A tendentious argument

This day marks an ignominious event in world history. 75 years ago on August 6, 1945 an American B-29 Superfortress flying high over the Japanese city of Hiroshima dropped an Atomic weapon that destroyed the city in a flash. The rationale behind the use of Atomic weapons against a virtually defenceless civilian target at the end of World War 2 has long been debated and brings rightful condemnation today, but horrific though that weapon undoubtedly was, there is a counter,  less familiar argument which suggests that  ultimately The Bomb saved more lives than it cost.

Millions of them.

Harry Truman in his post-war memoir stated that the Atom Bomb saved at least a half-million American lives on the X-Day invasion beaches of Japan. Enemy losses were anticipated to be in the millions. It is said that history is written by the victors but throw into this equation the unacceptable consequences of radiation poisoning from nuclear weapons as demonstrated on Japanese civilians, knowledge of which undoubtedly saved the planet from heading down the path of a Third World War, and the argument becomes tendentious.

Ex-Prisoners of War at the Watsonia (Yallambie) Camp entering bus enroute to the Heidelberg Military Hospital, 14 November, 1945. Photograph by Sgt F Carew (Source: Australian War memorial) https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C202396?image=1
Ex-Prisoners of War at the Watsonia (Yallambie) Camp being examined by a doctor of the 2/6th AGH, 14 November, 1945. Photograph by Sgt F Carew (Source: Australian War Memorial) https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C202671
Rice was not on the menu. Ex-Prisoners of War at the Watsonia (Yallambie) Camp mess, 14 November, 1945. Photograph by Sgt F Carew (Source: Australian War memorial) https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C202668

What this controversial subject has to do with the history of Yallambie is not immediately apparent but a clue may be provided by the above photograph that was taken at the “Watsonia” Camp, AKA the Simpson Barracks at Yallambie in November, 1945. This picture was sourced from the collection of the Australian War Memorial and was posted last month by Chris Scull on the Thomastown Area Facebook page which I follow. It  shows ex-Prisoners of War being processed at the Yallambie location before being sent on to the Repatriation Hospital in Heidelberg. The survival of these men and others like them can be attributed to the sudden ending of the War by the Atomic Bombing of Japan in August, 1945 as, following any attempt at an Allied invasion of the Japanese home islands, their lives would almost certainly have been forfeit.

Even so, their numbers take a little getting used to. Of the 22,000 Australians who became Prisoners of War of the Japanese in World War 2, one in three perished in captivity. Roughly 14,000 survivors returned to Australia at the end of 1945 which, from a population of just 7 million, meant nearly one in every 500 Australians was an ex POW after the War, this writer’s own father included. Not many of that generation are alive today but with what’s been happening in the world lately, especially to people of a mature vintage, maybe it’s worth pausing for a moment and reflecting on what that generation went through.

Ex-Prisoners of War at the POW Wing of the Watsonia (Yallambie) Camp, 14 November, 1945. Photograph by Sgt F Carew (Source: Australian War Memorial) https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C202395
The writer’s father with ex-POW mates, hay making at Barnawatha, post war. (Source: T C McLachlan collection)

Someone born a hundred years ago like my long dead father was conceived just after a Great War which killed at least 9 million combatants. A global pandemic then killed another 50 million people. Childhood was marked by financial ruin, the result of an economic crisis that started in 1928 but didn’t really end until war broke out again in 1939. That Second War killed between 70 and 85 million people, no one was really keeping a proper count by then, and a third war was only averted by the threat of the unacceptable consequences of Total War in the nuclear age. The Cold War they settled on lasted 50 years but the end of it did not usher in the advent of the egalitarian society that had always been hoped for. When people say the current plague is some sort of conspiracy and doesn’t affect them coz they’re not old, it is a reflection of just how entitled some of us have become. Centenarians alive today must look at our dystopian society and the retinue of incompetent and/or corrupt leaders on the larger world stage who have been prepared to put votes and popularity ahead of lives and wonder, just how did we let it come to this?

Greensborough Rd entrance to the Watsonia (Yallambie) Camp, probably post war. This had been Harry Wragge’s old paddock, now a part of the Simpson Barracks. (Source: National Archives of Australia) https://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/SearchNRetrieve/Interface/DetailsReports/PhotoDetail.aspx?Barcode=30104194
The British civilian gas mask of World War 2. No one asked the wearers about “human rights”.
An example of a fashionable face mask available from a local supplier. Could double as a pair of jocks, maybe? Which would your prefer? (Source: © 2020 by Bundarra Sportswear – All rights reserved)

At the start of that Second War they carried gas masks around the suburban streets of London without complaint in daily expectation of a Nazi gas attack. Today a small minority, armed with “law degrees” from the University of Facebook have refused to wear a small mask to protect the lives of those around them because of what they call “human rights”. The State of Disaster that has been called by the Victorian Government has caused grumbling from these same people and it is true, it’s not a disaster in the manner of the tragic explosion that yesterday destroyed the Port of Beirut or for that matter, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki 75 years ago. It is a means of giving the governing authorities finite powers for a finite time but really, it is simply the power to save us from ourselves.

The catastrophic explosion that destroyed the Port of Beirut yesterday has been likened to a small nuclear explosion. (Source: Nader Itayim, Twitter)

Returning ex POWs realized how fortunate their survival had been in 1945 and got on with things without complaint after World War 2. This new lockdown in Victoria is a depressing time to live through right now but it’s better than the alternative, especially if you are elderly. By cultivating a spirit of unity we can get through this and come out the other side, eventually.

Well most of us.

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