Aug. 8, 2005
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Monday, August 8, 2005

Saved by the bomb?
In August, 1945, near Manila, and for years later, I thought my life had been spared by the use of nuclear weapons against Japan. Now, I'm not so sure

The San Juan Capistrano resident is a former GOP Central Committee Chairman.

On Aug. 6, 1945, at a staging area a few miles north of Manila, I was a non-commisioned officer in a company of Army Special Forces preparing for yet another amphibious assault.

For two years we had leapfrogged from southern New Guinea to the heart of the Philippines under Gen. MacArthur's command. Everyone knew that the D-Day of all D-Days was near at hand and was preparing for the mother of all landings with stoic resignation.

On that day the stunning news came that a super bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima with devastating effect. After confusing and contradictory reports we learned what the word "radioactive" meant and that the war was over.

Soon, orders came through for us to land at Wakayama on Honshu Island. Ours was the first contingent to hit the beach and, while we were prepared for combat, it was immediately obvious that there was no opposition and little to defend. After establishing a perimeter we cautiously reconnoitered. For several weeks I was able to move around freely and made a point of observing the damage that our B-29s had inflicted on every aspect of civilian and defense installations. There were no uniformed enemy soldiers except at the Osaka train station and those demoralized individuals were trying to slip home, one by one. Japan's main defense forces had been obliterated by the B-29s.

For years after, I was among those who felt that dropping the A-bomb was not only justified, but a military necessity. "I was one of those saved by dropping the bomb!" was my stock answer to the anti-nuke peaceniks. That usually shut them up, since I was most often the only one who had been anywhere near Japan during WW II.

End of story? Not quite.

In the late 1990s I became as proficient as an old guy can be at using the computer. While surfing the Net, trying to locate pictures of the Wakayama landing for a book I was writing, I came across a lengthy CIA Web site entitled "The Final Months of the War With Japan."

It is a detailed monograph, written in the late 1990s, describing every aspect of the last months of warfare in the Pacific, containing precise battle plans, the names of units and where they were to be deployed.

It also has voluminous intelligence reports that were available to commanders and decision-makers at that time. Estimates of enemy strength are shown in detail. The decision to drop an atomic bomb on Japan was made by President Truman and military leaders based on these reports, although the decision was not unanimous.

As I read on it became apparent to me that much of the raw data on enemy strength was gathered by dubious radio intercepts and the conclusions were even more questionable. Space does not permit detailing all of the misjudgments that were made in the process of estimating enemy defense capabilities, but the most grievous was the practice of intelligence officers considering every enemy unit identified by number as a division of 15,000 troops.

Another false calculation was that our intelligence considered all Japanese troops deployed in Manchuria transportable to defend the homeland and included them in the "enormous enemy force" waiting to repel American landings. The United States had absolute control of the air and sea at that time and no such movement could have ever been made.

Constant references also were made to "suicide" anti-landing-craft boats and the threat they presented to amphibious operations. I never saw them in Japan, but the few I did see in previous campaigns were laughable - Rube Goldberg-type bomb detonators mounted on a rowboat.

In response to the mass hysteria that had overtaken the pro-bomb crowd, MacArthur himself said at the time, "Throughout the Southwest Pacific campaigns, as we have neared an operation, Intelligence has invariably pointed to greatly increased enemy forces. This buildup has been found erroneous."

The truth is, I now believe, that in August of 1945, the Japanese Imperial Army could not have defended its homeland against a well-trained troop of Eagle Scouts.

Fast forward to the recent hearings on the failure of the CIA and other intelligence agencies up to and after the Iraq war. I could not believe my eyes watching on television, when I spotted the author of the CIA monograph, Douglas J. MacEachin, sitting at the witness table. I had previously tried to reach him at the CIA and was told that he had moved overseas.

It was my good fortune to speak with him later on the phone and I repeated my deep reservations about WW II Intelligence and the A-bomb. He was very courteous and explained to me, quite correctly, that what he had done was put down all of the information available to decision-makers of that time without making any judgments about their final decisions.

So I'll leave the question of whether or not our use of the A-bomb against Japan was justified to someone else, too. In the meantime I have stopped telling people that my life was saved by the nukes. I attribute it more now to sheer luck and the grace of God.

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