Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Tojo didn't want to surrender - so what do we do?

I've always thought that moral condemntation of the US dropping bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a little myopic. Although I've seen countless documentaries on WWII and read more than a few academic articles supporting the notion that the bombs were actually a roundabout way to save lives, I know many intelligent people who disagree. I've been told (albeit without the citation of compelling evidence) that Japan was about to give up anyway, and that it was just a retribution. Some have even forwarded the notion that it was racist (a trump card in all debates that I consider BS until proven worthwhile). And of course, let us not forget the International Peace Museum at Hiroshima (or is it Nagasaki? I'd have to ask Wes...).

Not one to shy away from evidence (especially if it supports my position ^^), I ran across this juicy little tidbit in the news today. Apparently Japanese war minister Tojo wanted to fight on... AFTER the nukes. Now, while I'm not sure if he should recieve the Darwin award or the He-Man trophy for world's biggest balls (or both) I can say with some confidence that his voice probably held more sway in Japanese operational planning before the nukes, leading me to conclude against the idea that all the fight was out of Japan before the bombs were dropped.

Now even if I'm right, this is no "God Bless America and no place else" kind of issue. The bombs were at worst a terrible and avoidable humanitarian disaster, and at best a measure of evil that prevented a greater measure of evil. But we can never back off of this part - dropping the bombs was an evil. I firmly believe that many people will have to stand trial before the most holy on the last day for that decision, but I refrain from issuing a judgement on God's behalf. Even if you're not much on divinity, at least consider that we nuked two wonderful places, one of which had been the bastion of Japanese Christianity for centuries. It's the land that gave us all sorts of wonderful marvels from Japaname to Godzilla, video games to Honda, Samuri, green tea, sushi and Shoji. One could even make the argument that in many respects Japanese and Americans are more alike than most: We're equally industrialized, we have analogous vices, and traditionally have respected a similar set of personal virtues - albeit we have sought to pursue them in very different ways. Finally, Japanese and Americans are both fascinated by the other. We indulge in one another's culture with abandon, and the results have been mostly positive.

All that to say this: If there's one place where the idea of human brotherhood can be incarnate more than abstract to us, it's in our relations with the Japanese people. This should add immensely to our realization of the full tragedy that we were, at some level, responsible for.

So what to do with the seemingly contradictory positions that I feel gravely that an evil was done here, but equally strongly that it prevented a possibly worse evil?

First I would propose an old Byzantine church solution - we must call all sin, sin. I sympathize with the American policy makers who decided to drop the bombs. They were put in a lose-lose situation, and are now the victims of removed and judgemental historians who will never have to live with the consequences of having made different choices. As Theodore Roosevelt said (paraphrasing) the lauds of history go to the man in the ring, not the spectator. Yet I also must insist that we DID lose something that day. We lost a degree of innocence that will never be recovered.

Secondly, if it is true that we must love our neighbors as ourselves, then we must put the question in reverse - would we have been willing to die in that way so that an overall greater number of deaths might be prevented? For now I will rest my case on the hope, without resort to empirical evidence that I cannot provide, that I would be willing to make that sacrifice.