Rabbit Holes of History: Japan, War & Post-war (incl. O. Stone + D. MacArthur) & Micronesia

plane on Palau island of Pelilu – site battle of Bloody Nose Ridge between Imperial Japan and Allied forces

My pal Tom wrote the following (March 27, 2017): 

Been watching Oliver Stone’s “History of the United States” on Netflix. I’ve read a lot of history, but this is really eye-opening stuff. Particularly, my opinion of Harry Truman has been completely altered. He knew the Japanese were going to surrender, but chose to drop the world’s first atomic bombs anyway, against the advice of the scientists who developed it and indeed 6 out of 7 of his own generals, simply to show the Soviets that America would not hesitate to invoke vast civilian casualties. In that context, it has to be one of the most reprehensible decisions in the history of the world.

Of course he was also an enthusiastic racist to his core, and did not see the Japanese as human beings.

I would recommend this series to anyone who wants to get beyond the propaganda and find a more accurate picture of the true heroes and villains of our recent history.

To which i replied: 

I’ve gone down this topic very deeply over the last few months with 3-20+ hour-long audiobooks, several documentaries and so on.

If you will permit me a few notes:


The behind the scenes negotiations between the Japanese state department and non-militarists with various American agencies was ongoing for months and months before hand. People think of the Japanese (during the war) as one homogenous unit where in reality, there were the militarists, the imperial household/emperor, state department, and then “regular folks”. In many ways, these factions were pulling against each other — some were negotiating directly with the US to end the war months before either bomb when they knew the war was lost, while others, were spreading propaganda that the Japanese forces had invaded California successfully.

The “surrender” wasn’t easy to effectuate –just getting Japanese soldiers to lay-down arms, the various generals and militarists in Parliament to actually believe that this was the emperors wish, the emperor trying to make his voice heard even though he wasn’t really trained and had been railroaded into the war, and various diplomats on both sides trying to communicate through some secure channel which was almost impossible to establish.

After the Nagasaki bombing, that the “surrender” still took weeks to actually codify — breaking down day by day action from that bombing to the signing of the declaration on the USS Missouri and the landing of MacArthur at Atsugi and the impending five-year US-led allied occupation is fascinating and not near as clear-cut as the stories we’ve been told.

During these tumultuous weeks, various Japanese military factions staged coup attempts, mass suicides, storming the palace to seize the two copies of vinyl records the emperor had recorded which were played over the radio (keep in mind, this was the first time most Japanese people had heard the voice of their “God like” ruler)… plus the logistical preparations of receiving the US advance landing for us (who were not overly thrilled to be picked for that mission).

Indeed, the Russians (rather opportunistically) entering the war meant the Japanese would have to fight on two fronts and keep in mind, the Japanese and Russians have been at war on and off for many years, in fact, MacArthur had helped the Japanese in their campaign against the Russians decades previous.

As for Truman, who was a over-whelmed political lightweight by any measure (and slid into the VP position by party demagogues who wanted Roosevelts usual running mate out of the picture because he was a legit socialist), had no idea that the atomic research was even going on. He and Roosevelt had barely spoken by the time FDR died. Then he got the news that the US had this powerful weapon and, they needed an experiment so went after civilian targets which hadnt previously been bombed so they could really measure the impact.

Worth noting that the fire bombing of Tokyo took at least as many lives as either of the atomic bombs.

As an aside, I lived on the island of Guam and visited the island of Tinian where the Enola Gay launched from, and visited the island Pelilu, Palau and stood at the top of a bloody nose ridge which really gives a perspective on the atrocities of the war, on both sides.

I’m not necessarily an Oliver Stone fan and try to stay away from hyperbolic discussion of the war, but it’s safe to say that the cut and dried impression, especially of the Russians role in both the European front and the pacific front, is an under understood storyline.

One more anecdote, after the Pearl Harbour bombing (which by any measure should have been expected) the US Army in the Philippines under General MacArthur was told to go on full alert and anticipate and attacked by the Japanese. Big Mac decided he knew better and sure enough, the next day the Japanese destroyed an entire fleet of US bombers, decimating the US reserves in Asia. FDR squash the story as he figured the US public couldn’t take to disasters that close together. The Japanese quickly took the Philippines and fucked that poor little country over, MacArthur escaped to Australia while his colleagues became famous in the Bataan death march, MacArthur returned as he promised, what was left of the Philippines was bombed to shit.

Later, to be 29 MacArthur flew in when he returned to Japan (he had been an attaché to his General father and met Emperor Hirohito’s father previously), he renamed the plane Bataan. He also ordered his command group to leave their weapons on board as a swaggered out of the plane unarmed.

The Tokyo for crimes trial included a representative charge from nine different Allied countries (including a Canadian representative) but MacArthur had complete command over the puppet-like Allied Far East Committee, and constantly tangled with the US Congress, State Department and Truman.

Pardon various typos and sloppiness, I’m on my phone but wanted to chime in.

Also, if interested, i can share a reading (and watching list) about this topic.

tl;dr

Wars are far more complex than the simple stories which drift down through history.

++

Living in the Micronesian islands and hitchhiking around Japan gave me a spark to learn everything I could about this strange time of history. Was hard for me to get my head around how people can be so decent and kind in these times, yet to generations before, were ruthless killers / turns out it just takes a few maniacs in power and a lot of brainwashing about exceptionalism and public peer pressure to send a culture off the rails.