Little Boy and Fat Man

We've talked about Hiroshima and Nagasaki before on this blog. Bill Whittle argues against Jon Stewart's assertion that Truman was a war criminal in this video clip that I just ran across. Some points Whittle made that I thought have bearing on the analysis are:

  • The US made some effort to warn the Japanese citizens about what was coming.
  • Hiroshima and Nagasaki were, in some ways, military targets.
  • Conventional bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki would have cost as many lives, if not more, than the atomic bombing.
  • Dropping the bombs killed fewer people than not dropping them would have killed on both the American and Japanese side.
  • The Japanese citizenry were probably not ready to surrender anytime soon before the bombs were dropped.
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Only the first point makes

Only the first point makes some kind of sense... if they said something like: look, these properties are used to attack us, so it's our right to bomb them, get away... That's a decent argument for the morality of the bombing, although I don't think it really happened that way.

The second point doesn't really make Truman less of a war criminal... so he used a method which killed slightly less innocent. Hardly an excuse.

The third point is the classic defense. It doesn't hold water. Killing an innocent person is wrong, no matter what. If a survivor were to try Truman for giving the order, I do not see why he should not be condemned.

Fourth point is similar... The Japanese would have fought to death and there would have been much more dead... Yeah yeah. Murder is still murder.

John Stewart retracted that statement

In a later program, Jon Stewart retracted his statements and, in effect, called himself an idiot.

Who knows whether or not he honestly changed his mind or if he was told to change his mind, I think he cited something about it being a complex decision.

the Jon Stewart quote

here's an article on his retraction

He said on that retraction ...

The other night we had on Cliff May. He was on, we were discussing torture, back and forth, very spirited discussion, very enjoyable. And I may have mentioned during the discussion we were having that Harry Truman was a war criminal. And right after saying it, I thought to myself that was dumb. And it was dumb. Stupid in fact. So I shouldn't have said that, and I did. So I say right now, no, I don't believe that to be the case. The atomic bomb, a very complicated decision in the context of a horrific war, and I walk that back because it was in my estimation a stupid thing to say. Which, by the way, as it was coming out of your mouth, you ever do that, where you're saying something, and as it's coming out you're like, "What the f**k, nyah?" And it just sat in there for a couple of days, just sitting going, "No, no, he wasn't, and you should really say that out loud on the show." So I am, right now, and, man, ew. Sorry. And, Warren G. Harding was a [bleeped, unintelligible].

Stupid remark from Jon Stewart? What else is new?

Ethical systems of war that are devised in peacetime are worthless. Armchair judges, sipping their beverages, declaring "murder!" this and "murder!" that. Detached from reality, they are perfectly blameless and supremely worthy to pass judgment. At least in their own minds.

There is no "ethical system

There is no "ethical system of war" devised during peacetime, there is ethics. Murder is murder is murder. No matter how you try to put it, there is no way Truman had the right to kill innocent Japanese people.

"Time of war" is merely a convenient justification to commit atrocities

Correct, Arthur

The idea that "Time of war" suddenly means there is a magic period when there are no consequences to your actions doesn't make much sense. There would have to be a single authority in charge of assigning consequences, and human opinions and reality would have to bend to the will of that authority.

There was a more civilized war in the bad old days

In theory the Church had rules for a "just war." Fighting stopped on Sunday and major holy days.

During WW1 there was no mass killing of women and children. "Curse you, Red Baron."

Ah, the good ol' days....

During WW1 there was no mass killing of women and children.

Oh, come on.

First, that’s not quite accurate. When the Armenians decided to join forces with the Russians, the Ottoman Empire allegedly killed between 250,000 to 1.5 million of them. Turkey, which fancies itself the successor to the Ottoman Empire, disputes this.

750,000 Germans died of starvation due to British blockades.

Also, the German war plan involved the early concept of blitzkrieg: surprise attack, quick victory, and moving on. They hadn’t planned for occupying land. So when the war plan immediately bogged down in Belgium, they suddenly faced the risk of guerrilla attacks at night from civilians. During the so-called Rape of Belgium of 1914, the Germans ended up killing hundreds of people more or less at random, including women and children, and forced the 42,000 citizens of Leuven to flee.

True, these are small potatoes compared to the atrocities of other wars, especially WWII. But I don’t think this suggests anything about the restraint exercised by the protagonists. Rather, WWI was noteworthy for its immobility. The bulk of the forces deadlocked along a line through rural France and Belgium, and stayed there. Once war was underway, pretty much any noncombatant – including noncombatant mollusks – could see where the fighting was and avoid it. I suspect the combatants would have been only too willing to rampage through civilian population centers – or mountains, or beaches, or indeed anyplace other than the trenches in which they found themselves trapped for four years.

A matter of efficiency

The firebombings of Tokyo and (possibly) Dresden killed more people, and arguably in a more cruel manner, than the A bombs. If Hiroshima and Nagasaki were taken out using 'conventional' methods, I doubt that anyone would be so 'morally outraged' so many years later. People aren't really so shocked by the loss of life as they are by the efficiency- but dead is dead.

It is a terrible mistake- and unjust, to boot- to judge the actions of people in the past by the standards of the present. In 1945 there was no moral hand wringing.

Just because you can commit

Just because you can commit a greater crime doesn't give you moral carte blanche to commit atrocities. You present a false dilemma.


Those fire bombings were war crimes as well.

And, in 1945, there was LOTS of 'moral handwringing.'

'The Japanese were trying to surrender. There was no reason for us to drop that awful thing on them.' -- Dwight Eisenhower