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Harry Truman's A-bombing of Japan left intact ethics and law page 2


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Date published: 5/28/2001

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The first time Japan heard his voice was via the radio after the Nagasaki detonation, when he called for his subjects to surrender and cooperate with the Allies. So awestruck were many Japanese that they threw themselves prostrate on the ground. Up to that point, they had been arming their children for the upcoming fight. That's the level of commitment faced by the
United States as it contemplated an invasion.

Talk to any member of what Tom Brokaw has labeled "The Greatest Generation" and get their perspective. Talk to any soldier, sailor, or Marine who fought on Okinawa--the battle closest to the Japanese mainland. Better yet, talk to any Japanese who lived through that era. Quiet-ly, they'll tell you that Hiroshima and Nagasaki gave them an honorable out. With face. Until then, surrender was never an option under their code of Bushido ("the way of the warrior"), which is difficult for moderns, steeped in situational ethics, to grasp.

The code, which was national policy, held that you fought to the death or committed suicide. Prisoners were rare--even in remote island campaigns far from their homeland. The fight for Japan itself would have been unimaginable.

According to George Feifer's careful and thoughtful estimation in the book "Tennozan: The Battle for Okinawa and the Atomic Bomb," casualties on Japan proper would have exceeded 20 million. The preceding horrors of Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa figured as mere warm-up bouts before the main event.

U.S. war crimes? U.S. cowardice? Here's the unvarnished truth: Japan's warfare wholly ignored the Geneva Conventions. In places like the Philippines, Vietnam, China, Korea, and Singapore, Japan's wartime cruelty and brutality still scar the national subconscious.

I'm shocked that Hornberger, who lectures us about U.S. coward-ice, mentions rape as a war crime but conveniently omits Japan's "Rape of Nanking," in which tens of thousands of Chinese women were systematically raped. The Japanese army also forced females from all over Asia into the ranks of their "comfort women" while in garrison. And the Japanese were working on a nuclear-weapons capability as well. Would Hornberger argue that they would have never used it?


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