Wed Aug 06, 2003
August 6th, 1945
It's around the anniversary of the Atomic Bombs dropping in Japan, and we can always expect some fantastic arguements about why the bomb is good. Like yesterday's Kristol article in the NY Times.
Last year I met and spent the day with 30 survivors of the Atomic bombings in Hiroshima, and visited the ruins of the WTC with them. They were on a mission to tell the people of the U.S. that small nuclear weapons are not acceptable (when it was publicised that the Bush Administration was seeking building new smaller 'usable' nukes) I sat with one man who spoke almost no english, but he tried anyway to talk about the morning when the atomic bomb went off a couple miles from his house. He was 14 years old at the time, and one of the oldest of the group who came to NY. He drew me out a floorplan of the small house he lived in with his parents and showed me which walls fell down and where he was at in the house when it happened. He was sweeping the floor.
The days and weeks after were spent walking around the city looking for relatives. Corpses were piled up at the school across the street.
A 73 year old American woman who remembered the event 57 years ago told me that "Nobody knew what an Atomic bomb was at the time, we only knew it was a 'secret weapon' that would end the war."
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Atomic Bomb, Hiroshima - an exerpt from Zinn
>From Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States:
The bombing of Japanese cities continued the strategy of saturation bombing to destroy civilian morale; one nighttime fire-bombing of Tokyo took 80,000 lives. And then, on August 6, 1945, came the lone American plane in the sky over Hiroshima, dropping the first atomic bomb, leaving perhaps 100,000 Japanese dead, and tens of thousands more slowly dying from radiation poisoning. Twelve U.S. navy fliers in the Hiroshima city jail were killed in the bombing, a fact that the U.S. government has never officially acknowledged, according to historian Martin Sherwin ("A World Destroyed"). Three days later, a second atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Nagasaki, with perhaps 50,000 killed.
The justification for these atrocities was that this would end the war quickly, making unnecessary an invasion of Japan. Such an invasion would cost a huge number of lives, the government said--a million, according to Secretary of State Byrnes; half a million, Truman claimed was the figure given by General George Marshall. (When the papers of the Manhattan Project--the project to build the atom bomb--were released years later, they showed that Marshall urged a warning to the Japanese about the bomb, so people could be removed and only military targets hit.) These estimates of invasion losses were not realistic, and seem to have been pulled out of the air to justify bombings which, as their effects became known, horrified more and more people. Japan, by August 1945, was in desperate shape and ready to surrender. New York Times military analyst wrote, shortly after the war:
"The enemy, in a military sense, was in a hopeless strategic position by the time the Potsdam demand for unconditional surrender was made on July 26.
"Such then, was the situation when we wiped out Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
"Need we have done it? No one can, of course be positive, but the answer is almost certainly negative." [concludes Baldwin]
[Zinn continues:] The United States Strategic Bombing Survey, set up by the War Department in 1944 to study the results of aerial attacks in the war, interviewed hundreds of Japanese civilian and military leaders after Japan surrendered, and reported just after the war:
"Based on a detailed investigation of all the facts and supported by the testimony of the surviving Japanese leaders involved, it is the Survey's opinion that certainly prior to December 31 1945, and in all probability prior to 1 November 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated."
But could American leaders have known in August 1945?
The answer is, clearly, yes. The Japanese code had been broken, and Japan's messages were being intercepted. It was known the Japanese had instructed their ambassador in Moscow to work on peace negotiations with the Allies. Japanese leaders had begun talking of surrender a year before this, and the Emperor himself had begun to suggest, in June 1945, that alternatives to fighting to the end be considered. On July 13, Foreign Minister Shigenori Togo wired his ambassador in Moscow: "Unconditional surrender is the only obstacle to peace." Martin Sherwin, after an exhaustive study of the relevant historical documents, concludes: "Having broken the Japanese code before the war, American Intelligence was able to--and did--relay this message to the President, but it had no effect whatever on efforts to bring the war to conclusion."
If only Americans had not insisted on unconditional surrender--that is, if they were willing to accept one condition to the surrender, that the Emperor, a holy figure to the Japanese, remain in place--the Japanese would have agreed to stop the war.
Why did the United States not take that small step to save both American and Japanese lives? Was it because too much money and effort had been invested in the atomic bomb not to drop it? General Leslie Groves, head of the Manhattan Project, described Truman as a man on a toboggan, the momentum too great to stop it. Or was it, as British scientist P.M.S. Blackett suggested ("Fear, War, and the Bomb"), that the United States was anxious to drop the bomb before the Russians entered the war against Japan?
The Russians had secretly agreed (they were officially not at war with Japan) they would come into the war ninety days after the end of the European war. That turned out to be May 8, and so, on August 8, the Russians were due to declare war on Japan. But by then the big bomb had been dropped, and the next day a second one would be dropped on Nagasaki; the Japanese would surrender to the United States, not the Russians, and the United States would be the occupier of postwar Japan. In other words, Blackett says, the dropping of the bomb was "the first major operation of the cold diplomatic war with Russia." Blackett is supported by American historian Gar Alperovitz ("Atomic Diplomacy"), who notes a diary entry for July 28, 1945, by Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal, describing Secretary of State James F. Byrnes as "most anxious to get the Japanese affair over with before the Russians got in."
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