Boats and Atom Bombs
by Tom White
was mustered out of the Navy in October 1946. I think that is the
wrong language, an expression left over from WW I and books written
about it I read in my youth. I believe I should say I was retired
from active duty as an officer in the U.S. Naval Reserve and placed
on the inactive duty roster. I believe I was expected, or perhaps
invited, to step up for some reserve functions, and put in perhaps
two weeks a year of training, and so on, and thus keep up my commission
and be ready to go on active service should the nation be in need
of me again.
donít think I ever made a deliberate decision about all this. I
just never did anything at all about my inactive status, and so,
some years later, I got a terse notice in the mail from the Secretary
of the Navy that I had been eliminated from the rolls of the Naval
Reserve. I had become a Naval Unperson. I donít remember being much
distressed by that. By then I was frying other fish entirely; Navy
days (19431946) had receded for me into approximately the
perspective of the wars of Napoleon or perhaps the French and Indian
there they stayed through much of the next half-century. It was
more or less bad form to try to tell war stories, even in bar rooms,
and anyway mine werenít sensational in the least. Mostly travelogue.
I could not claim to have been a witness to mighty events, even
when my ship was in the battle for Okinawa, or to have met Mighty
Personages, although I did once see General MacArthur emerge from
his headquarters in Tokyo (the Daichi Building I think) and walk
to his car, and I saw all the Japanese in the neighborhood turn
their backs to him. This was not, I was told, out of disrespect
at all (no Iraq this). It was the same honor they paid to their
Emperor. (Do I remember correctly?) Such Mighty Personages were
not to be looked on by Lowly Ones. I knew so little about this that
I openly stared. Ignorance will be served.
the odd thing is that only now, all these years later, have I been
resurrecting my war stories. For the last year, since a little before
Christmas 2002, at the request of my son (!) I have been writing
a series of letters on my war experiences for my granddaughters,
Katy 16, and Annie 13. Letter No. 16 is on the ways at the shipyard
right now; I am about to (re)sail, aboard LSM 329 (Landing Ship
Medium) from Okinawa to Guam and from Guam to Pearl Harbor in the
months of June, July, and August 1945.
engaged a terrible typhoon on one leg of that journey, whether on
the one from Okinawa to Guam or the one from Guam to Pearl I am
not sure. It was a famous typhoon (now called hurricanes I believe,
but such storms were always typhoons in the Pacific until lately).
It will strain my powers of realistic description to get that on
paper. An ugly devil it was.
not the only one we encountered on that voyage. Somewhere on the
weeks-long run back to Pearl (we made about 10 nautical miles an
hour) we heard a static-y radio announcement on our short wave that
some kind of new thing, an uhbamemb or something, had been
dropped on Japan.
finally realized the announcer was saying "atom bomb,"
and that suddenly changed things aboard ship. We did not all leap
for joy; the accompanying photograph of us seven officers aboard
proves that. The photo was made, I believe, as a self-consciously
historical photo of that moment. But we were already back in our
individual shells, and I feel sure we had all begun planning our
next moves "now that the war was almost over," as I insisted,
perhaps more vociferously that any of the other officers. I bet
the doctor on board that the war would be over in some discreet
time 10 days or two weeks and I think I lost the bet,
whatever it was, by one day.
overseas time was not over, however. I wound up going for another
year-plus back out to the West Pacific and to Japan, Korea and China.
That is another story.)
that ship in that August, headed back to Pearl for our invasion
load (invasion of Japan, that is), we were all glad that the war
was certainly drawing to a close. There was, I am pretty certain,
no bleeding heart, either commissioned or enlisted, then willing
to take up the broader view that this was a hell of a way to fight
a war by incinerating an entire city. I donít think we even
knew, from the brief news report, that was what had actually happened.
two cities, as it turned out a few days later. The Japs had started
the thing; let them eat the finish, whatever it turned out to be.
This could be described as the un-nuanced view of the event. We
werenít into nuances aboard that ship. And we still donít seem to
be real good at "nuances" if thatís what considerations
of sanity and morality are in this entire country.
it seems, for a lot of our top military people, who sadly and so
very often seem to have difficulty keeping our bloodthirsty ruling
civilian hotshots in check, and who, also too often, come to be
heard by the public only as the Latin has it, post-facto, post-horror.
the course of writing those letters to my granddaughters I stumbled
on a site called "The
Unnecessary Bombs." In one of my letters to them I quoted
a whole raft of the remarks posted there that were made post-bomb
by some military biggies (and some political ones), names that were
once familiar to every household. Was I attempting to brainwash
my granddaughters? Yes indeed.
sent along to them, too, this introductory statement made on the
site, which I agreed with: "Most of the top US brass were against
use of the bomb and did not regard it as militarily necessary [See
quotes below]. Truman and Byrnes [then Secretary of State] delayed
the end of the war and cost American and Asian lives by deliberately
refusing to clarify the surrender terms, by deliberately stalling
Sino-Soviet talks, by deliberately postponing the Potsdam conference,
and by deliberately ignoring the many Japanese peace feelers."
William D. Leahy. 5-star admiral, president of the US Joint
Chiefs of Staff and the combined American-British Chiefs of Staff,
and chief of staff to the commander-in-chief of the army and navy
from 19421945 (Roosevelt) and 19451949 (Truman):
my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima
and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against
Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender.
. . . My own feeling was that in being the first to use it,
we had adopted the ethical standard common to the barbarians
of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion,
and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children."
Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, commander in chief of the Pacific
Fleet, quoted by his widow:
. I felt that it was an unnecessary loss of civilian life.
. . . We had them beaten. They hadn't enough food, they couldn't
do anything." And E. B. Potter, naval historian
wrote: "Nimitz considered the atomic bomb somehow indecent,
certainly not a legitimate form of warfare."
William "Bull" Halsey, commander of the Third Fleet:
first atomic bomb was an unnecessary experiment. . . . It
was a mistake ever to drop it . . . (the scientists) had this
toy and they wanted to try it out, so they dropped it. . .
. It killed a lot of Japs, but the Japs had put out a lot
of peace feelers through Russia long before."
Admiral Richard Byrd:
it is good to see the truth told about the last days of the
war with Japan. . . . I was with the Fleet during that period;
and every officer in the Fleet knew that Japan would eventually
capitulate from . . . the tight blockade."
Admiral Lewis L. Strauss, special assistant to the Secretary
of the Navy:
felt strongly that it was a mistake to drop the atom bombs,
especially without warning." [The atomic bomb] "was not necessary
to bring the war to a successful conclusion . . . it was clear
to a number of people . . . that the war was very nearly over.
The Japanese were nearly ready to capitulate . . . it was
a sin to use a good word [a word that] should
be used more often to kill non-combatants. . . ."
General Curtis E. LeMay, US Army Air Forces (at a press conference,
war would have been over in two weeks without the Russians
entering and without the atomic bomb . . . the atomic bomb
had nothing to do with the end of the war at all."
General Claire Chennault, founder of the Flying Tigers, and
former US Army Air Forces commander in China:
entry into the Japanese war was the decisive factor in speeding
its end and would have been so even if no atomic bombs had
H. "Hap" Arnold, Commanding General of the US Army Air Forces.
. [F]rom the Japanese standpoint the atomic bomb was really
a way out. The Japanese position was hopeless even before
the first atomic bomb fell. . . ."
General Ira C. Eaker, Arnold's deputy.
view was that it (dropping the atomic bomb) was unnecessary.
He said that he knew that the Japanese wanted peace. There
were political implications in the decision and Arnold did
not feel it was the military's job to question it. . . . I
knew nobody in the high echelons of the Army Air Force who
had any question about having to invade Japan."
quoted by Eaker:
the question comes up of whether we use the atomic bomb or
not, my view is that the Air Force will not oppose the use
of the bomb, and they will deliver it effectively if the Commander
in Chief decides to use it. But it is not necessary to use
it in order to conquer the Japanese without the necessity
of a land invasion."
George C. Kenney, commander of Army Air Force units in the
Southwest Pacific, when asked whether using the atomic bomb had
been a wise decision.
think we had the Japs licked anyhow. I think they would have
quit probably within a week or so of when they did quit."
- W. Averill
Harriman, in private notes after a dinner with General Carl
"Tooey" Spaatz (commander in July 1945 of the Pacific-based US
Army Strategic Air Forces), and Spaatz's one-time deputy commanding
general in Europe, Frederick L. Anderson:
felt Japan would surrender without use of the bomb, and neither
knew why a second bomb was used."
Dwight D. Eisenhower:
to him [Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson] my grave misgivings,
first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated
and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and
secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking
world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was,
I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American
lives. It was my belief that Japan was at that very moment
seeking some way to surrender with a minimum of loss of 'face'.
. . . It wasn't necessary to hit them with that awful thing."
President Herbert Hoover:
MacArthur of my memorandum of mid-May 1945 to Truman, that peace
could be had with Japan by which our major objectives would
be accomplished. MacArthur said that was correct and that we
would have avoided all of the losses, the Atomic bomb, and the
entry of Russia into Manchuria."
once spoke to me very eloquently about it. . . . He thought
it a tragedy that the Bomb was ever exploded. MacArthur believed
that the same restrictions ought to apply to atomic weapons
as to conventional weapons, that the military objective should
always be to limit damage to noncombatants. . . . MacArthur,
you see, was a soldier. He believed in using force only against
military targets, and that is why the nuclear thing turned
him off, which I think speaks well of him
Cousins, from an interview with MacArthur:
. [H]e saw no military justification for the dropping of the
bomb. The war might have ended weeks earlier, he said, if
the United States had agreed, as it did later anyway, to the
retention of the institution of the emperor."
finally this report of how Stimson and Byrnes influenced
the decision Truman made, which I got from this
Stimson's request, President Truman authorized the creation of
The Interim Committee, which began in May 1945 with Stimson as
its chairman. One of the Committee's recommendations for President
Truman came from the June 1, 1945 meeting. As stated in the Committee
notes for that meeting, "Mr. [James] Byrnes [he became Trumanís
Secretary of Sate in July 1945] recommended, and the Committee
agreed, that . . . the [atomic] bomb should be used against Japan
as soon as possible; that it be used on a war plant surrounded
by workers' homes; and that it be used without prior warning."
(Manhattan Engineer District Records, Harrison-Bundy files, folder
# 100, Record Group 77, National Archives).
first possessor of nuclear weaponry behaved badly with it and gave
to the world a stunning example of wanton barbarism, an example
that has proved fertile of imitators. Now the world is full of states
with WND (Weapons of Nuclear Destruction), and we await the use
of them by one of these WND possessor-states according to the iron
law of weaponry: if it exists it will be used.
first to last all the possessors of WND are rogue states. The most
powerful of them (the U.S.) and the most threatened of them (Israel)
are in league today. The U.S. might use them in an excess of hubris;
Israel might use them in an excess of vengefulness; the other possessor
states might use them in the grip of some mix of the two emotions
indulged in by their rulers and their collectives.
the end of "the state" apparently in sight or so
Martin van Creveld assures us may the next turn of the wheel
bring us back to sanity and morality, please God. We have been too
long alienated from both.
officers of LSM 329 in August, 59 years ago. We were somewhere
at sea between Guam and Pearl Harbor. My notes tell me we arrived
in Pearl on September 1. I am in the front row at right. Judging
from the way we dressed, we certainly were not a very military
bunch. Only two of the group were younger than I. I remember
some names but not all, so I wonít attempt any. But if someone
reading this should recognize himself, Iíd be delighted to hear
from him. I now regret not having kept in touch, after some
fashion, with my Navy colleagues on that strange adventure way
White [send him mail]
writes from Odessa, Texas. He is the author of Bill
W., A Different Kind of Hero: The Story of Alcoholics Anonymous
© 2004 LewRockwell.com