“Hell no, we won’t go!”
60s anti-war slogan
It’s nice to have a birthday in the summer – guaranteed good weather (almost). My early parties were well attended (everybody home from vacation) and outdoors. But I know why seniors tend to disregard birthdays: as the number of enjoyed August 9ths gets more numerous, so does the number of anticipated August 9ths shrink.
As a speechwriter, I learned such obscure facts as my shared birthdate with Francis Scott Key and David Steinberg (whom I once saw live at Second City, back in the day). Nixon gave me the gift of resigning on Aug. 9, 1974. And in the mists of history, a battle was fought at Adrianople, a battle that helped decide the future of the Roman Empire, on August 9, 378. More recently, the sadly-departed little Cayley Anthony was born on August 9.
By far the most important August 9 was in 1945, when Nagasaki was obliterated, the second Japanese city to undergo such an unspeakable fate (but I agreed with Truman: it avoided millions of Allied casualties – more on that later). It was my second birthday; I didn’t notice.
The Japanese had been ravaging much of Asia for a decade, with their racist imperialism and their god-emperor. This mental disease made them fight like demons. It also excused their atrocites (see below)
The fight-to-the-death mentality was key. In pitched battle, the side that’s more ferocious and determined usually wins. One side starts thinking, They’re too tough, too many for us. Then come the losses, humiliations, and retreats. Holy shit, we’re dying like flies, let’s get the hell out of here alive. Young men, in a situation they never should have been in, killing and being killed by total strangers for no reason except that the Fuehrer or Emperor (or his proxies) says they must.
Triumph and Tragedy
The Japanese won again and again, and to prove their racial superiority, they indulged in atrocities like Nanking (mass rapes; competitions in chopping off Chinese heads) and the Bataan Death March. They did their share of hideous medical experiments, too.
But their arrogance slipped loose from reality. They attacked the US of A. It didn’t matter how many banzai charges they carried out on behalf of the Emperor in their mass psychosis. America could manufacture military firepower and marshal its own obedient mass of flesh — and replace losses much faster than the Japanese could.
America also had the brains and resources to develop a weapon of mass destruction. It was clear, perhaps from the Battle of Midway, that the Imperial Fleet was kaput, but against all reason, the Japanese fought on. They would have defended their homeland with the usual ferocity.
Only two gigantic explosive fireballs, two deafening, retina-searing conflagrations, two flesh- and concrete-vaporizing, radiation-burning, mushroom clouds could make them see reason. And even more incredible, they were hit with a weapon that afflicts generations to come, with cancers and genetic mutations!
UPDATE: The importance of long-held orthodoxy about the bomb has been challenged by new scholarship that convincingly argues that it was the fear of the USSR, not the bomb alone, that forced the surrender to the US. Even under this scenario, the inhumanity and insanity of the Japanese leaders and people are on proud display. The leaders weren’t overly concerned by the destruction of population centers - several dozen had already been demolished. Indeed, if al Qaeda took out NY or LA, we wouldn’t surrender. We would just become more determined. The Allied bombers should have pinpointed the Axis powers’ war making infrastructure. Literally destroy their ability to make war.
But back to Japan: the A-bomb destruction was no worse than the fire bombings, so the leadership didn’t give a shit. They were ready to tell the survivors to greet the invasion force of 700,000 — several times larger than D-Day — with sharpened bamboo sticks.
Then Japanese hopes of an alliance were dashed as the USSR attcked them. They were fucked. Rather than be split in half like Korea and Germany, they decided to surrender to us, to save the asses of the military bastards who ordered up all the horror, misery, and death. The Russians would have hanged them all and gang-raped their women.
And all of it…for what? Could the Japanese not have achieved an even greater prosperity – which they proceeded to do in the last half of the 20th century – by peaceful means? Sure, they’d still be deceitful gaijin-hating racists, but at least their aggression would be peaceful.
For what? Because the emperor was god, and it was noble to die for him? It’s a stretch of the imagination, but I can see how an entire isolated society, genetically homogeneous and docile by culture, could be enlisted in such a mad pursuit. Centuries of honor warfare, the bushido code, preceded the aggression of the 30’s and 40s. Centuries of people slicing people up…over nothing.
The centuries roll on, and dictatorships, failed states, and totalitarian regimes persist. America maintains its pretensions to world empire, as the costs in blood and treasure continue to mount. Strangers kill total strangers because some priest or politician told them it was the right thing to do. Is not war the ultimate mass consensual act? Yes, you and countless others must go kill those people who’ve done you no harm because they’re different, they’re the Others, they’re a threat.
Just before I wrote this, 22 Navy SEALS died in Afghanistan when their copter was shot down. What a waste: the training of these fine young warriors to endure physical discomfort of every kind, all the martial and survival skills they were taught, all the missions they trained for…and all of it blown away by one illiterate with a shoulder mounted grenade-launcher. With RPGs, IEDs, AK-47s, and other innovations, the individual can marshal the firepower of a whole World War II platoon (just guessing). Asymmetric warfare is thus successfully perpetuated, and America will never “win” in Afghanistan, just as there was no winning in Vietnam or Korea. Those powerful, well-trained SEAL bodies can be blown to bits (otherwise known as “remains”) as easily as you or I.
I heard that during a Christmas break in World War I (my #1 choice for Pointless Wars Started by Politicians; a whole generation was slaughtered), Brits and Germans played soccer and even exchanged gifts. What if that sentiment had spread to whole armies? Hey, there’s no reason for us to be here except for some fucking general who wants to prove his virility to some other general. I’m outta here.
I long for the day when words like “military courage” and “valor” are no longer corrupted and used to mean “died because some politician thought this war was the right thing.” Time and again, protestors and resisters to each war expressed themselves. THAT took courage and valor.
Many suffered, many became exiles (I was ready to go to Canada over Viet Nam), because patriotism, like religion, is cocaine for the soul, arousing great passion, and war-lovers have no room for doubt.
The volunteer army, with its cash incentives, was a brilliant stroke for war-loving politicians. The professionalism of militarism as a career (conveniently jibing with the complexity of modern warfare; it’s no longer just load, aim, and fire) has, as many have noted, separated the citizen population from the country’s military mercenaries. Unbridled militarism and war without end are a real possibility, especially since America doesn’t do pay-as-you-fight wars anymore (WWII was funded by temporary tax increases and war bonds) – it charges them to the next generation.
War without end. The military-industrial complex supplies an ever-expanding array of deadly hardware, to be placed in the hands of brainwashed adolescents who rationalize their risk-addiction under the guise of patriotism, whereas a moment’s thought could tell them that the nation’s fate is by no means at stake — or even involved. They just make up these fucking wars! No WMD’s in Iraq? Who gives a shit? That’s so 90s. But American blood and treasure were squandered there for years.
War without end. Trib columnist Steve Chapman notes that we’ve spent more on Iraq and Afghanistan than on ALL previous wars combined, adjusted for inflation. Total costs could exceed $7 trillion. Money out of your pocket. Money that won’t be used to balance the budget or rebuild bridges or provide needed services (see, I’m not a totally cold-hearted libtertarian). Money that will come out of your kids’ paychecks.
War without end. Military historian Edward Luttwak notes that the lesson of history is, sadly, that wars must be allowed to proceed to a conclusion, with a clear winner and loser. Intervention of a more powerful third party ensures endless strife, as each side thinks it can still win. Sound familiar?
As America continues its illegal, unconstitutional (only Congress has the power to declare war) worldwide military presence and interventions, and one nation after another acquires nuclear weapons (remember Tom Lehrer’s wry, prescient Who’s Next??), another 8/9/45 seems inevitable. But this one may take place in the USA.