamburg and Dresden were accidents, in the sense that a firestorm was a always a desired result, but not one that could be reliably achieved. I’ll also stipulate that bombing of cities is a war crime: YNATKC: You’re Not Allowed To Kill Civilians.)

Japan was pretty badly beaten at that point. As it happens, we unleashed a deus ex machina, a technological WHAT THE FUCK, and it did the job pretty quickly. Perhaps it provided a necessary excuse. Or whatever. It’s difficult to generalize from individual events.

Some recent reporting from Hiroshima suggests that the death toll radiation was less than anticipated; as usual, nearly all the damage was done by the blast. The consensus on dirty bombs seems to be that adding radioactivity would be a waste of effort, though I still think it might be a lot of fun to fly a cropduster over a congested Los Angeles interchange, spraying the commuters with concentrated oscillococcinum.

136

Tim Wilkinson 10.27.13 at 8:43 am

Anderson – ‘Why not drop it?’ – Eisenhower: During the recitation of the relevant facts, I had been conscious of a feeling of depression and so I voiced my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. – the enormity of the decision to actually use the thing, twice, isn’t some kind of extreme pacifist position nor a product of hindsight.

Ronan – you are still not reading this critcally, as the bloke’s evident polemical intent, and indeed anything less than total trust in his authority, requires. He sets up the issue as whether geuine estimates ‘reached’ 500K, then – lo! finds that they did. But that is the top end of a wide range (as he feels bound to concede in passing), and he’s oddly reticent on the details of the full range and whether Truman thought these ‘high-end’ estimates realistic. What’s actually said is entirely consitent with these particular estimates being massive outliers, heavily exaggerated, whether consciously or not, by those in favour of the, er, nuclear option. I certainy agree that It can be about more than one thing. Many – most – such decisions are. There were no doubt elements of vengeance, not ‘wasting’ sunk costs, expecting to secure unconditional surrender quickly and without US casualties, testing the thing on human bodies, pre-empting Soviet incursions into the region, and demonstrating complete and ruthless military dominance over the entire globe.

LFC – as you say above “Paul Fussell was a WW2 infantryman, wounded in the war, so he’s going to have a particular view of the atomic bomb decision.” But thee’s also the factthat this is pseudoreplication: this was in 1983, going by the pdf’s filename – so this bloke wasn’t providing some relevant independent testimony (which he wasn’t really in a position to provide, of course), but had been exposed to the public impact of both waves of the orthodox attack on ‘revisionist’ positions (which happened to coincide with the two waves of Cold War nationalist fervour, btw).

By the way, was unconditional surrender even really so important? Would someone a bit more mentshlich, like say Roosevelt, have thought so? The Japanese were, I understand, ready to surrender given ‘favourable’ terms – jut how favourable would those have to be? They were not actually completely insane, so I’d have thought – i.e. rankly guessed – that if negotiations has been opened, the face-saving formula could have been pretty close in effect to what actually happened.

137

novakant 10.27.13 at 10:53 am

138

Anderson 10.27.13 at 12:47 pm

134: I actually agree with that. Killing babies to save soldiers is perverse. I’m describing how the decision was made, not approving it; to repeat, Hirishima was a war crime.

Re: Ike above, that goes to show he was more sensitive than his Herblock caricature suggests, but it’s also hindsight. The decision makers didn’t quite get what its physical effects would be, as perhaps best shown by (1) the orders to drop bombs as opportunity allowed (no separate order for Nagasaki) and (2) Truman’s suspension of that order after Nagasaki. (We had just the two, but the Oppenheimer bio I’m reading says another would have been ready by the 17th.)

139

LFC 10.27.13 at 1:35 pm

Hector St Clare:
I don’t particularly give two ****s how many American soldiers lives were saved by the atomic bombs. they were soldiers, in war soldiers die. cry me a river. none of that was worth violating the moral law by willfully killing civilians.

Virtually no one here, afaics, is disputing this. Anderson has said this repeatedly and again @138. And I said above @129:
this is separate from the question of moral justification: the a-bombings can’t be *justified* by ref to these considerations, but they might well be *explained* by them.

I know you’re a botanist or a biologist or some kind of scientist, but I assume you’re familiar w the distinction between MORAL and EXPLANATORY statements. If you’re not, you’ve got a problem.

140

LFC 10.27.13 at 2:04 pm

T Wilkinson @136

Re the Fussell piece, which I haven’t read in a very long time: It’s an openly subjective, retrospective essay, iirc. So I think we agree that it’s not esp. germane to this particular discussion about Truman et al’s reasons for using the bomb. (But I’ll have to reread it at some point.)

141

LFC 10.27.13 at 2:12 pm

On what the Potsdam Declaration said re Japan’s surrender:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surrender_of_Japan#The_Potsdam_Declaration

Nb, among other things, that there was no mention in the declaration of the future position of the emperor. The US and UK had different views on it, so the declaration said nothing about it. (Or so a glance at the Wiki article indicates.)

142

LFC 10.27.13 at 2:26 pm

@novakant
thks for link to Maier piece.

143

Ronan(rf) 10.27.13 at 3:24 pm

“I certainy agree that It can be about more than one thing. Many – most – such decisions are. There were no doubt elements of vengeance, not ‘wasting’ sunk costs, expecting to secure unconditional surrender quickly and without US casualties, testing the thing on human bodies, pre-empting Soviet incursions into the region, and demonstrating complete and ruthless military dominance over the entire globe. “

Well I think we probably agree more than disagree, and it’s just a matter of emphasis. Just to add though, when talking about ‘atomic diplomacy’ we need to aknowledge that dropping the bomb wouldnt only have *one*, easily predictable outcome on US/Soviet relations (and US global power). Namely that it would reinforce it, and cower the Soviets

Realistially it could have had any number of consequences, including encouraging the Soviets to develop a bomb themselves or undermining other wartime alliances. It also rests on the assumption that the Truman admin had a coherent, explicit policy towards the Soviets *at that time*, and that policy was going to be a purposely hostile stance. Afaik that wasnt neccessarily the case

So out of the three main areas (1) stopping the war with the least US casualities (2) scaring the Soviets (3) reinforcing US global power, it seems that number (1) still makes the most sense (and appears to be supported by most evidence) as the reasoning behind dropping the bomb.

There also needs to be an explanation behind 2 and 3, *how* did they want to influence the Soviets, *how* did they see this as reinforing US power. If 2 is specifically ‘preventing Soviet incurcions in the region’ then that certainly seems logical, but also appears (as a political aspiration) less important than ending the war early

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Tim Wilkinson 10.27.13 at 3:55 pm

Nah. As I pointed out (IIRC) above, there are standing reasons for imposing threats on one’s enemies, and one of those is forcing them to take expensive precautions. These things are understood fairly inchoately by many strategists ( a bit like the security services piling pressure on awkward customers like Shayler – it doesn’t metter if you drive them underground, insane, to suicide, or back into the fold (though the vindictive nutters concerned aren’t usually willing to accept that lightly) – one of those outcomes is likely if you exert sufficient pressure).

I think focus had at this stage alighted on the resumption of hostilities against the Soviets – I don’t think it’s controversial that Truman was a pretty hard-line Cold Warrior, and this was post-Yalta wasn’t it? I.e. the post-war balance of power was very much at the forefront of strategic concerns, as no doubt was the interlocked aim of keeping the US safe from communism.

BTW, re: undermining other wartime alliances – I don;t see that this was considered much of an issue. The US didn’t need to soft-soap anyone into being an ‘ally’ at this stage. They pwned all the European powers and knew it. That aspect of things went back to Roosevelt’s time, didn’t it?

145

Mao Cheng Ji 10.27.13 at 4:01 pm

Ronan, one of your reasons (1) is not like the others, and 2 and 3 are exactly the same thing. Nuclear strike is a geopolitical act, and minimizing the causalities is a different category. You could as well argue that they did it to save on fuel for the aircraft carriers.

Superpowers pursue their ambitions, they try to achieve their objectives, and within that frame they may care more, or care less, or not care at all about minimizing the casualties. But minimizing the casualties is not, by itself, a project; definitely not a project to be solved by a nuclear strike.

They could, for example avoid a whole bunch of US casualties by letting the Soviets finish up the Nazis – at the price of the Soviets owning Germany, France, Italy, etc. But that’s just not a serious imperial thinking, obviously.

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Ronan(rf) 10.27.13 at 4:06 pm

“there are standing reasons for imposing threats on one’s enemies, and one of those is forcing them to take expensive precautions”

So the bombing was in part to encourage the Soviets to build their own bomb?

” don’t think it’s controversial that Truman was a pretty hard-line Cold Warrior”

For what definition of ‘hard-line Cold Warrior’?
IIRC Melvyn Leffler’s For the Soul of Mankind and Geoffrey Robert’s ‘Stalin’s Wars’ (both from different angles) argue that the Cold War originated out of missteps and mispereptions from both sides rather than any coherent plan..

147

Barry 10.27.13 at 4:10 pm

“Superpowers pursue their ambitions, they try to achieve their objectives, and within that frame they may care more, or care less, or not care at all about minimizing the casualties. But minimizing the casualties is not, by itself, a project; definitely not a project to be solved by a nuclear strike.”

There were demobilization riots in Europe by this time, IIRC. Your blithe dismissal of US domestic political considerations really shows that you aren’t questioning the rosy picture that US students are spoon fed in school.

148

LFC 10.27.13 at 4:18 pm

Just looked at the Fussell piece; worth reading, if only b/c he writes v well.
A scholar of Eng lit by training/profession, he wrote, among other things, the much-discussed The Great War and Modern Memory (on the connections betw WW1 and lit/culture, esp e.g. the Br war poets) and Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War.

149

Ronan(rf) 10.27.13 at 4:23 pm

Mao, 1 is also like 2 and 3, ending the war quickly with the least damage to your ability to project power is also a ‘geopolitical act’. Saving your military from an extended war is certainly a ‘geopolitical act’, if we’re running with these terms

150

Mao Cheng Ji 10.27.13 at 4:37 pm

Ronan, now, that’s good, but different from ‘minimizing casualties’. To finish up Japan fast, in order to move to Korea, to stop the Soviet advance in Manchuria, etc. This sounds like a proper analysis that my history school teacher Mr. Epstein wouldn’t object to. But it also, at the core, amounts to the same thing as 2 and 3: dealing with the Soviets.

151

LFC 10.27.13 at 4:41 pm

Mao @145
They could, for example avoid a whole bunch of US casualties by letting the Soviets finish up the Nazis – at the price of the Soviets owning Germany, France, Italy, etc. But that’s just not serious imperial thinking, obviously.

“Imperial” and “geopolitical” are not synonyms, or at least should not be used as such in this context.

Of the US, USSR, and Britain, Britain was the only one w a formal empire. And there were plenty of diplomatic tensions during the war stemming from Churchill’s commitment to holding onto the empire vs Roosevelt’s commitment (in principle, if not always practice) to decolonization. The main reason the tensions weren’t worse is that the main priority for both was winning the war and the differences tended to be subordinated to that goal.

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LFC 10.27.13 at 4:46 pm

Mao assumes that decisionmakers are never motivated by anything except strictly geopolitical considerations. Which, as a blanket categorical statement, I think is not true.

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Tim Wilkinson 10.27.13 at 5:00 pm

The chess player, in attacking the opponent’s queen, doesn’t have in mind the checkmate position that will occur 10 moves later. What do you do to enemies? Attack, harry, frustrate, threaten, etc. You don’t need a fully worked out plan. As anti-conspiratorialists are always pointing out, adopting grandiose, Byzantine strategies too firmly, too far in advance is unlikely to work. Of course the anti-CTists seemingly don’t recognise is that professional Machiavellians with $billion budgets know this better than they, and always keep options open, adapt to events, have resources in reserve, make feints, cut losses, persevere, repurpose, use well-tried heuristics, etc etc.

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Mao Cheng Ji 10.27.13 at 5:05 pm

Imperial, not colonial. Dominating, and to an extent controlling other states, but without a viceroy.

“decisionmakers are never motivated by anything except strictly geopolitical considerations”

No, I don’t assume that. But decisions are not made by one person sitting in an isolated room, and the internal motivations of the actors is just noise in the system. And if someone has managed to rise to a position of decisionmaker, they will act predictably, more or less.

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Mao Cheng Ji 10.27.13 at 5:21 pm

Incidentally, I remember reading some book about the Caribbean crisis, and it gave me the impression that the president doesn’t really get to decide much. President is the public face, but the important decisions are taken by the apparatus, professionals. And these professionals, especially in the military, are not even a part of the normal political theater. I wouldn’t be surprised if they do operate in geopolitical terms.

156

djr 10.27.13 at 8:41 pm

Hector St Clare @ 134
I don’t particularly give two ****s how many American soldiers lives were saved by the atomic bombs. they were soldiers, in war soldiers die. cry me a river. none of that was worth violating the moral law by willfully killing civilians.

LFC @ 139:
Virtually no one here, afaics, is disputing this.

Well I’ll give it a go. It was a total war with primarily conscripted armies on both sides, so you can’t draw a clear moral line between citizens who have been drafted, citizens who are working directly in support of the war effort in civilian jobs, and citizens whose contribution is more indirect.

(Though I think this is the wrong question – by August 1945, both sides were so far over the “willfully killing civilians” line that I don’t think you can evaluate the atomic bombings in these terms.)

157

Anderson 10.27.13 at 8:55 pm

“I don’t think it’s controversial that Truman was a pretty hard-line Cold Warrior”

Once again, reading the future back into July 1945. There was no Cold War in July 1945. There were definitely anti-Soviet people in the gov’t, but the possibilities were still open. What are you reading about the Cold War, Tim?

(IMHO Stalin was going to force a cold war no matter what, but the unfortunate prominence of Byrnes on top of Truman’s existing suspicion of the Commies did not help. But there was no Cold War in 1945. The Long Telegram, the Fulton MO speech, both in 1946, and some would date the inception even later.)

Now, Groves for one was already talking about the Bomb as a tool vs. the Soviets before Hiroshima. But then, he was the guy whose career most depended on using the Bomb, which was originally meant for Germany. He had a huge vested interest in seeing his baby used somehow or other. And the dropping of the Bomb was a civilian decision, not a military one.

… It’s a difficult factor to weigh, but the sudden Japanese surrender, forestalling Soviet invasion, may’ve prevented a partition of Japan such as Germany experienced. We are well beyond the point where Soviet hegemony can be represented as a good, or even neutral, thing. How does that weigh vs. the massacre of over 100,000 civilians, many in a horrible fashion previously unknown in the long annals of human suffering? I have no idea, personally.

158

ezra abrams 10.27.13 at 9:02 pm

anderson @157
r u seriously arguing that the power structure of the US, UK, France, from 1917 onward, didn’t view communism as worse then pedophilic coprophagy ?
There is that seen in Ford’ Parades End, where Teitjens godfather is told Teitjens is a socialist, and says [i paraphrase] I”m sitting shiva

159

Mao Cheng Ji 10.27.13 at 9:51 pm

“It was a total war with primarily conscripted armies on both sides, so you can’t draw a clear moral line between citizens who have been drafted, citizens who are working directly in support of the war effort in civilian jobs, and citizens whose contribution is more indirect.”

But that’s the standard argument for terrorism. On one level (nation vs nation) it makes sense. But on another level, since these people, including the conscripts, do not control their leaders who are responsible for the hostilities, it seems a bit unfair to massacre them wholesale, as if they were some objects, property of the enemy nation. In any case, this is a rationalization for almost any terrorist act: they have it coming, they deserve it, because they are citizens (productive assets) of country X, and the government of country X has been doing very bad things to country (or group) Y.

160

djr 10.27.13 at 10:46 pm

Mao – I think I agree with you entirely. Given the situation and the goals of the major powers, by the start of August 1945 very bad things were unfairly going to happen to a lot of people before the war ended. I’m just arguing against Hector’s suggestion any decision that reduced the Allied conscripts casualties at a cost of Japanese civilian casualties was necessarily morally wrong.

161

Anderson 10.27.13 at 10:56 pm

“r u seriously arguing that the power structure of the US, UK, France, from 1917 onward, didn’t view communism as worse then pedophilic coprophagy ?”

What does France have to do with anything here? The Conservatives who preferred Nazism to Communism were shunted aside in May 1940. FDR restored diplomatic relations with the USSR in the 1930s. And rather conspicuously, the USSR joined the Allies in June 1941. There were plenty of high-ranking Americans who thought the Soviets, understood and handled properly, could continue to be partners with the US. You should read a book sometime.

162

CharleyCarp 10.27.13 at 11:59 pm

I don’t understand the search for an ulterior motive: the people who burned Dresden and Tokyo also bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. What’s the mystery?

The difference is that the latter bombings worked: they ended the war.

163

LFC 10.28.13 at 12:54 am

Rawls wrote a piece for Dissent in ’95 on the atomic bombings. A quick search indicates that this may well be the only ungated version available (might have to zoom in):
http://archives.econ.utah.edu/archives/pkt/1999m06-a/msg00004.html

I read it when it came out but don’t remember it v. well.
(Cd be read as a counterpoint, I suppose, to the Fussell piece mentioned earlier. Completely different style, though.)

I’m aware of one piece written before the atomic bombings: John Ford, S.J., “The Morality of Obliteration Bombing,” Theological Studies (1944), portions reprinted in R. Wasserstrom, ed., War and Morality (1970).

164

LFC 10.28.13 at 1:01 am

the refs at 163 relevant to the Hector vs. djr question
Also I think Walzer discusses this in the well-known (to some) “Supreme Emergency” chapter of Just and Unjust Wars

165

Bloix 10.28.13 at 2:00 am

The atom bombs reduced the number of Japanese casualties, as well as American.

The two bombs killed between 150,000 and 25,000 people. An invasion of Japan would have killed many times that number. Over 110,000 Japanese soldiers died in the battle for Okinawa, an island of less than 1,000 square miles. In order to conquer the home islands, the US would have had to kill millions of Japanese soldiers and civilian militia members – virtually all conscripts, and many of them women and children.

In addition, an invasion would have destroyed what was left of Japan’s economic base and caused destitution and famine for years.

A US State Department study after the war estimated that an invasion would have killed or wounded between five and ten million Japanese – perhaps a tenth of the population.

I read the Rawls piece linked in #163, and his premise is that the war was “effectively over” by the time the bombs were dropped. I don’t know what he means by this. Does he mean that Japan was about to allow itself to be occupied without resistance? Or does he mean that the war could have been ended promptly by negotiation, without an occupation?

Either way, I think he is fantasizing. I don’t believe that an end to the war was possible without a surrender and an occupation, and I don’t believe that either would have been possible without another year of horrific fighting that would have killed more Japanese and wrecked far more of the country than the bombs did.

166

Anderson 10.28.13 at 2:37 am

162: beautifully nutshelled.

165: probably right. Blockade would have worked too, but with great loss of life, especially amongst the very old and infants. How to weigh death by starvation vs. death by A-bomb is imponderable to me. (I’m not sure if blockade should be a war crime like area bombing, but I lean to yes.)

167

Andrew F. 10.28.13 at 2:47 am

Sherman’s campaigns and the use of atomic weapons had this much in common: both were aimed in large part at destroying an enemy’s will to fight, with the means being a demonstration of their helplessness before attacking forces; both involved the infliction of deliberate hardship, and in the case of atomic weapons, mass casualties, upon civilians; and both were likely the ethically correct course of action (with exceptions in Sherman’s case for certain events).

Regarding the analysis that ultimately led Truman to go forward with the bombings, imho the best understanding is this:

Japan continued to maintain an army in the millions, even if its naval and air forces were in ruins. As preparation for an invasion of Japanese held territories, intense air and naval bombardment would have to continue, which would be followed by the invasion of ground forces. While this process would result in many times the number of casualties projected from the use of atomic weapons, the progressive nature of the process could only serve to harden Japanese resistance. Even if it did not, the progressive nature would permit the more hawkish faction of the Japanese government to continue in power for a substantial period of time.

By contrast, the use of atomic weapons would be devastatingly surprising and fast. The US would demonstrate the ability not only to annihilate their means of resistance, but to do so with terrifying rapidity and with little loss of American lives. All hope of anything other than survival being completely extinguished, power within the Japanese government would shift towards those who favored surrender.

Given the available alternatives, the use of atomic weapons held the best hope of ending the war with the fewest loss of lives and the least amount of destruction. The means were certainly horrific, but no less so than the alternatives.

168

geo 10.28.13 at 3:00 am

Bloix @165: I don’t believe that an end to the war was possible without a surrender and an occupation

Why do you think a negotiated peace was impossible? (American insistence on removing the Emperor seems an obvious pretense; and Japanese militarists were employed by the thousands during the occupation of both Japan and Korea.) Or a simple cessation of hostilities, if it would have saved, at a minimum, hundreds of thousands of civilian lives? Or a demonstration of the bomb in an unpopulated area? And why a second bomb within three days of the first? (I don’t think Anon @76 really answers these two latter questions.)

Also: I’m curious to know if others think race mattered. Would the US ever have used the bomb in Central Europe, on Caucasians?

169

LFC 10.28.13 at 4:40 am

Walzer in Just & Unjust Wars (quote below is from the 1st, 1977 ed.) argues, as did T. Wilkinson above and geo (by implication), that the unconditional surrender demand was the problem:

The military estimate of casualties [of an invasion of the home islands] was based not only on the belief that the Japanese would fight almost to the last man, but also on the assumption that the Americans would accept nothing less than unconditional surrender. The war aims of the American government required either an invasion of the main islands, with enormous losses of American and Japanese soldiers and of Japanese civilians trapped in the war zones, or the use of the atomic bomb [perhaps he shd have mentioned blockade as another poss.]. Given that choice, one might well reconsider those aims. Even if we assume that unconditional surrender was morally desirable because of the character of Japanese militarism, it might still be morally undesirable because of the human costs it entailed. But I would suggest a stronger argument than this. The Japanese case is sufficiently different from the German so that unconditional surrender should never have been asked. (p.267)

the argument continues on p.268 (for those w the book to hand)

170

LFC 10.28.13 at 4:45 am

clarification: that’s one of the things T. Wilkinson argued/suggested. He also argued a lot of other things, obvs.

171

LFC 10.28.13 at 5:03 am

djr @156
It was a total war with primarily conscripted armies on both sides, so you can’t draw a clear moral line between citizens who have been drafted, citizens who are working directly in support of the war effort in civilian jobs, and citizens whose contribution is more indirect.

I would be inclined to maintain, if at all possible, the civilian-combatant distinction, which is basic to the law of armed conflict, rather than say the distinction ceases to have import in “a total war with primarily conscripted armies on both sides.” It’s a difficult question, and I recognize that it’s difficult to weigh conscripts’ lives vs civilians. Nonetheless, I do think the civilian-combatant distinction is worth trying to keep. (There was a thread here a while back about the Vietnam war and I don’t recall many people suggesting in that context that killing Vietnamese civilians was acceptable if it meant saving a lot of American draftees’ lives. Yes, very different wars and contexts, to be sure, but draftees and volunteers are both combatants and I’m not sure the status of conscript shd drastically change the legal/ethical analysis.)

172

roy belmont 10.28.13 at 5:35 am

It’s nice to have rules about something as horrific as war, so that as the horror renders us speechless, we have something to fall back on, a language for the unspeakable.
Order, logic, a rational assessment of traditional moral tenets, applied to whatever conflict’s being discussed. But it consistently, said rational discussion, swerves toward the macabre, for me.
An academic discussion of violence and harm that would be intolerable to any of the participants of the discussion if it tried to enter their personal lives, unless and until tolerance seemed the only way through, entry having been gained.
Maybe that’s it, what’s so scary. We’re watching that, whatever it is, pass itself on down the generations, with the dry tolerance of dispassionate sense carrying it.
As if it’s already solidly in place, the norm of things human, mass carnage, death from above, annihilation – then peace. With the horror burned in to all our lives. Seemingly forever, from the posture and tone of gamesmanship that carries so many of these threads.

173

Mao Cheng Ji 10.28.13 at 7:28 am

” Over 110,000 Japanese soldiers died in the battle for Okinawa, an island of less than 1,000 square miles.”

But that is not exactly the same. A person fighting a battle has the option to surrender, while a person killed by a bomb in a city does not. Again, it depends on your framework. In the end, it seem quite possible that a scenario with more casualties will appear to the average person less egregious than a scenario with more casualties.

174

Mao Cheng Ji 10.28.13 at 7:29 am

…I mean: “…than a scenario with less casualties”

175

Peter Erwin 10.28.13 at 9:12 am

geo @ 168:

Would the US ever have used the bomb in Central Europe, on Caucasians?

Since that was basically the point of the whole Manhattan Project, and the preliminary British research which preceded it (no one was worried about Japan developing a bomb, though there was in fact Japanese research in that direction), that seems a rather odd question.

(The British and Americans were certainly willing to try mass firebombing of German cities, even when, as in the case of Dresden, the alleged military purpose had become increasingly flimsy.)

Also: what was the point of all those nuclear weapons built by the US (and also by the UK) during the Cold War, if not to be used, first and foremost, on Caucasians in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union?

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Tim Wilkinson 10.28.13 at 9:24 am

Bloix, CharlieCarp – thanks for clearing that up for us. Special thanks for enabling me to cross off “search for an ulterior motive”, “no mystery”, and “fantasising” on my VSP Bingo card.

Anderson – Once again [??], reading the future back into July 1945. There was no Cold War in July 1945… the possibilities were still open.

Nevertheless, Truman was a hardline Cold Warrior.

But actually, what does this even mean, that the possibilities were still open? Was there some causal rupture in 1946 (or later!); some exogenous shock which collapsed these multiple possibilities and brought a Cold War situation into existence? Do you not think that the key events were (1) the end of FDR’s moderating influence and (2) the end of the forced arms-length wartime alliance? What about the opinions of Forrestal, Leahy et al.? What about Churchill’s ‘Iron Curtain’ rhetoric? Truman’s attitude at Potsdam, and combativeness in his meeting with Molotov? Why are all these not continuous with the subsequent attitudes and rhetoric that you do consider part of the Cold War? Is Truman’s Jan ’46 letter, in which he goes on about using an iron fist against the USSR and the risk of a (hot) war ? I don’t see that there was any countervailing faction of any influence, after all.

The key point of relevance to the bombing aims issue is Truman’s state of mind, presumably – and you may make a case – not a string ne, I’d say – that he came close to being persuaded to take a less hostile line against the Soviets for a while. But regardless, in Jun 45, his approach as president had been combative and distrustful, and while he was loyal to the party line under Roosevelt, he had, I believe, a previous history of antipathy to the USSR.

You seem to be dating the ‘Cold War’ from when the US first started projecting its own hostility and (economic) expansionism onto the USSR, as in the ‘Long Telegram’. But that was a diplomatic cable which might have been filed away with all the others, but instead was picked up and adopted as some kind of manifesto document. Why? Because just about everyone who really mattered in the US was implacably hostile to communism at home and abroad, and intent on the bipartisan project of ‘liberal internationalism 2.0’ – of which expansion into global markets was a primary component, alongside the ideology of spreading US-style freedom and democracy, to the extent that this as an indepndent motivation. This made them more or less bound to consider the Soviet Union at least an obstacle, and ultimately a threat. That, in turn, was the driver for the mythology of the Fiendish Soviet Mind and of the danger imposed by the famed Stalinist doctrine of worldwide revolution.

In any case, whatever stipulation you want to make about how to apply the term ‘Cold War’, Truman was right there, warring away like a good ‘un. Remember Truman was chosen, and ruthlessly manoeuvred into place against Roosevelt’s wishes, as a safe – more right-wing – alternative to Wallace, and thus probable successor to the clearly moribund Roosevelt (a ‘veritable conspiracy’, as Truman’s biographer called it, that I first learned of from Oliver ‘tinfoil’ Stone’s History of the US, which before anyone starts, I’d better point out I don’t regard as Revealed Truth).

AFAICT, there’s no reason to think that Truman might (given I don’t know what counterfactual circumstance), against his prior inclination, have arrived at an accommodation with the Soviet communists, as the ‘high-ranking’ – but sidelined – Americans in the Wallace camp might have wished. He was himself anti-Soviet by inclination, and thus, and in any case, highly susceptible to the hard-line view that had become dominant the moment FDR was no longer around to exert some moderating influence. Gaddis, who was always pretty ‘orthodox’, i.e. pro-US, on the general issue of responsibility for the Cold War escalation, illustrates this when he says that Harriman “gave shape to Truman’s views”.

Quoted here: http://www.labour-history.org.uk/support_files/truman.pdf – incidentally, this mentions, in relation to Truman’s supposed vacillation, his letter to Eleanor R stating that he’d not gone along with Churchill’s desire to leave the Soviets out of the simultaneous victory announcements, explaining that he’d done so inadvertently de to a cock-up. (May 10, http://www.trumanlibrary.org/eleanor/1945.html). I noticed that ER’s reply says: A rumor has reached me that that message from Mr. Stalin to you was really received in plenty of time to have changed that hour but it was held back from you. Those little things were done to my husband now and then. I tell you of this rumor simply because while you may have known about it and decided that it was wise just not to receive it in time, you told me in your letter that you did not receive it – i.e. she is openly stating to him that she isn’t willing to take his word on the matter!

As for what I’ve been reading, I can’t remember – I’m not much inclined to rely very heavily on historians as a source of opinion and authoritative analysis, using them more as a source of leads to something more like the fabled ‘primary sources’. That’s certainly the case in highly politicised topics concerning relatively recent events (roughly, those in living memory), which is what I’m mostly interested in. The more historiography on such topics I read, the less impressed I am by the lack of forensic rigour and the tendency to take an overly conventional and deferential attitude. That’s beside the exaggerated dependence on the content of official documents, as mentioned above somewhere, and the tendency to become preoccupied with historiographic schools of thought. This last is exemplified IIRC by Gaddis in this connection, as well as the cited whassname – Korn, Koch? – who takes this approach to an almost absurd extreme in my overweeningly but justifiably arrogant opinion.

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Tim Wilkinson 10.28.13 at 9:28 am

Kort. No good at remembering names

178

Tim Wilkinson 10.28.13 at 9:34 am

” not a string ne” ->”not a strong one” – sorry about appalling typing, lack of proofing

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Anderson 10.28.13 at 12:24 pm

Tim: Gaddis is a hack, certainly, but historians in general are useful, at least for those who like and respect facts.

If you’re interested, as you seem to be, I suggest a look at Downfall, which is well researched and thorough. I will check later what he says about the Soviets.

The fact that Americans didn’t want to be Communist doesn’t mean they wanted to oppose the USSR postwar. Perhaps only a Stalin could have dragged the GOP out of its isolationism. But your bit about “projection” suggests you think Stalin not so bad?

180

Tim Wilkinson 10.28.13 at 1:48 pm

Anderson – historians in general are useful, at least for those who like and respect facts.

Yes, I quite agree – but I’m not much inclined to rely very heavily on historians as a source of opinion and authoritative analysis, using them more as a source of leads to something more like the fabled ‘primary sources’. That’s certainly the case in highly politicised topics concerning relatively recent events (roughly, those in living memory), which is what I’m mostly interested in. The more historiography on such topics I read, the less impressed I am by the lack of forensic rigour and the tendency to take an overly conventional and deferential attitude.


you think Stalin not so bad?
I think Stalin not so expansionist, and not so responsible for the Cold War.

http://crookedtimber.org/2012/05/13/hayek-and-the-welfare-state/
http://crookedtimber.org/2012/04/18/skeletons-in-the-imperial-attic/

181

novakant 10.28.13 at 2:34 pm

I think Stalin not so expansionist

Well, he already sat on an empire ranging from Siberia to East Germany and Tajikistan to Latvia.

182

Anderson 10.28.13 at 2:56 pm

Frank notes the historians’ consensus that diplomatic advantage was “at best a bonus or reinforcing reason, not the underlying one” for using the A-bombs (Downfall at 250), and notes that there was a constant assumption that the bombs would indeed be used; this presumption was “a key bequest in Roosevelt’s potent legacy to Truman” (257), and “any notion that these policy makers agonized over the question of use or that Truman made a personal and lonely decision to use the bomb misconstrues the decision process.” Truman simply didn’t interfere in a preset policy “that arrived before him carrying the unanimous sanction of his principal advisers on the issue, all of whom save Byrnes had similarly served Roosevelt. None of these advisers had been moved to reexamine the issue of use, and thus there was no catalyst for Truman to do so.”

Frank notes Szilard’s claim “long after” his 1945 meeting with Byrnes that Byrnes said the bomb “would make Russia more manageable in Europe,” 416 n.259, and questions why this has been afforded credence as a verbatim account of what Byrnes said. Regardless, it would be very odd if someone in Truman’s cabinet hadn’t thought something like that; it doesn’t mean that this was why the bombs were used. Again, the default plan was to use them; those looking for a “decision” are asking the wrong questions, IMHO.

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Anderson 10.28.13 at 3:01 pm

181: exactly, and while the US gave Stalin the benefit of the doubt, as it became clear that the occupied states weren’t going to enjoy any sort of independence (something Churchill had either known or guessed beforehand – hard to give Churchill much credit for thinking the worst of the Reds, tho often he thought correctly), the US began to find more plausible that the USSR *had* created an empire, and that its boundaries were not necessarily done growing. So for ex Acheson’s initial willingness to work with the Soviets soured with experience, and he started to find Kennan’s explanations of the longue duree of Russian policy more believable.

Given Soviet fear of the US, masked with belligerent talk, and the intrinsic opacity of the Stalin regime, it wasn’t absurd for the US to fear Soviet expansion. The whole thing could and should have been handled better – I am not a Truman fan – but unless Stalin had fallen out a window in 1945-46, it all seems pretty inevitable, and maybe even that wouldn’t have helped.

184

Ronan(rf) 10.28.13 at 3:11 pm

Anderson
IIRC there’s a good deal of evidence that Stalin didn’t have any great expansionist agenda, though, outside of his ‘sphere of influence’ – or is this claim now contested to a greater degree?
So it was misperceptions on each side about the others intent (probably inevitable, as you say) that led to the Cold War ?

185

LFC 10.28.13 at 3:33 pm

@roy belmont 172
So how do you propose these issues be discussed? or shd they simply not be discussed? btw I think you used to make fairly conservative (as in pro-mil force, pro-Repub etc) comments here? If I’m remembering correctly, what’s w your recent change in tone?

186

Anderson 10.28.13 at 3:45 pm

184: agreed re: what we now know about Stalin – I think it was indeed misperceptions, aggravated I would say by Soviet opacity & dishonesty. They never had any intention of letting occupied eastern Europe go its own way; they were just excessively optimistic that free elections would bring in the local Communist parties in landslides.

Now, was it naive of the US to imagine things would be otherwise? Yep. So when I say “Soviet dishonesty,” I’m not spanking them for that, just stating a fact.

187

Tim Wilkinson 10.28.13 at 3:45 pm

I don’t know about the historians’ consensus, but I have found this thoroughly sourced timeline of the decision/railroading process, which does a much better job than I of compiling the relevant info – I wish I’d found it earlier.

http://www.nuclearfiles.org/menu/timeline/timeline_page.php?year=1945

I’ve noted before that the decision (for it was one, however abridged the deliberations may have been) was no doubt down not ony to Truman’s predilections but also to the influence of those around him, who were all gung ho for action, seemingly regardless of whether it was really necessary to force Japanese surrender. The compilers did not concern themselves with the motivation for this unseemly enthusiasm, though.

BTW that site also has the full quote of Eisenhower’s remarks – he is very modest about his opinions, to the point I think of misusing the word ‘refute’ – but he does report he kind of angry dismissal of dissent that we in this marginally more transparent age are already familiar with in the case of the similarly steamrollerish decision to invade Iraq in 2003:

“In 1945 … , Secretary of War Stimson visited my headquarters in Germany, [and] informed me that our government was preparing to drop an atomic bomb on Japan. I was one of those who felt that there were a number of cogent reasons to question the wisdom of such an act…. During his recitation of the relevant facts, I had been conscious of a feeling of depression and so I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and second because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. It was my belief that Japan was, at that very moment, seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of ‘face.’ The Secretary was deeply perturbed by my attitude, almost angrily refuting the reasons I gave for my quick conclusions.”

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LFC 10.28.13 at 3:50 pm

FTR a few pts on (the admittedly complicated figure of) Kennan, since he has come up:

1) favored reunification of Germany and opposed formation of NATO
2) opposed militarization of containment
3) opposed developing the hydrogen bomb (c.1950) in a long, eloquent (prob too eloquent for its own good, i.e. effectiveness) memo to Acheson, who found it irritating

189

Tim Wilkinson 10.28.13 at 3:58 pm

Actually, that timeline is so useful that I’ll post the relevant section. Obviously things it doesn’t report could alter our view of those it does, but it seems to address Anderson’s claim about the lack of any deliberation at all, and some of the entries do seem to come as close as anything ever does to speaking for themselves.

May 12
William Donovan, Director of the Office of Strategic Services, reports to President Truman that Japan’s minister to Switzerland, Shunichi Kase, wished “to help arrange for a cessation of hostilities.”

May 25
Leo Szilard visits the White House with a letter of introduction from Albert Einstein to warn President Truman of the dangers that atomic weapons pose for the post-War world and to urge him not to authorize use of atomic weapons against Japan. Szilard is referred by Matthew J. Connelly, Truman’s appointments secretary, to James Byrnes in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

May 28
Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy argues to Secretary of War Stimson that the term “unconditional surrender” should be dropped, arguing that “unconditional surrender is a phrase which means loss of face, and I wonder whether we cannot accomplish everything we want to accomplish in regard to Japan without the use of that term.”

Leo Szilard, along with Walter Bartky, and Harold Urey, meet with Jimmy Byrnes at his home in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Szilard attempts to persuade Byrnes to demonstrate the bomb’s power, rather than using it on Japan. Byrnes asks Szilard, “How would you get Congress to appropriate money for atomic energy research if you do not show results for the money which has been spent already?” Reflecting on this meeting later, Szilard writes, “I thought to myself how much better off the world might be had I been born in America and become influential in American politics, and had Byrnes been born in Hungary and studied physics. In all probability there would then have been no atomic bomb and no danger of an arms race between America and Russia.”In a State Department Memorandum of Conversation, Acting Secretary of State Joseph Grew describes a meeting with President Truman that day. Grew writes, “The greatest obstacle to unconditional surrender by the Japanese is their belief that this would entail the destruction or permanent removal of the Emperor and the institution of the Throne. If some indication can now be given the Japanese that they themselves, when once thoroughly defeated and rendered impotent to wage war in the future will be permitted to determine their own future political structure, they will be afforded a method of saving face without which surrender will be highly unlikely.”

May 30
Wanting to influence the Interim Committee, Szilard arranges a meeting with Oppenheimer in Groves’ office. Oppenheimer tells Szilard, “this is a weapon with no military significance. It will make a big bang–a very big bang–but it is not a weapon which is useful in war.”

May 31
The Interim Committee agrees that “the most desirable target would be a vital war plant employing a large number of workers and closely surrounded by workers’ houses.” Among those agreeing is James Conant, the president of Harvard University. The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) reports on receiving a Japanese peace feeler through a Japanese diplomat stationed in Portugal. The Japanese diplomat says that the actual terms are unimportant so long as the term “unconditional surrender” is not used.

June 1
Interim Committee makes a formal decision not to warn the civilian populations of the targeted cities. The minutes for the Interim Committee meeting state: “Mr. Byrnes recommended and the Committee agreed, that the Secretary of War should be advised that, while recognizing that the final selection of the target was essentially a military decision, the present view of the Committee was that the bomb be used against Japan as soon as possible; that it be used on a war plant surrounded by workers’ homes; and that it be used without prior warning.”

June 9
Chief of Staff General George Marshall, in a memo to Secretary of War Stimson, writes, “We should cease talking about unconditional surrender of Japan and begin to define our true objective in terms of defeat and disarmament.”

June 11
The Franck Committee, headed by Nobel Laureate James Franck, issues a report advising against a surprise atomic bombing of Japan. The report states, “If we consider international agreement on total prevention of nuclear warfare as the paramount objective, this kind of introduction of atomic weapons to the world may easily destroy all our chances of success.” The report correctly predicts that dropping an atomic bomb “will mean a flying start toward an unlimited armaments race.”

June 14
The Franck Committee Report–with its recommendation that the bomb be demonstrated to Japan before being used on civilians–is taken by Compton to Los Alamos and copies were given to Fermi, Lawrence, and Oppenheimer.

June 15
Joint War Plans Committee (JWPC), an advisory committee to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, concludes that about 40,000 Americans would die in the planned two stage assault on Japan.

June 16
Compton, Fermi, Lawrence, and Oppenheimer conclude, “We can propose no technical demonstration likely to bring an end to the war; we see no acceptable alternative to direct military use.”

June 17
Assistant Secretary of War McCloy tells Secretary of War Stimson that “there were no more cities to bomb, no more carriers to sink or battleships to shell; we had difficulty finding targets.”

June 18
President Truman convenes a meeting of his chief advisers to discuss the military’s contingency plans for the invasion of Japan. The invasion was to begin no earlier than November 1, 1945 and according to Admiral William Leahy, “The invasion itself was never authorized.” McCloy is asked to prepare language for what is to become Article 12 of the drafted Potsdam Declaration. It specifies that the post-war Japanese government “may include a constitutional monarchy under the present dynasty.” Admiral Leahy makes a diary entry noting, “It is my opinion at the present time that a surrender of Japan can be arranged with terms that can be accepted by Japan and that will make fully satisfactory provision for America’s defense against future trans-Pacific aggression.” He also notes that General Marshall believes that an invasion of Kyushu, the southern-most Japanese island, “will not cost us in casualties more than 63,000 of the 190,000 combatant troops estimated as necessary for the operation.” This may be compared to later estimates, after the atomic bombings, of 500,000 to 1,000,000 American lives saved.

June 19
James Forrestal’s diary describes a top-secret “State-War-Navy Meeting” in which surrender terms are discussed. He writes, “Grew’s proposal, in which Stimson most vigorously agrees that something be done in the very near future to indicate to the Japanese what kind of surrender terms would be imposed upon them and particularly to indicate to them that they would be allowed to retain their own form of government and religious institutions, while at the same time making it clear that we propose to eradicate completely all traces of Japanese militarism.”

June 20
A meeting of the Supreme War Direction Council before Emperor Hirohito is held on the subject of ending the war. According to the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, “the Emperor, supported by the premier foreign minister and Navy minister, declared for peace; the army minister and the two chiefs of staff did not concur.”

June 26
TheUnited Nations Charter is signed by delegates from fifty nations in San Francisco. Stimson, Forrestal, and Grew agree that a clarification of surrender terms should be issued well before an invasion and with “ample time to permit a national reaction to set in.” The three agreed that “Japan is susceptible to reason.”

June 27
Undersecretary of the Navy Ralph Bard sends a memo to Secretary of War Stimson recommending that “fair play” demanded that the U.S. give the Japanese prior warning of an atomic attack. He recommends that the U.S. give the Japanese “information regarding the proposed use of atomic power.”

July 1
Leo Szilard begins circulating a petition to President Truman, expressing opposition on moral grounds to using the atomic bomb against Japan.

July 2
Secretary of War Henry Stimson advises Truman to offer a definition of “unconditional surrender,” and Stimson states, “I think the Japanese nation has the mental intelligence and versatile capacity in such a crisis to recognize the folly of a fight to the finish and to accept the proffer of what will amount to an unconditional surrender.”

July 3
James Byrnes becomes U.S. Secretary of State.

New York Times reports, “Senator [William] White of Maine, the minority [Republican] leader, declared that the Pacific war might end quickly if President Truman would state, specifically, in the upper chamber just what unconditional surrender means for the Japanese.”

July 4
Leo Szilard writes to a colleague regarding the petition to the President: “I personally feel it would be a matter of importance if a large number of scientists who have worked in this field went clearly and unmistakably on record as to their opposition on moral grounds to the use of these bombs in the present phase of the war.”

July 7
Truman leaves for Potsdam on the Augusta, accompanied by Secretary of State Byrnes. They are at sea one day when Byrnes receives a telegram from Acting Secretary of State Joseph Grew describing a peace overture from the Japanese military attaché in Stockholm. The attaché offered a negotiated settlement of the war if the U.S. would guarantee the reign of the Emperor.

July 10
At a meeting of the Supreme War Direction Council, Emperor Hirohito urges haste in moves to mediate the peace throughout Russia.

July 13
Washington intercepts and decodes a cable from Japanese Foreign Minister Shigenori Togo to his Ambassador in Moscow that states, “Unconditional surrender is the only obstacle to peace..” Secretary of Navy Forrestal writes in his diary: “The first real evidence of a Japanese desire to get out of the war came today through intercepted messages from Togo, Foreign Minister, to Sato, Jap Ambassador in Moscow, instructing the latter to see Molotov if possible before his departure for the Big Three meeting and if not then immediately afterward to lay before him the Emperor’s strong desire to secure a a termination of the war.”Farrington Daniels, Director of the Met Lab at the University of Chicago, reported to James Compton that 72 percent of the scientists favored a military demonstration of the bomb in Japan or in the U.S., with Japanese representatives present, before using the weapon on civilians.

July 15
President Truman lands at Antwerp on his way to the Potsdam meeting. Byrnes has convinced him to drop Article 12 of the Potsdam Declaration, which had provided assurance that the Emperor would be allowed to retain his throne as a constitutional monarch.

July 16
The Trinity test, a plutonium implosion device, takes place at 5:29:45 a.m. mountain war time at Alamogordo, New Mexico. It is the world’s first atomic detonation. The device has a yield of 19 kilotons, which is equivalent to 19,000 tons of TNT. J. Robert Oppenheimer recalls a quote from the Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu text, which states, “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” Brigadier General T.F. Farrell, General Groves ’ deputy commander, describes the explosion in this way: “The effects could well be called unprecedented, magnificent, beautiful, stupendous, and terrifying. The lighting effects beggared description. The whole country was lighted by a searing light with the intensity many times that of the midday sun. It was golden, purple, violet, gray, and blue. It lighted every peak, crevasse and ridge of the nearby mountain range with a clarity and beauty that cannot be described but must be seen to be imagined…”

July 17
President Truman at Potsdam writes in his diary, “Just spend [sic] a couple of hours with Stalin .. He’ll be in the Jap War on August 15th. Fini Japs when that comes about.” Secretary of War Stimson records in his diary, “Byrnes was opposed to a prompt and early warning to Japan which I first suggested. He outlined a timetable on the subject [of] warning which apparently had been agreed to by the president, so I pressed it no further.” Leo Szilard, unaware of the Trinity test, prepares final draft of Petition to the President of the United States, calling on the President to “exercise your power as Commander-in-Chief to rule that the United States shall not resort to the use of atomic bombs in this war unless the terms which will be imposed upon Japan have been made public in detail and Japan knowing these terms has refused to surrender; second, that in such an event the question whether or not to use atomic bombs be decided by you in the light of the considerations presented in this petition as well as all other moral responsibilities which are involved.” The petition was signed by 155 Manhattan Project scientists.

July 18
President Truman writes in his diary, “P.M. [Churchill] & I ate alone. Discussed Manhattan (it is a success). Decided to tell Stalin about it. Stalin had told P.M. of telegram from Jap Emperor asking for peace. Stalin also read his answer to me. It was satisfactory. Believe the Japs will fold up before Russia comes in. I am sure they will when Manhattan [reference to Manhattan Project] appears over their homeland. I shall inform about it at an opportune time.”

July 21
President Truman approves order for atomic bombs to be used.

July 23 – 24
Assistant Secretary of War McCloy writes in diary, in Potsdam, “Throughout it all the ’big bomb’ is playing its part–it has stiffened both the Prime Minister and the President. After getting Groves’ report they went to the next meeting like little boys with a big red apple secreted on their persons.”

July 23
UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill remarks, “[I]t is quite clear that the United States do not at the present time desire Russian participation in the war against Japan.”

July 24
Walter Brown, special assistant to Secretary of State Byrnes, writes in his journal that Byrnes was now “hoping for time, believing after atomic bomb Japan will surrender and Russia will not get in so much on the kill, thereby being in a position to press claims against China.” Secretary of War Henry Stimson passes on orders for atomic attack.

July 25
President Truman writes in his diary: “We have discovered the most terrible bomb in the history of the world. It may be the fire destruction prophesied in the Euphrates Valley era, after Noah and his fabulous ark. Anyway we think we have found the way to cause a disintegration of the atom. An experiment in the New Mexican desert was startling – to put it mildly…” “This weapon is to be used against Japan between now and August 10. I have told the secretary of war, Mr. Stimson , to use it so that military objectives and soldiers are the target and not women and children. Even if the Japs are savages, ruthless, merciless and fanatic, we as the leader of the world for the common welfare cannot drop this terrible bomb on the old capital or the new. He and I are in accord. The target will be a purely military one and we will issue a warning statement asking the Japs to surrender and save lives. I’m sure they will not do that, but we will have given them the chance. It is certainly a good thing for the world that Hitler’s crowd or Stalin’s did not discover this atomic bomb. It seems to be the most terrible thing ever discovered, but it can be made the most useful.” General Carl Spatz, commander of the United States Army Strategic Air Forces, receives the only written order on the use of atomic weapons from acting Chief of Staff General Thomas Handy.

July 26
Secretary of Defense Forrestal’s secret diary states: “In the past days Sato in Moscow has been sending the strongest language to the Foreign Office at Tokyo his urgent advice for Japan to surrender unconditionally. Each time the Foreign Minister, Togo, responds by saying that they want Sato to arrange for the Russians to receive Prince Konoye as a special representative of the Emperor to Moscow. Sato’s persistent reply to these messages was that this is a futile hope, that there is no possibility of splitting the concert of action now existing between Great Britain, the United States and Russia.”

July 26
The Potsdam Declaration calls upon the Japanese government “to proclaim now the unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forces.” The alternative, the Declaration states, is “prompt and utter destruction.”

July 28
U.S. Senate approves the U.N. Charter by a vote of 98 to 2. Japan rejects Potsdam Declaration.

August 3
President Truman, while aboard Augusta, receives a new report that Japan is seeking peace. Walter Brown, special assistant to Secretary of State Byrnes, writes in his diary, “Aboard Augusta – President, Leahy, JFB agreed Japs looking for peace. (Leahy had another report from Pacific.) President afraid they will sue for peace through Russia instead of some country like Sweden.”

190

Anderson 10.28.13 at 4:28 pm

Since people like Richard Frank have already written books refuting the kind of cherry-picking seen in that timeline, I fortunately don’t have to do so here.

But for instance, re: the notion that an offer to keep Hirohito on the throne would’ve led to Japanese surrender pre-Hiroshima, Frank reviews the Sato-Togo exchanges & writes (230): “In his message of July 18, Sato placed exactly this set of terms on the table as the best Japan could expect. Togo’s response was not even that the government would give such an offer serious consideration. Rather, Togo in unambiguous language and in the name of the cabinet absolutely rejected such terms: ‘We are unable to consent to it under any circumstances whatever.'”

And as Frank goes on to note, this was not only clear, but available to the Americans who were reading the actual messages via Magic; they read the foregoing in the summary for July 22.

The prime minister, Suzuki, believed (or affected to believe) that the Potsdam Declaration actually betrayed Allied weakness and need to end the war for their own sakes: “Precisely at a time like this, if we hold firm, they will yield before we do.” Frank at 235.

And anyway, Togo and Suzuki weren’t running things; the army & the navy were.

191

roy belmont 10.28.13 at 4:52 pm

LFC-
It’s a little specious to turn the responsibility for the discussion’s posture and tone over to a critic of same. But, okay.
Triage of emotion, confrontation with horror leading to dry tactical assessments and analyses, sure, but the need for that mammalian center, where the horror does its ghastly work, to remain active, conscious…
Otherwise it gets insectile, alien. That shift can be necessary, but it can also elide the immediate, local, human part, so we get hive-mind formulae and critique.
Pawns and drones and units of tactical force. Children moving toys around the battlefield/carpet.
Far as my presence here before just recently – after a digital hiatus of a few years – I was, amusingly, frustratingly, the “parrot guy” for awhile, but not even remotely anything like your recollection of pro-etc.

192

LFC 10.28.13 at 5:09 pm

@roy belmont
I must have confused you with someone else. I don’t remember your comments about (allegedly) telepathic parrots. I wasn’t reading CT that regularly at that point, I guess.

193

geo 10.28.13 at 5:12 pm

Peter @175: You may well be right. But the project was launched because the US plausibly feared Germany would develop and use it first. The Germans didn’t, however. Perhaps I should have phrased the question: would the US have used nuclear weapons on non-Communist Caucasians who did not have the bomb and were clearly already defeated militarily, who had a large hyphenated-American community, and who had many pre-war business ties with American policymakers? (Dulles, for example, handled a great deal of German business while at Sullivan & Cromwell.)

Anderson: I’m sure you’re right that bureaucratic inertia played a part in the use of the bomb. But this doesn’t preclude the additional motives of wanting to intimidate Stalin and fearing public reaction to not using it if the fighting had continued, with accompanying American casualties. Also, when you say “the fact that Americans didn’t want to be Communist doesn’t mean they wanted to oppose the USSR postwar,” are you sure you’re not slipping into the fatal misidentification of “Americans” with “American policymakers”? What Americans care about matters little to p0licymakers, except in terms of legitimacy costs, ie, the difficulties of controlling a disenchanted or unruly populace. Policymakers were not “naïve”; they were very clear that they wanted to roll back — not merely contain — Communism. So they went ahead and “scared hell out of the American people” — who, as you say, were not particularly keen on confrontation with the USSR — regardless of what they themselves may have thought about Soviet intentions. As for the latter, I’m not sure whether the opening of the Soviet archives has shed any new light, but the fact that the Soviet Union had been invaded across the flatlands of Eastern Europe three times in a century and a half — the last time almost enslaved and annihilated, with a complacent, even jubilant, West looking on — seems prima facie a pretty plausible explanation (not, of course, justification) for the Soviet conquest of the region.

194

Anderson 10.28.13 at 5:35 pm

Geo: Policymakers were not “naïve”; they were very clear that they wanted to roll back — not merely contain — Communism.

Please supply some facts re: US policymakers’ plans to “roll back Communism” in the summer of 1945.

The Soviets’ motives for their “cordon rouge” in eastern Europe are indeed evident; I don’t find them justified, but national strategy is not generally conducted by any state with much attention to the Sermon on the Mount.

195

Anderson 10.28.13 at 5:38 pm

would the US have used nuclear weapons on non-Communist Caucasians who did not have the bomb and were clearly already defeated militarily, who had a large hyphenated-American community, and who had many pre-war business ties with American policymakers?

Congratulations. You have just proved that the US did not assist in burning down Dresden in March 1945.

196

Mao Cheng Ji 10.28.13 at 5:52 pm

I don’t think the idiosyncrasies of the Soviet system had much to do with it. It was a simple dualistic model (Orwell got it wrong): Iran and Turan, the Good Empire and the Evil Empire, the mirror image. Although the one on the left side of the map was clearly more powerful, and thus, naturally, more aggressive and expansionist.

197

Anderson 10.28.13 at 5:56 pm

Although the one on the left side of the map was clearly more powerful, and thus, naturally, more aggressive and expansionist.

Clearly and naturally!

198

geo 10.28.13 at 6:08 pm

Anderson:
@194: Away from my books just now, but I seem to remember that Chomsky made the argument, with plenty of documentation, in Towards a New Cold War and elsewhere. You probably remember Williams, Kolko, Alperovitz, etc on the origins of containment/rollback at least as well as I do, and probably better.

The Soviets’ motives for their “cordon rouge” in eastern Europe are indeed evident Weren’t their motives widely portrayed as irrefutable evidence of an international Communist conspiracy to subjugate the entire world?

@195: There are war crimes and war crimes. Whatever the comparative casualty statistics, atomic weapons were thought at the time to be an order of magnitude more horrible than incendiary bombs. Again, you know this perfectly well.

Hope @193 didn’t sound like mansplaining. Apologies if it did.

199

geo 10.28.13 at 6:09 pm

Sorry, “motives” should be “moves.”

200

LFC 10.28.13 at 6:28 pm

Been a while since I read it, but I recall nothing in the X article about rollback (as opposed to containment). Nor, though I’m less certain of this, the Long Telegram. No doubt there were always advocates of rollback and internal debates on it, but iirc it only became a widely publicly debated ‘option’ in the early yrs of the Eisenhower admin. (Cd be wrong about that.)

201

Anderson 10.28.13 at 6:33 pm

Geo, I think I will take, say, Tony Judt over Chomsky, any day of the week.

As for the Soviets’ motives, they weren’t always assessed as coolly as Kennan did, but there was plenty of paranoia on the Russians’ side as well. The Soviets’ own habit of saying one thing and doing another did not reassure; exactly how much more of Europe were they going to need to feel secure? Austria? Greece? Italy?

atomic weapons were thought at the time to be an order of magnitude more horrible than incendiary bombs

At what time? Before Hiroshima? I don’t “know that perfectly well,” because it’s false. Even Oppenheimer’s account to the politicians of what to expect was incomplete. The non-scientists certainly were vague about what to expect. I think Stimson may’ve been the only one to “get” that. Most seem to’ve thought of it as an entire air raid squeezed into a single bomb. Radiation sickness, particularly of the type and scale unleashed by fission bombs, was poorly understood.

Nor am I sure that you are taking into account the extreme horrors of the firestorms at Hamburg, Dresden, and Tokyo. Frank begins his book Downfall with a horrifying account of the March 1945 Tokyo firebombing, which was hell on earth.

202

Tim Wilkinson 10.28.13 at 6:41 pm

Since people like Richard Frank have already written books refuting the kind of cherry-picking seen in that timeline, I fortunately don’t have to do so here.

You don’t have to discuss the issues, no – but you have been doing so for quite a while – why suddenly stop now? As for ‘cherrypicking’ – that usually applies to biased sampling from a population. The most plausible candidate for cherrypicking there is the casualty projections – q.v. Kort’s account which is at least as slanted.

But as regards the perception of Truman and his eminences grises of the options for obtaining a Japanese surrender, we don’t really need a representative sample – the later version (say, Aug 3 – see the last item in that timeline) for most purposes supersedes the earlier.

And there are other problems with your selected ‘example’ (not to be confused with cherrypicking, of course) – the quote doesn’t actually say what those terms are, which is not too great. The Emperor can stay on the throne (yes, so far so good) – but…what?

And the idea that in negotiations, a categorical refusal should be taken seriously is pretty risible (Two shekels? are you trying to insult me? I paid three!) , and regardless of that, and of what the terms offered in that single case might have been, that seems moot if there were (as the US knew there were) subsequent attempts to negotiate a surrender. Unless, of course, the Japanese were making totally unacceptable demands. If they were, perhaps you could say that, unless you don’t feel the need to because there exists a book.

What we do get is a comment suggesting that the J ambassador thought the Sovoets as intransigent as the US at a fairly late stage. So quite probably some blame for the USSR there. But the timeline certainly seems to suggest that the US decisionmakers were not really interested in getting anything short of unconditional surrender, and that they were very concerned that the Soviets should’t get any credit for obtaining any surrender, either through negotiation as a non-belligerent, or after forcing one by declaring war and opening hostilities.

Oh yeah – but of course such negotiations were presumably thought irrelevant by the US because they thought the Japanese politicians weren’t in a position to negotiate a surrender. Is this what you are saying? Did they ever mention this belief to each other?

203

Tim Wilkinson 10.28.13 at 6:45 pm

either through negotiation as a non-belligerent, or after forcing one by declaring war and opening hostilities.

actually, that bit is garbled, not worth correcting, please ignore

204

Tim Wilkinson 10.28.13 at 6:50 pm

“atomic weapons were thought at the time to be an order of magnitude more horrible than incendiary bombs”…[is] false

Well, perhaps – I don;t know how to assess that claim in any strict way – but we do have this:

Jul 25: “We have discovered the most terrible bomb in the history of the world. It may be the fire destruction prophesied in the Euphrates Valley era, after Noah and his fabulous ark…It seems to be the most terrible thing ever discovered” – Truman

205

Jake 10.28.13 at 6:54 pm

@198
Yeah, the atomic bomb was seen as worse (or better) than other forms of bombing. But from what I recall from “The Making of the Atomic Bomb” there was a lot of concern that the Germans would get it and use it on us, and the plan was pretty much to use it as soon as it was ready. So I see no reason to believe that moral concerns would have prevented its use in Europe.

Now the atomic bomb was more useful against Japan – the 1500 mile overwater flight from Tinian to Tokyo puts a huge premium on destruction per pound of weapon compared to the 600 mile flight from London to Berlin. Or more to the point the 700 mile drive from Le Harve to Berlin.

206

Anderson 10.28.13 at 7:05 pm

Tim, they were reading Japan’s own diplomatic cables. I may take your negotiations with a grain of salt, but if I wiretap the room where you and your partners are privately discussing my offer, that is a different story.

The Truman quote, besides sounding entirely too much like Dubya discussing Gog & Magog, goes to the power of a single bomb to do what it took a fleet of bombers to accomplish in March 1945 over Tokyo.

207

Anderson 10.28.13 at 7:23 pm

Re: the expected effect of the bomb, I find this over at Duck of Minerva:

Michael Gordin’s Five Days in August challenges the central premise of this story: that the atomic bomb was perceived as a weapon qualitatively different from what we now call conventional weaponry. Instead, he argues, many (though not all) of the scientists and political and military decision makers understood the new nuclear weapons as simply a more powerful and efficient method of delivering destruction than conventional weaponry, and that this viewpoint was dominant. Although the atomic bomb was part of a larger plan to “shock and awe” the Japanese into surrender, it was only one component of that plan, along with the conventional firebombing of Japanese cities and the entry of the Soviet Union into the war in the Pacific. Most people involved expected the war to continue for some time longer–at the very least, into September, and they expected that they would need to continue to deliver additional atomic weapons throughout this period. The true impact of the atomic bomb, particularly its radiological effects, was unknown, even to the Manhattan Project scientists, who initially discounted reports of radiation sickness in Hiroshima and Nagasaki as Japanese propaganda. The US was surprised not only by the effects of the atomic bombs, but also by the speed of the Japanese surrender.

I’m not sure I *entirely* buy that – Marshall, for instance, expected the Japanese to fold quickly after Hiroshima – but I think that overall impression is probably correct. And perhaps the book, which I’ve not read, includes Marshall in that “though not all.”

208

LFC 10.28.13 at 9:07 pm

A small addition to my comment @171 on the civilian-combatant distinction: as Charli Carpenter pointed out in reviewing Helen Kinsella’s The Image Before the Weapon (link to follow), the more basic distinction is between combatant and noncombatant, and the latter category encompasses, e.g., wounded soldiers and POWs, not just civilians. The issue of a civilian militia, raised by Bloix @165, might well blur either distinction — though one could argue that once conscripted into a ‘civilian militia’, one becomes a combatant. Some close questions here though.

Btw Kinsella’s bk has a chapter comparing Sherman’s march to the Sand Creek massacre. This from the table of contents — I’ve not read the book, just some reviews.

209

LFC 10.28.13 at 9:10 pm

210

Anderson 10.28.13 at 9:57 pm

208: yah, via Ultra the US was obtaining Japanese military plans, which IIRC included the use of civilian militias, in what would have been awful “human wave” assaults.

FWIW I do not think that this potential justified the massacre of civilians (including infants and the disabled) by preemptively destroying a city from which such a militia might have been recruited. (Not what LFC or Bloix meant of course, just thought it needed pointing out.)

211

LFC 10.29.13 at 12:57 am

FWIW I do not think that this potential justified the massacre of civilians (including infants and the disabled) by preemptively destroying a city from which such a militia might have been recruited. (Not what LFC or Bloix meant of course, just thought it needed pointing out.)

Yes. My position, in case it wasn’t already clear, is that the firebombing of Tokyo and the atomic bombings can’t be justified especially since the top U.S. decisionmakers did not, apparently, actively explore whether a negotiated surrender could have been worked out.

By contrast, Bloix’s position @165 is:

I don’t believe that an end to the war was possible without a surrender and an occupation, and I don’t believe that either would have been possible without another year of horrific fighting that would have killed more Japanese and wrecked far more of the country than the [atomic] bombs did.

So Bloix’s position is that of the choices realistically available, the bomb was the least bad. That is also Andrew F’s view @167:

Given the available alternatives, the use of atomic weapons held the best hope of ending the war with the fewest loss of lives and the least amount of destruction. The means were certainly horrific, but no less so than the alternatives.

My view, on the other hand, is that other choices were available, such as exploring a negotiated surrender. Even if, in the end, it proved impossible to agree on terms, it should at least have been tried. Only if it had been tried and failed would one even reach the bombs v. invasion v. blockade choice. And at that point I would give, or try to give, more weight to the civilian-combatant (or noncombatant-combatant) distinction than either Bloix or Andrew F. apparently would.

Of course, these things are easier to debate in hindsight, and if I had gone through Fussell’s experiences I might well have come out where he did. (I don’t know for certain because I didn’t go through those experiences.)

212

CharleyCarp 10.29.13 at 1:02 am

195 — Dresden was in February.

After the war in Europe was clearly over, except for the shouting. And, it turned out, 10 weeks of hard fighting.

213

LFC 10.29.13 at 1:11 am

p.s.
I think Andrew F. meant to write: “The means were certainly horrific, but the alternatives were no less so.” This is a case in which changing the word order changes the meaning.

214

Anderson 10.29.13 at 2:44 am

212- of course you are correct. Dresden in February, Tokyo in March.

… LFC, I think you would find about half of Frank’s book very interesting: not the planning of the invasion or the details of LeMay’s campaign, but the Japanese deliberations and the Americans’ debates. The ability via Magic to read their diplomatic cables was a rare experience … tho who knows what the NSA hears nowadays.

I think the US had sufficient, even good, reason to believe Japan would not negotiate barring a strong change in the facts on the ground.

215

LFC 10.29.13 at 1:03 pm

I think you would find about half of Frank’s book very interesting

yes, I’m going to look at it

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Suzanne 10.29.13 at 6:52 pm

@61: “The Commanche tried their best to defend their territories with their own Shermanesque terror tactics and strategy, but in end their were to just many white fools and guns, and not enough buffalo. “

They did? Some nerve. As it happens, Sherman and Sheridan meted out the same treatment to the peaceable tribes. And there were not enough buffalo because they were slaughtered by US troops, Shenandoah Valley-style.

Sherman also had a sense of taste superior to those who liked to wave the bloody shirt – he disliked the song “Marching Through Georgia” and not only because it tended to be struck up by the nearest band whenever he showed his head.

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