Thursday, 7 August 2008

"To bomb or not to bomb. That is the question"

This is a survey form used amongst engineers and others working on the first atomic bomb. They were to complete it against a situation that was well detailed. 
"This is the straightforward poll of Compton and Daniels which asked 250 scientists at the Chicago Metallurgical Laboratory arm of the Manhattan Project in pre-Trinity July, 1945. (Originally published as “A Poll of Scientists at Chicago, July 1945,” in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, February 1948, 44, p63. and again published in Compton’s Atomic Quest in 1956.) You can take this test anonymously. Please try and keep in mind the time and place of the events unfolding: the Japanese resistance to the unconditional surrender ultimatum developing at Potsdam; the resistance to massive air raids; the tenacious fighting in the islands at the outreaches of the Empire; the thousands of American POWs; the circulating estimates of the coming Japanese invasion casualties (hundreds of thousands of Americans, far more so Japanese), and so on. 

An earlier survey gave the results:
that the weapon be used against Japan at the earliest opportunity, that it be used without warning, and that it be used on a dual target, namely, a military installation or war plant surrounded by or adjacent to homes or other buildings most susceptible to damage.
So, whilst we here and now can only indulge in Monday morning Quarter-backing, it seems that there were proper attempts to validate the use of such a monstrous weapon. What we cannot know of course is how many of those who voted for to wipe a large city off the physical map of the world had any real and practical idea of just what the weapon would do. Of course, the old colonial thinking of "it's not really a big place and it is a long long way away" was still current. 
As an impressionable kid, I can remember that the Japanese were depicted as sub-human slaughterers with whom we had no common values. Far worse than the propaganda image of the Germans and their concentration camps.
I doubt that any survey today would come up with such findings. I would hope so.
I have been to both cities. The destruction that remains - more so in Nagasaki - is extensive but seems no worse than the then current photographs of German cities that had been destroyed in carpet bombing. Dresden and Hamburg casualty lists matched as well. Dresden in just two days "Estimates of civilian casualties vary greatly, but recent publications place the figure between 24,000 and 40,000 killed". Hamburg had a similar death toll but over the duration of about a month. 
Deaths at Hiro were about 78,000 killed and at Nagasaki about 45,000 died. The butcher's bill for the Somme in WWI was about 20,000 for the first day alone.

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