Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Nagasaki and the Liberation of Hong Kong

As you will no doubt have seen everywhere, today marks the 60th anniversary of the dropping of the "Fat Man" atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Nagasaki. Our media today debates whether President Harry S. Truman really had to drop the bomb on Nagasaki, or whether he was just doing it to try out a plutonium bomb (the one dropped on Hiroshima three days earlier had been made with a uranium core). Protesters everywhere decry the use of nuclear technology as an unmitigated evil.

But we must remember the terrible evils that the empires of Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany wrought upon the lands they raped and devastated. The Allied leaders had to make many terrible, difficult choices. Truman calculated that the sheer power of the atomic bomb would cow the Japanese leadership into submission, and would make an amphibious assault on Japan unnecessary - an assault that was estimated to require the sacrifice of over a million casualties.

As we know today, Truman's calculation paid off. The dropping of the second nuclear bomb, combined with the entry of Russia into the war against Japan (Stalin declared war on August 8, 1945, and sent 1 million battle-hardened Russians into Manchuria against the Rising Sun) caused Japan's wartime head of state, Emperor Hirohito, to ask his generals and ministers to reconsider unconditional surrender. On 15 August, the Japanese finally declared their surrender.

And for Hong Kong, it spelled the end of 3 years and 8 months of darkness and terrible hardships, where half a million residents were deported to China to face starvation, thousands of Chinese tortured and murdered, well over 10,000 women raped, the Allied POWs sent to their deaths in work camps, and the people of Hong Kong sometimes forced quietly to resort to eating the flesh of their dead.

Colonial Secretary Gimson freed himself from the internment camp at Stanley and quickly set up a government until Admiral Cecil Harcourt was able to steam in on a transport from Australia to officially celebrate the return of Hong Kong to Britain (before Chiang Kai-Shek could grab the city first). The official surrender of the Japanese authorities to the British officials occurred at the end of August. The British breathed a sigh of relief that they, and not the Nationalists had been the ones to liberate the city, as otherwise it would likely have become just another part of China, a point Churchill was adamant not to accept.

To your right, you will see a picture of the former surrender ceremony of the Japanese to the British high Command. Although Chiang had been the formal Commander in Chief of the Chinese theatre of war, the British would not even countenance his presence at the ceremony. Below, there is the surrender document signed by the Japanese - as you can see, the signature of the representative of the United Kingdom is in a far loftier position than that of Chiang Kai-Shek's representative, banished to the bottom right of the page.

So ended though a terrible episode of Hong Kong and Asian history. Before you condemn the dropping of the bomb at Nagasaki and the lives it tragically had to take, think first of the lives it spared.


Madame Chiang said...

My Grandfather was part of the troops that were supposed to make the amphibious assault on Japan...the bombs being dropped stopped that...as you say...before condemning the dropping of the bombs...."think first of the lives it spared."

A terrible period of history and one that I hope the world does not repeat.

Dave and Stefan said...

Yes, if World War II held any lesson, it seems to be that countries must retain their military strength and not allow utopian visions of World Peace being the natural order of things to cloud that goal. Britain and France failed to anticipate the rapid re-armament of Germany, and the aggression of both Germany and Japan; Britain and the world paid a terrible price.

It seems a terrible irony, but I very much believe that the world's possessions of nuclear weapons has prevented much greater conflicts from breaking out between the US and the USSR, as well as between the US and China.

However, the danger comes now as the secrets of nuclear technology have passed well down the food chain to dangerous countries and highly violent non-state actors.

Dave and Stefan said...

It is amazing to think also, does it not, of what might have happened to yourself personally had things been different sixty years ago?

I know if it were not for the ruinous war and its consequences, my German mother and my Shanghainese father would never have met in America.

- David