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February 12, 2005

The Firebombing of Dresden

Over at Crooked Timber Chris Bertram is conflicted about the firebombing of Dresden:

Crooked Timber: Dresden, 60 years on : Tomorrow is the sixtieth anniversary of the bombing of Dresden.... The methodical slaughter perpetrated by the Nazis on Jews and others shouldn’t lead us to close our eyes to what happened in Dresden and in other German cities. What was done there was wrong, even though I, for one, would hesitate in blaming those who did it...

I understand why Chris Bertram wants to say that the firebombing of Dresden was not only bad--not only an atrocity--but also wrong--also evil. I also understand why he wants to say that he is reluctant to blame--or perhaps the word is "judge"--those who did it.

I am not sure, however, that both of these impulses can be consistently satisfied. It seems to me that one must raise the bar. I am willing to blame those who ordered the raid...

Posted by DeLong at February 12, 2005 09:16 AM

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Before we get too caught up in the moral problem, we need to remember that German Neo-Nazis are using this as a political tool.

"In the past few days, the party has raised concern among the authorities in Dresden, the Saxon capital, who are expecting some 5,000 to 7,000 far-right demonstrators this weekend as the city holds ceremonies commemorating the 60th anniversary of the devastating Allied bombings of February 1945.

About 100,000 people are expected to attend the main ceremony on Sunday, which will honor the people who died in the attack, estimated at 25,000 to 40,000. But the N.P.D. has already succeeded in diverting a great deal of attention to itself with its plans for a demonstration. The party's leaders have called the Allied raid a "holocaust of bombs," an effort to equate the sufferings of the Germans with those of the Nazis' victims."
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/12/international/europe/12germany.html?

Posted by: masaccio at February 12, 2005 09:42 AM


Me too. The same moral logic condemns Harry Truman to burn in hell for eternity.

Posted by: SW at February 12, 2005 09:48 AM


I'm actually soft on Truman. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were atrocities, but an invasion of Japan would have been a bigger atrocity, and allowing the Japanese regime to survive the war would have been the biggest atrocity of all. Those who believe that Japan was on the eve of a regime-changing surrender before Hiroshima seem to me to be probably engaged in wishful thinking.

Posted by: Brad DeLong at February 12, 2005 09:54 AM


Japan's Imperial Conspiracy by David Bergamini is a great book that argues that the regime responsible for the Pacific war did survive the war.

Posted by: portal31 at February 12, 2005 10:12 AM


like another thread responder said on another blog...Hiroshima may have been necessary, but Nagasaki?

Anyways had I been Truman, after the victory at Leyrte sp? finishing the Phillipines, I would have simply embargo the archipelago, and give a communique to those terms: You can surrender to us, or you can surrender to the Russians. I have a feeling the Russians would have obliged by invading Hokkaido soon afterwards. Japan had already lost some of the islands to the north, and the Russians were taking their sweet time getting ready for an invasion.

Anyways, when you've won already, the way to win it is simply to embargo until the hard cores are thrown out of power. It was how WWI ended, for instance...

Posted by: shah8 at February 12, 2005 10:13 AM


How can you condemn Hiroshima but not Dresden? Not only did more people die in Dresden than Hiroshima and Nagasaki put together, but the bombing of Dresden served no military purpose and did not help win the war any faster. Hiroshima and Nagasaki caused Japan to surrender at least 6 months earlier than would have otherwise, saving probably hundreds of thousands of American lives and millions of Japanese lives.

[Who are you talking to?]

Posted by: rps at February 12, 2005 10:25 AM


Dresden had casualties around 40k, given that I researched around the web about this, the last time Professor Delong mused about WWII. The number is not known for sure given refugee movement along the axis of battlelines. It is not, however 400k, the big number thrown about.

Next, Dresden was a rail hub. There really wasn't anything in Hiroshima, espesially Nagasaki to bomb. Remember, all the high value targets with the exception of Kyoto had been bombed rubble. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were it for lack of targets or so I understand.

One of the things that really pisses me off about these conversations is about how the japanese were fanatical, and comparing with the germans defense to Berlin. I simply don't believe they follow. WITH WHAT GUYS? Yes, some of the japanese leadership had a very vague grasp of reality. But with what? The Home Islands, bombed as it was, with mostly civilians, simply wasn't going to be like Okinawa, and the US didn't even have to press the advantage. We won already, and the only question was of how to establish the peace.

and lastly, rps, you haven't read that other thread in which I was pretty upset at Delong for suggesting that area bombing was an effective element of WWII. I just wasn't interested in rehashing that.

Posted by: shah8 at February 12, 2005 10:36 AM


Also, the war between the Germans and the Russians in WWII was one of the most brutal backandforths in history. The Germans were horrible to russians and polish and ukrainians and the like behind their lines. The Russians were horrible to the Germans behind their lines. The extent to which the Germans fought the Russians in the last days of the war was due to that the stakes were extreme. They believed that loss would mean anihillation. The Japanese, particularly the body public did not associate us with that kind of loathing, and nothing near to the fear of what the Russians would do.

Posted by: shah8 at February 12, 2005 10:43 AM


One thing we should be mindful of in this kind of forum is the opportunity costs of the area bombing campaign. I am less concerned about German targets (but not unconcerned) more concerned that the tremendous resources sucked up by the area bombing campaign (some very large % of total British war effort) could have been better spent hastening the war's end (for example, overwhelming tactical use of aircraft to hasten the advance in the west) also concerned that 80,000 British kids alone died in the air over germany, often in awful ways. Was that sacrifice worth it?

Posted by: Roland at February 12, 2005 11:04 AM


Did Truman have any idea what an Atom bomb was? Unless you were a reader of SF nobody knew. He probably thought it was much the same as a conventional bomb, but bigger.

Posted by: eric bloodaxe at February 12, 2005 11:04 AM


Eric, please. The atom bomb was tested in Alamogordo, New Mexico in 1944. Truman knew exactly what this bomb was all about - even he if didn't read SF.

Posted by: pebird at February 12, 2005 11:34 AM


I suggest a major factor behind the American decision to drop the Bomb was the imminent Soviet declaration of war on Japan.

Brad DeLong wrote, "Hiroshima and Nagasaki were atrocities, but an invasion of Japan would have been a bigger atrocity..."

That's arguable, at best. The prediction of hundreds of thousands of US troops killed aren't necessarily valid; IIRC the Dept of War was estimating 50,000.

[And Japanese soldiers and civilians killed during an invasion? Don't they count?]

And as shah8 says above, Japan was essentially defeated already.

Of course, one can make the utilitarian argument that more Japanese would die due to starvation and disease if the war were prolonged. And IIRC more people died in the raids on Tokyo than the atomic bombings.

Posted by: liberal at February 12, 2005 11:56 AM


shah8 wrote, "The Germans were horrible to russians and polish and ukrainians and the like behind their lines. The Russians were horrible to the Germans behind their lines."

And don't forget---the Soviets (the NKVD, or whichever agency was responsible) were horrible to the Soviets behind Soviet lines.

Posted by: liberal at February 12, 2005 12:03 PM


During World War II a tremendous amount of air power resources were wasted in the war against Germany in intentionally bombing civilian areas on the mistaken belief that this would demoralize the German population and cause them to give up fighting. Bomber Harris, the commander of the British Royal Air Force was especially important in pushing this point of view. This was a completely fallacious view. If anything, the bombing of civilian areas stiffened the German population's will to resist.

If these resources had instead been used to systematically destroy Germany's electic power system, the German economy would have been brought to a standstill, destroying its ability to support the war effort.

The tactic of going after the electic power supply was finally successfully used against Serbia. Shortly after it was employed, Slobodan Milosovich (Sp?) agreed to withdraw from Kosovo.

Personal note: It was a fortunate thing FOR ME personally that the allies did not use such a strategy against Germany's power supply because I lived across the street from a German electic power plant. My father, who worked for the electric company connected the power supply to a secret plant that assembled the German ME 262 jet fighter. Moral: No electric power, no ME 262 fighters.

Posted by: Roland Buck at February 12, 2005 12:22 PM


One of the more interesting sidelights to the stories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is that there might have been a third and a fourth atomic attack. A couple of hours before the Nagasaki mission was airborne on August 9, 1945, the 509th Composite Group's deputy commander, Colonel Tom Classen, and Captain John Wilson had taken off from Tinian Island in two B-29s. They were on their way back to the States to pick up the third and fourth bombs as soon as they were ready.

The Japanese surrender followed the atomic attacks so closely that they are often seen to be the decisive factor, but that does not seem to be the case.

Posted by: Steve at February 12, 2005 12:43 PM


The RAF area bombing in general, and Dresden and Hamburg in particular, were not an effort to demoralize the Germans. Harris's working theory was to deprive German factory labor of their homes. This would make it difficult or impossible for production to be maintained. That it was discovered after the war to have been marginally effective is beside the point--at the time, nobody knew whether it was working or not.

The atomic bombingf of Japan must also be viewed in the light of the utterly imperfect knowledge possessed by the U.S. and Britain. Battles with the Japanese had been steadily becoming more desperate and nore bloody. Okinawa and Iwo Jima really shocked U.S. military leaders, especially the hideous civilian casualties that resulted from both suicides by civilians and mass murders by the Japanese garrison against civilians to "save" them from being captured.

With that as the background, forecasts for invasion of the home islands projected American casualties in excess of 100,000 and Japanese casualties orders of magnitude higher. Truman's decision, based on these forecasts, seems justified.

Remember, too, that Allied intelligence only discovered what kind of shape Japan was really in after the war was over. U.S. Navy intelligence, for example, was convinced that substantial amounts of shipping were moving between Japan and Korea/Manchuria. Only after the war did they discover that there was almost no such traffic--Japan's merchant fleet has pretty well been wiped out or immobilized far behind the lines.

Posted by: Derelict at February 12, 2005 12:48 PM


"Remember, all the high value targets with the exception of Kyoto had been bombed rubble. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were it for lack of targets or so I understand."

In 1945 Army Air Forces commander General "Hap" Arnold advised on possible targets for the atomic bombs. It was thought desirable that the target city should be one that was relatively untouched, and this immediately ruled out Tokyo and the other major cities. Arnold named Kyoto, largest unbombed city, Hiroshima next largest, Niigata, and Kokura. He ordered General Curtis LeMay not to attack these cities by "conventional" means, but to reserve them for possible atomic bombing. Kyoto was removed from the list (against the judgment of Arnold), because of its significance to the Japanese as a national shrine of religion and culture. Nagasaki was then added to the list, apparently by LeMay's staff.

Hiroshima had been an important port, but the aerial mining campaign had dried up its traffic, and, but for the restrictions imposed by Washington it would have been reduced to ashes by the B-29s long before.

Kokura was the primary target of the second mission, but the aiming point was hidden by haze, and the B-29s flew on to the secondary target, Nagasaki, although it had never been considered an ideal target for atomic attack.

Posted by: Steve at February 12, 2005 01:09 PM


Nah, Dresden was a legit target. Industry + transportation hub in a city that was neither undefended nor "open" = fair game under the Hague conventions of the time.

The problem with the "but everyone knew the war was almost over" is that nobody told the German military. They continued to fight the Allies, raising new units, building tanks, firing artillery shells. If it was so obvious that the war was over, then they should have surrendered on the spot. As long as German military forces were in the field, fighting the Allies and propping up Hitler's regime - and as long as cities like Dresden continued to provide transportation and industry in support of that military - then they were legitimate targets. The care and well-being of the people of Dresden was not the proper concern of Allied war planners - their job was to prosecute the war to a quick and decisive end.

Concern for the health and welfare of the people of Dresden was in the hands of the Hitler regime - a regime that the people of Dresden enthusiastically supported for more than a decade. They sent their sons to fight in his armies, and their factories turned out reams of material for the war effort. The fact that they supported a regime that preferred fiery national suicide to surrendering and disarmament did not create some sort of moral burden on the part of Bomber Command to treat their opponents with kid gloves.

If the people and government of Germany believed the war to be over, and they wanted to stop the fighting, a simple solution presented itself: stop fighting, cease resistance, and surrender to the Allies. By continuing the fight, by continuing to support the Nazi regime, they made themselves legitimate targets of those who were fighting that regime. It's unfortunate that war and destruction came to Dresden, but the people of Dresden made it possible for war and destruction to come to Guernica, Rotterdam, London, Coventry, Leningrad, Stalingrad, Paris (except for a countermanded order), Warsaw...not to mention places like Belsen and Auschwitz.

Posted by: FMguru at February 12, 2005 02:57 PM


>>>They were on their way back to the States to pick up the third and fourth bombs as soon as they were ready.>>The Japanese surrender followed the atomic attacks so closely that they are often seen to be the decisive factor, but that does not seem to be the case.<<<

Except, of course, for the Emperor EXPLICITLY CITING their use as the proximate cause for surrender in his surrender message...

Posted by: FMguru at February 12, 2005 03:03 PM


FMguru...Logic like that ensures we will all kill each other, eventually.

as to the second post...The Emperor wanted to keep fighting and get one good victory in to save face. Nearly a million japanese died well after he knew it was over...just to save his own face. No one should play into that kind of logic. When you win, you win. Yes Germany kept fighting, and Germany was ABLE to keep fighting to some extent. Japan was not. A sea/air embargo with imminent invasion would have produced the same thing.

I know there is a call not to be unfair to past people making these decisions, but I cannot help but think that groupthink was a major factor in taking things too easy and deliberate on one hand (okinawa, some elements of islandhopping) and moving too hard on another hand. I don't think we should forgive people if they *talk* themselves or unnecessarily constrict their thinking to very narrow channels. I believe that the *access to information to the contrary* were available as far as military options for the final stage of the pacific war.

Posted by: shah8 at February 12, 2005 03:25 PM


Why can't we just say that we, whoever we is, won't do this kind of thing again?
Horrible things are done in wars. Time to stop. Time to think that blowing up the envionment is a really bad idea. Ala Mr Diamond's Collapse.

Posted by: dilbert dogbert at February 12, 2005 06:38 PM


Everyone talks about Dresden and Hiro. Nag. in practical and strategic terms, but what about moral terms?

Morally, I believe we are compelled to cause the least amount of harm as possible. You can argue that there was some kind of balancing goinv on--if wee kill 40K in Dresden then the war will be over sooner and more the number of overall deaths wil actually be lower--but I'm not at all sure that this would be true. As one person said, once a side has indisputable won, then you can go to embargo. I believe this was an extremely viable option in Japan. I am not at all sure that Dresden did anything but incinerate 40 old men, women, and children.

My main point is, we have a moral responsibility to do the least amount of harm as possible.

Posted by: cw at February 12, 2005 07:02 PM


The problem with CW's arguement is that embargo would have caused a great deal of harm to Japan - and to territories occupied by Japan into the bargain. How much harm? Damn good question. If there are any figures concerning the number of fatalities resulting from the US blockade every month, I don't have them at hand. I bet the number was high. It would have gotten a lot higher, and fast. Famines seem to build up a mortality momentum the longer they last.

Posted by: Steven Rogers at February 12, 2005 08:11 PM


Most of the moral handwringing comes from what we learned AFTER the war. Yes, we could have won in the Pacific without dropping the atomic bombs, although estimates for Japanese civilian deaths resulting from starvation and disease would run into the hundreds of thousands (far more than the death toll from the atmoic bombs).

But at the time, we had no idea what kind of shape Japan was in. What we did know was the the fighting became more intense, more determined the closer we got to the home islands. Evidence on the front lines was that Japan was not suffering terrible shortages of men, planes, tanks, bombs, shells, and bullets.

Similarly, we could not know what was happening in Germany. The evidence military planners were looking at was Germany still inflicting mass casualties on the Russian, still holding Allied troops at bay in Italy, still putting up strong resistance along the Sigfried Line, still able to deploy masses of armor and men per the Battle of the Bulge.

Thus, for military and civilian leaders on the Allied side, the evidence before their eyes was of enemies that were still far from defeated. In light of that, anything that helped bring those enemies to their knees was justified.

AFTER the war, we learned that Japan was a hollow shell. AFTER the war, we learned that Germany was on the verge of collapse. But DURING the fighting, it sure didn't seem like either Germany or Japan was getting close to surrendering.

Posted by: Derelict at February 13, 2005 06:34 AM


This isn't aimed at Brad Delong, but it is aimed at virtually every commenter on this thread: You cannot talk about history as if just making things up, or pulling half-memories out of your head, counts as evidence.

Eg: ' The prediction of hundreds of thousands of US troops killed aren't necessarily valid; IIRC the Dept of War was estimating 50,000.' You do not Recall Correctly, 'liberal'. Go away and look up a serious history of the Second World War: 'A World at arms' by Gerhard L. Weinberg is the best one-volume narrative; I.C.B Dear's 'Oxford Companion to World War II' is the best reference work. Stop wasting your time and flattering your ego by pulling figures out of the ether and then basing an argument on them. Every time history is discussed on this blog, Yglesias or Crooked Timber, it's the same deal: muppet after muppet says something like 'If I recall correctly (grotesquely wrong or invented figures or 'facts' follow, no source ever given)'. You wouldn't treat mathematics with such cavalier disregard, so why do it with history? Log off and get your sorry self to a library.

Posted by: Dan Hardie at February 13, 2005 07:15 AM


As one commenter posed " Everyone seemes to think the war was almost over except for the German military"
Quite.
Not a word about how the Germans made the residential bombings a nightly tactic by destroying half of London.
Those whpo think that Hiro and Nag were not necessary are lying to themselves. Apart from the fact that my father was on Okinawa awaiting invasion instructions, having fought his way against the Imperial Japanese across the pacific, where they Brutalized millions, one must know that they did not surrender til after the bombs. They tried to sue for peace. This was unaaceptable. Again they might have been beaten but no one told their soldiers that.
Calling tactics that hastened the end of a conflict that was
destroying a generation, atrocities, is just more displaced guilt. It iis obvious that some have opinions on the actions of their own leaders ( Truman shuld burn in hell etc.)
But strangely no opinion on the4 brutality and ambitions of the other siide , who by the way, annually admit thatt they were wrong and in the grip of national psychoses that make current day America seem like Mr. Rogers neihgborhood.

Posted by: Jim A. Sherman at February 13, 2005 07:46 AM


What, from where would have been embargoed?
You are dreaming. The Japanes were already eating their shoes. No embargo would have changed anything.
I don't think there was anything going on to embargo.
We already occupied Okinawa.(a home island)
embargo would have been the same as invasion.

Posted by: Jim A. Sherman at February 13, 2005 07:53 AM


sorry. I know Okinawa is not a home island but was
a Japanese posession.

Posted by: Jim A. Sherman at February 13, 2005 08:26 AM


I can only echo Dan Harding. As I've said, looking back and saying "Isn't that horrible" is no substitute for being there at the time and having to look ahead.

Just for chuckles, anyone here who thinks that embargo and blockade would have somehow brought the Japanese to surrender is encouraged to read Clay Blair's Silent Victory. Japan had already been effectively embargoed and blockaded by the end of 1944. Yet, she kept fighting.

Posted by: Derelict at February 13, 2005 08:47 AM


The millions of Japanese who gathered around neighborhood radios to hear that broadcast were not "citizens" but the emperor's subjects, and it was in his name that they had supported their country's long war against China and the Allied Powers. In Japanese parlance, it had been a "holy war"; in announcing Japan's capitulation, the forty-four-year-old sovereign faced the challenge of replacing such rhetoric with new language.

This was a formidable challenge. Fourteen years earlier, in the sixth year of his reign, Emperor Hirohito had acquiesced in the imperial army's takeover of the three Chinese provinces known collectively as Manchuria. Eight years previously, Japan had initiated open war against China in the emperor's name. From that time on, Hirohito had appeared in public only in the bemedalled military garb of commander in chief. In December 1941, he issued the rescript that initiated hostilities against the United States and various European powers. Now, three years and eight months later, his task was not merely to call a halt to a lost war, but to do so without disavowing Japan's war aims or acknowledging the nation's atrocities — and in a manner that divorced him from any personal responsibility for these many years of aggression.

It was Hirohito himself who first broached the idea of breaking precedent and using the airwaves to speak directly to his subjects. The text of his announcement, not finalized until close to midnight the previous night, had been composed and delivered under great pressure. Much intrigue was involved in recording and then hiding it from military officers opposed to a surrender. Despite its chaotic genesis, the rescript emerged as a polished ideological gem.2

Although many shared Aihara Yu's difficulty in comprehending the emperor's words, his message (which was simultaneously transmitted to Japanese overseas by shortwave radio) was quickly understood by everyone. Sophisticated listeners such as the Tokyo man in her village explained the broadcast to their puzzled compatriots. Radio announcers immediately summarized the rescript and its import in everyday language. Newspapers rushed out special editions reproducing the emperor's text accompanied by editorial commentary.

Like insects in amber, lines and phrases from the broadcast soon became locked in popular consciousness. The emperor never spoke explicitly of either "surrender" or "defeat." He simply observed that the war "did not turn in Japan's favor, and trends of the world were not advantageous to us." He enjoined his subjects to "endure the unendurable and bear the unbearable" — words that would be quoted times beyond counting in the months to come.

With this rescript, the emperor endeavored to accomplish the impossible: to turn the announcement of humiliating defeat into yet another affirmation of Japan's war conduct and of his own transcendent morality. He began by reiterating what he had told his subjects in 1941 when Japan declared war on the United States — that the war had been begun to ensure the survival of Japan and the stability of Asia, not out of any aggressive intent to interfere with the sovereign integrity of other countries. In this spirit, Hirohito now expressed deep regret to those countries that had cooperated with Japan "for the liberation of East Asia." With reference to the recent atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the emperor went on to present Japan's decision to capitulate as nothing less than a magnanimous act that might save humanity itself from annihilation by an atrocious adversary. "The enemy has for the first time used cruel bombs to kill and maim extremely large numbers of the innocent," he declared, "and the heavy casualties are beyond measure. To continue the war further could lead in the end not only to the extermination of our race, but also to the destruction of all human civilization." By accepting Allied demands to end the war, the emperor declared it was his purpose to "open the way for a great peace for thousands of generations to come."

He then proceeded to offer himself as the embodiment of the nation's suffering, its ultimate victim, transforming the sacrifices of his people into his own agony with a classical turn of phrase. When he contemplated those of his subjects who had died in the war, the bereaved kin they left behind, and the extraordinary difficulties all Japanese now faced, he exclaimed, "my vital organs are torn asunder." For many of his listeners, this was the most moving part of the broadcast. Some confessed to being overcome by a sense of shame and guilt that, in failing to live up to their sovereign's expectations, they had caused him grief.

Posted by: Jim A. Sherman at February 13, 2005 09:38 AM


and just today:

DRESDEN, Germany - Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on Sunday warned Germans against forgetting history, as far-right supporters rallied in Dresden to protest a devastating Allied bombing in World War II that killed an estimated 35,000 residents 60 years ago.

The rally - and fears of street clashes - cast a shadow over a day of remembrance and reflection on the U.S.-British air raids, which set off firestorms and destroyed the centuries-old city center.

Schroeder vowed to fight attempts by neo-Nazis to blur the historical context of the Feb. 13-14, 1945, attack - part of a war started by Nazi Germany during which Adolf Hitler's regime killed 6 million European Jews in the Holocaust.

"Today we grieve for the victims of war and the Nazi reign of terror in Dresden, in Germany and in Europe," he said in a statement issued in Berlin. "We will oppose in every way these attempts to reinterpret history. We will not allow cause and effect to be reversed."

Commemorations began with the U.S. and British ambassadors to Germany silently laying wreaths at a Dresden cemetery where some of the bombing's victims are buried.

In another part of town, some 4,000 far-right activists rallied at the Saxony state legislature and then marched through the city. The nationalistic, anti-immigrant National Democratic Party, which entered the legislature last fall, helped organize the event, and police were out in force.

Evening ceremonies, including a memorial service, centered on the Frauenkirche, or Church of Our Lady. It was wrecked in the bombing and left in ruins by communist East Germany as an anti-war memorial but has been lavishly rebuilt since Germany's 1990 reunification.

Dresden's destruction by three waves of British and U.S. bombers resonates deeply in Germany, in part because of the city's history as a cultural center - "one of Europe's most beautiful cities," Schroeder said.

The chancellor called the 60th anniversary an occasion for people everywhere to unite against the "inhumanity of war."

But the National Democratic Party has caused widespread consternation with its heightened public presence and rhetoric in recent months. Its state leaders in Saxony caused an uproar last month by appearing to compare the bombing of Dresden with the Holocaust.

The party's national leader expressed admiration for Hitler in a weekend newspaper interview.

"Only a great leader can commit great crimes," Udo Voigt was quoted as telling the Die Welt daily. "Of course Hitler achieved great things. He got rid of unemployment within a few years."

He denied that his party models itself on the Nazis.

The German government failed in 2003 to have the party outlawed by the country's Supreme Court, and politicians are now debating whether to make another try.

Schroeder's government plans to introduce legislation next week aimed at making it easier to ban far-right marches and rallies at historically sensitive sites, such as Germany's new national Holocaust memorial in Berlin and former concentration camps.


Posted by: Jim A. Sherman at February 13, 2005 09:57 AM


The German extreme right is indeed using this as a tool. A few weeks back, I translated an article that reflects some of the opinion surrounding their characterization of the Dresden bombing.


The article can be found here or by clicking on my name link:

http://www.allolex.net/blog/archives/000097.shtml

Posted by: Damon Allen Davison at February 13, 2005 12:18 PM


Derelict --

"Handwringing?"

Yellow card. That's a warning.

Your larger point -- not using what we know now to condemn those in the past who didn't have access to all that -- is worth hearing, but if you expect to be taken seriously then you really oughtn't to be glibly dismissing moral qualms over the deaths of tens of thousands of noncombatants as mere "handwringing."

Posted by: slacktivist at February 13, 2005 12:57 PM


My apologies, slacktivist--"handwringing" is a pejorative term. However, I do tire of people looking back at the events of World War II and condemning things like the atomic bombings without the slightest consideration of what our leaders actually knew at the time. This is not to dismiss their qualms, but rather to express frustration that they take for granted that people in 1945 knew what we now know in 2005.

Posted by: Derelict at February 13, 2005 01:13 PM


I have to agree particularly with shah8 and Derelict. We didn't know then what we know now. And we were doing groupthink, seeing the available information through filters that confirmed what we already thought we knew.

We can argue from hindsight that what we did was the only right thing -- at the time there were ferocious arguments going on about what to do, and they might have come out some other way. Hindsight is 20:20 whether you're arguing it was wrong from the things you know now, or arguing it was inevitably right from the results we got afterward.

We have a degree of historical consensus about the results of what we did. There cannot be a consensus about the alternatives we didn't do.

For example, if our priority was to avoid US casualties, we could have done a blockade. The japanese could surrender when they were ready, but it wouldn't look like it would shorten the war. We'd have to keep our occupation forces on call ready for the surrender. And we'd have to persuade the russians not to invade. On the other hand, the emperor might see that he plain wasn't going to get a victory, and he might surrender quick.

If we told them they could surrender to us or to the russians, and then the russians started invading, what next? Say the japanese promptly surrendered to us but the russians kept moving. WE'd have to rush our invasion force in to take as much of japan as we could before the russians took it, and then after the war we might have a north japan and a south japan for as long as we had an east and west germany. Harder to get the russians out of manchuria then, too. On the other hand, the japanese might have surrendered right away or right after they had a defeat they could call a heroic moral victory.

Say we negotiated with them. It might have delayed the surrender because they'd think they could negotiate good terms. On the other hand, if they made it public that they were discussing an end to the war it would make it a lot harder for them to pretend they'd fight to the end. They'd have less group-think pretending they weren't going to surrender. Maybe it would go pretty quick. Say we agreed not to depose the emperor, they might feel like they had won something and the emperor would have too much status later. Or maybe it wouldn't hurt anything.

We have news reports that tell us what actually happened, and they are probably as accurate as today's news reports. And we have historians who interviewed people who should have known, and read their diaries, and they've even seen a lot of the classified documents from that time. They don't know what was going on but they at least know a lot about what various people thought was going on. But about how the world might have come out if things were different, we just don't know.

And we have the same kind of problems now that we did then. The last battle for Fallujah went pretty much on the Jenin model. Was it a war crime? Was it worth it? A generation from now people might be comparing it to Dresden. The causalties were something in the 12,000-40,000 range, surely not much more. At the time we argued that we had to do it, that we'd liberate one occupied city after another in time for the elections. But it didn't work out like that. We thought Fallujah was central to the insurgency, that most of the car bombs came from there, etc. Do our wrong ideas justify our stupid action? Do we have any justification for our stupid wrong ideas? Or were we somehow right, and to satisfy liberal and world opinion we had to adapt our strategies to things we knew ahead of time wouldn't work? If we'd just taken the gloves off maybe it would have worked out better? In 20 years or so when more of the historical record is available we'll have a lot more ammunition to argue about this. Right now it's all confused and we can make the same arguments based on our prejudice without actually having historians to quote who happen to share the same prejudices.

Posted by: J Thomas at February 13, 2005 01:55 PM


I only want to emphasize that while yes it is unfair to have 20/20 hindsight, it is *extremely* common for people, especially groups of people to blinker themselves (with many of the individuals knowingly doing so). We should at least attempt to make sure inadequate state of knowledge was a valid excuse. Try to read Italian history if you want to understand what happens when we have people blowing that kind of smoke about we don't know and we can't know.

Next, a famine happened anyways during the occupation, and while an embargo might have lengthened it, I doubt with planning that it would have been exacerbated.

Next, I think that the THREAT of russian declaration of war would have been an effective weapon in forcing a surrender. The japanese had no way to resist invasion, and for all those who cry out that there might have been unknown resources, I cry...fat chance. We had too many available espionage locations in the theater not to have a least a vague idea of what was going on, as well as air dominance over all of japan. Not to mention that internal land transportation was nearly impossible. We were in a position to know that Japan had no way to aid Hokkaido. Furthermore, the Soviets had *already* taken several japanese possessions. The japanese disliked the Russians a helluva lot more than they did the US.

Now, was there a risk of a split? Yes. However, I think on balance the US would have gotten away with it. But I think, even if we didn't, it was better than just nuking two cities like that.

As to whether Sherman's viewpoint of the japanese being stubborn...They had to eat bitter, as the chinese saying goes. They would probably have tried to talk like that at the end of any scenario.

Don't let the writing of the victors preclude from really thinking about what went on.

Posted by: shah8 at February 13, 2005 03:09 PM


Shah8,

I think a case can be made that the famine started in the summer of 1945. Hell, the Jaqpanese people went on reduced rations in *1940*, before the war with the USA even started. The coming harvest season was going to be a disaster and the Japanese civilian Government knew it - not that the Militarists running things seem to have cared. How long would not dropping the bombs have delayed a surrender? That is the pertinent question in terms of body count.

Posted by: Steven Rogers at February 13, 2005 03:21 PM


Shah8, I agree with you right down the line. My point is that we had both inadequate information and blindered vision at the time, and in hindsight the only thing that's changed is we have more (biased) information about the route that actually happened.

The people whose vision was blinkered at the time have been replaced with new people who have the same blind spots. The thinking fits into their world view. And with 60 years to practice they have a whole new set of rationalisations, probably including many that the original participants hadn't considered. So today we have people who argue that the way we did it was the only possible way that was adequate. But at the time I doubt many of the people arguing for those choices were nearly so sure.

So here we are, arguing about 60-year-old choices, and the difference between now and then is that the decision has already been made, and we know some priors that they didn't know, and we know some results of the choice they did make but none for the choices they didn't. We aren't a lot better at choosing about it now than we were then. We're just more confident, and we can argue more clearly from data we (sometimes wrongly) believe more strongly.

Consider the matter of the japanese famine. I expect it's true that harvests were reduced. But also one of the things going on was that the farmers had decided it wasn't working, and they were keeping and hiding more of their crops for themselves. They didn't trust the government not to take all the crops or so much they'd starve, and so they underreported their yields. In general when you get solid numbers to work with, the numbers still need to be massaged for bias in the recording. But the corrections are a complex process that's susceptible to bias itself. So we don't know as much as we think we do even about what happened, much less about what would have happened if things were different.

Posted by: J Thomas at February 13, 2005 04:18 PM


I'd suggest that both shah8 and J Thomas go read some history of the war before venturing on with their reasoning.

Shah8 says we shold have blockaded. Japan was already under blockade, and that showed no signs of bringing about surrender. Even Japanese officials interviewed then and 25 years later (including cabinet ministers) said the blockade was not enough.

You think the threat of a Russian declaration of war would have been enough? Somehow that doesn't square with actual history, since the Russians informed the Japanese legation in Moscow that they would be declaring war against Japan a full month before the atomic bombs.

Go read some history.

As for J Thomas, your view is essentially that nothing can be known. This is relativist nonsense. While it is not possible to know with absolute certainty, is it possible to construct an extremely accurate picture. You say, "I expect it's true that harvest were reduced." Read some history--the Japanese rice harvest of 1944 was the worst in 50 years.

We know far, far more than you seem to suspect. At the time of the events, we knew far less than you or shah8 are willing to acknowledge.

Posted by: Derelict at February 13, 2005 07:20 PM


Derelict, signs of a japanese surrender were already showing -- they were making unrealistic peace proposals. You csn't expect members of a group-thinking hierarchy to come up with realistic surrender proposals in a vacuum -- it hurts their morale and they get no obvious benefit. If we had agreed to talk with them it might have helped crystallise the sense that they were actually going to surrender. Or maybe not.

You say the blockade was not working -- what evidence is there that it wasn't about to work? The opinions of japanese officials doing groupthink is not particularly reliable. We have more reason to think the blockade was approaching a quick surrender than that anything good is coming out of iraq. But our own groupthinking government talks that way.

A russian declaration of war was surely not enough, but a russian invasion may have been. There are side issues there.

I haven't read details about the japanese rice harvest -- the estimates of the harvest weren't done by satellite imagery of the fields. They weren't done by ariel photography, right? Were they done by japanese government statistics? You see what I'm getting at? We know that's the year the japanese farmers did mass hoarding. But how extensive was it? That's harder to know. The japanese government statistics are the figures to look at when you're interested in what the japanese government would do. Those are the figures they had to work with. They weren't the reality.

I agree that we know a whole lot about the history, the trouble is that we know a whole lot that wasn't so.

And we have *no* data about what would have happened if things had been different. If we had made different choices. All we have about that is opinions, based on our massive knowledge about the partly wrong, partly falsified history of what did happen.

So why are we arguing about Dresden and Hiroshima when the interesting questions are Fallujah and Baghdad? And for that matter, Teheran and Damascus? You know (or almost know) the american government is already performing acts of war in both syria and iran. What consequences should we expect? What can we do to improve the results? We have at least as much influence on the US government as subjects of the japanese empire had on theirs.

The US military is doing things that will be considered war crimes if we lose. If things go badly wrong any US citizen may be held responsible in peculiar and unpredictable ways for it. The nice thing about Dresden and Hiroshima is they worked out well for us -- it was the victims who had the war crimes trials. Can we expect it to go that well this time around?

Posted by: J Thomas at February 13, 2005 08:12 PM


We can know what people knew in WWII, because there are all kinds of records. I haven't read the records so *I* personally don't know what the Allies knew, but I do know what the allies *did* and I don't think I see a lot of evidence of them going out of their way to save civilians lives in the case of Dresden, the fire bombing of Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In fact I see an awful lot of evidence that they were purposly trying to take civilian lives, trying to inflict blows as painful as possible to the enemy. This may have saved more lives in the long run, that for me is the real argument. That may have been their calculation.

But when I read people getting all pissed off becasue others question the efficacy and morality of these acts which had truely, truely horrific results, I get really discouraged. Why shouldn't the motives of these actors be questioned? How is this weak-minded? How is this group-think? You want to live in country where the military and it's leaders can never be questioned, move to Texas.

Posted by: cw at February 13, 2005 09:14 PM


cw, I don't want to belabor the issue and yet it seems like I am. We can know what people in WWI *thought they knew* by looking at old records. But it isn't enough to look at the data, you have to sort of groove to the mindset too. People generally were kind of crazy then, different from the way we went crazy after 9/11. To get a sense of it you have to see the records through the filter of that variety of insanity. And it doesn't tell us the physical reality, it tells us what people *thought* was real.

About the bombing, "When the only tool you have is a strategic bomber, every problem looks like a city full of civilians." People hardly calculated the results. When they *did* calculate it the conclusion was to stop the bombing, which was organisationally infeasible.

Things take on a momentum of their own. Back when we were building our nuclear force, we came up with various rationales for continued increase. We needed enough bombs so we wouldn't lose too many of them in a first strike. If we won a war with the USSR we'd be a third-world country for awhile so we needed enough extra bombs to threaten our neighbors so they wouldn't take advantage of us before we recovered. Etc. And it would make sense to look at the defense industry that was getting the contracts and suppose they were pulling strings. But really, we simply had never thought about an exit strategy. We had no plan for how many nukes was enough, so we just kept making them. Since we had them we assigned them to targets in USSR, and we literally ran out of targets. We were assigning nukes to *crossroads* in the USSR. In general people with government jobs will do their jobs even when they don't make sense rather than announce that their jobs have become unneeded.

We could recite reasons for strategic bombing but we weren't measuring how well those reasons held up. We just kept doing it on autopilot. We had teams assigned to the tasks of figuring out how to do it better. We had no teams assigned to the question whether it was going so badly we should just quit and assign the resources to something else.

Apply that to blogging. There's the immediate pleasure of crafting good arguments based on good data, and seeing great responses. Then there are the justifications. For awhile there we could imagine that a good idea on a political blog might actually get seen by somebody who'd use it. But now it looks like it will be at least 4 years before anybody who has initiative will pay attention to any outsider ideas about politics, diplomacy, the military, the economy, etc. We're all irrelevant. Why *not* refight WWII, given that none of it matters?

Posted by: J Thomas at February 13, 2005 10:59 PM


Having no time to write on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I will just post one link, http://japanfocus.org/article.asp?id=093,
and urge everyone who can to read the Meiji Constitution at http://history.hanover.edu/texts/1889con.html, so they will understand what was really meant by phrases such as "preserving the national polity" or "preserving the position of the Emperor".

I'll also point out that for every month the war continued more than 100,000 people were dying in China and other parts of Asia still occupied by the very much undefeated Japanese Army.

Posted by: jm at February 13, 2005 11:29 PM


Lots of stuff was tried in WWII just because it might work.

Torpedo bombers in the Pacific had hardly better survival rates than kamikazes; that happens when you present a relatively stationary target!

I also agree that total war is nuts; the insane becomes normal, even thought of as necessary. It's war machine vs war machine, not just army vs army; the factories, the workers, the entire modern infrastructure that enables nations to field modern armies become valid targets. In essence the entire opposing nation. Terrible stuff, but rational.

Posted by: Sandals at February 14, 2005 01:14 AM


You say the blockade was not working -- what evidence is there that it wasn't about to work?

Here is one piece:
April 1980
Philippines - Mindoro Island
Captain of the Japanese Imperial Army, Fumio Nakahira, held out until April 1980 before being discovered at Mt. Halcon.

He wasn't the first either.
If individual soldiers held out for 35 years, how long would the whole country have held on/out ?

Posted by: Jim A. Sherman at February 14, 2005 06:51 AM


Jim, no small group of japanese soldiers held out unless they established a supply system of hunting-and-gathering. Everybody who didn't develop an adequate food supply surrendered. (Although possibly some of them starved to death without ever surrendering and weren't discovered or were discovered and not publicised.)

I suppose we could look at other examples of starving blockaded populations and try to establish benchmarks for how long it takes them to surrender and what signs they show before they do. Biafra and post WWI germany and such. But there are so many confounding variables, like sometimes they expect to get genocided whether they surrender or not.

Anyway, my claim is that we assumed without much evidence that they weren't close to surrender, and the evidence we found later is also pretty inconclusive. I'm not a historian with that as my specialty, so I could be wrong, but it's how it looks from what I've seen so far.

People have an emotional stake in it. If we were arguing about how long it might have taken to get an athenian surrender in the peloponnesian war if the strategies had been different, we wouldn't care as much. On the one side there's a big emotional investment in proving that we did the right thing, that nothing else would have worked. On the other side there's an emotional investment in showing that atrocities are not necessary, that we could have done better. So we tend to spin the weak and contradictory evidence to fit our preconceptions.

Posted by: J Thomas at February 14, 2005 08:29 AM


For a fascinating (and unpleasant) glimpse into the mind of a former Nazi diplomat:
http://www.ihr.org/jhr/v06/v06p-41_Braun.html

J. Thomas: The fundamental policy of the Japanese Army was that the troops should live off the land. It's one of the major reasons why they made themselves hated almost as soon as they landed anywhere. Wherever they werr, they already had a supply system, usually not of hunting-and-gathering but of subsistence agriculture, already solidly in place.

Posted by: jm at February 14, 2005 08:37 AM


"Anyway, my claim is that we assumed without much evidence that they weren't close to surrender, and the evidence we found later is also pretty inconclusive."

Then you have no concept of what the ending months of World War II were like. The evidence the Allies were looking consisted of 11,000 casualties in taking Okinawa, additional thousands taking Iwo Jima, and all-out suicidal campaigns by the Japanese. Estimates for the invasion of the home islands called for 250,000 casualties in the initial invasion. It was known from the Okinawa campaign that Japan's military leaders were training civilians to conduct suicide attacks using wood spears.

The evidence is neither weak nor contradictory. The only way to make it so is to simply dismiss all documented evidence including eye-witness testimony, and then substitute whatever convenient fabrication you would like in its place.

In short, the evidence the Allies were looking at indicated that Japan was far from surrendering, and that the human toll for an invasion could easily top the million mark. Given that, Allied planners looked for ways to avoid such a cataclysm. Fortunately, the atomic bombings were enough to trigger surrender. Had they not, the invason was already set for November, 1945--that timetable being dictated by how long it would take to rest, retrain, and redeploy troops from Europe.

For those of you who are fans of the blockade theory, I strongly suggest you read Clay Blair's definitive history of U.S. submarine warfare in the Pacific, or Theodore Roscoe's histories of both submarines and destroyers in the Pacific, or Admiral Lockwood's war diaries. Any of those will give you a picture of how effectively blockaded Japan was from late 1944 on, and how that made no apparent difference in her war-fighting ability.

Posted by: Derelict at February 14, 2005 10:34 AM


Probably too late to raise a new topic, but it occurred to me in looking at the big picture and hindsight - explicitly things no one in 1945 foresaw:

As has been pointed out, many other cities lost more population, more buildings than Hiroshima & Nagasaki. So why do they stand out? Nuclear horror. But wasn't that very horror the specter that made MAD work? Would impressive film from New Mexico and Bikini Atoll have had the same impact without the knowledge - and film - of what those blast meant to populations?

I don't think this idea changes the calculus of blame or guilt - while the US may have wanted to scare the USSR, no one anticipated 60 years without another nuke dropped in anger. But I wonder if the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki might not have saved the rest of us from sharing their fate.

Posted by: JRoth at February 14, 2005 11:44 AM


Derelict: Well said. People should also read at
http://www.history.navy.mil/faqs/faq102-6.htm
about the intense typhoon of 9 October '45 that caused so much damage on Okinawa that the Kyushu invasion would have have been postponed, forcing back also the Honshu invasion schedule, and almost certainly inspiring Japan's mystical militarists as irrefutable evidence that the gods were on their side.

The extra months to prepare defenses would have had major impact. Note that one of the reasons the emperor gave for accepting the Potsdam Declaration was that the beach defenses at Kujukurihama east of Tokyo were not in place.

Inability to launch the Honshu invasion by the planned date in March '46 would have delayed it many months, as the rainy season would have made mechanized warfare impossible in the Tokyo area.

As more than 100,000 people were dying every month in the other Japanese-occupied areas of Asia, the delay would have killed more people than died in the atomic bombings.

Posted by: jm at February 14, 2005 12:16 PM


This is my underlying point: Total war is impossible and unfeasible now. Not only this, they hurt the winner as much as they do the loser. Why? Because it makes the only desired outcome of war is *the claim* of victory. All other objectives are moot. Nothing but a cry of uncle will do. There is no sense of what a peace would be like. There was even talk of turning Germany into an agricultural dependency...

And I refuse to believe that there were not better ways of ending the pacific war than the massive area bombings and the final two nukes. Once the war was over, and it was over once the phillipines were retaken in full. Being destructive past that merely makes the world darker than it has to be. For both moral and practical reasons. It's like playing chess and winning but don't care to win as well as you might, so you simply eliminate all the other pieces on the board before you even think about doing the finishing touches.

The fact of the matter is that the U.S.'s own demands for unconditional surrender was the greatest impediment to general surrender. And if one believes that "unconditional surrender" was necessary for the end of the war or afterwards, one would be mistaken. The emperor remained. Aside from bases in okinawa and naval bases elsewheres, the integrity of the japanese homelands remained. Also think of this, would YOU, as an individual, truly accept unconditional surrender without a considerable bit of battering? Unconditional surrender is extremely vague, aside from dealing with rabid officers who hold onto "honor" with a tight fist.

I truly believe that we would have won by blockade. It's quite a valid method of winning, aside from cases like Hannibal where he had no ability to maintain a siege due to lack of men and supply. Also, by being clear what surrender terms we would accept, we could have had everything we did get.

Posted by: shah8 at February 14, 2005 01:07 PM


shah8: The emperor did not remain, by the standards of what was meant by concepts such as "preserving the national polity" or "preserving the position of the Emperor" which were the focus of debate on whether to accept the Potsdam Declaration.

Read the Meiji Constitution at http://history.hanover.edu/texts/1889con.html, to understand what was really meant by that concept.

The reasons for demanding unconditional surrender were sound, and based on the experience of WWI.

Posted by: jm at February 14, 2005 01:38 PM


I suppose we could look at other examples of starving blockaded populations and try to establish benchmarks for how long it takes them to surrender and what signs they show before they do.

Four Letters C.U.B.A.
If you think they don't starve talk to some of them some time.

I truly believe that we would have won by blockade. It's quite a valid method of winning, aside from cases like Hannibal where he had no ability to maintain a siege due to lack of men and supply. Also, by being clear what surrender terms we would accept, we could have had everything we did get.

A: Japan WAS effectively blockaded and had been short of food and fuel for some time.
B: we were quite clear about what we wanted. See Potsdam.
The Japanese were afraid of losing their emperor (a figure of religious and national significance) but otherwise were just trying to wiggle out of a surrender.
A blockade would have convinced them to wiggle forever.
Did it work in Iraq? uh NO it did not.
Doesn't work.
And really would not have worked on a people who's obvious gifts of singlemindedness and indefatigabity are
pointed out by the tales of individual and small groups staying in the bush for 20-30 years.

Posted by: Jim A. Sherman at February 14, 2005 02:08 PM


I would like to point something out.
a couplke of people have used the word "Nuke" when describing the atomic bombs dropped on Japan.
Those were not Nuclear bombs.
They were Atomic bombs.
In an Atomic bomb Atoms are split, renderd asunder,
and destruction follows the release of the excess energy.
In a Nuclear bomb the Nuclei of hydrogen or plutonium or some other atoms are forced to fuse . This is a much more energetic process, and is such an order of magnitude greater that in fact an atomic bomb is used as a trigger in a nuclear bomb.
They are about 100 times more destructive.
No city has ever been Nuked.

[Ummm... No. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were nuked. Two kinds of nuclear weapons: fission and fusion. No city has ever yet been hit by a *fusion* bomb, thank God.]

Posted by: Jim A. Sherman at February 14, 2005 02:28 PM


I will take that definition.
And thank you for the privelege of posting to your site.
Jim

Posted by: Jim A. Sherman at February 14, 2005 07:09 PM


Derelict, I agree with everything you say about the american interpretation of the weak and contradictory evidence they had available concerning japanese surrender -- which we thought was strong and incontrovertible.

So for example we interpreted the japanese suicidal defense of iwo jima as fanaticism. The japanese command had the idea to try to maximise US casualties, hoping for a negotiated surrender. That's one thing that was going on. But also the japanese soldiers had the strong impression they would not be allowed to surrender. And they were mostly correct. Most japanese on iwo jima who tried to surrender were killed.

This was a worst-case analysis which we ran with. I think it's often a good thing to plan for the worst case, then if things go better than you expect you can exploit opportunities but you won't get blindsided by bad news. We would have done better to plan for the worst case in iraq -- though it would likely have left us delaying the attack to 2007 or so. But for japan a lot of people act like our worse-case assessment was an infallible oracle. I'm convinced the reason is that they have to believe we did the right thing to nuke japan, so they strongly defend every point that implies we had no workable alternative.

So consider the death rate in japan-occupied china. How much did that rate drop after the surrender? Didn't it stay pretty high until well after 1948? (And the korean war, followed by an interlude before the Great Leap Forward.) You can't just point to 100,000 deaths a month without subtracting the deaths that would continue even with a surrender.

Shah8 *wants to believe* that we didn't have to use the nukes. And you *want to believe* that we did have to. Myself, I figure it's water under the dam by now. We'd do far better to look for a way out of iraq than do monday-morning quarterbacking about japan sixty years later. It *doesn't matter* whether we were right. All the people who made the decisions and most of their victims are dead already (someone who was 18 then would be 78 now). The only way it's useful is to look at the mistakes in ways that improve our decision-making today.

Posted by: J Thomas at February 14, 2005 10:13 PM


Jim Sherman, didn't germany accept awful surrender terms after WWI following a year of starvation? I don't think you can say it never ever works at all. Ideally someone would look at the examples where it worked and those where it didn't, and guess at what factors make the difference, and what signs point to a coming surrender when one is coming. Then we might apply those signs to japan. I haven't done the study, and I don't know how it would come out. Maybe japan was close to a surrender, maybe not. They were hoping for a negotiated surrender that would leave them some things -- no way to tell what they'd settle for since the experiment was not performed.

Posted by: J Thomas at February 14, 2005 10:20 PM


J Thomas, the example of Germany from WWI seems to show that anything other than total surrender is undesirable; witness the Nazi myth of the Stab in the Back, that Germany could have prevailed in WWI.

Posted by: Sandals at February 15, 2005 01:07 AM


Sandals, do you think an unconditional surrender after WWI would have given a different result?

What different result do you expect would have happened? I'm not at all ready to claim it would have made no difference, but I'm not at all clear what the difference would have been.

Posted by: J Thomas at February 15, 2005 05:04 AM


A year of starvation certainly helped convince thge Germans.
But that was in the context of the war continuing.
Not in the context of being blockaded and embargoed in a peace-time scenario where one could shout "Inhumane" and get some relief.
Perhaps the futility of the war, the effectiveness of the US and the loss of 2,000,000 soldiers helped convince them.
The terms of the surrender were apparently driven by Pres. Wilson's Ideas and a Feench insistence that the German threat be nullified.

Posted by: Jim A. Sherman at February 15, 2005 06:51 AM


Jthomas's comments about the 100k/month deaths in Japanese occupied territory are valid. China certainly did not become a peasants paradise after the Japanese surrendered. But there are other sources of bodycounts to consider: theJapanese were fighting in Burman and Indonesia as well, operations that certainly would not have stopped even had the Atomic Bombings or Operation Olympic been put on hold. Then ther were the poor bastids slowly starving to death in numerous isolated Japanese garrisons scattered about the Pacific. Somethin like 100 thousand on rabaul alone.

Posted by: Steven Rogers at February 15, 2005 01:02 PM


Steven, let me back up. The whole 100,000/month thing is an after-the-fact justification.

At the time our stated goal was to win the war as quickly as possible. We didn't doubt we'd win, the point was to win fast so our boys could go home and resume civilian life. I'm sure we would have agreed that it would be better for ten million people to die in one day and end the war than to spend a year while ten million people died and ten years with ten million deaths would have been worse still. Would we have preferred ten million people dead in one year to five million dead in two years? I dunno, we never explicitly worked out the formula. We didn't have accurate statistics about how many people were dying and we didn't know how long the war would last. We concentrated on what we *thought* would shorten the war, and we didn't concentrate on how to reduce world casualties.

We'd already taken Rangoon, we could ship supplies to china by rail. It turned out the chinese knew the japanese were finished so they mostly fought each other, and it didn't much help end the war. If we'd stopped attacking the japanese in burma would it have reduced the death? Probably. Maybe they'd have rallied and attacked the rail lines, which weren't doing much for the war effort. But we weren't thinking that way. We *could* root out the last japanese troops in burma, so we did.

I can't speak to indonesia, I'm not an expert about anything in WWII but I don't know enough about that one to give much uninformed opinion.

About the starving japanese garrisons, if we wanted to reduce the death we could have given them food. Something like "Your garrison is irrelevant to the war effort so we won't attack you. It's useless for you to starve while we negotiate the surrender of Japan, so here's some food." That would demoralise them. It probably wouldn't have a big effect on the end of the war one way or another; I doubt it would hurt. It might help, everything we did to show we'd be magnanimous in victory would help the surrender. But we weren't thinking that way at the time, and it's too much to expect we would. We were at war.

When we mostly refused to accept japanese surrenders on iwo jima that didn't help the surrender. We took 44 prisoners out of 22,000 troops; we regularly shot japanese who tried to surrender. To the extent that the news reached japan it surely have stiffened their resolve. (I can't document that but don't you agree?) It would have been good if we had accepted more surrenders but I can't blame the soldiers involved. They'd been through a lot.

If our goal had been to end the war while minimising the death toll, there are various things we could have done differently. Maybe we'd have chosen to nuke japanese cities, I dunno.

That wasn't the goal. The goal was to end the war quickly, and it was plausible that the nukes would help. The japanese did in fact surrender right away after the nukes, and it's a matter of guesswork how much longer they would have taken if we'd done something else.

What are our goals in iraq? Would it have helped if we'd agreed to take more prisoners in fallujah? Would it have helped if we'd treated iraqis more like liberated people and less like an occupied enemy? Would it have helped if we'd behaved more in line with our stated goals?

Posted by: J Thomas at February 15, 2005 08:20 PM


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