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Friday, May 26, 2017

How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb

One of the more interesting things I have learned about WWII, was in regards to the atomic bomb(s).

Number one: the U.S. dropped two atomic/nuclear bombs on Japan, but had a third primed and ready for use had Japan not surrendered… with material to make other such weaponry for use against Japan.

Number 2: Lots of people died from the blasts, as well as from subsequent radiation poisoning making it difficult to get an accurate number… and still… the firebombings of Tokyo before the atomic blasts, actually caused more Japanese fatalities… spread out over a longer period…

Number 3: the Allies really did need to drop the atomic bombs on Japan.

I never used to believe that anyone needed to drop such a weapon… but after writing these blogs and thus researching more and more into the war and specifically into the mindset of the Japanese, I eventually came (past tense) to the conclusion that it was warranted… and actually saved more lives than it cost.

When I applied to the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme back in the early months of 1990, I had an interview with the Japanese Consulate in Toronto.

They asked me why I wanted to go to Japan.

Truthfully, I didn’t want to go to Japan… I had only applied because a girl I liked in journalism school was going to apply—and wouldn’t it be nice if we went together?

I was naive about how the JET Programme worked… or how women in Toronto perceived this then still-virginal 25-year-old… and was only mildly surprised when I got an interview and she didn’t.

What the hey… I went to the interview not expecting to go any farther, wanting to be accepted, but wanting to turn them down, as I was just beginning my career as a newspaper journalist.

I had also been accepted into the prestigious Toronto Star Summer Internship Program - again, she wanted to try for it, so I said “what the heck” and applied also. Me in, she no.

While I never stood a chance at actually dating her before, I sure as heck didn’t after getting into both her dream jobs.

Her dream jobs… not mine.

As such, when the consulate official asked me that question about why I wanted to go to Japan—a surprise question by the way—I spouted some naive line about how I had always had an interest in WWII… and since history books are always written by the winners, I wanted to go to Japan to talk to the people there to get a real and true response about what things were like.

The consulate official said that was interesting but didn’t think I would have much luck because the Japanese people weren’t all that comfortable in talking about that period of history.

Fair enough…

I know it’s a painful subject, I replied, but I don’t want to point fingers at any one or judge them… I just want to know their thoughts and feelings.

He ground his lower jaw upwards as if pondering deep in thought, nodded and stood up to shake my hand, wish me luck and say good bye.

Again… I was naive.

I had not read a thing on Japan - except for what I knew about Japan during WWII (not much), saw in Godzilla and Gamera movies, and fully expected there were ninja and geisha everywhere.

In other words… dick all.

I didn’t know that the Japanese didn’t like talking about themselves… preferring to talk about their own particular group dynamic…

But I did learn - once in Japan - that people in Japan will talk to you about anything if you get alcohol involved.

Actually… that’s not quite true. While it’s true that alcohol as conversation lubrication was a good way to loosen lips, sometimes showing a real interest in things-Japanese will cause the locals to talk… and to actually stop to ponder just what THEY THEMSELVES think about a subject - any subject.

Why? Because that Japanese really don’t talk much about personal things with one another…

Now… this is not a 100% true fact. People and friends do talk.

More often, Japanese friendships are limited to within the school chums they had growing up, and with their co-workers…

You know… kind of like how things are now in Canada or the U.S… or wherever.

Yeah, we do make friends outside those institutions… but not as many or as often as we think we do.

Because of work constraints—IE previously doing stupid amounts of unpaid overtime or simply working late all the time—the average Japanese person doesn’t have a lot of free time to go out and make new friends or find new friends…   

Anyhow… I had absolutely no trouble at all in getting Japanese people around me to open up.

It might be a gift I have cultivated, it might simply be me having the guts to ask nosy questions… but I always got a thoughtful response from whomever I was questioning.

Asking “Why” is key.

It makes a body ponder… and me being me, it didn’t seem like they wanted to disappoint me with a typical “wakanai (I don’t know)” blanket statement.

If I got one… I would ask again: Naze (nah-zay)? “Why?”

Then as now, I didn’t care to associate with stupid people. Even the funniest, nicest guy on the planet who always wanted to talk about women and sex with me would bore me.

I can talk about those topic until the cows come home, but dammit, I also want to talk about 100s and 1000s of other things.

To quote Nirvana (Smells Like Teen Spirit): I feel stupid and contagious, Here we are now, entertain us.

So… anyways… after talking to the average elder Japanese person who had either fought in or been around during WWII, I learned that to a tee they didn’t like war, but were told that they had to do their duty and fight for the Emperor and Japan (IE God and country).

Those who were kids during the war told me how they were always informed that Japan was winning the war… winning every battle… but recall how they would be drilled in how to use a bamboo stick as a weapon to repel possible Japanese enemies.

None seemed to question why such a weapon would be required if the Japanese were winning how could the enemy land on the island…

What I didn’t get… and that’s my fault for not knowing that I should have pushed further, was that the Japanese had a never say die attitude… no… that’s wrong…

I knew all about the kamikaze - the divine wind - pilots who would crash a single bomb-laden aircraft into enemy ships in a a suicide mission… and I knew that it was just desperation…

But no… it was all about dying for God and Country. Dying a noble death.

There is a cenotaph in downtown Toronto that memorializes “Our Glorious Dead” who died during various wars.

While I respect their efforts, I had always scoffed - even as a young child - that there was nothing glorious in being dead.

I know, I know… sometimes the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few…

But, what I learned only very recently, was that the Japanese in WWII were perfectly willing to die before surrender, because a long-standing samurai code compels the warrior to live their life by following: Death before dishonor.

In the case of WWII, dishonor is from losing a battle or war, but also that death is preferable than surrendering to an enemy who would torture, rape, kill and rape again. I exaggerate, but really… surrender was for the weak… the coward… and is not the Japanese way.

The Americans either realized that or figured it out… Japan would never surrender, and would fight tooth and nail down to the last old man, woman and child to defend their sacred land from the heathen Allies.

So… for the Americans and Aussies who were leading the attack on Japan… and had had seen first-hand the fierceness of the Japanese soldier who would rather die than surrender as each island near Japan was re-taken… a war… a land war in Japan was going to cost a lot of Allied lives, as well as a lot of Japanese lives.

So Hiroshima was the lucky (sarcasm) city to get the first atomic weapon used on it…

Keep in mind that it was dropped on August 6, 1945.

A high estimate says 140,000 people died, including 20,000 soldiers.

The place was on fire… bodies evaporated… carbon imprints of bodies sand-blasted into walls and roads…  radiation burns, fires, most of the city destroyed…

Japan did not surrender. It knew it was bad, but chose not to tell its populace just how bad.

So the Americans dropped another atomic bomb on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945…

It is (high) estimated that another 80,000 people died…

Again… Japan did not surrender.

A third atomic bomb was prepared… but…

… finally, Japan surrendered on August 15… six days after the destruction of Nagasaki.

It’s like Japan didn’t care about how many people died and how it was now fighting a lost cause… all that mattered was that it never surrender and thus lose “face”.

Only the Emperor had enough sense to go against the will of the country’s military… the ones who had wanted a war… who had essentially claimed the war in the name and honor of the Emperor… they were angry and disappointed in the “god” leader…

Death before dishonor.

That is the Bushido… a warrior code known as the “Way of the Samurai”… a code so steeped in honor that the U.S. Marines adopted it as their motto…

So… yeah… Japan didn’t even want to surrender even though it had been twice bombed by atomic/nuclear weaponry…

Imagine if the U.S. hadn’t dropped the bombs? Imagine if they had to lead ground troops into Japan to hunt down and stop every single enemy… which in this case was every single person in Japan capable of holding a weapon…

That’s why the bomb(s) had to be dropped on Japan.

It’s not that Allied lives were more valuable than Japanese lives… because Japan would have sacrificed the life of every person if the emperor hadn’t intervened… it’s simply that the dropping of two atomic/nuclear bombs eventually saved more lives than it took.

I’m sure revisionists will say that radiation poisoning and cancers many years in the future were horrific and painful… no argument… but… this was a country ready to kill itself to maintain its honor…

Andrew Joseph
PS: Today's title is the sub-title of the 1964 dark comedy Dr. Strangelove. If you have never seen it - you owe it to yourself to watch, learn and be amused.

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