Friday, August 05, 2005

What You Won’t Be Reading In The Guardian This Weekend:

American Genocide ?

America’s Holocaust: Operation Downfall, President Truman and The Invasion of Japan

Julian Tart, Weasel House Books

Well, at least you can’t accuse the good Prof of burying the lede. On the contrary, a bracing directness runs throughout this book. A great deal of research underpins this work, but this is no mere arid regurgitation of the familiar details of mass slaughter. Professor Tart’s book is an openly partisan work in which he acts as Chief Prosecutor, charging President Truman, the US government and, indeed, America in general with the deliberate infliction of mass slaughter on the Japanese people.

The Professor’s charge is simple: that the US knew full well that with the invention of the atomic bomb, there was no need to invade Japan. Rather than the inevitable bloodbath, the US could have ended the war simply by demonstrating the effects of these weapons on a Japanese city or two.

This is hardly an original argument, but what gives makes this book stand out is both the energy and the depth of research which Professor Tart deploys to rebut the two most common reasons put forward to explain US reluctance to use ‘the bomb’. Data from early bomb trials, the author suggests, show that even had it been necessary to launch an atomic attack on a second Japanese city, these two attacks would still have caused less casualties than the incendiary raids on Tokyo. Indeed, as the author clearly shows, rarely did a Japanese city fall with a lower death toll than even the worst-case scenarios of atomic attack. Hence, arguments based on supposed 'moral qualms' about the use of these weapons simply don't stand up.

Prof Tart is similarly dismissive of the other argument commonly deployed: namely that the US could hardly be expected to predict that Japan would fight on even while beaten by all conventional measures. On the contrary, by mid-1945 the US was already all too familiar with the fanatical resistance of the Japanese soldier. Equally, mass suicide of entire families had already been observed when Saipan fell. The US could have no illusions about the likely result of invasion.

But why would the US government deliberately engineer a mass slaughter ? Tart certainly sees merit in the most commonly proposed reason, namely that America’s lust for vengeance post-Pearl Harbour was such that an orderly surrender following the clinical execution of a handful of cities would hardly satiate it, but he also argues that deeper, and far darker forces were at work. With the Cold War looming, the US anticipated that an early demonstration of atomic bombs would not only tip their hand to the Russians but also act as a focal point for pacifists who would seek to obstruct further development of these weapons.

All of the above have been proposed before, albeit rarely so well argued, but what has made the Professor’s work so controversial has been his final suggested reason for the US reluctance to use atomic weapons: pure economic self-interest. While an atomic attack would have destroyed the targeted city, a surrender in August 1945 (the earliest the atomic bomb could be used) would have left Japan with its institutions intact, a functioning civil society and an orderly transfer of power to the US. Nevertheless, surely a degree of Japanophillia is required to suggest, as Tart does, that Japan would then be able to reinvent itself as an economic superpower and competitor to the US ?

Nevertheless, leaving aside the author’s somewhat over-enthusiastic visions of people watching Japanese TVs or driving Japanese cars, this is a compelling indictment of an America which recklessly chose to prolong a brutal war, even while the means of almost instant victory were in its hands. Whether or not we believe Professor Tart’s vision of a ruthless America plotting to slaughter millions of Japanese, we can at least read his book and be reminded again of the horrific final act of the Pacific War, and understand why the names of Tokoyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima will live on for ever as bywords for the savagery of war.

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