Saturday, April 30, 2011

Scary Statistics I

As a history buff occasionally I come across a simple statistic that has mind-boggling implications. For example, since I was very young I’ve always made the argument that as dreadful as the use of the atomic bombs were, the loss of life from an invasion of the Japanese home islands would have been unimaginably horrendous.

I recently happened upon a news item that confirms my view. On the island of Okinawa, the local government built a memorial to all those who died in the fighting on that island from April to June of 1945. The memorial lists 240,734 names. More than half of the dead were Okinawan civilians. The US forces had assembled such massive firepower that they could kill about 9 Japanese soldiers for every American fatality. Anyone who bothers to do the research can find that Okinawa’s garrison was two reinforced divisions with 77,000 army troops. Hushu, the target of the planned US invasion of the Japanese home islands set to start December 1, 1945, had a garrison of over 14 reinforced divisions and over 900,000 troops (that’s what was available in August of ’45 when Emperor Hirohito gave the surrender order, no doubt they would have received additional reinforcements had the invasion actually gone forward). I encourage anyone who condemns the use of the atomic bombs to consider those figures and do the math.

One of the best books I’ve ever read about the fighting in the Pacific was William Manchester’s Goodbye, Darkness, which gives a stunning account of his experience as a sergeant in the 26th marine division on Okinawa. We’ve already mentioned in the fight for Okinawa, Manchester was wounded twice and his unit took 81 casualties. His conclusion: “Thank God for the atomic bomb.”

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