Thursday, August 9, 2007

Thank God for the Atom Bomb
Tom Smith

Here is Paul Fussell's essay with that title.  (I was made to recall this essay by Maimon's interesting post on Hiroshima and the comments on it below.) 

All of Fussell's books are worth reading, especially those about WW1 and WW2.

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Tom Smith


Fussell's _The Great War and Modern Memory_ is a terrific book. I was led by it to Robert Graves's _Goodbye to All That_, which is a wonderful WWI memoir.

The "Thank God for the Atomic Bomb" is a brilliant and powerful essay. It is also one that invites us to think that we should just keep our mouths shut when we dare criticize those who have more experience in some context than we do. And this is actually an insidious view. A comparison: To say 'Thank God for the electric chair', and to say that those who have never had a family member murdered should just shut up (or to say that one is 'just noting' that one has never had a family member murdered) is insidious.

Posted by: skeptical | Aug 9, 2007 9:59:48 AM

My father, having killed many Germans, and had friends killed, was preparing to go to fight the Japanese. He was delighted with the bombs, he told me. He never discussed the fact that before the war he had been a keen wild-fowler but after the war he never fired a gun again except when teaching us to shoot. "Next time the Germans might be Russians" he remarked.

Posted by: dearieme | Aug 9, 2007 2:37:05 PM

Dearime's comment is interesting to me. My father (as I have mentioned several times on the RC) fought in Okinawa with the 77th Infantry, in the artillery, and was slated to be part of the first wave in the invasion of Japan. He always said that Truman had saved his life for a certainty. He had stories to tell about Okinawa, but refused to speak of the carnage there, except to say brief things such as "body parts everywhere" and "they buried the bodies on the beaches with bulldozers." He told one story (warning -- it's pretty gross and offensive), possibly in response to my asking if anything funny ever happened on Okinawa: the story was that some sailors had come on shore to see the damage that their guns had done (Okinawa was shelled in one of the biggest naval bombardments in history), and complained of the smell. One sailor said, it must be that Jap corpse up the road. No, a GI said, it's that pile of Jap heads behind you. The sailor turned, saw the pile, and got sick, much to the merriment of the GIs. My point is only, if this is what passed for humor on Okinawa, you can imagine how bad the bad stuff was. My dad was also an enthusiastic hunter before the war, but could not be persuaded to hunt after the war. Only with much pestering did he take me out pheasant shooting once. He told me he had seen all the blood he ever wanted to see.

Posted by: tom smith | Aug 9, 2007 2:50:59 PM

I am not a fan of Truman's politics, but he was a far superior individual than is supposed.
Opposed to the Bomb were MacArthur, Nimintz, and Eisenhower--so much for the blood-thirsty Americans. Nimitz changed his mind after Okinawa. MacArthur wanted the glory. Eisenhower thought it was inhumane.
Elderly Japanese, ten or fifteen years old at that time, are happy to tell us now that this saved them from the suicidal duties they were instructed upon, and they were even more relieved than the American servicemen at the sudden end of the war. How many nations, faced with certain defeat, would have required more than one bomb? Two is all we had ready. Truman knew his poker. He knew not to demonstrate. He knew not to threaten. He said.... nothing. Even after all that, the Japanese surrender had to survive a coup attempt.
Truman also knew his Shakespeare, backward and forward. Underlined in his copies:
Thus conscience makes cowards of us all.
There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and miseries.
This was the most reasoned single decision ever made by an American President.

Posted by: james wilson | Aug 11, 2007 10:47:32 PM

We also forget the civilians that were dying every day in Southeast Asia at the hands of the Japanese. The quicker the war ended, the sooner their needless dying stopped. These third parties are the most innocent, yet rarely are spoke of.

Posted by: Greg Saybolt | Aug 12, 2007 9:36:20 AM

Yes, those who have not seen all sides of a coin should not deem the atomic bomb as an unneccessary evil. They are far from having any credential of judging such issues.

Posted by: Fabian | Aug 21, 2007 11:11:20 PM