The Long View 2005-08-10: Recusant Bears & Bulls Revise History in Extraterrestrial Standard Time

Since by happenstance this post comes up almost exactly 12 years later than it was first published, it manages to be entirely topical with regards to the bombing of Hiroshima. My contribution to the annual event is to remind you how nutty the Japanese government had become in the 1930s and 40s.

Recusant Bears & Bulls Revise History in Extraterrestrial Standard Time

Responding to growing popular outrage, the State of New Jersey is almost certainly going to approve a six-day bear hunt in December. Black bears have been reported in all 21 of the state's counties, including the counties that are 100% urban. These animals are dangerous, and people are tired of worrying about them: the environmentalists have been shouted down. Compare this to the situation in the Alps:

They climb trees, can weigh 300 kilos, and are capable of running up to 40mph. And thanks to a reintroduction programme, they are now roaming freely all over the Alps. The successful comeback of the brown bear, however, is causing consternation in northern Italy, Austria and Switzerland following several grizzly episodes - including the mauling of a prize yak, and the deaths of scores of sheep, goats and chickens...While some are warning of dangers, Francesco Borzaga, president of the Trentino branch of the World Wildlife Fund, has been trying to calm fears. "Bears are not considered dangerous to man. Living side by side is possible," he said. "It's a question of reciprocal respect."

Actually, it's a question of where you want to put the new bear-skin rug.

* * *

We should be grateful that the Space Shuttle Discovery landed without misadventure. We should also be appalled at the standards for a "successful mission." The first shuttle flight was in 1981; NASA is still getting the bugs out of a design that is 24 years old. It is as if, in 1951, engineers were still trying to perfect Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis.

This change in the pace of progress has been noted before. A young adult who was suddenly transported from 1900 to 1950 would have been bewildered by a walk down the street; more so, if he read a news magazine. In contrast, the change from 1950 to 2000 was largely a matter of degree. The same pattern obtained in the 19th century. The technology of everyday life in 1800 was not so different from that of Roman times. Fifty years later, the telegraph and steam technology had altered the scale of the world. The following 50 years were spent filling in the details.

* * *

Speaking of space, I see that Space Ventures, of Arlington, Virginia, is offering to send two tourists around the moon at the cost of $100 million each, using Russian technology. The company has already sent two tourists into orbit on a less pricey $20 million trip. And how big is the market?

"It's the same number of people who could afford to buy a $100 million yacht"...

Suppose that the price of manned spaceflight does fall dramatically in the near future. Those people who paid tens of millions of dollars to get there first are going to look awfully foolish.

* * *

The Shortest Way with Dissenters, says Christopher D. Morris in an August 9 opinion piece in The Boston Globe, Stopping a judicial conflict of interest

Roe v. WadeRoe v. WadeRoe v. Wade

Well, I'm persuaded.

* * *

Meanwhile, in the New York Times, Michael Downing has this to say about Congress's plan to extend my favorite bad idea:

First, the trick of shifting unused morning light to evening was intended to exploit long summer days, when sunrise occurs between 4:00 and 5:00 a.m. Standard Time - hours of daylight that do not exist during the short days of March and November.

Second, after nearly 100 years, daylight saving has yet to save us anything.

If we must adjust ourselves to changes in daylight, then we should do it with Spring and Autumn schedules in Standard Time. That would not even require legislation. A few executive orders would mandate that banks and federal offices open at 8:00 AM sometime after the vernal equinox and at 9:00 AM after the autumnal equinox. The rest of the country could fall into line, or not, as businesses and localities chose.

* * *

It's August in Germany, too, so Der Spiegel has the leisure to publish issues with scary cover art and apocalyptic themes, such as: "China Against USA: Struggle for the World of Tomorrow." You can visit the increasingly useless Der Spiegel site itself, but you are better off seeing the translation and commentary at David's Medienkritik.

I don't want to belabor the question of the Chinese Threat again here, though readers will have gathered that I capitalize the words ironically: I suspect that China is going to turn out to be Argentina with pandas. What I would like to remark on is a point raised on Medienkritik: the cover of Der Spiegel shows a dragon and an eagle in conflict, but where, asks Medienkritik, is the European bull?

The use of the bull (specifically, a white bull) as the heraldic symbol for Europe makes perfect sense in terms of mythology. On the other hand, in terms of appeal as a symbol, it ranks with the turkey, which Benjamin Franklin wanted to make the symbol of the United States. (And the Maple Leaf? It apparently dispirits many Canadians, but I always liked it.)

Anyway, if the EU is going to get anywhere, it needs a cooler animal.

* * *

On the 60th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, The Weekly Standard has published a piece by Richard B. Frank on the collapse of the revisionist critique.

In the 1960s and '70s, many historians argued that the use of the bomb was militarily unnecessary, because the Japanese government was already trying to surrender on terms that the US later found acceptable, and that an invasion of Japan either was never seriously contemplated, or could have been accomplished with acceptable casualties. The real reason the bombs were dropped, many revisionists concluded, was as a demonstration to the Soviet Union. (I believe this was also the Party Line as early as 1948, but that's another story.)

This case was plausible, if not unanswerable, in light of the archival information that was available. Only in the 1990s were historians able to view the full range of diplomatic and military intercepts on which the Truman Administration made its decision. For instance:

[Ambassador Sato to the USSR] promptly wired back a cable [to the Inner Cabinet in Tokyo] that the editors of the "Magic" Diplomatic Summary made clear to American policymakers "advocate[s] unconditional surrender provided the Imperial House is preserved." Togo's reply, quoted in the "Magic" Diplomatic Summary of July 22, 1945, was adamant: American policymakers could read for themselves Togo's rejection of Sato's proposal--with not even a hint that a guarantee of the Imperial House would be a step in the right direction.

There is also an example of why Alternative History is not just a parlor game:

...Even with the full ration of caution that any historian should apply anytime he ventures comments on paths history did not take, in this instance it is now clear that the long-held belief that Operation Olympic [the invasion of Japan] loomed as a certainty is mistaken. Truman's reluctant endorsement of the Olympic invasion at a meeting in June 1945 was based in key part on the fact that the Joint Chiefs had presented it as their unanimous recommendation...With the Navy's withdrawal of support, the terrible casualties in Okinawa, and the appalling radio-intelligence picture of the Japanese buildup on Kyushu...[From mid-July onwards, Ultra intercepts exposed a huge military buildup on Kyushu...One intelligence officer commented that the Japanese defenses threatened "to grow to [the] point where we attack on a ratio of one (1) to one (1) which is not the recipe for victory."]...Olympic was not going forward as planned and authorized--period. But this evidence also shows that the demise of Olympic came not because it was deemed unnecessary, but because it had become unthinkable.

So, any American government would have done what the Truman Administration did. The question of the effect of the entry of the USSR into the war in the interval between Hiroshima and Nagasaki adds another layer of complexity, but it appears that nothing less than the combination was necessary to induce surrender. As Aragorn said, if this is victory, our hands are too small to hold it.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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