The Bomb prevented a yet greater tragedy

Not to advocate the triggering of mass annihilation in anger, but it looks like the bombs that exploded over Japan in WWII - and caused it to surrender - might have saved more than they destroyed. By Joseph Coates in a comment to Hiroshima: The lost photographs:
The use of atomic weapons for the first time on Earth by the U.S. against the Japanese Empire and its civilian cities has always been a frustrating horror for me. I am alive because of it.

My father was an 18 year old kid (on a "great adventure") and unaware of the potential fate that would await him as he sailed with thousands of other soldiers in late October on a troop ship steaming across the South Pacific to invade Japan in Operation Olympic for "X-Day", as it was called.

Instead of probably being wounded or more likely killed while landing on the heavily defended mountains and beaches of Ōsumi Province or Satsuma on the island of Kyūshū in a massive invasion that was to make D-Day look like a skirmish — he helped rebuild Japan.

Names like Miyazaki, Ariake, and Kushikino, the three main invasion points, would be in our history books. The beaches of D-Day would be remembered with the beaches of X-Day, named after car brands: Austin, Buick, Cadillac, Stutz, Winton, Zephyr.

The Japanese had prepared an all out last stand defense of Japan, Operation Ketsugo, with no reserves.

Had the invasion happened, it is estimated that millions of American soldiers would have been killed or wounded and tens of millions of Japanese soldiers and civilians. The Pentagon ordered 500,000 Purple Hearts in preparation for the invasion of Japan and usually the military does not order enough of anything. Until just a few years ago, these unused invasion of Japan Purple Hearts were the Purple Hearts all recipients of all subsequent U.S. wars were given.

My father and countless other allied soldiers, Marines, and sailors never invaded Japan. He was switched to the Corp of Engineers after the Japanese Empire surrendered and promoted to sergeant so he could coordinate construction work for the Tokyo airport. After this, he went to college under the GI bill, got married, and raised a family. He helped run a number of companies, including a company founded by his brother (who was in the Navy during the war) which invented and sold, and still sells, important technology used in the manufacturing of microchips and later, LCD displays. (Your computer, its screen, your cell phone, ipod, et al could not have been made without it.)

He is alive, my family is alive, I am alive because the U.S. did not invade Japan. Many more U.S. and Japanese citizens and their families are alive too. The technology, medicines, and other inventions since WWII developed during or later by my father’s generation have saved and enriched billions of lives.

But if the U.S. had invaded Japan, would we have lost some crucial figures of that generation and the economic, technological, and creative prosperity of the late 20th Century?


Daniel said...

I completely agree with his point- nuking Japan was more humane than a full-scale invasion. I would argue even further, that demonstrating the devastating power of a-bombs did help to prevent their subsequent use in the Cold war that was about to begun(considering Stalin outlived Soviet invention of the bomb for about 3 years, it is likely he would put little restraint on pushing the button- take into account his humanitarian efforts in Russia since 30s).

Altough the last sentence:
But if the U.S. had invaded Japan, would we have lost some crucial figures of that generation and the economic, technological, and creative prosperity of the late 20th Century?"

in my opinion bears- other than rhethorical- little value at all. Most of the technological and scientific advancements are gradual and it is very likely in case was it not for his brother, others would emerge- tough perhaps with a delay of a couple of years- and switch him.
Seldom are the ideas so mind-boggling, that those fathering them are indeed irreplaceable. Such case was I believe Albert Einstein and his theories. Choosing him as a Person of the century, Times truly hit the nail on the head.

denis bider said...


agreed. Things develop incrementally, and usually if one person doesn't notice opportunity for an improvement, another person (though not just any person) will.

Marko said...

Goal is more important then means of achieving it.

What if Japan wouldn't surrender and would use (if they had one) some even more horrific weapon on USA? Maybe Vietnam, Cambodia and Irak would be saved... Arguing something like this is like saying if Hitler killed all Jews in concetration camps there would be no problems in Middle East. Which means cheaper oil and more prosperity for whole Earth.

Or perhaps all Jews/immigrants in USA since 1492 can just sacrifice themselves for greater good? I don't think Jews/immigrants will agree this is very smart action, even though potentionaly billions of lives could be saved and humanity would prosper.
I hope you can sense my cynicism...

denis bider said...

Of course the purpose justifies the means. How else could we do essential things like putting people in jail, e.g. for robbing banks? This deprives people of their freedom to protect other people. If the goal does not justify the means, then you have no justification whatsoever to punish your kid if he's not behaving. You can't even send him to stand in the corner, because doing so imposes a form of suffering, and the ends don't justify the means, do they?

The bomb was justified because it was very likely - virtually certain - that the Japanese would have fought on until millions more were dead on both sides. Their tenacity is easily noted by observing that it took two atomic bombs for them to give up! They were still eager to fight after the first one, because they thought that surely the U.S. do not have more.

The same logic cannot be extended to somehow portraying Hitler's actions as "good", because Hitler had no positive goals to justify his means. His goal was decidedly negative. If it happens to have positive consequences today, this is certainly a lot harder to know, and at the time that Hitler was making his decisions, was entirely unpredictable.

So, no. Your counterexamples are bad ones.

Marko said...

Not realy, you have some wrong/incomplete data and use too simple logic for manipulating it.

Bombs detonated August 6, 1945 and August 9, 1945. Clearly you don't think U.S. patiently waited 3 days, then saw Japanese were still eager to fight and BAMMM (another nuke) :D

Do you actualy realy think Hitler was such a bad ass MF our history is trying to portray?
Actualy he thought he was doing best he could for Germany. Just as any U.S presidant was doing best for U.S. (just as most living things do). Is their good also good for you or me?

Is killing few million civilian Jews Germany killed worse then killing few million civilians in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia that U.S did? Is killing people with napalm beter then killing them "humanely" with cyclon B? How much worse? About 37% worse or even more? :)

Are U.S. interests more important than Germany interests were?

Why did U.S. stop trading oil 2 Japan and sacrifaced Pearl Harbour to even start war?

Did U.S realy need too total capitulation of Japan? Why?

Was it becouse of money or was it some moral thing not even most patriotic U.S. people don't comprehand?

I hope you can see that killing people for greater good - so other people can live better isn't "good".
Countries should be self sufficient.

When are goals more important then means? There is line that can not be definded simply.
There exists test for measuring a person's level of this line - level of Machiavellianism. I think you would have much higher score than me.

When do you steal so you: don't die of hunger/have a better car? When you kill a man so you: don't die of hunger/have a better car?
Even Niccolo Machiavelli wasn't very Machiavellian.

This doesn't make you worse or better person, just diferent.

Marko said...

hehe, i could be wrong :)
just tryed one of these machiavelli tests and got 74, I gues I look into the abyss too much :p

denis bider said...

Umm... self sufficiency is all nice and well, until a maniac comes in with a big army that you can't defend against.

Furthermore, these days, offense is that much stronger than defense, that there is no way to defend effectively other than proactively.

The world isn't (relatively) free because that's somehow the natural state of things. The natural state of things is local violence and murder. A certain degree of freedom can exist only if we create it artificially; and we cannot hope to do this if we aren't the dominant big bosses on the globe.

So yeah, all things considered, Hitler's goals bad, U.S. goals good, the holocaust was awful, and the deaths caused by the U.S. are regrettable but were probably the best thing the U.S. knew to do in its attempt to prevent the spread of a fairly evil system in the world.

Saying that Hitler did what was best for Germany is... well. Gimme a break. It is in no nation's real best interest to go out and slaughter millions because they're not born of a naively conceived "superior" race. That was really just an evil load of bollocks driven by a maniac and a nation that after the first world war had been over-repressed.

denis bider said...

I just scored 70 on that test...

Marko said...

I don't agree with most of your last post, but will argue just a few your remarks.

There is diference between goals and means and Germany killing few miollion people was just means to a greater goal.
Their goal was very normal actualy - economic prosperity.
Actualy means was to take their property, killing them was just "Final Solution" for the problem of having in country few millions people mad about injustice. (Most people forget more easily the death of their parents than the loss of their property.)

At the time majority of Germany's capital was in hands of very few - mostly Jews. There was harsh economic recession. Truth be told Hitler did with his means achieve his goal - economic prosperity. Germany entered war with blooming economy.

I am in no way saying what Germany did was right, just trying to point, that it was not their goal evil but only their means of achieving it.

Any system in this world is fairly evil. What do you think people in Guantanamo prison or those killed in Cambodia think about u.s.'s system? It is just a point from where you look at it. And if you think lives of some are more important then of others you are preaty evil yourself.

One more thought about topic: Is beter killing 1 child or woman in war better then killing 100 soldiers? How many soldiers died to nukes in Japan?

denis bider said...

Whoa. You actually think that long-term economic growth (and human happiness!) can be achieved by mass confiscation, and by running a central command economy - where people are forced to do stuff for "the greater good", with only poor alignments of their personal incentives.

You actually think that Hitler "succeeded" in this, and entered WWII with a "blooming" economy.

Supposedly, if I came to your country with lots of guns, confiscated everyone's property and forced everyone to work 16 hour days with no holidays, that would then also be a "blooming economy".

You are arguing that the "blooming economy" goal was a good one, just the means of achieving it were bad. But this is not the case. A "blooming economy" such as that of Hitler's or Mussolini's conception cannot persist without constant coercion. Depending on how you look at it, either this whole situation is the goal and is evil, or it's just the blooming economy without coercion that is the goal, but coercion remains necessary, so it's never achieved.

Marko, I'm fairly puzzled about the argument you are trying to make. Basically you're saying "whatever you do is evil", as if this implies that we should therefore never do anything. In every decision, there are tradeoffs involved. Sometimes the tradeoff is positive on balance, sometimes it is negative. When the tradeoff is positive, the goal can be said to justify the means. When the tradeoff is negative, the goal does not justify the means.

But you are somehow getting stuck at "oh noes, there is always a tradeoff!" and so you conclude that - well - what is it that you conclude, anyway?

Marko said...

I hope you do realize "blooming economy" we are part now uses same coercion methods as pre-war Germany.
Some would say workers have a choice of either working for too low wages or become homeless and beg for food or starve? Is this really a choice?
What other kind of coercion remained necessary in Germany?

If we go back to topic and very valid thought "When the tradeoff is positive, the goal can be said to justify the means."

What was the goal in nuking Japan? Ending war? You really believe that? At that point Japan lost the war already. Question was just how will they lose war and will it be USA or SSSR that will march trough Tokyo first!
It was all about terms of surrender!
Well there were other reasons also - The Uncritical Glorification of American Militarism

Do you really think this goal justifies death of 300,000 people?
If you sill think this as acceptable means to a goal (even if it was winning a war) and not a terrible crime against humanity then you should understand all war criminals and terrorists.

Then I guess you will also agree to 7 Reasons To Nuke The USA.

denis bider said...

Marko: "I hope you do realize 'blooming economy' we are part now uses same coercion methods as pre-war Germany."

No, I'm quite sure that it does not. In our economy today, people are generally free to do whatever it is that they like best or are best at, with no authority interfering with their choice. I agree that there is a problem in that some 50% of the fruits of everyone's labor is being taken away and given to parasites. This is a problem I perceive needs overcoming.

To the extent that we have the same type of coercion as they had in fascism or Nazi Germany, those coercions are socialistic and redistributive ones, and they need to be removed because they are repressive, unjust, they retard progress and prolong poverty in the long run.

Marko: "Some would say workers have a choice of either working for too low wages or become homeless and beg for food or starve? Is this really a choice?"

You are being ridiculous. "Oh my! If I don't get out of bed, then I'll just stay in bed forever! Do I even have a choice? Oh, someone help me! If only someone brought me food and drink, and carry away my excrement while I just stay in bed."

You are basically saying that the system is horrible because we are required to work. ("Oh, my! We don't even have a choice! We have to work! How is this not repressive?")

But it is not capitalism that requires people to work. It is nature that does so. It is nature that will kill us all if we do not. Capitalism is merely the most righteous and efficient system to get people to do their part, and actually work.

Any other system you are proposing is just masquerading for the fact that it offloads work from some people by loading it on other people's shoulders - something that reduces productivity, reduces growth, prolongs poverty, and is inherently unjust.

Marko: "What was the goal in nuking Japan? Ending war? You really believe that? At that point Japan lost the war already."

The Japanese were willing to fight until the last man standing. Yes, Japan was in a losing position by then, but they didn't surrender. You don't lose a war until you surrender, or don't have anything to fight with any more.

As the victorious party, you can't just leave someone on the brink of losing. They have to either surrender or be dead. Otherwise, the war is not over.

You can't just claim that a war is over because it seems like you have won. In that case, soon enough, you'll have more problems.

Marko: "Question was just how will they lose war and will it be USA or SSSR that will march trough Tokyo first! It was all about terms of surrender!"

Oh gosh! Really, now?

And the way things turned out was bad... how?

Maybe you'd prefer Japan to go through something like the Chinese Cultural Revolution? That, in your opinion, would apparently have been awesome?

Marko: "Do you really think this goal justifies death of 300,000 people?"

Does saving a million people justify the death of 300,000 people?

Does saving 10 million people justify the deaths of 300,000 people?

Of course it does.

Daniel said...

As I was browsing your blog for one of your previous posts I stumbled upon this post and your last comment:

"Does saving a million people justify the death of 300,000 people?

Does saving 10 million people justify the deaths of 300,000 people?

Of course it does."

1. case:
The train is about to run over three people tied to the rails and it's in your power to redirect it in which case the train will kill only one guy tied up to that rails?

You say redirect it.

There is a healthy person who has no relatives, virtually no one who cares for him. His organs could save three other ailing people. It's in your to kill him and give away his organs.

What do you do now?

Daniel said...

The three people from the 2. case will of course die if they don't get the organs.

denis bider said...

These dilemmas get worse. Assuming a system architecture viewpoint, i.e. an unbiased and unattached view, you quickly get to the point where you need to ask yourself what exactly it is that you're trying to maximize.

Suppose you're trying to maximize the aggregate quality, multiplied by quantity, of time lived. If so, you now have the dilemma that a vast number of mediocre lives are preferable to a smaller number of really excellent lives, according to the quality times quantity measure.

Suppose instead you're trying to maximize the quality of time lived, regardless of quantity. Now you enter the dilemma where a world containing a single most-excellent life is preferable to a world containing billions of almost-as-excellent lives.

It seems like the evaluation function humans really appear to use is maximizing quality of life, for humans, while preserving quantity of life, for humans.

That's the function that the more humanistic and compassionate people use, anyway. An incredible number of people - my hunch is that between 30-70% - simply value most highly their own quality of life, never mind anyone else's.

Or rather: we all value our own quality of life most highly, and the differences between us are in how much our compassion allows our own quality of life to be affected by the perceived quality of life of others.

It doesn't really matter to most people whether others are suffering, as long as we don't have to be aware of them.

The existence of an objective, independent morality is thus an illusion. The most useful definition of morality I can think of is to define it as the result of reconciling our individual preferences to achieve a mutually most tolerable result.

As such, morality is necessarily rooted in practical circumstance, and is defined by the aggregate of what we want, which is a prior, rather than by abstract theory.

So, given this background, the answer to your dilemma is this: we put in place rules that prevent the harvesting of that healthy guy, for several reasons: (1) we never know what's gonna happen to us, and don't want to end up being the harvested guy; (2) we want to encourage development of biotechnologies that will make such a dilemma unnecessary, and will therefore pay the cost in human lives now in order to gain benefit later.

That said, though, if the guy to be harvested in question was some bum that the person making the decision doesn't particularly like; while the people to receive the organs were beloved relatives of the person making the decision; and everyone could get away with harvesting the bum, no consequences in this life of another; I'm sure plenty people would make the decision to go ahead and harvest the guy.

And if the quantity times quality of life saved this way exceeds the quantity times quality of life sacrificed, one could probably persuade many unbiased bystanders that one's choice was for the best.