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The Morality of Okinawa - Applying the Doctrine of 'Just War'
By LtCol Richard Beil USMC(Ret.)

Principles of Just War

In any discussion about war, there is a vast gulf between the pacifist perspective that all war is wrong, and the realist perspective that all's fair in war, sometimes glibly expressed as just nuke ‘em and be done with it. In the Beatitudes, Jesus tells us "blessed are the peacemakers" (Matt. 5:9). Elsewhere, in the Sermon on the Mount, he tells us "if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also" (Matt. 5:39). From such verses, some have concluded that Christianity is a pacifist religion and that violence is never permitted. But the same Jesus elsewhere acknowledges the legitimate use of force, telling the apostles, "let him who has no sword sell his mantle and buy one" (Luke 22:36). How are these passages to be reconciled?

Between pacifism and realism lies the concept of the Just War. Judgments on war and wartime conduct go back to Thucydides and the Melian Dialogue [1] in his History of the Peloponnesian War.

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, there is the Just War doctrine of Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430 A.D.) in the waning days of the Roman Empire. This tradition takes the position that, in certain cases, war is not only acceptable, but sometimes morally necessary in order to protect the innocent and avert a greater wrong. It divides moral judgment on war into two sets of ethical principles - those that apply to the reasons for going to war (Justice of War or jus ad bellum) and those that apply to actions taken while fighting (Justice in War or jus in bello).

Augustine's jus ad bellum has but a few simple requirements. First is possessing just cause. The clearest example of just cause would be the right of self-defense. If a nation is attacked, it has the right to defend itself. Second is what he describes as a rightly intended will, which has the restoration of peace as its prime objective, takes no delight in the wickedness of potential adversaries, views waging war as a stern necessity, tolerates no action calculated to provoke a war, and does not seek to conquer others merely for conquest's sake or for territorial expansion. Third, there must be a declaration of war by a competent authority, in the most unusual of circumstances, in a public manner, and only as a last resort. [2]

Concerning the last criteria, Catholic teaching provides that "All other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective."[3] If there are other practical and effective means of stopping the aggressor, they must be used. Alternatives include one-to-one diplomacy; international pressure; economic sanctions; and such tools as blockades, quarantines, covert actions, and small-scale raids that do not amount to a full-scale war effort. It is not necessary to employ all such methods before going to war and it is sufficient if rigorous consideration reveals them to be impractical or ineffective. They would be shown to be impractical if rigorous consideration revealed that, even though they might work in theory, they were not practically possible. They would be shown to be ineffective if they had little or no chance of stopping the aggression and preventing the damage that it will bring.

Concerning jus in bello, Augustine holds that wars, once begun, must be fought in a manner which:

 a. represents a proportional response to the wrong to be avenged, with violence being constrained within the limits of military necessity;
 b. discriminates between proper objects of violence (that is, combatants vs noncombatants); and
 c. observes good faith in its interactions with the enemy, by scrupulously observing treaties and not prosecuting the war in a treacherous manner.

This paper applies Just War doctrine to the battle for Okinawa, Operation Iceberg, in April 1945; specifically the principles of jus in bello, as they have been refined and elaborated since the time of Augustine. It does not seek to re-open the argument about the morality of using the atomic bomb, although America's war aims will be reviewed. Neither is it an attempt at Revisionism. The historical facts are presented exactly as they occurred.

Did taking Okinawa comply with the Judeo-Christian ethics of Just War? Were the likely deaths of noncombatants on that island proportional to the ends sought, or should they simply be considered unintended collateral damage, applying the principle of double effect? Were those deaths even considered at all, or should we subscribe to the utilitarian argument attributed to General von Moltke the Elder, that "additional prohibitions merely drag out the fighting, while the greatest kindness in war is to bring it to a speedy conclusion"?[4]

The Catechism of the Catholic Church

In the centuries since the time of Augustine, the Catholic Church has refined jus in bello further. "The mere fact that war has regrettably broken out does not mean that everything becomes licit between the warring parties."[5] A particular danger in wartime is brutality toward those not engaged in combat. Frequently in the history of warfare, soldiers have maimed, raped, and even killed those who did not pose a physical threat to them.

The treatment of non-hostile individuals in wartime is not the only consideration involved in the just prosecution of a war. As war has become more and more modernized, the existence of weapons capable of indiscriminate killing from a distance poses special moral challenges. In this regard the Catechism states that "Every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation. " [6]

In the Civil War, Sherman's March to the Sea was a deliberate action to impress upon the people of the South that "war is cruelty. There's no use trying to refine it. The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over." [7] In World War I, the Germans introduced poison gas to warfare. In World War II, the belligerents on both sides violated this principle. Germany's bombing of London, the British fire-bombing German cities, and the United States' use of incendiaries and the atomic bomb on Japan deliberately targeted population centers. These were not attacks designed to destroy targets of military value while sparing civilian populations. They were deliberate attempts to put pressure on enemy governments by attacking non-combatants.

The Law of Double Effect

However, it is important to recognize what this principle does and does not require. While it does require strenuous efforts to avoid harming innocents, it does not require the result of no innocents being harmed. As tragic as it is, collateral damage to innocents is an inescapable consequence of war. Catholic theology recognizes that such a result is impossible to guarantee against. It applies to such situations a well-established principle known as the law of double-effect.

According to this law it is permissible to undertake an action which has two effects, one good and one evil, provided that certain conditions are met. The action itself must not be intrinsically evil; the evil effect must not be an end in itself, or a means to accomplishing the good effect (in other words, it must be a foreseen but undesired side-effect of the action); and the evil effect must not outweigh the good effect. If these three conditions are met, the action may be taken in spite of the foreseen damage it will do.

In the eyes of the Catholic Church, the law of double-effect would not have applied to the cases of Dresden, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki. In these situations, though the act (dropping bombs) was not intrinsically evil, and though it is arguable that in the long run more lives were saved than lost, the second condition was violated because the death of innocents was used as a means to achieve the good of the war's end. .. "the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral." [8]

The War Convention

It is from the defining principles of jus in bello that author Michael Walzer put forth the concept of the War Convention [9], not to be confused with legal, international conventions on war, such as The Hague and Geneva Conventions. Walzer styles his argument in terms of the means of war and what he calls the importance of fighting well.

"The purpose of the war convention is to establish the duties of belligerent states, of army commanders, and of individual soldiers with reference to the conduct of hostilities." [10] Judgments of how the war is fought are abstracted from consideration of whether the cause itself is just. All states and soldiers are convinced they are fighting for a just cause or they wouldn't be fighting in the first place. In the Civil War, both the Union and the Confederacy were convinced that "God is on our side."

In terms of noncombatants, Walzer creates one unique category, that of munitions workers, who make weapons for the army or whose work directly contributes to the business of war." [11] He makes a distinction between those who work directly for the war effort and those who do not; those who are engaged in making what a soldier needs to fight, and those who may indirectly serve those soldiers by producing goods required by everyone simply to live.

An example he gives for this last group would be farmers growing food that may be confiscated by the army at the expense of the civilian population. Once the contribution of that group has been plainly established, only "military necessity" can determine whether the civilians involved may be attacked or not. "They ought not to be attacked if their activities can be stopped, or their products seized or destroyed, in some other way and without significant risk." [12]

Supreme Emergency

In World War II, from the perspective of Winston Churchill, the Germans were clearly the aggressor and Britain was fighting for its very life. Therefore, arguments could be made, and were, that the tactics (jus in bello) employed in their just cause (jus ad bellum) were both appropriate and proportional. As Churchill put it to the British people "…Our task is not only to win the battle - but to win the war. After this battle in France abates its force, there will come the battle for our Island -- for all that Britain is, and all the Britain means. That will be the struggle. In that supreme emergency we shall not hesitate to take every step, even the most drastic, to call forth from our people the last ounce and the last inch of effort of which they are capable. " [13]

Supreme emergency is defined by two criteria. The first is the imminence of the danger. The second deals with its nature. According to Walzer, both criteria must be applied. Neither one by itself is sufficient. Therefore, close but not serious, serious but not close – neither one makes for supreme emergency. [14]

In war, Emergency and Crisis are words often used to prepare our minds for acts of brutality. Every war is something of an emergency. Every battle is a possible turning point. Fear and hysteria are always latent in combat and they can press leaders toward fearful measures. The war convention is intended to prevent such measures. Sometimes it is not effective, but it is there nonetheless. However, the nature of the emergency may be perceived as posing such a grave danger that there is fear beyond the ordinary. "This fear and danger may well require exactly those measures that the war convention prohibits." [15]

In the first months of World War II, Britain's Bomber Command was anxious to avoid the risk of killing civilians, and constrained itself to leaflet dropping and attacks on naval targets. At the same time, the Air Staff began to realize that its bombers were not able to find and hit specific war targets such as airfields or armament factories. An investigation revealed that just one in five aircraft was succeeding in dropping its bombs within five miles of its target. Under such circumstances, the bombing offensive could only be effective if it was directed at targets as big as cities. That decision would come. However, it did not come until 1942.

Even after the London Blitz, and the destruction of Coventry in November 1940, Bomber Command still continued its efforts to bomb targets of industrial and military importance, rather than residential areas. This was principally due to the differing priorities of the Air vs Naval staffs and was driven by limited resources – how many bombers and bombs could be produced, how many air crews were left, etc. Since Britain was completely dependent on resupply by sea, and given the inaccuracy of strategic bombing at the time, shouldn't those resources be devoted to keeping the sea lanes open? [16]

This all changed in early 1942, with Churchill's receipt of the Cherwell Minute, a memo from Frederick Lindemann, 1st Viscount Cherwell, Churchill's chief science advisor. The minute called for Dehousing the German people as a means to bring the war to a speedy conclusion. This had nothing to do with science. Cherwell postulated that if even half the loads of 10,000 bombers could be dropped on densely populated, working-class neighborhoods in Germany's larger cities, a third of the enemy population would be rendered homeless. "Investigation seems to show that having one's house demolished is most damaging to morale. People seem to mind it more than having their friends or even their relatives killed. " he said. [17]

Despite the fact that an invasion of Great Britain had been forestalled by its winning the Battle of Britain in 1940, Churchill ordered Bomber Command to fire-bomb German civilians. Therefore, while the danger to Britain may have been serious, by 1942 it was no longer close. And, even after the German army's defeat in the Battle of the Bulge in January 1945, and its retreat across the Rhine into Germany, signaling that the end was in sight, Churchill still allowed the fire-bombing of Dresden in February of that year, killing between 22,000 and 25,000 civilians. According to Wing Commander H. R. Allen, "The final phase of Bomber Command's operations was far and away the worst. Traditional British chivalry and the use of minimum force in war was to become a mockery and the outrages perpetrated by the bombers will be remembered a thousand years hence." [18]

By that time, even Churchill was having second thoughts, "It seems to me that the moment has come when the question of bombing German cities simply for the sake of increasing the terror, though under other pretexts, should be reviewed…The destruction of Dresden remains a serious query against the conduct of Allied bombing. " [19]

Within the postwar British government there was some disquiet about the level of destruction that had been created by the area-bombing of German cities toward the end of the war. After his retirement in 1946, Arthur "Bomber" Harris, who had led Bomber Command, wrote "I know that the destruction of so large and splendid a city at this late stage of the war was considered unnecessary even by a good many people who admit that our earlier attacks were as fully justified as any other operation of war. Here I will only say that the attack on Dresden was at the time considered a military necessity by much more important people than myself. " [20] Bomber Command's crews were denied a separate campaign medal (despite being eligible for the Air Crew Europe Star and France and Germany Star). In protest to this establishment snub of his men, Harris refused a peerage in 1946.

Turning to the other side of the globe, although Japan had committed the first act of aggression, the United States was not threatened in the same way. Neither Hawaii, nor the continental U.S. were invaded or even threatened to the same extent that Great Britain experienced in the Blitz. U.S. territory in the western Pacific was seized and the Japanese landed in the Aleutians. However, that did not endanger the general population. And, by 1945, it was clear that no further threat to the continental United States was within the capabilities of the Japanese military.

According to Walzer's criteria, in the war with Japan, no supreme emergency existed. By 1945, the threat was neither serious, nor close.

Jus ad Bellum

The decision of the United States to enter World War II fits into Augustine's jus ad bellum construct, although not precisely. By their attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese were clearly the aggressor. War was declared by the U.S. Congress, under the provisions of the Constitution. This constituted a competent authority. There is a bit of difficulty, however, in judging whether there was a rightly intended will. Was restoration of peace the prime objective or was the U.S. simply seeking revenge for the American deaths at Pearl Harbor? As the war progressed, did the war aims toward Japan change? If so, what were those aims and what caused them to change?

The demand for Japan's unconditional surrender did not demonstrate the goal of simply restoring peace in the Pacific. With the retaking of the Philippines in 1945, total interdiction of Japan's lines of communication and supply from the East Indies was assured. From the strategic point of view, this was MacArthur's argument for Operation Musketeer. "From the very outset, this strategic archipelago formed the keystone of Japan's captured island empire and therefore became the ultimate goal of the plan of operations in the Southwest Pacific Area. " [21]

As MacArthur stated to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, "This advance is along a decisive operational axis that drives a wedge into the [Japanese defense] perimeter toward a central core-the Philippines-that dominates all aerial and shipping lanes employed by the enemy for his current reinforcement and maintenance program. . . ." [22] Tactically, the decision to invade the Philippines meant the elimination of Japanese airfields on the island of Luzon, which would facilitate continued operations against the Japanese home islands themselves, should that be necessary.

This is the crux of the moral question about rightly intended will. Given the strategic objectives, once the Philippines were retaken, was there a need to occupy further territory to restore peace? Did the invasion of Okinawa serve any strategic purpose? Was it necessary for establishing a Pax Americana over the Pacific at war's end? If such was the case, wouldn't simply reestablishing the status quo in the Philippines have served that purpose? Did Roosevelt's call for Japan's unconditional surrender commit the United States to that country's total subjugation?

The historical record shows that, after the fall of Saipan in July 1944, the Japanese knew they were doomed, although there remained a significant war faction that would stop at nothing, even assassination and the use of millions of women and children, to continue fighting until the last battle. The normal justification for the use of the atomic bomb is that it was to save American lives. The choice left to the U.S. is most often stated as a simple either/or dichotomy, invade Japan or drop the bomb.

But, what of Okinawa? In order to render any judgment about whether the decision to invade was based on military necessity or supreme emergency, the events leading up to that decision must be reviewed.

Strategy for the Pacific

By the late spring of 1943, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff had developed a new strategic plan for the defeat of Japan. "The plan was neither sacrosanct nor immutable – it was not intended to be. " [23] Army Chief of Staff, General George Marshall, was firmly of the view that an invasion of the Japanese home islands would ultimately be necessary. The prerequisite conditions for such an invasion would be an intense aerial bombardment of the Japanese home islands in order to gain complete air superiority, as was done prior to the Normandy landings. To accomplish this, the primary mission of the Army Air Forces would be strategic bombing of Japanese airfields, aircraft manufacturing facilities, and other industrial targets.

The 1977 movie MacArthur dramatically recreates the July 1944 Pacific Strategy Conference, when President Roosevelt gathered his Pacific commanders in Hawaii to discuss the direction of the advance against Japan. In addition to Roosevelt and MacArthur, also attending were Admiral Chester Nimitz (CINCPAC/CINCPOA) and Admiral William Leahy, Roosevelt's Chief of Staff.

Since there is no written record of that meeting, all one has is Admiral Leahy's account of the discussions. [24] MacArthur made the argument that the United States had a constitutional responsibility to the people of the Philippine Islands and, therefore, must liberate the islands without further delay. He declared that to bypass any or all the islands would destroy American honor and prestige throughout the Far East, if not in the rest of the world as well. In the movie, the impression given is that Admiral Nimitz was adamantly in favor of bypassing the Philippines altogether, in favor of a strike against Formosa.

However, one of the major issues also discussed at that conference was the choice between two alternative strategies for defeating Japan: 1) the massive invasion favored by General Marshall, or 2) a combination of intensified bombing and a naval blockade, without invasion. These two alternatives had been simmering in military planning circles in Washington for some time before the President's trip to Hawaii.

MacArthur and Nimitz disagreed with Marshall's view. It was apparent to them, even as early as the middle of 1944, that an invasion of Japan was unnecessary. They saw Japanese offensive power already crippled through her naval defeats, the destruction of a large portion of her merchant fleet, and the loss of access to oil and other essential raw materials.

High-ranking Japanese civilians and military officials, who were interrogated by the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey immediately after the war, testified that the economic effects of the mining operations against Japanese controlled harbors had been as serious as those of the bombing attacks on Japan's urban-industrial areas. "Prince Konoye said that the aerial sinking of Japanese vessels and the B-29 aerial mining of Japanese harbors were equally effective as the B-29 attacks on Japanese industry in the closing stages of the war when all food supplies and critical materials were prevented from reaching the Japanese home islands. " [25] According to those questioned, who were in a position to know, Japan would have capitulated by November 1945, even if the atomic bomb had not been used.

Admiral Leahy was among those most strongly opposed to the Army's plan for the invasion of Japan. Allowing for some degree of Navy parochialism, there is no reason to doubt his statement that the other conferees shared his position - that an invasion of the home islands would be too costly in American lives, and that it was unnecessary in any event. [26] The only difference between the two Pacific commanders seems to have been over the next major target in the Allied campaign, the Philippines or Formosa.

Leahy summed it up in this way: "The agreement on fundamental strategy to be employed in defeating Japan, and the President's familiarity with the situation acquired at this conference, were to be of great value in preventing an unnecessary invasion of Japan, which the planning staffs of the Joint Chiefs and the War Department were advocating, regardless of the loss of life that would result from an attack on Japan's ground forces in their own country. MacArthur and Nimitz were now in agreement that the Philippines should be recovered with ground and air power then available in the western Pacific, and that Japan could be forced to accept our terms of surrender by the use of sea and air power without an invasion of the Japanese homeland." (emphasis added)

However, even before the Honolulu meeting was held, the Joint Chiefs had taken it upon themselves to announce to the British their overall objective. In a telegram sent on 11 July, it was stated as follows: "to force the unconditional surrender of Japan by: 1) lowering Japanese ability and will to resist by establishing sea and air blockades, conducting intensive air bombardment and destroying Japanese air and naval strength; 2) invading and seizing objectives in the industrial heart of Japan. " [28] General Marshall added privately that this formula was designed to allow for an invasion of the home islands, which now seemed both feasible and certain. (emphasis added)

In the absence of a specific choice between the two alternative strategies (invasion or blockade), and despite Marshall's stated preference, war planners in Washington continued preparations for the final stage of the war, proceeding in both directions, without particular emphasis being given to either. The Joint Chiefs failed to fully resolve the issue in their communication to the British. Neither did they resolve it in a revised plan they issued on September 9, in preparation for the OCTAGON Conference in Quebec, where they repeated their ambivalent statement of the overall objective in the same terms. The only change in the September plan, possibly in concession to the agreement reached in Honolulu, was that the JCS would "retain flexibility to exploit to the fullest the Allied superiority in naval and air power and to avoid, wherever possible, commitment to costly land campaigns. " [29]

Failure of the Quebec Conference to resolve these uncertainties had far-reaching effects. Among the most serious was that it resulted in no guidance being given on the allocation of priorities for men and materiel. Each service was left free to pre-empt scarce resources for the war-fighting strategy it favored; invasion for the Army, anti-ship blockade and carrier strikes for the Navy, and strategic bombing for the Army Air Force. All could be equally justified under the ambiguous JCS statement of the overall objective of defeating Japan. That provided the What, but didn't specify the How. This is good leadership. It's inappropriate for the senior commander to then dictate how the mission is to be accomplished.

But, after all, Marshall was Army Chief of Staff. MacArthur and Nimitz were his subordinates. However, MacArthur had been a 4-star General and Chief of Staff when Marshall was still a Colonel. Leahy had been brought out of retirement specifically to be Roosevelt's advisor. Given what had been discussed in Hawaii, one wonders how and why the invasion option ultimately assumed such monumental proportions as the ONLY way to end the war.

Operation Starvation

This was the operational code name for the B-29 aerial mining campaign against Japan's Inner Zone, which began at the end of March 1945, and continued through the end of the war. It was preceded by a two-year mining effort, directed mainly against Japan's Outer Zone. The Inner Zone described the area roughly encompassing North China, Manchuria, Korea, and the Japanese homeland. The Outer Zone described the areas of their conquests in Asia. A review of this effort shows that aerial mines were first used in the China, Burma, India (CBI) theater in early 1943, and accounted for the major portion of this activity. The record was spotty and varied from theater to theater, depending on the attitudes of the commanders involved toward mining, and on their willingness to divert aircraft to the mission.

What is not in question is the effectiveness of this activity, once it was given priority in late 1944. More mines were laid in the last five months of the war (over 12,000), than were dropped by all the other aircraft in the Pacific in more than two years (9,000). At least 700,000, and possibly as much as 1,250,000 tons, of Japanese shipping were sunk or severely damaged. Perhaps more important, much of the surviving ship tonnage was bottled up in mined harbors for prolonged periods while waiting for the mines to be cleared, which led to a virtual paralysis of Japan's essential maritime traffic.

Prior to Operation Starvation, the mining effort in the Pacific never came anywhere near the scale it had reached in the European theater, where the RAF dropped over 9,000 mines in the first five months of 1944 alone. [30] The 10th Air Force, based in India, flew the first mission in February 1943, to mine the Rangoon River in Burma. Minelaying by other means began at about the same time, but only amounted to a small percentage of the total used in the Pacific, most of which were dropped by aircraft, rather than being laid by submarines.

The reason for the small number of mines laid by submarines was their limited capacity. Priority was given to torpedoes which produced easily observed results. Mines were carried not so much by choice as by necessity, as there were periodic shortages of torpedoes. "…In the early months of the war, torpedo attacks on enemy shipping were awarded priority. Paradoxically, the torpedo shortage that developed as the war expanded, implemented the long-awaited opportunity for minelaying. As there were not enough torpedoes to fully load all submarines going out on patrol, space became available for mines". [31]

Most of the aerial mining done in the two years preceding Operation Starvation was done in the Outer Zone. The British and Australians accounted for the lion's share of this mining in the CBI and Southwest Pacific theaters. This was due mainly to MacArthur's air commander, General George Kenney. His 5th Air Force only flew a single mining mission during the entire war, dropping a total of 24 mines. The total number of mines laid during this period was less than the number laid by XXI Bomber Command in the last five months of the war.

Some of the minelaying was done for tactical purposes, supporting the invasions in the Solomon's, the Marshalls, the Carolines and the Philippines. The mining of the Yangtze River and of some Japanese-held ports in China was in the same category. In other cases, the mining could be termed either strategic or tactical, depending on the definition. Its main purpose was to interfere with the ocean traffic that was required to supply Japanese fighting forces in the conquered areas. Mining convoy assembly ports, such as Singapore, Saigon, and Camranh Bay had the effect of reducing traffic to, as well as from, the home islands. The reduction in the imports of oil and other commodities had a definite, deleterious effect on Japan's ability to sustain the war effort.

In order that the blockade of Japan could be intensified, the Navy wanted to supplement direct attacks on enemy shipping and ports with aerial mine warfare on a scale not seen before. One of the most profitable targets was Japan's Inland Sea, which had been inaccessible to Allied mining efforts, except for the small number of mines laid by submarines. This was where much of the traffic to and from the home islands was concentrated and was where Japan depended, not only for her war effort, but for her very survival.

In July 1944, a new means for laying mines in Japan's home waters was at hand. The new B-29s were becoming operational. They offered both the range and payload to do the job, either from existing bases in India and China, or soon from the new bases in the Marianas. There was only one problem. They belonged to the Army Air Force and they had been specifically built for the strategic bombing of Japan, preparatory to an invasion. If the Navy's favored strategy for winning the war was blockade, the Army Air Force was equally set on strategic bombing. The B-29s were controlled from Washington, under the direct command of General Hap Arnold himself.

On 7 November 1944, Nimitz sent a personal memorandum to Arnold, the subject of which was "Plans Involving B-29 Aircraft Mining".[32] He proposed that mining begin with 150 B-29 sorties per month during the period Jan-Mar 1945, and be stepped up to 1,500 mines per month starting in April, when new and more effective mines would be available. He also offered to provide the mines, support personnel, and expert advice. Arnold replied that his present capabilities were already strained and did not permit the scale of effort the Navy proposed for mining operations. This was in keeping with not only the Air Force's preference for strategic bombing, but also with the Army's continued insistence that an invasion would be necessary to end the war.

But, Arnold and some of his 20th Air Force staff in Washington had something of a change of heart, not about possibly developing a new role for the Air Force, but out of fear of what might happen if they absolutely refused. "Yet in light of the spectacular results of the B-29 mining operations later, it is ironical that the decision to co-operate with Nimitz came not from any great liking in the AAF for mining, but rather from the sort of logic that often colored inter-service comity during the war – the fear that otherwise the AAF might allow a possible major usage of long-range aircraft to develop, by default, into a matter of special interest to the Navy". [33]

As previously stated, as early as the July 1944 conference in Hawaii, both MacArthur and Nimitz had concluded that an invasion of the Japanese mainland would be unnecessary. The island-hopping campaign had deprived Japan of many of her conquests in the Outer Zone and was bringing Allied striking power closer and closer to the homeland. Some Japanese leaders themselves believed that the loss of the Marianas had sealed the doom of the Empire and had deprived it of any chance of averting defeat. [34]

Among the most serious of the blows dealt to Japan was the successful attrition campaign against her merchant shipping. Despite efforts to replenish her losses through new construction and conversions, the merchant ship tonnage available had dropped from approximately 5.4 million tons at the start of the war to 3.2 million tons by the end of July 1944. [35] But, the reduction in merchant tonnage is only a partial indicator of the strangulation that was being imposed. The loss of critical supply sources in the Outer Zone, coupled with the traffic delays caused by the denial of convoy ports and the mining of harbors, severely limited her ability to obtain the resources needed to carry on the war.

Given that both Nimitz and MacArthur knew all this in mid-1944, and both favored the blockade/naval attrition strategy, and given that the seizure of Peleliu (Sep-Nov 1944) had proven to be unnecessary (as Halsey had stated), it begs the question of why Nimitz chose to go ahead with the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa? Iwo Jima must be discussed because it was paired with the plan for Okinawa and because it calls into question the entire Pacific strategy in the last 6 months of the war.

Why Take Iwo Jima? [36]

Nearly everyone has heard of Iwo Jima and recognizes the monumental icon of U.S. servicemen raising the American flag on top of Mount Suribachi in 1945. The general public understands that this image symbolizes patriotism and valor. Operation Detachment (the code name for the U.S. war plan to invade Iwo Jima) was the largest U.S. Marine Corps operation ever conducted. It cost the lives of over 25,000 Americans and Japanese. However, most people do not realize that seizing Iwo Jima cost thousands of American lives for an objective that never fulfilled its intended purpose.

Since the decision had been made to seize the Philippines first, the Navy made a hasty change in plans to seize Okinawa, rather than waiting for the Army to complete the Philippine campaign in order to then release the ground forces needed to invade Formosa. Formosa was now off the table. Although Okinawa served the Army's purpose of continuing the advance toward the Japanese home islands, the objective of seizing Iwo Jima actually derived from U.S. Army Air Forces strategy. The intent was to safeguard their B-29s flying from the Marianas by providing fighter escort support from Iwo Jima, which lies in the Bonin Islands, approximately 760 air miles from Tokyo.

By combining the objectives of Okinawa and Iwo Jima, Nimitz assured the approval of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The alliance between the Navy, which was seeking to outflank the Army for credit in winning the war, and the Army Air Force, which wanted to prove the case for strategic bombing in order to create an independent post-war air service, satisfied the respective interests of those services. The Marine Corps, however, which paid the heaviest price in carrying out Operation Detachment, was excluded from the decision-making process.

When fighter-escort operations from Iwo Jima failed, the military sought additional reasons to justify that costly battle. It was only then that the emergency landing field argument for taking Iwo Jima, widely accepted by historians for over 60 years, surfaced. In the strategy approved by the Joint War Planners, the justifications for taking Iwo Jima were:

 a. Providing fighter cover for the air effort against Japan
 b. Denying the Bonin Islands to the enemy
 c. Furnishing air defense bases for the positions in the Marianas
 d. Providing fields for staging heavy bombers (B-24 Liberators) against Japan
 e. Precipitating a decisive naval engagement

Providing an emergency landing field for crippled B-29s was not mentioned. On 16 February, three days before the landing, Vice Admiral Richard K. Turner stated at a press conference that the primary reason for capturing Iwo Jima was to provide "fighter cover for the operations of the B-29s, which are based here in the Marianas." [37]

After Iwo Jima was secured, the Army Air Forces rotated seven P-51 Mustang fighter squadrons to the island. The maximum number of fighters present at any one time was only a bit more than 100. In comparison to the thousands of B-29s in the Marianas, this made escorting most bombing missions impossible. But, that was the least of the problems facing Fighter Command.

The navigation systems on the P-51 consisted of a compass, an air speed indicator, and a clock. The single VHF radio in each fighter had a maximum range of 150 miles. The cramped, cold, unpressurized cockpit of the P-51 made the nine-hour trip over ocean waters difficult for the pilots. Ironically, it turned out that the P-51s depended on the B-29s to escort them to and from the targets.

More importantly, carrier-based fighters routinely hit targets on Japan proper and could continue to do so. In the Battle of Leyte Gulf (October 23-26, 1944), Admiral William F. (Bull) Halsey had 16 fleet carriers at his disposal. In the action in Surigao Strait, Admiral Thomas Kincaid's 7th Fleet deployed an additional 17 escort carriers. Carriers from the Pacific Fleet could launch fighter escort for B-29s and recover at much shorter distances than the 1,500 mile round trip from Iwo Jima.

Denying the Bonin Islands to the Japanese was another reason that had been given for Operation Detachment. While the Japanese airfields on Iwo Jima did constitute a threat, U.S. forces had bypassed many islands with airfields as they moved through the Pacific. One example of a bypassed enemy stronghold was the island of Truk in the Carolines, southeast of Guam. Truk was a major Japanese air and naval base. The Joint Chiefs of Staff ultimately decided that the cost of seizing Truk outweighed its usefulness. Thereafter, the Army Air Forces and the Navy successfully neutralized the island with aerial bombardments and a naval blockade, precisely as MacArthur had done with Rabaul in 1943.

As for precipitating a decisive naval engagement, the Battle of Leyte Gulf had made that a moot point. In that action, the Navy destroyed the majority of Japanese capital ships. The Battle of the Philippine Sea (Jun 19-20, 1944) had destroyed the bulk of Japan's trained pilots. By the time of the invasion of Iwo Jima, Japan had few naval forces left to engage. The lack of trained pilots would ultimately lead to the desperate measure of the kamikaze, which would wreak havoc at Okinawa.

Writing in Newsweek, Admiral William V. Pratt, a retired former Chief of Naval Operations, summarized the situation on the home front after the fight on Iwo Jima: "There has been a certain amount of public criticism over this expenditure of manpower to acquire a small, Godforsaken island, useless to the Army as a staging base and useless to the Navy as a fleet base. The public wants to know if the occupation of Iwo Jima was a military necessity and wonders if the same sort of airbase could not have been reached by acquiring other strategic localities at lower cost. "

The American people were beginning to look at the grisly math. American deaths on Iwo Jima (6,800) [38] exceeded all the deaths at Pearl Harbor (2,403). [39] The sailors and Marines who died on Iwo Jima had families that loved them just as had the families of those aboard the U.S.S. Arizona. The question "Is this worth it?" was beginning to be asked. Were we seeing a repeat of the apparent callous disregard for soldiers' lives that had been exhibited on the Western Front in World War I? Were our Generals and Admirals fighting the last war?

In the context of Just War doctrine, this assessment must be kept in mind when considering the decision to invade Okinawa.

On To Okinawa

As previously shown, the taking of Okinawa was in the minds of some of Nimitz's planners as early as July 1944, although it was subsumed by the argument that Formosa was actually the most strategically important objective in the western Pacific. Once that was taken off the table, Nimitz was left with nothing to do, other than support MacArthur's operations in the Philippines.

The Army's (except MacArthur) strategy was for invasion of the Japanese home islands. Assuming that was necessary, a staging base for that invasion would be required. Iwo Jima had no port facilities. It would have accommodated very little in the way of the materiel and personnel that would be needed. But, Nimitz was of the view that increasing the economic stranglehold on Japan would cause her to seek terms anyway.

Assuming the Army's strategy held, and since Formosa was out, Okinawa was seen as the next step in the drive to Japan. It could serve as the staging area that Iwo Jima could not. However, the retaking of Luzon returned control of Manila and Subic Bays to the Allies. Both provided port facilities that could be used. Luzon itself provided more than enough area to stage a multi-army invasion force. Following the Battles of Leyte Gulf and the Philippine Sea, the Allies had air and naval superiority.

Any pressing need for a staging area closer to mainland Japan would also seem to be irrelevant, given the operations that had been conducted earlier in the war. The distance from Subic Bay to Nagasaki on Kyushu is 1,572 nautical miles. At 5 knots, steaming time would be about 13 days, or 10 days longer than from Okinawa. However, back in 1942, the 1st Marine Division had staged for Guadalcanal in Wellington, New Zealand. It took 19 days aboard ship to traverse the 2,373 nautical miles between those points. The V Marine Amphibious Corps had staged in Hawaii for the attacks in the Marianas. There, the distance was 3,710 nautical miles, 31 days at sea. It must be questioned whether Okinawa was really indispensable just because it was closer than Luzon. Wouldn't burning extra gallons of fuel oil be less costly than thousands of American lives?

Although Formosa had originally been seen as an important target, it was dropped when the Japanese overran Chinese airfields in eastern China and the Allies judged there were insufficient assets to retake them. Also, Japan had constructed an airfield in Shanghai during the 1930s. It was concern over Japanese land-based aircraft that militated against the move on Formosa. Like the Marianas, Iwo Jima was out of range of these air fields, although it was just at the far edge of the combat radius of planes flying from Kyushu, the southernmost of the home islands.

Okinawa brought fleet forces within the umbrella of the land-based planes in China and well within range of the airfields on Kyushu. The kamikaze had made their first sorties during the Philippines campaign. Could it not be foreseen that, if one got closer to southern Japan, more such attacks might occur?

While Formosa was still being discussed as a possible objective, Admiral Ernest King, Chief of Naval Operations, had posed an objection to the Philippines operation, saying that it would tie up all the Pacific Fleet's fast carrier task forces for at least six weeks to protect the Luzon beachhead, Luzon-bound convoys, and to neutralize Japanese air power on both Luzon and Formosa. But, the operation to take Okinawa did exactly that. Perhaps it was deemed acceptable to tie up those assets, so long as they were supporting the Navy, but not the Army.

Finally, back in 1943, MacArthur had decided to bypass and isolate the large Japanese garrison at Rabaul in New Britain. His island-hopping strategy banked on the belief that isolating Japanese forces, such as those on Rabaul, would be just as effective as destroying them through direct attacks, and far less costly to Allied forces.

Encircling Rabaul, in particular, had nullified the Japanese threat from the Solomon Islands and the Bismarck Archipelago (which included New Britain), while a second prong of the Allied advance drove through the central Pacific via the Gilbert and Marshall Islands. On each island they captured, the Allies constructed air bases, allowing them to block any westward movement by the Japanese. In this way, the Allies tightened their stranglehold on Rabaul, effectively neutralizing the 100,000 Japanese troops stationed there by the end of March 1944.

The Fog of War and Peace

The doctrine of Just War can be said to lie at the intersection of Philosophy, Religion, and History. There are problems inherent in attempting to apply the doctrine to a specific battle in a wider war. No matter how much humans claim to argue from reason, in a crisis they most often act irrationally. By nature of its destructiveness, war is the ultimate crisis. Unless one is a complete moral relativist, there is also a basic drive to arrive at some conclusion about right and wrong. If right, we seek to praise. If wrong, we want to fix blame. In fixing blame, we often seek to impute sinister motives to the actors – what did he know and when did he know it?

Karl von Clausewitz wrote of the fog of war, a concept easily grasped, describing as it does the confusion experienced once the battle is joined. The fog of peace is meant to describe the difficulty leaders have in deciding courses of action in situations like that in which the United States found itself in December 1941.

Hitler had been on the march since his taking of the Sudetenland, and then all of Czechoslovakia, in 1938. The true perfidy of the Nazis had become apparent with the invasion of Poland in 1939, and then of France in 1940. Great Britain had been on the edge of disaster in 1940. The Nazis sought to subjugate the entire free world. Japan had begun her conquests in the Far East even earlier, staging the Mukden Incident in 1931 to justify the invasion of Manchuria; the attack on China in 1937; and the invasion of French Indochina in 1940, seeking to create the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.

There was one difference, however, between Germany and Japan. Japan did not invade independent countries in southern Asia. It invaded colonial outposts which Westerners had dominated for generations. The United States acquired the Philippines in the Spanish-American War. President McKinley stated, "When I next realized that the Philippines had dropped into our laps I confess I did not know what to do with them. . . And one night late it came to me this way. . .1) That we could not give them back to Spain- that would be cowardly and dishonorable; 2) that we could not turn them over to France and Germany-our commercial rivals in the Orient-that would be bad business and discreditable; 3) that we not leave them to themselves-they are unfit for self-government-and they would soon have anarchy and misrule over there worse than Spain's wars; and 4) that there was nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them, and by God's grace do the very best we could by them, as our fellow-men for whom Christ also died. " [40]

The United States was following the British lead in taking up the white man's burden. The people of the Philippines were not a free people. They were subjects, just like the people of India (Britain), Singapore (Britain), Vietnam/Laos/Cambodia (France), the East Indies (Holland). The Japanese had been awarded the Marianas (Germany) following World War I. China had been dominated economically by Western powers since the Open Door Policy, stated by U.S. Secretary of State John Hay in 1900, reaffirmed by the Nine-Power Treaty in 1922. Despite our use of the word conquest, the Japanese were not threatening the free world as the Nazis were. They were threatening the possessions of the West. The United States did grant independence to the Philippines in 1946. Okinawa, however, remained occupied territory until 1971.

But, the United States was at peace. In the face of a world that seemed to be collapsing around him, Franklin Roosevelt was faced with the fog of peace throughout the 1930s. When continually faced with the question, What do I do now? , the answer was Nothing. Given the isolationist mood of the American people, he had no choice, although with programs such as Lend-Lease, he did his best to break through that sentiment, preparing the American people for a war he thought it necessary to join.

December 7th changed all that. But, now, Roosevelt had stepped from the fog of peace into the fog of war. What were the intentions of the Japanese toward the United States? Were the Japanese to be conjoined to the absolute evil of Hitler and the Nazis? If so, the concept of supreme emergency, as articulated by Winston Churchill, would seem to apply. If not, then the jus in bello limitations of Just War doctrine ought to govern.

Working backward from the ultimate war aim of defeating the Japanese, and discussing the backdrop and deliberations which led to the decision to seize Okinawa, this discussion has thus far centered on military necessity. In terms of Just War doctrine, Iwo Jima was morally neutral, as the island was uninhabited, aside from a small cadre of conscripted laborers.

While it can be persuasively asserted that thousands of American lives were needlessly wasted on Iwo Jima, combatants are said to be morally equal, whether their cause is just or unjust. On the other hand, Okinawa was populated by a people caught in the middle, who had had war thrust on them. Shall one apply the prescription attributed to the S-3 of the 3/39th Infantry in Vietnam, paraphrased as "In order to save Okinawa, we had to destroy it? "

As previously stated, it is not the purpose here to reopen the debate about "invade Japan or drop the bomb". However, in the context of applying Just War doctrine to Okinawa, several of the standard arguments put forth to justify Truman's decision can also be made to justify Operation Iceberg, since that was considered the essential next step in the drive to Japan:

  1. By 1945, America was "tired of war" – This was undoubtedly true and those most tired were the men and women in uniform fighting it. This doesn't seem a convincing argument because, even though they were tired of the war, the troops would likely have been quite satisfied being tired while sitting in a staging area for a few more months, rather than running the risk of being killed on another beachhead.

  2. Prolonging the war meant additional suffering for the Chinese and Filipinos under Japanese occupation – MacArthur had retaken the Philippines before the Okinawa invasion was set to begin. As for the Chinese, Japan had occupied China since 1937. Since the United States did not care enough about the Chinese to do anything then, why should that be a justification now?

  3. We needed to free POWs being held by the Japanese – A valid observation from a humanitarian point of view. But, at this point, why expose more Americans to the risk of becoming prisoners? And, what of Allied prisoners who had been moved to the home islands themselves and might be killed in the bombing raids?

However, the salient point in this discussion is that, like the Chinese and Koreans, the Okinawans were a conquered people. Liberating them from Japanese subjugation was not an objective of the Okinawa campaign. Even if it had been, the lessons learned at Saipan, where hundreds of civilians threw themselves off cliffs, rather than be captured, should have given planners and commanders pause. It could be argued that those deaths were not caused by American forces, but by the Japanese, who encouraged suicide.

Such transference of responsibility does not hold in the case of Okinawa. Those on Saipan who committed suicide were Japanese who had migrated to the island after it was given to Japan at the end of World War I as part of its South Pacific Mandate. The Okinawans are not Japanese. At that time, they were viewed as an inferior race by the Japanese themselves.

But, taking and applying those lessons to Okinawa should have suggested that an invasion could be the proximate cause of a similar non-combatant disaster. In fact, after the landings, it was learned that the Japanese had told the civilians that they would be killed or tortured by the Americans. Fortunately, most didn't listen.

Jus in Bello

Being an officer is not at all like being an enlisted man. Officers take on immense responsibility. They have in their control the means of death and destruction. The higher the rank, the greater those responsibilities. They plan and organize campaigns, decide on strategy, and order men into battle. They must always aim at victory while attending to the needs of their subordinates.

However, it can be said that officers have a higher duty at the same time, especially American officers. This duty comes to us through our Judeo-Christian traditions. As MacArthur said when he confirmed the death sentence of General Yamashita in the Philippines, "The soldier, be he friend or foe, is charged with the protection of the weak and unarmed. It is the very essence and reason of his being...[a] sacred trust. " [41]

Under not only the law of war, but also from religious and moral teachings, when planning their campaigns, military commanders must take positive steps to limit even unintended civilian deaths. If we assume this to be true, does it not also follow that they should also do everything possible to minimize the risks to their own personnel? Rather than a frontal assault, can the objective be secured another way?

War as a Crusade

According to Democratic Peace Theory, democracies are hesitant to engage in armed conflict with other democracies. Regardless of whether or not this is true, it is true that democracies are slow to anger. Peace is their normative state. "Democratic cultures are profoundly unwarlike. To them, war can be waged only if it is to eliminate war." [42] In the traditional American view, all issues that may arise between nations can be settled by negotiation between equals or by legal procedures. Coercion can only be used when the international system is not in its normative state; when aggression has been committed. Then, the defenders of a peaceful world order must step in and use force until the roots of that aggression are destroyed.

In this construct, wars waged against aggressors can have but one objective; eliminate the germs that caused the aggression. Non-coercive measures will not do because those germs of aggression may survive in the post-war period, ready to re-infect the international community. The only safe way to prevent this is to destroy those germs before, or coincident with, the cessation of hostilities.

Wars waged following this traditional American approach are, essentially, crusades. Goals are described in crusading language. In the words of Woodrow Wilson, we were fighting "the war to end all wars" and "to make the world safe for democracy." From one of FDR's Fireside Chats in 1943, "The massed, angered forces of humanity are on the march. " Perhaps such language is necessary to get Americans to fight. Propaganda is always used to convince the populace to support the government's decision to wage war. But, this language also makes it almost impossible, politically, to soften the rhetoric later, if such would be desirable or necessary to end the conflict without additional loss of life on either side.

Strategic Surrender

As Paul Kecskemeti points out, surrender means that winner and loser agree to dispense with a last round of fighting. Strategic surrender involves decisions other that purely military ones, based on the trend of attrition between the opposing forces. "The propensity to offer surrender will be decisively influenced by the nature of the terms the winner is expected to impose after achieving a monopoly of armed strength. " [43] In this sense, surrender is a political act, as well as a military one.

Unconditional Surrender

In the case of Germany, it was clear that nothing short of unconditional surrender would be appropriate. World War I had ended in an Armistice. Germany had been given terms in the Versailles Treaty. Hitler had proven himself to be the devil incarnate. The Nazis threatened not only the Occidental world, but the entire world. The evil had to be ripped out by the roots and a completely new regime installed. Only then could everyone rest easy.

Japan was another case entirely. She had never intended posing a threat to the continental United States. If she had, she would have followed up her attack in the Aleutians with an attack on the West Coast. The United States was certainly unprepared to defend against any such attack. In 1941, the U.S. had the 16th largest Army in the world. It has been postulated by some historians that, had the Japanese attacked the West Coast, they could have been in Chicago in a week.

The attack on Pearl Harbor was a strategic move to prevent interference with Japanese aims in the Far East. The attack was against U.S. shipping assets. Yamamoto had warned against such a move, but was overruled. Of course, in the days immediately following the December 7th attack, American leaders did not know this. But, after the Battle of Midway, it should have become clear that Japan simply did not have the capability to threaten the Americans homeland.

However, as Kecskemeti pointed out, the U.S. was engaging in the typical American way of dealing with aggressors. With the zeal of a crusade, lives and national treasure were being spent, seemingly just to avenge the 2,403 deaths at Pearl Harbor. In the heat of battle, no one seemed to see the disproportionality.

Germany was the real threat and Roosevelt wisely decided on Germany first. As for Japan, she had disrupted the normative state of affairs and injured America's sense of propriety by attacking without warning. The U.S. government acted as if the problem was defeating Japan, when the real problem was avoiding an unnecessary and catastrophic last battle, after the Japanese were already defeated. But, negotiation with the germs was out of the question. No one in the government would even consider talking.

By the middle of 1944, it was clear that that Japan posed no threat to the United States. What wasn't known was that the fall of Saipan marked the beginning of the end for Japan. At that point, the only question that remained was how and when the war would end. "The supreme political leadership in Japan, unlike the Nazi leadership in Germany, was willing to terminate the war on almost any terms." [44] It was hampered by a group of pro-war fanatics who would stop at nothing, even assassination, to remove any office holder who spoke of peace. But, one result of the loss of Saipan was the resignation of Premier Tojo, the leader of the war faction. Japan was crippled and the war faction was becoming so.

The Battle of Midway is called the turning point in the Pacific. In Japan's Decision To Surrender, author J. C. Butow traced the history of the efforts of a group of Japanese statesmen, whose leader was Marquis Koichi Kido, Keeper of the Privy Seal. On May 11, 1942, just days after the battle, Shigeru Yoshida, former Ambassador to Great Britain, and who would become Premier after the war, called on Kido to discuss a scheme to send Prince Konoye to Switzerland. The prince was to have no definite mission, but was to keep in touch with influential leaders of various nations so that Japan would not miss any opportunity that might lead to terminating the war. [45] Nothing came of this, but the topic of ending the war was now on the table.

As recorded in his diary, early in February, 1943, Kido had a 3-hour discussion with Prince Konoye, who was very pessimistic about the war situation. "During the course of this long conversation…Konoye repeatedly spoke of the necessity of terminating the conflict as soon as possible lest unsettled internal conditions lead to an intensification of Communist activity within Japan. The issue, in Konoye's mind, was clear cut: end the war now or be prepared to see Communism emerge as the ultimate victor. " [46]

The Cairo Declaration of December 1, 1943, stated that the three Allies (the United States, China, and Britain) would work for the unconditional surrender of the Japanese. The Japanese heard this, but didn't know precisely what was meant. If their total annihilation was intended, then the only course of action was to keep fighting to the last man. In that sense, they had nothing to lose. They had seen the massive area bombing of German cities since 1942. The desperate fighting on Iwo Jima and Okinawa represented this point of view. But, to the United States, it reinforced the view that the Japanese were a completely war-like people, due to their Samurai tradition. However, even if surrender terms were not to be offered, why would this necessarily mean that the only way to bring about surrender was an invasion of the Japanese homeland?


At the Honolulu conference, both Nimitz and MacArthur had intuited that Japan was no longer able to pose a credible threat. The question then becomes why neither of them pushed their preferred strategy more forcefully? While he was technically subordinate, MacArthur had the stature to override Marshall with the President. And, he had Admiral Leahy on his side. He was not a proponent of the frontal assault, when a flanking or bypassing maneuver could serve the purpose. Of course, MacArthur was not in command of the Central Pacific Ocean Area. But, even Nimitz had bypassed Truk in the drive to the Marianas.

Conclusions regarding the reasons for going to war, or the righteousness of the cause, are not relevant to this discussion. Jus ad bellum lies at the national level. However, it must be pointed out that if the United States began World War II with the rightly intended will of simply restoring peace in the Pacific, the refusal to even consider negotiations certainly violated that principle.

Leaving aside the assumptions made in Hawaii; the steps Nimitz had already set in motion with Operation Starvation to hasten Japan's capitulation; and the fact that Okinawa was not needed as a staging base, even if the invasion of Japan was ultimately necessary, this writer concludes that the decision to go ahead with Operation Iceberg violated jus in bello. There was neither military necessity nor supreme emergency. It did not adequately discriminate and it violated the law of double effect. Most importantly, since taking territory was unnecessary, it did not adhere to the dictum charging commanders with the importance of fighting well.

Planners knew there was a large civilian population on the island. The Naval Gunfire Plan for the operation specifically mentioned an estimated 500,000. However, while the Plan gave detailed instructions for guarding against friendly fire incidents, the only concern expressed for those civilians stated, "Operations ashore will be additionally complicated by the presence of approximately 500,000 civilians. " [47] A concern that the presence of those civilians might hamper combat operations, not that those operations may result in deaths of noncombatants. The landing was unopposed, but that was a complete surprise. The air bombardment that had preceded it began on D-8. [48] Once those rounds went down range, there was no way to control who might be in the way. There was no way to discriminate.

Japanese soldiers, seeking refuge from the naval shelling, forced civilians out of the limestone caves where they had taken shelter. During the fighting, they were forced out of the turtle-back shaped tombs on the island. In other cases, the Japanese distributed hand grenades, telling civilians to kill themselves. Many did, although the exact number is unknown. Two weeks into the battle, the Japanese commander, in an effort to suppress spying, banned the speaking of the Okinawan dialect, a version of Japanese often unintelligible to nonresidents. Armed with this order, Japanese soldiers killed about 1,000 Okinawans.

At the Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum, a spotlight highlights a glinting bayonet held by a fierce looking Japanese soldier who stands over an Okinawan family huddled in a cave, the mother trying to smother her baby's cries. Nearby, a life-size photo shows the aftermath of a family killed by a hand grenade. Below it, the caption reads, "At the hands of Japanese soldiers, civilians were massacred, forced to kill themselves and each other." [49]

Given that there was an alternative, and even though the bombardment itself was not an evil, as defined in the doctrine, any non-combatants casualties could not have been simply dismissed as an unintended consequence. That lets commanders off too easily, at least those who profess adherence to Christian teaching.

If Santayana was correct, then it begs the question, "What's the point? " Saipan wasn't ancient history. Even if adequate measures could have been taken to ensure that no non-combatants were killed or injured in the preliminary bombardment and subsequent operations ashore, there was still the specter of a repeat of what had happened on that island.

The military mind is slow to change and is incredibly risk averse. While it is most often said in jest, the maxim Generals always fight the last war bears some truth. Those who have risen to flag rank have done so operating under a set of procedures and doctrinal rules with which they are comfortable. In their mind, if those rules and procedures didn't work, they wouldn't have made General and Admiral.

In the Civil War, generals steadfastly adhered to Napoleonic tactics in the face of the rifled musket. In World War I, there was the cult of the offensive, which sent millions to their deaths, attacking machine guns. In the 1930s, the battleship admirals refused to consider the utility of the aircraft carrier. In Vietnam, the U.S. Army saw no real utility in Special Forces, while World War II generals fought a war of attrition, refusing to learn from the history of fighting counterinsurgency small wars earlier in the 20th century.

In the 1980s, as a small group of Marine officers at Quantico sought to resurrect the doctrine of maneuver, they were derided by those who argued that every assault is ultimately a frontal assault when the opposing forces face each other and start shooting. It's as though, if they didn't experience it, history has no meaning. In this sense, perhaps Clemenceau was right when he said "War is too serious a matter to entrust to military men. " Of course, it would be just as valid to substitute politicians.

In the case of Operation Iceberg, there was a preoccupation with seizing territory and killing enemy soldiers as the measure of our effort to defeat Japan. It can also be said that there was a preoccupation with killing Japanese civilians by fire-bombing them, apparently to teach them a lesson. Some of those territorial seizures were a means to an end, such as retaking the Philippines, American territory before the war. Although later proven untrue, Iwo Jima was thought necessary to support air operations. Okinawa had no such purpose. 12,000 Americans were killed (2,938 Marines, 4,675 Army), with an additional 50,000 wounded. 36 ships were sunk (4,907 Navy deaths). More pertinent to this discussion were the approximately 140,000 Okinawans who died. [50]

This harkened back to World War I and the senseless attacks and counterattacks across no man's land to gain inches and yards. MacArthur had commanded in the trenches in World War I. He knew the futility of taking terrain simply for the sake of occupying it. Although Marshall was in France, he was a staff officer. He didn't have to command men to their possible deaths. Except for Patton, none of the other senior Army commanders had actually fought in World War I, including Eisenhower. Neither had Roosevelt. But, MacArthur was not CINCPAC/CINCPOA. Nimitz was.

At this juncture, this writer has to repeat the question posed by the late Col. Joe Alexander, USMC(Ret.), regarding the Peleliu operation, "What Was Nimitz Thinking? " Perhaps it was inter-service rivalry, or a sincere belief that he had to match MacArthur, that led Nimitz to execute an operation that served no purpose, and that actually went against his own judgment. Perhaps he was tired of only launching supporting attacks. Or, perhaps it was simply that, not knowing exactly what else to do, Nimitz believed he had to appear to be doing something.

According to the Catechism, "All other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective." At Nimitz's own request, Operation Starvation had been put into action as an alternative means to end the war without having to invade the Japanese home islands. Given the presence of civilians on Okinawa, at the very least, the invasion should have been postponed to evaluate Operation Starvation's effectiveness.

* * *

Show Notes

© 2024 LtCol Rich Beil USMC (Ret.)

Written by LtCol Richard Beil USMC (Ret.).

About the author:
LtCol Rich Beil served 30 years in the Marine Corps, as an enlisted Infantryman and as an Artillery officer. Following his retirement, he obtained a Masters degree and taught American History for Ranger and Central Texas Colleges. He is a member of the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in History.

* Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent those of MilitaryHistoryOnline.com.

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