Does History ACTUALLY Repeat Itself?

This essay was inspired by my beautiful and supportive fiancé, Emily.

A couple days ago, my lady was in town and she told me she heard this quote on NPR and was curious what my response on it would be. In all honesty, I tried looking for the quote albeit not very vigorously so you’ll have to bear with the paraphrased quote. Suffice it to say, it led to a lovely discussion between us. This quote remained in my conscious for some time now, clearly, and in combination with my Theories & Methods class I’m taking, I just had to write about it in the style I most enjoy: Informally.

“History doesn’t repeat itself, human nature doesn’t change.” – Unknown

Indeed, both are most black and white statements. However, if one were to closely examine each allegation, interesting and informative scholarship would be found. Most significantly, perhaps is Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s Silencing the Past: Power and Production of History. In the book, readers will take a glance at what historians actually do in their research; that is, to examine traces of history and change things if necessary due to contextual vigor.  To add on to an entry a friend of mine wrote in his blog, History is a science almost. It’s not simply remembering dates; in fact, it’s not really that important. What is important however, is what happened around those times but moreover, to examine why and how things happened. That’s why if you ever ask a Historian about why the Civil War happened, they will give you this long ass answer because it is a complex issue that can’t be resolved in one answer. Of course, you could most definitely say it was Slavery. It was. Ultimately, everything that caused the bloodiest war in United States history, was because of Slavery and whether it should be abolished.

The thing is, a lot of people seem to have this understanding that History is black and white. That we all share the same attitudes on history, but in reality, interpretation is what separates and even divides us as historians. Take for example the case of Palestine and Israel. For many years, the debate surrounding the question of Palestine was if Palestinians were kicked out of Israel to make way for Zionist (not Jewish) settlers. Some scholars argued that the Palestinians left on their own accord, or there weren’t any at all i.e., the land was vacant. The latter half contend that Palestinians were forced to leave and had 48 hours to vacate their homes. That was the debate back in the 1980’s.  Currently it is generally, or at least arguably, agreed that Palestinians were coerced into evacuating but the reasons debated are because Palestinians were victims of ethnic cleansing or because they were a threat to Israeli settlers. The point of this story is not to spark controversy, but to examine that the production of history changes with time.

 For one to contend that human nature remains the same, it then opens another can of worms because it begs the question: what is human nature? And this is a total stream of conscious essay so forgive me if I’m leaving out a bunch of details, but the two arguments of how human nature are for one, savage by nature. And the other, that humans are born without sin but may develop bad habits. It isn’t easy to pick out of those two, especially because contemporary scholarship argues that there are some people that have neurological impairments that cause their inability to recognize bad habits. In other words, there are assholes and there are psychopaths. Assholes will lie, cheat, and steal from you because they just don’t care. Whereas a psychopath will destroy a person’s phone if they’re speaking too loudly on it and because they aren’t able to psychologically “ignore” the negative thoughts in their heads, feel absolutely no remorse. Thereby proving once again, that these sort of scholarly thoughts on human nature will change with time as well. 

Indeed, these various interpretations to come about will present a great disconnect with previous thought, therefore one could argue that history doesn’t necessarily repeat itself. History just repeatedly plays a role in how our thoughts on particular epochs shift. It’s an idea, and History as an idea, is produced by people with power and those with a greater voice like let’s say: films, can influence more people because they tend to be more popular than an actual book written by a historian whose work has been accepted by a committee of other historians. The good news is though that, people with power can lose it and people who don’t have power can gain it. You can watch a film about The Alamo and believe Davy Crockett and the others were heroic martyrs of their time, but then along comes a historian who shatters the glass case, like the iconoclasts we are, by telling you, “actually, these guys were just pirates who sought land because of manifest destiny and to expand their slave territory.” Therefore, History is never static; or as my professor so eloquently said it: “the history of history has a history.”

-Mr. Writer

Written on the 19th of September, 2017 at 9:25 P.M. 

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Extending A Helpful Hand: Remembering Hurricane Harvey and the Monsoon Storm in South Asia

The following entry is a summary of an article from The Guardian, whose link is included below. I do not reserve the right to ownership of said article, just the words summarizing the article here. I share this with my readers in remembrance of the victims of the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey and the victims in Pakistan, Nepal, India, and Bangladesh. May the departed have their sins forgiven and access into paradise. And may the survivors be able to rebuild and granted patience for the things we cannot change. 

Karachi Flood

(Photo: Scenes from the flood in Karachi, Pakistan; Taken from The Guardian)

Around the same time Hurricane Harvey was making its way to Houston, TX we see that people in South Asia including India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh are experiencing their own natural disaster. This is in no way a takeaway from the historic destruction the hurricane has caused to the great city of Houston, however it is important to acknowledge that this devastating storm has affected neighboring countries, not cities; each suffering just as much, if not more than the other. Bangladesh for example is 1/3 under water, in Mumbai, India, a four-story residential building has collapsed killing 21 people, Pakistan has experienced 3.8in of rain in some areas of Karachi, and 150 people are dead in Nepal.

Like Houston, however, the flood in these respective South Asian countries is being recorded as, in addition to being deadly, historic. According to the article, it is reminiscent of the 2005 flood in Mumbai, which took the lives of over 500 people. That very year, residents of Louisiana felt the wrath of Hurricane Katrina, which lay dwelling in the hearts and memories of the victims and those of Hurricane Harvey. Moreover, residents feel similar sentiments towards government officials, as also echoed in Houston, condemning their lack of preparation for such a disaster. Although the point in sharing this article is not to compare disaster and casualty rates, but rather to extend hands to our brethren across the ocean and rebuild together, as we have already suffered enough together.

-Mr. Writer

Originally written on the 1st of September, 2017 at 9:08 P.M. 

Link to article: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/aug/31/south-asia-floods-fears-death-toll-rise-india-pakistan-mumbai-building-collapses?CMP=share_btn_tw

Will there ever be peace between India & Pakistan?

Pakistan Zindabad! Hindustan Zindabad! Azad Kashmir!
(Pakistan Live Long! India Live Long! Free Kashmir!) 

Today marks the 70th anniversary of Pakistan’s Independence from India. And tomorrow, will be the 70th Anniversary of India’s Independence from Britain. Strangely, we cannot celebrate the two events together. Just ask bollywood playback singer, Mika Singh. Poor guy had the purest intentions to have Pakistanis and Indians come out to his concerts in Chicago and Houston. I wanted to go to the concert in Houston, but I couldn’t because I had an important meeting to attend in San Antonio that day. 

Nevertheless, this isn’t the first time India has become disgruntled by other Indians attempting to work together with Pakistanis. The recently released movie, Raees, with Shahrukh Khan starred a lovely Pakistani woman, Mahira Khan, as his character’s spouse. The movie ended up being banned in Pakistan, due to religious symbols and practices being exploited.Which is sad because Bollywood films tend to be almost objectively enjoyed in Pakistan, especially Shahrukh Khan films! However, Because Bollywood films tend to exclude Pakistani actors,  having Mahira Khan in this film was a big deal. Too bad the film wasn’t all that though.

Anyways, the fact of the matter is there are scarce differences between Pakistanis and Indians; in terms of language, the foods we eat, even the way we look is similar. The main difference is religion and once the British were finally willing to leave India, tensions were transparent between Hindus and Muslims. Combined with poverty, hunger, and violent retaliations on both sides, an Islamic state became appealing for Muslims. And thus, Pakistan (translated as: “land of the pure” ) seceded from Hindustan (translated as: “land of the Hindus” or “India” in Hindi)  But again, this is the only notable difference and to this day, I can’t tell the difference between a Pakistani and an Indian. And I’m Half and Half! I should mention however, there are Muslims that still live in India, despite it being a minority, I would be remiss were I to not mention their existence. India has the upper-hand when it comes to religious diversity in that sense. 

Growing up in the states, and with the mentality that Indo-Pak culture was not cool (because let’s face it, Bollywood movies are cheesy as they come) I distanced myself from it. But then as I got older, I was categorized as Arabs by ignorant racists because I was Muslim and wished people would consider me Indian. Now, I’m in a strange position because I have one of the most common Muslim first names in the world, and one of the most common Hindu surnames. Suffice it to say, I’m back into Bollywood films and attempting to learn more of my roots but the deeper I go, the darker things get.

For example, the fact that I am half Pakistani, may hinder me from going into India. I may be able to enter due to my last name being of the Brahmin caste, as well as my natural citizenship as an American. However, I am strongly passionate that Kashmir, the occupied area in India, which is predominantly Muslim, be granted its own Independence so that may cause a problem for me. Arguably, it’s that, Kashmir, which is the main reason why India and Pakistan have been at war for all these decades.

India had a number of small princely ruled states, including Jammu and Kashmir, which though the population was majority Muslim, their ruler was Hindu and despite the citizens’ protests to be part of Pakistan in 1947, remained part of India. The United Nations failed in attempting to resolve these incendiary feelings between the two neighboring states, and the separation of East Pakistan as Bangladesh in 1971 is further exacerbation of India interfering with Pakistan.

But there are some that don’t care about all that, they just are desperate for unity or to reconnect with old friends they lost during partition. There was one story on Al Jazeera about an elderly Pakistani man who was lucky enough to return to India albeit with some difficulty.

By no means however, is this to indicate that Pakistan is free from condemnation but neither is India. First off, Pakistan failed to envelop itself as an Islamic state for a number of reasons including falling into bureaucratic traps and having multiple coups in their leadership. India on the other hand, seems to have forgotten where they came from. Their first prime minister, Jawaharlal Neru, was a secularist and abhorred organized religion; while he is admired in Indian history, it is perplexing why India would treat Muslims with such malice.

There is hope however, in 2014, there were peaceful attempts made on both sides but nothing lasted. It’s safe to say that there is still, and perhaps always be slight sentiments of distrust between the two countries. And this could be because the countries are still having to fix themselves, respectively. Moreover, there are little things that still happen that can blossom into something beautiful. Be that something little, like an Indian playback singer welcoming Pakistanis to his concerts, an Indian Band honoring Pakistan on their day of Independence. We can learn from the past mistakes and strive for a better future. We can start by having ordinary Pakistanis making friends with other Indians and casting aside their differences. Pakistanis won’t eat Pork and Indians won’t eat beef. We can still enjoy Chicken and Lamb together over a nice cup of chai! 🙂

-Mr. Writer (and Ahmed H. Sharma)

Written on August 14, 2017 at 7:30 PM 

 

Loyalty and Slavery, Is there a Difference?

This is such a broad question to ask, of whether or not loyalty to something signifies that one is subservient in the ideological sense. If I am going to swear my allegiance to my country, does this mean I am forbidden from criticizing it? If I were to do so, does that mean my status as a “loyal citizen” is tarnished?

I am strangely reminded of what it means to be a “good child”. If your parents have taught you never to speak rudely to others, but then someone disrespects them, do you not have the right to raise your voice at the offender? Or does that make you an ill-mannered child. I’m going to quit asking questions now and try to provide some answers. 

If the reader may recall, I wrote an essay on what it means to be a “true” (whatever it is you believe in) and scoffed at the incredulousness of how one must adhere to certain stereotypes that another may have impressed upon them. For example, am I an American if I am born and raised in this country? I sure am! Now, am I a “real” American if I am a different skin color? I better be. However, that’s not the case at least from the outsider’s perspective.

Like any non-anglo individual, I get asked where I am from. And my first answer, Houston, TX, is not sufficient enough, despite it being the correct answer. Before, the follow-up question would be: “Where are you really from?” or “What is your nationality?” Finally (and thankfully) it became, “where are your PARENTS from?” when the latter was asked, I’d gladly oblige: Father is from Guyana and Mother is from Pakistan.

It’s not unusual for me anymore to be asked where I get my “exotic” skin color from. When you’ve been asked by numerous people as much as I have, even by people who coincidentally are the same race as I am, you become immune to it. I will admit, I’ll meet another brown or black person and I’ll wonder where they’re from originally as well. The ones who share my experience of being born in America tend to laugh with me when we can’t help but ask the stupid question of where we’re “really from”.

My issue is not with that however, instead, my argument is that despite me being the son of two immigrants (who are now U.S. Citizens) does it mean that I am not granted the same rights as individuals who don’t appear to be immigrants? Even my fiancé’s parents were born in this country, but one would have just assumed they were born and raised in Mexico. To which I argue, is there any problem with that?

As a Historian (in-the-making) I’ve noticed in my studies that immigrants tend to be a huge problem for individuals in most countries during their developments. Everyone seems to hate foreigners coming into their land, but no one seemed to have an issue with colonists evangelizing and/or taking away traditional values from the lands they go to. For example, not many people are aware of what Guyana is or where it’s located. To put it simply, a majority of the population are of East-Indian descent but are unable to speak Hindi, (save a few words) due to British threats of speaking any other language aside from English. But people in the United States, are afraid of people speaking any other country aside from English because they feel threatened that their language will no longer be the majority spoken?

I know I just jumped from one country to the next, but the United States inherited a lot of their behavior from the British despite the United States wanting to do things their own way.

I’ve digressed more than I’d have liked to so I will go back to my original point: If I am loyal to my country, does that mean I must abandon my roots? Personally, I’ve felt a great desire to learn more about my roots and the history of that country regardless of never having visited once. I enjoy living in the country I do and have a great deal of respect for the law in this land. That being said, I do not feel the need to express that by getting annoyed every time someone wonders where I am from. Let’s face it, at some point in the conversation, I’ll have to explain where I get my dark, brown-ness from.

But that opens another can of worms for me. On my father’s side, my grandparents are originally Indian. And Pakistan was once a part of India. Therefore, could I just save face and say I’m Indian? I refuse to for political reasons. I won’t elaborate on that either. Do I say, I’m Caribbean? I do. And the reaction from people who find out Guyanese people speak with a Jamaican-esque accent is MARVELOUS! As for Pakistani, the roots for that gets more complex because Pakistan saw a plethora of foreigners in their country.

More to the point, by having these roots and choosing to immerse myself in the cultures of those countries, I can see how one would perceive that I was not proud to be American. But to that I ask, what is cultural to America? America has always been a melting pot of different cultures. In fact, when I think of how one might imagine how a Texan looks, they would probably picture a cowboy. Cowboys are not native to America at all though, they are Mexican. Which is why it’s surprising how Mexicans in those old western movies were portrayed as lazy or inept. Even the hamburger is German. America gets credit for creating the Cheeseburger but, is that really something worth celebrating? Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love Cheese. But sooner or later, someone was gonna try to put cheese on a burger. Do Indians get credit for putting Cheese in Spinach? If not, they should. Palak paneer is AMAZING! 

At the end of the day, if you check my Birth Certificate, it says I’m born in Houston, Texas. Therefore, I classify myself as Houstonian. I’m currently living in San Antonio, and it’s okay here so far. It’s not “my” city. But, that’s just it. My city isn’t perfect either. No city is perfect. It’s insane for one to say which city or even country, is better than the other. And by me saying that, it doesn’t mean I’m not a loyal Houstonian. Moreover, I don’t need to prove how Houstonian I am. Such a sentiment should be echoed by others who feel afraid to say how they truly feel. I know how I am as a person, i.e., I know my flaws, it doesn’t mean I hate who I am.

Therefore, I feel like Loyalty towards an ideology or a belief, is almost interconnected with slavery. Even as a Muslim, I’m inclined to adhere to the principles of my religion. This doesn’t mean that Islam is not open to interpretation in how I read or follow those principles. Islam means Submission; to which, I take to mean Submission to a higher power because we need guidance, therefore, I believe in the basic tenants of Islam, without having to feel pressure of being a “good Muslim”.

This is not to say that I condemn those who are loyal to their ideologies, I actually applaud them. I do however, condemn those who blindly show loyalty to their ideologies and reject criticism. In a “perfect world”, if we weren’t meant to accept criticism, why would we strive for better things? More importantly, if we were indeed perfect, why would we have rebellions?

-Mr. Writer

Written on the 8th of August, 2017 at 12:05 A.M. 

 

 

Silent History: A Review/Explanation of An Inspiring & Impacting Book

The following essay was written for a scholarship that I applied to. The prompt was to write on a book that inspired and/or has impacted my interest in studying History. This was not a difficult question because, though there have been many books, essays, and lectures from professors that have been positively influential to me, the foundation of what inspired me to be the Historian-In-The-Making that I declare myself to be, began with this book. Anyone who knows me well, is well aware that all my books are plagued with sticky notes and this book arguably has the most (next to Russell Brand’s autobiography: My Booky Wook) Currently, this book is with a very good friend of mine and I hope he is enjoying it as much as I am. I share this essay with my readers to encourage critical thinking as well as showcase once again my passion, that some will say resembles obsession more than fascination, for History. And is written in bold style to illustrate that it is being written from my actual self and not from my persona. Also, the essay was meant to be 300 words or less and I am proud to say I successfully met that mark so, yeah. I rock! I hope you all enjoy. Please like and subscribe to the blog. And don’t forget to follow me on Instagram and Like Us on Facebook!

As I’ve gotten older, it’s gotten more and more difficult to remember certain things. Even the most trivial such as, what I had for lunch yesterday, become a challenge when I look back into my mind. However, the book that inspired my passion for history, I will never forget. I can recall it so vividly; where I was, why I was reading it and how much I enjoyed it. The book was entitled: Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce by Stanley Weintraub. The title essentially already gives the plot away already, but I will reiterate nonetheless, that the book is about the ceasefire during World War I on the Western front and in honor of a special holiday, enemy soldiers exchanged gifts instead of bullets.

              I was not an avid reader my first semester of College and to be quite honest, I would skim through books more than actually reading them but there was something about the writing Weintraub utilized that made what some critics would describe as the words just “leaping off the page.” And here it began, my first semester as an Undergraduate Student, assigned to read this book for my Western Civilization class. Before I knew it, I had reached halfway through the book and was in joyful tears by reading how for one brief shining moment, during a time of war and carnage, “there was general handshaking: the dead were buried; cigars, cigarettes, and newspapers were exchanged and a general celebration ensued.” (Weintraub, 68). Though there were some who denounced the Christmas truce such as one familiar name, Adolf Hitler, criticized the Germans for fraternizing with the British enemy by saying, “such a thing should not happen in wartime…Have you no German sense of honor left at all?” (Weintraub, 71)

              Honor and or patriotism was the last thing on the minds of these soldiers however, as one British soldier, Corporal John Ferguson, quoted by Weintraub, about the ceasefire with the Germans, “Here we were laughing and chatting to men whom only a few hours before we were trying to kill.” (Weintraub, 79-80) Eventually the Christmas celebrations as well as “all fraternization with the enemy [was] to cease immediately.” Reading the words of these soldiers, post the ceasefire, gaining these epiphanies of their groundless bloodshed and carrying on with the charade (because they have no other choice) in their own way by feigning the discharges towards their targets or even purposefully “shoot [in]to the air’” (Weintraub, 140) was in a word, thought-provoking. The idea that these soldiers were sent to fight against “the enemy” and were now re-defining who exactly the enemy was. “Both sides were misled by half-truths…Beneath the artificial hatred, each respected the other. Victory, if it came at all, would be long delayed, costly and worthless.” (Weintraub, 119) Reading this made me realize that these soldiers demanded answers to questions they finally began to ask themselves, “why am I really here?” It made me think of what other lies we have been fed in our youth that remain truths that we would potentially “die for” in our adult life.

Avi Shlaim has said that “History is the propaganda of the victors” and his statement is agreeable because when we are children and we learn about history, we are told things in a positive light only to find out later that they are actually horrific. And only when we get older do we learn the actual truth that is the awful side of history. We learn about World War I beginning with a series of mishaps that all could be responsible for the start of the war and the countless casualties that resulted as well as the incendiary feelings that remain, resulting in World War II. All the while, wondering how and why things in our own history, got so bad; and if there was a chance for reconciliation even. And it is here, in this story, that we have a pocket of positivity that not everyone is aware although should be. Here these soldiers are learning that the differences amongst them are scarce; therefore, they have no reason to fight one another. Why are they fighting? When instead, “perhaps a football match, after which both sides went home, might be a better solution.” (Weintraub, 119)

-Ahmed H. Sharma (Mr. Writer)

Originally written on the 15th of February, 2017 at 1:19 P.M.

Book Cited:

Weintraub, Stanley. Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce. New York: Plume, 2002. Print.

 

 

 

Career & Hobbies

I write this entry now after so much delay. For the longest, I was worried about what to write because I often try to write anything I can in an academic tone as well as doing more research to include footnotes and whatnot. I recently remembered that I started this blog to write “personal thoughts.” I guess I got caught up in my academic career as an undergraduate student/ historian-in-the-making that I forgot what it was like to just write whatever came to my mind.

A lot has changed since I entered the power house (UH) and the changes are, I’d like to believe, positive; which I’ll elaborate on more later. In the meantime, let me proceed with my initial objective. Lately, the future career I am aspiring has caused me to worry. There’s a lot of PhD’s that don’t end up getting their desired jobs. I’m not a PhD, nor am I remotely close, but I always worry because I have constantly been advised by others to sway away from being a Historian to avoid such an issue.

That was until I received a number of support by my professors as well as friends who are PhD’s that are serving as my inspiration to keep on going and follow my passion. I say passion because I believe that there really is nothing else I can picture myself doing except writing and researching History. My love for studying history, according to some, borders on obsessive and as a result, I believe that I’ve fully understood my desire to be a Historian as opposed to simply being a History Buff.

I don’t know what the future has in store for me; all I know is I want to do something with writing and research for History. The future is unwritten and therefore, I shouldn’t be afraid of what MIGHT happen. I write this entry then, as a source of inspiration and motivation to my readers and close followers of this blog, that there should be nothing wrong with doing what makes you happy. For me, I enjoy engaging in conversations about History, the things I’ve researched, studied, what other people have studied. There’s something fascinating to me about certain events of the past; why have certain things happened? What made them so bad? Were precautions taken to improve conditions or lessen the number of casualties in wars or revolutions?

I could go on and on, but I’d probably bore the reader so I digress. Maybe it’s the utilitarian in me, but I feel like there are people who grow up to do the jobs they eventually abhor and regret not following their passion. Simultaneously, I see that there are people who work hard to achieve their goals, but something happens where they just stop, replay the events in their life, try to figure out what went wrong and start over. I constantly have that fear that the latter will happen to me, but then I get reminded by so many people like my professors and even a wonderful poem by a motivational speaker I still speak with occasionally to pursue my passion.

Again, I have no idea what the future has in store for me. A lot of the events that happened in my life, even recently, I never expected to happen. That being said, I am enjoying the ride towards the future. I just hope this road leads to the path I hope it will be. Either way, it’ll be the path I’m meant to be on in the end.

-Mr. Writer

Written on the 27th of March, 2017 at 12:05 A.M. 

 

 

Explosive Decisions: The Use of the Atomic Bomb in World War II

I wrote this paper 3 years ago for a class I took on Chinese and Japanese History (19 years old) and submitted it recently for a World Wars Conference at University of Houston-Downtown. Personally, I have grown as a writer and am disappointed with this essay as I could have done a lot better, but it got me admitted into a professional conference and I had a great time researching for this assignment as well as writing it that I decided to share it with my readers. Please enjoy. 

The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are taught in the school books as a tremendous victory for the United States because of how they essentially stood up to the Japanese and finally were able to end the war. However today, some U.S. Citizens criticize the government for the bombings and share a belief that the United States was wrong for the bombings and that alternative options should have been taken in order to end the war. And the empathetic stories of survivors in Hiroshima and Nagasaki only exacerbate the argument that what the U.S. Government did was a bit extreme. While one cannot turn back time and undo what the United States did, it can still be explored if there were indeed different opportunities for both Japan and the United States in order to at least prevent using the atomic bomb.

From the United States’ perspective there were many warnings sent to the Japanese urging them to surrender or face the consequences. However by using this secret weapon, the U.S. government had knowledge that the attack would bring about many casualties to not only Japanese military targets but also innocent civilians. This was an arduous decision indeed, but there is evidence (such as a letter from President Truman) that the U.S. had justifiable reasons for doing what they did. From the Japanese perspective, the ones who were not militarily involved in the war will say otherwise. This leaves current students who are interested in the study of World War II and historians wondering if the decision made was the correct way to go or if there was another way to end the war without having to produce so many casualties.

In order to get a good glimpse of this past, first one must understand what drove the United States to come to the drastic decision that would change the face of history itself. Starting with December 7, 1941, when Japan attacked a United States deep naval base located on Hawaii called Pearl Harbor, much to the surprise of many. The reason for it being such a surprise was because no one would have seen a reason for Japan to attack the United States. During this time, Japan was in a war with China and had already occupied rural parts of China. And according to a National Geographic documentary, the Japanese wanted the oil fields in the Dutch East Indies and the Philippines because of its strategical location[1] so they could conquer all of China.  And the United States came into the picture because they stood in Japan’s way of all this. So by attacking the United States, the Japanese hoped to essentially cripple them in order for Japan to get the U.S. to back off while Japan could conquer China and by the time the United States healed themselves, China would already be conquered and nothing could be done about it.[2]

Unfortunately for Japan, the attack on Pearl Harbor turned out to be counterproductive in the sense that instead of getting the United States to back off, what it did was unite Americans to fight in the war until the Japanese were defeated. And Japan was far from wanting a war with the United States because they were well aware that they would have a great difficulty in winning the war. The Japanese knew that the more the war went on, the more America would be able to mobilize and inevitably destroy Japan. So in other words, Japan was well aware they were writing a check they could not cash but it didn’t stop them from proceeding with the attack.

Adding on to the fact of Japan being the major aggressor in this war, they even behaved barbarically during the stages of the war and had this murderous mentality in doing so. For example: Japanese soldiers would kill prisoners and even successfully attempted suicide missions with the mindset of suicide being a better option than giving up.  But it is important to note that the United States behaved just as bad by mutilating their Japanese prisoners. In fact, most Americans viewed the Japanese as inhumane, barbaric,[3] and even traitorous (because the leader of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Isoroku Yamamoto, was a Harvard Graduate)[4]. With all that said, one can infer that the hatred the Americans had against the Japanese could have played a part in the decision to drop the bomb on Hiroshima in the sense that the United States essentially had a vendetta against Japan.

Since no side was willing to back down during the war and with “Japan having vowed to fight to the bitter end in the Pacific, despite clear indications (as early as 1944) that they had little chance of winning”[5] it was pretty self-evident that something big was to occur in order for it to finally come to an end. And because in “September 1939, the United States was uniquely positioned to move forward on a bomb project”[6], the war was soon to be over. By 1945, the United States give Japan an ultimatum: “Surrender unconditionally or face prompt and utter destruction.”[7] With that said, Japan was hesitant upon surrendering “unconditionally”, the reasons for this was because of the fear they had of what may happen to their Emperor Hirohito. And granted, the United States did not plan to do anything to the Emperor but when Japan sent a message to the United States saying that there would be an agreement of peace under the condition of having nothing happen to their Emperor, Joseph Ballantine (one of the advisors of President Truman) said, “We can’t agree to that, because the prerogatives of the emperor include everything, and if you agree to that, you’re going to have endless struggle with the Japanese.”[8] It should also be noted that in a post-war interview, Truman stated that a promise to the Emperor Hirohito was presented “through regular channels” that he would not be tried as a war criminal and his title would not be taken away from him but this was wrong; the United States never spoke to the emperor of this and “Truman had somehow forgotten the central issue determining the fate of the war”.[9]

Finally on August 6, 1945, the Japanese city of Hiroshima, located about 500 miles from Tokyo, suffered “prompt and utter destruction” with an “explosion wip[ing] out 90 percent of the city and immediately killed 80,000 people; tens of thousands more would later die of radiation exposure.”[10] With that in mind, it would seem as though an immediate surrender would have taken place but because the Japanese failed to do so, another bomb (More powerful than the one used at Hiroshima)[11] was dropped on the city of Nagasaki three days later. Based on the destruction and devastation caused by the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, one may ask the question whether or not a second bomb was necessary. The answer to that is perhaps, but there is no clear evidence to support that decision.

At the time, the bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki did seem necessary to some because vengeance played an extreme part in executing the bomb with Truman saying: “We have used [these bombs] against those who attacked us without warning at Pearl Harbor, against those who have starved and beaten and executed American prisoners of war, against those who have abandoned all pretense of obeying international laws of warfare.”[12]  Despite the annihilation of a majority of the city in Hiroshima, it was Prime Minister of Britain, Winston Churchill who said, “there never was a moment’s discussion as to whether the atomic bomb should be used or not”[13] So it is no surprise that when President Truman first heard that the bomb on Hiroshima was dropped, his response was not one of pain or remorse. This was before Truman had knowledge of what the bomb was truly capable of and the impact it had on the civilians in Hiroshima however.

This leads historians of today to wonder if the bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were still necessary and the truth is that the day after the first bomb on Hiroshima was dropped, a senator from Georgia named Richard Russell, sent President Truman a telegram essentially telling him that more atomic bombs should be used but Truman rejected this idea saying:

“I know that Japan is a terribly cruel and uncivilized nation in warfare…but I can’t bring myself to believe that, because they are beasts, we should ourselves act in the same manner. For myself, I certainly regret the necessity of wiping out whole populations because of the ‘pigheadedness’ of the leaders of a nation, and for your information, I am not going to do it unless it is absolutely necessary…My object is to save as many American lives as possible but I also have a humane feeling for the women and children in Japan”[14]

Meaning that the United States had essentially made their point by dropping two bombs on Japan and there was no need for there to be more bloodshed. However in a postwar interview, when Truman was asked whether or not any other bombs were planned to be used against Japan as well, Truman responded, “Yes. The other two cities on the list [Niigata and Kokura] would have been bombed.”[15]

One can only imagine what a third or fourth bomb would have done to the people of Japan.  Knowledge of the casualties in Hiroshima and Nagasaki alone, are too much to handle; In Hiroshima there is an estimated total of 135,000 and in Nagasaki were 64,000. But in the end, who is to blame for all this destruction? Of course Truman was the president of the United States during this time, who allowed for the bombs to be dropped but it was

“President Franklin D. Roosevelt [who] authorized the development of the bomb, [and] its progress was overseen by U.S. government representatives, hundreds of American Scientists, and thousands more American staffed the plants that manufactured the components, including fissionable ones, that made the bomb work. American scientists or rather those working in the United States, saw the bomb successfully tested and knew basically what it would do to a city and its residents. President Harry S. Truman…authorized the atomic bombings, with the advice and consent of his closest advisors. The United States can be properly credited with having made the decisive weapon in the Pacific War—and it can be rightly blamed for having unleashed upon the world the special destructiveness of nuclear power.”[16]

But it cannot be forgotten where Japan’s place in History was before and during the Second World War. Before the war, Japan was in the process of modernizing itself after essentially being pushed around one too many times by foreign powers. And one of the key important things Japan wanted to modernize was their military and after the Russo-Japanese war in 1904, Japan had successfully done so and made its place among the world’s great powers. The secret to Japan’s modernization was essentially them borrowing certain political attributes from other countries however its main goal was to assert itself as the World’s Greatest power and become the ultimate sphere of influence. This started with Japan attempting to essentially spread their empire into China in order to insulate against the 1930’s Great Depression but this didn’t sit right with China who was in the process of bringing about a new government[17] and as a result, there was war between Japan and China and as stated earlier, the United States stood in the way of Japan successfully being able to take over China.

In other words, one can say that Japan was responsible for giving the United States a reason to use the bomb because when one carefully reads the terms put in the Potsdam Declaration (the declaration which gave Japan terms to follow upon surrendering) especially one of the numbers that says, “the Japanese military forces, after being completely disarmed, shall be permitted to return to their homes with the opportunity to lead peaceful and productive lives”[18], which does not seem unfair. And another term that says, “We do not intend that the Japanese shall be enslaved as a race or destroyed as a nation, but stern justice shall be meted out to all war criminals, including those who have visited cruelties upon our prisoners” should have given the Japanese a little peace of mind when contemplating whether or not they should accept the surrender terms. It essentially leads to the conclusion that it was perhaps the stubbornness of the Japanese government that led to their inevitable demise.

The question still remains whether or not there were still other options that could have taken place as an alternative to using the bomb. To find the answer to that, one must try to find the reason for the United States stressing upon Japan an “unconditional” surrender. As stated earlier, there were no plans to harm the emperor nor were there plans to enslave any Japanese citizens. So why desire for an unconditional surrender? A good inference could be that the United States wanted to instill fear in the Japanese people because even though they were on the clear losing side of the war, they were still unwilling to back down. When the Japanese were almost to the point of surrendering on the one condition that they knew nothing would happen to their emperor, why couldn’t the United States accept that one term? Secretary of State, James Byrnes answers the question for that in his memoirs, “While equally anxious to bring the war to an end, I had to disagree [to Japan’s condition]…and any retreat from these words [“unconditional surrender”] now would cause much delay in securing their acquiescence”[19]. And according to Tsuyoshi’s “Racing the Enemy”, it appears that

“Truman was well aware that once he insisted upon unconditional surrender in the Potsdam Proclamation, Japan would fight the war to the bitter end…He feared that any negotiations with the Japanese government might be taken as a sign of weakness. Any weakening of the U.S. stand on unconditional surrender might strengthen the war party in Japan, reinforcing their will to fight on… [And] the atomic bomb provided Truman with the answer to the dilemma of imposing unconditional surrender on japan and saving American lives. Thus, [Truman] was eager to use the atomic bomb rather than explore other alternatives”[20]

So to put it another way, there may have been alternative options but based on the situation Truman was in, with Japan not wanting to surrender and having the atomic bomb as this almost magic button that could make all the world’s problems go away (along with many of his confidants perhaps urging him to use it), it seemed as though giving the “go ahead” to dropping the bomb was his only option. That and if there were any other alternatives that could have been taken, the Japanese perhaps would have still continued to fight. It should also be known that Japan also had scientists that were capable of building their own atomic bomb but the only thing that hindered this from happening in Japan was that the scientists were “unenthusiastic about the bomb”.[21]

The aftermath of the surrendering resulted in the U.S. occupying Japan and making sure the terms of the treaty are carried out. And General Douglas MacArthur was put in charge of this occupation and set out to try and transform Japan politically, economically, and socially. Politically he set to make Japan out to become a constitutional monarchy essentially not taking any power away from the emperor Hirohito and allow him to keep his title. Economically he set out to democratize it and socially, he set out to bring equality amongst Japanese citizens.[22] And because the Japanese had such a hatred for the United States during the War, one would expect the Japanese to drag their feet during the Occupation but they instead reacted peacefully and were instead grateful that the United States stuck to their promise that they had no intention to enslave the Japanese citizens and only sought out to bring peace amongst the people of Japan.

Looking back on the past, it seems as though while this war was avoidable, it still ended with peace among the people of Japan and the United States. And despite all the lives lost on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it is quite clear that the United States made the right choice. The fact of the matter is that after the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, the Japanese did not make a declaration of peace until four days after the first bomb and one day after the second bomb was dropped.[23] And one cannot say that the United States did not try to make peace with Japan by urging them to surrender. Even President Truman stated in a letter regarding the bombings, “We sent an ultimatum to Japan. It was rejected… Dropping the bombs ended the war, saved lives, and gave the free nations a chance to face the facts.”[24] So while innocent civilians died as a result of this explosive decision, it was a sacrifice the United States and Japan both were going to have to make.

-Mr. Writer

Originally written on November 29, 2013 at 4:09 P.M.

 

Works Cited:

“The Atlantic | December 1946 | If the Atomic Bomb Had Not Been Used | Compton.” The Atlantic | December 1946 | If the Atomic Bomb Had Not Been Used | Compton. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Sept. 2013. <http://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/issues/46dec/compton.htm&gt;.

“The Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 26 Sept. 2013. <http://www.history.com/topics/bombing-of-hiroshima-and-nagasaki&gt;.

“Potsdam Declaration.” Atomicarchive.com: Exploring the History, Science, and Consequences of the Atomic Bomb. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Sept. 2013. <http://www.atomicarchive.com/Docs/Hiroshima/Potsdam.shtml&gt;.

“Truman’s Reflections on the Atomic Bombings.” Atomicarchive.com: Exploring the History, Science, and Consequences of the Atomic Bomb. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Sept. 2013.

Rotter, Andrew Jon. “Chapter 4: The United States I: Imagining and Building the Bomb.” Hiroshima: The World’s Bomb. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008. N. pag. Print.

Rotter, Andrew Jon. “Chapter 3: Japan and Germany: Paths Not Taken.” Hiroshima: The World’s Bomb. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008. N. pag. Print.

Byrnes, James, “All in One Lifetime” (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1958)*

Catton, Philip. “Second World War in Asia.” Stephen F. Austin State University. 4 Nov. 2013. Lecture.

Hasegawa, Tsuyoshi. “Chapter 5: The Atomic Bombs.” Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan. Cambridge: Harvard UP., n.d. N. pag. Print.

Cyril Clemens, ed., Truman Speaks (New York: Columbia University Press, 1960),p.69*

Catton, Philip. “The Occupation of Japan” Stephen F. Austin State University. 6 Nov. 2013. Lecture.

Pearl Harbor: Legacy of Attack. Dir. Michael Rosenfeld and Kirk Wolfinger. By Patrick Prentice. Perf. Tom Brokaw, Bob Ballard, Stephen Ambrose. National Geographic’s, 2001. Netflix.

Catton, Philip. “Japanese Imperialism” Stephen F. Austin State University. 7 Oct. 2013. Lecture

 

* Source copied from source used in “Racing the Enemy”

[1] National Geographic’s Documentary (Netflix)

[2] Catton’s Lecture (Second World War in Asia)

[3] Catton’s Lecture (Second World War in Asia)

[4] National Geographic’s Documentary (Netflix)

[5] History.com

[6] “Hiroshima: The World’s Bomb”

[7] Catton’s Lecture (Second World War in Asia)

[8] “Racing the Enemy”

[9] “Racing the Enemy”

[10] History.com

[11] History.com

[12] “Truman Speaks”

[13] “Hiroshima: The World’s Bomb”

[14] “Racing the Enemy”

[15]“Racing the Enemy”

[16] “Hiroshima: The World’s Bomb”

[17] Catton’s Lecture (Origins of the Sino-Japanese War)

[18] Potsdam Declaration

[19] James Byrne’s “All in One Lifetime”

[20] “Racing the Enemy”

[21] “Hiroshima: The World’s Bomb”

[22] Catton’s Lecture (The Occupation of Japan)

[23] If the Atomic Bomb Had Not Been Used

[24] Truman’s Reflections on the Bomb