On Point: Michener Letter About the Necessity of the A-bomb

The following letter was written in October of 1995 by James Michener.

Dear Martin Allday:

I'm glad you spoke to me at the Nancy Wilson wedding about your strong reactions to the recent re-evaluations of the Hiroshima bomb. And I appreciate the various clippings you sent me in your follow-up letter, I shall keep a file of your clippings and your letter to give me support if I am forced to speak out on the atomic bombing.

I had only a brief moment to respond to your vigorous statements, so I wish now to state once and for all my own reactions to the bold rewriting of history.

In the summer of 1945 I was stationed on Espiritu Santo close to a big Army field hospital manned by a complete stateside hospital staff from Nebraska and Colorado. I had close relations with the doctors, so I was privy to their thinking about the forthcoming invasion of Japan. They had been alerted to prepare for moving onto the beaches of Kyushu when we invaded there and they were prepared to expect vast numbers of casualties when the Japanese home front defense forces started their suicide attacks.

More important, I was on my own very close to an Army division that was stationed temporarily in a swampy wooded section on our island. They were a disheartened unit for the Japanese had knocked them about a bit in the action on Saipan; their assignment to our swamp was a kind of punishment for their ineffective conduct on Saipan. Now they were informed unofficially that they would be among the first units to hit the beach in our invasion of Kyhushu, and they were terrified. In long talks with me, they said that they expected seventy or eighty per cent casualties, and they could think of no way to avoid the impending disaster.

So it was with knowledge of what the doctors anticipated and what the Army men felt was inescapable, that I approached the days of early August, and I too became a bit shaky because the rumor was that I might be attached to the Army unit because of my expertise in keeping airplanes properly fitted and in the sky. Then came the astounding news that a bomb of a new type had been dropped on Hiroshima, a second one on Nagasaki, and that the Japanese emperor himself had called upon his people to surrender peacefully and await the Allied peace-keeping forces to land and establish the changes required by the recent turn of events.

How did we react? With a gigantic sigh of relief, not exultation because of our victory, but a deep gut wrenching sighs of deliverance. We had stared into the mouth of Armageddon and suddenly the confrontation was no longer necessary. We had escaped those deadly beaches of Kyushu.

I cannot recall who was the more relieved, the doctors who could foresee the wounded and the dying, or the G.I. grunts who would have done the dying, or the men like me who had sensed the great tragedy that loomed. All I know is that we said prayers of deliverance and kept our mouths shut when arguments began as to whether the bombs needed to be dropped or not. And I have maintained that silence to this moment, when I wanted to have the reactions of the men understood who had figured to be on the first waves in.

Let's put it simply. Never once in those first days nor in the long reconsiderations later could I possibly have criticized Truman for having dropped that first bomb. True, I see now that the second bomb on Nagasaki might have been redundant and I would have been just as happy if it had not been dropped. And I can understand how some historians can argue that Japan might have surrendered without the Hiroshima bomb, but the evidence from many nations involved at that moment testify to the contrary. From my experience on Saipan and Okinawa, when I saw how violently the Japanese soldiers defended their caves to the death I am satisfied that they would have done the same on Kyushu. Also, because I was in aviation and could study battle reports about the effectiveness of airplane bombing, especially with those super-deadly firebombs that ate up the oxygen supply of a great city, I was well aware that the deaths from the fire bombing of Tokyo in early 1945 far exceeded the deaths of Hiroshima. So I have been able to take refuge in the terrible, time-tested truism that war is war, and if you are unlucky enough to become engaged in one you better not lose it. The doctrine, cruel and thoughtless as it may sound, governs my thought, my evaluations and my behavior. I could never publicly turn my back on that belief, so I have refused opportunities to testify against the United States in the Hiroshima matter. I know that if I went public with my views I would be condemned and ridiculed, but I stood there on the lip of the pulsating volcano, and I know that I was terrified at what might happen and damned relieved when the invasion became unnecessary. I accept the military estimates that at least one million lives were saved and mine could have been one of them.


Jim Michener

Martin Allday is a Texas attorney and World War Two veteran. Mr. Allday was wounded in action on Okinawa in 1945. In October of 1995, James MIchener wrote Allday a letter about�Truman's decision to use atomic weapons to end World War Two. MIchener was a Pacific vet himself (as reader's of SOUTH PACIFIC well know). Mr. Michener asked Mr. Allday to refrain from publishing the letter until after Michener's death. Michener died in 1997. Part of this letter appeared in the NIMITZ NEWS, the publication of the Nimitz Museum of the Pacific War (located in Fredericksburg, Texas). The weekly newspaper in Hondo, Texas. also published the letter in 2003.� This is a thoughtful but provocative letter by a gentlemen of American letters. We are grateful that Mr. Allday gave StrategyPage permission to reproduce it in full.

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