Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Lawrence Ferlinghetti - Fool or Fraud?

We went to the wonderful Point Arena Movie Theater and saw “Flags of our Fathers,” another Clint Eastwood masterpiece. As I left the theater, sneaking wipes at my moist eyes, I thought about a San Francisco Chronicle article I had just read about Lawrence Ferlinghetti, San Franciso poet and writer.

In the Chronicle article he reminisced about his World War II experiences as a Navy ensign on wooden subchasers, seeing service in the Atlantic, then in the Pacific. Near the end of the article, when asked about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Ferlinghetti observed:

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"It was a monstrous, racist act, the worst the U.S. ever committed," he says. "Had the Japanese been white-skinned, those bombs would not have dropped."

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I reflected on his remark as I thought about what I had just seen in the movie. The Japanese on Iwo Jima fought ferociously, and when defeat was inevitable, committed suicide. Only about 1,000 of the 22,000 Japanese soldiers on Iwo Jima survived. US losses were 6,821, over twice as many deaths in one month as we have suffered in over three years of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. As horrific as the fighting on Iwo Jima was, it was just a prelude to the slaughter at Okinawa.

Twice as many were killed (approximately a quarter of a million) during the Battle of Okinawa than Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. Estimates of civilian deaths go as high as one-third of Okinawa’s population.

I went to Okinawa on inspection trips while stationed at Hickam AFB in the early 1980’s, and my Navy Sea Bee buddy, Merv, told me about the desperate battles and staggering deaths from combat and suicide that the Japanese soldiers and Okinawa civilians suffered. He and some of his buddies searched the caves for World War II artifacts, not for souvenirs, but to turn over to Japanese societies for identification and presentation to the families of the missing dead.

Thousands of Japanese were entombed in the caves, and thousands -- women, children, old people -- threw themselves from the cliffs rather than suffer the humiliation and atrocities they had been told to expect at the hands of the conquering Americans.

Bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki was not a “monstrous, racist act.” If Ferlinghetti were a better student of history, or probably if he were just more honest, he would admit that the bombing saved millions of Japanese military and civilian lives, and the lives of hundreds of thousands of American soldiers and sailors.

I have absolutely no respect for you, Mr. Ferlinghetti, and your outrageous statements. You display your ignorance and/or dishonesty (which is it?) by not noting that German cities had already suffered much more sustained bombing than the Japanese. If you and other critics of the atomic bombings were fair, you would mention Dresden (75 percent destroyed), Hamburg (firestorms cooked and suffocated people in shelters), Berlin (70 percent destroyed, 1.5 million homeless), and many others.

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Dresden dead and dying

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Hamburg after the firestorm Hell

British Air Chief Marshal Arthur "Bomber" Harris famously said of the Germans "They have sowed the wind and so shall they reap the whirlwind."

It can easily be stated about all warfare that it is “monstrous.” Since most nations have a degree of racial homogeneity, perhaps the label “racist” fits too. However, terrible deeds had been done by the Japanese and Germans to both military and civilian inhabitants of the countries they invaded and conquered.

Mr. Ferlinghetti, let me try some historical word associations on you.

The Rape of Nanking. Any comments?

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The Holocaust. Do you have anything to add? Who does?

German and Japanese gross violations of the Geneva Convention concerning the treatment of Prisoners of War, and other war crimes. When you heard about their atrocities, did you get mad too?

The Blitz? London? Coventry? Plymouth?

The Bataan Death March. I knew a survivor. You probably didn’t. There weren’t many, you know.

Mr. Ferlinghetti, I find you guilty of either gross ignorance or dishonesty, either or both of which should disqualify you from being considered a serious commentator on the motives underlying the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A truthful and fair conclusion would be that a hundred thousand lives were sacrificed to save the lives of millions, and incomprehensible destruction.

Had we invaded the Japanese mainland, then you would be justified in labelling the resulting carnage "monstrous and racist," and just about any other horrible words you could assign.

However, almost all the soldiers and sailors you served with were glad we dropped the bombs and didn't invade. The Japanese should be.

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