AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Kamm on Tibbets

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, November 7, 2007

BRITISH PUNDIT Oliver Kamm has an excellent (though somewhat densely written) post on the death of Enola Gay pilot Paul Tibbets called The Cranks Emerge. He skewers extremists on both the right and left who would impugn Tibbets and the task he willingly undertook.

It is a followup to two recent posts he wrote on the same subject, here and here.

I’ve disagreed with Mr. Kamm before, but not this time.

BTW, sorry for the atypical blog-style posts, but I’ve got work to do!

14 Responses to “Kamm on Tibbets”

  1. bender said

    One thing I can’t help but have doubts about the A-bomb “saving lives” debate. Japan realized it was losing the war and was seeking armistice through channels such as the USSR- what if America and the Allies didn’t stick to their “unconditional surrender” agenda? I take it that it was the Allies’ stance that they were defending “civilization” from rouge Axis powers. But was that necessary to really end the war? Weren’t the Allies more interested in utterly destroying Germany and Japan instead of a quick cease fire that may well have saved many lives of their soldiers? Was there much consideration on the soldiers fighting the war?

  2. Overthinker said

    The a-bombs-saved-lives debate will always rage, simply as it is not possible to know for certain what would have happened if they had not been dropped. Maybe Japan would have surrendered quickly once the USSR seriously threatened Hokkaido, maybe they would have genuinely fought tooth and nail all the way to the Imperial Palace. Of the two, I suspect the former (Japan was seriously war-weary: its people were starving, its major cities bombed without opposition; there was even serious worry about popular revolt [which would have been interesting if it had ever got beyond random graffiti]). But we cannot know for certain, and there is also debate about exactly who told Truman how much – not to mention the rivalry between the defence branches (General Arnold, for example, was hoping to force Japan to surrender without a land invasion in order to boost his argument for an independent air force) who each had their own estimates.

    The goal of the Allies was to defeat Japan and Germany so thoroughly they would not ever pose a threat again: as Roosevelt said at Yalta re the Germans, “the fact that they are a defeated nation, collectively and individually, must be so impressed upon them that they will hesitate to start any new war.” The same idea was held towards Japan. One factor working against the US was the war-weary US population, who were not overly happy about having to think about defeating Japan after defeating Germany: there was a definite political worry that a drawn-out war against Japan would not be supported by the citizens. One reason the bombs worked is that the Japanese high command realised that if the US could do this, then there might not be any invasion at all, and no final glorious battle (as stated by former PM Suzuki in Dec 1945 – incidentally, all postwar recollections on the a-bomb need to be treated with care, as they were almost all made for an audience who had their own ideas about it, and thus often cater to that audience. But Dec 1945 is pretty close to the actual time).

    For its part, my understanding is that Japan, knowing it was defeated, was chiefly concerned with how to surrender: a final victory, it was argued, would allow them to negotiate a dignified exit. That was one of the goals of the massive buildup in Kyushu: give the Americans a bloody nose, maybe drive them back a bit, enough to allow such a settlement. In fact it can be said that the entire Pacific War was fought for that reason: there was never really any “victory” in sight in that Japan didn’t seriously intend to conquer the US or anything insane: it just wanted legitimacy for its Imperial ambitions in East Asia (originally Manchuria, a place the Americans had a few fingers in the pie of to begin with), then the general Great East Asia Yadda Yadda. “Unconditional surrender” was not technically necessary to end the war. But there were a few political considerations. One was that Germany had surrendered unconditionally, and Japan could do no less.

    The main consideration for the soldiers was probably (I say cynically) the worry about the reaction of the people back home as the body bags started piling up.

    Incidentally, I have read a couple of right-wing Japanese revisionists claim that Japan did not surrender unconditionally as the Potsdam Declaration laid out conditions (“these are our conditions: we will not deviate from them”). This is wrong, simply as “unconditional surrender” means that the surrendering side doesn’t get to make any conditions: the victorious one can set any it likes.

  3. ecoutez said

    Alperovitz seems to fall into the same category as Noam Chomsky, that he is universally reviled by the many mainstream historians, scholars, and pundits (especially neo-cons). Also like Chomsky, et al., one must search long and hard, and usually come up bereft, to find any of their detractors putting forth a fact-based refutation of the arguments these people make. Kamm, I find, is an all-too-common example of this, in that he does note refute the book, but rather a straw man. To wit:

    Gar Alperovitz is the principal populariser (though not the originator) of the theory that the A-bomb was an instrument of “atomic diplomacy”. Truman dropped the bomb not to defeat Japan – which on this reading had already indicated a willingness to surrender – but to intimidate the Soviet Union. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were, in Alperovitz’s view, not the concluding acts of the Pacific War but the initial acts of the Cold War.

    It is technically true in one very restricted sense that no one has refuted this thesis. There is no direct evidence in support of Alperovitz’s claim. There is not a single statement in the documentary record made by a US diplomat to a Soviet counterpart in 1945-6 to the effect that “you’d better not cross us, because we have the bomb”. Given this paucity of evidence, Alperovitz turned his thesis into something unfalsifiable. In the words of the historian Robert H. Ferrell, who is widely regarded as the pre-eminent authority on President Truman (Harry S. Truman and the Cold War Revisionists, 2006, p. 20): “Alperovitz was reduced to relying on the powers of psychology: possession of the bomb, he declared, influenced American officials more than they knew or said.”

    To his credit, Kamm mentions cites one specific alleged distortion in Alperovitz’s book. But then he launches into an extended tirade against…Howard Zinn??

    Unless Zinn’s quesionable comments are somehow taken to be representative of Alperovitz (and they are not), this seems a pointless excercise.

    As someone who has read Alperovitz’s book (and I would like to know, Ampontan, if you have), I can definitely attest that, in the second paragraph, Kamm is simply hyperbolizing. Alperovitz’s arguments – very thoroughly documented, I might add – are not intended to contruct a thesis, but rather to demolish one (i.e., the necessity of the bombing). He is quite empirical about this. His thesis, properly seen, is not what Kamm says it is (he does arive at this conclusion by process of elimination – but it is not the central thrust of the argument).

    I’m not a political ideologue by any means, and I’m perfectly willing to change my views in light of new evidence. That being said, I’ve yet to find a satisfactory answer to the following questions:

    1. If finishing the war ASAP was Truman’s goal, why did he delay Potsdam by several months, despite growing pressure and frustration from Stalin and Churchill? If not to await the outcome of Trinity, what else? If to await the outcome of Trinity, to what purpse, if not apprehensions about the Soviets? Or is it claimed that this extended silence from Truman did not occur, and was noted by no one? I ask this, in light of the continued insistence of many that Truman’s goal was to end the war as soon as possible.

    2. Is it even remotely possible that Truman and his cabinet did not consider the Soviet response to the bombing, and that, as Kamm seems to suggest, no discussion was made of this? Look carefully at what he says:

    There is not a single statement in the documentary record made by a US diplomat to a Soviet counterpart in 1945-6 to the effect that “you’d better not cross us, because we have the bomb”.

    He does not say that “there is no record of a US official considering the Soviet Response to the atomic bomb.” He can’t say that, for the obvious reason that it is wrong. This really is a dishonest dodge, and a misrepresentation of the argument made by Alperovitz. Why would diplomatic warning of a new weapon – sans actual demonstration – be deemed credible? It also leave the most obvious answer to his question hidden in plain view…that the “diplomatic message” was the use of the bomb itself.

    Kamm can’t suggest the absurd – that the Soviet response was irrelevant and did not play into Truman’s decision – so he erects this straw man.

    So the question remains open – to what extent was it a consideration?

    3. Timing, and surrender terms. Alperovitz cites plenty of first-hand documentary evidence showing that at the very least a significant number of high-level officials, including both Generals, thought a clarification of the surrender terms might help the near-defeated Japanese find an honorable way out. Why were the surrender terms which were actually brokered – in which the emperor was retained – not offered two weeks earlier, before the bomb was dropped? Given that no costly land-invasion was going to occur before November, urgency at the end of July, after the delayed Postdam, hardly seems warrented. Could not specified surrender terms, with a possible demonsration of the bomb (there were more than two in the pipeline, remember?) have been tried first with little risk to American casualties?

    In light of the above, the thesis about estimated casualties of a land invasion is a diversion. It’s most easily attacked because it’s most easily refuted – no one seems to want to touch the harder questions.

  4. ecoutez said

    For the record, I have no issue with Tibbets. He was just following orders.

  5. ampontan said

    No on Alperovitz

    For fact-based refutations of Chomsky, I found three on the web in about five minutes, but that’s not a subject for this site.

  6. ecoutez said

    Ampontan,

    I really recommend reading it. It’s not polemical at all, it considers all sides, and it will at least provide very good food for thought. I think you’ll be surprised.

    I’m not here to prolongue the Chomsky thing either – I’ve only read a small portion of his political writing. Some of it is very dry. But you can’t believe anything you read online about him without first checking the texts they quote from. This is relevant to the issue at hand, because most of the arguments made against both Alperovitz and Chomsky are only effective for people who haven’t read their work. They rely almost entirely on misattributed quotes and outright distortions of the arguments made. I cite the above example in the case of Alperovitz. For the Chomsky stuff online – yeah, I find David Horowitz and “The Chomsky Hoax” easily enough. And it took me less than five minutes to find an example of a “Chomsky quote” taken so badly out of context – for the purposes of “refutation” as to have the opposite meaning of what was intended. I know you don’t want this topic derailed, so I’ll leave off unless you have anything further to add about my points above. I’m also happy to show you examples of what I’m referring to in the case of either Alperovitz or Chomsky by private email, if you are interested.

  7. bender said

    For its part, my understanding is that Japan, knowing it was defeated, was chiefly concerned with how to surrender: a final victory, it was argued, would allow them to negotiate a dignified exit. That was one of the goals of the massive buildup in Kyushu: give the Americans a bloody nose, maybe drive them back a bit, enough to allow such a settlement.

    Yes, but by the summer of 1945 I think the faction insisting “final victory” was losing. Japan lost all its major to-be-blows against the allies- Mariana, “Typhoon Campaign” off Taiwan coast (the Navy lied about being a complete failure), the Philippines, and Okinawa. Its cities were in ruins, and Japanese air defense was helpless against B-29s and P-51s. It was obvious that there will be no final victory. It’s a historical fact that Japan was trying to strike a deal through the Soviets. I wonder what would have happened if the Allies were more lenient on the “unconditional surrender” stuff. Surely this type of rigid, ideology-driven tactic (“they’re evil, so we’ll destroy them” stance) will not work today. You don’t waste human lives that way anymore. The same can be said for the Japanese leaders back then, of course.

  8. ampontan said

    Ecoutez: Yes, please send me a little of the Alperovitz to the address on the right sidebar, when you get a chance.

    I’ll pass on the Chomsky. I have very little tolerance for debates of that sort, which is why I usually avoid controversies with people who write blogs.

    Thanks for the offer.

  9. Ecoutez said

    Ampontan,

    Will do (tomorrow…it’s bedtime now where I’m at).

    Best,

    E

  10. Overthinker said

    “Surely this type of rigid, ideology-driven tactic (”they’re evil, so we’ll destroy them” stance) will not work today. You don’t waste human lives that way anymore.”

    You’re being highly sarcastic, methinks….

    Japan was indeed trying to get a deal through the Soviets, or rather, certain factions in Japan were, and opposed by other factions, and the deal was probably not good enough anyway, etc etc etc.

    I don’t know when the “final victory” faction finally starting being the minority, and short of some good documents from the time I am not about to guess. I do know there was that famous deadlock at the final conference, which suggests that pragmatism, at least, was in relatively short supply, but beyond that I have not made a specific study (and it’s interesting how many debates about this subject are framed in “This historian says that, that historian says no this” types rather than “PM Suzuki said on the 10th of August yadda yadda yadda” which I would find more convincing either way).

  11. Aceface said

    Truman was a politician from democratic society.What would average American felt about him if they find out later about this ultimate secret weapon that cost taxpayers billions of money but the president chose not to use to save lives of enemy nationals instead of risking that of thousand GI’s.

    What’s done is done.And it was a war started by Japanese afterall.

    BTW,my mother is from Kokura and her father was an employee of Yahata steel company.The second A-bomb was first intended to be dropped in Kokura instead of Nagasaki becuase of the existence of the steel mill.
    So if the cloud was not over Kokura on that day of August 9th of 1945,you wouldn’t have me around.

  12. bender said

    Truman was a politician from democratic society.What would average American felt about him if they find out later about this ultimate secret weapon that cost taxpayers billions of money but the president chose not to use to save lives of enemy nationals instead of risking that of thousand GI’s.

    Democracy? For whom? America back then, there was segregation in the South and Japanese Americans were put into concentration camps. An Irish president came into being 20 years later, and was unthinkable back then. Only after Vietnam did the people have access to what was actually happening in the front. I’m not sure that the people were informed enough to judge about anything. Even now people have their doubts.

    Besides, America has been spending tons of money on all sorts of wild gadgets anyways. I don’t think that played any role in Truman deciding to use the bomb.

  13. Overthinker said

    “I don’t think that played any role in Truman deciding to use the bomb.”

    It is cited as one motivating factor by numerous historians, and it did cost a hell of a lot of money that needed to be justified. More than most “wild gadgets.” And despite the limited impact of blacks, public opinion was indeed something to be concerned about.

  14. ponta said

    it was a war started by Japanese afterall

    It sounds like Truman’s speech as to atomic bomb.

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