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The True Cost of the War

March 2023
1min read

Many observers ignore the real cost of Japan's war in eastern Asia.

I sharply remember the moment when my grasp of the most searing moral issue of the end of the Asia Pacific War vaulted from a strong but detached intellectual plane to a vastly more wrenching visceral urgency. Beside me at an academic conference at the University of Montana in 2000 sat a historian from the People’s Republic of China. We listened attentively to a presentation reciting the standard litany of damning arguments about the end of the Asia Pacific war, centered on the atomic bombs.

Highlights included: 1) The Japanese were on the verge of surrender; 2) American leaders knew this and by nefarious actions delayed the surrender so the atomic bombs could be deployed, primarily not to end the war but to intimidate the Soviet Union; and 3) claims that US leaders feared massive American casualties in an invasion were invented after the fact.

But as we listened, my colleague first looked baffled. Then his tight face and body language conveyed his anger. At the end he leaned over to me and said pointedly: “I see you have a lot of work to do in this country.”

I understood the wellspring for his eruption of anger — and for the first time sensed it in the gut as well as the brain: the stupendous disparity in blood between the number of Japanese civilians who were killed in the war and the number of other civilians, overwhelmingly Asians and particularly Chinese, whose lives Japan’s soldiers and scientists[KF8] extinguished in myriad horrors.

The presentation we just heard recited specific numbers of Japanese civilian deaths in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Graphic description of these deaths magnified tenfold or more the impact of simple figures. My prior inchoate thoughts crystallized around two basic principles essential to understand and above all to judge these events: 1) count all the dead and 2) treat all the dead as sharing a common humanity.

What upset my colleague was that the critique and many kindred others applied both principles to Japanese civilian deaths but denied equal treatment to the deaths of civilians who were not Japanese.

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Stories published from "Summer 2023"

Authored by: David Dean Barrett

A cataclysm became inevitable in the last months before Hiroshima.

Authored by: Richard B. Frank

Many observers ignore the real cost of Japan's war in eastern Asia.

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