By Alex Diaz-Granados, writer and long-time WWII buff
If Japan had not surrendered after the double whammy of the Hiroshima/Nagasaki A-bomb attacks and the entry of the Soviet Union into the Pacific War, it is likely that:
- The 20th Air Force would have resumed its massive conventional bombing campaign against Japan’s cities (including Kyoto) until several atomic bombs became available in 1945 and 1946. (I believe a third A-bomb could have been dropped sometime after August 15, 1945 had the Japanese not agreed to surrender on that day.)
- The invasion of Kyushu, codenamed Olympic, would have been carried out on or around November 1, 1945. According to Alfred Coppel’s The Burning Mountain: A Novel of the Invasion of Japan, which was based on the actual American and Japanese war plans for the invasion, the Allied objective was to capture only enough of Kyushu to establish a series of naval and air bases there. These bases would then be used as part of the infrastructure for Operation Coronet, the invasion of Honshu.
- Emperor Hirohito and his Cabinet would probably have been killed or held incommunicado by radical militarists who refused to surrender to the Allies. (This is the one element that is necessary for this “no surrender even after the Soviet invasion of Manchuria and the A-bomb attacks” scenario to be even remotely possible.)
- For the Americans, it would have been the bloodiest campaign of World War II if the Olympic/Coronet landings had taken place. Based on the casualty figures from the battles on Peleliu, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa, the most-oft quoted estimate of total U.S. casualties (dead, wounded, captured, or missing) cites a figure of over a million. In 1945, the U.S. government ordered 500,000 Purple Hearts in anticipation of heavy losses. To this day (2016), the U.S. is still awarding Purple Hearts from this batch of medals.
- Japan would have been forced to surrender eventually. Even taking into consideration the nihilistic world-view of the die-hard hawks in the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy, the Allied onslaught on the home islands would have been relentless. Nearly all of the country’s industrial capacity would have ceased to exist, and the casualties (mostly civilian) on the Japanese side alone would have reached the 30 million mark by the time the war ended.
Moral equivalence is a form of equivocation often used in political debates. It seeks to draw comparisons between different, even unrelated things, to make a point that one is just as bad as the other or just as good as the other. Drawing a moral equivalence in this way is an informal fallacy, a special case of False equivalence.
A common manifestation of this fallacy is a claim, often made for ideological motives, that both sides are equally to blame for a war or other international conflict. Historical analyses show that this is rarely the case. Wars are usually started by one side militarily attacking the other, or mass murdering non-combatants, with or without provocation from the other side.
Some specific examples of this fallacy are as follows:
- Claiming neither side in World War II was morally superior because of the British firebombing of Dresden in Germany, or the US atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. This is despite the fact that Germany started the war in Europe and Japan started the war in the Pacific. Whilst the morality of the British fire bombing of Dresden is questionable, the aim of the US atomic bombings was to force Japan to surrender, without the necessity of a land invasion in which millions of people were expected to die on both sides. The purpose was to end World War II as opposed to starting it.
- Drawing a moral equivalence between 9/11 and U.S. policy in the Middle East, thereby attempting to justify or excuse the 9/11 atrocities against innocent non-combatants.
- Drawing a moral equivalence between the Holocaust and Israeli actions toward the Palestinians.
- PETA drawing a moral equivalence between the consumption of meat and the Holocaust in an ad campaign.
- The excuse that slavery in the southern United States wasn’t so bad because some slaves were treated better than workers in northern factories and company towns — or the counter-use of the same examples, that conditions during the early Industrial Revolution were not that bad because the people were at least free to choose their jobs, unlike under slavery.
An early populariser of the expression was Jeane Kirkpatrick, who was United States ambassador to the United Nations in the Reagan administration. Kirkpatrick published an article called The Myth of Moral Equivalence in 1986, which sharply criticized those who she alleged were claiming that there was ‘no moral difference’ between the Soviet Union and democratic states.
 Kirkpatrick, Jeane. ‘The Myth of Moral Equivalence’, Imprimis January 1986, Vol. 15, No.1.