August 6th was the 70th anniversary of the atomic attack on Hiroshima and there was a lot of the usual hand-wringing about the deed from the usual suspects – Arthur K over at Ace has a good round up of counter-arguments to that sentiment. Most notably the fact that those who complain about the bombing aren’t those soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who would have had to invade Japan in November of 1945 if the Bomb hadn’t done the trick. I admit to a bias in this area as one of the Marines who would have had to hit the Japanese beaches was my father. There is a high probability that I wouldn’t exist if the Bomb hadn’t been dropped.
People also tend to just not know how savage the Pacific War was. I recently for the first time watched Flags of Our Fathers. It was a bit of a disjointed movie and I won’t put it down as one of Eastwood’s best efforts, but there is a scene in there which moved me nearly to tears. It is when the son of one of the Marines who raise the flag on Suribachi is talking to his aged, now-dying father in the hospital. It reminded me terribly of the last few days I had my father with me. As the story goes, that son never really knew what his father had done in World War Two – he only really found out by going through his father’s things after he died. I never even got that much.
My father never told me about the war. The only thing I ever got out of him was, “it smelled like blood and shit”. His battle was Saipan. Nearly 14,000 American casualties, including more than 3,400 dead – in less than a month of fighting. Japanese dead ran above 50,000, including around 20,000 civilian dead, many of whom committed suicide rather than fall into our hands, because the Japanese military told them we’d murder them all if captured. That is more than 53,000 dead in less than a month in an area less than 45 square miles. Just try, for a moment, to imagine what the place looked like on July 9th, 1944 when the island was declared secure. There must have been bodies just everywhere – and as it was war, the bodies would have been in quite a horrible state. Even if dad didn’t have to engage in hand-to-hand fighting, what his 17 year old eyes must have seen had to have been grim beyond description. Six months prior he was a high school boy living the sheltered life of the United States. And he carried that with him for 65 years. I wondered why he was so distant at times. But I think, now, I understand.