Art Chance: Aug. 6, 1945 and the end of the world

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By ART CHANCE

Five thousand years of the plodding progression of Western Civilization ended and a new World was born a little after 8:15 am Japanese Time (GMT +9) on Aug. 6, 1945.   

Five thousand years of history and human progress being dictated by the clashes of kings, emperors, tyrants, and Empires ended in a blinding flash 1,600 feet above Hiroshima, Japan. The end was sealed three days later with another blinding flash over Nagasaki, Japan, when the last of the ancient empires, Imperial Russia in the guise of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was stymied in its imperial ambitions in Asia.   

Little did the Soviets know that the United States was out of nuclear bombs, though the U.S. government was so riddled with Soviet spies that they may have known.

We don’t like to talk about it but the U.S., like England, was a very war-weary nation in the spring and summer of 1945.  The ink was barely dry on the German surrender when the British turned out Sir Winston Churchill for “free stuff.”   

The U.S. and England had agreed on a “Germany First” strategy. Huge Army and air resources as well as logistical support and military transport had been devoted to the European war and to aid to the U.S.S.R. The U.S. shouldered most of the load in the Pacific with enormous naval resources, including naval air power, but relatively limited use of U.S. ground troops. The U.S. and Commonwealth troops who fought the island-hopping campaign across the Pacific did most of it with tens of thousands of troops, not the hundreds of thousands devoted to the retaking of North Africa and Continental Europe.   

But as the Allies neared the Japanese home islands, the butcher’s bill became much, much dearer. Between June of 1944 and June of 1945, the U.S. took a million casualties. Men who had survived fighting from North Africa, Sicily, Italy, and Normandy were looking at being packed into troop transports and sent to the Pacific for the invasion of the Japanese home islands.   

Needless to say, morale was poor both in the ranks and on the home front. Years of wage and price controls and rationing had led to unrest and growing labor disputes. The U.S. was considering even drafting women for service in war production industries. The U.S. really needed to end the war.

In late July the Allies held the Potsdam Conference to settle the disposition of German and war-torn Europe and to set policy for ending the war with Japan. During the Conference, President Truman was informed that the first US atomic bomb test had been successful. He let Stalin know that the U.S. now possessed a new and powerful weapon, which of course Stalin already knew. The Allies delivered an ultimatum to Japan demanding its unconditional surrender or face destruction. The Japanese ignored the ultimatum. The U.S. made good on the ultimatum on Aug. 6.   

Two days later our gallant Soviet allies denounced their neutrality pact with Japan, turned their armies east and tried to scoop up as much Japanese held territory in Asia as they could, including much of China. We owe the existence of communist China, communist North Vietnam, and North Korea to that adventure.

So, you can get a good debate about whether the Nagasaki bomb was “dropped on Tokyo or Moscow.” It is a valid argument that the Hiroshima bomb had not persuaded the Japanese militarists to surrender, so the Nagasaki bomb was added persuasion.   

It is an equally valid argument that the Nagasaki bomb was dropped to demonstrate to the Soviets that the first one wasn’t a freak.  Imagine if you will the Soviets turning their vast following in the U.S. left against further prosecution of the war.   

Much of academia, media, and organized labor were sympathetic to if not allied with Soviet communism. An “End the War” campaign in England and the U.S. would likely have led to accepting terms with Japan that would have made Asia into Soviet chattel.

In less cynical terms, as a practical decision, the two atomic bombs saved millions of lives. The U.S. was estimating taking as many casualties in taking the Home Islands as it had taken while restoring Europe. Most of our literature and history about the Pacific war understates the ruthlessness of that front.   

We remonstrate a bit about the Japanese cruelty to prisoners and such, but generally Allied troops asked no quarter and gave none. The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are barely in the top 10 list of civilian casualties from conventional bombing of German and Japanese cities. If necessary, the U.S. could and would have burnt every structure in Japan to the ground; in one night a B-29 low-altitude raid using incendiary bombs leveled most of Tokyo that March of 1945.

Just burning things down didn’t have quite the drama of a single big bang and a bright flash. The world is better for Aug. 6.

Art Chance is a retired Director of Labor Relations for the State of Alaska, formerly of Juneau and now living in Anchorage. He is the author of the book, “Red on Blue, Establishing a Republican Governance,” available at Amazon. 

Photo: Air Force Col. Paul Tibbetts waves from the cockpit of the Enola Gay moments before takeoff on Aug. 6, 1945. A short time later, the plane dropped the first atomic bomb in combat. Armen Shamlian/US Army Air Forces

27 COMMENTS

  1. Been thinking about this a lot recently and Art is right. With nuclear weapons the thought of national wars or wars for empire scared our leaders of the day. Rightly so. As such they attempted to remake the world. However we are at the end of that remake as yet again empires are rising in and wars are fought in yet a new form. One epoch ended yet another has begun. And evil and darkness did not go anywhere despite those great leaders best intentions…

  2. Art, I disagree. For the firebombing of Tokyo, rightfully LeMay should have faced a Nuremberg trial as a war criminal. And the world would be a better place had the atom never been cracked. But sadly, power hungry narcissistic megalomaniacs will never be satiated. Wars are not started by the people, but by politicians inflicting their egos upon the citizenry. Consider the Christmas Truce of 1914, when British, French and German soldiers stood side by side to sing carols together for the holiday. Leadership, horrified by the humanity, broke up units who participated, censoring all news and soldiers’ letters from the public.
    By rights, any who advocate for war, and especially those who vote for it, should stand on the front lines and face each other, with primitive weapons. No ‘leading from behind.’ Politicians need to experience (not just see) the horrors of their wars first hand for themselves AND THEIR FAMILIES.
    Hiroshima and Nagasaki let the Genie escape. Thankfully it has been contained for the better part of a century. In 1950, Isaac Asimov said that by 2050 mankind would either learn to live in harmony or destroy itself. Considering current conditions and divisive politics, I fear the latter.

    • Fortunately, I’m old enough that I likely won’t be around when an existential threat against the US arises, likely from China, which thinks it can win a war with the US even if it includes a nuclear exchange. Between corrupt politicians and feckless citizens the US will not be able to defend itself.

      Pockets of patriots will try futilely to hold out, but the US will not be able to organize purposeful opposition because people who’ve been indoctrinated to think as you do simply do not have the moral wherewithal to defend the ashes of our fathers and the temples of our Gods.

      • Most of your statement is right on. However China is in a tenuous position right now and ripe for change from within. I have friends there and when I asked, one told me that Chinese mothers would never allow the government to send their only sons off to an external war.
        I worry for my children (some from China). I fear some little nothing country will light the fuse and start the conflagration, or even some wild terrorist group. I may be old, but children and grandchildren are coming of age.

    • And thank you for this well written essay. Far too many people remain completely ignorant of history, and as Mark Twain said, it may not repeat but it will rhyme.

  3. By August 1945 if Japan continued resisting a mass famine would have followed. Their islands were fully blockaded. The estimated deaths from starvation are in the millions, multiple times more than from the two nuclear explosions. The other factor is with the nuclear option, wasting hundreds of thousands of more American lives was not worth losing, if avoidable. The nuclear option was a better option than an invasion.

  4. Well obviously a mistake was made but that’s 20/20 vision. Patton was right and we should have invaded Russia before they got the nuke and avoided the Cold war and all those lives and money spent. But then we wouldn’t have gone to the Moon or developed the Star wars technology to divert incoming threats. McCarthy was right and that we should have invaded China. We gave it back to them after we beat the Japs, and then they paid us back as an ally and after having taken the entire Korean peninsula, drove us all the way back to the DMZ zone that’s current. I like this when we was their friend and then the regime change got them all scared but a nuke would have changed all that. You need to get over the stigma of it being a nuclear weapon and rely on it it’s just a well placed big efficient bomb. A bomb like no other bombs yes but still just a bomb and it has a purpose or at least it did have.

    • There are admirable things about Patton. Like his, my ancestors served in the Army of Northern Virginia and shared that Southern ” attack and die” ethos. As a General Officer, George Patton was like a NASCAR driver who believes in “checker or wrecker.” Patton is rightfully praised for his winter attack to relieve Bastogne, but that obscures the fact that his army was hopelessly bogged down in the Huertgen Forest and pulling out to move on Bastogne came as a relief. The reality in 1945 is the same as it was in 1975; the Allies had never faced more than about 15% of the Wehrmacht. There is absolutely no way the US, even with Allied support, could have defeated the USSR in a conventional war in Patton’s time, and maybe not ever.

      The US State Department and intelligence apparatus was so riddled with communist sympathizers and Soviet agents that it is hard to know what happened with China, Korea, and Vietnam. “Who lost China” was the question of the hour in the Fifties. My sense is that the Nationalist Chinese lost China, but the Communists were aided by the US diplomatic and intelligence establishment.

      You hit on the “thing” about nukes; they’re cheap. It is an expensive weapon that requires an expensive delivery system, but the mission only requires one of them to destroy a city. We read of the “1000 Bomber Raids” against European targets in WWII; a “1000 Bomber Raid” has 10,000 men in its crews. A modern nuclear-armed bomber could destroy any city in the World with a crew of two to four.

  5. Great read Art. Easy to second-guess decisions made with out ever being in a position to make a call that affected so many. Also to dismiss the lack of remorse on those who had to make the hard calls, is woefully misunderstanding the burden these great people carried to their last breath.

  6. Looking back at Hiroshima and Nagasaki are always an interesting debate on cause and effect. Without question, I personally approve of Truman’s decision on using the bombs. I also realize that the future use of nuclear weapons is guaranteed, just as I knew that the use of biological weapons (like coronavirus) was guaranteed. Nuclear weapons are weapons against concentrated masses of people. Cities. That is something to keep in mind in a world increasingly becoming a rural/urban divide.

  7. Well said. One can imagine the weight on President Truman’s shoulders as he was faced with the decision to use “the bombs”. Remember, FDR was so arrogant that he’d never told Truman about the country’s nuclear technology; President Truman had very little time between learning about it and making the decision to use it. He was a great president because he did make the difficult decision and saved millions of lives. I am sure, like you said, he was burdened by his decision for the rest of his life.

  8. Ensconced in our “woke” world of today, it is really hard to imagine or understand what the leaders of the free world were thinking during WWII especially since most could remember the horrors of the often fruitless battles of WWI where millions of men were killed with new weapons of war and without much gain in the progression of the war. I think ending the WWII with a big bang was the only way.

  9. They knew exactly what our armament was, Art. What most people who advocate against dropping the bombs are unaware of is that the Japanese in their own private nuclear facility in Korea at the time was about 6 months away from nuking the United States. The West Coast, maybe the Panama canal it wouldn’t have mattered they already showed they had a taste for giving us a black eye. So people can stick their head in the sand about oh the poor Japanese, with the Germans sitting off their own little mini nuke I’ll be at too little too late and giving that technology to the Japanese, it became imperative that we melt them down to save ourselves.

    • The story to which you refer is an Alex Jones level conspiracy based one pseudonymous source, “Captain Wakabayashi.” Japan had interest but no resources to pursue such a project. They did, however, have extensive biowarfare programs which could pose a threat, had they possessed delivery systems. But by 1945 the populace stood on the precipice of starvation and after surrender the first great challenge became providing sufficient food. Incidentally, the US shipped wheat, and being unfamiliar with the grain, they introduced Ramen Noodles.

  10. Like it or not the US was at WAR with Japan and we had the bigger stick! Its how WAR works … well, its how WAR use to work. Do you think if Japan had the big stick they wouldn’t have used it on the US! Hell, they were ballooning bombs into the US west-coast mainland during the WAR!

    If the US would have gone island-to-island into mainland Japan, then marched, (although realistically it would have been hand-to-hand combat with US infantry walking into every booby-trap known to man at the time, every foot of the way), into Tokyo, estimates as high as 250 thousand (plus) US serviceman deaths, during that operation, would have occured. Alot more baby boomers, and their descendants would have never been.

    To quote the person that presided-over the planning of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese Naval Admiral Yamamoto, said it best, after the Pearl Harbor raid, “… I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve …”. And Yamamoto didn’t live to see how terrible that resolve could be!

    A moment of silence, then a toast, to the GREATEST GENERATION!

  11. At the end of the day it boils down to this: Japan attacked us. On our soil. Twice.

    If the choice was a long, brutal costly war in Japan or nuking them senseless, I pick the option that cost the fewest American lives.

    Pay stupid games, win stupid prizes.

  12. I call Bu…….it on Art’s statement that all academia,the media and organized labor was sympathetic to if not allied with soviet communism. Utterly without foundation in an otherwise well written message.

    • Once upon a time I was a pretty good advocate in adversarial proceedings; you’ll almost never find me using an absolute such as “all.” That said, UC Berkeley and Columbia U were practically branch offices of the San Francisco and NYC Soviet Consulates. Most of the Soviet atomic espionage was run out of Berzerkeley. Look no further than Pulitizer Prize winning NYT reporter Duranty’s pronouncement about the USSR that he had seen the future and it worked; there were plenty more like him and lots of liberal useful idiots. The AFL-CIO spent most of the late ’40s and half or more of the ’50s pushing the open communists out of visible leadership positions in the unions. There is plenty of foundation; go do some reading rather than just accept leftist propaganda.

  13. My dad was heavily involved in combat in the Pacific theater, his overseas tour of duty lasting 1 year, 7 months, and 7 days. His unit was scheduled to be among the first waves to hit the Japanese homeland. Casualties were predicted to be 95% or higher for those units, levels that would have been virtually certain to ensure that myself, my siblings, and 3 more generations of descendents would never exist. Multiply that effect on one family by a factor of a million (Casualty estimates at the time) and you get some idea of what was saved by the deployment of those terrible, wonderful weapons. It makes me shudder to think of what would happen today under the current “leadership”.What a shame my grandchildren will never experience the freedom I was given by those heroes of the “greatest generation”.

  14. “The big bang took and shook the world, shot down the rising sun” . Rush: “The Manhattan Project”..lyrics by the late Neil Peart.

  15. Art, thank you very much for your history lessons. I was wondering if you would ever consent to writing about the Reichstag fire and how it possibly has similarities to our own current events.

  16. Just think……..without that blinding flash and skin-peeling radioactive fallout where would we be today?
    Obviously, without our Honda’s, Toyotas, Nissan’s, Sony’s, Mitsubishi’s, Komatsus, etc….etc. Arigato!

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