A Cautious Man
August 09, 2007
City of Ruins
This is the anniversary of the second use of an atomic bomb on a populated area, as a weapon of war. The other day, Bill Cork had a post on his blog which cited a provocatively-titled article, that referred to the first use of the atomic bomb, at Hiroshima, as one of the worst acts of terrorism in human history.

As I said, provocative. Is it useful to analyze the use of atomic bombs in WWII using the "terrorism" label? To the extent that it provokes serious thought, about the consequences of a nation's actions against others, I think it is useful.

The classic argument is that it is the motive and ultimate goal of the attacker, that determines whether something should be analyzed as being “terrorism” – in other words, look at it from the point of view of the attacker. Mr. Cork's post provoked a vehement reaction in his comments, from someone who asked: “Were these not the same Japanese who manipulated their dwindling numbers of men into acts of ‘glorious martyrdom’ and boarded them on fully-fueled aircraft filled to the teeth with explosives in the last year of the war? They were so ready to treat with us that they employed suicide attacks against military targets?” Mr. Cork responded, in part, by pointing out that another point of view to consider, is that of the ones being attacked and killed: “Finally, realize that a couple hundred thousand innocent people were expressly targeted specifically to frighten their government into capitulating. How is that different from terrorism?”

That’s not an accusation that the U.S. is on a par with Bin Laden and Al Qaeda. I think it’s legitimate to analyze the methods being used, to supposedly further our country’s goals, from the standpoint of what those methods do to the innocent – because it’s certain that others are looking at it that way.

And one more thing, regarding the argument that these were the same Japanese willing to fight and martyr themselves for the emperor – that’s not the case for all of them
Like the primary target Kokura, Nagasaki was overcast that morning. With barely enough fuel remaining to reach Okinawa, Major Sweeney and his crew had to pinpoint their target in the course of only one run over the city. By chance a crack opened in the clouds, revealing the industrial zone stretching from the Mitsubishi sports field in Hamaguchi-machi to the Mitsubishi Steel Works in Mori-machi and automatically designating this as the bombing target. The actual explosion, however, occurred some five or six hundred meters to the north over a tennis court in Matsuyama-machi. The details of the explosion can be summarized as follows.

Known as Urakami, the district around the hypocenter (ground zero) area had been populated for centuries by Japanese people of the Roman Catholic faith. At the time of the bombing, between 15,000 and 16,000 Catholics - the majority of the approximately 20,000 people of that faith in Nagasaki and about half of the local population - lived in the Urakami district. It is said that about 10,000 Catholics were killed by the atomic bomb. Although traditionally a rustic isolated suburb, the Urakami district was chosen as the site for munitions factories in the 1920s, after which time the population soared and an industrial zone quickly took shape. The district was also home to the Nagasaki Medical College and a large number of other schools and public buildings. The industrial and school zones of the Urakami district lay to the east of the Urakami River, while the congested residential district of Shiroyama stretched to the hillsides on the west side of the river. It was over this section of Nagasaki that the second atomic bomb exploded at 11:02 a.m., August 9, 1945. The damages inflicted on Nagasaki by the atomic bombing defy description. The 20 machi or neighborhoods within a one kilometer radius of the atomic bombing were completely destroyed by the heat flash and blast wind generated by the explosion and then reduced to ashes by the subsequent fires. About 80% of houses in the more than 20 neighborhoods between one and two kilometers from the hypocenter collapsed and burned, and when the smoke cleared the entire area was strewn with corpses.

Arguing that it’s their own fault, that they lived and worked within a country and a system that was fighting the United States, and so deserve what happened to them – well, that’s the same kind of argument that made Ward Churchill such a “poster boy” for people who want to shut down any criticism of the government.



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