Before anyone involved in peace and social justice work reads this and chokes on their gluten-free bagels, I invite them into an interactive exercise. I want them to imagine that it’s August 1945, not August 2021. This means that the great social, political and spiritual transformations of the 1960s never happened. You haven’t smoked marijuana in Muskogee and taken any trips on LSD. Nobody in mainstream America meditates, practices yoga or raises their consciousness. Any peace movement is too microscopic to be having any tangible effect. Hundreds of thousands of Americans are not marching in the streets to protest World War II and neither are you who unequivocally support the war effort. The only organic food your family eats is from your Victory Garden. If a woman, you’re overjoyed to have a well – paying job in the war industry, some of which provide free day care for your child/ren. The evil of Nazi Germany has been defeated and now it’s time to finish the job with Japan through their unconditional surrender.
The second scenario I want the reader to imagine is that you or your husband, father, son, brother or boyfriend is currently in the United States military and thus, preparing to invade the Japanese homeland. Which means that there is a good chance that you or your loved one will be either killed or grievously wounded. It’s the last thing that you want to see happen.
The first evil, of course, were the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. Most literate Americans are knowledgeable of the death and destruction rained upon those unfortunate cities. Many of those not killed immediately, succumbed to the ravages of radiation sickness within days and for decades afterwards. The final death toll for both cities was just over 100,000. There is much controversy as to whether Japan was planning to surrender before the bombings but the full facts, clearer now, were murky at the time. Japan had a Peace Party but also a War Party that wasn’t shy about trying to murder members of the former. The deciding factor, the Emperor, was mute on the issue of surrender.
The second evil would have been the planned November 1945 invasion of Japan by the United States. Such an assault would have been catastrophic for both the invaders and the invaded. One constant during the Pacific War was that the Japanese never surrendered. The Kamikaze suicide attacks alone scared the hell out of the Americans because they were so effective. One flimsy obsolete aircraft could (and did) take out an aircraft carrier and kill hundreds of sailors. The Japanese had 5,000 Kamikazes to defend the home islands as well as tens of millions of soldiers and drafted civilians willing to fight to the death. The Americans would have eventually prevailed at terrible cost but Japan would have been reduced to a depopulated desert.
The third evil was to forestall the invasion and starve the Japanese into surrender by a blockade and the systematic destruction of their infrastructure. All shipping around the island would be sunk. Its oil and irrigation systems demolished. Its roads and railroads pulverized. All cities and industries would be incinerated by mass bombings. The resulting starvation and disease would have killed untold millions of Japanese. It would have taken Japan decades to recover.
The fourth evil would have been the Soviet invasion of Japan, scheduled for soon after the Hiroshima bombing. This was agreed upon at the February 1945 Yalta Conference. The result would have been Japan divided into a Communist North and a Democratic South just like Korea and Vietnam. We all know how well that turned out. The Korean and Vietnam wars combined killed a total of 7,000,000 people, mostly civilians.
In conclusion, by August 1945, fifty million men, women and children had perished in World War II, the worst cataclysm in modern history. The fire-bombing of Tokyo the previous March had immolated more people than Hiroshima. One can debate whether it’s nicer to kill hundreds of thousands with many bombs versus one but the dead remain dead. As hideous as they were, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki immediately ended the war and paved the way for Japan to become a modern progressive democracy. The other options would have left the nation either a destitute wasteland or a divided battlefield. The death toll in the other three scenarios would have been far worse than the first.
Oddly, it appears that the Japanese are less outraged by the principle of Karma. The Japanese militarists were just as brutal and murderous as the German Nazis and some Japanese alive today are willing to admit to and atone for those crimes. It’s well known that the site of the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor is a popular spot for Japanese tourists.
What’s less known is that in the 1960s, the plastic scale model company, Revell, opened sales in Japan. The best-selling kit among the Japanese was none other than the B-29 bomber, the perpetrator of Hiroshima and Nagasaki destruction.