Friday, March 05, 2010

Bombers from Guam

Was it really necessary to use the nuclear bombs to end WW2?

Conventional wisdom says that the allies, at one point of time, were convinced that the usual bombing would not work. So they resorted to `shock & awe` of new weaponry, and, as anticipated, the Japanese surrendered within weeks of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Unconventional wisdom says that the real point of using N-weapons was to stop USSR (and communism) from steamrolling across East Asia.

The latest New Yorker has some startling numbers. It quotes the former Secretary of State, Rober McNamara as saying that the B29 bomber raids accounted for 900,000 deaths in Japanese cities in just over six months. The two nuclear bombs, on the other hand, killed `just` 140,000 in Hiroshima and 75,000 in Nagasaki (including those who succumbed to radiation poisoing later).

One year before the Japanese surrender (Aug, 1945), in the beginning in June of 1944, the Mariana`s had been invaded, in a bloody Navy, Marine and Army operation, specifically to provide the closest base within reach of Japan for the B-29s. The clearing work and construction of heavy duty airstrips began even before the islands were secure.

800 bombers were then formed into five wings and based on the islands of Saipan, Guam and Tinian. Official figures had put the devastation caused by the B-29s before Hiroshima at 65 burnt out cities, 581 destroyed factories, 158 urban square miles turned to ashes, with accompanying casualties of 310,000 dead, 412,000 wounded and more than 9 million rendered homeless.

Wonder why there is such a huge difference between the previous official US statistic of 310,000 and 900,000 - the figures disclosed by Robert McNamara in 2003.

Whatever the actual story, there seems to be some merit in Hitler`s wry comment - `The victor will never be asked if he told the truth`. 

And maybe we`ll have to wait another fifty years to know what actually happened in Saddam`s Iraq.

  • The Guam Capers - A New Yorker stalwart exits the war (Roger Angell); The New Yorker, February 15-22, 2010, pp 78-87
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