Surviving History


ADVENTURE, WAR, MURDER, SLAVERY, ESPIONAGE: from the internationally bestselling author of Nathaniel's Nutmeg and seven other history books. New post each Tuesday.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

THE UNLUCKIEST MAN: BOMBED AT HIROSHIMA AND NAGASAKI


He was crossing Hiroshima on a public tram when he heard the droning sound of an aircraft engine in the skies above.
Twice bombed, twice survived
Tsutomu Yamaguchi thought nothing of it: after all, it was wartime and planes were forever passing over the city.
He was unaware that the engines belonged to the US bomber, Enola Gay, and that it was just seconds away from dropping a 13 kiloton uranium atomic bomb.
Yamaguchi was just stepping off the tram as the plane approached its target at 8.15am on 6 August, 1945. He glanced up at the sky and noticed it pass overheard. He also saw two small parachutes. And then, quite without warning, all hell broke loose.
‘[There was] a great flash in the sky and I was blown over.’
The massive nuclear warhead had exploded less than three kilometres from the spot where he was standing.
A blinding flash of light
The warhead was detonated at 600m: as Yamaguchi swung his gaze upwards he saw a vast mushroom-shaped pillar of fire rising high into the sky.
Seconds later, he passed out. The explosion ruptured his eardrums and the flash of light left him temporarily blinded.
The heat of the exploding warhead was such that it left him with serious burns over the left side of the top half of his body. When he eventually regained consciousness, he crawled to a shelter and tried to make sense of what happened. He was fortunate to stumble across his colleagues, who had also survived. All three of them were young engineers with the shipbuilder Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and been unlucky enough to be sent to Hiroshima at the very time of the bombing.
Hiroshima after the attack
They spent the night together in an air raid shelter, nursing their burns and wounds. Then, on the following day, they ventured out of their shelter and picked their way through the charred and molten ruins.
Enola Gay's return
They passed piles of burnt and dying bodies as they made their way to the nearest functioning station. They were desperate to catch a train back to their home town of Nagasaki, some 180 miles away.
Nagasaki after the attack
Yamaguchi was in a poor state and went to have his wounds bandaged as soon as he reached Nagasaki. But by 9 August, he felt well enough to struggle into work.
His boss and his co-workers listened with horrified amazement as he described the unbelievable destruction that a single warhead had managed to cause. He told them how the bomb had melted metal and evaporated entire parts of the city. His boss, Sam, simply didn’t believe him.
‘You're an engineer,’ he barked. ‘Calculate it. How could one bomb...destroy a whole city?’
At the exact moment when he said these words - 11.02am - there was a blinding white flash that penetrated to the heart of the room. Yamaguchi’s tender skin was once again pricked with heat and he crashed to the ground. ‘I thought that the mushroom cloud followed me from Hiroshima,’ he said later
The US Airforce had dropped their second nuclear warhead, ‘Fat Man’, named after Winston Churchill. It was much larger than the Hiroshima device - a 25-kiloton plutonium bomb that exploded in the bowl of the valley in which Nagasaki is situated.
A model of the Nagasaki bomb
The destruction was more confined but even more intense than at Hiroshima: some 74,000 were killed and a similar number injured.
Yamaguchi, his wife and his baby son survived and spent much of the following week in an air raid shelter near what was left of their home. Five days later, they heard the news that Emperor Hirohito had announced Japan's surrender.
Yamaguchi’s survival of both nuclear explosions was little short of miraculous. Yet it was later discovered that he was one of 160 people known to have lived through both bombings.
He survived both of these
In 1957, he was finally recognized as a hibakusha or ‘explosion affected person’. But it was not until 2009 that he was recognized as an eniijuu hibakusha or double bomb survivor, the only person in Japan to be officially recognized as such.
Fellow Nagasaki survivors
The effects of the double bombings left its scars, both mental and physical. Yamaguchi lost the hearing in his left ear as a result of the Hiroshima explosion. He also temporarily lost his hair and his daughter would later recall that he was swathed in bandages until she reached the age of 12.
Yamaguchi became an outspoken opponent of nuclear weapons until he was well advanced in years, at which point he began to suffer from the long-term effects of the exposure to radiation. His wife developed liver and kidney cancer in 2008 and died soon after. Yamaguchi himself contracted acute leukemia and finally died in 2010 at the age of 93.
His longevity was extraordinary, as he knew all too well. He viewed his long life as a ‘path planted by God’.
‘It was my destiny that I experienced this twice and I am still alive to convey what happened,’ he said towards the end of his life.


Now published in USA
My new book, Russian Roulette, is now published in the USA. Available from amazonbarnes&noble and all good independent publishers.  

With this marvellous, meticulously researched and truly ground-breaking account of British spies working in Lenin's stripling Soviet Union, Giles Milton - with his best book so far - reminds us of a time when the spying game was dangerous, fun and - dare one say it - even cool.' Simon Winchester, author of The Men who United the States and The Professor and the Madman




53 comments:

  1. What was the alternative to the Atomic bombs? Japan would not have otherwise surrendered. Millions more killed in a land invasion? Japan was a brutal racist nation, worse than Hitler's Germany.

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    1. Japan was ready to surrender before Truman dropped the bomb. Truman was a racist bigot who stole the white house from Henry Wallace after FDR. Learn true history, not American propaganda history.

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    2. Dwight Eisenhower's view on using the Atomic Bomb

      "In 1945 ... , Secretary of War Stimson visited my headquarters in Germany, [and] informed me that our government was preparing to drop an atomic bomb on Japan. I was one of those who felt that there were a number of cogent reasons to question the wisdom of such an act.... During his recitation of the relevant facts, I had been conscious of a feeling of depression and so I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and second because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. It was my belief that Japan was, at that very moment, seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of 'face.' The Secretary was deeply perturbed by my attitude, almost angrily refuting the reasons I gave for my quick conclusions."

      Source: The White House Years: Mandate for Change: 1953-1956: A Personal Account (New York: Doubleday, 1963), pp. 312-313.

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    3. The alternative was direct invasion by the U.S. forces. If I recall correctly from university studies, Japan was all but defeated outside of their mainland - but, based on their societal warrior creed they would have put up a massive (though ultimately futile) resistance to invasion. The Atom bombs were to spare American lives that would have been lost by a direct invasion of Japan. There were other factors but this was the primary reason.

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    4. Japan deserved everything they received and more! Japan was not ready to surrender before the bombs! Learn your history McGurk the Progressive information starved jerk!

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    5. I'm amazed at the naivity of war, especially this subject. First of all I don't know of any war ever that has been perfect, in which side doesn't commit wrongfully acts. That said, war is war. It's dirty, gruesome, and hell. You have to remember also the mind frame of the Japanese in WW2. Each island that we fought for was a bloodbath and they did not surrender an ounce. It was death before dishonor. Now imagine attacking the main island of Japan with a whole nation that believed that same mindset. Statistics said that in the first 30 days of the invasion there would be an estimated 31,000+ casualties on the American side alone and following operations would be near 200,000 - 500,000+ casualties (American). So in the end the low side of American casualties was estimated to be 250,000 and high side would be 1 million. Japan was expected to take roughly about the same number. These may only be statistics but take a look at the casualties that occurred between April 1 and June 30 on Okinawa. We experienced 48,000 casualties fighting a Japanese force a fraction of the size that would be waiting for us on their home turf. If the invasion took place how many civilians do you think would just surrender honestly. Would you surrender if some country invaded the U.S. Furthermore, if you look at the options that were left to us to finally get Japan to surrender, more civilian casualties probably have taken place than dropping the a-bomb. If we never dropped the A-bomb what options would we have had? Invasion? Continue firebombing cities until everything was destroyed and devoid of life. Some people need to open their eyes and quit being short sighted. It's easy to sit there and judge past actions that took place 68 years ago. In the grand scheme of things the a-bomb probably took less lives than if we invaded and fire-bombed whole cities. Does it completely suck, of course it does, but it spared millions of Japanese from future deaths from bombings and invasion. It also saved countless American lives too. And that silly tid-bit "Dwight Eisenhower's view on using the Atomic Bomb" above. Look at those dates. I guarantee he said those things in that book for re-election as president, considering that those dates are right when he served in office. Now rewind a few years to 45' while he was General and I'm sure he would of had a different tune. War sucks plain and simple. At the end there really isn't a true winner. Just death tolls for both sides.

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    6. Japan would have surrendered anyway, as russia joined the war, they realised they were fucked and surrendered.

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    7. I recently had read the book about Zamporini who was a world class runner for the USA in the 1936 olympics. He was captured in Japanese held waters after 40+ days in a raft. The Japanese were a warrior society who felt anyone who surrenders, or were captured, were beneath contempt. He was moved to a prison camp in Japan and survived the Japanese plan to exterminate all prisoners of war by the sudden and explosive end to the war. Even Eisenhower didn't seem to realize all the ramifications of a continued war with Japan. Most westerners could not understand the affects on the Japanese culture of an invasion. During our march through the Pacific the Japanese mostly would rather die than surrender. Study some history and you could realize that it would not have been a simple invasion like we perpetrated in Europe.

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    8. I would say that the first bomb, though it may be argued, was necessary. The Japanese at that point were not giving up, and you know that they're gonna fight to the end if they send out kamikaze, suicide pilots. So, I believe that the first bomb was justified, to force the Japanese to surrender. However, the second bomb was completely unnecessary. This is the first time the atomic bomb was used, just like in the article, that guys boss said, "How could one bomb destroy a whole city!" So, after the first bomb, the Japanese government was in chaos and it takes time to confirm that whole city really disappeared and it takes some time to decide how they'll surrender. Thus, two days is simply not enough time for the Japanese government to surrender. For the US government to send out bomb #2 was unneeded. Bomb #2 was merely a display of power to the Russians. After the first bomb, the Japanese knew that they were going to surrender, but 2 days is simply not enough for the japanese government to make sense of everything.

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  2. @R Ha - it is a pure speculation whether Japan wouldn't otherwise surrendered. It's also a speculation whether the innocent victims would have been much more. We, luckily or not, don't have two parallel universes where we can compare the differences.
    A fact remains: many people lost their lives in the blink of an eye. Who cares on who's side they were? They were human beings after all. You can never justify killing of innocent people with their leaders' policy, not liked by somebody out there on the other side of the world.

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    1. I agree - far too many innocent civilians killed. But I do think that Japan would have carried on fighting... but, point taken, it's speculation.

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    2. You realize that more people died in the firebombings than in the dropping of the atomic bombs. I dont like nuclear weapons but in this instance you cant put your own personal feelings (which are over 50 years after the event) to criticize the decision. Its like people dont realize how fierce the fighting was in the pacific. You have the battles of guadalcanal, saipan, peleliu, iwo jima and many others. Each a fierce battle to control a small island just to get one step closer to Japan. It was a grueling process and after years of that when you have a choice of either reliving all those battles on a grand scale by invading the mainland or try and end it quicker by using this new weapon, well you are going to try to use that new weapon in hopes it will end the war sooner.

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  3. R Ha, That's absolutely true, but it still doesn't capture the full human picture of what happened. Most of the victims of these bombings were civilians, and bombs don't distinguish between military personnel and civilians, nor do they make exceptions for women or children. The fact remains unchanged that there were many CIVILIANS who suffered (although Hiroshima and Nagasaki were both targets of military signifigance - one of those bombs was intended for the city of Kokura). It is one thing to say "Hey, they deserved it and it saved lives" and quite another to learn how people were literally walking around like zombies with sheets of melted skin hanging off their arms.

    What I've always found interesting is that the Tokyo firebombings were far more destructive and much deadlier, yet they are rarely spoken about the way the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings are.

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    1. Thanks for your comment. And yes, the Tokyo fire-bombings need to be written about more thoroughly...

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  4. Well, I guess the author of this article is a glass half empty kinda person. I'd say he was one of the luckiest considering he survived 2 atomic bombs. You can't get much luckier than that.

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    1. I'm not sure if going through years of pain and suffering the consider lucky

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    2. He lived Jorge, i mean living through anything seems lucky to me. I see your point but the first thing I thought when I read this was that he was more lucky than unlucky. Like it would have been unlucky if he survived the first one only to die in the second.

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  5. This wasnt Iraq, or even Vietnam. In WW2, MANY civilians died, all over the world. Yes, it is horrible to think the USA made the decision to drop those 2 bombs. But Japan had to be stopped, and others were working on the Bomb as well.
    That was the point! To STOP it all. And it worked.
    May we never do it again.

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  6. Yes, as I said above, although it's only speculation, I think Japan would have fought on without this devastation...

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  7. The Japanese would have fought to the last Japanese person. This is not an opinion or insult. It's a fact, and a trait to be commended.

    More were saved by the bombing than would have died on both sides given a ground invasion.

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    1. If they would have fought to the last Japanese person then they wouldn't have surrendered. Your statement is contradictory. Seems to me you are justifying the actions of the U.S. so that you can feel patriotic towards your country??

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    2. Huh? What he's saying is in no way contradictory. He's saying they would not have surrendered, and so many times more lives would have been lost in the ensuing ground war. Whether you agree or disagree, that is a perfectly valid argument to make.

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  8. It is interesting to note the of the millions of Chinese murdered, gased, buried alive and experimented on by Imperial Japan, more Chinese people were killed with Samurai swords than at Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. Look up Toshiaki Mukai and Tsuyoshi Noda, two Samurai officers, who had a contest to see who could behead 100 Chinese the fastest.

    According to Wiki, R. J. Rummel, a professor of political science at the University of Hawaii, states that between 1937 and 1945, the Japanese military murdered from nearly 3,000,000 to over 10,000,000 people, most likely 6,000,000 Chinese, Indonesians, Koreans, Filipinos and Indochinese, among others, including Western prisoners of war." Kinda puts a different light on our poor benevolent World War II Emperor worshiping Japanese friends, no? Ask a Marine who had lived through Guadalcanal, Tarawa and Okinawa what he thought his odd of survival were if he landed in Japan. War sucks, most anyway you look at it. A Vet.

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    1. Justification of bad deeds done by the victorious side and condemnation of the bad deeds made by the countries which lost the war. It's a simple fact.
      Another fact is that we're far from the Christian values of not acting "eye for an eye".
      I'm not trying to defend the Japanese, of course it's very probable that many more would have died from both sides if the bombs weren't dropped...but then again - go back to the previous sentence...

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    2. It was not "right" or "wrong", it was "economic". Getting from "state of war" to "no war" in the shortest time possible with the least lives lost: drop the bombs.

      Yet Economics hardly take into account the nuance of dehumanization, the human identity, emotions and terror.

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  9. You people are completely ignorant of the facts and drowning in your Americanized view of history. Japan was completely ready to surrender. America had already beat the fuck out of Japan in Okinawa by the time they dropped the bombs - Japan had no supplies and were utterly demoralized. America dropped the bombs because they wanted to test their new technology - war was the excuse. Go to the peace museum in Hiroshima and try spewing the "oh Japan deserved it" shit again after you've seen what happened to CIVILIANS there. Japan did a lot of terrible shit in the war for which they deserve sanction but that is no excuse for what America did. What America did was a war crime for which they have never been tried.

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    1. I've been there, it's a scary place to be, and a shocking event. War crime? Ask my Dad, who was going to land about how he felt, and the vets who were on ships from Europe enroute to Japan how they felt on 10 August. That's really all I care about. Tough to be a Japanese in 1945. But I'd not have it any other way. And read your history better, when the Emperor decided to surrender, he stopped the Army command from a dethroning him. Those boys had committed the entire population to, among other things, attack allied soldiers on the beaches. Don't apologize for what happend, read and learn, then visit a cemetery full of WWII KIAs.

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    2. If they were so willing to surrender then they would have done so after the first atomic bomb.

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    3. As if they had any fucking time to surrender...

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  10. If Japan was sensible, it would have surrendered the days between first bomb and second bomb.

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    1. Because it's that fucking easy. You really think they weren't fucking busy? A whole city had just been destroyed out of nowhere. They would've surrendered in less than a month after the first one.

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  11. One of the most reasonable* explanations for the use of the atomic bomb against Japan, that I've heard, is that the US did not want to give Russia time to aid in their assault on Japan. Had Russia provided assistance in defeating Japan (as I believe they would have had the war continued) then they would have been entitled to the same privileges that the US took after the surrender.

    Apparently the Cold War was anticipated and it was seen as a tactically weak move to allow Russia to develop a military presence on the islands.

    * Note by reasonable I mean in explaining the decisions of the US government/military at that time. I do not want to imply, in any way, that the usage of the weapon to take human life was a reasonable action.

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    1. That could have been one out of many reasons to use the weapons. Decisions arent always black and white and many factors can go into why someone or a group of people decide to do something.

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  12. I wonder what people think of the Allied firebombing of Dresden and elsewhere? Justified? Or a war crime?

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    2. I have not seen a valid explanation about Harris's bombing of Dresden from a military perspective. Part of his plan was to attack the German morale, and this was supposedly the reason. I've not read one report that validated that bombing other than to crush German morale. The only troops that were there were German army soldiers retreating from the Eastern Front. Other than that- civilian refugees fleeing the approaching Russians. That's the reason why nobody really knows how many were killed, the transients moving through the city (a major rail hub and link between the west and east). It had no military value, and the war was a foregone conclusion. The difference between the atomic bombs and Dresden is that there would not be a million US and allied casualties staring us in the face.

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  13. Revisionists history on both sides........
    Truman assumed presidency a little more than four months prior to dropping the bomb on japan. FDR kept Truman in the dark on many things including the Manhattan project. It could be said with some validity that the second bomb didn't need to be dropped. But people on the other side could argue that Japan could have surrendered after the first one. There was legitimate concern that even if japan surrendered that there would be factions that would not yield leading to a protracted guerrilla war on the mainland. There is also good evidence that Truman was never fully made aware about the power of the first bomb and that the reports given to Truman about the damage left out key details about civilian casualties .
    Now take into account the land grab going on in Europe at the end of the war. It was a real concern that after the fall of Germany that WW2 would begin again shortly.
    We were fighting two wars. While yes the war in Europe was winding down we were almost directly fighting Russia to secure land and technology.

    Truman was not some genocidal maniac. He was a man thrust into a position that required him to make choices that had a profound impact on the next 4 years. There were long term flaws in FDR's plans. Which he conveniently died as the warnings he received from Churchill and others were coming true. Truman was given less than a month to make choices that needed to be made. He was given bad intelligence or at the very least reports lacking the information a man like Truman would need to go against his generals.
    We could not accept anything but unconditional surrender from Japan and not because of land casualties (although they would have been high) We needed our full attention to deal with reconstruction of Europe so we could show enough force to avoid a war with Russia.

    I find it humorous that people liken the dropping of the bombs to that of the mass genocide that was being done by Russia, Germany and Japan.
    One could argue that the dropping of the bombs was a show of force which Japan has a history of respecting saved many many more lives on BOTH sides.
    It's hard to speculate but initial death tolls were 220,000 from both bombs, How many would have died from a protracted guerrilla war? How would a potential war of this type impacted the situation in Europe?

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    1. Thanks, people have to remember truth is in found when you know the details and look at the big picture.

      When you turn the dropping of atom bombs into the "devil" you minimize the reality of the act. Without context or the ability to relate you reduce future generations to perceive great or "evil" people/events as real thus enabling it to happen again.
      The authors question is valid the fire bombings of Dresden and Tokyo were legitimate targets for cries of war crimes even if the reason behind them had merit.

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  14. I'm not worried about phrases like "getting ready to surrender" or "would have" surrendered. America made sure they would surrender. More American lives did not need to be lost just to avoid using an atomic bomb. We didn't start that war. We only came to finish it, and finish it we did. Japan accepted consequences such as these when they bombed Pearl Harbor.

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    1. "More American lives did not need to be lost just to avoid using an atomic bomb." So instead of more American lives, then Japanese lives? Wow, you're one biased son of a bitch.

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    2. The Japanese lives would either be lost by an american invasion or the atomic bomb. The atomic bomb did the same thing an invasion would. It saved American lives that would have been lost in the invasion. The japanese die either way. So before you start cussing like a baby please tell me what you would do in their situation: Kill you enemies while killing your people, or killing enemies without killing your people?

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  15. You heartless sons of american bitches...if somebody would drop 2 atomic bombs on your holy america all hell would break loose. You would have 10 new national holidays and would bitch about it for the next 200 years. Nobody who died in Hiroshima or Nagasaki deserved something like that. Governments ruin normal peoples lifes so shut the fuck up and dont say stupid thinks like they werent ready to surrender and deserved it. God I fucking hate your naive uneducated shit country. Your own government plays with you and you still suck their dicks each and every day with your shitty patriotism. FUCK WAR and FUCK ALL GOVERNMENTS.

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  16. One politician/ruler has evil plans, collaborates with a few more like minded evil politicians/rulers of other nations. Who should die or be killed?

    Not 220,000 innocent civilians who were living in different cities than that of their ruler !!

    The bombing if at all to be justified by even a milligram, should be dropped on the ruler's palace. Isnt it?

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    1. Sometimes the Ruler isn't in control of his state. The emperor then was not a war advocate, and his generals went into the war for him. Besides, given that the emperor was likely the most surrender-prone guy in the country, I doubt very much that dropping a bomb on his head will get him to surrender immediately, and it'd be a diabolical statement against the idea of sovereignty anyway.

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