Tinian is a small island, less than 40 square miles, a flat green dot in the vastness of Pacific blue.
Fly over it and you notice a slash across its north end of uninhabited bush, a long thin line that looks like an overgrown dirt runway. If you didn’t know what it was, you wouldn’t give it a second glance out your airplane window.
On the ground, you see the runway isn’t dirt but tarmac and crushed limestone, abandoned with weeds sticking out of it. Yet this is arguably the most historical airstrip on earth. This is where World War II was won. This is Runway Able:
On July 24, 1944, 30,000 US Marines landed on the beaches of Tinian. Eight days later, over 8,000 of the 8,800 Japanese soldiers on the island were dead (vs. 328 Marines), and four months later the Seabees had built the busiest airfield of WWII, dubbed North Field, enabling B-29 Superfortresses to launch air attacks on the Philippines, Okinawa, and mainland Japan.
Late in the afternoon of August 5, 1945, a B-29 was maneuvered over a bomb loading pit, then after lengthy preparations, taxied to the east end of North Field’s main runway, Runway Able, and at 2:45 a.m. in the early morning darkness of August 6, took off.
The B-29 was piloted by Colonel Paul Tibbets of the US Army Air Force, who had named the plane after his mother, Enola Gay. The bomb they were carrying was code named Little Boy. Six and one-half hours later at 8:15 a.m. Japan time, the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.
Three days later, in the pre-dawn hours of August 9, a B-29 named Bockscar (a pun on “boxcar” after its flight commander Captain Fred Bock), piloted by Major Charles Sweeney took off from Runway Able. Finding its primary target of Kokura obscured by clouds, Sweeney proceeded to the secondary target of Nagasaki, over which, at 11:01 a.m., bombardier Kermit Beahan released the atomic bomb code named Fat Man.
Here is “Atomic Bomb Pit #1” where Little Boy was loaded onto Enola Gay:
There are pictures displayed in the pit, now glass-enclosed. This one shows Little Boy being hoisted into Enola Gay’s bomb bay.
And here on the other side of ramp is “Atomic Bomb Pit #2” where Fat Man was loaded onto Bockscar.
The commemorative plaque records that 16 hours after the nuking of Nagasaki, “On August 10, 1945 at 0300, the Japanese Emperor, without his cabinet’s consent, decided to end the Pacific War.”
Take a good look at these pictures. This is where World War II ended with total victory of America over Japan. When I visited, I was there all alone. There were no other visitors and no one lives anywhere near for miles. Visiting the Bomb Pits, walking along deserted Runway Able in solitude, was a moment of extraordinarily powerful solemnity.
It was a moment of deep reflection. Some people, when they think of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, reflect on the numbers of people killed in the nuclear blasts: at least 70,000 and 50,000 respectively. Being here caused me to reflect on the number of lives saved. How many more Japanese and Americans would have died in a continuation of the war had the nukes not been dropped?
Yet that was not all. It’s not just that the nukes obviated the US invasion of Japan, Operation Downfall, which would have caused upwards of a million American and Japanese deaths or more. It’s that nuking Hiroshima and Nagasaki were of extraordinary humanitarian benefit to the nation and people of Japan.
Let’s go to this cliff on the nearby island of Saipan to learn why:
Saipan is less than a mile north of Tinian. The month before the Marines took Tinian, on June 15, 1944, 71,000 Marines landed on Saipan. They faced 31,000 Japanese soldiers determined not to surrender.
Japan had colonized Saipan after World War I and turned the island into a giant sugar cane plantation. By the time of the Marine invasion, in addition to the 31,000 entrenched soldiers, some 25,000 Japanese settlers were living on Saipan, plus thousands more Okinawans, Koreans, and native islanders brutalized as slaves to cut the sugar cane.
There were also one or two thousand Korean “comfort women” (kanji in Japanese), abducted young women from Japan ‘s colony of Korea to service the Japanese soldiers as sex slaves. (See The Comfort Women: Japan ‘s Brutal Regime of Enforced Prostitution in the Second World War, by George Hicks.)
Within a week of their landing, the Marines set up a civilian prisoner encampment that quickly attracted a couple thousand Japanese and others wanting US food and protection. When word of this reached Emperor Hirohito—who, contrary to the myth, was in full charge of the war—he became alarmed that radio interviews of the well-treated prisoners broadcast to Japan would subvert his people’s will to fight.
As meticulously documented by historian Herbert Bix in Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, the Emperor issued an order for all Japanese civilians on Saipan to commit suicide. The order included the promise that, although the civilians were of low caste, their suicide would grant them a status in heaven equal to those honored soldiers who died in combat for their Emperor.
And that is why the precipice in the picture above is known as Suicide Cliff, off which over 20,000 Japanese civilians jumped to their deaths to comply with their fascist emperor’s desire. Mothers were flinging their babies off the cliff first or holding them in their arms as they jumped.
Anyone who was reluctant or refused, such as the Okinawan or Korean slaves, were shoved off at gunpoint by the Japanese soldiers. Then the soldiers themselves hurled themselves into the ocean to drown off a sea cliff afterward called Banzai Cliff. Of the 31,000 Japanese soldiers on Saipan, the Marines killed 25,000, another five thousand jumped off Banzai Cliff, and only the remaining thousand were taken prisoner.
The extent of this demented fanaticism is very hard for any civilized mind to fathom, especially when it is devoted not to anything noble but barbarian evil instead. The vast brutalities inflicted by the Japanese on their conquered and colonized peoples of China, Korea and the Philippines, and throughout their “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” was a hideously depraved horror.
And they were willing to fight to the death to defend it. So they had to be nuked. The only way to put an end to the Japanese barbarian horror was unimaginably colossal destruction against which they had no defense whatever. Nuking Japan was not a matter of justice, revenge, or it getting what it deserved. It was the only way to end the Japanese dementia.
And it worked for the Japanese. They stopped being barbarians and started being civilized. They achieved more prosperity and peace than they had ever known or could have achieved had they continued fighting and not been nuked. The shock of getting nuked is responsible.
We achieved this because we were determined to achieve victory. Victory without apologies. Despite perennial liberal demands we do so, America and its government has never apologized for nuking Japan. Hopefully, America never will.