It's not often that folk actually pay to read what I think, and rarer still when they post a considered comment about what I've written, so I'm doubly honoured to have received the following thoughts tonight on a post that was included in the book Guts Pose in which I made a throwaway statement that Japan had suffered "Atomic genocide"…
First up, let me say I enjoyed this diary immensely. I bought it on Amazon and read it on New Years Eve whilst the in-laws were engrossed in the dreary annual Kohaku performance (yes, my wife is Japanese).
That said, I wish to raise a point of order. I take strong issue with your reference to "atomic genocide".
What exactly is it about the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that qualifies as "genocide"?
A tragic waste of human life? Without question. But more Japanese died during the March 9th, 1945 conventional bombing raid on Tokyo. Was that also a "genocide"? And if so how should we view the entire air war against the Japan homelands? Should that be classed as "genocide" in it's entirety?
Bear in mind that the city of Kyoto was spared from bombing during the war as it was considered a city of extreme cultural significance to the Japanese nation. It is a strange kind of genocide that spares the cultural icons of a target nation, wouldn't you agree.
Rather, I suggest to you that the air war INCLUDING the two atomic bombings, whilst horrific to the victims, should be seem as ultimately forcing the Japanese High Command to face reality, thereby averting the further deaths of potentially 10 million Japanese civilians.
Alternative history doesn't get taught in schools so very few people know that possibly the bloodiest battle of the Pacific War was the one that was never fought — Operation Downfall — the Allied invasion of the Japanese home islands. The Imperial HQ was readying children, women and old men to banzai charge American machine guns and tanks armed with nothing more than sharp bamboo sticks.
In short, I believe that characterizing the atomic bombings as "genocide" is inaccurate, unfair to the people who actually fought during those times, and demeans the experience of peoples who actually HAVE suffered real genocide such as the Jews, Armenians and Rwandans.
This is my opinion and I sincerely hope that it is published, not as a criticism, but to put perspective on an important historical event which gets misrepresented so often by Japanese and the Japanese media.
Saitama SteveOn reflection, I agree "genocide" was a poor choice of word. I was trying to find the right one to describe the enormity of the killing of tens of thousands of civilians in one moment. Genocide is the attempt to eradicate a race or nation, and that was not what the Allies were about. And I take what Saitama Steve said about potentially averting millions more casualties that the mass killings of civilians presumably prevented. That was presumably true.
So, what is the right word to describe all that? I'm really not sure.
No disrespect to Saitama Steve, whose argument is entirely reasonable and valid, but stacking up the horrors of war as being less horrific than what might have happened had those horrors not been perpetrated makes my head hurt. Such arguments seem to me to be more political calculations than moral ones.
Had a sniper been able to kill the Connecticut nutter before he had killed the 26 school kids and teachers, of course the only clear moral thing to do would be to take the bloody shot. The morality gets a bit foggier if in taking that shot you knew you'd also be killing five kids in the line of fire. Is taking the lives of five innocents worth saving two dozen? How about 12 innocents? How about 26 innocent lives to save 26 others? What if the good guys were not armed with a sniper's rifle but a Predator drone? How many Pakistani wedding party guests is it moral to kill in pursuit of one terrorist? Or an alleged terrorist? When does the pursuit of alleged terrorists become terrorism itself?
I don't know.
The political answer is the ends justify the means. And that's good enough for most questions. I'm not smart enough to figure out if that is a good enough moral argument, I suspect it isn't. Had Japan won the war, would the Rape of Nanking be justified as an unpleasant but necessary oppression that by hastening the subjugation of a country saved countless millions of lives of civilians in the future? Seems absurd. And yet rational. We destroyed this village to save it.
What's the right word? Horror? Tragedy? Pragmatic Morality? Atrocity? Politics?
All of the above.
More from me about all this from three years ago in this post and comments.