Sunday, August 08, 2010

Thought experiment: Would not bombing Hiroshima & Nagasaki have led to a different outcome?

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Hiroshima (decimated by nuke, 1945)
Hiroshima (decimated by nuke, 1945)

(I tried posting this as a comment at my friend Ian’s blog, Diaphanitas, but LiveJournal’s being a bugger again so I’ll just post it here, instead.)

For those of you who may not have heard, last Friday, August 06, was the 65th anniversary of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima (and tomorrow, Monday the 09, is the anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing). In memory of these horrific events, PZ Myers wrote thusly:

I am completely unswayed by the argument that the bombing saved American lives by convincing the Japanese that their cause was hopeless. If that were true, why not bomb a nearby deserted atoll as a demonstration? Why bomb two cities over the course of several days? Why not pick a military target rather than a civilian center? This was an act of callous terrorism.

For my part, I am unconvinced that the War would have stopped or still ended with the Japanese surrendering when they did had “Little Boy” and “Fat Man” not fallen on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Now, note – in no way am I saying that these monstrous acts were justified in any way. Of course not. As far as I’m concerned, nothing could ever justify nuking a civilian city, let alone two. But, from a purely intellectual standpoint, I do have to wonder: Would nuking some deserted island, such as is suggested by PZ, above (and, no doubt, many others), really have made a difference? Would it really have brought the Japanese to their knees and signaled the end of the War? Or would the War have gone on one way or another?

Personally, I don’t believe that anything less than an actual show of sheer force or brutality would have really hammered home the message that the Japanese were doomed to lose the war. (Again, not saying that makes the bombings right. It doesn’t.) Here’s a little thought experiment from my perspective:

SCENARIO A (real-Life)
US nukes Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Hundreds of thousands of civilians perish.
Japanese reaction: “The Americans are able and perfectly willing to massacre us all, they are too powerful and we cannot defend ourselves or fight back on this scale! We must surrender.”

US nukes distant, deserted island or atoll or some such with no human lives lost.
Japanese reaction: “Bah, they just bombed some distant bit of sand, they probably aren’t even game to hit us for real. Keep going!”

Of course, I can’t say whether that’s what would have happened or not; no-one knows. But, I think it’s almost certain that nuking some distant spot of land rather than an actual, inhabited area just wouldn’t have had the same effect, at least psychologically, and it may not have been enough to deal that crushing blow to the Japanese morale necessary to force it into submission. It might have come across as more of a bluff than an actual threat if the US didn’t actively prove that it was ready and willing to slaughter them all for real and with the subsequent promise of escalating the violence should the Japanese still refuse to back down.

Again, I am not condoning the bombings in any way, shape or form. Absolutely not; they are at the extreme of horrible and fully deserve every dark eye cast upon them by future generations. And, I also agree with PZ that not only is a single nuking monstrous enough in itself, but that nuking a second city afterwards, and choosing civilian targets rather than military strongholds, brings these acts well into the nebulous realms of abject terrorism (if not even some form of genocide). I simply wonder how things might have been different if the US had not actually engaged in such barbarity, and whether the Japanese would still have surrendered.

What do you think? Would a mere demonstration, without actually costing human lives, have been enough to sway Japan to give up their war efforts?

(via Diaphanitas)