Jeff Duntemann's Contrapositive Diary Rotating Header Image

Flashback: Getting Past Nagasaki

I ran the first Contrapositive Diary Flashback in February, and I’m doing it again. I won’t do it a lot, but with August being the 75th Anniversary of the end of WWII, I want to re-post a few pertinent things I wrote fifteen years ago that bear saying again. Some of you have seen this before, back in 2005. Many of you haven’t. This entry is a particularly grim one, but human history hands us grim sometimes. We don’t get the history we want. We have to deal with the history we get.

We’re approaching the 60th [now 75th] anniversary of the end of World War II. I have something odd and upbeat to post on VJ-Day, assuming I can find the files. [I did. You’ll see them.] If not, I have some scanning and OCRing to do again, sigh.

Sigh, indeed. Yesterday was the 60th [now 75th] anniversary of our dropping a nuclear weapon on Hiroshima. Many or even most people who are not completely ignorant of the history of WWII or totally wigged out by nuclear weapons understand the necessity of Hiroshima. The world stood stunned as the smoke cleared, and against a threat like that, Imperial Japan would have caved in days. Then there was August 9. Why did we have to do it again?

First of all, avoid the temptation to second guess and judge the people who lived the era and bore the responsibility. People were dying across the world, not by hundreds or thousands, but by millions. Whole nations and peoples were virtually wiped off the planet. How well would you have handled it?

I’ve been boning up on my 20th century history lately, through several books like The Great Influenza, The Fall of the Dynasties, and The War Against the Weak, along with a quick flip through the marvelous 1966 American Heritage Picture History of WWII, though I wept when I read my father’s notes in the margins. Good God, he was there, in the thick of all that hell, dust, and death. He, at least, got back alive, as a man named Robert Williams, who might otherwise have been my father, did not.

I think I understand Nagasaki. I don’t like the understanding I have, but I understand: WWI ended scarcely twenty years before WWII began. The death-stink of Verdun remained vivid in the memories of those who survived it. (They are still digging unexploded ordnance from those now-peaceful fields!) The world seemed to be recognizing a pattern: Every generation, a strange psychosis reached some sort of critical mass, and erupted in increasingly deadly conflicts between nation-states that (by 1945) should long have known better. Even as Nazi Germany collapsed, I think that forward-looking people were charting the line between 1870, 1914, and 1939, and did not like the shadow they saw ahead. The points were growing closer, and the death toll higher, each time that the world went to war. Patton knew what Stalin was, and although he was forbidden his plan to take Moscow, I think his superiors came to understand Patton’s insight. I’m almost certain that the next European war would have come by 1955, and a nuclear-powered Soviet Union would have reduced much of Europe to sizzling ash.

Instead, we took Nagasaki. One might have been a fluke, or good luck. Two in four days was a statement that could not be ignored. In a sense, the American leadership was telling the rest of the world, Stalin and every other emerging nationalist psychopath who might be watching: This..nonsense..will..stop…now.

I mourn for Nagasaki, as I mourn for the Jews, and the Russians, and the Ukraine, and my mother’s high-school sweetheart. It’s been quiet now for sixty years. There has never been another nuclear attack. In my view, there has never actually been another war. (Those who consider Iraq I or II or even Vietnam a “war” need to read more history.) The world turned a corner in 1945. We stopped connecting the dots, and there is some hope that the horrible line between 1870, 1914, and 1939 will not be drawn again. 75,000 people died at Nagasaki, but had they not died, 100,000,000 would almost certainly have perished the next time the world erupted.

Remember: There is no such thing as pacifism. Doing nothing is doing something. There is no escaping responsibility. There are no good choices. All we can do is bless our dead for what their lives have purchased, and move on.


  1. Orvan Taurus says:

    As I recall, it was not entirely the plan for the time. Not only was Nagasaki the secondary target (and Kokura perhaps the luckiest city in the world – that it was clear over Hiroshima on the 6th, and not clear over Kokura on the 9th…) but the orginal plan was for closer to a week between atomic bombings – but weather forecasts caused accelerated plans.

    But yes, as nasty as things since 1945 might seem, sometimes “what might have been” are NOT the saddest of words, but the soberest.

  2. Roy Harvey says:

    Anyone who is familiar with the Japanese defense of Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and other of the final land battles in that theater recognize what a horror the invasion of Japan would have been for both sides. This has been of particular interest to me as my father was on Guam when the war ended, with the Third Marine Division, training for the invasion. The possibility that, as a post-war baby, I would exist is decidedly small had that invasion been undertaken.

  3. Bob says:

    it is hard to wrap my mind around the changes from the generation that fought World War II to today’s generation of college snowflakes. this is what happens when a generation of parents send their children to be indoctrinated by leftist teachers in government schools. an article like yours will never be read by children in these schools. There is some hope with websites like Prager University. You might want to comment on them.

  4. WILLIAM H MEYER says:

    Not to trivialize it, but my view has long been that Japan was hysterical, and the bombs were the metaphorical slap on the face which broke the cycle.

    I agree that we can’t look back and declare that the bombing was wrong (though many do, overlooking the high quality of hindsight), and I am thankful that the war was brought to an end.

    Our modern “histories” are now written and edited by people who are mostly younger than I, and therefore are products of the ever increasing leftist indoctrination in the government schools. About 15 years ago, I had occasion to dig into a high school economics textbook, and was appalled. They did not leave out the essentials of the subject, but they interspersed articles on global warming, Keynesian theory, and the vaunted benefits of socialism. All in no orderly fashion.

    I must say that I am content that I will not live so many more years, but sad that at the rate we are going, I will probably live to see the end of the Republic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *