When US President Harry S. Truman made the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, followed by another on Nagasaki a few days later, he was not acting as an agent untethered...
When US President Harry S. Truman made the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, followed by another on Nagasaki a few days later, he was not acting as an agent untethered from history. In the wheels of his wearied mind lay the battered Marines who, despite being victorious, had received sanguinary lashings at Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
A fear grew, and US military sources speculated about, the slaughter that might follow an invasion of the Japanese homeland. They also pondered the future role of the Soviets, and wondered whether there were other means by which Japan’s involvement in the war might be terminated before Moscow got its hands on the battered remains of North East Asia.
Much is made about the moral dilemma Truman faced. He knew there was the nastiest of weapons at hand, born from the race to acquire it from Nazi Germany. But on a certain level, it was merely another weapon, one to use, a choice sample in the cabinet of lethal means and measures. By that stage of the war, killing civilians from the air, not to mention land, was banal and common place; enemy populations were to be experimented upon, burned, torched, gassed, shelled and eradicated in the program of total war.
By the time Truman made his decision, Japan had become a graveyard of strategic aerial bombing. General Curtis E LeMay of the US Air Force prided himself on incinerating the enemy, and was encouraged by various study commissions advocating the use of incendiary bombs against Japan’s flammable urban architecture. He was realising the dreams of such figures as the pioneering US aviator and air power enthusiast Billy Mitchell, who fantasised in the 1920s about Japanese cities being “the greatest aerial targets the world has ever seen”. In 1941, US Army chief of staff George Marshall spread the word to journalists that the US would “set the paper cities of Japan on fire”. Civilians would not be spared.
Towards the end of the war, daylight precision bombing had fallen out of favour; LeMay preferred the use of Boeing B-29 Superfortresses, heavily laden with firebombs, to do the work. His pride of joy in conflagration was Tokyo. During the six-hour raid over the night of March 9 and 10, 1945, the US Strategic Bombing Survey concluded that 87,793 had perished, with 40,918 injuries.
There was little novel in LeMay’s blunt approach. Britain’s Air Force Marshal Arthur “Bomber” Harris fertilised the ground, and the air, for such an idea. He made it his mission to not only kill Germans but kill German civilians with a cool determination. He did so with a workmanlike conviction so disturbing it chilled the blood of many Britons.
Excerpted from: 'Death From the Sky: Hiroshima and Normalised Atrocities'.