Does it feel like Thursday, August 9 to you? Well, in that case, it is International Speed Bump Appreciation Day. (Xerxes actually gives instructions on just how you can make these things work for you.)

That means that tomorrow will be August 10, International Boop an Animal Day. (Don't get too excited; there are two Os in Boop, not one.)

Saturday August 11 will be International lolcat Day. (What is a lolcat, you ask? See, that's partly why we create these days; so you learn something!)

[Normally it would be my practice to give you Sunday's International____Day as well, but a combination of the day's total Awesomeness and it being a surprise has led to me keeping the day in hiding until Saturday evening, when I will post it here as well as there, just to make sure the maximum audience sees it. You're going to want to make plans to visit the Institute sometime over the weekend: your love life may depend on it.]


[Reprinted, with permission, from The Hyperion Chronicles]

The Hyperion Chronicles
"Who you calling Fat Man?"

#461 Nagasakatumi

You know, August 9 is a big day in World History. It was on August 9 that Caesar defeated Pompeii at Pharsalus. On August 9, Bulgaria was founded. As was the Sistine Chapel opened. Edward VII crowned King of England. Charles Manson and his cult inflicted their horror on the world, and the Sbarro Massacre took place in Jerusalem. Singapore become a country, Jesse Owens stuck it to Hitler with his fourth gold medal and Betty Boop turned her first trick.1

Moreover, August 9 is the day that cost me $500.

How could a day on the calendar actively (and malevolently) cost someone five hundred dollars? Glad you asked.

I used to play Trivia with my friends at least once a week. We were good. No, we were gods. Playing for $50 in house gift certificates, my team rarely lost. We were respected. We were feared. We were not really loved, except by the servers, because with $50 in free food a night comes great tips.

However, a couple of times a year there would be a cumulative tournament, with the finals worth not fifty but five hundred, and not just gift certificates but cold hard cash. To me that was a lot of money, especially when it came for answering trivia questions. (It's about as close to being a professional athlete as we were going to get.) For some reason our remarkable streak of dominating victories would never work out in the big money games. Once I think I legitimately choked. Another time I just flat didn't know the fifth smallest state (geographically speaking).2 Two other times I had emotional issues or other bullshit going on and just couldn't focus, and once there were too many people on my team and we were compromised to death. (After that fiasco, Koz and I came up with a new rule that no matter who showed up, the two of us signed off on every question and anyone who did not like it could start their own team and lose to us.)

Then there was this one time……

We were playing for $500. I cannot tell you how tense it is when there is that much cash on the line. Everyone gets nervous. One by one, teams start missing easy questions, and there are not that many easy ones. We got to the end of the 20 regular questions, in first place but just barely. The final category was American History, and a subject more in my wheelhouse3 you could not find. We bet enough to cover second place (it was a Jeopardy-style final question, where you gamble points), and awaited our fates.

The final question was, "What day did Richard Nixon resign as president?"

All around the restaurant you could hear gasps of disbelief. Normally the final question is multi-part and difficult, but something you can at least work out if you know a lot in the subject area. But here, either you knew the day or you did not.

I knew.

August 9, 1974.

If I had just written it down and turned it in I'd have $500 dollars, which I'd have no doubt have turned into 47 billion by now.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the bank.

Not content with merely raking in the cool hard cash, I set out to edumacate my fellow teammates. After all, for the final question, you get two whole songs to answer, and we had to fill up the time some way.

I told my team that in many ways August 9 was the most important date of the 20th Century that nobody remembered….

August, 1945. Italy and Germany have fallen, leaving Japan as the only Axis power. Allied forces prepare for an assault on the island nation, now isolated and alone.

Most people know that. They probably also know that on August 6, 1945 the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. What is much less discussed—and in many ways much more historically significant—is the second bomb dropped on Nagasaki, and more importantly, why.

As I told my team that night, you must understand two things about that timeframe. The first is the Eastern mindset. To fight for your country was honorable. To die for it sometimes more so. To surrender…that was worse than any humiliation you can imagine. There is no way to adequately explain it to a Westerner. You just have to accept that at that time (and even today in many places), to give up brought tremendous shame, much more so than mere death.

(This is why up until the early '80s you would still hear stories about some remote island where a Japanese soldier had been living, unaware that the war was over, and in some cases they would have to fly the soldiers' commanding officers in to order them to surrender.4 This also explains horrific events like the Bataan Death March.

The point is, Japan had been systematically pushed back all the way to their main island. Japan clearly had no chance of winning the war, but had no plans to surrender. At this point, we enter the realm of educated speculation. I have read every book and study I can find on the subject, and no two agree. However, what is unmistakable is this: the assault of Japan would likely have cost anywhere from 600,000 to 2.5 million Japanese lives, and more importantly—from an American Military perspective—many thousands of soldiers' lives on the Allies' side.

How many thousands of lives? Before the bombings, the US military estimated 46,000 US deaths and several hundred thousand wounded. Later analysis realized that American Intelligence had drastically underestimated Japanese strength levels, and the total number of US deaths could have easily been 250,000 – 500,000, or even twice that.

This may sound repugnant to some, but it is very possible that the bomb on Hiroshima could have saved one to three million lives.6 To be fair, there are some revisionist historians who now claim that Japan was much closer to surrender than previously believed (their evidence for this "claim" I find to be very weak), but what is not under debate is that no one in 1945 believed Japan would surrender any other way.

But that happened on August 6. Most people know the issues surrounding Hiroshima. What happened three days later, I told my Trivia Team, is even more interesting.

When the first bomb dropped, Japan still did not surrender. Some like to darkly joke it is because the government didn't know ("They tried to call but the phones were out"), but the fact is that the phones were out, and so people were sent by plane to Hiroshima. Japan knew. They broadcasted what happened on their national radio. Emperor Hirohito was informed that Hiroshima had practically been wiped off the map, and still refused to surrender. After the second bomb dropped on Nagasaki on August 9, even Hirohito abandoned that "Eastern Mindset" in the face of annihilation. Truman threatened to "drop a bomb a day" until Japan surrendered, and they did so almost immediately.

My Trivia Team was riveted by all of this. They enjoyed finding out the name of the Nagasaki bomber plane (Bockscar) and the bomb itself ("Fat Man"). All of that fascinated them, but I had one more—if you'll pardon the expression—bomb to drop.

It is here we must enter the world of informed speculation again, with our second fundamental understanding of the times. The end of WWII was not the happy time one might think. Instead of celebration and relief, there was instead fear and anxiety, dreading the final hours until the next war began.

It was common knowledge among all the Allied Powers that World War III was likely to break out on the heels of WWII. Stalin was more than ready to move into the power vacuum created by Hitler, and the Allies were as eager—if not more so—to stop him than they had the German leader. Stalin did not have a hard time rallying support among his people, as the Russians lost 20 million civilians during the war, many of whom died because the Allies were not there to help as they promised. It is a column for another time, but leave it to say that there was not good feeling on the Russian side. (Hopefully it goes without saying that for their part, the US and Britain had a profoundly negative view of Stalin, and deservedly so. Arguably Stalin was much worse than Hitler, but that is another topic for another time.)

All along the European border war threatened to break out. Post-War Berlin became one of the most dangerous cities in the history of the world. Putting it mildly, Europe was chaos. And into that fray we have Japan and the end of the Pacific part of the War.

Now, both Russia and the US had been in a desperate race to develop atomic weapons, a race the US managed to win. (That both countries achieved their ends with displaced Jewish scientists from Germany is a thought that makes one shudder at what might have happened had Hitler been more pragmatic, but that too we'll leave for another time.)

No one is entirely sure how many bombs the US had at the time of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but any reasonable estimate is somewhere between six and nine. There is no way Truman could have pulled off his "drop a bomb a day" like he threatened to.

But Stalin did not know that.

Like I said, any reasonable accounting of what was known and what took place in 1945 justifies both bombs. However, it is my opinion (one backed up by research and critical thinking) that Truman might have had a secondary purpose in that Nagasaki bomb. If the US could use two bombs so quickly, so cavalierly, and threaten to "drop a bomb a day," what might that mean if Stalin suddenly invaded France?

Stalin never found out.

It goes against all reason to think that Stalin simply had enough of war. He was itching for it. He wanted control of Europe and the world as badly as Hitler ever did. But Stalin did not act, and I fervently believe that a large reason was the fear of the US dropping many atomic bombs on Russia, bombs that for awhile they didn't have ready to go, atomic bombs he could not answer in kind. It is not unreasonable to speculate that the bomb on Nagasaki may have prevented World War III.

It was this fascinating tale of history, both grounded in firm fact and some detective work that I told my Trivia Team. They ate it up. And as you might have guessed, on my little slip of paper I wrote August 9, 1945 as the day Richard Nixon resigned.

When I realized my error, I was inconsolable. The Trivia host—who probably could have done anything anyway—was not only unmoved, but also alternated between complete disbelief (as if I somehow thought Nixon resigned at the end of WWII) and malicious evil laughter. My devastation and shame are still talked about in those parts, as they should be.

August 9. A day of legend. A day of ignominy. A day that cost me $500.

August 9, 2007 (I checked)

Motto: If you read the column, it should make sense to you now
Title: a play on the words "sock it to me." Perhaps lame, but I laughed for five minutes when I thought of it, so screw off

1 Caesar at Pharsalus – 43 BC; Bulgaria founded – AD 681; Sistine Chapel opens – 1483; Edward VII – 1902; Charles Manson – 1969; Sbarro Massacre – 2001; Singapore – 1965; Jesse Owens – 1936; Betty Boop – 1930
2 Five smallest (in order) – Rhode Island, Delaware, Connecticut, Hawaii, New Jersey
3 For more, see the Word Detective
4 For more, see The Straight Dope
5 For more, see my column written about Bataan
6 Yes, I have simplified a very big debate in the Academic community. The fact remains the range I give covers most respected historians' estimates. I'd be happy to debate it with you one on one, but please know what you are talking about before contacting me
7 Yes, the timestamp of this post is apurpose.


Anonymous said...

You should add to this Wikipedia article to let this be know

Sea Hag said...

I miss Team Trivia days.