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HIROSHIMA & NAGASAKI - The Hidden Agenda

by Brian Quail, September 2000

"In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies."
Churchill to Stalin, 1943

While Hiroshima and Nagasaki technologically represent a quantum leap into a new dimension of mass annihilation, psychologically - and morally - the event had been prepared for by the saturation bombing (also known as carpet bombing or blanket bombing) of Germany in World War 11. The bombing of these Japanese cities was the culmination of a process of erosion and eventual abandoning of the principle of non-combatant or civilian immunity which is central to the concept of a just war. This development can be traced back to the early 1920s.

After the conquest of Iraq by Britain in the First World War, from 1922 on the British waged an almost continuous bombing campaign for 10 years in the oil-rich mountainous north east of Iraq against the Kurdish rebels, to whom they had earlier promised autonomy. One officer involved in this was Arthur Harris, later to achieve fame - or infamy - as "Bomber" Harris, who directed the blanket bombing of Germany at the close of WW2. The British also used aerial bombing against the Pathan tribesmen in the North West Frontier of India, in Aden, and against the Nuer people in Southern Sudan.

"Terror bombing" of civilians was also used by the Italians in Abyssinia (modern Ethiopia) in 1935, and by the Japanese on Chinese towns in 1937. We can illustrate the rapid growth in aerial attacks on civilians in the late 30s and during WW2.

Bombings of civilian targets

Year Place Deaths
1937 Guernica Spanish Civil War 1654
1941 Clydeside World War II 1083 (Clydebank 528)
1940 Coventry World War II 1000
1944-45 London World War II 3,000
1945 Dresden World War II 35,000
1945 Tokyo World War II 90,000
1945 Hiroshima World War II 200,000 (by 1950)
1945 Nagasaki World War II 140,000 (by 1950)

It is worth remembering that the bombing of Guernica provoked such horror at the time that it moved Picasso to produce one of the seminal works of modern art, his famous "Guernica" painting. Tragically, since then, we have become hardened to such atrocities. Nevertheless, people still feel an instinctive revulsion towards the idea of deliberately killing harmless civilians. Such an act is easily recognised as war crime when perpetrated by others (cf. Rwanda, Bosnia, etc). It is a war crime because the doctrine of the just war demands not only that there be just cause to take up arms in the first place (ius ad bellum); it also demands that the principles of natural justice be maintained in the actual waging of the war (ius in bello). Thus, for example - rape, torture, the execution of prisoners of war, etc. are all prohibited as war crimes. The wilful killing of civilians falls into this category of offence.

It is not surprising, therefore, that considerable effort was made by the authorities to evade or conceal the effects of our tacit adoption of the Nazi concept of total war in the final years of WW2. Hence, at the time of the dropping of the atomic bombs the political decision was made not to publish photographs of the human images of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Aerial shots of the cities, pictures of the mushroom cloud, or pictures of ruined buildings were all that were circulated. It was not till 30 or so years later, when American documents and photographs were declassified and began to circulate, that pictures of the horrendous human consequences of Hiroshima and Nagasaki became widely available.

Prior to then, it was only by studying the written accounts of survivors that it was possible to know in detail the truth about the human suffering inflicted by the atomic bombs on innocent Japanese civilians. In the immediate post war years, people generally werenít particularly interested in reading about what the Japanese had suffered. They were more concerned with the appalling barbarism of the treatment meted out to Allied PoWs by the Japanese. And this is often still the case.

There is a saying that a lie can go round the world three times before truth has got its boots on. And this is especially true in the case of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. "It saved the lives of millions of allied troops" is still the national justification-myth, repeated again and again. Yet there is not a grain of historical truth in this argument, and no serious military analysis supports the figures quoted. This totally arbitrary number of "1/2 million" was used first by Truman at the time, and various other wild estimates - "several million" etc. - have been religiously repeated ever since, like a mantra.

First of all, however, it is essential to recognise that even if this commonly accepted version were the truth, it would still not justify the use of the atomic bomb. If Allied troops had systematically made their way through the streets of Hiroshima with flamethrowers and incinerated every man, women, and child in sight, without question everyone would recognise this as an appalling war crime. Yet, when the same effect is achieved by dropping a bomb from the sky, it is somehow imagined (by some people) to be acceptable. Because the bomb creates a distance - literally - between cause and effect, agent and action, so guilt is denied.

Hiroshima was a war crime because of the simple but fundamental moral principle that the end does not justify the means. The deliberate targeting of the civilian population is always a war crime. It is not permitted, even if it is sincerely believed that such a strategy might shorten the war and bring victory nearer. If shortening the war does justify killing innocent civilians, then the logical conclusion is that we should keep all our soldiers safe in their barracks, and annihilate the enemy population en masse, thereby inducing an immediate surrender. In that way, any war could be reduced to a day or two, and our causalities eliminated altogether.

It is precisely because we cling to our false justification of Hiroshima, and live in a chronic state of denial, that we are prepared to repeat this atrocity - and unimaginably worse - with Trident. Hiroshima is the start of our nuclear addiction, and Trident is the ultimate superfix. That is why we must go back to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in order to understand our present state . One may use a simple analogy: it is not enough for a man to agree to beat his wife less, or to eventually stop beating her altogether. He must admit that he should never have started beating her in the first place. Thus, what is demanded of us as a society is a change of heart or mind, repentance in fact - an unfashionable word indeed!

The widespread delusion that using the bomb shortened the war is contradicted by serious historical analysis. Let us listen to some very reputable witnesses for this interpretation of events.

In Vol. VI of his History of the WW2, Winston Churchill writes:
"It would be a mistake to suppose that the fate of Japan was settled by the atomic bomb. Her defeat was certain before the first bomb fell and was brought about by overwhelming maritime power."
(It is interesting to note that Churchill changed his mind on this issue; initially he approved of the use of A-bombs on Japan).

Field Marshal Montgomery of Alamein wrote in his History of Warfare:
"In my view it was unnecessary to drop the two atomic bombs on Japan in August 1945, And I cannot think it was right to do so.... the dropping of the bombs was a major political blunder and is a prime example of the declining standards of the conduct of modern war."

General Eisenhower himself said:
"Japan was at that very moment seeking some way to surrender with minimum loss of face. It wasnít necessary to hit them with that awful thing."

Trumanís Chief of Staff Admiral Leahy wrote:
"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 blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons....In being the first to use it, we adopted an ethical standard common to the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in this fashion, and wars cannot cannot be won by destroying women and children."

Gen Claire L Chennault, Commander of the US Air Force in China:
"The Soviet Unionís entry into the war against Japan was decisive in hastening the end of the war in the Pacific, which would have occurred even if the atomic bombs were not used. The swift blow struck at Japan by the Red Army completed the encirclement which forced Japan to surrender." (Aug í45)

J Samuel Walker, Chief Historian US Nuclear Regulatory Commission:
"The consensus among scholars is that the bomb was not needed to avoid the invasion of Japan. It is clear that alternatives to the bomb existed and that Truman and his advisors knew it".
(Quoted in Technology Review Aug/ Sept. 1990)

Finally, Prof J K Galbraith, who was Official US Investigator, Japan 1945:
"Nor were the atomic bombs decisive. It has long been held in justification that they made unnecessary an invasion of the Japanese mainland and thus saved the resulting fighting and thousands and possibly hundreds of thousands of casualties on both sides. On few matters is the adverse evidence so strong. The bombs fell after the decision had been taken by the Japanese government to surrender. That the war had to be ended was agreed at a meeting of key members of the Supreme War Direction council with the Emperor on June 20th, a full six weeks before the devastation of Hiroshima."

Let us look in some detail at the real considerations that led to the use of the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Firstly - and most basic and brutal of all factors - financial.

Having invested what was for those days astronomical sums ($2 billion) in the Manhattan Project - the largest sum ever spent on a single project by any state in history up till then - there was no way the US government was not going to use the bomb - somehow. The project had acquired its own unstoppable momentum. There had to be an end result, there had to be something concrete to show for all that money spent.

Secondly, the military/political background.

The war ended because Japan surrendered. So let us focus on this surrender. After the surrender of Nazi Germany on May 8th 1945, Japan was isolated and doomed. By late í45, Japan did not have one single plane left, and American pilots could fly and bomb at will. Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, Kobe, Yokohama were already utterly destroyed. In July 1945, B29 bombers carrying newly developed "jelly bombs" (ie. napalm) flew 5,600 sorties. Japan's defences had already been reduced so successfully that only 17 US planes were lost. Nine-tenths of Japanís shipping was sunk or disabled.The Americans were running out of targets. More than 60 cities had already been burnt. Millions of civilians had been evacuated to the countryside, including all but 200,000 of the population of Tokyo. The economy was at a standstill. The infrastructure in ruins. No work was being done, nothing was being manufactured.

Japan was facing certain defeat; surrender was inevitable, and known to be so. The Japanese Foreign Office had officially notified Moscow on May 13th that "The Emperor is desirous of peace". On July 12th, the Japanese Prime Minister Fumimaro sent a cable to Stalin expressing a desire to end the war quickly. Stalin showed the cable - already intercepted and decoded by the US - to Truman at the Potsdam conference on July 18th. A condition of this offer of surrender was that the emperor system (called Tennoism) should remain intact. This happened two days after Truman had received news that the first atomic bomb tests at Alamagordo had been successful. The Potsdam Declaration, (July 26th) made no mention of any US willingness to approve the continuation of the emperor system following the surrender of Japan, despite the stated belief of Joseph Clark Grew, then acting Secretary of State, that such an indication would probably persuade the Japanese to accept surrender.

The Soviet Union ignored these moves because under the Yalta Agreement they were due to enter the war against Japan three months after the surrender of Germany, and they were keen to do so (Originally, General Marshall, the US Army Chief of Staff, had been strongly in favour of Soviet entry into the war against Japan, as there were strong doubts that the atomic bomb would Ďworkí). Since US intelligence knew of these approaches to Moscow by Japan, work on the Manhattan Project was speeded up in fear that Japan might surrender before the atomic bomb could be used (see "Brighter Than A Thousand Suns" by Karl Jungk). The two target cities had been left undamaged throughout the war because they were among those selected for the "experiment" - the actual word used at the time by Truman and Major Leslie Groves, head of the Manhattan Project which developed the atomic bomb.

As agreed at Yalta, on August 8th the Soviet Union declared war on Japan, and invaded Manchuria. The Transbaikal Front and the 1st and 2nd Eastern Fronts, together with the Amur Flotilla had a combined strength of more than 1,500,000 men, 5,300 tanks and self-propelled guns, 5,200 planes and 26,000 guns and mortars. Marshal Aleksandr Vasilievsky inflicted a crushing defeat on Japanís 1,200,000 Kwangtung army, which had occupied North-Eastern China and Korea, and routed them within a matter of days. South Sakhalin and the Kurile Islands were seized. The Soviet Union now occupied Japanese territory.

This debacle was the main factor which forced Japan to agree to surrender on August 14th, because a Soviet invasion of mainland Japan was now a distinct possibility. This would have meant either outright Soviet control of Japan, or a joint occupation, as in Germany. It was the determination to prevent either outcome that caused the Americans to accept now the continuance of the Emperor as Head of State - the one and only condition which the Japanese had been asking for since May - and also induced the Japanese to accept the humiliation of a formal unconditional surrender.

Emperor Hirohito had a very clear choice to make. Either to do a deal with America, or to put himself at the tender mercy of Stalinís commisars. This would certainly have meant his own execution (with or without a show-trial), the liquidation of the Japanese officer class, and the setting up of a Stalinist "Peoples Republic of Japan". Faced with this nightmare possibility, there was no need to hesitate, the choice for him personally was blindingly obvious - and urgent.

Because Truman wanted to wait until the bomb was ready to be used, he ignored advice in May 1945 from acting Secretary of State Joseph Grew, that changing the terms of surrender might halt the fighting. Even then, some came to believe that this delay actually cost lives. Thus, for example, Secretary of Sate Stimson said "History might find that the US, by its delay in stating its position, had prolonged the war".

In a memorandum of July 19th 1945, approved by Truman, Secretary of War Henry Lewis Stimson was blunt; he called on the US to use its monopoly on atomic weapons to force the USSR to adopt a political system that would suit America; he frankly admitted that the bomb was used "to gain political advantage over the Soviet Union in the post-war situation".

Not long before the bomb was tested, Truman said "If it explodes, as I think it will, Iíll certainly have a hammer on those boys" (meaning the Russians). He went further, and restated the US decision to use the atom bomb without warning and as soon as possible. Vannevar Bush, Chairman of the Joint US Chiefs of Staff, was candid. He said the bomb was "delivered on time so that there was no necessity for any concessions to Russia at the end of the war".

As already noted, the Japanese Government had asked for only one condition of surrender, viz. that the Emperor be kept as Head of State. He was kept, (Gen. Omar Bradley famously remarking: "Let them keep the son of a bitch!") - and his son still is Emperor. So one must ask why was this condition not agreed to earlier. Such an agreement would surely have saved allied lives, and the failure to make this concession must likewise have cost these same lives.

Prof. Joseph Rotblat is the last living survivor of the Manhattan Project, and was a pupil of Einsteinís. His verdict is illuminating and highly authoritative. Speaking at the Pugwash Conference of 11th Dec 1992, he demolished the myth that the atomic bombs had been dropped to "shorten the war and save lives". He quoted General Leslie Groves, head of the Manhattan Project, who said in March 1944: "From two weeks after taking up the post, there was never any illusion on my part that the main purpose of the project is to subdue the Russians".

Incidentally, at this same conference, Robert McNamara, Secretary for Defense under President Kennedy, acknowledged that the Soviet build up in nuclear weapons had been in response to the US nuclear threat. He described the UK motive for getting the Bomb as a craving "to continue to eat at the top table", and added that France had insisted on having the bomb for "equally illusionary reasons".

Events surrounding Hiroshima, both before and after, are highly revealing and throw considerable light on the hidden agenda. As early as July 1945, after the end of the war in Europe, the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommended that "with atomic weapons a nation must be ready to strike the first blow if needed." (Pearl Harbour in reverse! ) The resultant war plan - JIC 329/1 - singled out for obliteration 20 Soviet cities from Moscow and Leningrad, to Tblisi and Tashkent. (NB. At this time Russia was still an ally of the US).

Only 51 days after the surrender of Japan, in war plan TOTALITY, the Pentagonís Joint Intelligence Staff promulgated a study entitled "Strategic Vulnerability of Russia to an Air Attack". This envisaged an air attack with atomic bombs on 20 Russian cities. Similarly, in March 1946 Truman ordered the Soviets to remove their forces from North Iraq or "weíll give it to you with both barrels".

War plan TOTALITY was followed by others; these were code-named as follows:

1946 - PINCHER - 50 bombs on 20 Soviet cities
1948 - BROILER - 34 bombs on 24 cities

Likewise, in this same period,
CHARIOTEER - a global war plan involving: 133 atomic bombs on 70 Russian cities, 8 on Moscow and 7 on Leningrad.
(Source: "Operation World War III", by Anthony Cane Brown, Arms and Armour Press 1977. Also article by Trevor Royle, Scotland on Sunday 4th Oct í98.)

Remember: at this period the Soviet Union did not possess a single nuclear weapon! As well as putting Hiroshima in proper military and political context, these early blatantly offensive war plans also vividly illustrate the totally fallacious nature of the purely defensive popular notion of "deterrence" that has dominated western political propaganda for the last half century. [NB. The pernicious use of the weasel-word "deterrent" to describe our atom bombs underlines and reinforces this propaganda. "Deterrent" is a mask-word designed to conceal the actuality of our nuclear weapons. It is a self-vindicating euphemism. The very utterance of this word justifies the object it denotes].

Fear of the possibility of Russian retaliation on the US, and, in the immediate post-war period at least, a short-lived but widespread popular appreciation of the Russian contribution to the defeat of Nazi Germany, caused these plans to be shelved until such time as an totally overwhelming (ie. first strike) system without the possibility of a Soviet retaliation, could be devised. This leads to the various formulations of SIOP ( pronounced "sigh op") - The Single Integrated Operational Plan - the several American plans for waging global nuclear war.

Thirdly, there was the experimental dimension.

The Manhattan Project had been working on two different types of core. For experimental reasons, it was essential that both types of bomb be tested. Hence two targets were selected.
On Monday August 6th. at 8:15am, the B29 bomber "Enola Gay" dropped an atomic (fission) bomb code-named "Little Boy" on Hiroshima. This had a U235 core, and a destructive yield 12.5 kilotons.

On Thursday August 9th. at 11:02am a fission bomb code-named "Fat Man" was dropped on Nagasaki. This had a plutonium core, and a yield of 22.2 kilotons. Both Major Groves, and President Truman used the word "experiment" in referring to the bombing, as has already been noted.

Finally, there is a widespread cultural misreading of the situation.

The naive assumption that the Emperor and the Japanese authorities were concerned about the fate of ordinary Japanese people and so moved by their suffering that he felt they had to surrender after Hiroshima and Nagasaki - is hopelessly unhistorical. The people might die a million terrible deaths, but the "Divine" Emperor and his line must live on. The Emperor simply did not care - why should he? He was considered, and believed himself to be, a god. He was, in fact, sublimely indifferent to the suffering of the ordinary Japanese people.

Conclusion 1.

The use of the Bomb was not so much the final redeeming act in the Second World War, as a spectacular demonstration of American power in the opening moves of the new Cold War. With this omnipotent weapon, America could - and did - establish and maintain global hegemony.

Conclusion 2.

The truth about the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is not a matter of mere historical accuracy, or pedantry. It has immediate implication for our behaviour today. It is precisely because we as a society continue to "justify" Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that we justify Trident. The prevalent chronic and morbid psychological Denial about Hiroshima and Nagasaki must be overcome and transcended. This was our nuclear Original Sin. We will never be at peace with ourselves or with the world until we find the honesty and the courage to acknowledge this fact, admit our guilt, apologise to the Japanese people, and - this above all - forever forswear any threat to repeat such an appalling war crime.

A final thought

It is not realistic to expect pupils - people generally - to wade through the many complex and obscure historical documents and arguments relevant to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in order to discover the truth about the atomic bombing, before they feel able to reject the idea of bombing innocent people. It would be an impossible chore to try to completely unravel the technical details, the personal ambitions, and the political wheelings and dealings behind the bombing.

Our task is surely to create a society that instinctively and spontaneously recoils at the very notion of using an atom bomb on other human beings.

To renew society's sense of compassion and humanity, so long deadened by propaganda, disinformation, lies, and the myths of militarism, so that people realise that each of us has a simple choice to make. And that is to choose life, love, and cooperation, over power, domination, and death. We can make this choice without being specialist historians. We must do so.

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