OT: Nuclear devices and other history

Back in the early times at the Fool there were multiple threads about America’s use of the A-bomb, the development of nuclear power, and more. With a thread now up about Putin’s rattling of the nuclear chain, I just thought I would relay parts of an e-mail I received from American Heritage magazine, one of my favorites - while it existed, which it no longer does.

It’s sort of being resurrected, online only, and supported by donation. If you don’t want to donate, it’s OK, they’ll still let you read the stuff. Anyway, with “Oppenheimer” doing so well this month’s “issue” is all A-bomb, World War II style. I thought some here might find it interesting. Here are your links; I haven’t read them all yet, so far I have found the first to be most instructive at puncturing some of what I thought I knew:

The quality the first couple of “issues” has been uneven, [last month for example a FDR profile was quite thin] but so far all of these I have read are quite good. They have also announced plans to resurrect “Invention & Technology”, a sister publication which also ceased in the great printed-word wipeout caused by the internet. They said that quite a while ago, tho, and it hasn’t happened, so maybe it never will?


Goofy, thanks for the link. Yesterday was Little Boy’s 78th birth and deathday!

As a pragmatist my opinion about the atom bombs was and is, “Don’t start wars, specially ones you don’t win.” I never before had the facts to judge the discussion about the death tolls and this article supports my pragmatist opinion.

Thanks again.

The Captain

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The A-bomb drops on Japan were horrific, no doubt about that, roughly 150,000 dead within 24 hours in Hiroshima, and 80,000 in Nagasaki, according to google. These are stupendous #'s, no doubt.

How many American Marine and Naval personnel would have died if we did not drop these bombs , and instead invaded ?? The Japanese were fearsome warriors, and would have taken it up a notch defending their homeland.

The American military who would have been the tip of the spear in this invasion rejoiced at the dropping of the bombs, and at the ensuing Japanese surrender. If I had been one of them, I’d have felt the same, I’m sure. No armchair QBing on this issue for me, America was in a difficult situation, there was no good response, only options were who would be the sacrificial lambs, us or them.

( don’t have time to read the links, so if a way was found to end it without dropping them, and no more loss of American lives, then I retract what I just typed )


The firebombing of cities was just as bad.

Dresden. The fire consumed the oxygen and people died from that. The ones killed instantly were lucky.


The Captain

One night in Budapest an incendiary bomb fell on the house we were at but didn’t explode. The luck of the draw.


The first article “What Were the Japanese Thinking?” provides insights I never knew about how dysfunctional Japan’s form of government was. No single person had command authority and decisions required unanimity from six parties. Such dysfunction paralyzed / delayed the recognition of their deteriorating position, not only because of looming Soviet escalations but looming mass starvation of the Japanese people.

It also makes the point that any “analysis” of the morality of dropping the bombs based upon Japanese deaths versus American deaths from invasion forgets the MILLIONS of civilians Japan was killing in occupied lands. Just in the last year of the war, the deaths in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were probably less than one tenth the deaths Japan caused in its occupied regions, either from actual attack or starvation.

At the time, use of the bombs was a moral / rational choice. With the history learned since then as cold war secrecy finally relaxed enough to allow information about the intercepted intelligence captured at the time and known to the US to be reviewed by historians, use of the bombs was a no-brainer.

The article ends with this note:

When the end abruptly came through a series of highly contingent events, it was, most of all, a terribly tragic and miraculous deliverance. And that is the way we should see it: not to be celebrated, but to be understood as a tragedy with no possible happy outcome. In the end, as Secretary Stimson later stated, the atomic bombs were not the best option, but the “least abhorrent choice.”

Something not to be celebrated, but understood… Indeed.



The options were few:

  1. blockade
  2. invade
  3. Japan decides to surrender
  4. bomb
  5. Allies decide to quit

You can cross #3 and #5 off immediately, a blockade would take months at a minimum and still require starving millions of Japanese to the point where the militarists give up. [It would be easy because Japan had effectively no Navy by that point.] That would be worse than what happened, and worse than the firebombing (which was actually quite a bit more deadly than the devastation wrought by the two A-bombs.)

The invasion scenarios were fraught. Some estimated a million, one said two million allied casualties and tens of millions of Japanese. As one of the articles noted, the Japanese had never surrendered in any battle to that point - or in history - except for a tiny handful of individuals here and there.

My argument, which I have never seen anywhere else is this: There has never been a weapon invented which has not been used. I am glad it was used in 1945 (and that it made a difference), before the world had stockpiled hundreds of them and found an excuse to use them (like, say, Korea in 1950 or Cuba in 1962.) The horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki may have been the reason wars have been “restrained” (if that is the right word) since 1945, rather than world wide conflagrations as happened in the early 20th century and even before that.


Yes, it was pointed out that in the years since the US entered the war “the death toll amounted to 8,000 per day among civilians who were not Japanese, or 240,000 per month. That is the combined Hiroshima and Nagasaki death toll, immediate and over time, every month, or that same toll every 1.5 months, depending on the figures you accept for Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The backdrop to events in 1945 is mass death, overwhelmingly of people who were not Japanese.”

To let the war go on, even with an invasion planned some time in the fall/winter, would have resulted in many, many tens of thousands of deaths in China and southeast Asia, let alone those of US soldiers in the ongoing main theaters of the war.



dang, that is horrible ! So glad you made it out of that impossible situation !

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Hungary was not at the core of the war like Germany was. I think Jews had more to fear from the Hungarian NAZIs than from the war itself. I don’t think I have any war related trauma just a degree of fatalism, “Lo que será será.” When you reach the age of consciousness in the middle of a war, that’s what normal life is for you. I have fond memories of eating split pea soup cooked in a bathtub in the middle of the street. I still love split pea soup. I had a much older French friend who hated carrots. His wartime meals were mostly carrots and he grew to hate them. He grew up between wars, not in the middle of one. BTW, his wife, Paulette, member of the Resistance, helped a lot of American aviators.

The Captain

memories are made of this


As I said, that article challenged a lot of what I thought I knew; I have just finished reading “Counting All The Dead” which does the same in an entirely different way.

I am slightly bothered by its numerical whataboutism, but the stark counterpoint of the data brings home a lot of what has been forgotten about the “other” participants in that war: namely the Chinese and citizens of other Indo-Asian nations that the Japanese ravaged.

The numbers are staggering, that all of us knew, but the forgotten numbers that he surfaces make the story even more horrible even while, at long last, offering a measure of justice and accountability 75 years after the fact.

One factoid I found interesting: an analysis of the newsreels offered in theaters during the war shows an overwhelming focus on the war in the Pacific, while I think most of us today who watch such things on television and in theaters would agree most of the focus has landed on the European theater. That would never have occurred to me,

Anyway, to save you scrolling back to the top of the thread, here is this article: