Monday, August 5, 2013

Tuesday is the 30th Annual National Night Out

Tuesday, August 6, will be the 30th Annual National Night Out. National Night Out, or as its promoters like to call it, "America's Night Out Against Crime," began in 1984. The purpose was and is "to promote involvement in crime prevention activities, police-community partnerships, neighborhood camaraderie and send a message to criminals letting them know that neighborhoods are organized and fighting back." National Night Out now involves over 37 million people in 15,000 communities in all 50 states, U.S. Territories, military bases and even some Canadian cities. Check to see if your community is participating.

Tuesday is also National Fresh Breath Day, so brush your teeth or take a mint or something before going out to greet your neighbors for National Night Out. Celebrate National Night Out with a root beer float; Tuesday is also Root Beer Float Day.

On a somber note, Tuesday is also Hiroshima Day, the day remembering the dropping of the A-bomb on that Japanese city, 68 years ago.

Some 70,000 people died in the city when the Hiroshima atomic bomb was detonated -- but 100,000 died in the entirely "conventional" firebombing of Tokyo just five months earlier, on March 10, 1945. Of course, only one plane was involved in the devastation of Hiroshima; over 300 B-29s took part in the Tokyo raid. (Another difference in the two events was the aftermath. Fallout and radiation claimed another 30,000 victims in Hiroshima by the end of 1945, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, and 200,000 or more may have died within five years of the blast due to radiation exposure.)

But American strategists believed that the bombings saved lives -- Japanese as well as American.

This may seem farfetched today. But the Pacific War had been unbelievably bloody.

In February 1945, 70,000 Americans faced 22,000 Japanese defenders on Iwo Jima. The Japanese would not surrender; they did not expect to survive. They didn't. And they killed 6,000 Americans along the way, wounding another 20,000 more.

The Battle of Okinawa followed. From April 1 until roughly June 21, American and other allied forces vied for control of the large island and its smaller neighbors. Of the 117,000 Japanese defenders, nearly 110,000 (94%) died. American land forces numbered 182,000 at the start of the battle (including Marines and Navy personnel under Army command). Some 12,500 were killed; there were 62,000 casualties in all -- one in three! Because of kamikaze attacks, Navy losses at sea were also steep, with 4,907 killed and 4,874 wounded. Estimates vary as to the civilian death toll -- anywhere from a tenth to a third of the population was killed in the battle -- as many as 150,000 killed.

Okinawa was to be the jumping off point for the Allied invasion of the Japanese "Home Islands." The hundreds of thousands of American troops in Europe -- idle now after V-E Day -- spent the Summer of 1945 nervously awaiting transfer to the Pacific theater. Given the casualty rates in other Pacific-theater landings, it is reasonable to say that many of these men lived because so many in Hiroshima died.

Japanese military strategy was brutally simple: Fight to the death for each inch of ground -- and thereby make the war so terrible, so costly, so bloody, that the Allies would give up and sue for peace. Once the guns were silenced, Japan believed it could hold on to its conquests (or even win back some of what it had already lost) at the negotiation table; the Japanese were certain that the West would be that reluctant to start shooting again.

From President Harry Truman's standpoint, the atomic bombs were a last-chance gamble to avoid full-scale invasion. The weapons employed were unbelievably terrible, but the worst thing about them, from the Japanese military standpoint, was that the bombs were visited upon Japan by single airplanes, leaving no chance for the dug-in defenders to inflict massive American casualties.

The Japanese did not know whether what happened on August 6, 1945 in Hiroshima (and a week later in Nagasaki) might happen in all of their cities, one by one, or two by two. They did not know that America used up its entire nuclear stockpile in the two attacks -- and because they did not know, but because they feared what might happen, the Japanese surrendered.

On Hiroshima Day, we remember the horrible choices both Japan and America faced in 1945 -- and we pray we make better choices in the future.

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