Saturday, August 07, 2010

Hiroshima: 65 years

Yesterday, we commemorated 65 years that separate us from the nuclear blast above Hiroshima.

This building was designed by Czech architect Jan Letzel and completed in April 1915. It served as their industrial palace - more precisely, as the Hiroshima Prefectural Commercial Exhibition - and its skeleton, nowadays known as the A-Dome, was the only structure that resisted the blast because the construction was masterminded by a member of the nation of golden little hands ;-) (at least that's how our ancestors would call themselves haha) and because it stood exactly at the ground zero.

The message is that if your city is nuked, you may want to stand exactly beneath the explosion if you want to have a chance that parts of your skeleton will be found.

Well, this event is probably not a good opportunity for jokes because many people (140,000) have died. But when we look at this concentrated suffering, we shouldn't overlook the fact that many more human lives across the planet were actually saved. Japan got finally convinced that the surrender was the right solution: millions of kamikaze lives didn't have to be sacrificed and Japan, much like Germany, would begin their long decades of peace and prosperity.

When I was a little boy, we would constantly hear that the evil capitalists were planning to ignite a new world war - and even the people who were not against the capitalists would be deeply afraid of a nuclear conflict that was about to start. Thirty years ago, similar worries were even more intense - and surely more real - than the current worries of some people about the "global warming".

The fear of a nuclear war has also played a key role in the fact that the Western world hasn't seen a major war for 65 years. You know, science gives the mankind a key to the Heavens; the same key can unlock the Hell, too. Well, this is actually a Buddhist proverb but because it sounds wise, you will surely forgive me its origin. It seems that even in the ethically muddy Los Alamos efforts of some of the best physicists of the 20th century, the Heaven may have finally dominated over the Hell.

I guess that the influence of nuclear fear is guaranteed to be temporary and it is already fading away.

People have already realized that some of the globally catastrophic scenarios connected with nuclear conflicts have been ruled out. For example, it had been said that nothing would grow in Hiroshima for 75 years; however, watermelons appeared within a year. The people will eventually realize once again that the nukes can actually be used more violently or less violently and they may still be helpful to rather safely achieve certain goals that would be inaccessible by other means. Let's hope that it will be the saner people who will retain their nuclear edge.


  1. I wish we hadn't dropped it although I would have probably done the same thing in Truman's shoes, and I know the Japanese would have done it to us. But now it leaves us in the awkward situation of being the only country ever to use nukes, and not even on a military target. It's just one more way in which being the leader winds up making you look like the bad guy, and sometimes actually making you be the bad guy.

  2. I wonder to what extent the decision to drop the nukes was motivated by racism against the Japanese, as opposed to military logistics. Would the United States ever have seriously contemplated dropping the atomic bomb on a Western nation like Germany, had the situation been different?

    In his book War without Mercy, John Dower describes in vivid detail the racist rhetoric and imagery that the Americans had directed against the Japanese in World War 2. In many respects, most Americans at the time considered the Japanese to be less than human, and this hatred was clearly motivated by something other than wartime hostilities, given the far more benign conception the Americans had of the Germans and the Italians. While Americans distinguished ordinary Germans from the depravities perpetuated by the Nazi regime, Dower states that no such courtesy was bestowed upon the Japanese. They were unambiguously regarded as being savages, and no effort was made to distinguish the behavior of the ruling militaristic elite from that of ordinary Japanese citizens.
    Most strikingly, Dower describes a December 1944 public opinion poll carried out in the United States, in which 13 percent of respondents favored the annihilation of the entire Japanese race!

    Indeed, there was ample evidence to suggest that racial animosity led the Americans to treat the Japanese in a manner that would've been inconceivable when it came to the Germans or the Italians. We know for instance that while Japanese atrocities against Allied soldiers ran high during the Second World War, American soldiers engaged in many barbarities of their own, including collecting the skulls of dead Japanese soldiers. Frequently, popular magazines back home would display these skulls as a proud way of conveying the accomplishment of America's boys to their family and friends back home. Dower notes that it would've been virtually inconceivable that these magazines would've published pictures of German or Italian skulls, even if the Allied troops had engaged in the same kind of barbarity against the white Axis powers.

  3. Dear Will, well, homo sapiens is also the only species that has used nuclear weapons. Do we have to be ashamed?

    The situation of the U.S. nation is analogous. It has invented them and became the primary nuclear superpower. The main reason why the U.S. could and did use it is not an ethical failure but their technological advantage.

    If others had the means to develop and safely use them as well, to their advantage - whether the Iranians or the squirrels - they would do the same. ;-)

    Yan Shen, interesting comments but again, you shouldn't take the Americans out of the context. Racial animosities are generic, inherent, and even most people who say that they don't feel anything like that are lying.

    The percentage of the Americans who supported the extermination of the Japanese race used to be much lower than similar percentages in Germany etc. where it was the official ideology.

    That's remarkable because biologically, the Americans are of course very close to the Germans. The lower percentage showed that the Americans had a more peaceful system that regulated their hatred and negative emotions, relatively to the Germans.

  4. Lubos, I agree that ethnocentrism is an undeniable biological phenomenon.

    I would be surprised to find that percentage wise more Germans favored the extermination of the Japanese during World War 2 than did the Americans, if for no other reason than the fact that the Japanese and Germans were allies during the Second World War. As a result of this alliance, Nazi propaganda portrayed the Japanese in a generally favorable fashion. See here for a brief summary of a famous Nazi propaganda piece entitled "The Secret of Japan's Strength".

    What's most interesting is that despite the fact that Hitler and the Nazis are universally condemned as being white supremacists, virtually all of the Nazi victims during World War 2 were whites, i.e. Jews and other non-Jewish whites such as the Slavs, the Poles, etc, though I suppose in some sense this isn't too surprising given that the Germans mostly fought in Europe. This was undoubtedly one of the greatest barbarities perpetuated throughout human history, but it does make one think about the nature of race relations back in the day. There were many anomalies. For instance, Hitler granted the Chinese and the Japanese "Honorary Aryan" status. See here.

    As a result, according to the wikipedia link referenced above, "the approximately 10,000 Japanese nationals who resided in Germany during the World War II period, had enjoyed more privileges than any other "non-White" ethno-national group under their "honorary Aryan" citizenship." Meanwhile, in the United States, frequent fears of a "yellow peril" led to a worse degree of treatment of the Chinese and Japanese immigrants there. This leads me to an interesting conclusion that I've come to, after having surveyed the terrain of race relations. White supremacists will generally tend to look down upon all other races as being inferior to whites, while Nordic supremacists, which perhaps is a better characterization of the Nazis, will sometimes look down upon specific groups of whites more so than certain other groups of people of color. I guess the entire point of that long side-track was to basically argue that as barbaric as Nazi racism was, the Americans had plenty of racial animus that they were guilty of perpetuating as well. It's not as if the wholly good and noble non-racist Americans liberated the world from the evils of Nazi prejudice.

    And yes Lubos, I know that the Chinese can be racist too. :)

  5. Dear Yan Shen,

    sorry for the misunderstanding! What I was comparing was the U.S. attitude to the Japanese race with the German attitude to the Jews (and others), not the Japanese. ;-)

    I think that you gave your own explanation why Germans killed more whites - because of geographic reasons. Some of the things were random strategic accidents, like the Poles. I don't think that the Poles should necessarily be the #1 targets who should disappear by the deepest long-term and emotional German thinking of the late 1930s. The history just worked so that it became the deal, and later the Russians had to follow.

    I am sure that the East Asians - and indeed, also blacks - know what their racism is even though I also know way too many flagrant cases of people from other races who consider the white race superior (and white women to be more attractive), something that I haven't encountered to a comparable extent in the opposite direction.

    The Japanese in particular are really lacking some kind of self-confidence. The way of thinking they were taught during the war was silly, too.

    Best wishes

  6. I think "culturism" would have been a stronger motivation than racism. There were significant differences between how Japanese treated American POWs and how Germans treated American POWs, and I don't think that made a favorable impression on the Americans back home.

    One might also note the role America played in rebuilding Japan after the war - not exactly what one might expect of a nation acting on the basis of racism.

  7. Good efforts here, but I don't think anything coherent can be extracted out of World War II.

  8. Janne,

    WWII was a technical free-for-all for the US nuclear physicists.

    There's no denying that humanity progressed because of what they learned.

    No, I do not promote war, but it sure does light a fire underneath people's rears to get stuff done.

    - Shawn

  9. As someone who got born because Truman chose to bomb Nagasaki (Hiroshima was irrelevant as far as the fascist military Japanese government of the time was concerned)I think you should know the following:

    a)the abomb was designed to be used on the Germans and the scientists who built it were emotionally committed to it being used on Berlin-alas, by the time it was ready, Berlin was filled with American and Russian soldiers.

    b)The Japanese of the period were throughly racist, against whites, orientals and blacks. German and American POWs in America and Germany had a death rate of about 4%; British, Dutch, Aussie and American POWs had deasth ratges between 30% and 36%. It would have been 100% had we landed on Japanese soil before the surrender--we knew it at the time because we intercepted the radio message ordering the mass eecutions. and later captured a hard copy of it in Manila.

    About three thousand Japanese soldiers (Mostly cooks and mechanics, many of them Christian) managed to surrender to US forces, despite the natural suspicion that they had rigged their bodies with bombs to kill the soldiers they were "swurrendering" to. By the end of the war we held twO to three million German POwS.

    c) The Japanese government had no intention of surrendering--they were willing to stop fighting, but would keep all their territorial gains. They kept insisting on this iun their diplomatic cables to the ambassaddor 9in Moscow.

    d) You really want to read
    Wretchard's (Richard Fernandez, the Belmont Club's) piece on it in Pyjamas Media. One thing he does not go into is "toss the baby," the game played by Japanese officers with samurai swords--how many pieces can you cut a
    Filipino baby intoa after your men throw it into the air and before the last piece hits the ground?

    E) Yan, why don't you read about Nanking? Japanese attrocities were prememditated and government/ military policy.

    F) Of course there was racist rehetoric; if you are goijng to kill people in mass quantities if you think they are other than human. There was racist rehetoric against the Germans as well (in both world wars.)

  10. hopefully it will not happen a third world war :) Harga HP

  11. John Costello above says much of what I would have wanted to say had I come upon this thread first. To equate American racial attitudes in the 1940s to Axis policies and actions is unbelievably obtuse. To conflate Japanese and Chinese into a common Asian interest group, when the Chinese were among the principal victims of Japan’s savagery (along with Koreans, Vietnamese, and nearly every other Asian people) is beyond ignorant…

    The Allied fire-bombing of Dresden killed about as many Germans as Hiroshima did Japanese, though it took a lot more airplanes to do it. For all that it’s been fetishized the atom bomb is, after all, just a big bomb. That’s all it is. And Lubos is right about there having been no major war in the 65 years since. But of course there was no continent-wide war in Europe between Waterloo and August 1914. A whole century, perturbed only by the Crimea toward the middle and fighting between France and a nascent Germany in 1870. Yet just ahead lay a new Thirty Years War of unparalleled barbarism and almost unimaginable violence. So, really, who knows now what the future has in store for us all…