Authors: Robert Conroy
Tags: #World War; 1939-1945 - United States, #Alternative histories (Fiction), #World War; 1939-1945, #General, #United States, #Historical, #War & Military, #World War; 1939-1945 - Japan, #Japan, #Fiction
"Are you counting the rapes?" Marshall asked.
The riots in San Francisco had begun as a drunken celebration of victory over the Japanese by tens of thousands of servicemen overjoyed that they were not going to be fighting the Japs. When they found out the truth, the celebrations turned ugly. Most of the rapes had occurred during the celebration phase, the murders later on.
"No," Truman said sadly. The document on his desk indicated three thousand reported rapes in San Francisco alone, and God only knew how many unreported. "And will somebody tell me why the people of Detroit felt it necessary to kill another score of Negroes? Hadn't they had enough of race rioting in 1943?"
Where there had not been an Asian population to attack, the colored people of many large cities had become the target of the mobs' wrath.
Secretary of State Jim Byrnes lit a cigarette. "What is happening to these people, these criminals? May I presume there will be a lot of arrests and court-martials?"
Marshall shook his head. "Presume nothing. Most of the rioters in San Francisco are unidentified, except for a few score picked up by the police as drunk and disorderly. As to the rapes, most women won't testify, even if they could identify their assailants. The San Francisco hospitals reported giving out several thousand douches and sending the women home. There were so many raped women they had no other way to treat them. In order to defuse the situation, we are shipping as many of the soldiers and sailors out of California as quickly as possible and have confined the rest to their barracks.
"The police in Detroit and other cities finally seem to have everything under control, and there have been some arrests, although there does seem to be a lack of enthusiasm regarding actually prosecuting people."
"Not if I can help it," Truman snapped.
"Will we get convictions?" Byrnes asked.
Truman rose and paced. "Realistically, in today's climate we don't stand a snowball's chance of convicting someone for killing a Jap, Chinese, or colored man, but women and children were killed and that's something else entirely."
Truman took a deep breath to calm himself. "Which brings me to the point of this discussion, gentlemen. We must show ourselves as striking back at the Japanese in Japan and doing so extremely harshly. The actions of the mobs simply show how much the people's hatred of everything Japanese has increased. General Marshall, what is the status of the next bomb?"
Marshall answered quickly, "The bomb components have been flown to Tinian, and it is being assembled now. We will be ready anytime after the twenty-second of August."
"Good. Now, General, what about a target?"
Marshall paused, knowing that his answer could condemn thousands to death. The sixty-five-year-old five-star general had built the army from a scratch force to a massive entity in only a few short years. He had been the confidant of Roosevelt and was now Truman's trusted adviser.
"Sir, the original list included four Japanese cities that were largely spared conventional bombing in order to get maximum effect from the atomic bomb. Along with Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the list included Kokura and Niigata. If we stick with the original list, then only the last two remain. Air force generals Spaatz and LeMay would like to expand that very short list by also adding Tokyo and Kyoto, and they are backed by General Arnold."
LeMay and Spaatz commanded the air forces in the Pacific, while Gen. "Hap" Arnold was the air force representative on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Since he was technically subordinate to Marshall , he was not present.
Byrnes answered quickly, "We've gone over that ground before and there is no reason to change the list. If anything, the decision to not atom bomb Tokyo and Kyoto is even more compelling. Simply put, we need both those cities relatively intact if we are ever to end this war. Tokyo is the administrative hub of Japan, and if we destroy it and the government, possibly killing the emperor, we could wind up with no one remaining in charge to call an end to the war. Quite frankly, gentlemen, I believe that the emperor is the only person who can surrender Japan.
"Kyoto's the religious center of Japan, virtually a city of temples. It would be tantamount to bombing the Vatican and then informing Italy's Catholics that we respected them and their culture. Using atom bombs on Kyoto could easily result in millions more fanatics ready to die for their country than there are now.
"General, we have too much to lose, and, yes, I do recognize the fact that we have been firebombing both cities with tremendous loss of life. But atomic bombs are so devastating that there is no comparison between the two events."
Marshall had expected the response, even supported it, but he felt obliged to forward the thoughts of his generals. "After we bomb Kokura and Niigata , we really don't have any more targets. Kokura's prewar population is less than a hundred thousand, and Niigata 's only a little more than that. Further, the Japanese are finally getting the message and have commenced evacuating their cities. I rather doubt we will be dropping any kind of bombs on civilian refugee camps."
Truman laughed harshly. "Are you telling me we sit here with the greatest and most awesome weapon ever made, and we have bombed Japan so thoroughly that we might not have anything to use it on?"
Marshall nodded. "Precisely."
Truman sighed. "Jesus."
"Mr. President," Marshall continued, "it may be worse than that. According to General Groves, Dr. Oppenheimer and others are reporting that the lingering effects of radiation from the bombs may be far worse than what they expected. They've examined the ground at Alamogordo and the items recovered from there, and the radiation count is still very high, even lethally so. Further, there is a significant body of anecdotal evidence coming from Japan which confirms that hypothesis. It now seems that radiation does not dissipate in a matter of hours or days, but may linger on for months, perhaps years. There are many reports coming from Japan of otherwise healthy-looking people sickening and dying days after exposure to radioactive items. This means that our own soldiers could be at risk if we send them into a bombed-out area without proper precautions."
Truman was exasperated and his voice rose. "General, Jim, we must use a bomb. We must show both the people of the United States, and the fools in Tokyo, that they cannot refuse to surrender without suffering the consequences. If we do not punish the Japanese for this new act of treachery, there might be calls for my impeachment, if not my head. Now, if we cannot expand the list of targets, which of the two cities do you prefer?"
Marshall responded without hesitation, knowingly condemning thousands to incineration and worse. "Kokura. If we have to invade the home islands, the first assault will be on the island of Kyushu. Kokura is a city near the narrow straits between Kyushu and the almost adjacent island of Honshu. Destroying Kokura will have the effect of making it more difficult for the Japanese to move soldiers into Kyushu to reinforce the armies already there. By stretching the definition, Kokura could be considered a military target."
Truman turned to Byrnes. "Any cultural or political problem with Kokura?"
Truman took a deep breath. "Then we will bomb Kokura."
"Very good," Truman said softly. "After Kokura is destroyed, I wish to be fully updated on the plans to invade Kyushu, along with any other options that might be available to us. God help the people of Japan." And God help me, he cried to himself as he considered the additional deaths his decision would cause. But what choice do I have?
"I'll get it," the pretty blonde yelled as the doorbell rang for the second time, this time insistently. Who could be in such a hurry? Nobody was expected this August evening. She pulled it open and stood there in disbelief.
"Hi," the young man said shyly. He was in uniform, and his gold lieutenant's bars shone in the light from the house.
Debbie Winston screamed and hugged the man at her door, then covered his face with kisses, which he urgently returned.
"Wow," 2nd Lt. Paul Morrell said when they finally broke for air. "Just think, I was worried that you might not be glad to see me." Debbie stopped any further attempt at conversation by again covering his face with kisses while she dragged him into the living room.
The clamor had brought the rest of Debbie's family, and they greeted Paul warmly with hugs and handshakes. Debbie's mother asked him if he had seen his own family, and he assured her that he had, and that he had just come from there. Then they sat him on the couch with Debbie beside him with her arm entwined with his.
"How much time do you have?" Debbie asked, dreading the answer.
"Only a couple of hours. A friend of mine is picking me up and driving me downtown to the train station." He laughed. "I'm not supposed to be here at all. The army flew me from Germany to England, and then from England to New York . My orders say I'm to take the most direct route to San Francisco , and then overseas. I guess they want me in a hurry. I saw a lot of other officers getting the same treatment. However, I just figured that the war would wait a little bit or, better yet, go on without me."
Debbie's mother stood. A whimsical smile was on her face. "Two hours? Somehow I think you two want to spend it alone and not talking to us." She grabbed her husband and Debbie's younger brother and steered them out of the room.
Debbie took Paul's hands in hers and kneaded them in quiet desperation, as if willing them to stay. "Paul, it isn't fair. You shouldn't be going to fight the Japanese. Didn't you do enough in Germany?"
He put his arm around her and pulled her to him. It was a hot evening and she was wearing only a blouse and skirt cut short because of the wartime shortage of materials. He could feel the warmth and tantalizing smoothness of her skin underneath her clothing, and her slender legs were gorgeous.
"Apparently not," he managed to say. "A whole lot of people are being sent from Europe to the Pacific." He decided not to tell her about the incident in Germany that had caused him to be put on the levy to fight the Japs. No need disturbing her with accounts of his own stupidity. "I'm just hoping it's over by the time I get there. Even if everything moves according to somebody's schedule, I don't see how we can do anything about Japan for several months. Of course, maybe if we drop a few more atom bombs on them, there won't be anything left to invade."
She nodded into his chest, conscious that she was staining his khaki uniform with her tears. She was trying not to cry but it was futile. News of the continued war had hit home with a bulletin that said yet another atomic bomb had been dropped on Japan, this one on a place called Kokura.
sounded like a bird calling, not a city that had just been wiped off the face of the earth.
"Paul, it was so terrible here after the peace collapsed. Everybody had been celebrating victory, and then the rug was pulled out from under our feet and the crash was sickening. Instead of your coming home to me, we all realized that soldiers were still going to be shipped overseas to fight and maybe die. There was a lot of rioting here, and a lot of people were killed in downtown. Would you believe someone even smashed the window at Ginsberg's store and stole a couch? Mr. Ginsberg tried to make a joke of it by saying it was an ugly piece of furniture and that the thief had no taste, but I could tell he was shaken by it. Did you know that the governor declared martial law because of all the killings around the riverfront? There was even a curfew for a few days and everyone stayed home or got arrested. I just never believed it could happen here in the United States."
"I know," he said sadly. "I saw a lot of it in the barracks with men getting murderously drunk and then going into town simply to break things and hurt people. It was like the whole world had gone crazy with anger and everyone felt they'd been cheated out of the rest of their lives. Since I was an officer, they had me trying to settle things down and take charge. Funny, but what I really wanted to do was join them and break some stuff myself."
Debbie lifted her head and they kissed again. She was sobbing and realized he was crying softly as well. "Paul, I'm so scared for you. Somehow I thought that your going in the army was a lark, and I was playing at being the brave but lonely woman waiting at home for her man while you marched off with your uniform never getting dirty. After all, the Germans surrendered just after you got there, and then the Japs were going to give up. Now I'm scared that I might actually lose you."
Her voice broke and her chest heaved. "I just want you to come back to me."
Debbie did not add that she wanted him there so she could resolve her own doubts about their future. When he was with her, she was confident that she was in love with him. When he was gone from her, she wondered whether she was doing the right thing by continuing their long-distance romance. She gave no thought, however, to telling him of her doubts this evening.
Paul took a deep breath. "I love you," he said, and they kissed again. "And I am coming back." Then he grinned through his anguish. "Damn, I am glad I took this little detour even though it means I'm going to be late reporting."
"Can you get in trouble?"
He chuckled wryly. "Yeah, maybe they'll fire me. Wouldn't that be a shame?"
She laughed. "Come outside." She took his hand and led him out to the backyard. He smiled as he saw Debbie's family's car, tireless and propped up on cement blocks, testimony to the shortage of rubber and the rationing of gas. Debbie's father took the bus or trolley to work and had been selling his gas-ration coupons in return for other items. It wasn't legal, but everyone was doing it.
Some patio furniture was underneath a tree, and they sat on a porch swing, rocking gently.
It was amazing, he thought, but her entire family seemed to have disappeared. He wondered if they were peering through windows at them and didn't give a damn. His own parents had wished for him to stay and spend what little time he had left with them, but they understood his need to see Debbie before he headed on to the West Coast. Both his parents had been weeping when he left them, but this was the worst departure of all.