By Arab News
By Jonathan Power
We may not know for some time how bad were the nuclear accident and the devastation of the tsunami on the towns and villages of the northeast in Japan, but it has been serious enough to make Japanese wonder “why us?” “Why us?” when this super organized society had taken such precautions against earthquakes and their consequences? How could it be, to quote German Chancellor Angela Merkel that “the impossible became possible?”
The physical repairing will take a long time. The mental healing perhaps longer. It is more than many people can take and even more so for a society that only 66 years ago experienced the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. “Why us?” has a deeper resonance than we outsiders can imagine.
Today one can blame nature, but one can also blame the Japanese scientific and political communities for not building nuclear plants that could deal with “the impossible.” Yesterday one can blame the wartime leadership of Japan for persisting with the war when the evidence was overpowering that Japan along with Germany had lost World War II.
But whilst it is clear that with the recent events there was a cause and effect — the damage has been caused by a mixture of terrible nature and home-produced nuclear hubris — the events of yesterday were a mixture of Japanese stupidly obstinate. militarism and American realpolitik.
The atom bombing of the two cities is always explained by the Americans as a necessary step that was only taken because there remained no other way of forcing capitulation and saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of American troops. But it is simply not true. If we are to understand the impact of all these events we have to be as detached and honest as the geologists and nuclear experts who are now studying how the earthquake and partial nuclear meltdown happened.
The evidence now available suggests that the nuclear bombing was not decisive in persuading Japan to surrender. The emperor and the war leadership were told about the atomic bombing but it did not affect their will to continue the war. The Soviet invasion did. Without the Soviet entry into the war the Japanese would have continued to fight until quite a few more atomic bombs had been dropped, until there had been a successful US invasion of the home islands and continued aerial bombardment, combined with a naval blockade. President Harry Truman had a workable alternative to using the atom bomb — to cooperate with Stalin, as Roosevelt and Churchill had done on the Western front.
When the Red Army invaded Manchuria the Japanese political leaders were taken by total surprise. The invasion undermined their confidence as well as punching a fatal hole in its strategic plan. Without Japan’s surrender Tokyo knew that the Soviets would occupy Manchuria, southern Sakhalin, the Kuril Islands and a good half of Korea and then move further southward into the mainland. Moreover, it would have compelled Truman to concede Soviet participation in Japan’s post war occupation.
This, not the nuclear bombing, was the key factor. The US conventional bombing attacks on Japanese cities in the spring and summer of 1945 were almost as devastating as Hiroshima. They often caused more damage and even more casualties. Altogether 66 Japanese cities were attacked that summer, and a typical raid of 500 bombers could deliver five kilotons of bombs. The Hiroshima bomb was the equivalent of 16 kilotons, only three times bigger than the average conventional raid.
Yet neither the conventional nor the nuclear bombing turned the heads of Japan’s leaders. Its Supreme Council did not meet until two days after the Hiroshima attack of Aug. 6. Yet when the Soviets intervened on Aug. 9 word reached Tokyo by 4.30 a.m. and the Supreme Council met by 10.30 a.m. Following Hiroshima, Emperor Hirohito took no action. He merely asked for “more details.” When he heard of the Soviet invasion he immediately summoned Lord Privy Seal Koichi Kido and told him, “In the light of the Soviet entry… It is all the more urgent to find a means to end the war.”
After the war Kido confessed, “If military leaders could convince themselves they were defeated by the power of science but not by lack of spiritual power or strategic errors, they could save face.” The Americans were only too happy to oblige in this 1945 political spin. If the bomb did it then the US had been the prime instrument in Japan’s defeat. If the bomb did it US prowess would be enhanced throughout the world.
Today’s Japanese want to know exactly why the great nuclear accident occurred. But before the wartime generation shuffle away they should demand that the truth about Hiroshima and Nagasaki should be explained too. It will give a measure of peace to a nation’s troubled mind.