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Dan McLaughlin @baseballcrank
, 20 tweets, 4 min read Read on Twitter
1. This is an even-tempered thread with some important context on the Hiroshima & Nagasaki bombings, but it is also missing several kinds of crucial context on where "unconditional surrender" came from & why it stayed U.S. policy to the bitter end
2. "Unconditional surrender" wasn't Truman's idea; it had been FDR's publicly declared policy for over 2 years of war, and had been followed to the bitter end with the Germans. Truman had been in office 4 months.
3. Truman certainly wasn't shy about making his own decisions, but there was a lot of policy inertia behind unconditional surrender. FDR had seen it as important to secure Stalin's confidence in US commitment. Fear of a separate peace has haunted wartime alliances for centuries.
4. FDR, in turn, had drawn "unconditional surrender" from Lincoln's policy towards the Confederacy. As the leader of the party of the South, FDR was well aware that the crushing of the Confederacy had been key to why we never had another Civil War, Lost Causers notwithstanding.
5. By contrast, the whole generation of 1945 was haunted by the fact that the charnal house of WWI had been insufficient to convince the losers to never take up arms again. Nobody wanted another German or Japanese Dolchstoßlegende.
6. Recall Churchill's July 4, 1918 speech, which sadly presaged exactly the problem with Germany's attitude after the November armistice:
7. The need to batter the enemy into abject and total submission seems to us today something like barbarism. To the men of 1945, that animal spirit was in fact a coldly rational reading of very recent history and enduring human nature.
8. The South did not, in fact, rise again after 1865, not in rebellion. And Japan and Germany did not rise again to war after 1945. That remarkable fact, so at odds with the history of war, counsels against second-guessing the victors' relentlessness.
9. Then there is the question of 'fanatical' Japanese defense of the homeland. The Germans had fought with cornered ferocity to the end on their soil in April 1945, and the Japanese were not the Germans. They had no cultural precedent for surrender in war.
10. The experience of Iwo Jima and Okinawa had seen Japanese casualty rates - especially KIA - nearly unprecedented in the history of war; if anything, an escalation from the desperate fighting the US had faced earlier in the war.
11. The kamikaze barrage during the battle of Okinawa was, again, shocking to Americans at every level. Okinawa was subdued only six weeks before Hiroshima. US military planners had *hopes* of a Japanese surrender, but in the meantime they had the reality of Japanese suicides.
12. An invasion would have been staggeringly costly in lives. It's easy now to say an invasion would not have been needed, but WWII was full of things that moved swiftly from unthinkable to commonplace. The determination to bull through until the enemy submits had sustained us.
13. And of course, dropping atomic bombs seemed less shocking to people who had witnesses the atrocities on all sides of that war and ordered the incendiary bombing of Japan's major cities.
14. The atmosphere of the time was one in which US leaders defaulted to "whatever ends the war fastest is the most humane." That Shermanesque view, too, was both traditionally American and a rational response to those conditions. There'd always be fresh horrors until it was over.
15. No American president - not even Washington or Grant - had seen worse ground combat up close in his life than Truman, an artillery officer in the ghastly 6-week Meuse-Argonne offensive that ended WWI. Truman's sense of war was visceral.
16. As to wanting to head off the Soviets, given their train of atrocities in Europe and the history of Communism, it's hard to fault Truman for wanting both to forestall the Soviet advance and overawe them with American power. See, again, the specter of 1918.
17. By some counts, the Red Army raped about 2 million women in Germany and triggered a colossal refugee crisis. It's not an inconsiderable humanitarian thought to avoid a replay of that in the East.
18. Finally, histories that focus narrowly on what was said in the high chambers of US and Japanese policymakers take an unduly cramped view, especially given American democracy. Truman didn't just have strategic decisions to make, he had life and death choices to justify.
19. If Truman was harsh with the Japanese, he had a nation of grieving families behind him. Public opinion in 1945 showed many Americans wished we had dropped more bombs. Which, again, is an easy thing to deride cheaply from the distance of 2018.
20. So, Truman did what the righteous fury of four years of the bitterest war demanded, and made a lasting peace. You could say that of precious few of our wars since 1945, which suggests maybe Truman knew something we have forgotten about man and war.

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