The end of a war is often a dangerous time because accelerating military technology overruns decelerating military need. The use of nuclear weapons at the end of World War II is a good case in point. From November, 1944, the US was able to bomb Japan from air bases in the Mariana Islands. Strategic bombing destroyed a total of 64 Japanese cities, not counting Hiroshima and Nagasaki. US submarine forces were also effectively destroying Japanese merchant shipping. According to the US Air Force’s ‘US Strategic Bombing Survey Summary Report (Pacific War)’ Japan would have surrendered in a few more months as a result of this destruction and economic strangulation. Military historian H. Michel (‘The Second World War’, 1975, p.767) writes that the US Navy reached a similar conclusion. Nuclear weapons were not necessary to end the war.
To the contrary, the development of nuclear weapons may have hindered the military campaign against Japan and even prolonged the war. Four Japanese cities had been selected as targets for nuclear attack: Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Kokura, and Niigata. These preselected cities were indeed strategic military targets. Hiroshima was a military command centre, with 150,000 troops. It was the major port of embarkation for Japanese forces being shipped south into the Pacific. It had oil refineries and munitions factories. Nagasaki was a military shipyard. Kokura was Japan’s largest arsenal. Niigata was the biggest port on the Japan Sea and an industrial center with rich energy resources. These cities, with their military operations and strategic industries, were not among the 64 cities destroyed by conventional bombing. They were spared. It seems that the new nuclear bombs had to be used against intact cities, otherwise it would be difficult to see the effects of the nuclear blast. For example, prior to its nuclear destruction, Hiroshima was attacked only twice, once on March 19 by a squadron of bombers and once on April 30 by a lone plane. That was at a time when other Japanese cities were being bombed by hundreds of planes.
To some undetermined degree, US casualties in the Pacific during the last 10 months of the war may have been caused by by the decision to save Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Kokura, and Niigata for nuclear destruction. Ships, fuel, troops, and ammunition killing US service men were coming from cities that would have been attacked if the nuclear program had not had priority over military operations.
There was no military necessity to use nuclear weapons, and certainly no hurry. Rather, the US had the luxury and the confidence to preserve major Japanese military targets for its nuclear experiment. And that is what it was. An experiment. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not so much victims of war as they were victims of military technology. When military scientists went to those cities as soon as they could, they went to examine destroyed structures. For example, a bent iron fence, photographed from 6 different angles. Those photographs, and many like them, have been retrieved from US military archives and are now on display in Hiroshima’s atomic bomb museum. To see them, makes one realize how calculated and clinical was the first use of nuclear weapons.
I do not wish to argue that death and destruction by conventional bombs is somehow more acceptable than that by nuclear bombs. The March 10, 1945, fire bombing of Tokyo was indeed horrific and caused more death and destruction than the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima or Nagasaki. However, it needs to be understood that nuclear weapons did not serve to defeat Japan. Nuclear weapons did not save lives. They were used when the war was essentially over. The war was an excuse, an opportunity, to try out nuclear warfare. Accelerating military technology had overrun decelerating military need.
For our present safety and our future well-being, it is vital that we understand this and that we now create the political will to decelerate our military technologies in step with the deceleration of military need. If we do not learn the lessons of history, we may well repeat them. In 1945, the Pacific War was over and we had Fat Man and Little Boy. In 1990, the Cold War is over and we have cruise missiles, Trident submarines, and Star Wars.
248 University Avenue
Kingston, ON K7L 3P6
March 31, 1990
Members of Science for Peace should be aware of a sinister military development near the US-Canadian border, 80 miles south of Ottawa. It is called Fort Drum, and is very near a former centre of US military activity during the War of 1812 and subsequent US-Canadian hostilities such as the Oregon Crisis. It has 90,000 full-time and reserve troops and is the largest Army construction project since World War II’ . It is strategically located near Canada’s national government at Ottawa, right at the juncture of Canada’s major ethnic fissure between English Ontario and French Quebec, and is in a position to sever Canada’s central highway, railway, seaway and communication lines between East and West. Its light infantry troops ‘would be most useful in quick, offensive operations against an ill-prepared foe. They are surprise-attack specialists. Light infantry create a shock effect by the suddenness and fierceness of their attack and always relies on surprise achieved through stealth, deception, silence and maneuver on foot’ (Scott R. McMichael, _Military Review 65.9, 1985, 22-28). Canada’s undefended border is an ideal site for deployment of such a force.
The troops at Fort Drum can, moreover, only be used for rapid attack against a nearby undefended area, because the Fort Drum garrison possesses only heliocopter air transport. It has neither the airfield nor the aircraft for overseas deployment. Furthermore, the troop contingent is equipped and trained solely for the winter conditions of the surrounding US-Canada border area.
All this is reported with meticulous documentation by Floyd Rudmin in his revealing article, ‘Offensive Light Infantry Forces at Fort Drum: Why should Canadians care?’ (Queen’s Quarterly 96.4, Winter 1989, 886-917).
Canada’s current government, as we well know, has recently signed a free-trade agreement with the US which provides the US with essentially unrestricted access to Canada’s vast energy supplies, corporate ownership and markets. That is, it provides the United States with escalating incentive to use military force, as we know it does, to ‘protect its vital interests.’ Canada is increasingly the US’s major external economic interest.
Why then would Canada’s External Affairs and Department of Defence establishments allow such a potential military threat as the Fort Drum invasion-force right next to its capital city? Canada’s former Ambassador for Disarmament, the Hon. Douglas Roche, has publicly acknowledged that US control of Canada’s External Affairs ‘operates at every level, and it operates in varying degrees from subtlety to crude threats.’ (Kitchener- Waterloo Record, Oct. 28, 1989). Canada’s air defence is already under US NORAD command. Moreover, Canada’s military policy is, as Mr. Roche also observes, ‘acquiescing in the US escalation of the arms race, under the camouflage of supposed disarmament.’ Note that the Canadian government has just raised its military budget for use against US-designated enemies by 10% over the next 2 years — at the height of the Warsaw Pact’s radical demilitarization, and while making major cuts to federal budgets in education and other civilian sectors.
It is a well-established fact that military forces the world over are most frequently deployed these days against their own people. We should not underestimate the extent to which the US military establishment is now geared for use against Canadians, with Canada’s military establishment well trained to maintain its accustomed subordinacy. Given a free-trade prime minister with the current support of only 17% of the population and a rising majority of Canadians opposed to free trade, and given that with this free trade agreement especially, the US has immense and growing economic interests inside of Canada’s borders, the US Fort Drum garrison at the most strategically vulnerable point of our undefended border cannot be sensibly ignored.
It is not reassuring in this context to know that ‘during the US negotiations with Mexico … for the inclusion in the (free trade) agreement of an American promise not to use military intervention to enforce any trade disputes, the United States refused to agree’ (Rudmin, p.906).
Department of Philosophy
University of Guelph
March 30, 1990
ISSN 1925-170X (Print) | ISSN 1925-1718 (Online)