A response

Posted: Thursday, August 13, 2009 by Travis Cody in

I'm going to do something I don't normally do. And I'm doing it because I wanted to give my readers an opportunity to speak if they choose.

Last week I commemorated the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. It was just a photograph, some facts, and this statement...

War is horrible. The decisions made during war have consequences.

That seems a fairly indisputable statement. Many of my blog pals weighed in with their opinions. And I think you came in on both sides of the argument, while agreeing that a) the debate is still ongoing about the use of atomic weapons and b) war is pretty terrible.

A new visitor to my place also felt compelled to comment. Evidently he took exception to my introductory statement about the debate over the bombings. The visitor wrote...

So when are you going to blog about the anniversary of the Rape of Nanking?

If the Japanese and others were/are so horrified by how we finished it, they shouldn't have started the damned conflict.

Spare me the sorrow over the use of those weapons. It was justified.

Thank you, Joshua, for having the courage of your convictions and owning your comment so I could track back to your blog. I always like to return visits.

As to your question, the events in Nanking happened in December 1937. If I choose to blog about a historical event, I generally do so closer to the actual commemoration or remembrance of the event. I also tend to blog about things of interest to me personally and specifically. If I haven't blogged about the Rape of Nanking previously, it doesn't mean I won't at some later date.

Joshua, I wonder at your absolute conviction. I don't admire it, as to me it demonstrates a closed mind. I also don't criticize you for it. However, consider your conviction that Japanese civilians somehow deserved to have those bombs dropped on them based on the actions of the Japanese Imperial Army at Nanking. By this logic, German civilians deserved the same fate for the systematic state sponsored murder of millions of Jews, Poles, Soviet POWs, Slavs, gays, disabled persons, and political opponents. I don't think that's true, but it's your logic.

We could continue your logic to include oppressive regimes throughout the nuclear era. Stalin killed millions of his own people. Perhaps Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge deserved some too? Should we have used nuclear weapons on the apartheid regime in South Africa? Weren't we obligated to strategically bomb the perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide? Who should we bomb for the tragedies in Burma and Darfur?

I've never put much stock in the "you did this so you deserve that" argument. And since the events in Nanking occurred in 1937, prior to U.S. declared involvement in World War II, we had no military business "punishing" the Japanese for what they did in China. That was for the Nanking war crimes tribunal to review and adjudicate in 1946, as the Nuremberg trials from 1945-1946 reviewed and judged Nazi war crimes.

I don't mind that you believe strongly in your opinion. What I find bothersome is that you pound others over the head with it. Spare you the sorrow? They shouldn't have started it if they don't like how we finished it? Really?

When we start talking about retribution, we must regard the length and breadth of history. For example, how can we possible think we can insert ourselves into the issues between Middle Eastern or Southeast Asian or African nations to resolve thousands of years of conflict? Let me quote a friend of mine. Starrlight says...

...if we really wanna play tit for tat when it comes to Japan and China we have to go ALL the way back to Khan. Sino-Japanese relations are so ancient and have so many scars on both sides it is not even funny.

And while I completely agree that the level and methods of Japanese violence during WW II were every bit as horrific as what the Nazi did, I find it sad that his [she means you, Joshua] view is so myopic that he can not pull back and look at it from a species stand point and feel sorrow that humans went there to begin with. That we got to the point where using nuclear weapons was the best option SHOULD make everyone sorrowful.
Hey...do we retroactively nuke ourselves for our treatment of Native American people here on our own soil?

Joshua returned later to write...

And you're wrong, the debate is over regarding the end of the war and saving lives. Anyone with an objective brain and a willingness to find the answers knows this.

Joshua, I see that you feel strongly about this. I may even agree that the use of atomic weapons against Japan was justified and that it saved lives. I can cite the statistics, and not just the projected Allied casualties but those of Asian nations where mostly civilians would have died from famine and disease while a prolonged invasion of Japan took place. But you didn't bring that side of the question to your comment. You didn't bring reason.

You made a declaration, Joshua. Why not say, "I think the debate is over regarding the end of the war and saving lives, because..."? Now that I can respect.

Instead you decided to throw an odd bit of logic at me and at my readers. Your strong conviction doesn't give you the right to be rude or to tell me I'm wrong. I have an objective and open mind, which is why I think that the debate continues. History is written by the victor, while the losing side of a conflict is often derided. As long as scholars continue to dig into what we take for granted as historical fact, I'll keep my mind open to new evidence.

I'm not talking about shouted opinions and convictions about perceived reality. I'm talking about new facts in previously private and unavailable documents. If we stop investigating historical events, we don't learn from them.

I'm much more likely to listen to another blog pal, Mike Golch, who also brings a conviction based on a set of facts tempered with compassion based on anecdotal evidence. He owns his opinion too, but he doesn't beat anyone into submission with it or tell anyone they are wrong to disagree. Mike says...

President Truman did what he felt best for our military.By useing the bomb,it did shorten the war,That I have no doubt.The use of those bombs did emotional harm to the Japanese population as did the occupational forces after the war.My Late Dad talked about it when I was growing up.He was proud to serve our country,he was saddend to see parts of Japan and the devatation the we had did with those 2 bombs.I pray that that monster is never used again.

He believes it. He owns it. I presume he bases this opinion on a review of the projected American casualties from an invasion of Japan. He sees it from an American military point of view. It seems like he has some human compassion for a terrible tragedy...some sorrow perhaps. And he doesn't have to tell anyone that they are wrong not to see it the way he does. That's a balanced conviction I can admire.

We also learn from those who disagree with us. I have opinions that I'll dig in and defend, but I'm not going to tell you you're wrong for your opinion, as long as it is fact based. I see articles by learned scholars, still asking questions and examining evidence about the use of atomic weapons in 1945. Therefore I conclude that the debate continues, and suggest that it may not be resolved.

Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you'll know tomorrow. (Tommy Lee Jones as Kay, Men In Black, 1997)

I won't even tell you you're wrong if you say the sun will rise in the east tomorrow...I think it will, but it might not. I'm pretty certain it will based on the evidence that it has since the planet started rotating around it. But it still might not. I don't know what's in store for this planet tomorrow.

Come with a reasoned and polite response, and I'm happy to entertain another idea.

That's my opinion. I own it. Thanks for dropping by.


  1. barb says:

    Compelling stuff, Trav. I love how you think and how you write. A quest for truth, tempered with compassion and a thirst for understanding.

  1. Thom says:

    I wish I could write and think like you with stuff like this. I so write off the top of my head. Excellent my friend :)

  1. Bond says:

    A well thought out, concise, educated response.

    I, for one, am not surprised at all, as that is what I have come to expect from you my friend.

    You can not just say, 'it is over'...without debate and the re-examination of issues from our past, we will never grow as a people.

    War is hell, but if we had not done that horrible deed, the war could still be going on...or, as you said, the invasion of Japan would have been a long, costly (monetarily and in terms of human life) event. Look at the battles fought in the Pacific...heck look at the war in Vietnam.

    If you think an invasion of Japan would have been any less violent, dawn-out and costly to both military's and the civilians of Japan, you are deluding yourself.

  1. well-written Travis.

    De-lurking to give you a hug...It's been a while since I've given one your way.

  1. Julie says:

    Very eloquent dear man. Love you!

  1. This was such an excellent post Trav. Measured, objective and polite. Which sums you up very well! Thank you for yesterdays conversations on retribution. It was the high point of my paper shuffling day =)

  1. I love when you write this way. Your convictions/passions are strong and full of common sense, compassion and historical fact.
    Reasonable. Gentlemanly.
    Totally you.

    He really thought they deserved it?
    Wow. That kind of thinking makes me shudder, but as you say, he is entitled to his opinion.

    I wish everyone had the wherewithal to logically explain a response the way you just did. It packs a powerful non-atomic punch.
    The world could use a lot more of that these days.


  1. Very well reasoned response. I wish other folks put as much thought and restraint into their words as you do here. Though I suppose I've been guilty myself of going off half cocked a time or two.

    Things are 'almost' never just black and white. And, of course, objectively and scientifically, we cannot be sure which scenario (atomic bomb versus invasion) would have saved the most lives. History is not a scenario that can be rerun. There's plenty of speculation but it is 'clearly' speculation and not fact.

  1. Akelamalu says:

    Well said and eloquently too. :)

  1. Trav, I think you are one of the most open-minded people in the blogosphere. I think Joshua would do well reading your posts for a while so he would learn to make a point but open his mind to others' thoughts and opinions. He sounds like one of those angry people we know who can't possibly look at anything from another point of view. You did good, Travis!

  1. Travis ,this is the =grweatness of our country.Every one has a right to their opions and to share them,as well.I for welcome debate about a statement that has been made.I may not agree with a stated,thought.I do stand up for the person to have their opionion.I will never attack a person for their beliefs.I will point out how I do not agree with them.Maybe not so eloquently as you have in this post.I will end this comment as I have said numerous times in the past.God Bless the USA a the freedoms we have.

  1. Travis says:

    Barb: And learning is way too much fun to be spoiled by a dogmatic mind.

    Thom: Sometimes off the cuff gets to the heart of things. Add a bit of an edit for polish and you've got it.

    V: The thinking part was important.

    Lois: Thanks for the hug. Right back atcha.

    Julie: Thanks my dear.

    Starr: I enjoyed the conversation as well. And thanks for your thoughts.

    Mimi: You know that means a lot coming from you.

    NNG: Thanks.

    Charles: We just can't know. We can study the facts and come to some kind of conclusion. But as you say, it's purely speculative because we can't know for certain what would have happened if a variable was changed.

    Akelamalu: Thanks.

    Mary: I really appreciate that.

    Mike: Well said. A strong conviction is good, but it has to be tempered by a willingness to accept that not everything is going to agree.

  1. Kanani says:

    Decisions made during war have either positive or negative consequences. Perhaps he was reading the word consequences in the incomplete context.

    If we look back at the use of the atomic bomb and try to this day to decide whether the use of it was valid or not, then we get ourselves into an endless quagmire.

    I think instead we should look at the circumstances and the process of reasoning used to arrive at the decision to use it. This can be enormously useful in helping us to understand the circumstances in which we might do the same --or not, today.

  1. Dianne says:

    I have so much respect for how even and calm and respectful you are - you always are

  1. Travis - If we could go back in time to before the dropping of the bombs, I think the allied forces were looking at a protracted and casualty-high war with the Japanese even as the Germans were folding. Historically, the Japanese samurai culture had a no-failure-never-give-up background which the WWII generation appeared to be carrying with them.

    The chilling part of the decision to use atomic bombs for me is the conclusion that it really was the lesser of two evils.

    I say this from the vantage point of having a great-uncle spending much of WWII as a POW of the Japanese. My dad's favorite uncle was Lawrence Rattie, who fought with the Winnipeg Rifles in Hong Kong. He returned to my dad's small Quebec village as a virtual walking skeleton, but somehow recovered and spent years serving with the Hong Kong Veterans Association.

    If anyone knew what the Japanese military machine was capable of, it was my dad's Uncle Lawrence. However, my dad managed to keep his aversion to the Japanese to himself until I was in my 20's, when he admitted to me that whenever a Japanese customer walked into the showroom to buy a car, he had to struggle with holding the past against these generation-apart customers.

    I was shocked that my easy-going, loving and generous dad admitted that to me. But I also realized he'd never transferred his feelings about the Japanese to my sister or me. Something I really appreciated and respected about him.

    So there is my personal take on the dropping of the bombs. I personally can't imagine what else would have brought the never-surrender Japanese to surrender.

  1. Jamie says:

    Travis, Very well reasoned and written response. One can have convictions without closing off to other possibilities.

    The concept of Heinlein's "Fair Witness" should always apply ... "What color is that building?" ... "Blue on this side right now".

    A fact from one viewpoint does not always remain a fact from another, and just because something is true now doesn't mean that the truth is absolute and unchanging.

  1. Travis says:

    Kanani: I think ultimately one still cannot know for certain what is the correct choice, since we can't know both outcomes with any degree of certainty. I do like your approach to the debate though.

    Southern: Thank you Sir.

    Dianne: I try to be. Sometimes it takes more effort than other times.

    Julia: My stepdad's uncle was captured by the Japanese and took the march on Bataan. He never spoke of it and never forgave.

    Jamie: Unfortunately, some would say that being swayed by a changing truth makes a person a waffler and someone not to be trusted.

  1. jennifer says:

    I'm with most everyone - you are well written and well lived too. I'm blessed to claim you as a friend.

  1. Some people are just SO black & white, this or that. Personally I have enough intellect to see the plethora of shades of gray in between. Hang in there.

  1. Mags says:

    I too love when you write this way. I am glad that you decided to address this in more depth.

  1. Anndi says:

    I arrive late to this discussion... but...

    One war… out of the thousands that have been waged by humans against each other for whatever reason over the course of our existence on this blue globe, was deemed sufficiently “costly” and therefore justified unleashing the earthly equivalent of the “hand of God”? In our arrogance and ignorance, by harnessing and unleashing this power as a weapon, we are in peril of forsaking our humanity.

    It is our failure to truly learn from history that lead us to this.

    Albert Einstein once said: “The splitting of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking, and thus we drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.”

    A potentially revolutionary scientific discovery, one that could, in the right hands with true and good hearts, have been used for the common good of humanity… was used to have the final word. It was conceptualized and designed as a deterrent (not an actual weapon) by men fearing Nazi Germany would use such a weapon against the Allies and all of Mankind.
    But this is a weapon against which there can be NO defense… there is nothing just or right about using it. Nothing. No cost, no projection of human loss… there are no do-overs with the atomic bomb, no takesy-backsies. It is a monster.

    On July 17, 1945, Leo Szilard, a scientist instrumental in the development of the atomic bomb, drafted a petition to the President of the United States. In it he writes: “a nation which sets a precedent of using these newly liberated forces of nature for purposes of destruction may have to bear the responsibility of opening the door to an era of devastation on an unimaginable scale.” Sadly, President Truman did not receive it before the bomb on Hiroshima was dropped as it was held back by General Leslie Groves (head of the Manhattan Project). Could it have made a difference? We’ll never know.
    But in the instant that first bomb was dropped, the entire world, all of Humanity was carried by the government and military establishment of the United States over the threshold… like a reluctant bride forced to wed a most unappealing groom in an arranged marriage. The choice was made for all humanity. The die were cast. Or were they?

    So many of the very minds that made this weapon possible, either through their scientific endeavors or direct participation in the development of the first bombs, were deeply affected by the use that was made of their research; brilliant men like Einstein, Rotblat, Szilard, Pauling. For these men, the goal then became not only to eliminate nuclear weapons, but war itself.

    I strongly recommend everyone read the Russell-Einstein Manifesto. I will ensure my budding scientist, The Chicklet, reads it when she’s a little older.

    It’s not too late…

    Out of fear, we mobilized the most brilliant of minds, and seemingly unending resources and we harnessed a power so great, we cannot completely fathom it’s far-reaching impact. Out of fear, we have harnessed unparalleled forces and used them blindly and without regard for our sense of Humanity… IMAGINE what we could do out of Love and Compassion.