I am here to write this column because of Harry Truman.
My late Dad, a decided Taft-Goldwater- Reagan conservative who died several years ago a few weeks shy of 90, often enough impressed on me that my very existence, not to mention his own, was owed to the man from Missouri who, in August of 1945, was the still-new 33rd President of the United States. He was forever grateful to the Democrat Mr. Truman. Why?
Dad, who served five years in the US Army beginning in August of 1942, was in the Philippines in August of 1945. Waiting…waiting…waiting for his orders to join the American forces who would be assigned the task of invading Japan. The goal: finally, finally putting an end to the murderous rampage of the Japanese throughout Asia and the Pacific, a rampage that had finally drawn America into the war with the attack on Pearl Harbor.
He was under no illusions about his chances of survival. By August of 1945 the cost in American lives in the slow, determined effort of American forces to defeat the Japanese in battles that stretched in island-hopping fashion across the South Pacific had been horrendous. Over 20,000 Americans had been killed in the battle of Okinawa alone, with another 55,000 wounded. Some 6800 had died on the island of Iwo Jima.
The Battle of Leyte, where my father had fought, had been key to re-taking the Philippines. That one battle in the Philippines campaign took 3500 American lives with almost 12,000 wounded. An invasion of the Japanese homeland would, Dad believed, cost multiples of these casualties combined - and he would be one of them.
All of this comes bracingly to mind this Memorial Day weekend as the media covers President Obama’s “hey-this-isn’t-really-an-apology-tour” apology tour of Hiroshima. Hiroshima where, on August 6, 1945 - as my father, a Captain of Field Artillery, sweated out nightmares of his future in the newly freed Philippines - President Truman had the atomic bomb dropped. Wrote Truman in his memoirs of his decision to drop the bomb:
“I had realized, of course, that an atomic bomb explosion would inflict damage and casualties beyond imagination. On the other hand, the scientific advisers of the committee (Truman had established a committee composed of government, science, university and business leaders to advise him on the use of the bomb) reported, ‘We can see no acceptable alternative to direct military use.’ It was their conclusion that no technical demonstration they might propose, such as over a deserted island, would be likely to bring the war to an end. It had to be used against an enemy target.
The final decision of where and when to use the atomic bomb was up to me. Let there be no mistake about it. I regarded the bomb as a military weapon and never had any doubt that it should be used. The top military advisers to the President recommended its use, and when I talked to Churchill he unhesitatingly told me that he favored the use of the atomic bomb if it might aid to end the war.
In deciding to use this bomb I wanted to make sure that it would be used as a weapon of war in the manner prescribed by the laws of war. That meant that I wanted it dropped on a military target. I had told (Secretary of War Henry) Stimson that the bomb should be dropped nearly as possibly upon a war production center of prime military importance.
…Four cities were finally recommended as targets: Hiroshima, Kokura, Niigata, and Nagasaki. They were listed in that order as targets for the first attack.”
And so it went. When Truman, then returning home from the Potsdam conference in Europe on the USS Augusta, received word that the attack on Hiroshima had been a success, he had a statement released in Washington that said:
“It was to spare the Japanese people from utter destruction that the ultimatum of July 26 was issued at Potsdam. Their leaders promptly rejected that ultimatum. If they do not now accept our terms, they may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth. Behind this air attack will follow sea and land forces such numbers and power as they have not yet seen and with the fighting skill they are already well aware.”
Truman’s plea fell on deaf ears in Tokyo. He continued:
“On August 9 the second atom bomb was dropped, this time on Nagasaki. We gave the Japanese three days in which to make up their minds to surrender, and the bombing would have been held off another two days had weather permitted...
This second demonstration of the power of the atomic bomb apparently threw Tokyo into a panic, for the next morning brought the first indication that the Japanese Empire was ready to surrender.”
And so it was. By August 14, a mere eight days after Truman had dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, the President gathered his wife and most of his Cabinet members in the Oval Office while read a short statement to the White House press corps. In he said: “I have received this afternoon a message from the Japanese Government…I deem this reply a full acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration which specifies the unconditional surrender of Japan.”
It was. In the Philippines, my father and his army buddies rejoiced. Outside the White House crowds immediately swarmed the streets. The celebration went on in cities and towns all over America, including my father’s hometown of Riverhead, New York where his fiancee-to-be, my mother, could now await his return with certainty.
Of the critics of his decision to drop the bomb, the decision that saved saved my father’s life and that of hundreds of thousands of American soldiers and sailors organizing for the invasion of Japan, Truman would later say: “That bomb caused the Japanese to surrender, and it stopped the war. I don’t care what the crybabies say now, because they didn’t have to make the decision.” Exactly.
But it is clear that one of those Truman critics in the modern world is the man who hold’s Truman’s old job and leads his old party — President Obama.
Listen to former UN Ambassador John Bolton as he discusses the treatment of Harry Truman by President Obama over there in Obama’s visit to Hiroshima. In an interview over on Breitbart’s Sirius XM show, Bolton said of Obama and Truman:
“‘I think the President’s other remarks, where he said the scientific revolution that brought us the splitting of the atom should have brought us a “moral revolution” as well, is a not-too-thinly veiled attack on Harry Truman, whose morals apparently didn’t quite make it up to Barack Obama’s high standards.’
‘This is a typically subtle Obama speech in many respects, but, make no mistake, it is the next stage, maybe the last act, of his apology tour,’ he added.
He noted that mainstream media coverage of Obama’s Hiroshima visit has missed the point that Obama ‘simply does not believe that the exercise of American power leads to a more peaceful world.’
….’Mr. High-Minded Obama doesn’t say what he would have done differently than what Harry Truman did, faced with the choice Harry Truman was faced with,’ Bolton pointed out. “This is just typical of Obama. He lives in an ideological world that has little or nothing to do with American reality.’”
Bolton, as usual, has it exactly right. The media coverage of Obama’s remarks does indeed miss the point that Harry Truman’s distant successor in the Oval Office “simply does not believe that the exercise of American power leads to a more peaceful world.” Worse still? One will look in vain to find media thank you’s to President Truman for his moral courage in saving not only those hundreds of thousands of American lives like my Dad’s but millions of Japanese lives as well, lives that were treated as worthless fodder for an imperialist Japanese military gone criminally, murderously insane.
Memorial Day is here. Yes, I know that it has morphed into a three-day holiday of picnics and pool openings and parades. Yet somehow, President Obama’s appearance in Hiroshima should remind us all of exactly why Hiroshima wound up being a target in the first place - and of all those American lives that were sacrificed to fight and end World War II, not to mention the sacrifices that were set to be made in an invasion of Japan that never, thankfully, had to take place.
So in this corner of the media universe? Thank you President Truman. Dad thanks you. Mom thanks you. And me too. More than you know.