LosingTheWar.doc

Shock over casualty figures from battles like okinawa

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shock over casualty figures from battles like Okinawa; Truman himself said that the invasion was likely to be Okinawa from one end of Japan to the other. Japanese casualties, if the same ratios held, would be in the millions. It was in the midst of these desolate calculations that the news arrived that the Manhattan device had been successfully detonated in the deserts of New Mexico. What can we fairly say about what happened next? Senior American decision makers knew that they’d just been handed an extraordinarily destructive new weapon, one that could kill tens of thousands of people instantly. It seems impossible to believe that this didn’t faze them — but why should it have? Tens of millions of people had already died, a significant percentage of them as the direct result of American action; one or two atomic bombs wouldn’t grossly alter that total. A firebombing raid in Tokyo that past April had killed more than 200,000 people, twice the number who would die at Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined, and nobody afterward used words like “war crime” or “genocide” to describe it. But weren’t they told about the nightmarish effects of the new bomb? Probably. At the least, the Manhattan scientists knew that radiation sickness would be a horrible way to die. But again, what difference would that have made? We forget just how many horrible ways to die the war had already created. Any visitor to a burn unit could see torments that made hell a redundant concept. There was no sense that the bomb was worse than any other weapon of the war. And the long-range consequences, the generations of genetic damage they were about to visit upon their victims? Not discussed, too speculative. It has to be remembered that few of the scientific breakthroughs of the war had yet made an impact on the civilian world, even the civilian world in Washington. Troops in the field were contending daily with radical innovations in electronics and medicine; the folks back home were living as they always had, in a world of glacial technological change. Less than half the households in America had been wired for phone service, and the government was still underwriting rural electrification projects to bring the vast areas outside big cities onto the power grid. People thought theoretical physics was as as eccentric and harmless as the study of Egyptian hieroglyphics. The standing joke in those days was that only six people in the world could understand Einstein — the implication being that nobody else needed to. So what it came down to was this: American planners didn’t understand and didn’t much care what the bomb did. They just wanted some big, nightmarish weapon that would break Japanese resistance once and for all — the bigger and the more nightmarish the better. And now they had it.
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The timetable can be followed closely. The first test of the bomb was on July 16, 1945.
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