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on 28 July 2012
First a comment about the earlier C Smith review. Harris did NOT order the area bombing of cities like Hamburg and Dresden,Winston Churchill did! It is time this myth was banished.
Paul Ham's book tills much old ground. His familiar material includes the evolution of bombing that has been told, often wrongly, many, many times. His account of the development of the nuclear bomb is poor, potted, inaccurate in places and tiresome.Likewise, his account of the use of propaganda by Japan and the Allies is old-hat.
Readers who are not familiar with the mountains of research on the decision to attack Hiroshima and Nagasaki should treat this book with caution. The author is clearly one who knows little of the actualities of war or warfare. He has little understanding of the context in which decisions like Hiroshima were made.The context is crucial. In 1945 Europe was in ruins and chaos. We were revolted by the the horror of Hitler's death camps. There was growing fear for the safety of thousands of Allied prisoners in Japanese hands. The world was beginning to learn that the behaviour of the Japanese military was depraved and bestial.
The direction of war is not for the squeamish. Little objection had been raised to the killing of some 750,000 German and Japanese civilians by conventional bombing. Those who know little of battle, like the author, are deluded to imagine that death by nuclear weapons is uniquely awful. Artillery, flame throwers, mines also do terrible things to the human frame.Nuclear weapons are horrific but even given their residual consequences they are only one means of inflicting misery and death.
Despite what Ham says the evidence makes clear that using the bomb made a very bloody invasion of Japan redundant.Such an invasion would have faced a well-prepared enemy that include thousands of fanatical civilians armed with weapons who had made it clear that they would willingly die defending their country. Remember that by 1945 the Americans had already fought some of the bloodiest battles of the war against a fanatical enemy entrenched on heavily fortified Pacific Islands. They had no illusions about what faced them if they invaded the Japanese homeland.The evidence is overwhelming that by 1945 the American people would not have accepted the horrendous cost of invasion.The intercept of Magic codes made it clear that the Japanese were willing to commit mass suicide if invasion took place.
Ham like so many people fails to understand that with hindsight what is very apparent today was in 1945 opaque.
Ham is bothered that no warning was given before the bombs were dropped.The reasons are quite clear.The bomb was intended to be a mighty shock not only to Japan but also to the Soviet Union (the latter is usually forgotten). Incidentally, did Japan warn the USA of its intention to attack Pearl Harbour?
The responsibility for Hiroshima and Nagasaki lies wholly with the Japanese. They decided to fight on despite knowing they had lost the war. Regarding
casualty figures for Hiroshima we should remember that these are estimates. The current one is around 70,000 not 100,000.
Those who belong to the Ham school should also remember the thousands of Allied prisoners in squalid Japanese prisons where they were routinely starved, beaten, or beheaded for minor offences.The Japanese had announced that they would massacre these prisoners if Japan was invaded.
Finally, it it wrong to believe that blockade and the cynical invasion of Manchuria by Stalin's forces brought the war to an end.Neither had broken the political stalemate in Japan.Military and political Japanese leaders cared nothing for the welfare of their people.Note that even after Hirohito declared that his leaders should end the war and accept the US State Department's note regarding peace terms a military coup was attempted.
A sober and objective study of the evidence available in several languages makes it clear that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were justified given the circumstances at the time.Ham writes:'total war debased everyone involved'. Indeed,war is hell. It demonstrates the worst aspects of human behaviour. It is, however, incumbent upon writers to view wars in context and avoid the use of armchair hindsight.