I sneaked up to Gora today to see how the Soviet diplomats were getting along._The village itself was quiet; the streets were almost deserted; the front yard of the hotel where the Russians have been interned was silent and empty; there was not a policeman in sight. The Hakone mountains had never seemed so far away from the war.
Then after lunch the Burmese military attache abruptly told us that Japan had sued for peace. We could not believe the news. And when San Francisco confirmed it, hour after hour, we subconsciously protected ourselves from disillusion by worrying over the condition attached by the Japanese government, namely, that the prerogatives of the emperor as sovereign would not be impaired. would the Americans reject the condition as against the Potsdam declaration? On the other hand, would the Japanese sacrifice their emperor for peace? Once again we tugged and pulled at the puzzle, with the exasperated feeling that the answer was already known.
The Burmese military attache thought that perhaps the Japanese had purposely put a condition that would at the same time appear reasonable and yet be unacceptable in order to solidify public opinion at home and divide it abroad. The suggestion did not sound far-fetched. The emperor was eminently the one condition on which the Japanese could agree, the one condition for which they would all be ready to perish. He was also one condition which could be calculated to divide the Americans who believed so passionately in leaving other people alone to choose their own form of government. What a masterful intrigue if it were true!
But the new bomb floated ominously over these intricate and subtle calculations; what did the cunning of diplomatists and the fanaticism of peasants avail against this imponderable atom dangling from its parachute? While the air crackled with its secret offers, the vernaculars published today the first eyewitness accounts of Hiroshima. The Yomiuri, which also noted briefly that another “new-type bomb” (in the singular) had been dropped on Nagasaki on the 9th, carried the following description by one of its correspondents:
“On the morning of the 8th August I entered the suburbs of Hiroshima in a truck with a group of civilian defense corps members from the city of Kaidaichi… All buildings on the ground had been razed and turned into heaps of debris. All the trees along the road, which once must have had an abundance of green leaves on their branches, were burnt black, bare to the trunk. The city had been turned into such a ruin that we covered our eyes….
“Judging from what I have been told by some of the inhabitants, the bomb may be a sort of high-heat flash-bomb which explodes with strong power and simultaneously emits a high~heat flash. One of the eye-witnesses of the explosion, Ai Miyano, told me: “when I heard the droning sound of an enemy plane I went outside and looked up. I noticed a black object falling lightly through the air. At this moment a red-and-blue flash struck me, causing me to feel as if I had been burnt by a blast of extreme heat. I grew dizzy.”
“According to others, the enemy plane was seen over the city but it was gone at the time of the explosion. This shows that the new bomb, after being dropped, apparently continues to float in the air until the plane which had dropped it gets outside the range of the explosion….
“Many of the people killed were buried under the falling houses; those who were in the open were burnt by the heat. Only those who sought shelter in air-raid-defense trenches were saved.”
The Times in turn quoted today another eye-witness, Seiichi Miyata of Higashiku, Osaka, who was in Hiroshima at the time of the attack. “When the enemy super-forts appeared over the city,” recalled Miyata, “I was at an hotel some kilometers from the central section. First I heard the faint roar of a plane flying at a high altitude. I went to one of the windows facing south and a friend of mine went to the opposite side. In the meantime the roar of the plane had ceased. Then suddenly a dazzling flash came, as bright as a photographer’s flare covering the whole area. when, in no time, I felt a hot pressure, immediately followed by a deafening detonation. My friend and I rushed into the room and flung ourselves flat on the floor. My friend suffered a burn in the corner of one eye. Fortunately I myself escaped injury.
“Looking around I saw the bedding, that had been put out to dry, torn to bits. Flecks of cotton from the mattresses and quilts were lying about the room. All the glass windows and paper sliding-doors were scattered over the place.
“Later, walking around the streets, I saw that most of the wooden buildings had been demolished, the glass windows of concrete structures smashed, and furniture hurled here and there. At a certain national school, the children, who had been doing physical exercises in the open without much clothes on, suffered severe burns The skin had been torn off and they were in agony although the scorched parts were not bleeding much. some were covered with blisters. Most of the city residents near the area where the bomb was dropped suffered more from burns than from wounds.
“Solid wooden buildings, such as shrines, temples, and hotels, remained intact and those who quickly took shelter in them as soon as they saw the flash, escaped injury. Considering this, it is apparent that speedy action in taking shelter is absolutely necessary…. The effect of the new-type bombs is not so absolute as generally imagined.”
Presumably on the basis of these first-hand experiences the air defense headquarters has issued further instructions on how to deal with the new bomb. There is a frantic reiteration about them that borders on hysteria.
“1. It is very effective to seek safety in an air-raid shelter. It is necessary to repair and strengthen shelters which are covered.
“2. In regard to dress, one should expose as little of the body as possible. Otherwise one will suffer burns.
“3. The use of an air-raid-defense hood and gloves will prevent burns in the head, face, and hands.
“4. If there is no time to seek safety in an air-raid-defense shelter or if there is none in the neighborhood, one should lie flat on the ground or utilize a solid building for protection. But it is important to seek safety in an outside shelter.
“5. If the above points are remembered together with thos -previously announced, the new-type bomb will not prove to be so powerful.”
Meantime the Japanese government has filed a protest against the use of the bomb. The note was sent through the Swiss yesterday. Possibly it is important for the record. At any rate the Japanese can get from it their first accurate idea of the new bomb.
“On the 6th of August,” reads the note, “an American plane dropped a new-type bomb in the city area of Hiroshima and instantly killed and wounded many citizens and destroyed a major portion of the city. The city of Hiroshima is a common ordinary urban community without any particular military defense facilities and, as a whole, does not possess any characteristics which can be called military objectives.
“By the actual damage done, the area which has been hit extends widely. The persons within that area were killed or wounded by the vacuum caused by _____ and the heat radiating from the bombs, whether they were combatants or non-combatants, men or women, old or young. The scope of the damage done was general as well as great. Moreover, judging from the individual cases of injury, it was unprecedentedly cruel.
“A combatant has no right to use indiscriminately means of doing harm to the enemy. He ought not to use weapons, missiles, or other substances which will give pain to others unnecessarily. These are the fundamental principles of international law. This is the reason why these principles are set forth in Articles 22 and 23 of the regulations concerning laws and customs of land fighting in the document attached to the treaty concerning such laws and customs.
“The American government has stated on more than one occasion since the outbreak of the war that as the use of poison gas or of any inhuman means of warfare is regarded as illegitimate by public opinion in civilized society, it would not use these means unless the other party did the same. The bomb which has been used by America is far more inhuman than poison gas and other weapons whose use is prohibited because they cause harm indiscriminately and because they are cruel.
“America, in disregard of international law and the fundamental principles of humanity, has bombed various cities and towns over a wide area in Japan, and has killed numerous old persons, children, and women. It has demolished and burned shrines, temples, school buildings, hospitals, and houses in general. It has now committed a sin against the culture of the human race by using a bomb which harms more indiscriminately and is more cruel than any weapon or missile which has been used in the past.
“The Japanese government, in its own name and in the name of the entire human race and of civilization, hereby accuses the American government. At the same time it demands strongly that America refrain from using such inhuman weapons.”
So far the official note. Yesterday the Times accented the protest with unofficial rhetoric. Hiroshima was “no mere excess committed in the heat of battle. It was an act of premeditated wholesale murder.” It was not even murder; it was pure nihilism“, “a crime against God and humanity which strikes at the very basis of moral existence.”
“What more barbarous atrocity can there be than to wipe out at one stroke the population of a whole city without distinction –men, women, and children; the aged, the weak, the infirm; those in positions of authority and those with no power at all; all snuffed out without being given a chance of lifting even a finger in either defense or defiance! The United States may claim… that a policy of utter annihilation is necessitated by Japan’s failure to heed the recent demand for unconditional surrender,” concluded the Times, “but the question of surrendering or not surrendering certainly can have not the slightest relevance to the question of whether it is justifiable to use a method which, under any circumstance, is strictly condemned alike by the principles of international law and of morality.”
Aside from the obvious relish with which the Japanese, standing at last on sure ground, pay back the Americans with their own coin or atrocity charge and moral indignation, the note and the editorial raise a legitimate point. But it is a point as old as war itself, as old as the question of the end justifying the means.
How much does victory justify? Whatever the moralists and the lawyers may say, the brutal fact, of course, is that victory justifies anything. That may not be a moral fact but it is a psychological fact. The Japanese warlords know it as well as any other soldier; if they had discovered the “atomic” bomb, they would not have hesitated to use it in spite of any Article 22 or Article 23. This has been true since men first started killing one another; the ultimate consideration was kill or be killed. Modern wars have been increasingly more horrible not because human nature has grown more corrupt and callous but only because human ingenuity has conceived and fashioned more terrible weapons. He who can, does; he who cannot, dies.
All the fine distinctions and delicate scruples of theologians are swept away by that awful compulsion. The Americans, who recoiled in horror from the bombing of London, were just as ruthless in wiping out Berlin, Hamburg, and a hundred other cities in Germany; when it came to saving the life of one American soldier, what did a hundred thousand krauts matter? The winners are decorated, the losers are shot as war-criminals. Slaughter by your side is military necessity; slaughter by the other side is an atrocity, “inhuman”, “unjustifiable”, “a crime against God.”
The truth is that war itself is an atrocity. War produces only gradations of atrocity. Is a blockade, strangling an entire people in slow death by starvation, any less “indiscriminate” than pattern~bombing or “atomic” disintegration? Does a jagged scrap of bomb-casing, tearing through the intestines, cause less “unnecessary” pain than a blast of heat that tears off the skin? If their condition for peace is rejected, the Japanese warlords will hurl their people into national suicide. Will this be less “cruel” or more “justifiable” than national murder?