President Truman was right to demand unconditional surrender from Japan. After we destroyed their navy and were bombing them daily, they sought negotiations. Truman refused, and warned them he had a fearsome new weapon he would use against them if they didn’t surrender unconditionally. Teaching US History again to a group of ten high-school aged home schoolers, I’m showing them “Hiroshima.” It’s a wonderfully produced historical film depicting events, both in Japan and in the United States from FDR’s death in April, 1945 to the use of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August.
Unconditional surrender is what the United States should demand whenever we go to war with anyone. Soldiers we send to fight and die deserve nothing less. We do them a disservice if we send them without a clear sense that it’s absolutely right to declare war, and with the commitment to see that war through to a victorious end. Otherwise, we shouldn’t go to war at all.
We shouldn’t fight without a declaration by congress either. The last time that happened was 1941, the day after Pearl Harbor. We’ve fought in dozens of places and circumstances since - large and small, short and long - and how has it worked out? Korea is still divided; North Korea is still hostile, threatening the US with nuclear weapons they developed while we were “negotiating” with them. Vietnam is reunited, but under communist rule. That development went against the Truman Doctrine of containing communism rather than defeating it outright as General George Patton wanted to do after the Nazis surrendered in May, 1945. President Obama claimed to end the war in Iraq, but did he? Looks like it’s still raging, and we’re going back in.
We went into Afghanistan after the September 11th attacks to get Osama Bin Laden, who planned the attacks from there. Americans supported that effort wholeheartedly, but Bin Laden escaped across the border into Pakistan. President Bush decided not to pursue him there. Big mistake. Bush should have said to Pakistan: “Give him over or we’re coming in after him,” but he didn’t.
Instead, we continued the “war” in Afghanistan that was really nation-building. Could we realistically expect to build a democratic nation in a region ruled for millennia by tribal warlords? Could we expect to even hold Afghanistan after the British experience there? The Russian experience? Another big mistake. We were after Bin Laden and we took our eye off the ball. War is war. It’s what we do when negotiations fail. It’s brutal. People get killed and things get wrecked. Often, it’s innocent civilians who are killed. War is hell, as General Sherman observed and that’s no less true today than it was when he said it. That’s why we shouldn’t conduct it unless congress declares it. When we do go to war, we should go all-out until it’s over — and it’s only over when the other side gives up unconditionally. Absent that, it’s just going to flare up again like a smoldering ember.
We’re not capable of nation-building anywhere else but right here. Only the people who live in a place are capable of creating a nation there. That’s how ours was built. Have we forgotten that? I think we have. We should have searched out al Qaida and destroyed it — wherever it went to hide. If things got wrecked and people were killed? Well, that’s war. Don’t start if it you’re not willing to finish it. It’s not our obligation to clean up afterward either. It’s the job of the people who live there. They’ll be more careful of who they let in next time.
Teaching again, I’m reminded of how idealistic young people are. As we study each of America’s wars, I say: “Now that you understand what caused the war, how it was fought, and how it turned out, imagine you were an 18-year-old male when it started. Would you volunteer to fight?” The only way to decide is to ask themselves if they were willing to risk their lives in pursuit of whatever the goal was. If it was ill-defined, the answer was usually no. Defining the goal is the job of our elder statesmen and women. If they can’t do it in simple terms, it’s not worth dying for.
Surviving relatives should be able to say something more than “He was killed in WWII.” Rather, they can say: “He died to defeat Nazism.” Veterans can say: “I lost my leg fighting the Japanese who attacked us.” What can the last soldier maimed by an IED just before the scheduled Obama pullout from Afghanistan say? Our soldiers shouldn’t have to think more than a second about why they’re fighting, but today our president refuses to even mention our enemy by name.
Harry S. Truman was an ordinary American thrust by circumstances into a position where he had to make a momentous decision in only a few weeks: whether to use an awesome new weapon on our declared enemy — and thereby bring the most destructive war in history to an end, decisively, with no smoldering embers. Truman said he never lost a minute’s sleep after making it, and today, Japan is one of our closest allies.
Labels: History, Obama, teaching, Truman, war, WWII