The carnage inflicted on Japan on Aug. 6 and Aug. 9, 1945, marked a dark turning point in American history. Having achieved victory over Nazism in Europe and the strategic defeat of fascist Japan, the United States took the unprecedented step of dropping atomic bombs on two nearly defenseless cities, an act which has since been wrapped in mythology, writes Gary G. Kohls.
By Gary G. Kohls
Aug. 6 was the 66th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, the whole truth of which has been heavily censored and mythologized ever since the news of the event was broadcast to the millions of war-weary Americans who were justifiably happy that the awful war was finally over.
Of course, those millions – and hundreds of millions of gullible children who may have read about the war in school – also understandably swallowed the post-war propaganda in their history books as they “learned” about the glorious end of the war.
We now know that the narrative contained false information that was orchestrated by war-justifying militarists (and assorted uber-patiotic historians) starting with General Douglas MacArthur.
MacArthur successfully imposed virtually total censorship of what really happened at Ground Zero. One of his first acts after taking over as viceroy of Japan was to confiscate and/or destroy gruesome photographic evidence documenting the horrors of the atomic bombings.
Back in 1995, the Smithsonian Institute was preparing to correct the 50-year-old pseudo-patriotic myths by staging an honest, historically-accurate display dealing with the atomic bombings.
Yet, following the right-wing reactionary outrage emanating from veterans organizations and other patriotic groups, including Newt Gingrich’s GOP-dominated Congress, the Smithsonian was forced to censor out unwelcome but contextually important parts of the story.
So again we had another example of politically-motivated and powerful groups heavily altering real history because they were afraid of revealing potentially “unpatriotic” historical truths.
One of those truths was that the Okinawa bloodbath could have been averted if the terms of “unconditional surrender” for Japan had not been insisted upon.
The Smithsonian historians did have a gun to their heads, of course, but in the melee, the mainstream media – and therefore the public – ignored a vital historical point. And that is this: The war could have ended in the spring of 1945 without the summer atomic bombs, and therefore there might have been no Okinawa bloodbath for thousands of American Marines and soldiers.
Also there would have been no need for an American land invasion of Japan – the basis of the subsequent propaganda campaign that justified the use of atomic weapons on defenseless civilian populations.
American intelligence, with the full knowledge of President Harry Truman, was aware of Japan’s desperate search for ways to honorably surrender months before Truman gave the fateful order to incinerate, without warning, the nearly defenseless civilians of Hiroshima.
Intelligence data, revealed in the 1980s, showed that the contingency plans for a large-scale U.S. invasion (planned for no sooner than Nov. 1, 1945) would have been unnecessary.
Japan was working on peace negotiations through its Moscow ambassador as early as April of 1945. Truman knew of these developments because the U.S. had broken the Japanese code years earlier, and all of Japan’s military and diplomatic messages were being intercepted.
On July 13, 1945, Foreign Minister Togo said: “Unconditional surrender (giving up all sovereignty, especially deposing the Emperor) is the only obstacle to peace.”
The war could have ended through diplomacy by simply conceding a post-war figurehead position for the emperor Hirohito, who was regarded as a deity in Japan.
That reasonable concession was – seemingly illogically – refused by the U.S. in their demands for unconditional surrender, initially demanded at the 1943 Casablanca Conference between Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill and reiterated at the Potsdam Conference between Truman, Churchill and Stalin.
Still, the Japanese continued searching for an honorable peace through negotiations but the devastating bombs were dropped anyway.
Even Secretary of War Henry Stimson, said: “the true question was not whether surrender could have been achieved without the use of the bomb but whether a different diplomatic and military course would have led to an earlier surrender. A large segment of the Japanese cabinet was ready in the spring of 1945 to accept substantially the same terms as those finally agreed on.”
In other words, Stimson felt that the U.S. prolonged the war and could have made using the bomb unnecessary if it had engaged in honest negotiations.
The Japanese leaders knew that they had lost the war and were looking for ways to honorably surrender.
After Japan did surrender, the emperor was allowed to remain in place as spiritual head of Japan, the very condition that made the Japanese leadership refuse to accept the humiliating “unconditional surrender” terms.
So the two essential questions that need answering to figure out what was going on behind the scenes are these: 1) Why did the U.S. refuse to accept Japan’s only concession concerning their surrender (the retention of the emperor) and 2) with the end of the war in the Pacific already a certainty, why were the bombs used?
Shortly after WWII, military analyst Hanson Baldwin wrote: “The Japanese, in a military sense, were in a hopeless strategic situation by the time the Potsdam Declaration (insisting on Japan’s unconditional surrender) was made on July 26, 1945.”
Admiral William Leahy, top military aide to President Truman, said in his war memoirs, I Was There: “It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons. My own feeling is that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages.”
And General Dwight D. Eisenhower, in a personal visit to President Truman a couple of weeks before the bombings, urged him not to use the atomic bombs.
Eisenhower said: “It wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing . . . to use the atomic bomb, to kill and terrorize civilians, without even attempting [negotiations], was a double crime.”
So why? There were a number of factors that contributed to Truman’s decisions to use the bombs.
–The U.S. had made a huge investment in time, mind and money (a massive $2 billion in 1940 dollars) to produce three bombs, and there was no inclination – and no guts – to stop the momentum.
–The U.S. military and political leadership – as did many ordinary Americans – had a tremendous appetite for revenge because of Pearl Harbor. Mercy wasn’t in the mindset of the U.S. military or even the war-weary populace, and the missions against Hiroshima and Nagasaki were accepted – no questions asked – by those who only knew the sanitized, national security version of events.
–The fissionable material in Hiroshima’s bomb was uranium and Nagasaki’s was plutonium. Scientific curiosity was a significant factor that pushed the project to its completion.
The Manhattan Project scientists and U.S. Army director of the project, General Leslie Groves, wanted answers to the multitude of questions raised by the project, including “what would happen if an entire city was leveled by a single nuclear bomb?”
The decision to use both bombs had been made well in advance of August 1945. The three-day interval between the two bombs was unconscionably short.
Japan’s communications and transportation capabilities were in shambles, and no one, not even the U.S. military, much less the Japanese high command, fully understood what had happened at Hiroshima.
The Manhattan Project was so top secret that even MacArthur, commanding general of the entire Pacific theatre, had been kept out of the loop until five days before Hiroshima.
–The Russians had proclaimed their intent to enter the war with Japan 90 days after V-E Day (Victory in Europe Day, May 8), which would have been Aug. 8, two days after Hiroshima was bombed.
Indeed, Russia did declare war on Japan on Aug. 8 and was advancing eastward across Manchuria when Nagasaki was incinerated. The U.S. didn’t want Japan surrendering to Russia (soon to be the only other superpower and a future enemy) so the first nuclear threat “messages” of the Cold War were sent.
Russia indeed received far less of the spoils of war than they had anticipated, and the two superpowers were instantly mired in the Cold War stalemate that eventually resulted in their mutual bankruptcies, both morally and fiscally, that happened a couple of generations later.
An estimated 80,000 innocent and defenseless civilians, plus 20,000 essentially weaponless young Japanese conscripts died instantly in the Hiroshima bombing.
Hundreds of thousands more suffered slow deaths from agonizing burns, radiation sickness, leukemias and virtually untreatable infections for the rest of their shortened lives; and generations of the survivor’s progeny were contaminated with horrible radiation-induced illnesses, cancers and premature deaths, still going on to this very hour.
Another shameful reality that has been covered up is the fact that 12 American Navy pilots, their existence well known to the U.S. command, were instantly incinerated in the Hiroshima jail on the fateful day.
The 75,000 victims who died instantly on Aug. 9 were virtually all civilians, except for the inhabitants of an allied POW camp near Nagasaki’s ground zero. They were incinerated, carbonized or vaporized by a scientific experiment carried out by obedient, unaware scientists and soldiers who were just doing their duty.
The War Department knew of the existence of the POWs and, when reminded, simply replied: “Targets previously assigned for Centerboard (code name for the Kokura/Nagasaki mission) remain unchanged.”
So the official War Department-approved version of the end of the war in the Pacific contained a new batch of myths that took their places among the long lists of myths that Americans are continuously fed by our corporate, military, political and media opinion leaders, the gruesomeness of war being changed to glorification in the process.
Among the other censored-out realities include what really happened in the U.S. military invasions and occupations of the countries of North Korea, Iran, Viet Nam, Laos, Cambodia, Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, the Philippines, Chile, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras, Haiti, Colombia, Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc, etc.
This list doesn’t cover the uncountable Pentagon/CIA covert operations and assassination plots in the rest of the known world.
But somehow most of us still hang on to our shaky “my country right or wrong” patriotism, desperately wanting to believe the cunningly orchestrated myths that say that the war-profiteering and exploitive multimillionaire corporate rulers and the politicians, military leaders and media talking heads who are in their employ, only work for peace, justice, equality, liberty and spreading democracy while being blind to the obvious reality that the U.S. has historically supported right-wing fascist dictatorships that make the world safe for predatory capitalism.
While it is true that the U.S. military has faced down the occasional despot, with necessary sacrifice from dead and mortally wounded (in body, mind and spirit) American soldiers and veterans, more often than not the rationalization for going to war is the same as those used by America’s “enemies.”The events of Aug. 6 and 9, 1945, are just two more examples of the brain-washing that goes on in all “total war” political agendas, which are always accompanied by the inevitable human slaughter that is euphemistically labeled “war”, “collateral damage” or “friendly fire.”
It might already be too late to rescue and resuscitate the flickering instincts of a more peaceful America. It might be too late to effectively confront the corporate hijacking of liberal democracy in America.
It might be too late to successfully bring down the arrogant and greedy ruling elites who are selfishly dragging our world down the road to our destruction. The rolling coup d’etat of what I call “friendly American fascism” may have already accomplished its goals.
But there may still be some hope. Rather than being silent about the wars that the soulless war-mongers are provoking all over the planet (with the very willing assistance of the Pentagon, the weapons industry and their lapdogs in Congress), people of conscience need to start learning and then courageously teaching, the whole truth of history, despite the painful truths that will be revealed.
We need to start owning up to America’s uncountable war crimes, including the bombing of Nagasaki, that have been orchestrated in our names.
And then we need to go to the streets, publicly protesting and courageously refusing to cooperate with those who are transforming America into a criminal rogue nation that will eventually be targeted for downfall by its billions of suffering victims outside our borders, just as happened to Nazi Germany and Fascist Japan.
Doing what is right for the whole of humanity for a change, rather than just doing what is profitable or advantageous for our over-privileged, over-consumptive and unsustainable American way of life, would be real honor, real patriotism and an essential start toward real peace.
Dr. Kohls is a retired physician from the Duluth, Minnesota, who writes about issues of war, peace and mental health.