This week marks the 70th anniversary of a very dark chapter of human history, the U.S. incineration of tens of thousands of Japanese civilians by dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a war crime that has been rationalized in popular U.S. history, writes Gary G. Kohls.
By Gary G. Kohls
August 6, 2015, is the 70th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima, a civilian city that had minimal military value despite the claims of President Harry Truman when he announced the event to the American people.
An estimated 80,000 innocent civilians plus 20,000 weaponless young Japanese conscripts died instantly in the Hiroshima bombing raid. Hundreds of thousands more suffered slow deaths and disabilities from agonizing burns, radiation sickness, leukemia, anemia, thrombocytopenia and untreatable infections. Another shameful reality was the fact that 12 American Navy pilot POWs, their existence well known to the U.S. command prior to the bombing, were instantly incinerated in the Hiroshima jail on that fateful day.
The Japanese survivors and their progeny suffered a fate similar to the survivors and progeny of America’s “Atomic Soldiers,” who were exposed in the line of duty to the hundreds of nuclear tests in the 1950s and 1960s or to the depleted uranium that the U.S. military has used in the two Gulf Wars. These groups were afflicted with horrible radiation-induced illnesses, congenital anomalies, genetic mutations, immune deficiencies, cancers and premature deaths.
The whole truth about the Hiroshima slaughter the first of only two cases of nuclear bombs being dropped in wartime, with the second coming only three days later at Nagasaki has been heavily censored and mythologized ever since. In 1945, war-weary Americans accepted the propaganda that the bombings were necessary to shorten the war and prevent what U.S. officials claimed could be the loss of a million U.S. soldiers during a November 1945 invasion of Japan.
On Aug. 9, 1945, the U.S. military dropped the second atomic bomb on the equally defenseless city of Nagasaki, which no longer had any military value to Japan. “Fat Man,” the plutonium bomb named after British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, was detonated before the Japanese leadership fully understood what had happened at Hiroshima.
The premeditated killing of so many civilians would be defined by the Nuremburg tribunal in the context of Germany’s actions as an international war crime and a crime against humanity. Of course, the reason that the United States wasn’t sanctioned for Hiroshima and Nagasaki as Germany was for the Jewish Holocaust and other atrocities was that America was the victor and the occupier and thus was in charge of making and enforcing the rules in the post-World War II international order.
So, the official War Department-approved, highly censored version of the end of the war in the Pacific was added to an ever-lengthening list of myths that we Americans have been continuously fed by our corporate-controlled military, political and media opinion leaders. In the process, the gruesomeness and cruelty of war has been cunningly propagandized so that we consumers of information see only the glorification of American militarism.
My high school history teachers all seemed to be ex-jocks who weren’t athletically talented enough to make it into the professional ranks. The main chance for them to play games for pay was to join the teaching profession and thus be available to coach high school athletics. American history was of secondary importance in many small town high schools. Thus, my classmates and I “learned” our lessons from some very uninspired, very bored and/or very uninformed teachers who would rather have been on the playing field.
In my coach’s defense, the history books that they had to teach from had been highly censored in order to promote patriotism; and so we “learned” that most everything that the “noble” British colonizers and “honorable” U.S. empire-builders ever did in the history of warfare was self-sacrificing, democracy-promoting and Christianizing – and that everything their revolutionary colonial victims did was barbaric, atheistic and evil. Anybody who resisted colonial oppressors was treated as a terrorist.
It was from these history books that we learned about the “glorious” end of the war against Japan via nuclear incineration. Probably everybody in my high school, including myself, swallowed the post-war propaganda hook, line and sinker.
Of course, I now realize that my classmates and I, just like most other Americans (including the volunteer or conscripted members of the military), have been naive victims of “lies our history teachers taught us.” In their defense, those teachers had been misled in their own schooling by equally mis-informed teachers who got their information from a variety of dis-informers who wrote the books: and those authors were the war- and empire-justifying militarists and assorted uber-patriotic pseudo-historians who had been duped into believing the myth of American exceptionalism.
Not included in that group of true believers were the 50,000 WWII American soldiers, members of the “Greatest Generation,” who in many cases logically and understandably deserted or went AWOL during their war service, a reality that also has been conveniently censored out of our consciousness.
One of General Douglas MacArthur’s first acts after taking over as Viceroy of Japan was to confiscate or otherwise destroy all the photographic evidence documenting the horrors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He imposed total censorship over journalists who wanted to report to the world about what had really happened at Ground Zero, again proving the old adage that “the first casualty of war is truth.”
Embedding journalists in the U.S. military so that only America-friendly reportage happened wasn’t the original idea of General Stormin’ Norman Schwarzkopf in Gulf War I.
In 1995, the Smithsonian Institution was preparing to correct some of the 50-year-old pseudo-patriotic myths about the Pacific War by staging an honest, historically-accurate display dealing with the atomic bombings from the Japanese civilian perspective.
Swift, vehement and well-orchestrated condemnations directed at the Smithsonian historians’ plans to tell unwelcome truths about war came from right-wing pro-war veterans organizations, the GOP-dominated Congress at the time, and other militarist groups (such as House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s paymaster Lockheed Martin, one of many war-profiteering merchants-of-death multinationals whose profits and products depend on Congressional and Pentagon largesse).
Gingrich threatened to stop federal funding of the Smithsonian, thus forcing it to censor-out all of the contextually important parts of the real story. And so the pseudo-patriotic myths about Hiroshima and Nagasaki continue to be preserved to this very day.
So, we historically illiterate Americans are blocked, again and again, from learning historical truths about the American Empire – and the control that the military and multinational corporations have over it. Anything that might shake voter confidence in or incite grassroots revolution against – the unelected ruling elites, the Pentagon or the conscienceless transnational corporations (that control our two major party politicians, the mainstream media and the “invisible hand of the market”) is verboten.
The Smithsonian historians did have a gun to their heads, but in the melee, we voters failed to learn an important historical point, and that is this: the war in the Pacific could have ended in spring 1945 without the need for the August atomic bombings, and therefore there might have been no Okinawa bloodbath that senselessly doomed thousands of American Marines and Japanese soldiers.
And there would have been no need for an American land invasion of Japan in November. Indeed, in the 1980s, top secret records were revealed that the contingency plans for a large-scale U.S. invasion (planned for no sooner than Nov. 1, 1945) would have been unnecessary. However, to the victors go the spoils, and the American victors were the ones running the war crimes tribunals and determining the content of my history text books.
Japan Seeking Surrender
American intelligence agencies, with the full knowledge of President Franklin Roosevelt’s and President Harry Truman’s administrations, were fully aware of Japan’s search for ways to honorably surrender months before Truman gave the fateful order to incinerate Hiroshima.
Japan was working on peace negotiations through its ambassador in Moscow as early as April of 1945, with surrender feelers from Japan occurring as far back as 1944. Truman knew of these developments because the U.S. had broken the Japanese code even before Pearl Harbor, and all of Japan’s military and diplomatic messages were being intercepted. On July 13, 1945, Foreign Minister Togo wrote: “Unconditional surrender (giving up all sovereignty, including the deposing of Emperor Hirohito) is the only obstacle to peace.”
Truman’s advisers knew about these efforts and that the war could have ended through diplomacy by simply conceding a post-war figurehead position for the emperor (who was regarded as a deity in Japan). That reasonable concession was refused by the U.S. in its demand for unconditional surrender, which announced at the 1943 Casablanca Conference between Roosevelt and Churchill and then reiterated at the Potsdam Conference by Truman, Churchill and Soviet leader Josef Stalin. Still, the Japanese continued searching for an honorable peace through negotiations.
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 knew that the U.S. could have ended the war before Hiroshima.
After Japan officially surrendered on Aug. 15, 1945 six days after the Nagasaki bomb General MacArthur allowed the emperor to remain in place as spiritual head of Japan, the very condition that forced the Japanese leadership to refuse to accept the earlier, humiliating, “unconditional surrender” terms.
So the two essential questions that need answering in order to comprehend what was going on behind the scenes are these: 1) Why did the U.S. refuse to accept Japan’s only demand concerning its surrender (the retention of the emperor) and 2) why were the atomic bombs used when victory in the Pacific was assured?
There are a number of factors that contributed to the Truman administration’s fateful decision to use the atomic bombs, including:
1) Investment. 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.
2) Revenge. Like many Americans, the U.S. military and political leadership had a tremendous appetite for revenge because of the Pearl Harbor “surprise” attack. Mercy wasn’t in the mindset of the U.S. military or the average American Christians and their churches. The missions against Hiroshima and Nagasaki were accepted as necessary, with no questions asked, by most of those folks who only knew the sanitized, national security state version of events. Most Americans wanted to believe the cunningly-orchestrated propaganda.
3) A “use it or lose it” mentality and scientific curiosity. The fissionable material in Hiroshima’s bomb was uranium. The Trinity test bomb (exploded on July 16, 1945) and the Nagasaki bomb were plutonium bombs. Scientific curiosity was a significant factor that pushed the project to its deadly completion. The Manhattan Project leaders were curious. “What would happen if a city was leveled by a single uranium bomb?” “What would happen if plutonium was used?” With the war against Nazi Germany (the original intended target) over, the most conscientious scientists felt that the bombs should not be used against civilian targets but they lost out in the internal debate.
4) “Orders are orders.” Actually, the military decision to drop both bombs had been made well in advance of August 1945. Accepting the surrender of Japan prior to their use was not an option if the experiment was to go ahead. It should be obvious to anybody that the three-day interval between the two bombs was unconscionably short if the purpose of the first bomb was to force immediate surrender. Japan’s communications and transportation capabilities were in shambles, and no one, not the Japanese high command, not even the U.S. military, fully understood what had happened at Hiroshima. (It is a fascinating fact that the Manhattan Project had been so top secret that even MacArthur, commanding general of the entire Pacific theatre, was kept out of the loop – until July 1.)
5) The Russians. Stalin had proclaimed his intent to enter the war with Japan 90 days after V-E Day (Victory in Europe Day, May 8, 1945), which would have been two days after Hiroshima was bombed. Indeed, Russia did declare war on Japan on Aug. 8 and was advancing eastward across Manchuria when Nagasaki, ironically the center of Japanese Christianity, was incinerated.
Certainly Russia still felt the sting of the humiliating defeat and the loss of territory from the disastrous Russo-Japanese War of 1905 when the Russians were beaten by upstart Japan. Ego-bloated nation-states have long memories, especially when they lose an argument, lose a fight or are embarrassed in public. Witness the 150-year-old enduring devotion of white segregationists to the Confederate flag or consider the rabid right-wing, sociopathic neo-Nazis all around the world in their devotion to Adolf Hitler and the symbol of fascism, the Swastika.
Spoils of War
The U.S. didn’t want Japan surrendering to the Soviet Union with the Soviets getting a share of the spoils of war. The Soviet Union was soon to be one of only two world superpowers – and therefore a future enemy of the United States. So the first “messages” of the Cold War were sent by the U.S. to the USSR on Aug. 6 and 9, 1945.
The Soviets didn’t receive the spoils of the Pacific War that they had anticipated, and the two superpowers were instantly mired in the multi-trillion-dollar stalemated nuclear arms race and the multitude of proxy wars that regularly risked the total extinction of humanity.
But somehow most of us still hang on to our shaky “my country right or wrong” patriotism, desperately wanting to believe the myths that say that the war-profiteering corporate elite (and the politicians, military leaders and media talking-heads who are in their employ) only work for peace, justice, equality and liberty, supposedly “making the world safe for democracy,” but really for predatory capitalism.
Our understanding of Aug. 6 and 9, 1945, is just another example of the brain-washing that goes on in all “total war” political agendas, which are accompanied by the inevitable human death and destruction that is euphemistically labeled “splendid slaughter,” “collateral damage” or “friendly fire.”
Among the other censored out realities of American wars include what really happened in the U.S. military’s participation in the destabilize-and-conquer campaigns and coups d’etat in Ukraine, Honduras, Venezuela, Libya, and bloody invasions and/or occupations of Korea, Iran, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Lebanon, Granada, Panama, the Philippines, Chile, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Haiti, Colombia, Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc, etc.
This list doesn’t necessarily cover the uncountable secret Pentagon/CIA covert operations and assassination plots in the rest of the world, where scores of “sovereign” nations have been coerced into allowing the building of American military bases (permission lavishly paid for by bribes or threats of economic or military sanctions).
It might already 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 planet down the road to destruction. The rolling coups d’etat orchestrated by the profiteers of what I call Friendly American Fascism may have already accomplished their goals.
But I suppose there is always hope. Rather than being silent about the destabilizing conflicts that the warmongers are provoking all over the planet (with the very willing assistance of Wall Street, the Pentagon, the weapons industries and their lapdogs in Congress), people of conscience need to start learning the whole truth of history, despite the psychological discomfort that they may feel (cognitive dissonance) when the lies that they had been led to believe can’t be believed any more. We need to start owning up to America’s uncountable war crimes that have been orchestrated in our names.
And so the whistle-blowers among us need to rise up in dissent, go to the streets in protest and courageously refuse to cooperate with those sociopathic personalities that have gradually transformed America into a criminal rogue state.
Like Nazi Germany or Fascist Japan, rogue nations throughout history have been eventually targeted for downfall by the billions of angry, fed-up, suffering victims who live both inside and outside its borders. That fate awaits America unless its leaders confess their sins and promise to join the peace-loving human race.
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, toxic and unsustainable American way of life, would be real honor, real patriotism and an essential start toward real peace.
Dr. Kohls writes a weekly column for the Reader Weekly, an alternative newsweekly magazine that is published in Duluth, Minnesota. Many of his columns are archived at http://duluthreader.com/articles/categories/200_Duty_to_Warn.