In defense of evil…sort of…

Hiroshima, August 6, 1945

A couple of recent developments have caused me to rethink the popular notion that no good can come from evil.

I am judging entries for a local film festival. The subject of one video I watched last week profiled a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Naturally, it was very sympathetic towards him and the Japanese of August 1945. It gave me something to think about, but probably not in the direction the film maker intended.

I am no historian, but I read a lot. Over the course of the past year or two I have read several history books on the final months of World War II, including  Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire by Richard Frank; Retribution by Max Hastings; and Whirlwind: The Air War Against Japan, 1942-1945 by Barrett Tillman.

It seems easy in the light of the 21st century to cast the US as a malevolent nuclear monster and the Japanese as innocent victims in the atomic bombings. This is a popular view to some, but such casting ignores the realities of 1945.

The Japanese initiated a war of conquest that they waged with incredible brutality against both the military and the civilian populations of their foes.

By the summer of 1945, the Japanese government was dominated by die-hard militarists who were quite willing to sacrifice both their country’s military forces and civilian population “for the honor of the Emperor,” rather than admit the obvious fact that that they were defeated.  They were willing to die to the last man, woman and child.

It is quite unrealistic to believe the Allied Powers would simply walk away after having driven Japan to the brink of defeat. So, aside from nuclear bombardment, there were only two other options available to the Allies.

1.) A continuation of the campaign of fire-bombing and naval blockade, which had already destroyed most Japanese cities and much of  Japanese economy, and killed hundreds of thousands. A continuation of this campaign would have undoubtedly resulted in the deaths of millions of Japanese by either starvation or incineration.

2.) Invasion – In addition to the deaths and wounding of more than (estimated) 100,000 American and British soldiers, sailors and Marines, an invasion would have likely resulted in the deaths of more than a million Japanese, military and civilians.

In light of these options, the deaths of roughly 200,000 Japanese in the two nuclear bombings seem mild by comparison. As horrible as the nuclear bombings were, ultimately they were the least of the possible evils, not just to the Allied servicemen, but also to the Japanese. The callous conclusion is this; there are millions of Japanese who are alive today because the war ended when it did and their parents or grandparents were not killed by additional bombing, blockade or invasion. The misfortune of the residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki became their good fortune.

*    *    *    *

On a similar note, but closer to home, the fortunes of millions of African Americans living today were benefited by the tragedy that was impressed on their ancestors. By 21st century values, there is no debate about the evil of slavery in this country. The capture, transport and forced enslavement of Africans and their descendents in America was a tragic evil imposed on those who experienced it.  However, seven generations later, the descendents of those American slaves benefit greatly from the misery to which their ancestors were subjected. If it were not for their ancestors being forcibly brought to this country, it likely most of the African Americans of today would have been born in equatorial Africa. S0, instead of living in a land rampant with civil war, poverty and disease, the descendents of American slaves are born in a country with perhaps the highest standard of living and the greatest total opportunities in history.

I’m sure that is not what the plantation owners and slave traders intended, but it’s amazing how things sometimes turn out.

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