Sunday, August 7, 2016

Bits of Coral

In my computer room I have a small jar containing a few bits of coral from a Pacific Island. A friend of mine, during his travels last year, visited a number of historic sites. Places where, some seventy-plus years ago, young men from Japan and the United States were very busy trying to kill each other.

Note the top label...

That friend saw these, thought of me and my interest in history. That jar sits on a shelf, amongst other bits and pieces of World War memorabilia (First and Second). It's just a few bits of what appears to be rock. From a place where the end of World War Two was launched. It's a small thing, but a reminder of something far greater, far more terrifying.

I have spent many years trying to come to grips with the horrors visited upon two Japanese cities in August of 1945 - Hiroshima on the 6th of August, Nagasaki on the 9th of August. For those of us of a certain age, growing up facing the prospect of nuclear annihilation was an ever present thing. Air raid drills in elementary school were common, sheltering under our desks or out in the main hallway at least once a month as I recall. Of course, for the citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there was nothing prospective about nuclear annihilation, for them, it was a very real thing.

Tinian, North Field (Source)
Aircraft of the 509th Composite Group that took part in the Hiroshima bombing. Left to right: Big Stink, The Great Artiste, Enola Gay. (Source)

The Enola Gay dropped the "Little Boy" atomic bomb on Hiroshima. In this photograph are five of the aircraft's ground crew with mission commander Paul Tibbets in the center. (Source)
Bockscar and its crew, who dropped the "Fat Man" atomic bomb on Nagasaki. (Source)
Enola Gay as she appears now at the Smithsonian (Udvar-Hazy)

Bockscar as she appears now at the National Museum of the Air Force (Source)

Other than the air raid drills, I have, more precisely my wife has, a more personal connection to the events which occurred in Japan in August of 1945. Both of her parents were living in Japan in that month, in fact they lived in Japan during the entire war as Korea was a Japanese colony, and had been since 1910.

While I never had the opportunity to speak with my father-in-law about those days, I did have occasion to speak of World War Two with my mother-in-law, once or twice. One day I was perusing one of my many books on the war and my mother-in-law, looking over my shoulder, casually remarked (in Korean of course), "Ah, a B-29."

Looking at The Missus Herself, I inquired as to how her mother knew what a B-29 looked like. Seems that she was surprised her mom had that knowledge as well. It was then that I learned that my in-laws, like many Koreans of that time, had moved to Japan to work. I was never sure if that had been voluntary or involuntary. I guess if one wanted to eat, one went where the work was, in those days the work was in Japan.

My mother-in-law told us of having seen the B-29s heading to some Japanese city, and the clouds of smoke they would leave behind. She told us how much parachute silk was treasured. She also mentioned, almost casually, that she had been living in southern Japan during the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Though my memories of that conversation are very vague (discovering that one's own service had actively been trying to kill one's in-laws, war or not, was somewhat startling, to say the least) I seem to recall that she had been living in, or near, a city which had been a planned target of an atomic raid. There were more cities on the list of atomic targets than the two which were actually bombed.

So, for that reason and a number of others, I have a certain amount of sympathy for the August 1945 residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. While I am an historian and I understand that many more lives were saved by the atomic bombings than were lost, the human cost of war is never far from my mind.

Picture found in Honkawa Elementary School in 2013 of the Hiroshima atom bomb cloud, believed to have been taken about 30 minutes after detonation from about 10 km (6.2 mi) east of the hypocenter. (Source)

Those who doubt lives were saved by the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki need to re-read the histories of the battles in the Pacific. The fanaticism and devotion to the Emperor of not just the average Japanese serviceman but of the civilian populace as well in places like Saipan, Guam, and Okinawa were no small thing. An invasion of the Japanese Home Islands would have cost millions of lives. The Japanese people, soldier, sailor, airman, and civilian alike, were ready, and quite willing to die for the Emperor. Regardless of what the idiot revisionists claim. I have talked to men who served in that theater, men who faced the Japanese in combat. They, nearly to a man, felt as if they had been saved from a death sentence upon hearing word of the atomic bombings.

Atomic cloud over Nagasaki. (Source)

The Japanese people would not have gone gently into that good night, not without exacting a horrendous toll from the invaders. Not to mention the deals which would have had to be made with the Soviets. Many believe that Soviet occupation of Hokkaido would have been one cost of Russian participation in the attack on Japan.

All conjecture, I know.

While I weep for the people who lost their lives on the 6th and the 9th of August, in 1945, I also remember the many more who would have died otherwise. War is horrible. Sometimes necessary but always terrible.

While the tires of the Enola Gay and Bock's Car may have rolled over those small bits of coral in that jar on my shelf, while the missions to end the war may have been launched from there, the cause for the need for those two sorties began well before 1945...

Was it the Mukden Incident which eventually led to the need for the atomic raids of August 1945?

Japanese troops marching into Mukden on September 18, 1931. (Source)

The attack on Pearl Harbor certainly guaranteed that when the time came, and the necessary materials were to hand, there would be no mercy, no second thoughts.

Aftermath: USS West Virginia (severely damaged), USS Tennessee (damaged), and USS Arizona (sunk). (Source)

Thinking about it, the event which led to the nuclear destruction of two cities in Japan might have been this one...

Cain slaying Abel by Peter Paul Rubens (Source)

We are a violent species. Of that there can be no doubt...

Prayers for those who survived and for the souls of those who did not. On both sides...

Mostly though, prayers that it never happens again.


  1. Thought provoking post Sarge.

    We're a violent species, yes, but we're not a violent species period. Each and every one of us have the capacity for absolute altruism as well as the capacity for absolute depravity. You don't have to look hard to find accounts of "good guys" machine-gunning life rafts and "bad guys" risking all to save and shelter POWs. The veneer of civilization is thin, but the spark of civilized behavior runs deep.

    We can and rightly do weep for those who died in Japan on August 6 and August 9. And for those who died on April 18, 1942, also, and for all the rest. We should (must, imo) also remember that children play in Hiroshima and Nagasaki today, born in a nation vary different than our nation, yet nevertheless free and civilized. Perhaps this also is what Mukden led to.

    1. That last bit is pretty profound. Something I believe as well.

  2. By 1945, we had been taking islands away from the Japan for 3 years. The Japanese are a very intelligent people, and had worked out what beaches on Kyushu we were going to hit, and were only a week off on the invasion date. The Imperial High Command went to the Emperor, and said, " You Majesty, they are coming, and we aren't stopping them. We think we can make it expensive, and we may inflict as many as a million dead and wounded on the Americans. We believe that this will cost at least 20 million Japanese lives. The Japanese race may come to an end, but the world will remember that we stood up to the Americans." So, by killing circa 500,000 max in the Nuclear Bombings, we spared as many as 21 Million lives. The Bombings were extremely moral, as they ended the bloodbath.

    I do have a slight problem with Nagasaki. During the Shogunate, the Shoguns knew that they had to have some contact with the outside world, so they allowed the Dutch open a trading station in Nagasaki. As a result, Nagasaki is the heart of Christianity in Japan. Nagasaki Cathedral received a new copper roof in 1941. When Bock's Car could not bomb Kokura, due to overcast, they headed for Nagasaki, the alternate target. Nagasaki was also overcast, which presented a problem, as Bock's Car had lost a fuel pump on the flight in, and had 6000 pounds of fuel that could not be used, and an armed plutonium bomb, and not enough useable fuel to get them back as far as Okinawa. So Commander Frederick Ashworth, USN, the Mission Commander, decided to drop the bomb with aiming by radar, even though optical aiming was a requirement, as CDR Ashworth decided that he and would prefer to get home alive. Alas, the best return was from Nagasaki Cathedral.

    There was no US Army Air Corps, after March 1941, when they became the US Army Air Forces.

    I find it interesting that the SILVERPLATE B-29s, the ones set up for dropping atomic bombs, were made as a production block at Martin's Omaha, Nebraska Plant. The most famous B-29's were not Boeings!

    1. The building where those bombers were made (or parts of it) are still in use at Offutt AFB, my office was right across the runway from it. I seem to recall it was labeled Building D. Again, that was a while ago.

    2. Then those B-29's were sisters (or at least cousins) of my all-time favorite bomber, the Baltimore Whore!

      Yes, I have a lot of all-time faves...

    3. I hear ya Shaun. The phrase "one of my favorites," encompasses a lot of aircraft!

    4. I have a 1/700 scale USS CUMBERLAND SOUND, and needed a PBY to put on it's deck, CUMBERLAND SOUND being a Seaplane Tender. Tamiya at one time had an accessory set that included a PBY, and two B-26 Marauders. The USN used the JRM Marauder as a bright chrome yellow target tug, and as a tricolor painted high speed photo recon plane. So, I painted mine tricolor, so my Marauders are unique! If you are willing to believe Martin Caidin, author of Fork Tailed Devil, the USN operated a single squadron of F-5 Lightnings in the Med. I would like to see a tricolor P-38, but suspect that while operated by the USN, they were just on loan from the USAAF, and were marked as USAAF, like the USN Spitfires that were borrowed from the RAF, for GFS spotting over Normandy, it being believed that Kingfishers had no business being over Normandy on D Day.

    5. Did not know that, pretty interesting.

      Time to practice my Google-Fu!


    7. And a USN Spit painting:

  3. Great post from an interesting perspective. Clearly lives were saved dropping the bombs as opposed to an invasion. Question, as (if) Japan's air force and navy was decimated did we have to invade or bomb? Could we have just held a siege or blockade?

    1. The war would have dragged on for years without an invasion or the dropping of the bombs.

      Japan was already cut off from the outside world but still held large areas of China, a siege/blockade of Japan would not have freed those areas. A lot of smart folks were working on that problem in 1945. Not to mention, folks in the USA were tired of the war, they wanted it over and soon.

    2. Thx Sarge, my knowledge of this and history in general is woefully deficient.

      It's hard to be patient and balance life count, especially lives of the enemy, I get it, makes sense, especially when the world and "We" probably did not fully understand just how horrific the bomb was (is.)

    3. I've been reading up on the Pacific, too much of my time has been spent reading up on the ETO.

      While there is scant glory in any war, the fighting in the Pacific was even worse.

  4. I recall conversations with my late father. When the bombs were dropped, he was in the stifling heat of the Assam area of India. He, and his fellow airmen and soldiers, were elated. My father was mainly a compassionate man, but he held a hatred of the Japanese that lasted to his death. He admired Truman who was the only Democrat presidential candidate he ever voted for.

    Everyone is entitled to opinions. What is not an entitlement is second guessing those who were there and faced the day to day realities. IMO

    1. I respect the opinions of those who were there, those who would have had to do the fighting and dying. There opinions are the ones, to me, which matter most.

  5. Sarge,
    Your thoughts echo mine on the subject.
    From my blog page:

  6. My father was in Hawaii, training for the invasion with his Army unit. His specialty was demining.

    I have little doubt that he owed his survival in the war to the atomic bombings.

    (An uncle was a two-invasion Marine, who would have made his third. Another uncle was 17 and was likely six months away from being drafted.)

    1. I am quite sure that their lives were saved by those bombs. Them and thousands more.

      Which two landings did your uncle make? (Just curious and I do like the Corps.)

    2. I don't know for certain. When I was a kid, I asked him why he didn't stay for 30 (he got out at 23 years). He looked at me, kinda flinty-eyed, and said something along the lines of "Kid, after two invasions and Korea, I could smell another war coming and I wasn't going to push my luck.". It was pretty clear that he wasn't going to talk about it any more.

      He retired as a captain with a battlefield commission from Korea. My aunt told me that he had been offered one in WW2, but he, like a lot of other men, refused it. Seems that in WW1, they revoked all of the battlefield commissions after the war and there was a lot of hard feelings about that. After WW2, they let those receiving them keep them. (Probably the same nonsense with "temporary" and "permanent" ranks that wen on in the Army.)

      I really don't know what my uncle did during his wars. Family lore was that he was on North Atlantic convoy duty for a bit, then he asked for shore duty, which got him sent to the Pacific. But he never talked about it within my earshot.

    3. Smart man, your uncle. We know what came after Korea. Two landings in the Pacific AND Korea, that seems enough war for anyone.

      Thanks for the update.

  7. Yes, people forget that fully ONE-HALF of the Japanese Army was still sitting in China. On V-J Day my Father, freshly returned from surviving combat in the ETO was sitting in a mile-long troop train consisting of the HQ elements of an entire Army (3 Corps=9 Divs) in Union Station in St Louis on its way to the West Coast and hence to the war in China. When the announcement was made over the loud-speakers, they were told to disembark and transport would take them to Fort Leonard Wood for outprocessing/re-assignment. LOTS of lives saved by those bombs..


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