Hiroshima and Historical Truth

On the 50th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, historians at the Smithsonian tried to present a truthful accounting of that U.S. decision-making but were stopped by right-wing politicians led by then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich who insisted on maintaining comforting myths, recalls Gary G. Kohls.

By Gary G. Kohls

Last week was the 67th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the whole truth of which has been heavily censored and mythologized starting with the news of the event that created understandable joy because of the end of that awful war.

Most Americans took in, as gospel truth, the heavily edited stories about the end of the war. To the average American, the war’s end was such a relief that there was no questioning. For many soldiers who were particularly war-weary, no moral questions were raised regarding the justification of using atomic bombs.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. (Photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

The immediate history was written by the victors, of course, with no balancing input from the losing side. But, several decades later, after intensive research by unbiased historians, we now know that the patriotic narrative contained a lot of false information, often orchestrated by war-justifying militarists – starting with General Douglas MacArthur.

MacArthur, aka “the American Caesar,” successfully imposed near 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 all the unpleasant photographic evidence documenting the horrors of the atomic bombings.

In 1995, the Smithsonian Institute was preparing to correct the pseudo-patriotic myths by staging an honest, historically accurate 50th anniversary display exploring all sides of the atomic bombings. This provoked serious right-wing reactionary outrage from veterans groups and other “patriot” groups, including House Speaker Newt Gingrich from the GOP-dominated Congress.

The Smithsonian felt compelled to remove all of the contextually important aspects of the story, especially the bomb-related civilian atrocity stories. So again we had another example of powerful politically-motivated groups that falsified history because of a fear that “unpatriotic” truths, albeit historical, would contradict their deeply held beliefs, an intolerable psychological situation for many blindered super-patriots.

The Smithsonian historians did have a gun to their heads, of course, but in the melee, the mainstream media – and their easily brain-washable consumers of propaganda – ignored a vital historical point. And that is this: the war could have ended as early as the spring of 1945 without the August atomic bombings, and therefore there could have averted the three-month bloody battle of Okinawa that resulted in the deaths of thousands of American Marines with tens of thousands of Japanese military casualties and uncounted thousands of Okinawan civilian casualties.

In addition, if the efforts had succeeded at ending the war via early Japanese efforts for an armistice, there would have been no need for the atomic bombs nor for an American land invasion – the basis of the subsequent propaganda campaign that retroactively justified the use of the bombs.

President Harry Truman was fully aware of Japan’s search for ways to honorably surrender months before the fateful order to incinerate, without warning, the defenseless women, children and elderly people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, who had not been given a choice by their militarist, fascist government about going to war..

That top-secret intelligence data, de-classified in the 1980s, showed that the contingency plans for a two-stage US invasion of the mainland (the first one no sooner than Nov. 1, 1945, and the second one in the spring of 1946) would have been unnecessary.

Japan was working on peace negotiations through its Moscow ambassador as early as April of 1945 when the battle of Okinawa was just starting. Harry Hopkins, President Truman’s close adviser, was aware of Japan’s desire for an armistice. He cabled the president from Moscow, saying: “Japan is doomed and the Japanese know it. Peace feelers are being put out by certain elements in Japan.”

Truman’s team knew of these and other developments because the U.S. had broken the Japanese code years earlier, and U.S. intelligence was intercepting all of Japan’s military and diplomatic messages. On July 13, 1945, Foreign Minister Togo said: “Unconditional surrender (giving up all sovereignty, thereby deposing Hirohito, the Emperor god) is the only obstacle to peace.”

What Did Truman Know?

Since Truman and his advisers knew about these efforts, the war could have ended through diplomacy, first with a cease-fire and then a negotiated peace, 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 demands for “unconditional surrender,” which was initially put forward at the 1943 Casablanca Conference between U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and reiterated at the Potsdam Conference (July 1945) between Truman, Churchill and Soviet leader Josef Stalin.

When General MacArthur heard about the demand for unconditional surrender, he was appalled. He recommended dropping that demand to facilitate the process of ending the war peacefully. William Manchester, in his biography of MacArthur, American Caesar, wrote: “Had the General’s advice been followed, the resort to atomic weapons at Hiroshima and Nagasaki might have been unnecessary.”

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, including the battle for Okinawa, and could have made using the bombs unnecessary if it had engaged in honest negotiations.

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.”

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.”

Yet, after the bombings of Aug. 6 and 9, the “unconditional” surrender terms were quietly dropped. 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 (Japan’s ability to retain their emperor) and 2) with the end of the war in the Pacific already a certainty, why were the bombs still used?

The Decision

Scholars have determined that there were a number of factors that contributed to Truman’s decision 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 not to mention most war-weary Americans – had a tremendous appetite for revenge because of the surprise attack at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Of course, mercy isn’t a consideration for any wartime military force, and that includes the U.S. military. The only factor to be considered was ending the war by any means necessary, no matter what methods are used.

So, in the elation of the end-of-war moment, the public asked no questions and no explanations were demanded by the relieved citizens who quite willingly accepted the propaganda that justified the hideous end.

National security typically allows indeed, demands stealing, cheating and lying about what really happens at the ground zeroes of history. The absurd old saying that “all’s fair in love and war” applies most emphatically to war.

–The fissionable material in Hiroshima’s bomb was uranium and Nagasaki’s was plutonium. Scientific curiosity about the differences between the two weapons was a significant factor that pushed the project to its completion.

The Manhattan Project scientists and the U.S. Army director of the project, General Leslie Groves, wanted answers to a 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. Harry Truman did not specifically order the bombing of Nagasaki.

The three-day interval between the two bombs was unconscionably short. Japan’s communications and transportation capabilities were in shambles, and no one, either the U.S. military or the Japanese high command, fully understood what had happened at Hiroshima, particularly the short-term or long-term after effects of the radiation. The Manhattan Project was so top secret that even MacArthur had been kept out of the loop until a few days before Hiroshima was reduced to ashes.

–The Russians had proclaimed their intent to enter the war with Japan 90 days after V-E Day (Victory in Europe Day, May 8, 1945), which would have been Aug. 8, two days after Hiroshima was bombed. Indeed, America’s Russian allies did declare war on Japan on Aug. 8 and were advancing eastward across Manchuria, eager to reclaim territories lost to Japan in the 1904-05 Russo-Japanese War.

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,” loud and clear.

Russia indeed received far less of the spoils of war than they had hoped for, and the two superpowers were instantly and deeply mired in the arms-race stalemate that eventually resulted in their mutual moral (and fiscal) bankruptcies that occurred a generation or two later.

The Reality

An estimated 80,000 innocent, 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, leukemia and virtually untreatable infections for the rest of their shortened lives; and generations of the survivor’s progeny were doomed to suffer horrific radiation-induced illnesses, cancers and premature deaths that are still on-going at this very hour.

Another sobering reality that has been covered up is the fact that 12 American Navy pilots, their existence well known to U.S. command, were instantly incinerated in the Hiroshima jail on Aug. 6, 1945.

The 75,000 victims who died in the huge fireball at Nagasaki on Aug. 9 were virtually all civilians, except for the inhabitants of an Allied POW camp near Nagasaki’s ground zero. They were instantly liquefied, carbonized and/or vaporized by an experimental weapon of mass destruction that was executed by obedient, unaware scientists and soldiers, and blessed by Christian military chaplains who were just doing their duty.

The War Department knew of the existence of the Nagasaki POWs and, when reminded of that fact before the B-29 fleet embarked on the mission, simply replied: “Targets previously assigned for Centerboard (code name for the Kokura/Nagasaki mission) remain unchanged.”

To obscure some of these unpleasant truths, the official War Department/National Security State-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 by which nations make war. And such half-truth versions are still standard operating procedure that are continuously fed to us by the corporate, military, political and media opinion leaders that are the war-makers and war profiteers of the world.

The well-honed propaganda of the war machine manufactures glory out of inglorious gruesomeness, as we have witnessed in the censored reportage of the U.S. military invasions and occupations of sovereign nations like North Korea, Iran, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, the Philippines, Chile, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras, Haiti, Colombia, Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc, etc. And this list doesn’t even start to uncover the uncountable Pentagon/CIA covert operations and assassination plots in the rest of the known world.

But somehow most of us Americans still hang on to a shaky “my country right or wrong” patriotism, desperately wanting to believe the cunningly-orchestrated myths that say that the war-profiteering 1 percent, the exploitive ruling elite and the “chicken hawk” politicians, military leaders and media talking heads that are in their employ, only work for peace, justice, equality, liberty and spreading democracy.

While it is true that the U.S. military has faced down the occasional despot (usually the ones who won’t cooperate with the “interests” of the 1 percent), we remain blind to the fact that America has historically supported right-wing fascist dictatorships that make the world unsafe for democracy all the while ensuring easy access for vulture capitalists, high finance, multinational corporations and other exploiters to be able to do their dirty work.

The justification of the atrocities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are symbolic of the brain-washing that goes on in all “total wars,” which always result in mass human slaughter known as  “collateral damage” and “friendly fire.”

It might already be too late to rescue and resuscitate a more humanitarian, peace-loving 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 exploiting the resources of the world and dragging the planet and its creatures down the road to destruction.

But there is always hope. Rather than being silent about the wars that ruthless warmongers are provoking all over the planet (with the very willing pushes by the Pentagon, the weapons industry and their conservative lapdogs in Congress), people of conscience need to ramp up their resistance and teach the truth of history, in spite of the painful lessons that will be revealed.

We need to start owning up to the uncountable war crimes that have been hidden from history, including the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 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 its downfall by the 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.

Gary G. Kohls, MD, is a founding member of Every Church A Peace Church (www.ecapc.org) and is a member of a local non-denominational affiliate of ECAPC, the Community of the Third Way.

22 comments for “Hiroshima and Historical Truth

  1. elmerfudzie
    August 29, 2012 at 01:59

    I preface my remarks with this, Japan is our (USA) technological twin, a marvel to behold. WWII began in part, due to deliberate attempts by both European and American Industrialists who were really fascists and plutocrats-to profit by war and in the long term, gain global political power. That said, we cannot dismiss the Japanese kamikaze, the new breed of Samurai, the pride of it and above all, the Determination. I now recall a Japanese medical mission (in today’s vernacular, a MASH unit) on Attu Island, Alaska. How the Japanese doctors used hand grenades to kill their wounded soldiers rather than surrender to US troops. Now there’s a slice of culture and time that deserves a magnifying glass. I believe that, had the US Navy encircled Japan, starved the populace, and or successfully convinced the Emperor to agree to surrender, the Armed Forces would (still) have had to conquer, city by city, street by street and door by door before anything resembling a military defeat appeared. This should not surprise anyone. After all, wasn’t there a parallel here to the biblical Israelite s who had to do much the same thing; military projections into Canaan and endless efforts occupying the land of milk and honey? Given by God?! and by the way, speaking of conquering foreign lands and false deities…if President Truman really was the guy in the black hat, he would have bombed the holiest places such as Kyoto and the Imperial Palace in Tokyo-with conventional bombs (an utter spiritual humiliation). Again, had the US Navy successfully starved the Japanese populace into submission, historians still would have painted them as the holocausters (my expression). During those last days of the “Rising Sun”, the civilians on the Islands of Kyushu and Shikoku were provided light arms and hand guns with instructions to resist were ever possible, the invaders. With all the detailed accounts of Japanese soldiers ferocity, determination; The Battle of Iwo Jima, Saipan and similar confrontations- not forgetting the Japanese invasion of China, the Soviet Union and Mongolia! all this points to a kind of militaristic ferocity that does not spell the word, s-u-r-r-e-n-d-e-r. BANZAI!!

  2. Steve Abbott
    August 23, 2012 at 23:02

    I appreciate the exposure to this historical material that has been in circulation, but largely ignored, since the early 80s. One additional datum that is not mentioned here, is even more shockingly cynical. A panel of three historians presented at one of the AAAS conferences, views from within the Manhattan project, from within the diplomatic corps and the Potsdam conference, and from within the President’s circle of advisors, respectively. The latter group anticipated that America would soon be embroiled in what was to become the cold war. They believed that they would be in a stronger position if they had demonstrated the atomic bomb on a human population. They also believed that the bigotted American population would more readily accept that act, if it were used upon a non-caucasian race. Racial hatred is a resource that American governments have readily incited for their own use whenever they saw fit.

  3. Otto Schiff
    August 21, 2012 at 00:14

    Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
    Whether it is Pearl Harbor or 911 The least that can be
    said is, we are provoking others to attack us.
    This does not excuse them, they are part of the game too.
    The military industrial complex and the oil barons are not
    just American but are universal. Wars are a part of the human condition.

  4. BeeDee
    August 19, 2012 at 20:56

    Whilst visiting America in ’03, I was driving down a street with a 20 plus year ex-USAF veteran buddy – I noticed ALL the American flags, sticking out of their mailboxes, lined up so neatly down the street, one after the other, dissapearing into the distance. I made the comment that “You guys are scary brainwashed patriotic” – to which my buddy laughed & said “If you think THIS is bad – you should have seen it just after 9/11, … EVERY house had a flag – and every 3rd house had 5 flags” …. I then said that “whilst patriotism is a good thing in general – there IS a point where it becomes “unhealthy” and blinding to the truth”.
    ( he knew all too well, my, and MANY others’ belief, that the whole 9/11 saga – was a clandestine operation to gain control of oil ( mainly ), and gold within Iraq – and that the American peoples patriotism was being used like a cow with a ring through it’s nose to manipulate the American public by the elite / 1% at the top )

    To this I then added “I’m not American – but any fool can see how your system works …. I’m also not religious – but I can see how most religions opperate – especially Islam – and to me, the only difference between Islamic religious zealot & American patriotic zealot, is the label …. you are both lied to by the people in power, you are both manipulated by the people in power and you are both kept SCARED by the people in power – so when they say jump – you JUMP !” My friend laughed ( I noted, nevously ) – and changed the subject.
    As an Ozzy ( Australian ), I know that we tend to follow what America does – just a few years behind ( though we seem to be cahtching up of late ), and that is a terrifying thought !
    1 percent of Americans posses MORE wealth ( read POWER ) than 95% of the rest of the population COMBINED.

    ALL of the above – WW2, JFK, 9/11 and much much more are examples of the manipulation by those 1%ers – all done in a convoluted maze of deceit, missinformation & greed, to increase their wealth & control. Micheal More hit the nail on the head ( again ) in his film “Capitalism : A Love Story” which is the modern day “banking verison” of what we are talking about here …. it’s a bitter pill to swallow – but then, aren’t all inconvienient truths.

  5. borat
    August 19, 2012 at 20:24

    ask an american, british, australian former P.O.W. how the japanese murdered and starved their prisoners. The bomb, horrible as it is shortened the war, prevented a bloodbath invasion of Japan. It’s alway convenient to armchair with revisionist history.

    • incontinent reader
      August 20, 2012 at 01:41

      Except that these facts that you question were known and seriously debated by our leaders, many of whom were opposed to the dropping of the bomb because they were convinced, with reason, that Japan was exhausted and desperate to make a peace with the U.S.

  6. August 19, 2012 at 14:58

    I agee with he first answer given by Dr. Kohls to his article on the use of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Negasaki, but I don’t ageee with his second answer that the bombing of those two cities was due to revenge for the Pearl Harbor bombing by Japanese planes. If we look at history from a scientific, unbaised, and open minded point of view we will find that the Pearl Harbor tragic event, just like the subsequent atomic bombing of the those two cities which had norhing whatsoever to do with the war except perhaps sent its sons to war on the orders of the Japanese high command, could have been averted. There is plenty of documentary evidencce revealing that President Roosevelt welcomed the Pearl Harbor bombings so as to serve as an excuse to go to war and save the far eastern colonies for Britian and for itself. In his commentary to the book ‘Day of Deceit’ by Robert B. Stinnett Gore Vidal has this to say, “Many of us who are veterans of World WAr II’s Pacific Theater of Operations have always suspected that the December 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was deliberately provoked. A half centry later, Robert Stinnett has come up with most the smoking guns. Day of Deceit shows that the famous ‘surprise’ attack was no surprise to our war-minded rulers, and that three thousand American military men killed and wounded on Sunday morning in Hawaii were, to our rulers, and their present avaters, a small price to pay for that ‘global empire’ over which we now so ineptly preside.” This brings to mind the 9/11 plane crashes into the Twin Towers that took over 3,000 lives. This tragic event could have also been avoited if the war hawks represented by President George W. Bush I and Vice President Dick Chaney were no so anxious to go to war against Iraq. It is alleged and for good reason that the Bush administration was fully aware of the pending terrorist attack and did nothing which makes them accomplices to the whole terrotist affair. If you are awar that a crime is to be committed and do nothing to averted it you can be charge with concealment of a crime and sent to jail. But the Bush administration were not only aware of the pending terrorist attack on 9/11 they helped to make it happened accroding to evidence recently revealed. Who benefited from these traggic events such as Pearl Harbor and 9/11 is the question to look at? The military/industrial complex is the answer.

    • incontinent reader
      August 20, 2012 at 01:49

      The flip side of the analogy is that while 9/11 like Pearl Harbor may have been intentionally provoked or in the case of 9/11, something much worse by our own leaders, the revenge factor has been very real in our present “wars on terror”, and in WWII the demonization of the Japanese (and their tenacity) translated into a strong sentiment for revenge. Just listen to interviews of veterans and the families of veterans on any number of documentaries on the Pacific campaign.

  7. roednielsen
    August 19, 2012 at 14:31

    It is important to recognize that the history of US/Japanese confrontation started long before Pearl Harbor. The seeds were sown during the Teddy Roosevelt administration, when the Japanese government were encouraged in military endeavors against Russia and Korea. There is an interesting book on this subject: “The Imperial Cruise – A secret history of empire and war” by James Bradley.

  8. E.A. Blair
    August 19, 2012 at 09:55

    There are some who feel that the dropping of the bombs had nothing to do with the war with Japan, but instead served as a demonstration to our reluctant-ally-soon-to-be-mortal-enemy the Soviet Union. There are also questions as to why two different types of bombs were used; Little Boy, the first bomb, was a uranium bomb; Fat Man, dropped on Nagasaki, was made with plutonium. It sounds like a bizarre medical experiment on a civilian population. These are not idle conspiracy theories – they are conclusions supported by the Strategic Bombing Survey, which was an ongoing study of the effectiveness of aerial attacks; the SBS was conducted by the War Deparment during and after World War II.

    • roednielsen
      August 19, 2012 at 14:11

      Just my opinion: Truman knew the ending of the war was imminent. If the bombing was not started immediately, it would be too late for the technology demonstration. There was not yet a mass production line for nuclear weapons, and it was urgently required to use whatever was available. Next time you see a haberdasher, just think what he might be capable of.

  9. roednielsen
    August 19, 2012 at 05:08

    Mr. Kohl has a few important details wrong. E. B. Potter and Chester Nimitz wrote in their book “Sea Power”, which was used as a text book at the US Naval Academy at Annapolis since 1960, that Japan had been seeking peace, starting before the Potsdam conference. The text book also mentions the plans for an invasion of the Japanese mainland in November of 1945. Therefore, it seems the information has been in the public domain for a long time and was not conveyed only in declassified intelligence reports in the 1980’s.

    One might surmise, that the “popular version” of American history is often at great variance with the known facts, perhaps, in part, due to lacking news coverage, but also due to failing education in public K-12 education.

  10. Morton Kurzweil
    August 18, 2012 at 19:51

    Why the patriotic support of war against the Muslim threat to the United States? Why the religious communal
    support of the new myth of the religious right and their moral code of female oppression, racial and ethnic purity, and the invention of personhood for a fertilized egg and a corporation? We have devolved back to the Crusades and the divine right of superiority, the manifest destiny to lead the world; the White man’s burden of empire.
    The reason is that the people believe what self-serving leaders tell them. We follow a freely elected political belief as easily as the Russians followed the Bolsheviks and the Germans followed the Nazis.
    Each election was democratic and each constitution was used and perverted by the dictatorship of an elite membership
    The similarity to this and the new Republican extremists is more frightening today because we are acting out the
    insanity of the past and feeling that we are doing what is best for our nation and for posterity.

  11. Colin Smith
    August 18, 2012 at 18:39

    What is astonishing is that recently-completed documentaries dealing with this period STILL parrot this line about ‘saving American lives”. I am quite used to debating service veterans over this issue Most, mostly Americans, can’t digest the fact that something they have believed all their lives may be a lie. I believe the last Enola Gay veteran died still affirming belief, as well he might. Eventually the weight of evidence will tell and the popular media will come around. I the meantime it is up to those who treasure truth above propaganda to keep reiterating the truth.

  12. F. G. Sanford
    August 17, 2012 at 20:51

    Religious types amaze me. During my many years of military service, their was one thing that irked me more than anything else. It was those puerile, infantile, imbecilic stickers on the back of car bumpers. I am referring to the ones that say, “Support Our Troops”. The monumental hypocrisy of the concept behind those stickers and the total ignorance of the reality of world affairs they represent is a testimony to the vanity of blind patriotism. At the front lines of the campaign to perpetuate the myth of glory in an ignoble death is our clergy. They are always there to provide memorial ceremonies, benedictions, keynote speeches and to organize “Beautification Day” at the local Veterans Cemetery. Not that they actually pull the weeds or rake the leaves, but at least they encourage folks to chip in for those little flags with the wooden sticks and the fancy little gold finials on top. I’m sure you’ve seen them. After about two weeks they’re baby-blue and pink from exposure to the sun. And a bunch of reverent old fat guys wearing “piss-cutter” caps covered with buttons and badges always show up to solemnly remind everyone that, “We will never forget”. They always have a look of concern, which I suspect may be more related to hemorrhoid discomfort than real sincerity. Once, just once, I’d like to attend one of these things and hear a member of the clergy give a benediction that really tells it like it is. But he’d have to have one great big pair of balls. It would go something like this:

    (Long, pregnant pause as the Reverend meditates and composes himself in front of the microphone)…

    “…Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Brothers and sisters, we are gathered here today to consign a fallen hero to the bosom of the earth, that he may at last know God’s peace, and slumber in the eternal grace of mercy, justice and love. While he walked among us, he had no knowledge of these things, but he believed in them, and his faith in these principles was unshakable. He believed. Private Smith was born without a future, but today he is a hero. We comfort ourselves with the knowledge that The Lord moves in mysterious ways, and it is not for us to divine the intricacies which bewilder our sense of reason, confuse our concept of destiny or impugn our faith in justice. But in truth, this knowledge offers little solace. These feeble prayers do not lighten the burden of our grief. Instead, they merely offer an activity which passes the time until it subsides. Good deeds, in our moral hierarchy, should not be rewarded with tragedy. Accidents may happen. But they are the exception, not the rule. They happen in the moment, while tragedy is a long time in the making. Accidents may be the will of God, but tragedy is always of our own making. Today we look to God for comfort. He turns his back. And we wonder why. Our son has been sacrificed, but on whose altar? Our son. Poor white, poor black, or poor Hispanic, raised in poverty, educated at the lowest possible cost, denied a living wage, no chance to attend a university, and barely literate anyway, what chance would he have to succeed? Malnourished, untreated disease, rotten teeth and tattered clothes, but everywhere he turns, he sees wealth and luxury, freedom from pain and hunger, glitter and glamor, cars he’ll never drive, houses he’ll never live in, the enchantment of the American dream he’ll never realize. The street offers ephemeral substitutes for the ecstatic promise of a bright future, but Private Smith was a believer. He chose to serve. He chose the righteous path, or so he believed. Reared in an environment which condemns critical thought, dramatizes a false narrative and deceives its citizens with a barrage of carefully orchestrated misinformation, Private Smith could not have grasped the false bargain he was offered by the devil. Even as the facts were presented to him, he had been denied the education required to understand them. This is the devil’s due, and you cheered the ignorance. The box before you is draped in a flag. Thank God Almighty that your memory of todays events will be eclipsed by the pristine image of those brilliant colors, and not by the horrors inside that box. God has been merciful. He has spared you that. The family will receive a large government check, the Group Life Insurance settlement. Everyone profits. The Lord moves in mysterious ways. But The Lord would have spent that money on Private Smith while he was still alive. Do not look to Him for solace. You chose the altar of false patriotism. You mistook the love of country for the love of your fellow citizens. This was not God’s will. You made this choice. Shame on you. God would have you beg Private Smith’s forgiveness. May His will be done. Amen.

  13. incontinent reader
    August 17, 2012 at 16:33

    Perhaps, but Gary Kohls seems to have based his article on sources who were there at the time, and it gets us that much closer to what in fact happened and why.

  14. Harold
    August 17, 2012 at 15:02

    History always repeats itself and has always been twisted to whomever is telling the story. This isnt nothing new! This is why historians can not agree on a lot of history subjects because they were not there to witness reality and try to guess at what may or may not of happened at that time usually to fit their theories (which are nothing more than guesses). Why keep this story contained to the “bomb” the same happened with many dictators who killed and lied to cover up thier real motive. They killed just like in this incident and little discussion is found on even the top ten killers in history. Unless you were there you dont really know the truth!

  15. incontinent reader
    August 17, 2012 at 12:49

    Dr. Kohls, thank you for this excellent article, especially with the situation we find ourselves in with Iran.

    Another source one might refer to is “The Japanese Thread” (publ. 19780 by John Emmerson who was a Japanese specialist in our Foreign Service (and years later Deputy Chief of Mission in Japan under Ambassador Reischauer) who was familiar with the political issues surrounding the negotiations, including the Administration’s delay in defining ‘unconditional surrender’, and the internal debate in the Administration during the drafting and redrafting of the Potsdam Declaration, specifically, as to whether or not to allow the Emperor to remain in place. In his book, Emmerson also discusses the debate that was occurring within the Japanese government and that government’s hesitiancy in negotiating a peace, as well as its misplaced efforts to communicate through the Soviets who, unbeknownst to it were no longer ‘neutral’ with Japan, but had signed the Yalta Treaty and were preparing to enter the war against it. Whether or not the bomb was also used for political purposes, i.e., to intimidate the Soviets- and Emmerson discounts that reason in favor of Truman’s intention to shorten the war to save American lives- it is, as Dr. Kolhls points out, indisputable that many in the Administration, including Stimson and generals such as Eisenhower, opposed using atomic weapons, since it would punish a civilian population already decimated by the war, including by the USAAF’s devastating air attacks on Tokyo in May, 1945; and Emmerson himself emphasizes the total needlessness of dropping the second bomb on Nagasaki.

    Central to its conclusion that a continuation of the war would cost many more American lives was the Administration’s prevailing concern that the Japanese would fight to the death, and Emmerson does not that some of their leaders were governed by the notion that even though the war had been lost, they would have to continue to endure and fight on. Emmerson, however, who had earlier been assigned by Gen. Stillwell to question Japanese prisoners of war in Burma and Yenan, China, and was later assigned by the State Department to find Japanese expatriates who could become leaders in a post-war democratic government, had prepared memoranda that the Japanese soldiers would be predisposed to peace and a starting a new life, and that there were qualified expats who could become part of a new democratic leadership, even if they might be reluctant to join a U.S. sponsored organization.

    So, if the Administration knew that Japan’s own leaders believed the war had been lost and were now seeking a peace, and our State Department Japan experts, such as Undersecretary of State Joseph Grew, and Secretary of War Stimson and General MacArthur, all believed peace could be achieved by retaining the institution of the Emperor, and the Government knew that the Japanese soldiers and civilian population were exhausted and would embrace a peace if it would not strip them of their Emperor,
    and that a viable leadership existed for a post-war democratic government, it is certainly
    important to revisit and question the validity of the decision to drop the bomb and report a more truthful narrative of that history.

    Also, if I recall correctly, the Australian journalist, Wilfred Burchett was the only one at the time who followed up on the ground to examine the longer term radiation effects of the two bombs, and attempts were made to both censor and suppress his reports and discredit him personally. That is, once the bombs had been dropped, the military did not want the action or its consequences questioned.

    So, by not educating the public- or worse, by preventing it from being educated about Hiroshima and Nagasaki (and I confess that for someone who is old, I myself was unfamiliar with any real details, and was ambivalent about it until fairly recently)- the Government runs the risk of minimizing the horrendous short and long-term destructiveness of atomic weaponry- already we have been silent about the active use of depleted uranium weapons in Iraq (in two wars, not one) and by the Israelis in Operation Cast Lead- and who knows where else- and some are now speaking about using nuclear weapons against Iran- our government and people end up ignoring and/or trivializing the benefits of diplomacy (and I don’t mean the Madeline Albright kind of ‘diplomacy’ that too often seeks to use military power to get whatever she wants or ‘on balance is worth it’) which would avoid using these weapons, and instead develop better solutions for peace.

  16. MarkU
    August 17, 2012 at 12:01

    Good article, nothing particularly new as far as I am concerned but its about time that the US faced up to the facts about WW2 and the A-bomb in particular. Newt Gengrich is a truly repulsive piece of work, a real enemy of the truth.

    • John L
      August 17, 2012 at 17:43

      Lets face it the Russians won WW11. They suffered 25 Million deaths and even killed a million of their own people to stop the Germans. The USA and the Allies suffered less casualties in the whole war than Russia did in Leningrad
      So lets not get too moral about who did what. When the war finished in May 1945 there were 45,000 US deserters in the European war zone and their Allies 15,000 ( Anthony Bevoir D Day) No wonder the Russians did not trust the allies when they were suffering 10,000 casualties a day trying to take Berlin.

      • rlaing
        August 22, 2012 at 20:52

        Well, Russia ‘won’ the European war only in the sense of doing the fighting and the dying. So sure, the military victor was Russia.

        In the sense of experiencing a growth in power as a result of the war, the only winner was the US. The political victor was America.

        You can look at the two world wars as a power struggle, between the US and Germany, to fill the power vacuum being left behind by the collapse of the British Empire. America won this struggle mainly by virtue of its superb geopolitical position: protected on both sides by oceans with an entire hemisphere to exploit, more or less unmolested. It could easily pursue a strategy of waiting at the edges for the other combatants to exhaust themselves. In the middle of Europe, surrounded by powerful rivals, the Germans had no such option. The amazing thing really is not that Germany lost, but that it came as close to success as it did.

        • elmerfudzie
          August 28, 2012 at 23:30

          Germany never even approached what historians would refer to as, Victory. In the final analysis, if all else failed, I believe that King (George the VI) may well have enjoined, with delectable sweeteners, India and the Pakistani’s into the European battle front.
          Aside: You may recall, the Pakistani’s are in part-Persians and in my view, as invincible as the Russians….
          To march into that “Fatherland” and roll over the “Superior Race” with five hundred thousand of their collective troops. If your now musing that Germany had a chance to go nuclear, be advised that Hahn and Strassmann were never given the chance to evolve their Uranium fission discovery into an A-bomb largely due to the heroic efforts of allied forces (Brits). Their Air Command successfully bombed heavy water shipments along the northern railways destined for research labs in Germany. In any case, the Nazi’s never had a whisper of a chance.

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