currently urging Americans to embrace an eternal state of war,
I find Victor Davis Hanson one of the most disturbing. Hanson
is obviously far more intelligent than shills like John Podhoretz
or Charles Krauthammer, and on the surface he seems more reasonable.
But closer analysis of his writing exposes that "reasonableness"
as a mere patina over the same martial infatuation possessing
his less able comrades. His recent
column defending the atomic bombing of Hiroshima reveals
the Mr. Hyde lurking within our Dr. Jekyll.
begins by declaring, "For 60 years the United States has agonized
over its unleashing of the world’s first nuclear weapon on Hiroshima
on August 6, 1945." Say what? I've been around for 46 of those
years, and I recall very little "agonizing." Sure, every once
in a while some spoilsport would question the decision, only
to be denounced as an "America hater."
justified unleashing the A-bomb on the world and melting a large
city along with its unfortunate inhabitants? Hanson says: "Truman’s
supporters [argued] that, in fact, a blockade and negotiations
had not forced the Japanese generals to surrender unconditionally.
In their view, a million American casualties and countless Japanese
dead were adverted by not storming the Japanese mainland over
the next year in the planned two-pronged assault on the mainland,
dubbed Operation Coronet and Olympic."
leaves unanswered the question of why the US would only
accept an unconditional surrender. Just war theory, which is
an application of the broader moral theory of aggression, says
that such a course is unacceptable. One may not initiate aggression,
and one is justified in responding to aggression only to the
extent needed to stop it. The view adopted does not suggest
that it renders automatic all choices in war or other conflicts.
For example, there is always uncertainty about just what level
of response is needed to halt some specific act of aggression.
Furthermore, in cases where the enemy is actively fighting,
there may arise "lifeboat" situations, in which one is confronted
with a few stark choices, all of which will contribute directly
to the death of non-combatants. But these do not arise once
the enemy has laid down arms and is talking.
would claim that the US had to demand unconditional surrender
in order to prevent the possibility that a revived Japan might
undertake aggression again in the future. (One wonders how near
he believes that future must be can one wipe every member
of an enemy nation to ensure safety from it forever?) But realistic
worries on that front can be worked out in peace negotiations.
Having caught a burglar in one's home, one is not entitled to
then slice off his hands, on the chance that, otherwise, he
might rob again. If he is willing to surrender, the remedies
to implement become a matter for intellectual, not violent,
not mean both sides in the discussion have the same voice. Japan
was willing to discuss its terms of surrender, and was
not demanding that of the US. The US could have made clear that
any attempt by the enemy to improve its military situation would
be met with renewed force, without having to agree to similar
conditions, given that its opponent was near collapse. Thus,
America could have built up its arsenal while negotiating, and,
if Japan would not agree to terms acceptable to the US, could
have resumed the war in an even more favorable position. Of
course, maintaining US forces around Japan would have been costly,
but Hanson isn't so brazen as to defend the atomic option because
it saved money.
of the particulars of the time, the main bone of contention
was apparently whether or not the Japanese emperor would be
allowed to remain on his throne. However, after Japan did surrender
unconditionally, he was permitted to do so anyway. Oops-a-daisy!
What's more, there is a growing realization that Japan's ability
to continue fighting was about nil. As a veteran of the Pacific
wrote: "The truth is, I now believe, that in August of 1945,
the Japanese Imperial Army could not have defended its homeland
against a well-trained troop of Eagle Scouts."
case, if all roads to one's goal lead through Hell, perhaps
one should mull over giving up the goal? But, in Hanson's pagan
ethic, crushing one's enemies comes first, and morality is only
a tool in choosing among the various means of doing so.
us say we grant Hanson his premise that achieving Japan's unconditional
surrender was the overriding moral imperative for the US in
1945. He admits, "Hiroshima was the most awful option imaginable,"
but makes a leap of faith and asserts, "the other scenarios
would have probably turned out even worse." Perhaps, but couldn't
one begin with less awful options and escalate only if they
didn't succeed? For instance, what about continuing to blockade
the country while announcing a deadline after which measures
would escalate? Hanson argues that the US could not afford to
drop a "demonstration bomb" since it only had two, but the time
given for a blockade to succeed could have been spent building
a third one with which to give that warning.
next moves on to the "we'd done worse" argument: "Hiroshima,
then, was not the worst single-day loss of life in military
history. The Tokyo fire raid on the night of March 9/10, five
months earlier, was far worse, incinerating somewhere around
150,000 civilians, and burning out over 15 acres of the downtown.
Indeed, "Little Boy," the initial nuclear device that
was dropped 60 years ago, was understood as the continuance
of that policy of unrestricted bombing its morality already
decided by the ongoing attacks on the German and Japanese cities
begun at least three years earlier."
To be fair,
Hanson makes a good point: If unrestricted bombing is moral,
then there is no fundamental basis for qualms at going nuclear.
But it is fatuous to declare that the morality of unrestricted
bombing already had been decided simply because it had been
employed. If a serial killer switches from a sword to a gun
as his weapon of choice, what sort of defense is it to claim
that the morality of serial killing was "already decided" when
he was using the sword?
continues: "Americans of the time hardly thought the Japanese
populace to be entirely innocent." Here we have morality by
opinion poll embracing a grim collectivism. Because some
Japanese civilians were more or less involved in the war effort,
all of them, even infants, were fair game to be slaughtered.
Note that this sort of thinking is exactly how Osama
bin Laden justifies striking civilian targets in the US, Britain,
or Spain. We must grant that the conduct of modern warfare blurs
the line between combatants and non-combatants on which side
of it are the workers in a bomb factory? But as blurry as we
might make it, an infant in Hiroshima or a new immigrant delivering
a sandwich to the World Trade Center are obviously non-combatants.
notes: "The Imperial Japanese army routinely butchered civilians
abroad some 1015 million Chinese were eventually
to perish throughout the Pacific from the Philippines
to Korea and Manchuria." So we can, too! (And would those Philippines
be the same ones where the US army killed 250,000 people when
they tried to assert their independence?)
plays the saddened realist accepting minimizing suffering, saying:
"The truth, as we are reminded so often in this present conflict,
is that usually in war there are no good alternatives, and leaders
must select between a very bad and even worse choice." Quite
so but that is why we should end wars sooner rather than
later, and avoid demanding things like unconditional surrender.
none of these "moral arguments" are very convincing. The reason
that such a smart fellow makes such weak moral arguments is
that they are red herrings. The truth is that he and his cohorts
just really love war, and love does not stop to ask "Why?" Michael
Ledeen can only urge that wars arrive "faster,
please." Hanson criticizes both sides of conflicts for not
getting down to fighting sooner. But they know they have
to talk the good talk, to cloak their raw aggression in some
ethical finery, or else the public will turn from their views
in disgust. In the end, they are children in adult bodies, who
never lost their fascination with moving little plastic soldiers
and tanks around their bedrooms.