"He instinctively can find the shining greatness of our American culture and does a good job of highlighting it (although he also does have those rare lapses when he writes about hockey, but that is something caused by impurities in the Eastern waters or something)." Erik Keilholtz
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Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children. Email
Monday, June 03, 2002 "I say that its purpose was political and military, sadistic and humanitarian, horrible and welcome." Paul Fussell, on the dropping of the A-Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki
The debate over The Bomb at St. Blog's has drawn a number of thought-provoking contributions, from Veritas and Disputations, John Betts and Mark Butterworth, Louder Fenn and E.L. Core. For this space, an enjoyable result of the give-and-take over such a grim subject has been a reacquaintance with the writing of the curmudgeonly Paul Fussell (with whom the Atlantic did this interview in 1997).
Fussell, in Thank God for the Atom Bomb, writes from the perspective of a combat veteran in defending the bombing as necessary to ending an unspeakably ghastly war in the Pacific.
Arthur T. Hadley said recently that those for whom the use of the A-bomb was "wrong" seem to be implying "that it would have been better to allow thousands on thousands of American and Japanese infantrymen to die in honest hand-to-hand combat on the beaches than to drop those two bombs." People holding such views, he notes, "do not come from the ranks of society that produce infantrymen or pilots."…
Former Pfc. E. B. Sledge, author of the splendid memoir With the Old Breed at Peleliu and Okinawa, noticed at the time that the fighting grew "more vicious the closer we got to Japan," with the carnage of Iwo Jima and Okinawa worse that what had gone before. He points out that
What we had experienced in fighting the Japs on Peleliu and Okinawa caused us to formulate some very definite opinions that the invasion…would be a ghastly bloodletting…It would shock the American public and the world. [Every Japanese] soldier, civilian, woman and child would fight to the death with whatever weapons they had, rifle, grenade or bamboo spear.
The Japanese pre-invasion patriotic song, "One Hundred Million Souls for the Emperor," says Sledge, "meant just that." Universal kamikaze was the point…And the invasion was going to take place: there's no question about that. It was not theoretical or merely rumored in order to scare the Japanese. By July 10, 1945, the prelanding naval and aerial bombardment of the coast had begun…
…John Kenneth Galbraith is persuaded that the Japanese would have surrendered surely by November without an invasion. He thinks the A-bombs were unnecessary and unjustified because the war was ending anyway. The A-bombs meant, he says, "a difference, at most, of two or three weeks." But at the time, with no indication that surrender was on the way, the kamikazes were sinking American vessels, the Indianapolis was sunk (880 men killed), and Allied casualties were running to over 7,000 per week. "Two or three weeks," says Galbraith. Two weeks more means 14,000 more killed and wounded, three weeks more, 21,000. Those weeks mean the world if you're one of those thousands or related to one of them. During the time between the dropping of the Nagasaki bomb on August 9 and the actual surrender on the fifteenth, the war pursued its accustomed course: on the twelfth of August eight captured American fliers were executed (heads chopped off); the fifty-first United States submarine, Bonefish, was sunk (all aboard drowned); the destroyer Callaghan went down, the seventieth to be sunk, and the Destroyer Escort Underhill was lost. That's a bit of what happened in six days of the two or three weeks posited by Galbraith. What did he do in the war? He worked in the Office of Price Administration in Washington. I don't demand that he experience having his ass shot off. I merely note that he didn't.
It is worth noting that a million American lives were expected to be lost in an invasion of mainland Japan; that 123,000 Japanese and Americans had killed each other on Okinawa weeks before the A-bomb killed 140,000 in Hiroshima; Hiroshima was indeed militarily significant as headquarters of the Japanese Second Army; and that the foe was an expansionist power of singular barbarity that preferred death to surrender, regarded with moral contempt conquered peoples who chose otherwise, and was preparing a kamikaze defense of the homeland to the last man, woman and child.
Catholic just-war thinking starts with a “presumption for justice,” not a “presumption against violence,” maintains George Weigel (second essay). In an immoral business, in which no choice is palatable, might it not be argued that the evil of the a-bomb is preferable to the greater evil of extended warfare, in that the bomb hastens the end of warfare and the imposition of justice?
And on the "Ends Justifying the Means" question: If it would lead to information that would prevent the terrorist destruction of the Golden Gate Bridge or the Sears Tower, I would unhesitatingly prescribe the Iron Maiden for Osama bin Laden.
When I read that we will fight the Japs for years if necessary and will sacrifice hundreds of thousands if we must, I always like to check from where he's talking: it's seldom out here. Lieutenant (j.g.) John F. Kennedy, US Navy, 1943