Monday, August 15, 2005


This month we remember the 60th anniversary of the surrender of Japan, and the end of the Second World War. We've heard a lot about the two atomic bombs that were dropped on Japan, and the enormous human and moral cost of that decision. Then there's what we haven't heard:

1) that both Germany and Japan were conducting heavy water experiments that would have led to their own development of atomic weapons,

2) that Germany's V-2 rockets could have carried atomic payloads,

3) that had the war continued for another year or so, Japan would have already produced high-altitude long-range bombers capable of dropping bombs on California,

4) that had a land-based invasion of Japan been necessary, an estimated one-half to one million Allied troops would have been lost, and

5) that they would have been met by two million Japanese soldiers, along with as many as 20 million members of a "citizens militia," all of whom would have been prepared to die for their emperor.

No, you won't hear any of that. Fortunately, you'll hear some of it on the History Channel tonight. If you've got cable, I'd recommend it.

Was dropping the bomb immoral? Objectively speaking, it probably was. And in a recent column, Pat Buchanan makes a great case against the decision based on traditional Catholic morality. But I'm not sure the alternatives would have been any more palatable, given man's inherent right to defend himself.

I'm not sure whether the "double-effect" principle applies here, and I'm open to comment on that.

To this day, the USA is the only nation ever to have used nuclear weapons. We haven't used them since. We have helped to completely rebuild the nations we defeated, an unprecedented move in the history of warfare.

It coulda been worse, folks.


Todd said...

I missed the show, but heavy water experiments sounds like the hydrogen bomb to me. The US didn't have that till 1949.

Germany's V2 rockets were not very accurate weapons in the mid-40's. They were unreliable, so any use of atomic weapons on them (which would have been extremely limited, as the US was producing weapons at the rate of one every few months) would have been dicey. Some V2's never even made it to Britain. If the Germans thought they could get a plane out, they would've used that.

I had not heard that Japan's aviation industry was that much superior to that of the US. But you have my curiosity aroused on the first three claims. The last two we've heard quite a bit about, though.

The what-ifs are undeniably scary and sobering. Probably one reason why the "alternate Nazi" is one of the most frequently revisited themes in science fiction.

David L Alexander said...


Thanks for writing back. Now then...

First point: the use of heavy water would not have applied only to the H-bomb, but any form of atomic weapons. Bottom line is, the Axis powers were working on them, and we had ex-patriated German scientists to tell us so.

Second point: that V-2 rockets were inaccurate did not sway the grandiose plans for them, which eventually included putting a man in orbit, by the way. (Do a Google search "manned+v2"). Thankfully, the tide of the war turned, which kept those plans on the drawing board where they belonged.

Third point: Japan's aviation production was already in high gear when the war started. A documentary on (where else?) The History Channel earlier this year gave a fascinating view of their long-range schemes in advanced aviation. Not everything worked, though. Their suicide dive planes had a faulty rudder control, which is why they didn't hit Allied ships much of the time. No one lived to tell about it. Go figure.

Fourth point: The prospect of losing tens of millions of lives, many times more than both A-bombs combined, never seems to fit into the moral equation when this subject is raised. That their use is objective immoral I can understand. What I don't understand is why no competent theologian considers that the alternatives might have been worse.

But, hey, what the hell do I know?

Todd said...

David, you probably know quite a bit. But I think the danger was more real in 1942 than in 1945. The scary thing is that even without nuclear weapons, the Nazis pretty much heading to have their way in the world. Thankfully, Hitler proved to be his own undoing. And as for Japanese ambitions, thankfully also these did not coincide with their being close to have nuclear weapons. My understanding is that the home islands were getting pounded and their ability to produce arms had been hampered by 1945.

As a space buff, I've read something of WWII-era rocketry. What the History Channel had to say would have been of interest to me.

The question of alternatives: they might have been worse, but they might have been better. Thing is, nobody knows. Not even today. If a nuclear war had happened in 1962, they might've said losing ten million lives was worth having the bomb kept under wraps.

But the Allies had already begun to lose their moral superiority by 1945. They were corrupted by engaging the very evil they were first defending themselves against. That's always the danger of war and violence: losing one's humanity engaging the enemy on their own level.