Hiroshima and the Revisionists

Another August 6, another round of historial revisionism. The fabricators of adjusted realities always make their appearance about this time every year to spin their yarns about how the atomic bombing of Japan wasn’t really necessary, how Japan was just on the point of surrendering but the bombs were dropped anyway for an assortment of nefarious and evil reasons by the nefarious and evil rulers of a nefarious and evil country, how the “real” reason for the surrender was the obvious and long expected Russian entry into the war, how this or that scrap of information or this or that “official” report “proves” that the bombings didn’t in any way hasten or even encourage surrender, etc., etc. These periodic attempts to reinvent the past come from any number of different sources. Of course, the pathologically pious head the list; those whose penchant for imagining themselves to be the “saviors of mankind” goes beyond mere daydreaming to the invention of alternate worlds, drawn in colors of stark black and white, in which they appear in the role of virtuous heros, eternally saving the rest of us from evil. Of course, they never quite accomplish that worthy goal, and the “victims” they strive so mightily to save somehow always seem to remain “victims” in spite of their most heroic efforts, because victims are indispensible. After all, if the victims were ever really saved, virtuous heros would become superfluous.

But I digress. Of course, there is also Japanese officialdom. Ever since the end of the war, they have been busy rationalizing, relativizing, and generally seeking to consign to oblivion such horrific crimes as the rape of Nanking, the deliberate slaughter of the civilian population of Manila (in both of which cities more civilians died than in Hiroshima), the Bataan Death March, the deliberate starving and murder of prisoners, the wholesale rape of a generation of Korean women,



germ warfare experiments with human guinea pigs, etc., etc. The bomb has always been their most effective foil for diverting attention from their country’s criminal past. Other than that, there are the legions of Ameria-haters worldwide for whom the United States is well-suited for the role of “out-group,” satisfying the universal need wired in the human brain for an evil enemy.

It is usually easy to identify historical revisionists.  They tip their hands by insisting on a version of reality that allows no room for doubt, and that neatly fits their ideological preconceptions.  In this case, for example, in spite of the undeniable coincidence of the atomic bombing and the surrender of Japan, they insist that there was absolutely no connection, and that the bombing had nothing at all to do with the Japanese decision to capitulate.  Obviously, especially in view of the careful destruction of relevant documents by Japanese officials, it is irrational to claim that it has absolutely been proved that the bombing and the surrender were purely coincidental, and the former’s contribution to the latter was trivial at best.  That, however, is precisely what the revisionists claim.  Look at their books and essays, and you will also find that they invariably leave out salient facts that don’t fit the altered reality they are trying to construct, and that other facts are “reinterpreted” to give them a significance they don’t deserve. 

Readers who have been around long enough may recall a previous round of Hiroshima revisionism on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the bombing back in 1995.  Earlier in the year, officials at the Smithsonian Institution, a magnet for leftist academics whose tastes run to interpreting all American history as the story of an oppressor’s playground on which a series of invariably  pure, noble and morally immaculate classes of victims were brutalized by an invariably greedy, selfish, and evil ruling class, had attempted to introduce the now familiar adjustments to reality in conjuction with the Institution’s planned display of the Enola Gay.  Fortunately, enough people with firsthand knowledge of what really happened and who objected to the bowdlerization of history, were around at the time to mount an effective resistance to the fabricators.  Now most of the eyewitnesses have passed from the scene.  It is, therefore, all the more important that the critical source material relating to the atomic bombing be preserved and made easily accessible. 

Revisionists of one stripe or another will always be with us.  At different times and in different places, they have succeeded in constructing alternate realities in spite of the existence of a far greater volume and variety of source material than exists in the case of the atomic bombing of Japan.  Schools in much of the US South, for example, raised generations of students who firmly believed that the Civil War “really” occurred for any number of reasons besides slavery, in spite of overwhelming evidence documenting that the leaders of the South believed it was about slavery, the leaders of the North believed it was about slavery, the populations in both sections believed it was about slavery, and foreign observers were unanimous in confirming that it was about slavery.  Today Holocaust deniers control the public narrative in much of the Middle East.  In both of those cases, the source material available to document what really happened was orders of magnitude larger than what remains pertinent to the atomic bombing of Japan.  The Hiroshima revisionists would seem to have a much easier task.  The amount of documentation it will be necessary for them to drop down the “memory hole” is a great deal smaller, and their attempts to construct a mythical reality may consequently turn out to be a great deal more successful than those of the Iranian theocracy, or the “Southern heritage” crowd.

History can and will be falsified.  In the case of Hiroshima, those who are attempting to revise it are influential and determined.  The antidote to revisionism is the preservation of facts.  The truth is important.  One must hope that enough facts about the atomic bombing of Japan will be preserved to give future generations at least a fighting chance of finding it.

UPDATE: This article by Richard B. Frank (hattip ChicagoBoyz), entitled “Why Truman Dropped the Bomb, which appeared in the Weekly Standard in 2005, is a must read for those seeking the facts about the atomic bombing of Japan.  Money quote: 

There are a good many more points that now extend our understanding beyond the debates of 1995. But it is clear that all three of the critics’ central premises are wrong. The Japanese did not see their situation as catastrophically hopeless. They were not seeking to surrender, but pursuing a negotiated end to the war that preserved the old order in Japan, not just a figurehead emperor. Finally, thanks to radio intelligence, American leaders, far from knowing that peace was at hand, understood–as one analytical piece in the “Magic” Far East Summary stated in July 1945, after a review of both the military and diplomatic intercepts–that “until the Japanese leaders realize that an invasion can not be repelled, there is little likelihood that they will accept any peace terms satisfactory to the Allies.” This cannot be improved upon as a succinct and accurate summary of the military and diplomatic realities of the summer of 1945.

Author: Helian

I am Doug Drake, and I live in Maryland, not far from Washington, DC. I am a graduate of West Point, and I hold a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from the University of Wisconsin. My blog reflects my enduring fascination with human nature and human morality.

2 thoughts on “Hiroshima and the Revisionists”

  1. Were the bomb neccessary?
    I believe Japan would have surrendered in the end even without the bombs. It would have cost a lot more lives (on both sides) but in the end the outcome would have been the same.
    Did the US drop the bombs for nafarious reasons?
    To my limited knowledge the bombs were dropped to
    a) reduce casualties on the American side (and to a lesser degree on the Japanese side as well)
    b) to display (and maybe test in ‘real world conditions’) the power of the weapon.
    Point a) could be considered a nefarious reason by todays standards. If you bomb civilians to save your own soldiers could be compared to what the terrorists do today (the suicide bombers, that is). Of course in the case of Japan there were a lot of reasons to believe that the civilians would have fought just as hard as the soldiers. So maybe the distinction between civilians and soldiers was not as clear with Japan.
    To answer my own question: I believe the reasons for dropping the bomb were driven by rational thought, with more regarrd to the results than to morale. The outcome could have been a lot worse for both the US and Japan and that’s what should be the most important aspect of the discussion. Countries act out of self-interests, the US is no different in this regard. The difference between the US and most other countries is that the US ‘tactics’ stem from a more ‘beneficial’ (for lack of a better world) worldview and are as such more beneficial to the world in general, even with the bad decisions in between.

  2. Regarding a), there could have been little doubt, either then or now, about which side stood to gain the most regarding casualties. In the Battle of Okinawa alone, the United States lost 12,500 killed versus 110,000 Japanese soldiers and at least 50,000 Japanese civilians, who were generally forced to fight or commit suicide by their own side. 400,000 Japanese had been killed in a single year of conventional bombing. No one can say with absolute certainty what would have happened one way or the other if the bombs hadn’t been dropped, but the numbers speak for themselves. It is highly probable that the number of Japanese dead would have been much greater.

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