My grandfather, seen above in 1945, was no hero. He was a thirty-five year old draftee who did his best to keep his head down while the world went positively mad around him. In the summer of 1945 he found himself on a troopship headed for the inevitable invasion of Japan. His luck, or so he thought, had run out. But then Hiroshima and Nagasaki were incinerated in turn, and the massive invasion was called off. The war was over.
He died in a car collision instead, decades later.
As coincidence would have it, this was the fate of both my grandfathers.
Operation Downfall, the aptly named invasion of Japan, would have probably killed or maimed at least one of them. Maybe both; then you wouldn’t be reading this. As it was, one ended up in Japan with the occupation forces, and the other had the surreal experience of watching his Liberty ship turn around outside of Pearl Harbor and head back to San Francisco.
Both men eventually made it home and fathered a series of children, eventually those kids had kids and I came along.
But it didn’t have to happen that way.
The Manhattan Project could have ended in failure, and Japan would have had to be taken the old hard way. One million projected Allied casualties were expected and who knows how many Japanese. People forget that hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians died via conventional bombing; their losses would have been horrific if the invasion would have taken place.
It was very bad, a crowning horror atop a decade of genocidal killing. The atomic bomb killed in a blink, at least for the fortunate. Others died slowly of radiation poisoning, others died of infected burns or wounds that wouldn’t heal. To this day there are many who suffer; war is hell, its scars last as long as those who remember still live.
The important part was ending the Second World War quickly.
The atom bomb did that, in dramatic fashion.
I’d make the argument that nothing short of a miracle would have made the Japanese quit; the atom bomb was no miracle but it sure seemed that way at the time. It was a weapon so bad that it has never been used since, and I pray it never will again.
I have my doubts. The old ones, the ones who watched the cities burn, are dying. Few of us these days know war; it is kept carefully hidden behind the volunteers who keep our societies safe. This leads most of us into a false sense of security.
People imagine that we can’t be bestial, or that our ancestors were somehow flawed or displayed poor judgement by employing The Bomb.
Wrong on all counts.
Modern people are just as capable of being murderous, racist, or misled. People have not changed in the slightest; I fear that the simple lessons our grandparents knew are fading away.
What are these lessons.
- Bad things can happen to anyone. That means you.
- Violence does solve problems, if imperfectly.
- Some people just like to watch the world burn.
- Swords can cut their owners.
- Fights always end. But maybe not how you wanted it.
There are many of these.
The Atomic Bomb saved the lives of a couple of random draftees; those draftees were my grandfathers. All that has happened since August of 1945 is a direct result of the use of The Bomb, both on a micro and macro level.
The US and the Soviets never fought because of the bomb. Who knows how many lived from that alone?
Sometimes great evil is what is required to extinguish an even greater evil. Seventy-five years later, I find myself thinking this over.
We can quantify how many died because of the twin blasts. 225,000 people probably died as a direct result of the assault. That’s a stupendous, horrifying number.
How many lived?
That cannot be quantified, only guessed at.
It’s a lot.