Hemphill: Use of atomic bombs worth the cost in lives

By Allen Hemphill

Each August there is an obligatory liberal denunciation of the U.S. use of atomic weaponry at Hiroshima and Nagasaki — a denunciation that is a triumph of ideology over history.

Allen Hemphill

My reading of history is that the bombing of Hiroshima, and even Nagasaki, did not end the war. The Japanese military thought that Hiroshima was an experimental weapon, and would not surrender. When the second weapon was dropped on Nagasaki, the Japanese military finally believed that there were still more to come and that caused them to surrender.

The Japanese homeland military was prepared for a fight to the death, just as they had in many islands where they took 100 percent casualties and still did not surrender — and these islands were not even their homeland.

Here at home, I was training with a wooden rifle as a pre-teen member of Junior Yanks of America, and later with a World War I-vintage Springfield 1903 A3, while Japanese civilians were training with sharpened bamboo sticks. The 1838 attack of 4,000 spear-throwing Zulus against 120 untrained British Royal Engineers armed with single-shot rifles, proved the Zulus’ courage, but their loss of 1,000 warriors proved the triumph of technology over courage.

Japanese civilians would have died in the millions, had we needed to invade.

Certainly the Japanese population in the cities was ready for the war to end, but they did not have a vote. The firebombing of Tokyo with their rice-paper shoji screens killed more Japanese than were killed in Hiroshima or Nagasaki.

The Japanese Empire supply lines were too long, and although they won every battle against America for the first two years while we concentrated on saving Britain, eventually U.S. submarines increased from fewer than 60 until we were producing one a week, and destroying their supply ships and transports faster than they could replace either.

The mainland had no need for supply lines.

In POW camps where “special prisoners” were held incommunicado, like the Ofuna Prison Camp, prisoners were denied provisions of the Geneva Conventions (Japan had not signed), prisoners and died at a rate of 35 percent (1 percent in German and Italian camps), men prayed each day for the war to end. In this camp was the famous fighting ace, “Pappy” Boyington (26 Japanese planes); Louis Zamperini, a USC track star most likely to have first broken the 4-minute mile absent World War II, a survivor of a record 48 days on a raft; and Richard O’Kane, legendary commanding officer of the USS Tang (SS-306) which had sunk 24 Japanese ships in 10 months, and then was sunk by its own torpedo! Pappy was too weak to see food drops, even though camp prisoners had painted “Pappy Boyington Here” on the roof.

O’Kane of the Tang won three Silver Stars, three Navy Crosses, and the Congressional Medal of Honor. Of the nine survivors of the Tang, none weighed 100 pounds, and all in the camp were described with the words, “Their legs were no bigger than a normal man’s wrist.”

Anything that brought these prisoners salvation one day early was worth everything.

Reach Hemphill at ahemphill@cox.net.

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Posted by Staff on Aug 28 2013. Filed under Columnists. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

4 Comments for “Hemphill: Use of atomic bombs worth the cost in lives”

  1. Guest

    During World War II, General Curtis LeMay oversaw Operation Starvation, an aerial mining operation against Japanese waterways and ports that disrupted Japanese shipping and food distribution. Although his superiors were unsupportive of this naval objective, LeMay gave it a high priority by assigning the entire 313th Bombardment Wing (four groups, about 160 airplanes) to the task. Aerial mining supplemented a tight Allied submarine blockade of the home islands, drastically reducing Japan's ability to supply its overseas forces to the point that postwar analysis concluded that it could have defeated Japan on its own had it begun earlier.

  2. Guest

    Allen, I have read history from official US military historians. One problem with Japanese use of submarines is an attitude that they were too valuable to engage in anything but pursuit of capital ships. They did not attack Allied cargo ships, believing this to be mere commerce raiding, beneath their dignity. The United States commander called for "unrestricted air and submarine warfare" from December 7, 1941 to the end of the war. But the US did not have a reliable torpedo for two years.

  3. It was not just the first two years, because the Tang was sunk by its own torpedo doing a 180 in 1944. We were still using torpedoes of questionable reliability, though certainly more reliable steam torpedoes when I made one ready (Mk 14 3A) from the warehouse, loaded it, made an approach and successfully fired it during my Qualification for Command of Submarines in the 60s. (My Submarine Simulator Trainer was WWII Medal of Honor winner Capt. Eugene Fluckey.)

    The cover story for the loss of the USS Scorpion (SSN 589) was a hot-running torpedo in the forward battery, although I don't believe it — I think the Navy just rode a cover story on top of the historically poor torpedo history.

    It is certainly true that we had a lot of men on Eternal Patrol as a result of BADLY designed torpedoes, which sunk submarines could not report, and those that did return and report were not believed by desk-bound designers. That contributed massively to the 24% casualty rate among submariners – greater than the casualties of the first wave of troops attacking Pacific islands. (Purple Hearts to submariners were almost all given posthumously.)

    My respect for WWII submariners is unbound.

    • Guest

      I was reading "The US Naval Academy Illustrated History of the United States Navy, " published around 1973. This reference says the steam torpedoes were inadequately tested, as test was underfunded in peacetime.

      The electric torpedo fixed the detonation problems.

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