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The Brat Farrar
B. Farrar, Ltd.
Prose & poetry, with occasional art & photography.
May 5th, 2009
we forget so very easily
A much needed history lesson.
May 6th, 2009
I saw it this morning. Don't you love Bill Whittle? He writes some of the best stuff!
May 6th, 2009
His is the one spot I watch regularly. Nothing against PJTV--I just don't have time to watch the news. But for him, I make it.
May 6th, 2009
*flails* But ... but it's more complicated than that! I mean, more complicated than either Stewart or the other guy are making out. (History-nerd quasi-centrist here...) Sorry, I didn't watch the whole video because I got to the leaflet part and had a major spazz.
The leaflet thing was part of a massive propaganda-leaflet-bombing campaign that both the Axis and Allies used all throughout the war. Both sides *deluged* their enemies with aerial leaflets, as we continue to do right up to the present day. (It's actually very fascinating to read about ... and some of the leaflets are
!) It's absolutely true that the U.S. dropped warnings about the bombing raids that they ran on Japan, from the firebombing of Tokyo right on down the line (the CIA website says that, I think, 63 million leaflets were dropped on Japan during the last few months of the war). The objective was twofold -- a) warning civilians and b) sowing choas and hitting the enemy's production capability by emptying out factories etc. To further the second goal, the warnings were often kind of vague and/or delivered to cities that were not immediate targets to increase uncertainty. Obviously, most of the people who could evacuate, did; many of Hiroshima's children were evacuated to the countryside in March '45, for example. Also, Japan employed quite a bit of forced labor in its factories, so many people couldn't leave even if they wanted to.
Here's a good page on Allied propaganda in the Pacific theatre
by a retired military analyst. If you scroll down to the part on the pre-Hiroshima leaflet campaign, there are a few things that jump out:
- Hiroshima and Nagasaki are not listed on the leaflet (any of its different versions) among the cities that are given as bombing targets.
- The Hiroshima leaflets were distributed multiple times, prior to conventional firebombings and *then* prior to the Hiroshima bombings.
- Hiroshima itself may or may not have received warning leaflets, and Nagasaki didn't receive them until Aug. 10, the day after it was bombed.
Also, the leaflet says nothing at all about atomic bombs (the existence of a new kind of bomb was still a closely guarded secret) -- it just refers to American bombs, and was also used to warn for conventional bombings. The Hiroshima bombing run was actually detected by Japanese radar, but they did not scramble a defense because they were under so much pressure at that point that they weren't even trying to combat small bombing raids and, not knowing about the new technology, had no reason to expect that 3(?) planes (the Enola Gay and its accompaniment) could possibly do much damage.
It's entirely disingenuous to suggest that we didn't attempt to give any warning (which is verifiably false -- many lives were risked and lost dropping warning leaflets) or that a "dry run" of a bomb detonation would have had any more effect on Japanese public policy than the Hiroshima bombing did, but it's equally disingenuous to state that we gave them advance warning of an atomic bombing (we warned of *a* bombing, and possibly not even in the city being bombed) or a fair chance to evacuate. And then you get into the question of how close Japan was to surrendering in July 1945, at which point most historians' heads explode.
er, sorry for the tl;dr (/history mode)
May 6th, 2009
Equally disingenuous to state that we gave them advance warning of an atomic bombing ...(we warned of *a* bombing, and possibly not even in the city being bombed) or a fair chance to evacuate.
But nowhere does Whittle claim that we gave warning
about the atomic bombing. His point is that it was made clear to the Japanese that bad shit was going to happen. Remember, he's responding to a particular remark made by Jon Stewart, not giving a treatise on propaganda in WWII. The leaflets are only one piece of his argument.
In any case, could we have given them more specific warning without tipping our hand? Misdirection and getting the enemy to underestimate the strength of your forces is pretty big component in winning a war (at least according to Sun-Tzu). To give a "fair chance to evacuate" would have required significantly damaging or even giving up that advantage altogether.
And then you get into the question of how close Japan was to surrendering in July 1945, at which point most historians' heads explode.
But when judging Truman's decision (which is what the segment is really about), what matters is that Japan's public statements and known policies were along the lines of committing national suicide rather than surrender. We can't judge him on the actual intent and resolve of the Japanese people.
If it makes you feel better, I just spent over an hour searching for variations on "hiroshima warning" and "japanese bombing leaflets". So thanks to you, I am now even more educated on the subject (some of the leaflets Japan dropped were pretty skeevy). I didn't, however, come across the page you linked to, probably because I'm not familiar enough with the subject to use the right combination of keywords to snag it. Something to consider when reacting to someone else's report: they can only use information they can find, and all the information I found confirmed that Hiroshima had leaflets dropped on it shortly before the bombing.
...So, yeah, that got a bit tl;dr itself. Not how I expected to spend my morning. But thanks for the reminder that one has to be really careful about using history to make a political point.