Were there alternatives to the Atomic Bombs?

In war, as in most of life, we are often stuck with a limited set of options, none of which are always preferable.  We sometimes have to settle with the lesser of two evils and then find ways to justify it.  Many people believe that this was the case in decision to use Atomic bombs against Japan. However, the lesser of two evils perspective appears to not have been the case in the decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In this scenario the ‘two evils,’ were to either drop the Atomic bombs on Japanese cities or engage in a full scale American invasion of the Japanese mainland, risking tens of thousands of American lives. However this was a false dichotomy, because there were a number of other alternatives between these ‘two evils.’

The American leaders were presented with several alternatives to the combat use of the Atomic bombs during the final phases of the war. There were five viable options that could’ve been substituted for the use of the Atomic bombs against Japan: A non-combat demonstration of the bomb, a modification of unconditional surrender, allowing for the Emperor to stay in power, further dialogue with Japanese diplomats who were interested in peace, delaying use of the bomb(s) until the Soviets entered the war and heavy conventional bombing with naval blockade. (Stoler pg. 420)

The option of using a non-combat demonstration was brought up only twice in government committees and rejected both times. One of the reasons for the rejection of this plan was that the bomb would not work and a failure might rekindle the Japanese resolve. The other concern was that allied POW’s might have been moved into the area of the testing zone before the bomb was dropped.

The second option that could’ve been pursued was for the American leaders to modify and/or soften some of the terms of the unconditional surrender that they were already asking for. In particular, one of the terms of surrender was the complete dismantling of the Imperial system, including removal of the emperor. Since the Japanese practically worshipped the emperor, it would be hard for them to imagine surrendering, if it meant the removal of such a revered figure. If the emperor were allowed to stay, it was felt that the Japanese would’ve have been much more likely to surrender. One of the key complaints with this option was that the government feared a backlash from the public, because many Americans likened Hirohito to Hitler and considered him a war criminal. To the American leaders, this option was considered to politically risky.

Thirdly, there were a number of Japanese diplomats who approached American officials in hopes of negotiating a surrender. It was thought that perhaps dialoging with these diplomats might create a momentum among other Japanese who were tired of the war or felt that a loss was inevitable. However, it was not known if these Japanese diplomats had enough authority or influence to actually make a difference, so it was not pursued thoroughly. There was also a strong group of militarists in the Japanese government that were not interested in any terms of surrender.

Alternative four was to delay the use of the Atomic bomb(s) until after the Soviet Union entered the war. None of the top American leaders felt that the Soviet Union would be entering the war before the scheduled American invasion. Even if the Soviet Union had entered the war, it is not certain that Japan would’ve surrendered before the invasion.

The last option provided to the American Leadership could have been to continue the conventional bombing of Japan and the naval blockade, also known as the siege strategy. It appears that this strategy would have worked if the Americans would have been willing to prolong the war and delay the invasion.

At the time and subsequently afterwards it seems clear that none of the alternatives by themselves could’ve succeeded in creating a Japanese surrender before the scheduled American invasion of Japan. However, as Bernstein says, “it does seem very likely, though certainly not definite, that a synergistic combination of guaranteeing the emperor, awaiting Soviet entry and continuing the siege strategy, would’ve ended the war in time to avoid the November invasion.” (Stoler pg. 425)

So why was a combination of these options never considered, when it seems quite clear that a use of the bomb could’ve been avoided?  We have been led to believe that since the use of the bomb has been questioned after it was used and the horrible impact years later was revealed, that there was a reluctance to use to bombs at all and that the government was trying to avoid using them.  Those of us outside of the context of World War Two ascribe certain moral standards that were not at play at that time. For example, contemporary people assume that there was a real struggle among the leaders in their decision of whether to use the Atomic bombs or not.  Many wrongly assume that they were reluctant to use to bomb, when in fact there was no such reluctance. The war had been a long and terrible tragedy and everyone was ready for it to be over with quickly.  The moral and merciful position was to end it before more and more casualties occurred. The American leaders’ assumption was that the Atomic bomb(s) were a tool that was pragmatic to use and that there was no reason not to use it. “In 1945 American leaders were not seeking to avoid the use of the A-bomb. Its use did not create ethical or political problems for them. Thus they easily rejected or never considered most of the so called alternatives to the bomb.” (Stoler pg. 420)

It’s a human tendency to see things in black and white or either/or terms, such as “should we drop the bombs, or invade?” From a postwar perspective this can be construed as a choice between the lesser of two evils. Unfortunately, at the time, the option of using the Atomic bombs did not seem like a morally questionable option and if it had, there would’ve been more real incentive to take an honest look at a combination of alternative options that could’ve succeeded ending the war and pressuring the Japanese to surrender without the use of a full scale invasion or the Atomic bombs.


“Major Problems in the History of World War Two” -Mark A. Stoler and Melanie S. Gustafson

Stoler, Mark A., and Melanie S. Gustafson. Major Problems in the History of World War II. 1. 1. Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003. 472. Print.

“Were there viable alternatives to dropping the Atomic mom?” By Barton J. Bernstein


Myths and censorship during World War II

By Josiah Callaghan

There’s history and then there’s the retelling of history. The retelling of history can be used for many purposes depending on whose telling it and what their agenda is.  Often historians, reporters and the media, “Forget the ugly and magnify the good things.” (pg.428) In retelling history, people will either pull negative or positive things to prove a point or they will make up, fabricate or exaggerate things to make something appear a certain way. World War II is a perfect example of when theses mythmaking occurred both during and after the war.

While both WWII and the Vietnam war involved atrocities such as Napalm, the killing of innocent civilians, low morale among soldiers and soldiers being ostracized when they returned home, all these are things that we normally associate with the Vietnam war. Somehow when its comes to World War II, the retelling as omitted the negatives and exaggerated the positives, resulting in WWII becoming the “Good War.” (pg. 429)  World War II became the “Good War,” for several reasons. First, the use of mass media, such as radio and movies, was a major factor in painting the war in a positive light.  The boom of radio and movie industries during the 1940’s created a regular and eager audience for glamorization of the war. 28 million Americans had radio’s and over 90 million attended movies weekly during the peak of World War II.  Both the radio and movie industry often focused on American heroism and patriotism, while portraying the enemies as “cruel, devious and unprincipled.” (pg. 434) Not only did media play an important role in creating the “Good War,” but journalism and government censorship as well. Surprisingly, many journalists including author, John Steinbeck, skewed their stories and reports by not reporting on disturbing or negative aspects of the war, such as the terrible conditions that the troops had to endure. Walter Cronkite submitted a story detailing how the U.S. Air Force had bombed German targets blindly despite thick cloud cover, which challenged the assumption that American bombs were released with more precision and only on military targets. However, his report was withheld and was not printed. On the other hand camera crews scripted scenes of both General MacArthur and Eisenhower in photo shoots to enhance their images as if they were Hollywood celebrities. Paralleling the governments view, “Eisenhower saw reporters as part of the army and expected them to report the news as loyal soldiers…and not as independent observers.” (pg. 433) During the war, there were several government agencies such as the, Office of Censorship, whose job was to filter communications, information, publish propaganda in favor of the war and clean up negative images and aspects of the war for the public. Some examples of censorship included the silence about atrocities of the U.S. military, including the beating and killing of African-American soldiers by other U.S. troops.

So why were these types of things done during the war?  World War II required a lot of support and sacrifice from the civilian population, but also the industries of manufacturing, agriculture and so on.  There was a significant need to sustain the support and motivation of the civilian population in making many sacrifices for the war effort. Furthermore, the war was actually highly beneficial to the American economy. The United States was only nation to experience economic prosperity during World War II. The GDP for 1940 was $97 billion, but by 1944, it had risen to $190 billion. “Americans weekly wages also increased from, $25.20 in 1940, to $43.39 in 1945, which was an increase of 72%.” (pg.431) Unlike the other nations engaged in World War II, the United States was the only nation that did not experiences invasion or regular bombing, which separated many people, both civilian and military from the reality and actual physical experiences of war. In fact America had changed tremendously from the Depression Era, to a vibrant and prosperous nation, and the war to many people became an exciting and positive change for many. Russell Baker said that, “World War II for a time, gave Americans a sense of belonging, of community, as they were caught up in the war fever.” (pg. 431) It is also true that many Americans truly believed that the Japanese and the Germans were so obviously evil. The evil of these nations showcased the goodness of America and to many Americans it was seen as a war between good and evil, with America representing all that was good and moral.

In spite of the effective way that the myth of the “good war,” was created, the war was anything but good.  Even though both during and after the war many people believed and continue to believe that it was a “good war,” that is just not the case.  Some of the not so glamorous realities of World War II that are conveniently left out include; area bombings, the high rate of nervous breakdown’s among American soldiers, the killing of prisoners and defenseless soldiers and the raping of women by American soldiers. Discrimination also occurred significantly among the armed forces during the war. Many retuning soldiers, especially wounded ones often felt  “treated like scum” and many people would even wash their hands after greeting wounded soldiers as if they were diseased. (pg. 432) The war had a significant impact on domestic life in the United States as well. Many rural farms and small business’ failed and gave way to the rise of giant corporations. There were record numbers of hospitalizations for mental health issues. “According to a poll in 1946, the majority of adults felt that teenage behavior degenerated during the war.” (pg. 432) Even the divorce rate increased to 600,000 by 1946. All of these statistics shatter the myth that everything was so much better back then and many of these happenings are things that we only associate with the Vietnam era.

World War II has often been called America’s best war and both historians and popular media have perpetuated this misunderstanding. As Americans, it is easy for us to look at these events as a moment that exemplified our national strength and brought us together. While this may be true, much about World War II remains untold or exaggerated and the fact remains that war is war, as even Dwight D. Eisenhower said it himself, “War settles nothing.” However, when the past becomes distorted and exaggerated, it loses its reality, “it cease to be real history, it becomes what we call myth…” (pg. 429). When history becomes warped it loses its own identity and becomes a tool for propaganda and control. We must never forget the courage and sacrifice of those who died fighting in World War II, but we must be careful not to ever over-idealize any war, because real misery and tragedy are part of war. Consider the words of Thomas Jefferson as you ponder the reality of World War II, “Governments constantly choose between telling lies and fighting wars, with the end result always being the same. One will always lead to the other.”


Stoler, Mark A., and Melanie S. Gustafson. Major Problems in the History of World War II. 1. 1. Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003. 472. Print.

Lone Survivor-A Pacifists’ Perspective

Despite reading about the films’ extraordinary amount of violence and blood, I decided to enjoy (and i use that term loosely) watching the recounting of the story of Operation Red Wings, in the movie ‘Lone Survivor’, starring actor Mark Wahlberg. My Uncle and I decided to go see the movie together. We both were a bit hesitant to see this movie, given our beliefs and sentiments towards war and violence, however we decided to give it a go. The film recounts the story of four Navy SEALs sent on a covert operation to neutralize a Taliban leader. After a series of hindrances, the operation becomes compromised and the SEAL’s are ambushed by Taliban forces in the remote and mountainous Hindu Kush region of Afghanistan. The movie is based off of New York Times bestseller by Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson. The primary targets of the operation were a group of anti-coalition militia-men from the Nangarhar province led by Ahmad Shad, a regional Taliban leader.

To be honest I don’t care much for war movies, which are often ripe with over-zealous patriotic themes and jingoistic flaws, however I have been moved by power-house films such as Saving Private Ryan, not at all for the violence, hidden behind the guise of ‘freedom,’ and a flag, but for the pure power of the story and the raw emotion of such accounts. Despite the gut-wrenching violence included in the ‘Lone Survivor,’ it was nonetheless a power-house movie, with both its flaws and achievements.  Despite the violent themes and events in the film, ‘Lone Survivor,’ had one of the most hauntingly beautiful soundtracks to a movie that I’ve heard in a long time…and that was one of the few redeeming qualities.

Simply put, War is Hell….there is no way around that…..and in the movie it becomes crystal clear. The film begins by showing the vigorous and intense training that Navy SEALs go through. It is not hard to appreciate the strength and ‘bravery,’ that these men must have. It’s obvious that these men have no shortage of courage and are willing to give their lives for their (American) brothers and comrades. Throughout the movie, the camaraderie and bond that the SEALs have is clearly shown. It becomes hard to not grow fond of the ‘heroes’ of this story, knowing how important each of them is to each other and the brotherly love they have for one another. They are willing to die for each other and in fact they do (Not to give too many spoilers away here) and at one point, the team leader, Navy Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy, climbs up to the summit of a rock cliff in order to radio in air support after their communications officer is killed. In the process he is shot several times and dies in a slow motion scene with the dramatic backdrop of the the mountains. In doing so, Lieutenant Murphy is able to make contact with U.S. forces in order to call in air support.

Going into the movie, I had my opinions and biases, but I did my best to put those aside, to watch and interpret the story as it is and was. Surprisingly it was actually a decent movie, with powerful acting and raw emotion put into many of the characters individual stories. The acting was of course superb, including an impressive performance by Mark Wahlberg. The cinematography was beautiful and combined with the soundtrack, at times it was almost more of an art-house movie. However at some points the violence and blood-filled scenes became too much. Earlier on in the movie, the Taliban leader, Ahmad Shah is shown hacking off a traitors head, thankfully the camera is pointed away and we only see splatter of blood flying into the air. However, once the fighting truly begins, it is a nonstop stream of disturbing brain-gushing shots, with lots of blood. At first the Taliban fighters are picked off with shots to the head and upper torso’s, but soon the SEAL’s began to takes one hit after another as bullets rip through their flesh and bones. Before long it becomes a constant barrage of countless gunfire, ranging from small arms to a large mounted machine gun and even rocket-propelled grenades. The SEAL’s are hit by multiple gunshots, taking bullets to the legs, upper bodies. Severed stumps of blown off fingers, mutilated ears and protruding bones are shown throughout the process, leaving the viewer with a empty stomach and a disturbed conscience. Soon after the gunfight erupts the SEALs find themselves tumbling down of sheer cliffs, crashing into boulders and trees as they tumble head over heels down the mountainside. The viewers watch as one by one each Navy SEAL is killed, until only Marcus Luttrell is left alive and fighting for his life.

Sadly, the film almost seems to worship the pain and agony that each of the SEAL’s go through. Their ligaments are riddled with bullets and their bodies cut by rocks and trees, they find themselves lathered in blood within minutes of the ambush. But yet somehow they are still able to fight on, with missing fingers, broken bones and so on…..Not to say that Navy SEALs are not tough, they are likely the toughest men in the world, but at times it does seem a bit ridiculous. This doesn’t go to say that they didn’t experience something like this (maybe they did) and if they did it without a doubt one of the most remarkable feats of our time. But like all stories, especially ones involving the politics of war and militarism, stories are exaggerated. I need not give examples, you only need to examine the stories from the American press during World War Two, Vietnam and others to understand what I’m getting at….Propaganda comes in many forms….

Throughout the movie you begin to see the genius of Director Peter Berg as he captures each and every bullet that hits the American SEALs in a simple, but brilliant way. But of course the Taliban are quickly killed with single shots to the head and/or chest and die before they have even fallen to the ground. In the end, it is only the overwhelming numbers that bring them down. And even as they die, they appear at peace in their dying moments.

I certainly respect these incredible men, I do believe they had/have good intentions in ‘serving’ their country, but I believe that they( like all soldiers on this earth) are misguided by flags, politicians and sense of duty that exists and persists through the continuity of ideals likes patriotism. Unfortunately the movies is full of cliches and meaningless phrases like many of its predecessors. At one point, one of the SEALs yells, “You can die for your country, but I’m gonna live for mine.” A perfect example of how war is a racket. At times the movie almost feels dishonoring to the nineteen Americans killed, making the the movie into an almost cartoon like representation as the Taliban leader is shown cutting off a mans head in front of the victim’s son (which likely never happened). Its almost an insult to the fallen soldiers to have the target of their mission appear as a cheesy villain from a mediocre action movie.

There are many other problems with the movie as well. Of course in the book written by Luttrell (mostly Patrick Robinson), there are not any questions regarding the Americans’ reasons for being in Afghanistan, including the civilian deaths and U.S. tactics. The movie doesn’t explore any of these either. In fact one of the things that pisses me off is that the film did nothing to explore why the Americans have had such a tough time winning over the heart and minds of many people in Afghanistan, when it is quiet obvious to the intelligent outsider. Maybe the reason the goat-herder boy’s eyes were filled with hatred towards the SEALs was because his father had been killed by an American, or maybe the torturing and killing of prisoners by U.S. interrogators during Dick Cheney’s time in office. But of course in the minds of the neo-cons and Bush, “if you are not with us, you are with the terrorists.” So being anti-war in the minds of many amounts to supporting the terrorists….smh

Let me steal a quote from David Edelstein in his review of the movie.

“….Berg leads you to the conclusion that these Americans were just too good, too true, too respectful. Luttrell’s operation — and his teams’ lives — might have been saved if they’d summarily executed three passing goat-herders rather than following the Rules of Engagement. I can’t imagine a single person watching the subsequent wave upon wave of Taliban fighters with their RPGs and machine-guns and not thinking, If only the Americans had put two bullets in the head of each of those guys, they’d be home with their wives and kids today. Lone Survivor is a brutally effective movie, made by people who think that they’re serving their country. But they’re just making us coarser and more self-centered. They’re perpetuating the kind of propaganda that sent the heroes of Seal Team 10 to their deaths.” -David Edelstein -vulture.com

Ultimately, however the film is powerful and emotional at times despite the constant barrage of blood-splattering gore and violence. As a human I can appreciate what these men went through and how much strength and courage it took to strive through it all even though in the all but one died. What troubles me, is the fact that here in America, we are okay with sending our daughters and sons off to war while we live in relative luxury. We are okay with men and women dying and killing in other countries in the name of ‘freedom’ when in reality most of us don’t even know what we are fighting against or why and what if… what if the truth has been hidden from us and maybe all these wars are really all predicated on lies and deceit from politicians and special interests who want to make sure that the continuity of government and the military industrial complex is safe and secure. In spite all I really don’t believe the film attempts to glorify war as some films do. It’s not even a one dimensional war flick with shallow, gun-ho, cursing soldiers that don’t give a rip about the enemy… but it sure as heck ain’t a critique of war…

The most frustrating thing to me is that both sides( the Americans and the Taliban) seem to think that God is on their side…With the Taliban yelling phrases about Allah they often appear as the religious nuts and crazies, but are the Americans really that different? In one scene that turns out to be positive, Luttrell smiles and says, “See? God’s looking out for us.” Implying that God is supporting them in their fight against the Taliban. Some people can throw some Old Testament verses at me, without context and theological training, but the fact is, that it contradicts the nature of Jesus. Jesus does not take sides in war and neither do I. There is no honor, there is no humanity in killing others for the entity of a nation.

In summary, “Lone Survivor,” was not a bad movie, at several points I found my eyes becoming watery. However both me and my uncle felt incredibly empty and saddened by it all. One can appreciate the intent of others to ‘protect’ our freedoms even if that is not what they are really doing. I will continue to and will always respect men and women who serve America, but I do not support them. There is a difference. I’m not saying men who fight in wars are necessarily evil, many are forced into that type of situation, such as many of the young Taliban fighters as young as me. I don’t pretend to be more morally sound then them, we all have our faults….but to move forward we have to call things out as they are, not how we want to see them.

As me and my uncle left the theatre, we found ourselves cleaning our eyes and ears (metaphorically of course). We commented to each other on how pointless it all was. Such young men (both Taliban and American) killing each other for such empty causes. I do not recommend this movie for the faint of heart and for anyone easily upset by violence.

I pray that one day there will be no more senseless violence and death.

I leave the song, “God and Country,” by Gungor to consider in light of this film