One Week Of Shock, 68 Years Of Awe

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The 68th anniversary of the Hiroshima atomic bombing

As a phrase, “shock and awe” appeared in the lexicon of the U.S. Military in the late 1990s, following the 1996 publication of “Shock and Awe: Achieving Rapid Dominance” a strategic doctrine developed for the National Defense University by retired Naval Commander Harlan Ullman and former Jimmy Carter Administration adviser James Wade. Most of us first heard the phrase in reference to the fast-forward beating we delivered to Iraq’s military in 2003. But the concept is ages old. In the 20th century, the world called it “Blitzkreig” — although the Nazis’ high-speed success could well be attributed to the rest of Europe’s failure to comprehend that the millennia of trench warfare and fixed emplacements like the Maginot Line had ended 20 years prior to World War II.

While the Nazis conducted a strategically sound campaign of rapid dominance against the Benelux nations and France, it’s worth remembering that they were operating against the Benelux nations and France. Give me the 1st Ranger Battalion and some air support, and I could march in the shade on the Champs-Élysées. If the purpose of “shock and awe” is a swift end to hostilities, I would argue that the greatest show of “shock and awe” happened just more than five years and two continents away from Herr Hitler’s party in Paris.

By late July 1945, World War II was trudging toward a conclusion. Adolf and Eva checked out of their bunker more than two months earlier, leaving Japan as the lone Axis power still standing. Nonetheless, the Japanese ignored the Potsdam Declaration of July 26, despite already considerably shocking and awesome firebombing campaigns over Japanese cities. In fact, the March firebombing of Tokyo remains the single most destructive aerial bombing raid in military history. Nearly six dozen Japanese cities were similarly leveled in the first six months of 1945, all as a result of conventional-weapon campaigns necessitated by the ultimately futile Japanese strategy of dispersing military and industrial assets throughout civilian population zones.

But still, they refused to surrender. As Allied commanders prepared for Operation Downfall, the potential invasion of the Japanese Home Islands, the Japanese remained defiant, planning their defensive Operation Ketsu-Go. Conservative casualty estimates placed total military and civilian losses in the millions. The world steeled itself for what could well be the bloodiest fighting yet to come.

And then, the defining example of “shock and awe” debuted on the world stage. Sixty-eight years ago this week, at 8:15 a.m. local time, the people of Japan — specifically, the people of the city of Hiroshima — met “Little Boy.” As many as 100,000 people died in an instant, with thousands more doomed within months. Lest the shock not be awesome enough; 68 years ago tomorrow, the people of Japan — specifically, the people of the city of Nagasaki — met “Fat Man.” Six days later, the U.S. Navy prepared the U.S.S. Missouri for a famous photo op.

Sixty-eight years later, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki remain the lone combat detonations of nuclear weapons in history. Despite wreaking unprecedented destruction, they prevented many times more. The world has rolled to the edge of nuclear madness repeatedly since then, with brushfires nearly raging out of control from Berlin to Cuba and virtually all points in between. Arsenals have filled with destructive force beyond the worst nightmares of Hiroshima survivors. But none have been detonated.

Thanks to the proliferation of the progeny of Little Boy and Fat Man, the world sleeps every night underneath a nuclear blanket. But thanks to four days of “shock and awe” 68 years ago, the world doesn’t sleep underneath 6 feet of radioactive dirt.  In defining “shock and awe,” Ullman and Wade assert that such a campaign must include “the threat and fear of action that may shut down all or part of the adversary’s society or render his ability to fight useless short of complete physical destruction.”

As a direct consequence of one week in August 1945, the threat and fear of total nuclear annihilation have shut down human society’s desire to inflict upon itself complete physical destruction. Though we can use nuclear power for war, we mostly use it for energy these days. That’s a bit shocking; it’s absolutely awesome; and, most importantly, it’s historical fact.

–Ben Crystal

Ben Crystal

is a 1993 graduate of Davidson College and has burned the better part of the last two decades getting over the damage done by modern-day higher education. He now lives in Savannah, Ga., where he has hosted an award-winning radio talk show and been featured as a political analyst for television. Currently a principal at Saltymoss Productions—a media company specializing in concept television and campaign production, speechwriting and media strategy—Ben has written numerous articles on the subjects of municipal authoritarianism, the economic fallacy of sin taxes and analyses of congressional abuses of power.

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  • disgusted

    Whilst it may be true that humans in general have chosen not to exercise total self destruction, the threat of another nuclear war remains ‘ real ‘. There are sufficient numbers of madmen and madwomen on this planet to almost guarantee it and it remains a fact that those crazies don’t care a hoot what other humans choose. Their choices and wishes are irrelevant in the greater scheme of things as far as the power crazies are concerned. Does the banker who takes home multi-million dollar bonuses care at all about all the foreclosed homes ( many illegally ) and resultant misery, continually perpetrated by his very corporation? Not at all, it’s sort of like ” screw you jack, i’m alright!” The government does not care about YOU! What part of that sentence do you not understand?

    • speedle24

      Hey disgusted, you seem to be rambling all over the place. What do bankers have to do with political despots with access to nukes?

      • Jimmy the Greek

        A lot more than you think !

    • Jimmy the Greek

      Googel : The Samson Option For a real eye oppener

  • laura merrone

    Did we really need to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki? I’ve heard pros and cons on that subject. I’ve heard the Japanese were ready to surrender unconditionally and we still did it… I guess there’s two sides to every historical account.

    • wandamurline

      My daddie spent four years in the jungles fighting the Japanese, and he says that we had no choice but to plant them….they were a proud people who would not surrender and were killing our soldiers….it had to be done. You know, hind sight is a great thing to think that maybe we shouldn’t have done something, but when you are in the middle of a hot jungle fighting for your life everyday, your hindsight might look a little different. I feel no remorse for what America did…they probably saved my daddy’s life and I thank them….heck, they probably saved your granddad’s life, as I am sure from your comment that you must be young and clueless. We are losing the greatest generation ever, and there has not been a generation after them that has really done much for America….they sacrificed everything for their country….we should try to emulate them.

      • laura merrone

        I’m not “young and clueless”. I’m old and read many books on the subject. I guess the last one I read was by Ron Paul and he was one that said the Japanese would have surrendered anyway. The rest of them gave your arguments. I also read one about Pearl Harbor being “set up” by Roosevelt. (Sorry, don’t remember the name of it right off the bat). Who knows what else was done, “under the table” with him? He was a socialist..He sold out to the Soviets and let them take over all of Eastern Europe, so no telling…You know, I should change my name to a man’s and maybe I would get more respect….Geez, I was just asking a question. But I thank you for your responses even though they were very condescending…

        • manuel

          Keep in mind the Japanese military attempted to assassinate their emperor when they discovered he was making a radio message telling his people the nation was surrendering. Does that sound like they were going to give up the fight? Paul may not have all his facts in order on this one.

          • Jimmy the Greek

            As they should have !

        • Jimmy the Greek

          We done to Japan what we are now doing to Iran , that is the reason they did the Pearl harbor thing .

          • John H. Holliday D.D.S.

            Imperial Japan sneak attacked the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor to prevent the US from stopping or delaying Imperial Japan’s conquest of all of mainland China and all of Southeast Asia and all of the U.S. held territory known as the Philippine Islands. Japan wanted and attempted to control, dominate and enslave all of Far East Asia and the United States in 1941 was the only nation that could make the attempt to stop Japan’s military imperialism in Asia. The Soviet Union had it’s back against the wall and was fighting for it’s own survival against the Third Reich’s military invasion into the Soviet Union which made the Soviet Union unable to stop Japanese military imperialism and conquest in Asia at least not until the Soviets were capturing Berlin in 1945. Also Japan had it’s own top secret Atomic Bomb projects that were more advanced than Germany’s meager Atomic Bomb project that barely got off the drawing boards. And yes, knowing Japan’s indifference to easily mass murdering millions of innocent Chinese civilians during the 1930s and during WWII and mass murdering innocent Vietnamese, Burmese, Indonesian, Malaysian, Filipino, Taiwanese and Korean civilians during WWII, the Japanese would have not hesitated to drop Japanese Atomic Bombs on U.S. cities or drop Japanese Atomic Bombs on U.S. Marines and U.S. GIs at any place at any time if those Japanese Atomic Bombs would kill more Americans when Japanese bullets and bayonets are not enough to kill Americans. Check the internet for Imperial Japan’s World War II Top Secret Atomic Bomb Projects.

          • Jimmy the Greek

            That all was after 1941 in the 30s we tried to stop jap’s from getting raw matreals ,

          • John H. Holliday D.D.S.

            Right you are. Unfortunately, during the 1930s and up to December 7th, 1941 the Japanese had viewed the United States as a serious threat to try and make an attempt to try and stop the Japanese from continuing to invade and conquer other nations in Far East Asia. The Japanese did not need our American scrap steel and scrap iron and other raw materials after they invaded and occupied all of Manchuria during the 1930s and the eastern half of China and needed only to kick the British, French and Dutch out of Southeast Asia and the East Indies to grab the Indonesian and Burmese oil fields, then the Japanese could tell us to drink our own oil. The Japanese spies at Pearl Harbor knew all of the US Pacific Fleet was vulnerable and could be easily sunk and destroyed and the rest is history. The Japanese were very capable of manufacturing a working Atomic Bomb. Luck and time was on our side made possible by the U.S. military service men who placed their lives in harms way.

        • speedle24

          Laura, when Ron Paul starts talking about world politics it is probably a good idea to go to the fridge for a snack. For all his great positions and ideas on freedom and economics, he is a goofy as the far left on geopolitical matters.

        • independent thinker

          Japan would have surrendered alright it just would have taken the lives of a million or more
          American solders and 90% of the Japanese population to bring it about.

    • chocopot

      Laura –

      I suggest you read some history books (no, not any books by Howard Zinn – but REAL history books) on the subject. I am 60 years old and have been a student of history for most of my life. I will not hesitate to tell you that the Left controls nearly all of the social sciences and the teaching profession at this time, as well as most of the media. They have been slowly but surely rewriting history for decades, creating a new record of what took place in the past (revisionism) to advance their agenda of hate against this country. What the Left has been doing is precisely what Orwell describes in “1984”; if you have never read it, you should, since it is happening in this country right now. Anyway, there are pros and cons to the story of the atom bombs, but the bottom line is that the Japanese were adamant in their refusal to surrender. Their country was essentially burned to the ground, in total ruin, but still they refused to surrender and were determined to fight on. It was necessary that they surrender – they could not be left as they were, with the militarists still running the country, remaining as a threat to a final peace. A full-scale invasion of the Japanese home islands had been planned and scheduled for early 1946. It was expected that, due to their fanatical fighting in territories that were not even theirs (all the islands we took from them), not only the military, but the civilians as well, would fight to the death to defend their home islands. Of course it was only an estimate, but the projected casualties from a full-scale invasion of Japan were 1 million American and at least 2 million Japanese lives. When Truman was told of the atomic bomb we had developed, which while he was Vice President had been kept from him, he realized that the only alternative to the loss of all those lives was to use the bomb and try to convince the Japanese that the complete end of their nation and their people was the alternative if they did not surrender. In addition, it was intended as a warning to the Soviet Union that they needed to stay out of Japan, which they intended to invade to add to their growing empire. It was going to be a warning to the Soviets that we could, if necessary, use the bomb on them as well if they did not mind their own business. So we used the bomb on Japan; after the second bomb, they finally decided to surrender, having been warned there was a third bomb being assembled for use and that, if necessary, additional bombs would be assembled and used. It may be hard to fathom this and accept it, but despite the horrendous loss of life due to the use of the two bombs, in the long run far more lives were saved by using those bombs.

      • Vis Fac

        As a fellow student of history I say you are spot on target. Liberals are not satisfied leaving things alone they want things run and remembered THEIR way. Why; possibly because they do not have the moxie to embrace the truth or cope with reality. Or simply want to control others.

        My observations lead me to conclude that they are narcissistic, indolent and opinionated. They prefer to be in charge and believe they are the only ones who know best how everyone should live their lives. They are afraid of truth and opposition and when cornered often resort to character assassination, argumentum ad hominem and and the labeling others.
        Assigning blame for their shortcomings and refusing to take responsibility are other traits of liberal tenet. We shouldn’t shirking responsibility and placing blame on inanimate objects either.
        One thing I can say is that they are tenacious Liberals keep doing what has proved not to work yet continue to force the issue. Example the myriad of ineffective “gun control” statutes on the books and still more are pushed. Detroit 60 years of liberal financial planning that bankrupted a city yet the same in planned for the nation. That’s tenacity also all the traits mentioned above.
        Liberals like to compare themselves with Allstate insurance with the US being in “Good Hands”
        Semper-Fi

        • chocopot

          Well stated.

      • speedle24

        You are absolutely spot on target chocopot. This was an interesting and timely piece by Crystal.

      • WTS/JAY

        “He who controls the present, controls the past. He who controls the past, controls the future.” -George Orwell

        • chocopot

          Precisely. That is/was the long-range plan – and it is succeeding.

    • Vis Fac

      The Japanese believe in Bushido (the way of the warrior) a chivalrous code to fight to the death. They were never going to surrender. Since the military was in control they would indeed have fought to the last person.
      If those bombs weren’t dropped a minimal estimation of casualties would be a million US troops killed or wounded. Only about a tenth of that number died as a result of those two bombs. More than a million Japanese would have died if Tokyo would have been the target.

      Japan was effectively cut off from western technology to copy they were using outdated weapons and the use of nuclear weapons gave Japan a face saving option for surrender.
      Semper-Fi

  • laker1

    We are witnessing the slow nuclear destruction of the US economy, middle class, US bankruptcy, corrupting political system, Constitution and civil rights, under a criminal administration. It is doing what no war has been able to do. That is destroying the greatest nation to ever exist in a few short years.

  • gian2012

    The Japanese were a stubborn bunch yet saw the folly of their ways the hard way. Had Harry Truman not made the decision he did, who knows how long the war with Japan would have continued. We could end the war in the Middle East right now using the same Truman decision. The atrocities there would end overnight and perhaps a new beginning would emerge like it did in Japan. Trouble is, the Japanese used their heads for something besides hatracks and under the tutelage of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the industrious Japanese rose from the ashes of Hiroshima/Nagasaki to become a world power, but the Middle East bozos will still be using their heads for turban racks because they’re dumb as fenceposts, so a new beginning could very well be moot. Best part is though, the Middle East after being nuked would become more Persian Gulf than land. The nukes we have now make pretty big holes in the ground.

  • Quester55

    Good History lesson, & now, thanks to Obama, It’s looking like “Our Turn”, is coming soon!