Why Did Japan Risk the Godzilla of Nuclear Power?
by Eric Margolis: The
Man Who Knows Gadaffi’s Secrets
nuclear calamity has shown once again the remarkable courage, patience,
and stoicism of that nations people.
As a visitor to Japan for the past 36 years and former columnist
for one of its leading newspapers, Mainichi Daily News, the
giant earthquake and ensuing tsunami that savaged northern Japan
filled me with anguish and sorrow.
at first fifty, then a hundred nuclear technicians and firefighters
know as the kamikaze brigade risk their lives in a miasma
of lethal radiation to fight the fires and explosions at Fukushimas
ravaged nuclear plant. Many knew they were facing death or grave
future illness, yet the charged forward in the heroic Japanese tradition.
samurai code, an act of supreme bravery occurs when a fighter confronts
impossible odds, or knows his death in battle is inevitable, yet
still decides to fight for honors sake. In samurai lore, this
is know as the nobility of failure.
and, of course, World War II, are replete with examples of self-sacrifice
and boundless valor in the face of certain defeat.
resolute as Japanese are, the question remains, why did Japan decide
to build nuclear power plants they knew could be potentially dangerous
only 15 years or so after the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and
has to do with World War II. Japan has no resources, other than
rock, wood, water and its industrious people. All raw material to
this island nation must be imported by sea.
World War II to seize more land in Manchuria and China, and to gain
vital resources in South Asia. In 1940, most of Japans heavy
oil, and all its aviation fuel, came from the worlds largest
oil producer, the United States. Interestingly, the US was also
Germanys leading oil supplier.
When in late
1941, US President Franklin Roosevelt sought (my view) to push Japan
into the war by imposing an embargo of oil and scrap metal on Japan,
Tokyo had a two-year stockpile of oil.
military-dominated government faced a stark choice: go immediately
to war in hopes of a quick victory while there was still oil, or
watch its oil stores dwindle way and thus face military impotence.
War was the choice.
leading military officer, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, warned Japan
was going to war for oil, and would be defeated because of lack
In 1941, Japans
economy was only 10% of the size of the US economy in what was to
become historys first industrialized war.
had seen how Britains total naval blockade of the Central
Powers in World War I brought about the final defeat of Germany
and Austria-Hungary by starvation, not battlefield defeat.
warning was prophetic. Japan could not sustain its maritime supply
lines to South Asia and the oilfields of Indonesia and Malaysia,
both former European colonies.
a brilliant, audacious campaign by US submarines had cut off nearly
all of Japans imports of raw material and oil. The winter
of 1944-45 was the coldest in 20 years. Japanese, facing starvation,
subsisted on roots and grass. As in the current Fukushima disaster,
there was no fuel to cremate huge numbers of bodies.
Japan did not
import a single barrel of oil in 1945. Without oil, its navy could
not leave port, its aircraft could not fly. Pathetic attempts were
made to make aviation fuel by boiling and distilling pine roots.
US Fifth Fleet that was nearing Japan alone used more fuel in a
year than all of Japan. Without fuel, Japan could not fight. Modern
mechanized warfare runs on oil. Adolf Hitler also failed to understand
this critical strategic point.
starved, its cities were laid waste by the most lethal bombing raids
in history Nearly half of Japans cities, 66 in all, sustained
40% or more total damage from a rain of fire bombs dropped by Gen.
Curtiss LeMays US B-29s.
of Japans urban population was killed, wounded or left homeless;
2.5 million buildings were destroyed. Most Japanese cities were
built of wood and paper as many still were around Fukushima
perfect targets for LeMays fire bombs.
On 9 March,
1945, US B-29s dropped 1,667 tons of fire bombs on Tokyo.
Fifteen square miles of downtown Tokyo were burned to the ground
in a gigantic holocaust. An estimated 185,000 civilians died and
another 100,000 were severely wounded nearly all by burns.
atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki inflicted an immediate
total of 200,000 dead and wounded, with many more in ensuring years
war, Japans leadership concluded their nation had to have
energy independence, even if it meant from potentially dangerous
nuclear power. Japan must never again be left helpless. Oil was
too precious to use for power generation. It had to be stockpiled
for strategic use and transportation.
So Japan took
a calculated risk.
him mail] is the author of War
at the Top of the World and the new book, American
Raj: Liberation or Domination?: Resolving the Conflict Between the
West and the Muslim World. See his
© 2011 Eric Margolis
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