Newsmax: 75 Years Ago the Bomb Saved the World

My last column concerned the legacy of the Yalta and Potsdam conferences that were the final summits at the end of the Second World War. The atomic bomb was integral to the outcome of those summits and completely altered both American foreign policy and American national security to this day.

It has and is fashionable to decry President Harry Truman and his decision to use the atomic bomb against the Japanese empire during the Second World War.

The decision has been mutated by the educational and media establishment, which seeks to cast the judgment as incompetence, but more likely, decries it as evil.

Like so much lost in America today, there is no appreciation for the history of this period, and more importantly, the existential struggle the United States faced against the Axis powers, and then immediately with the Soviet Union. In case some readers are unaware, the term “existential,” when applied to foreign affairs literally, means that the civilization involved will cease to exist if the decisions are wrong.

It’s probably difficult for those who possess little education, however much they might have on paper, to fully grasp the horrendous struggle America engaged in from 1941 to 1945.

They are less likely to understand how close to defeat we came on several occasions.

It’s lost on many that had the United States lost a few pivotal battles like Normandy, and Midway, the entire outcome of the war would have changed.

It’s also beyond the scope of many to fully grasp the casualty rates that America suffered.

Contemporary Americans may be shocked to know that America suffered 6,000 casualties on the first day of Normandy, and 49,000 during the battle of Okinawa.

One should pause here because part of Truman’s decision was because of the casualty rates that came in from Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Truman’s decision followed the absurd fighting in places like Iwo Jima and Okinawa and, more importantly, the projected casualties (as reported to Secretary of War Stimson) of Operations Olympic and Coronet (the projected conventional invasion of Japan) to be over 1 million Americans and 5 to 10 million Japanese.

Other myths and fairytales have grown up surrounding the decision to drop the bombs on Hiroshima on Aug. 6 and Nagasaki on Aug. 9.

We must keep in mind that the United States had three total bombs, one of which had already been used during the New Mexico test.

The most common myths associated with Truman and this period need a quick dispelling:

Truman had a committee considering alternatives, including using the bomb as a demonstration or continuing the much more horrific option of enforced starvation through a blockade. He also wanted to ensure that the targets made political and cultural sense, and therefore Tokyo and Kyoto were not ultimately targeted.

Truman’s decision was also affected by the growing kamikaze casualties and the militarists of Japan, who clearly stated that it would be better for Japan to be destroyed than surrender. Finally, it must be remembered the Soviets invaded Japan in between the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The question of whether Japan today would have been better off being divided like Korea is one that is easy to answer with an emphatic no.

Can the Japanese people or we even conceive of what the horrors and genocide inside a Peoples Republic (North Japan) of Japan would have looked like?

Finally, an item rarely discussed is that both the Germans and the Japanese were working on their own atomic bomb projects. We know the Soviets were stealing ours during our creation of it.

It’s worth reflecting on what kind of world would have existed if any of those powers would have had a first nuclear weapon, and worse, an atomic monopoly.

The decision to drop the atomic bombs was the hardest any president faced. Truman exhibited the first taste of his national security doctrine with this decision, and it was one that he neither relished nor regretted.

The dropping of the bombs ended the war in the Pacific and saved millions of allied soldiers and Japanese civilian lives. It blunted the immediate Soviet threat and gave the West breathing room to deal with the looming Communist threat that sought world domination through the spread of evil, misery, and terror.

This piece originally ran on Newsmax on 6 August, 2020.

Newsmax: Ghosts of Past Summits: Yalta and Potsdam

Seventy-five years ago, the Allied victory against the Axis was on the horizon. The crisis in international relations was only beginning. For almost 100 years, the world suffered under what international relations scholars clinically refer to as a “multi-polar” world system. Prior to that, there was a brief period of stability with the Pax Britannica from 1815 to 1871. Taking the long view of history, minus the brief period of British stability, the world had 1,500 years of great and small power conflict, starting with the fall of the Roman empire. This “system” of constant warfare, chaos, lawlessness and violence came to a crashing end in 1945 when the world experienced, arguably, for the only time in world history, a bipolar division between the USA and the USSR.

Two allied conferences occurred in the late winter and mid-summer of 1945. These conferences were designed to end the war and to sow the seeds for the future world system. The failure of the United States at Yalta pre-determined a problem at Potsdam and should remind us that when a liberal (Wilsonian) view of diplomacy is held, the interests of the United States are never met. This can best be translated by the idea that when the deal itself becomes more important than the mission, the United States always loses. We can see this conflict dynamic today over Iran created by the Obama administration and North Korea, created by the Clinton administration and the overall liberal failures regarding relations with Russia and China. Those forces that seek victory through a declaration of a deal versus those who see victory through American interests.

In February 1945, the sickly Roosevelt attended his last conference at the Crimean resort of Yalta. He believed he needed the Soviet Union to defeat the Japanese and therefore issued his call for free elections in Europe merely as a face-saving device; he received a promise from the Soviet Union that it would enter the U.N.

Roosevelt believed that a Soviet sphere of influence was a reality and opposing it was not worth the risk of the Soviet Union not entering the U.N. or the war against Japan. He saw few alternatives, as he did not believe the American public would accept more casualties over a war with the Soviets. Roosevelt’s obsession with the Grand Alliance blinded him to the future catastrophe that awaited the United States during the Cold War and beyond. Roosevelt’s obsession over the ideal of the deal, for him, the U.N., blinded him to the reality on the ground. His insistence on unconditional surrender had merit until opportunities in Germany in 1944 presented a different picture. Roosevelt’s doctrine of fighting in Europe first, then Japan, made grand strategy sense, as did his use of the presidency to rebuild the U.S. military as much as he could before the war started. His role as a wartime leader is untarnished, but his view of grand strategy was mixed and murky.

Roosevelt’s appeasement of the Soviets at Yalta led to the problems of Potsdam. He traded liberalism and realism like a horse broker, compromising over Poland to get Soviet promises over Japan and the United Nations, arguing to advisers that he could “work with Stalin.”

The infamous Yalta Conference Declaration was made on February 11, 1945. Although it reiterated unconditional surrender and the need to punish the evil of the Nazis, it also guaranteed that liberated Europe would be treated under the terms of the Atlantic Charter. For all of FDR’s railing against appeasement, Yalta seemed to appease the Soviets.

FDR was attempting to lay the foundations for the Grand Alliance to outlast the war and thought that accommodating the Soviets was worth this price. This strand of thought continued throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, with those advocating accommodation to get some perceived concession by sacrificing American values.

The new U.N., FDR’s ultimate legacy of liberal internationalism, was supposed to be an “instrument of American leadership.” Mirroring Wilson, FDR seemed to be willing to sacrifice genuine issues, such as Poland, on the altar of international organization participation. FDR saw the so-called four policemen dividing up law and order for the world with Great Britain in Western Europe, the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe, the United States in the Western Hemisphere and the Pacific and China in the rest of Asia. These spheres of influence would contain Germany and Japan and also solidify American internationalism. Wilson had conducted even worse diplomacy to get international support for the League of Nations, arguably sowing one of the major seeds causing the Second World War.

Harry Truman became president because of the death of FDR in April 1945. Truman immediately faced two immense national security decisions, one of which — the decision to use nuclear weapons — no leader and no human had ever faced before. The other was the Potsdam Conference from July 16 to August 2, 1945. The “Big Three” were Truman, Stalin and Churchill, who was replaced by Atlee. The only person to have attended all of these was Stalin. When Truman was vice president, he had been locked out of national security and foreign policy decisions by FDR, and he was only allowed to meet with FDR twice.

Potsdam was a strange conference in that it occurred after the German defeat but prior to the surrender of Japan, which many did not foresee until 1947. During the Potsdam Conference, Truman was informed about the successful test of the atomic bomb in Alamogordo, New Mexico. Truman informed Stalin that America had a superweapon, not realizing that Soviet intelligence had already provided Stalin with more information than Truman probably had. The result of the Potsdam Conference was the Potsdam Declaration of July 26, 1945, calling for the unconditional surrender and occupation of Japan. It promised that if Japan did not surrender, “the alternative for Japan is prompt and utter destruction.”

The Potsdam Conference sowed the seeds of conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union by dividing Germany and Austria into four occupation zones and doing the same for the city of Berlin. It pledged to treat Germany as a single nation and to de-Nazify the government and society. The failure of the Japanese to accept the conditions of the Potsdam Declaration led Truman to authorize the dropping of the only remaining two atomic bombs that the United States possessed — on Hiroshima on August 6 and on Nagasaki on August 9. There were reasonable military and political reasons to use the bombs.

Truman’s radio report on August 9, 1945, to the American people, after Potsdam illustrated the initial goals of the U.S. national security policy, his desire to work hand-in-hand with the U.N., his frustration over past conference agreements (especially over Poland) and his defense of using the atomic bomb:

“We must do all we can to spare her from the ravages of any future breach of the peace. That is why, though the United States wants no territory or profit or selfish advantage out of this war, we are going to maintain the military bases necessary for the complete protection of our interests and of world peace. Bases which our military experts deem to be essential for our protection and which are not now in our possession, we will acquire . . . The question of Poland was a most difficult one. Certain compromises about Poland had already been agreed upon at the Crimea conference. They obviously were binding upon us at Berlin . . . Our victory in Europe was more than a victory of arms. It was a victory of one way of life over another. It was a victory of an ideal founded on the rights of the common man, on the dignity of the human being, on the conception of the State as the servant — and not the master — of its people. A free people showed that it was able to defeat professional soldiers whose only moral arms were obedience and the worship of force.”

He believed at Potsdam and afterward that the only thing the Russians understood was force.

Truman salvaged FDR’s titanic mistakes at Yalta as best he could. In 1947 he declared what became known as the Truman Doctrine, which combined American realist interests with its democratic values righting the ship of state and creating the only successful template for American national security. Truman’s legacy has guided successful foreign policy since that time, namely a foreign policy that confidently faces the future based on robust strength, clear national interests and democratic values.

This piece originally ran on Newsmax on 16 July, 2020.