Saturday, August 17, 2013

People's Republic of Hokkaido

Hey, here's another idea for a story.  An alternate history story.  Have a listen...
The anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima (8/6) and Nagasaki (8/9) were last week.  It was the Sixty-Eighth year since those two events.  Anyone who was 20 at the time of the bombings would be in their late 80's now.  
Also last week, I learned about a man named Fritz Haber.  He was a German chemist at the turn of the twentieth century.  Because of him, you are alive today.  More specifically, because of his work, half of the nitrogen in your body, forming the cell wall and stringing together your amino acids to make the proteins that are the machines of life, are there for you.  
I also had an insight as to why our memories are so malleable and faulty.  It's because they're being made on machinery made for something else to help us survive.  
Before I go further, a bit of trivia...
Did you know that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not the original targets of their respective bombs?  I might have mentioned this before, since it is a fascinating bit of historical fact.  
Historical fact.  Maybe I should have said, "Historical Memory."  Anyway...
The target for the first bomb, the gun-type uranium bomb known as "Little Boy," was supposed to be the city of Kyoto.  Kyoto had been untouched by the American bombing attacks over Japan up until that time.  It's the reason why the city today has so many historical shrines that are hundreds of years old.  Since it had been unscathed by the fire bombings that had scorched so many other Japanese cities, the military planners thought looking at "before" and "after" reconnaissance photos would be a good way to measure the atomic bomb's effectiveness.  
What they didn't count on was a honeymoon years before.  
Henry Stimson was the Secretary of War, as the Secretary of Defense was previously known, during World War Two.  He was the person in overall charge of the Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb and he gave himself the personal responsibility to approve the final target list.  When he received the list for Little Boy he saw that Kyoto was listed as No. 1.  
He knew Kyoto well, Henry Stimson did.  He and his wife had spent their honeymoon there.  It was, apparently, a very fond memory for the two of them.  He and his wife developed a fondness for the city because of their time there together.  
Secretary Stimson crossed Kyoto off the list, not wanting to see the city destroyed.  The second city on the list became the primary target, Hiroshima.  
Oh, oh...  Before I get too far.  Fritz Haber, the German chemist, he invented the means by which nitrogen, the most abundant element in our atmosphere, could be pulled directly from the air.  This process was used to create the first artificial fertilizer.  At the time of his invention Germany, which had a population of about 30 million people, was facing a food shortage.  One so great that some estimates were that about two thirds of the population, twenty million or so people, would eventually starve to death.  Haber's process not only kept those people from starving, but it is the single greatest reason we have over 7 billion people on the planet today.  
Historians have commented that Fritz Haber was certain that creating this process was the right thing to do.  
Some historians have said, and most Americans believe, that dropping the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the right thing to do.  It ended what had turned into a long and frightfully bloody war during which horrific atrocities were being committed.  One often cited figure to support this belief is 1,200,000.  This is the estimate the War Department came up with for the number of casualties Allied forces would see at around 90 days during Operation Downfall, the planned invasion of Japan.  By dropping the bombs when we did, those soldiers, and the lives of the Japanese civilians in whose towns and fields they would have fought, were sparred.  
I've been told this many times.  It's part of my historical memory.  
Trivia break: Did you know the word, "Kamikaze," the Japanese pilots that drove their planes into allied ships during the war, is a mispronunciation?  When American translators came across the Kanji characters, 神風, which mean "Divine Wind," describing these pilots, they mistakenly used the "Kunyomi" or Japanese pronunciation for the characters.  When two kanji are combined directly, like these, you're supposed to use the "Onyomi" or Chinese pronunciation.  The correct pronunciation of these characters should have been "Shinfu."  During the American occupation of Japan, the Japanese adopted our "mispronunciation" of the word, and now use "kamikaze" for this word themselves.  
Another thing about the Kamikaze is that they were created in response to American newsreel footage.  
The Island of Saipan was the first island invaded by allied forces during the war that was part of the nation of Japan.  One of the most famous incidents that took place during the war was Japanese civilians killing themselves by throwing themselves off the cliffs, sometimes with their children in their arms, when American troops approached their city. 
The newsmen accompanying the troops shot film of this happening.  Some footage was in a transport plane that was shot down on its way back to American.  The Japanese High Command had the news footage translated.  When they realized how much this shocked the American reporters, they decided to make use of it.  

The Japanese command staff knew, in 1944 when the Battle of Saipan took place, it was only a matter of time before the war ended with them on the losing side.  The Japanese government was secretly sending messages to the Soviet Union, with whom they had a non-aggression treaty, to find some way for them to mediate a conditional surrender that kept them in power and prevented foreign occupation of their country.  A plan was drawn up, called the White Chrysanthemum Paper, to make the allies believe that an invasion of the Japanese main islands would be more bloody than they possibly could imagine.  News about "Voluntary Fighting Corp," were teenagers were given hand tools to fight with, was leaked.  Japanese garrisons were told to fight to the last man when attacked.  And the "Special Fighting Units," which included the kamikaze air forces, were created.  
The Japanese High Command believed that sacrificing these soldiers to insure that their country was not occupied was the right thing to do.  
Nagasaki...  Almost forgot.  On August 9th a plane nicknamed "Bockscar" carrying the second atomic bomb, code named "Fat Man," took off from its base.  The target was the city of Kokura, on the northern coast of Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan's six main islands.  
One of the rules given to the pilots flying these missions was that they were only to deploy the bomb in clear weather.  Any cloud cover, they were to abort the mission.  I think this order was for observational purposes.  
When the trio of plans, Bockscar and two reconnaissance planes, approached Kokura, clouds and smoke from a burning factory combined to obscure the target point.  The planes circled around three times to see if conditions would clear.  After the third circuit, the commander of the flight, Major Charles Sweeney, aborted the attack and flew on to the second city on the target list: Nagasaki.  
For years after the war, there was a saying in Japan to have "Kokura's luck."  This was to have some disaster heading toward you to fall on your neighbor instead.  This saying is largely forgotten now, faded from historical memory.  
Oh, yeah...  Memory...  I was listening to a science podcast, the last one from PRI's the World, that featured an interview with Charles Fernyhough, who has written a book called "Pieces of Light" about how the mind creates memories.  His most fascinating contention is that there is no evolutionary reason for humans to need to have the rich and vibrant memories we do.  What is more important from an evolutionary standpoint is to finding a way to predict the future.  Predicting the future has value helping a species survive and thrive by telling its members things like, what that saber-toothed tiger in the field ahead might do.  Our memories persist by using the same parts of the brain designed to predict what will happen next, by running simulations based on past experience.  
This is the reason why memories can change so much over time.  They are not recordings of what has happened to us before, as most people might think.  They are simulations of the past, often including input that has been received AFTER the memory was originally created.  
I told you I had a story idea at the top of this blog.  Here it is.  What if...  The atomic bombs were NOT dropped on Japan.  On that day the list came to Secretary Stimson's office, his memories of Kyoto somehow get extended to Japan as a whole.  Or the plane carrying the newsreel footage of the people jumping off Saipan never gets shot down, and the Japanese military never gets the idea of fooling the American forces that an invasion would cost them so dearly.  Or possibly even Little Boy, which had a design so temperamental its shipping box was marked "Do Not Get Wet" for fear an electrical short might set it off, was a dud.  Or worse, went off prematurely during shipment.  For some reason, the bombs are kept in storage and Operation Downfall is given a green light...
It's 1986.  An American diplomat is sent to Tokyo to speak to members of the Japanese military.  Tensions are running high on the archipelago.  The People's Republic of Hokkaido, the puppet state created by Soviet Union after its invasion of the island in September 1945 (Actually planned but never executed) has gone through its third violent change of government in as many years.  The Imperial Japanese Military, strengthened by MacArthur after the war to counter the communist threat, sees it as an opportunity to reclaim their northern island.  "Meitoku," an allusion to the era when Japan was reunified in the 1300's, is on every Japanese commander's lips.  
The diplomat's job is to talk them out of it.  Yes, the Japanese are staunch allies.  Yes, their participation helped wrest the southern half of the Chousen Peninsula back from the communists, the only successful anti-communist insurgence during the Cold War, and was instrumental in the American victory in Vietnam, but such military intervention could result in atomic weapons being used for the first time.  They've kept the genii in the bottle for forty years.  What could happen if they let it out now...?  
The Japanese response is to respectfully tell their American allies that they appreciate the concern being expressed, but that their country must be reunified.  The force of history is behind them.  They know what is the right thing to do.  
One last thing about Fritz Haber.  He invented the means to create artificial fertilizer, which keeps billions of people alive today.  He also invented chemical weapons, which are made using the same process.  He was made a captain in the German Imperial Army during World War One and directed the first wide scale use of chemical weapons against an opponent.  He was certain that his work in making these weapons and deploying them for the benefit of his nation was the right thing to do.  His wife, horrified at what he had done, and more horrified at his attitude, killed herself in the garden of their home the night before he returned to the front.  Years after Fritz Haber's death, another of his inventions would be modified into the agent that killed the people at Auschwitz.  
People who don't recognize history as a simulation are doomed to create with certainty futures that are less so. 


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