Sixty years ago tomorrow “the Enola Gay,” a shiny new B-29 with a bomb named Little Boy in its bay, lifted off the runway on tiny Tinian island and settled on a course for Hiroshima. History wrote finis to its most destructive war with the dawn of the nuclear age six hours later.
Hundreds of thousands of American soldiers, sailors and Marines, along with millions of their wives, parents, sons and daughters back home, celebrated their great, good and unexpected fortune at having cheated death, the appointment in Samarra, lying in wait on the beaches of the Japanese home islands.
A second bomb for Nagasaki three days later sealed victory for civilization.
But before anyone could beat a sword into a plowshare the euphoria of triumph and the hymns of gratitude gave way to voices of doubt, shame and guilt. The Japanese warlords and the men and women who followed them to a national grave became the innocents, the victims of the war they imposed on the world. The Americans of Pearl Harbor, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and the Bataan Death March were rendered evil. This would be the message for the next half century from the faculty lounges, the churches of the empty pews and the preachers with nothing to say, the newsrooms of the elite media and the covens of the degenerate left, ever eager for an occasion to despise themselves.
“Most writers have looked to the ashes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to find the answers for the use of those atomic weapons,” Col. Paul Tibbets, who commanded Enola Gay, recalled 50 years later when the Smithsonian proposed to observe the anniversary with a malignantly goofy exhibit of manufactured history. “The real answers lay in thousands of graves, from Pearl Harbor around the world to Normandy, and back again.”
A Gallup Poll taken on the occasion of that anniversary a decade ago found that Americans who had lived through the war agreed that President Truman, a decisive man who never imagined he was dealing with a religion of peace, only did what he had to do. He never looked back; 20 years on he said he would do it again. Ironically (though the irony went largely unappreciated), only young Americans, many of whom would never have been born if he hadn’t dropped the bomb, said the 32nd president made the “wrong,” even “immoral,” decision.
The academic critics call the Truman decision wrong, or worse, on three counts: that Japan was already beaten, that Japan was trying to surrender by late summer of 1945, and that Mr. Truman knew all this and dropped the bomb anyway to intimidate the Russians. These arguments were made at the time, and Harry Truman, never a shrinking flower when someone accused him of bad judgment, curiously never defended his decision.
Now, six decades later, we know why. Newly opened archives of radio intercepts of messages between Tokyo and its diplomats abroad, which President Truman was sworn never to talk about, ever, reveal that the Japanese generals and their emperor did not consider themselves defeated. Some of these intercepts were conversations between Tokyo and diplomatic officials of U.S. allies. They reveal that even if Washington agreed to preserve the emperor that Japan regarded as “divine” there was no likelihood that Japan was ready to cry uncle.
The conversations between President Truman and his service chiefs further reveal, as historian Richard B. Frank writes in the current Weekly Standard magazine, that the Army and Navy were at bitter odds over whether the Japanese home islands should or could be invaded. The Army said yes. The Navy, having taken casualties at Okinawa in April and May that exceeded those in the Normandy landings, said no, a naval blockade and ship-to-shore bombardment was the way to go.
“Finally,” he writes, “thanks to radio intelligence, American leaders, far from knowing that peace was at hand, understood … that ‘until the Japanese leaders realize that an invasion [of the home islands] can not be repelled, there is little likelihood that they will accept any peace terms satisfactory to the Allies.’”
We were a different America then. No one apologized for a survival strategy of “whatever it takes.” It’s difficult to imagine Harry Truman bothering to argue with aides over what to name the war. Little Boy was the inevitable answer to the Axis challenge: “You want a war? We’ll give you one.” We can thank the man from Missouri for that.
Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.