On the Morality of the Atomic Bombing of Japan

The 70th anniversary of the use of the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, has prompted a round of discussion about the morality of the bomb, with discussions of varying quality. While with every year there seem to be more nd louder voices of condemnation, I personally find the arguments against the use of the bomb rather… lacking.

Thank God for the Atomic Bomb, an essay by Paul Fussel I consider essential to understanding not just the facts and figures, but the emotional impact the atomic bomb had. Read the whole thing, but a fine pull quote;

When the atom bombs were dropped and news began to circulate that “Operation Olympic” would not, after all, be necessary, when we learned to our astonishment that we would not be obliged in a few months to rush up the beaches near Tokyo assault-firing while being machine-gunned, mortared, and shelled, for all the practiced phlegm of our tough facades we broke down and cried with relief and joy. We were going to live. We were going to grow to adulthood after all.

In the Wall Street Journal Brett Stephens adds his own version of Thank God for the Atomic Bomb;

In all the cant that will pour forth this week to mark the 70th anniversary of the dropping of the bombs—that the U.S. owes the victims of the bombings an apology; that nuclear weapons ought to be abolished; that Hiroshima is a monument to man’s inhumanity to man; that Japan could have been defeated in a slightly nicer way—I doubt much will be made of Fussell’s fundamental point: Hiroshima and Nagasaki weren’t just terrible war-ending events. They were also lifesaving. The bomb turned the empire of the sun into a nation of peace activists.

When people question, “how can you be thankful for such a terrible thing?” Point out the following;

During the closing phase of the Pacific War, average monthly deaths, military and civilian, in Japanese held-territories in China, southeast Asia, Indonesia, and the Philippines, from disease, starvation, atrocities, or combat, was about 400,000 men, women, and children.

400,000 men, women and children dead per month at the hands of the Japanese: in other words, more then 10,000 dead per day.

Put aside all the American GIs that would not be killed in the invasion. Put aside all the Allied POWs that were not killed by the Japanese, who held their lives hostage against an invasion of the home islands. Put aside all those hundreds of thousands and you still have the Atomic bomb saving more than 10,000 lives for every day it shortened the war.

It’s a funny thing, in the discussions about how the US owes the Japanese an apology, I rarely hear about the hundreds of thousands of Chinese, Korean, Filipinos and others that were being killed by the Japanese even as they were “about to surrender”. Not a lot of talk about the tens of thousands of women, abducted for service in rape camps. Not allot of talk about attempted coupe that occurred when the Emperor finally gave the surrender order.

To put all those numbers in perspective, 400,000 dead per month is roughly equivalent to 13,000 dead per day, 556 dead per hour, just under 10 dead per minute.

Let that sink in for a moment: even as the bombs were being dropped on Japan, the Japanese were killing one Chinese soldier, one Filipino woman, one Korean child every 6 or so seconds.

It is an incontestable fact that bringing the war to an even just slightly earlier by dropping the bombs saved lives. Not just American lives that would have been lost in the invasion. Not just Japanese lives that would have been spent resisting the invasion. But civilians by the hundreds of thousands in Japanese occupied territories.

Funny how rarely that gets mentioned…

As for myself, I find my thoughts best reflected by the statement of Britain’s Air Chief Marshal Arthur Harris, regarding the fire bombing of Dresden, Germany;

I … assume that the view under consideration is something like this: no doubt in the past we were justified in attacking German cities. But to do so was always repugnant and now that the Germans are beaten anyway we can properly abstain from proceeding with these attacks. This is a doctrine to which I could never subscribe. Attacks on cities like any other act of war are intolerable unless they are strategically justified. But they are strategically justified in so far as they tend to shorten the war and preserve the lives of Allied soldiers. To my mind we have absolutely no right to give them up unless it is certain that they will not have this effect. I do not personally regard the whole of the remaining cities of Germany as worth the bones of one British Grenadier.

OPEC’s Petrokrieg

For the last several months OPEC, led by Saudi Arabia,  has been waging a silent and yet very noticeable war. The contradiction is resolved by realizing that while almost everyone has noticed the precipitous drop in oil prices (and concomitant drop in consumer gasoline prices), many people have mistaken what is going on.

Crude oil prices have slumped from a high of about $110 at the start of July of last year to, as I write this, around $50 per barrel. Since the end of July of last year oil prices have dropped more then 50%, a trend that really became precipitious in August 2014. Now there are lots of possible explanations for this,but my explanation asks: what of consequence happened in July of last year?

Oh, yeah, that…

Obama indicates extension to Iran nuclear talks as deadline looms, July 16 2014, theGuardian.com,

Nations agree to 4-month extension of Iranian nuclear negotiations, July 21, 2014, CNN.com.

Since the initial extension to November there has been a further, 7 month extension into next year. Snap goes the dragon…

Source: Nasdaq.com

Let’s be clear, this is not an accident of factors, this is a deliberate course of action undertaken by OPEC. From Bloomberg (emphasis mine);

The United Arab Emirates has no plans to reduce output no matter how low prices drop, according to Yousef Al Otaiba, the nation’s ambassador to the U.S. Representatives from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the U.A.E. stressed a dozen times in the past six weeks that OPEC won’t curb output to halt the rout.

This is not a painless war on the side of OPEC: at $50 per barrel, every single OPEC state is below their breakeven point (breakeven is the price needed for these oil driven economies to fuel themselves).

Consider this table, from Citi Research’s data compiled and posted at MarketWatch;

Country 2014 fiscal breakeven oil price 2015 fiscal breakeven oil price
Libya* 317 184
Venezuela* 161 151
Yemen 160 145
Algeria* 132 131
Iran 131 131
Bahrain 125 127
Russia 105 107
Saudi Arabia* 98 103
Oman 99 103
Iraq* 111 101
UAE* 79 77
Quatar* 55 60
Kuwait* 54 54
*OPEC member
Source: MEES, IMF, Citi Research

At current prices, no one among the oil producing states can sustain their production.

If we consider the current oil production by OPEC as a weapon (as I do here), then it is a weapon masterfully deployed: flooding the market as OPEC is doing would normally be understood to be a classic market manipulation strategy; dumping. This practice of undercutting competitors (even if you have to absorb losses) was one of the anti-trust charges brought against Standard Oil when it was broken up. But today the deployment of the OPEC oil bomb is something that bolsters the poll numbers of the President of the United States! Quite clever that: even if we credit Obama’s understanding of the situation, he can do nothing without the risk of tanking his (cheap gas buoyed) domestic approval numbers.

Unfortunately for everyone, Iran is not so limited in their ability to respond to the Saudi backed attempt to bankrupt their nation;

The surge in Yemen this week by Shiite Muslim militants represents what some national security insiders are calling a “huge victory” for Iran, just as the Obama administration faces criticism for being too lenient in nuclear talks with the Islamic republic and appears — at least tacitly — to be coordinating with Tehran against Sunni terrorists in Iraq.

Amal Mudallali, Mideast analyst with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars writes in Foreign Affairs last October;

If the Houthis secured Bab Al Mandab and the sea in Al Hudaydah governorate, another strategic waterway, they would control the traffic from the Suez Canal and the Persian Gulf, a sobering prospect for those worried about increased Iranian influence in the region.

Iran and its proxy forces are coming close to controlling access to all sea traffic around the Arabian peninsula except for the Suez canal. This would force all sea traffic from the Isreali port of Elat, the Jordanian port of Aqabah (which is Jordan’s only sea access) as well as the entirety of Saudi Arabia’s western coast to use the Suez canal.

Bab el-Mandeb/Bab Al Mandab at the southern end of the Red Sea.

As Charles Krauthammer notes, Iran and it’s proxies are on the march all across the Arab middle east. Only a few days ago an Israeli air strike killed an Iranian general and his Hezbollah companions on the Golan Heights,  as Iran attempts to militarize the Syria-Israel border.

It’s important to remember that the conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia isn’t simply an issue of regional rivals, but something far deeper and more explosive. Iran represents a powerful rival to the Saudi paramountcy in Islam itself, as Iran is the stronghold of the Shia branch of Islam. Sunni and Shia Islam have been in conflict since nearly the beginning of Islam itself, splitting as a result of the Battle of Karbala in 680 CE (and no, they apparently feel 14 centuries is not too long to hold a grudge). “Of the total Muslim population, 10-13% are Shia Muslims and 87-90% are Sunni Muslims” (source), so the threat of the Iranian bomb represents not only a triumph of one side over the other in this ancient war, but a triumph of the minority side. Add to that the racial and ethnic considerations that the Persian Iranians are seeking dominion over an Arab Middle East, and the ancient (but still fiercely remembered) domination of Arab Islam under the Turkish Ottoman empire… well, let’s just say that hatreds run deep in the Middle East.

To be sure, there are targets other then Iran in OPEC’s sights: the US domestic oil industry is being hammered (emphasis mine);

The financial debacle that has befallen Russia as the price of Brent crude dropped 50 percent in the last four months has overshadowed the one that potentially awaits the U.S. shale industry in 2015. It’s time to heed it, because Saudi Arabia and other major Middle Eastern oil producers are unlikely to blink and cut output, and the price is now approaching a level where U.S. production will begin shutting down.

From “America’s Going to Lose the Oil Price War“, January 12, 2015. “With crude prices sinking, oil industry layoffs are on the way“, January 20, 2015: the domestic US oil industry is shedding thousands, ultimately probably tens of thousands, of jobs.

Of course, all of this is aided by our political elites, who can reliably be counted on to be short-sighted: “Will cheap oil kill Keystone?” asks Politico, as politicians respond to OPEC’s price manipulations. “Keystone Foes Energized as Price Pinches Oil Sands Allure” (Oct 27, 2014), and in early January CBS news asks why the Senate is voting on KeystoneXL when “oil prices have tumbled down in the past three months.” I would ask if the media or our politicians have ever heard the adage “dig your well before you’re thirsty”, but… well, more successful writers than I have mused on the failings of our media-industrial complex. 

American Sniper: Rough Men and the revulsion of the Pappataci

In Rossini’s comic opera L’italiana in Algeri (The Italian Girl in Algiers) the heroine, Isabella, engineers the escape of the heroes from the harem of the Turkish Bey Mustafà by convincing the credulous Bey that he has been inducted into the Italian order of the Pappataci. The pappataci is described as the ultimate expression of Italian sophistication; an order of men devoted to chasing women, eating, drinking and making merry. In other words, a man that treats luxury as an end in and of itself.

A very worthy movie that has prompted some very unworthy criticism.

 

Now, why mention this? Because over the weekend the movie American Sniper going into wide release occasioned a little clash between our own class of pappataci and those Rough Men who, (as the sentiment attributed to Orwell), stand ready to do violence on our behalf. Reflections on the life of war hero Chris Kyle;

Which, in fairness, still beat the crass racial angle of this Huffington Post contributor;

And, just to make his feelings completely clear,

Now, to be fair, there is a lot going on, and the above were scarcely alone in their dislike for American Sniper. What they have is a certain similarity, a certain mode of thought that brings to mind the pappataci and his purposeful indolence. The pappataci seeks to cast off care, worry and responsibility and luxuriate, to become, in a sense, a child again. So much of the criticism of American Sniper hinges on this child-like approach:  it is the men who serve our country that are the real brutes, the real villains. At The New Republic they are so sure Chris Kyle isn’t a hero they publish a movie review by a man that hasn’t seen the movie (not kidding). The Penn State professor(!) who dismissed American Sniper after viewing the trailer alone chides the fans of Chief Petty Officer (CPO) Kyle saying,

For him, the enemy are savages and despicably evil. His only regret is that he didn’t kill more. He laments that there were rules of engagement, or ROE, which he describes as being drafted by lawyers to protect generals from politicians. He argues instead for letting warriors loose to fight wars without their hands tied behind their backs.

In other words, Chris Kyle articulated exactly the sort of truths that the pappataci cannot endure hearing: that we are at war with loathsome, vile men and that our fighting forces are ill served by the restrictive, political rules of engagement they are saddled with. This rankles the pappataci: they look at a news headline like “Boko Haram Appears to Be Using Abducted Girls as Suicide Bombers” and accuses men like CPO Kyle of being insufficiently sad for killing such men, for not having enough “moral anxiety”… as if a lack of moral certainty in the face of evil is a virtue, rather then a failing. That’s not quite true, they are quite sure that “[t]he real American Sniper was a hate-filled killer”, as an opinion piece is titled at the Guardian.

How is it possible that a man that spent his life in service to both his country and his countrymen, who so enthusiastically answered President Kennedy’s call “what can you do for your country”? Resentment, I think, explains a very great deal: the pappataci, after all, contributes nothing but consumes everything. There is a simple, and painful, truth at play here: these men that embrace luxury become like luxury: an addition rather then an essential.  As the phrase oft attributed to Orwell goes: “people sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” No one sleeps peacefully beneath the blanket of protection provided by the Micheal Moore’s or Seth Rogan’s of the world, nor are these protestations on behalf of “brown people” likely to engender much camaraderie.

Once upon a time this was different, for in ages past Hollywood and popular culture sold heroism, real heroism, without shame;

Sergent York, Hero of the Great War and devout Christian.

There can be no doubt in the world of the fact of the divine power being in that. No other power under heaven could bring a man out of a place like that. Men were killed on both sides of me; and I was the biggest and the most exposed of all. Over thirty machine guns were maintaining rapid fire at me, point-blank from a range of about twenty-five yards. When you have God behind you, you can come out on top every time.

Sergeant Alvin York

For a moment, let’s try an imagine what the pappataci of today would say had they lived in the time of Sergeant York.

Then again, maybe this fellow has the right of things…

The Iron Dome saves lives in Gaza

If you want to end a war you have to defeat the enemy, humiliate the people and change the government so that they are no longer an adversary, and that requires a lot of capital and a great deal of blood and treasure. Or you can live with the alternative.

-Victor Davis Hanson, 2013

With the lull in hostilities in Gaza, it’s worth examining some of the misconceptions and strained thinking that was broadcast through the media; specifically, the truly bizarre idea that the Iron Dome missile defense system is not just a bad piece of technology, but morally bad and, for all its apparent success, harmful to Israel. While John Podhoretz nicely dispatches several elements of the “the Iron Dome is really a bad thing” complaint in Commentary’s Contentions blog, there is an even more important point that has been allowed to go unsaid: the Iron Dome has saved uncountable lives in Gaza. But before we go into that, let’s take a detour just to show that, yes, people really are saying these things.

Marc Lamont Hill, “Distinguished Professor of African American Studies at Morehouse College”, manages to spectacularly misunderstand the situation in a discussion on CNN;

I think, though, the challenge is, because if you look at the Iron Dome in isolation, then yes, Ross, I agree with you 100% because the Iron Dome is exclusively a defensive mechanism, but what the Iron Dome does is it also takes away all of Hamas’s military leverage which is very different than say, 10 years ago or 15 years ago in other wars like Lebanon, et cetera. As a result, it not only serves a defensive purpose but de facto serves an offensive purpose. It allows Israel to essentially  assault and siege Gaza without any retribution or response on the other side. So again, to some extent, they are not just funding defense, they are funding an offensive war and ultimately an occupation. That for me, is the problem.

Yaov Fromer, who “teaches politics and history at Tel Aviv University”, writes in the Washington Post that the Iron Dome “may do more long-term harm then good”;

[W]hat was once a tactical defense mechanism to temporarily protect the civilian population has become a strategy unto itself. In that way, it may actually undermine Israel’s long-term security. By temporarily minimizing the dangers posed by Hamas and Hezbollah, it distracts us from seeking a broader regional political solution that could finally incapacitate these terror networks and make systems such as Iron Dome moot.

… As long as the Israeli public believes it is safe, for now, under the soothing embrace of technology, it will not demand that its political leaders wage diplomacy to end violence that mandated Iron Dome in the first place. Since Iron Dome has transformed a grim reality into a rather bearable ordeal, Israelis have lost the sense of urgency and outrage that might have pushed their government to make painful if necessary concessions in exchange for peace.

To understand exactly how wrong these two “intellectuals” are, let us imagine the counter-factual: that when the current cease-fire is broken (an eventuality only slightly less predictable then the phases of the moon, as Islamic Jihad is eager to boast), they actually manage to sneak a larger missile past the Iron Dome and inflict the civilian casualties Professor Hill imagines will give Hamas their “military leverage”. In other words, Hamas succeeds in causing Israel’s version of Pearl Harbor.

And we all know how well that worked in cooling tensions in the Pacific, right?

 

It takes very little creativity to imagine that a mass casualty attack on Israel, perpetrated by Hamas (which is both a, the closest thing to a democratically elected government in Gaza and b, a death cult that as a matter of public record is devoted to the destruction of Israel, the Jewish people and the West as a whole), will in fact not bring an thaw in relations.  The result will, I think it fair to say, be much closer to the reaction of the United States after Pearl Harbor then, say, Spain’s decision to withdraw troops from Iraq after the 2004 Madrid train terror attacks.

For all the protestations certain parties have lodged against the Iron Dome the truth of the matter is this: wars end when they are won by one side or the other, once hostilities have commenced anything other then victory or defeat is what the Romans called bellum interruptus (an interruption of the war). Sometimes the bellum interruptus can be long, sometimes short, but there are no good choices, no choices without costs.

The US is involved in at least two notable bellum interruptus at the moment, which show precisely how costly peace can be: North Korea and Iraq. In North Korea the US (and South Korea) decided that a cold peace was better then the option of fighting into the heart of North Korea. And it costs: tens of thousands of US troops remain in South Korea, North Korea exports nuclear technology to bad actors across the world and minor outrages are endured by the free nations of the world (such as kidnapping citizens of western countries). The costs, however they are tabulated, are judged to be less then the costs of actually finishing the conflict and ending the war. In Iraq, the US was content to watch the gains of the last decade be frittered away, perhaps tonight we will find that the terror army of ISIS has proved sufficiently outrageous that our president will declare delenda est.

Carthago Delenda Est. That is the phrase attributed to Cato the Elder, who used it regularly as he argued that Carthage, the ancient rival of Rome, could not continue to threaten Rome’s dominance of the Mediterranean. The Punic Wars spanned over a century until the reversals and battles became too much for men like Cato to endure and the threat was ended by the third and final Punic war.

What the Iron Dome does when it reduces or removes the threat of Israeli civilian casualties (at least, to a degree) is give the time and space for less efficient, less brutal warfare. Make no mistake, when Israel calls ahead to warn civilians or distributes leaflets warning of an impending attack, they are sacrificing many prized commodities in war fighting.  Losing the element of surprise certainly limits civilian casualties, but it also allows for the escape of at least some fighters that might otherwise be killed. Further, it establishes in the minds of Israel’s enemies that Israel cares, perhaps cares too much, about preserving life, even the lives of their enemies. This is a dangerous attitude to have, and even more dangerous to be understood to have, for it enables actors so deranged that they consider Hamas the victor in the current struggle.

Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the assorted other heads of the hydra of Islamic fascism will never be satisfied to have peace with Israel, and like Carthage, as long as they exist they will rise from the ashes of their defeats to fly at Israel’s throat. For the time being the Iron Dome, and systems like it, make the bellum interruptus tolerable, but only just barely. The citizens of southern Israel, of Sderot and other cities, are weary and tired of an endless, empty peace. By way of example, at the onset of the conflict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s satisfaction rating was 57%, when ground forces entered Gaza it was buoyed to an astonishing 82%. Today? 38%. It’s worth remembering that at the conclusion to the Punic wars Carthage was destroyed utterly, its citizenry either slain or enslaved, and while we may imagine the Israeli response will have much more the form of General Curtis “bomb them back to the stone age” LeMay then Publius Scipio Aemilianus, the conclusion remains the same…

If you care for the lives of Gazans, pray for the continued success of the Iron Dome.

 

 

For those interested in the study of Warfare, I cannot recommend the works of Victor Davis Hanson strongly enough. The quote at the beginning of this piece is taken from his talk below;