Jacob Beser’s Views on the Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
By Jerome Beser
In August 1945 US Army Air Corps delivered the knockout punch to the Empire of Japan bringing an abrupt end to World War II. One and only one man served as a crewmember on both the Enola Gay and on the Bock’s Car, the B-29 Strike Bombers that delivered the lethal atomic blows on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. His name was 1st Lt. Jacob Beser of Pikesville, Maryland.
Jacob Beser was my father. He had planned to write three books after he retired in 1985. Unfortunately his untimely death in 1992 did not allow him to totally complete this objective. His first book Hiroshima & Nagasaki Revisited was completed and released in 1988. His second book, which would reveal what really happened on the Nagasaki mission was in outline form when he passed away. Jack Spangler one of my father’s good friends and business colleague and I completed this book The Rising Sun Sets – The Complete Story of the Bombing of Nagasaki in 2007. His third book, which would address other aspects of the atomic bombings, emphasizing the point that the world must find a better way to settle international disputes was still in the concept stage. According to Jack Spangler, my father told him before he retired that he planned to make the point in this book that: “We have to find a way to get along because we now have the wherewithal to destroy everything. This is the message I've tried to relay all these years. We just can't do business as usual any more. I think the deterrent process has worked up to now. It has kept the super powers apart for many years. But, it won't go on indefinitely because there will come a day as sure as night follows day that somebody in one of those countries is going to get the idea he can get away with the first strike and counter the retaliation and get his point across. It just isn't so. Both you and I know that since we work in this business day in and day out.”
For many on-board the Enola Gay, the Bock’s Car and the accompanying planes, the image of instantaneous destruction they saw on August 6 and 9, 1945, was so terrifying that they seldom if ever talked about their experiences. However my father was one of the few exceptions. After having endured numerous interviews by young reporters who didn’t even know the dates that World War II was fought, he was extremely concerned about what he called “the culture of ignorance on many important issues in history”. He seldom, if ever, refuse an invitation to speak to students at any level, high school to college graduate, and share with them his views and especially correct the decades of mythology about casualty figures, the motives for dropping and the effectiveness of using the bombs.
According to my father: “Yes we used atomic weapons in 1945 against Japan and for good reasons. One of our goals of these missions was to eliminate the need to invade the Japanese home Islands. We accomplished our mission. We shortened the war and saved hundreds of thousands of lives. As the years have passed the bombings have come to be seen by some as war atrocities and crimes against humanity.” I am sure that my father was expressing his as well as many Japanese citizens’ points of view. In March of 1995 the mayor of Nagasaki expressed the point of view of some Japanese revisionists when he labeled the attacks as the moral equivalent of the Holocaust.
No one disputes that the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki inflicted a horrible number of civilian deaths. Initial reports say that 70,000 were instantly killed at Hiroshima with about 140,000 people dying either directly or from radiation sickness by the end of 1945. Similar reports indicated about 40,000 were initially killed at Nagasaki with still more later dying of radiation sickness. But from another point of view Japan also killed many hundreds of thousands of civilians when it bombed Chinese and other cities in Asia. Furthermore it has been asserted that if Japan had had atomic weapons it certainly would have used them.
There have been numerous “pity the victims” accounts of lives that were lost at Hiroshima and Nagasaki but seldom do we see anything about the American and Japanese lives that were saved by using the bombs! If the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were atrocities as some have argued, so were the Japanese actions such as the Rape of Nanking; the Bataan Death March; the prisoner of war Hell Ships; the sacking of Manila; the starvation of prisoners of war; and, the medical experiments on Chinese prisoners to name only a few.
Now, why were the nuclear weapons used? In the summer of 1945, President Truman confronted a death or more death situation. As commander-in-chief, he faced the reality that the war in the Pacific was an endless series of dreadful choices. War is by definition immoral. But once you are in a war, victory is achieved only by destroying the enemy. The only facts that are relevant to a discussion of Truman's decision, are those facts and numbers the president had in front of him in July 1945. The casualties at Iwo Jima and Okinawa were not projections. They were real as memorialized by rows of grave markers and hospital wards filled with broken bodies. In each case, the Japanese military had fought to the death, as they had done everywhere else in the island hoping campaign.
Plans for the invasion of the Japanese homeland were in place. The plans called for a two-stage invasion. The southern island of Kyushu would be invaded on November 1, 1945, with a force of 800,000 men. In April 1946, the main island of Honshu would be invaded with a force
of over one million men. The wheels of inevitability started to grind forward with a momentum that at some point would be unstoppable unless another way was found to end the war.
The Japanese intelligence had correctly predicted the Saipan, Okinawa and Iwo Jima invasions. In anticipation of the homeland invasion, the Japanese intelligence predicted Kyushu would be attack first and began to fortify the cliffs leading up from the beaches. The terrain would provide the perfect slaughterhouse for the American coming ashore. Those troops who survived the beaches and made it inland would face an intricate network of caves, tunnels, and bunkers. In addition, thousands of airplanes, as well as submarines, were being stockpiled for kamikaze attacks on the invasion fleet and its landing craft. Two and a half million battle-hardened troops, supported by four million able-bodied civilian military employees, were being massed on Kyushu to meet the invasion force. Thirty-two million civilians including women, children, and the elderly were being drilled in the art of resistance and guerrilla warfare.
Based upon these realities, Truman's military advisers predicted that 231,000 to 269,000 American casualties would occur just during the first thirty days of the invasion of Kyushu. Furthermore it was estimated that it would take a hundred and twenty days to secure and occupy the entire island. By the end of that four-month period, American casualties could realistically reach around 395,000. The American to Japanese casualty ratio was one to two. This would suggest 528,000 to 790,000 Japanese casualties. Over one million of our troops still awaited the second prong of the invasion that would take place in April 1946 when they would invade Honshu.
But one must keep in mind that these estimates assumed that all would go according to plan. Yet Okinawa had been expected to fall in two weeks. Instead the battle had dragged into eighty-two days, and even then it took several more weeks after that to secure the island.
By 1945, the Japanese had moved much of their production of weapons of war into cottage shop operations to private homes, civilian buildings, under bridges, etc in suburban areas. To minimize the envisioned slaughter of our invading forces when the invasion took place, the US military, in early 1945, began a massive fire bombing campaign to break Japan’s will to fight and force an end to the war. Firebombs were dropped on predominantly suburban targets. By July 1945 it was apparent that the fire bombings had produced little effect even though thousands of Japanese civilians had been burned to death. Of course it destroyed their cities but not their morale and will to continue fighting to the very end.
The Japanese leadership repeatedly made it abundantly clear of their intentions to continue fighting until the last man, woman and child had been killed. As late as June following the horrible fire bombing of Tokyo the Japanese Cabinet issued this statement: "With faith born of eternal loyalty as our inspiration, we shall--thanks to the advantages or our terrain and the unity of our nation--prosecute the war to the bitter end in order to uphold our national essence, protect the imperial land, and achieve our goals of conquest." An invasion of the Japanese mainland was inevitable and President Truman had a very difficult decision to make.
As to the Japanese willingness to surrender, Truman was faced with the reality that the relentless incendiary bombings had not broken their will to fight on. Also it had been clear from our intercepts of their secret military and diplomatic correspondence that a negotiated peace was acceptable only if it left their emperor and military in place; allowed them to keep the territory they continued to occupy; and allow them to designate and prosecute war criminals. They were playing for time where they expected the massive American casualties would gain a more favorable negotiated peace.
These are the facts that President Truman knew and on which he made his decision.
Each year during the weeks leading up to the anniversary of the first use of the bombs, articles appear in the press decrying the decision to use the new weapon against Japan. More specifically, we see revisionist historians and critics from all over the map, feeding on confusion, crap, and controversy, acting like a pack of jackals attacking a prey. They seem to completely miss, or ignore, the point that we were in a declared and bloody war that had been going on for about four years. As in any war, the objective was to kill the enemy. But be killed or surrender was the option of the Japanese.
These critics, most of who were not even born in 1945, preach moral, ethical and historical reasons for their position. They "cherry pick" and take out of context isolated statements from old documents to support their claims. To paraphrase Churchill: "Never before have so many said so many things on a subject about which they know so little”. They try to use hindsight as well as much publicized propaganda of expressions of guilt by the political, scientific and military personnel involved as support for their claims and condemn the wartime decisions. They usually ignore Pearl Harbor or the atrocities committed by the Japanese prior to and during the war and claim that Japan was about to surrender anyway to support their anti-war campaign.
In reality the American people wanted to see the war come to an end as soon as possible. Thousands of American servicemen were being killed or wounded each week. The war was costing the American taxpayers almost a half billion dollars each week. The American people expected their leaders to be decisive and make the hard decisions that had to be made.
In America, nothing is more natural in the time of war then for our leaders, whom we elected, to attempt to ensure victory with a minimum loss of life. For our armed forces the extravagant use of firepower was the approach to achieve the desired effect and had been employed from day one. Fire bombing raids on the Empire of Japan are good examples. Using the atomic bombs against Japan was simply the ultimate step in this approach. Some people may not want to believe it but those two bombs ended the Pacific conflict in short order.
On the other hand, the Japanese view of warfare was just the opposite of ours. Death in war was not necessarily avoided. The Shinto cult of radical self-sacrifice taught that suicide was glorious while surrender was the ultimate disgrace. Suicide planes or Kamikaze, one-man suicide submarines and human torpedoes, which the Japanese employed by the hundreds against the American ships, are good examples of the Shinto cult mentality. When we succeeded in taking Okinawa, not only did the Japanese soldiers commit suicide but also thousands of ordinary Japanese civilians did so as well to avoid being captured.
My father also said: “I agree that one must sympathize with any legitimate movement designed to reduce or eliminate human slaughter. Nuclear warfare is indeed inhuman and ought to be banned. But, I strongly disagree with anyone who tries to rewrite history. No matter how gruesome, how horrible, or how vicious, what happened has happened! Facts are facts and cannot be changed.”
The radicals and modern day pseudo-intellectual historians hold up their hands in horror, every time the word atomic bomb is mentioned. Yes, the atomic bomb is a horrible thing and was a quantum leap in power over conventional bombs. Nevertheless, it is misleading to think that the political and military leaders in 1945 did not think about and seriously consider the ramifications of using them. Historical documents show that at the highest levels of government they agonized over the decision and the target selection for days before President Truman, on the advice of his closest advisors, authorized its use. But the order specifically required the bombs to be used only against targets of military significance. My father said: “Those of us who carried out his orders, like most of the scientist responsible for the bomb development, had no doubt as to the legitimacy of what we were doing”.
Still there remains a question in many people's mind: Why did President Truman order the dropping of the atomic bombs? My father’s one-word answer: “Okinawa. It was done to stop the killing”.
 For years after Hiroshima was destroyed, the Japanese government stated that about 140,000 people died either directly or by the end of 1945 because of the atomic bomb. However, according to an article in The Japan Times, August 7-13, 1995, Vol. 35, the government has downgraded that longstanding and often quoted number of 140,000 by almost 40%. Based on a 4-year survey, the Japanese government now placed the number of confirmed deaths by the end of 1945 at 87,833.