Home Hiroshima's Lessons for the War on Terror
Home Hiroshima's Lessons for the War on Terror

Hiroshima's Lessons for the War on Terror

In the summer of '45, the United States concluded a war that had come to be seen by some as unwinnable after the carnage at Iwo Jima, with a bang.

On August 6th, the bomb fell on Hiroshima. And then on the 9th, it was Nagasaki's turn. Six days
later, Japan, which had been preparing to fight to the last man, surrendered.

For generations of liberals, those two names would come to represent the horror of America's war machine, when they actually represented a pragmatic ruthlessness that saved countless American and Japanese lives.

There can hardly be a starker contrast to our endless unwinnable nation-building exercises in which nothing is ever finished until we give up than the way that Truman cut the Gordian Knot and avoided a long campaign that would have depopulated Japan and destroyed the lives of a generation of American soldiers.

That we can talk about Japan as a victory, that the famous couple was caught kissing in Times Square rather than sighing in relief, is attributable to that decision to use the bomb. Without it, Japan would have been another Iraq or Vietnam, we might have won it, eventually, at a terrible cost, but it would have destroyed our willingness to fight any future wars and would have given the USSR an early victory in Asia.

Professional soldiers understand the humanitarian virtue of ruthlessness. The pacifist civilian may gasp in horror at the sight of a mushroom cloud, but the professional soldier knows that the longer way around would have left every Japanese city looking far worse than Hiroshima.

More people died in the Battle of Okinawa on both sides than in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 9 out of 10 buildings were destroyed. As much as a third of the island's population committed suicide, fled into caves that were bombed, were used as human shields and were killed when American soldiers found themselves unable to distinguish between Japanese soldiers posing as civilians and actual civilians.

And all that was in a part of Japan that was not fully aligned with its national identity. It does not take much to imagine what trying to capture Honshu would have looked like. Take the worst horrors of Vietnam and keep multiplying until you run out of imagination. If you run low, remember that at Okinawa the military was handing out grenades to civilians and its home defense plans involved encouraging the civilian population to commit suicide attacks.

The United States military did not understand the fanatical mindset of its enemies, but it did understand that they had to be fought with equal ruthlessness. And now, nearly seventy years later, on another hot August, we find ourselves in another unwinnable war. Like the Pacific Theater, it's not really unwinnable, but there is the sense that we have done everything possible and not much else remains except to live with it.

At the Wall Street Journal, former media figure Ted Koppel popped up with an editorial warning that an overreaction to terrorism is more dangerous than terrorism. Summoning up the left's favorite argument after the September 11 attacks; he wrote that more Americans had died in car accidents, ladder accidents and of various diseases than in the World Trade Center.

Doubtlessly more Americans died in some assortment of accidents in 1941 than at Pearl Harbor. Instead of calling it a day that will live forever in infamy, FDR could have put their deaths into perspective by comparing them to the number of Americans killed by Polio and given a typical Obama speech warning the public not to jump to any conclusions.

Obama gave one of those conclusion-jumping speeches after Nidal Hasan murdered 13 Americans in the Fort Hood Massacre. He gave another one after the Boston Marathon bombings. Meanwhile the media jumped to all the right conclusions, speculating that Hasan might be a victim of secondary PTSD and that the Boston bombers were white tax protesters.

Finally the official report dismissed all conclusions and labeled an attack by a Muslim terrorist affiliated with a major Al Qaeda figure as a case of workplace violence. If the authors of that report had been available to write up the events of December 7 1941, they would have blamed Newton’s Third Law.

The report carefully avoided any mention of Islam, but at his trial, Hasan declared that he was an Islamic holy warrior, in papers he named Anwar Al-Awlaki as his mentor and claimed to be defending Islamic law against the scourge of democracy.

The spectacle of Nidal Hasan trying to communicate to a politically correct military bureaucracy that he really is a Muslim terrorist is almost comic. Before the shootings, he expressed sympathy for terrorists and put his Islamic holy warrior tag on his business cards. He did everything short of hiring a skywriter to fly over Fort Hood writing, "Nidal Hasan is a Muslim Terrorist".

Ted Koppel's advice of ignoring Muslim terrorism because it's more dangerous to react to it, backfired badly at Fort Hood. 

After Hasan committed the massacre while dressed in Islamic garb and shouting "Allah Akbar", the same establishment went back to ignoring him. It must have deeply frustrated Hasan, whose entire legal defense is that he is a Muslim terrorist. Hasan's defense baffles a media which had spent years warning us not to jump to conclusions about a man named Hasan killing Americans only to find that Hasan had already adopted those conclusions as his own.

Hasan had declared war on the United States and has been trying to get someone to notice his declaration. That is a problem which he shares with his Al Qaeda masters. The United States has learned to notice terrorist threats, but not to understand them or deal with them.

The Hasan case is a microcosm of America's failures in the War on Terror. While Hasan is ferried back and forth every day on a helicopter to Fort Hood so he can prepare for his defense, the United States evacuates its embassies in the Middle East out of fear of a terrorist attack. The two are connected, but not in a way that the mind of a media maven like Koppel can process.

On August 8, 1942,  Herbert Hans Haupt was sent to the electric chair. Haupt, a United States citizen, had joined a German raiding party into the United States.

The trial of Haupt and his fellow conspirators lasted a month. It was over two months after their capture. Haupt was put to death seven days after the conclusion of his trial. 

A few years after the war was over, a former soldier spotted a USC student in a Los Angeles Sears. During the war, the student, Tomoya Kawakita, had been noted for special acts of cruelty toward the captured American soldiers in the Oyema POW camp where 1 in 10 prisoners died of malnutrition. Tomoya had earned the nickname "Meatball" for eating the rations meant for the POWs. The soldier,  had first met Tomoya when the latter attempted to tear off his tattoos while screaming about "American symbols of freedom."

Tomoya was also an American. He was arrested, put on trial and sentenced to death. In pronouncing sentence on him, the judge declared, "The only worthwhile use for the life of a traitor is to serve as an example to those of weak moral fiber who might hereafter be tempted to commit treason."

JFK disagreed, freeing him in one of his final official acts before his own assassination at the hands of a traitor who had defected to the USSR. Had Oswald been tried for treason after his return from Russia, the Kennedy assassination would have never happened; but by then, that pragmatic ruthlessness which had kept America going through Europe and Asia had been lost.

Obama's military policy is dominated by talk of smart power. And smart power is power that isn't used. It's that Koppelian notion that the only thing more dangerous than a terrorist is the man who notices he's there and does something about it. But even before Obama, wars had become a search for a safe middle ground, an exercise in moral violence that aspired to win hearts and minds, but lost lives and goals instead.

Imagine a general from August 2013 being sent back in time to take over the war in August 1945 and then watch as American soldiers are given handbooks on Japanese culture, forced to attend Shinto ceremonies and sent out without artillery and air support to avoid alienating the local population. The command dedicates much of its time to emphasizing that its war is not with Japan or the Japanese people, but a tiny minority of fanatical extremists. And then watch as the war goes on for two decades.

Such a course might seem more merciful or moral, but it's neither. It prolongs the pain and suffering for both sides.

The failure by the stronger side to conclude a war when it has the upper hand is not kindness; it's cruelty. It perpetuates the conflict endlessly, dragging it out and opening the door for a prolonged civilian resistance with all the horrors that terrorism and guerrilla warfare can inflict on both sides.

In Vietnam, Iraq, Korea and Afghanistan, in the countries and wars where we pulled our punches, the civilian population was left worse off. The tactics that we thought were merciful were actually cruel, and their end result led to victories by monstrous forces like the Kim family or the Taliban who did far worse things to the civilian population than we ever dreamed of.

America was haunted by Hiroshima, when it should have been haunted by Okinawa. And so now it is haunted by Hasan and by his Al Qaeda comrades and by the Taliban and by entire networks of terrorist groups forming because we pulled our punches in the War on Terror.

Wars don't have to be won purely by brute force, but smart power achieves decisive victories through calculated actions, rather than planning to win a war by winning over the enemy civilian population. There is nothing smart about the quagmire that Afghanistan has become. There is nothing smart about paring down the military to its bare bones and betting that a campaign of CIA drone strikes against enemy leaders will be enough to hold the other side down.

There's some old advice about not drawing a gun unless you intend to use it. It's true for individuals and for nations. If you go to war, then you had better mean it. Wars are bloody and messy. They're not for the sort of people who think that putting "Smart" ahead of something automatically makes it better. And "meaning it" means being committed to crushing the enemy.

We don't understand Hasan and Nidal Hasan doesn't understand us. Like so many Islamic terrorists,
Nidal Hasan believes that we are fighting a war against Islam, because it is what he would do in our place. He would have had no trouble understanding the America of 1945 that meant what it said, but he is lost trying to comprehend the America of 2013 which only wants to be liked, even when it's dropping bombs.

Hasan wants us to know that he hates us, but our leaders are terrified of the idea of being hated. Ever since Hiroshima, we want the world to love us. We don't want to be seen as the madmen who snuffed out hundreds of thousands of lives. Our enemies are not afraid to be feared and hated. We are.

Our greatest weakness is that we want our enemies to love us. And so we pretend that our enemies are really our friends. We turn wars into humanitarian exercises that inflict a much worse toll on both sides than an actual war would have and then we wonder what went wrong.

Now America faces an enemy whose chief power is hate. The Islamic terrorist has no other real asset except his hate. Unfortunately hate is our weakness. We are an empire terrified of being hated, a world power that shrivels at the thought that someone might not like us. And so the nation that dropped two atomic bombs in August 1945 wilts before the hatred of a Nidal Hasan in August 2013.


  1. Do you want to put a knot in a liberal's panties? Observe that more American lives are destroyed in abortion clinics EVERYDAY than died in the Twin Towers on September 11.

    So is it just a matter of body-count or not? They cannot have it both ways.

  2. Anonymous12/8/13

    Nidal Hasan, defending himself, insists he is an Islamic terrorist while the US Government insists that he isn't. It would be comical if not for the human carnage.

  3. Anonymous13/8/13


    Your analysis is always superb.

  4. Sadie13/8/13

    My only quibble is with the last paragraph. It's not about being liked or hated, it's another layer of control upon the masses, including the military.

    We have been pc'd, ridiculed and ostracized if we don't "turn the other cheek". The Nidal case best exemplifies the price that was paid.

    The cancerous (let's be friends) mindset post WWII has metastasized and the timing couldn't be worse with Obamacare, which also stands as a metaphor for our ills.

  5. Just a common 'tater13/8/13

    Another pointed analysis of the anally located thinking mechanism of our leadership.

    First, it was a tragedy for many Japanese civilians that we nuked them. I've been to Hiroshima and the museum there. I cannot imagine (although I have read the accounts) of what it was like there when they got nuked and the aftermath. That being said, it was the Japanese leadership that started that crap by senselessly bombing non-military targets and rampaging through civilian populations after conquering them. I recently learned from reputable military sources that not only did the Japanese soldiers torture and mutilate our soldiers when captured, they ate them. Ever wonder why many GI's, Marines, and Sailors did not talk about WWII? Now I know why. There were no tears shed when caves and bunkers got blown or burned out. No tears shed when cities were showered with incendiary bombs and finally nuked. I cannot imagine anyone in their right mind wanted to fight the length of Japan after Manila, IJ, and Okinawa.

    Second, the leftists cry over Cuernavaca as it was bombed by the fascists, but the US and Brits are vilified that we needlessly bombed Dresden for no reason at all (except maybe it was full of Nazis?). No similar criticism of Stalin when his troops leveled cities and ravaged civilian populations, or when the soviets tore up Budapest in 1956.

    The Viet Minh/Cong terrorized, tortured and murdered Vietnamese, but that never made the news here. However, we have no excuse regarding the recent reincarnation of the fascists in head scarfs. The acts of these "holy" warriors make the news daily.

    My conclusions are this: 1) OPEC oil money buys weapons, influence, silence and complicity. 2)The powers that be insist on treating terrorism as criminal acts as it relieves them of the responsibility of identifying the state sponsors of terrorism, declaring war on them, and obliterating them as we did Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan. See #1 for why.

  6. LadyMoonlight13/8/13

    Daniel, I think this is the best thing you have written since I have been coming to read your articles. It's bloody brilliant! I have been arguing the same ideas for years,just not so articulately. Well done. How do you stand on your readers posting your pieces in other forums so that people don't know of this site can still read your wisdom? I would like to post this somewhere else.

  7. I always welcome people sharing my work

  8. I sent an earlier version of this article, from Front Page Magazine, to my father, who is a WWII veteran. He fully agrees with the contrast between the current "war" and the war he fought where the desire to achieve victory was tantamount in the minds of all patriotic Americans. As he has said to me, "We did what we had to do."

  9. FrankS13/8/13

    Hassan was "workplace violence" in the same way that English soldier Lee4 Rigby's beheading after being run down in a car was a "traffic accident that went wrong".

  10. Shlomo ben Shmuel13/8/13

    Americans seem to have no conception of the wars in which the US is engaged or forcing other nations to engage. It’s understandable if their only source of news is the American media, since that is almost completely controlled by the pro-arab Obama and his appointed flunkeys. It is very clear for those who want to see the truth that obama is an effectively pro-arab agent, as are his minions. It is impossible to broker a real peace between Israel and the arabs, since the arabs don’t want peace. He is therefore using the power of the US and the lies of his minion Kerry to weaken Israel to the point where she can be destroyed. Is the Sultan suggesting that the US drop an atomic bomb on Israel, and settle the war? I’m sure 98% of the world will cheer.

  11. DenisO13/8/13

    Well said, as usual. It is as simple as that. Our leaders fear being hated more than they do our dedicated enemies. This simple message has to be circulated until it is put before their noses. They don't want to see it, but it must be said, and the People have to realize this fear of being hated is causing our insecurity and the loss of our blood and treasure.

  12. Anonymous13/8/13

    This is both brilliant and chilling. It's a sad reminder of the lack of backbone in America and the namby-pamby politicians (right & left) who are running our country straight into the hands of Islam with a wink & a wish instead of a fist and a sword. The progressives have been trying to get a stranglehold in America for many decades & this combination of political correctness & appeasement with Islam has given the Obama administration the 'perfect storm' they've needed to kill our country, or 'level the world's field'... I pray every day this isn't the end, and I'll go down fighting if it is, but it's difficult to stay optimistic at this point. Thank you for your words, Daniel; you give me many of the verbal tools I need to continue my battle.

  13. Anonymous13/8/13

    Devastating article as usual... Sultan Knish demolishes with historical knowledge and ruthless logic the PC arguments of the delusional liberal leftists and their omnipresent media. Congratulations once more!! [sniff... the world is gone so dumb I want to cry!!!]

  14. Anonymous13/8/13

    Re: I always welcome people sharing my work.

    I never thought about asking permission to share your work...I certainly should have! Your reply to LadyMoonlight allowed me to exhale. I share your articles every way I possibly can.
    - BarbaCat

  15. If I didn't want people to share my articles why would I write them?

    So I can hoard them, put them under my pillow and sleep on them?

  16. Anonymous14/8/13

    Sultan, More information (from Wikipedia) for your readers on Kawakita. I had not heard of his case, and appreciate your bringing it up.

    "On September 2, 1948, a jury of 9 men and 3 women found that Kawakita owed allegiance to the United States during his residence in Japan. Charged with 15 overt acts, he was found guilty of eight. His U.S. citizenship was revoked, and he was sentenced to death.

    Kawakita appealed the decision to the United States Supreme Court, which heard it in April 1952. On June 2, 1952, the Supreme Court ruled to support the lower court's judgment and confirmed Kawakita's death sentence.

    However, President Dwight D. Eisenhower viewed the punishment as excessive and on October 29, 1953 commuted Kawakita's sentence to life imprisonment. Ten years later, during the closing of Alcatraz prison where Kawakita was serving his time, President John F. Kennedy pardoned him on October 24, 1963 on the condition that he be deported to Japan and banned from American soil for life.[2]

    --Jerry W.

  17. I never quite understood why Truman was so sure that Japan would surrender, or for that matter why they actually did so. They were so ruthless and devoted to their ideology to the point of suicide, so why was the nuclear attack so effective? Perhaps they thought that the U.S. had and endless supply of A-bombs to drop on them?

    In any case, it is not clear to me that Islam (which in any case does not have a central leadership as Japan did) would somehow surrender even after a devastating attack. Of course, this does not justify appeasement of evil, but the proper means of subduing it are not obvious.

  18. Mr. Greenfield, you outdo yourself every day, but this column is going to be hard to top.

  19. yup Jerry, liberalism won out

    rowboat, thank you

    FSY, the Japanese strategy depended on sucking the US into an extended war of attrition, a pre-vietnam vietnam that would exhaust and destroy the US.

    The atom bomb wiped out that strategy. They were left with the stark choices of surrender or mass suicide.

    And in the end, mass suicide proved to be a bluff.

  20. Anonymous14/8/13

    @fsy: President Truman was not "...so sure that Japan would surrender...", but the atom bombs were all he had available as an alternative to an invasion of Japan's Home Islands. The generals of the time and their staffs estimated about twenty million Japanese casualties (both military and civilian) and two to three million U.S. military casualties, if we invaded Japan, in a campaign taking three to five years. Whether they were accurate or not, those projections were what Truman had to work with and he desperately wanted to avoid that. Why did Japan surrender? Because the Emperor believed Truman had more atomic bombs and was certain he would use them if he had them. Yes, other cities had been bombed into rubble, but after many days and many aircraft. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were one plane, one dead city. Horrific at the time, and so the Emperor Hirohito overruled his military government and announced the surrender of Japan over the radio to the entire Empire to avoid a nation of Hiroshimas and Nagasakis. He said as much, many years later. Certainty only appears in retrospect; in prospect, one must throw the dice and pray to one's gods.
    (Comment by Ike)

  21. DAN III15/8/13

    "Had Oswald been tried for treason after his return from Russia, the Kennedy assassination would have never happened;"

    As a 10 year old boy when JFK was assassinated I had already questioned how Oswald had accomplished such with the poor quality Manlicher-Carcano. There is overwhelming evidence that JFK was the victim of a conspired assassination. The "magic bullet" theory of the Warren Commission was an obvious lie used to justify the argument of a lone gunman. I must say Mr. Greenfield, after reading your remark that Mr. Oswald was the lone perpetrator of this heinous crime, your ignorance on this matter is disappointing.

  22. Daniel, while I generally agree with your post, I think you (like most of us including myself till 3 months ago) mis-diagnose the reason for the Japanese surrender. The very compelling article at Foreign Policy (http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/05/29/the_bomb_didnt_beat_japan_nuclear_world_war_ii) had me convinced that what caused the Japanese surrender was not the atomic bombs (how much everyone liked to think) but Japan's rulers fear of Stalin and the USSR which were neutral up until around that time in the war.


  23. Fear of a Soviet invasion was certainly a factor, but as long as Japan believed that it could hold off the US through attrition...


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