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comment by kleinbl00

The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1936-1945

Toland also did The Last 100 Days, a multi-perspective account of how WWII in Europe ended. It was great. But the narrator was also great, while the narrator for Rising Sun is not. Biggest problem is his voice is all in low registers which means I can't listen to him while driving. However, the book is every bit what I was hoping; it basically outlines exactly how Japan entered WWII and why and how they were pretty much fucked from the get-go.

In two weeks I begin my 90-minutes-a-day of audiobooks for six weeks. This time I don't have a minor in world history to pursue via the Durants. I also have a backlog of 27 audiobooks I need to kill. We'll see if I can get through all of them.




b_b  ·  593 days ago  ·  link  ·  

That sounds very interesting, to say the least. May have to pick it up. Will be of a piece with my recent Ellsberg reading, which discusses the decision to drop the bomb in pretty good detail. Ellsberg concludes, as have many others before him, that the bomb was unnecessary and can only really be understood as a warning shot to the Soviets, given how splendidly our targeting of civilians was already going in Japan. I read Making of Modern Japan, but that book, as informative as it was, doesn't really distill the proximal reasons for Japan's behavior in WWII; it focuses more on the bigger historical reasons. I've as yet not found a really good text on WWII from the Japanese perspective. Is this it?

kleinbl00  ·  593 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I dunno, man. I recognize that it's the fashionable thing to say these days but my grandfather was a machine shop foreman at Pickatinny Arsenal during WWII and a machine shop foreman at Los Alamos National Labs after WWII. He loved regaling us with stories of the throttle detents on a B-29 made of copper wire that, if broken, allow you to throttle the things into "get me the fuck outta here and go ahead and shitcan the pistons in 15 minutes" mode. He enjoyed telling stories about the acetate discs they put in bomb timers that would be eroded by acetic acid slowly so that depending in the discs, the bombs would go off an hour, a day, a week or a month (or some combination thereof) after the bomb hit while meanwhile, a mercury switch kept you from moving the bomb. Unless you had Jews, of course. The Nazis just used Jews.

He enjoyed telling tales of "Little David", the 36-inch mortar they were working on where the shell was keyed into the lands of the gun barrel to reduce friction, an 80-ton siege engine with a six-mile range intended to take Japan one trench at a time.

American forces had spent ten months with kamikaze attacks by August 1945. Toland describes a lot of fatalism and misunderstanding in the runup to Pearl Harbor; the US mistranslated some secret cables so that they sounded a lot more aggressive than they actually were and the Japanese didn't understand how lenient we actually were about Manchuria. I had an interesting discussion once with a girl whose grandparents were wiped out in Hiroshima. We came around to the viewpoint that the first bomb could be justified but the second one couldn't. But then, I was a lot younger then and a lot more jaded.

We're still using Purple Hearts manufactured ahead of Operation Downfall.

    The Battle of Okinawa was one of the bloodiest in the Pacific, with an estimated total of over 82,000 direct casualties on both sides: 14,009 Allied deaths and 77,417 Japanese soldiers. Allied grave registration forces counted 110,071 dead bodies of Japanese soldiers, but this included conscripted Okinawans wearing Japanese uniforms. 149,425 Okinawans were killed, committed suicide or went missing which was one-half of the estimated pre-war local population of 300,000. The Battle resulted in 72,000 US casualties in 82 days, of whom 12,510 were killed or missing (this figure excludes the several thousand US soldiers who died after the battle indirectly, from their wounds). The entire island of Okinawa is 464 sq mi (1,200 km2). If the US casualty rate during the invasion of Japan had been only 5% as high per unit area as it was at Okinawa, the US would still have lost 297,000 soldiers (killed or missing).

Was it Judt who argued that WWII was the direct consequence of the lack of unconditional surrender in WWI? Yeah, a warning shot to Stalin was probably part of it. But if I had a choice between doubling my war dead or nuking Japan until they rolled over forever, I'd fly the bomber myself.

b_b  ·  593 days ago  ·  link  ·  

That sounds like something Judt would have said. I specifically recall David Fromkin saying that WWII should really be called The Great War, Part II, so it's certainly got credence in history circles (of course, ironically, the US and Japan are one of the major switches in terms of allies/adversaries from WWI to WWII).

To the point about whether we should nuke Japan to annihilation or invade, Ellsberg makes the point that it's a false choice, that Japan was going to surrender when they did without use of the bomb (and FWIW, 7/8 5-star generals or admirals in WWI, including Eisenhower, thought that it was unnecessary). The argument against the bomb basically rests on the premise that (1) we were already targeting civilians in Japan from March 1945 onward (the time-delayed bombs, for example, were supposed to hit the responders). Curtis LeMay was brought over from the bombing campaign in Europe specifically because he was so damn good at it. The firebombing of Tokyo in spring 1945 killed at least 20,000 more people than the A-bomb on Hiroshima did, and the list of other cities in which 10,000-50,000 civilians were killed is long. None of that required an A-bomb.

There may be some reason to think that an A-bomb was more terrifying and thus hastened the surrender, but there are reasons to think otherwise, as well. Mainly, the Japanese-Soviet non-aggression pact was expired, and the Japanese surrendered just as Soviet troops were amassing in and around Mongolia. Japan was stretched thin enough that there was no way to survive opening another front, thus they gave up. Of course it's an unknowable counterfactual but there's at least reason enough to consider that the atomic bomb was a bit player and not a star of the Pacific theater.

However, it sure as fuck was a star of the war generally, given that everyone knew it was coming, but no one knew when or what might happen when/if deployed (and that everyone knew the H-bomb was also inevitable as early as 1942). Ellsberg argues that the use of the bomb was of course meant as a punitive measure against Japan, but given that the widespread destruction of civilian centers was trivial by August 1945 (as the B-29s were having an easy enough time avoiding being shot down by then), the real target was Berlin. As in, "Dear Stalin, This is what we have in store for you if you violate the Allies' claims in Berlin and the rest of Germany." It's sort of a cynical view of things, but it's difficult to not read the arms race cynically (since they were plotting the destruction of humanity).

Edit: We apparently tried the same strategy in Germany, but due to local conditions (which include building material and weather patterns) we were only able to create firestorms twice--Dresden and Hamburg (and of course we were originally developing the bomb for Hitler). The strategy was in play from 1942 on, however, so it's wrong for anyone to think that Japan was unique in the targeting of civilians as a war strategy.

kleinbl00  ·  593 days ago  ·  link  ·  

There's a lot of 20/20 hindsight in all these perspectives. The question is not whether Japan was going to surrender, the question is when was Japan going to surrender and under what terms. Japan wouldn't have gone to war in the first place if we weren't calling for their withdrawal from China. How much would Japan have given up and when? It's not what we know now, it's what we knew then and we didn't know a lot. Example: we'd been firebombing the shit out of Tokyo and they hadn't surrendered.

The targeting of civilians wasn't novel on either side. The post-war considerations were definitely important. And I am not Daniel Ellsberg. But I have a more than passing interest in this question, have held positions on both sides of the debate at one point or another, and haven't seen anything that compels me to regard it as a settled issue in 30 years of looking.

Marshall Plan terms were extended to the USSR. Stalin rejected them. Peace Love and Capitalism was open to anybody who would sign the IOU; the notion that we were destined to stare at the Soviets over gunsights is just as revisionist as framing Hiroshima and Nagasaki as a part of the Cold War instead of part of WWII.