The Enduring Myth of Hiroshima

On Aug. 6, 1945, the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on a populated area, the Japanese city of Hiroshima,  followed by a second on Nagasaki three days later. There then ensued a U.S. propaganda campaign to claim the slaughter of more than 200,000 people saved lives, writes John LaForge.

By John LaForge

The U.S. atomic destruction of 140,000 people at Hiroshima and 70,000 at Nagasaki was never “necessary” because Japan was already smashed, no land invasion was needed and Japan was suing for peace. The official myth that “the bombs saved lives” by hurrying Japan’s surrender can no longer be believed except by those who love to be fooled.

The long-standing fiction has been destroyed by the historical record kept in U.S., Soviet, Japanese and British archives — now mostly declassified — and detailed by Ward Wilson in his book Five Myths about Nuclear Weapons (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013).

The mushroom cloud from the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, on Aug. 6, 1945.

The mushroom cloud from the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, on Aug. 6, 1945.

Greg Mitchell’s Atomic Cover-Up (Sinclair Books, 2011) also helps explain the durability of the “saved lives” ruse. Wartime and occupation censors seized all films and still photos of the two atomic cities, and the U.S. government kept them hidden for decades. Even in 1968, newsreel footage from Hiroshima held in the National Archives was stamped, “SECRET, Not To Be Released Without the Approval of the DOD.” Photos of the atomized cities that did reach the public merely showed burned buildings or mushroom clouds — rarely human victims.

In Hiroshima in America: 50 Years of Denial, (Grosset/Putnam, 1995) Robert Lifton and Mitchell note that Gen. Leslie Groves, head of the Manhattan Project, “left nothing to chance.” Even before Hiroshima, he prohibited U.S. commanders from commenting on the atomic attacks without clearance from the War Department.

“We didn’t want MacArthur and others saying the war could have been won without the bomb,” Groves said.

In fact, MacArthur did not believe the bomb was needed to end the war, but he too established a censorship program as commander of the U.S. occupation of Japan. He banned reporters from visiting Hiroshima or Nagasaki, expelled reporters who defied the ban and later said that those who complained that censorship existed in Japan were engaged in “a maliciously false propaganda campaign.”

That most people in the United States still believe the “saved lives” rationale to be true is because of decades of this censorship and myth-making, begun by President Harry Truman, who said Aug. 6, 1945, “Sixteen hours ago an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima, an important Japanese Army base. … That was because we wished this first attack to avoid, insofar as possible, the killing of civilians.”

In fact, the city of 350,000 had practically no military value at all and the target was the city, not the base three kilometers away.

Taking President Truman at his word, the 140,000 civilians killed at Hiroshima are the minimum to be expected when exploding a small nuclear weapon on a “military base.” Today’s “small” Cruise missile warheads ¾ which are 12 times the power of Truman’s A-bomb ¾ could kill 1.68 million each.

Official censorship of what the two bombs did to people and the reasons for it has been so successful, that 25 years of debunking hasn’t managed to generally topple the official narrative.

In 1989, historian Gar Alperovitz reported, “American leaders knew well in advance that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was not required to bring about Japan’s surrender;” and later, in his 847-page The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb (Random House, 1995), “I think it can be proven that the bomb was not only unnecessary but known in advance not to be necessary.” The popular myth “didn’t just happen,” Alperovitz says, “it was created.”

Kept hidden for decades was the 1946 U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey’s conclusion that Japan almost certainly would have surrendered in 1945 without the atomic bombs, without a Soviet invasion and without a U.S. invasion. Not long after V-J Day in 1945, Brig. Gen. Bonnie Feller wrote, “Neither the atomic bombing nor the entry of the Soviet Union into the war forced Japan’s unconditional surrender. She was defeated before either of these events took place.”

President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a five-star general and the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, said in his memoirs he believed “that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary.”

Adm. William Leahy, the wartime Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote in 1950, “It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material success in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender.”

Feller’s, Ike’s and Leahy’s opinions were conspicuously left out of or censored by the Smithsonian Institution’s 1995 display of the atomic B-29 bomber “Enola Gay.”

Admiral Leahy’s 1950 myth-busting and censor-busting about the Bomb could be an epitaph for the nuclear age: “I was not taught to make war in that fashion,” he said of Hiroshima’s incineration, “and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.”

John LaForge writes for PeaceVoice, is co-director of Nukewatch—a nuclear watchdog and environmental justice group—and lives at the Plowshares Land Trust out of Luck, Wisconsin.

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55 comments on “The Enduring Myth of Hiroshima

  1. Joseph D'Urso on said:

    Moreover, was it not the case that Japan, an island nation, was completely at the mercy of the U.S. Navy, which controlled the seas and the harbors, and of the Air Corp which controlled the air. With a total blockade, it was simply a matter of time before surrender. Just sit and wait. No bombs.

    • Dmitriy on said:

      Those people wouldn’t stop and would use bombs against Soviet Union too, just like their successors now using banned weapons against people in eastern Ukraine through their puppets in Kiev. The only thing that stopped them was that they counted they had not enough bombs to kill at least 65 million people in USSR and destroy USSR ground retaliation potential, so they waited for more bombs, but then USSR made their own bomb and that put a halt to their plans, until new methods of war were found – establishing systems of traitors in governments by bribes, blackmail, organizing color “social media” revolutions to throw the ones who they can’t bribe, where puppet masters are “in the shadow”. As you can see those puppet masters have no shame to do whatever crimes they want to people anywhere on the globe and constantly lie about “justification” of those actions.

    • Carroll Price on said:

      Essentially the same argument can be made concerning several Japanese-held islands (like Iwo Jima) which were captured by US forces by costly frontal assault attacks that led to the unnecessary death of thousands of American soldiers.

      • Richard Pietrasz on said:

        The other irony about the capture of these islands is that the purpose of doing so was to make it easier for the USAAC to kill civilians on the main Japanese islands.

        All the US military personnel who died there died to commit terrorism. They just didn’t know it, for the most part.

    • “Why Truman dropped the Bomb”, three pages including, including discussion of full 1995 release of US-intercepted Japanese diplomatic transmissions, of failed Japanese negotiation missions to Europe and Russia, of Japanese military’s resolve with numbers for the buildup on Kyushu, US Joint Staff meetings to decide on land invasion, etc.

      http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/005/894mnyyl.asp

      Why Truman dropped the Bomb

      Richard B. Frank, Weekly Standard, August 8, 2005

      … But the release of the complete (unredacted) “Magic” Far East Summary, supplementing the Diplomatic Summary, in the 1990s revealed that the diplomatic messages amounted to a mere trickle by comparison with the torrent of military intercepts. The intercepts of Japanese Imperial Army and Navy messages disclosed without exception that Japan’s armed forces were determined to fight a final Armageddon battle in the homeland against an Allied invasion. The Japanese called this strategy Ketsu Go (Operation Decisive). It was founded on the premise that American morale was brittle and could be shattered by heavy losses in the initial invasion. American politicians would then gladly negotiate an end to the war far more generous than unconditional surrender. … Intercepts demonstrated that the Japanese had correctly anticipated precisely where U.S. forces intended to land on Southern Kyushu in November 1945 (Operation Olympic). American planning for the Kyushu assault reflected adherence to the military rule of thumb that the attacker should outnumber the defender at least three to one to assure success at a reasonable cost. … From mid-July onwards, Ultra intercepts exposed a huge military buildup on Kyushu. Japanese ground forces exceeded prior estimates by a factor of four. … One intelligence officer commented that the Japanese defenses threatened “to grow to [the] point where we attack on a ratio of one (1) to one (1) which is not the recipe for victory.” …

    • robert davis on said:

      umiru bolno..

  2. Hi, thanks for this post (I’m rather new here).
    I always considered the killing of so many civilians in Japan a war crime but I stood r

  3. Hi, thanks for this post (I’m new here).
    I always considered the killing of so many civilians in Japan as a war crime and about ten years ago I read that the conditions for surrender of Japan were going to be negotiated in Potsdam but the US nuked the two cities nevertheless (the first choice was Berlin but for business reasons this was not done).
    What troubled me was what the motive was. Today I believe that the use of the nuclear bombs was a warning signal destined for the USSR.
    We know that the Russians had already beaten the Germans (after Stalingrad and the tank battle in Krusk in August 1943) and were heading quickly towards Western Europe when the Allies landed in Normandy (June 1944). The left overs of the German army in Western Europe, mostly young soldiers without battle experience, could hardly be an obstacle (something that had to be presented differently of course). In that context it looks obvious to me that the Allies wanted to prevent the Russians/commies from taking Europe entirely.
    But stopping the commies was not enough. The show off of nuclear capacity and the vaudeville trials in Nuerenberg (the German elite who brought Hitler to power had to remain in place as a civil wall against communism) are all presented as heroic deeds that were necessary but served another purpose.
    Today the obsession with Russia is not gone. I wonder why?

    • Richard Pietrasz on said:

      The Russia obsession is part of the business of the US military, which always looking to preserve existing markets and expand into new ones. The most critical element of the so-called “War on Terror” is waging terror campaigns to recruit (counter) terrorists.

    • john thompson on said:

      umrijeti bolno

    • robert davis on said:

      umrijeti bolno

  4. I’m sure letting their “friends” and enemies know that they could destroy entire cities with their new wonder-weapon was part of the extensive wartime planning for the new post-WWII global system that would see the USA dominating for many decades. Killing over 0.2 million civilians (non-Americans) was simply a price they had to pay for desired political/economic goals. Propaganda to make citizens “accept” these deaths was just part of the operation.

    “We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?”
    – Lesley Stahl on CBS’s 60 Minutes (May 12, 1996), asking about U.S. sanctions on ex-ally Iraq

    “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price — we think the price is worth it.”
    Madeleine Albright, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations at the time

  5. Just to be contrary there’s always the claim that Japan tested its own nuclear weapon off the Korean coast (north) a few days after Hirsohima. A 1946 Atlanta Constitution article is the basic source of this claim.

    Then in the early 1980s someone chased found the Atlanta Constitution reporter who wrote the story and now 40 years later the reporter stood by the claims. This was all published in a book in about 1984, sorry the name of the book escapes me, and I’ve not read the book.

    The basic claim is that the Japanese did the nuclear weapons development in northern Korea at the infamous Chosin Resevoir. (Infamous because that’s where General MacArthur sent US forces in summer clothes in the fall–it didn’t go well but that was all years later.)

  6. Here’s a 1995 book about Japanese atomic weapons research during the war.

    http://www.amazon.com/Japans-Secret-War-Against-Atomic/dp/156924815X/ref=sr_1_8?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1407353533&sr=1-8&keywords=japanese+atomic+bomb

    I believe Wilcox (a sort of conspiracy/true crime author wrote the 1984 book) and this 1995 probably draws heavily from that earlier book.

    • Richard Pietrasz on said:

      Anybody can write an article or a book, and and getting major newspaper publication is not hard if the story supports the official one.

      I seriously doubt that Japanese bomb hypothesis. They had a lot of technical capability, but between mining and refining the fissile material, and developing the weapon, the number of people and facilities involved is huge. It is very difficult to believe it has remained (almost?) totally hidden when the foes had complete control of Japan for years after the war.

  7. Zachary Smith on said:

    I’ve concluded that for some people, posting something about the ‘myth’ of Hiroshima is an annual tradition. If only the real world was as simple as they make it out to be.

    http://my.firedoglake.com/davidswanson/2014/07/14/counting-the-presidents-bodies/

    People who want to believe that the Hiroshima event was a crime and nothing more aren’t going to change their minds. My link is for those who haven’t progressed to ‘cement-head’ status.

    • Carroll Price on said:

      Nice try, but mass murder can never be justified under any circumstances.

      • Zachary Smith on said:

        Let me guess: you didn’t read any of my links.

        • Joe Tedesky on said:

          Zachary, I went on to the link you provided, and it looks interesting. I am making it a point to go back and study each reference on that link.

          I can see you are desperately trying to make it known that Truman made a very tough decision. I agree, he was strapped with a more than tough decision. You are right to point to what was happening at that time. History is best learned once we here (in the present) can fathom what was on their minds in our past.

          Also, we tend to judge war under peace time conditions. Although, our judgement is hopefully away to prevent further destruction of our humanity. Stay well…keep posting to us cement heads! J.T.

      • robert davis on said:

        morire soffrendo

      • robert davis on said:

        umiru bolno..

    • Joe Tedesky on said:

      Zachary, I read your link. How many dead each President may be credited with is a most interesting subject. I am just not sure what claim you are attempting to make against the article posted here. I would like to read more of what your referring to. You no doubt have an opinion, especially since you are calling people ‘cement heads’. With all due respect to you, may I encourage you to expound on your thoughts. Take care J.T.

      • Zachary Smith on said:

        Joe, it appears I made an unwarranted assumption with my link. Without saying so, I was attempting to direct people to the comment section. Looking back, I can see that was a dumb move.

        Given the way this forum punishes late posters by narrowing their remarks to a thin and unreadable line, it seemed to me an extended discussion here just wasn’t practical.

        Hiroshima was indeed a horror. But in the real world it averted an even worse one.

      • Joe Tedesky on said:

        I appreciate the weirdness of posting late comments. Open up a new window if you need to, but please continue to post on this site.

        1945 was certainly a tough year. I wasn’t around then, but I am sure it was to easy to try and end WW2 at the earliest moment possible. In fact I believe most Americans at that particular time were supportive of Truman’s decision. That still doesn’t make it the right decision, but you find all the time when studying historical events.

        Well, I will go now. This thread will probably be very thin as it is.

        Stay well, J.T.

      • Zachary Smith on said:

        I see now what you did – you made a reply to an earlier post so the print area wouldn’t narrow. I’d quite forgotten this was a workable strategy. Back to the topic: I’m going to cut/paste what I’d linked to at the FDL site.

        WW2 was a very ugly war. The US didn’t always have the moral high ground. Our nation’s enthusiastic embrace of unrestricted submarine warfare was one example. The horrible firebombings in Europe and Japan were still more.
        That said, I’ve concluded that the Japanese militarists were determined to continue the war until it was concluded on terms satisfactory to themselves. As one author has remarked, without completely defeating them in 1945, my generation would have been faced with Round 2 by 1965. (Recall how about 20 years was the time it took for Germany to rebound from WW1.)
        There were few options remaining in Mid-1945. Japan could be blockaded – left to starve. This would likely have been assisted by spraying herbicides on their crops. Or burning the fields out just at harvest time. It could be invaded – the plan of Operation Downfall. Allowing that nation to dictate the terms of its own surrender wasn’t under any kind of serious consideration, though Herbert Hoover wrote a memo to President Truman suggesting the US allow the Japanese to keep their Emperor. He’d have sweetened the pot by also allowing Japan to retain Korea and Formosa.
        The Japanese had behaved very badly during WW2. There was essentially no reservoir of sympathy for them in the US at that time. Modern revisionists with their High Moral Ground and 20/20 hindsight tend to forget that.
        For people who want to get a more realistic idea of what was happening at the time, here is a link.

        http://www.waszak.com/giangreco/giangreco_bibliography.htm

        “To Bomb or Not To Bomb” is especially recommended.

        Truman had been in WW1, and had seen with his own eyes the slaughter involved in land combat. He knew the casualty lists from Okinawa and Iwo Jima showed the Japanese were getting better at killing Americans. Fighting on their own homeland would be worse from the US point of view.

        The Japanese had lost the war, but the Leaders refused to admit it. They wanted to end the war on their own terms, and planned to mount a defensive action which would stun the US into agreeing to this. The US wasn’t going to permit this. After the bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki General Marshall wanted to start saving the A-bombs for tactical use. With Roosevelt no longer around, I believe the US military would have demanded to use chemical weapons. I understand a serious effort had been made to do this at Iwo Jima. The Allies had captured Nazi nerve gas stockpiles. The temptation to use that weapon in Japan would have been substantial.

        Speaking of the Nazis, they had built and launched about 10,000 V1 pilot-less bombs against the Allies. The US had captured some near-intact models and cloned them. We planned to strike Japan with approximately 60,000 Loons. Hiroshima wouldn’t have survived that and the continuing B29 onslaught. Nor would people there have lived through the ground invasion.

        You can hardly call the death of hundreds of thousands of people a blessing, but when contrasted with the millions of Japanese who were going to die later, those deaths were a necessity. They gave the Emperor an excuse to finally override his fanatical Army commanders and end the war.

        • Joe Tedesky on said:

          Zachary, I went on to the link you provided, and it looks interesting. I am making it a point to go back and study each reference on that link.

          I can see you are desperately trying to make it known that Truman made a very tough decision. I agree, he was strapped with a more than tough decision. You are right to point to what was happening at that time. History is best learned once we here (in the present) can fathom what was on their minds in our past.

          Also, we tend to judge war under peace time conditions. Although, our judgement is hopefully away to prevent further destruction of our humanity. Stay well…keep posting to us cement heads! J.T.

  8. Sibir on said:

    The Independent. UK
    «Fog of War»
    Phil Strongman: Hiroshima is a war crime that haunts my family, 67 years on
    http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/commentators/phil-strongman-hiroshima-is-a-war-crime-that-haunts-my-family-67-years-on-8008821.html

    Foreign Policy. USA
    The Bomb Didn’t Beat Japan… Stalin Did
    http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/05/29/the_bomb_didnt_beat_japan_nuclear_world_war_ii

  9. andrew on said:

    Good to see Consortiumnews engage in some historical revisionism. Besides the US atomic bombs, you may also want to have a look at the US/UK bombing campaign of German cities and civilians (and of course Tokyo in March 45, the worst fire bombing raid in human history), Eisenhower’s Rhine Meadow Camps in Germany (about 1 million civilians dead, no shelter and no food), the mass expulsion and murder of Germans in Eastern Europe after the war (12 million displaced, about 2 million civilians murdered) as decided by the US and UK at Potsdam. And of course the allied atrocity propaganda called “Holocaust”, which until today lacks any factual basis.

    • Zachary Smith on said:

      And of course the allied atrocity propaganda called “Holocaust”, which until today lacks any factual basis.

      You had some ‘iffy’ stuff in your post up to this, but nothing which isn’t debatable. It seems to me that this sentence denies the Holocaust happened. IMO that’s on a par with embracing Creationism, or denying Global Warming.

      I use the term “shitty little nation” to describe Israel, but I’ll never pretend their grandfathers didn’t go through hell. My problem with Israel and the Holocaust is that they seem to have adopted genocide as a perfectly good policy when directed at someone other than themselves. Witness this recent story in a major newspaper over there.

      http://www.ibtimes.com/when-genocide-permissible-article-taken-down-times-israel-yochanan-gordons-post-sparks-1646490

      Notice how the *******’s ‘apology’ claims he didn’t mean to hurt anybody.

    • Richard Pietrasz on said:

      I don’t see how the David Swanson review supports your thesis. The book in question points out many Presidents committed major war crimes. That Truman’s decision was complex, and made in the context of being a rookie in the big leagues of war, may absolve of him of the intent to kill for the thrill, but that is not the accusation. The entire city bombing campaigns were clearly war crimes, mass terrorism, and counterproductive in winning the war. That other presidents carried out similar war crimes does not absolve any particular one of them.

      The second major tragedy is that, while for WW2 USA and UK can plead ignorance of the consequences of strategic bombing, the subsequent strategic bombing studies removed that ignorance. Thus, the intent of US bombing campaigns in later wars clearly was to commit major war crimes.

      • Richard Pietrasz on said:

        My above comment got posted in the wrong spot. It was intended to reply to Zachary Smith’s previous comment citing the David Swanson review. I am having problems with PW; my apologies.

        In reply to andrew’s comment: It comes across as saying the A-bombings were not so bad because the same people were doing a lot of similar things with sometimes really worse results. By analogy, it is like absolving a serial killer of individual killings because the killer also committed a number of multiple killings.

        As for historical revisionism, the official story was propaganda partially based on deliberate lies. Thus, it was the official story that was historical revisionism.

        BTW, the extent to which Japan had been almost totally defeated, an invasion unnecessary, was well documented in a series of war memoirs written by junior and mid-grade officers and published in the 1950s. Many of these books were widely read, some I think were even made into movies.

      • robert davis on said:

        sterben..

    • robert davis on said:

      morir dolorosamente

  10. In fact, the city of 350,000 had practically no military value at all and the target was the city, not the base three kilometers away.

    Well, that’s not true. While there were over a dozen military installation in Hiroshima, the epicenter of the bomb was nearly directly over the headquarters of Field Marshal Shunroku Hata’s Second General Army in charge of the defense of all of southern Japan and located in Hiroshima Castle near the epicenter of the bomb. Also based in Hiroshima near the downtown were the headquarters of the 59th Army, the 5th Division and the 224th Division.

    From the U. S. Strategic Bombing Survey: The Effects of the Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, June 19, 1946

    The main commercial district was located in the center of the city and with the adjoining Chugoku Regional Army Headquarters, occupied the greater portion of the central island. Residential areas and military barracks overlapped and surrounded this central area.

    While some US officials believed Japan would have surrendered without the bombs, the Japanese closest to the decision did not share this belief. Being a constitutional Monarchy, Japan could only consent to surrender with the approval of the war cabinet. The hawks in the cabinet Army Minister General Anami, Army Chief of Staff General Umezu and Navy Chief of Staff Admiral Toyoda all accepted the fact that the war was over, but they believed they could protract the war long enough to force the US to offer favorable terms. Far from damaging their cause, the Soviet declaration of war only aided their argument as they believed the US would be more likely to pursue negotiations rather than allow the Soviets to gain a toehold on the Japanese mainland.

    • Joe Tedesky on said:

      Mike I must commend you “a well done” for the different angles of perspective you have pointed out here in regard to how the Pacific War was ended. You gave me more to research and chew on and that is always good. I love learning, but that doesn’t explain why I sometimes feel so stupid to what is still left for me to find out. Yes, there are many more avenues to explore. Thanks J.T.

    • Whether military targets were involved or not, is a side issue. Women en children were the main victims.
      The big picture is far more important, especially in the light of what is happening today
      http://www.globalresearch.ca/why-world-war-ii-ended-with-mushroom-clouds/20478

      • Mike H on said:

        Laforge stated that there were no military targets in Hiroshima and the “base” was several kilometers away from the epicenter. This is 100% false.

        • I know it is wrong but I don’t care much. It is the only mistake I found in the article and the claim is widespread (he didn’t check). But what is one mistake compared to the huge lies and demagoguery of the US government in relation to this matter?

      • robert davis on said:

        sterben qualvoll

  11. The only reason to drop the bomb was geopolitical. Bertrand Russell’s demands to use it to bomb the Soviet Union was to have sealed rule of a world government before the Soviets developed nuclear weapons. The Dulles brothers were the prime movers of this strategy.