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Why Did the US Bomb Hiroshima & Nagasaki?

The Dehumanizing of Nuclear Victims only Began in Japan

By Linda Pentz Gunter


The debate about whether the United States “needed” to drop atomic bombs on Japan will likely be waged indefinitely. Was it to end the war, save American lives, test the bomb or send a message to Stalin?

Amidst all the theories, most of which are disputed and a few disproven, one over-riding motivation remains: racism. 

After the bombing of Pear Harbor, a highly effective propaganda campaign was waged in the US to paint Japanese people as sub-human or worse. Today, the posters and rhetoric in circulation then would be considered abhorrent hate speech. But in the 1940s, it instilled enough revulsion in the American public to justify the annihilation of at least 200,000 human beings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

World War 2 Propaganda Poster Dehumanizes the Japanese
Propoganda poster depicts American squeezing Japanese man

World War 2 Propaganda Posters 

And it was only the beginning. After World War II, the newly emergent atomic powers began testing their weapons of annihilation on Indigenous communities far away. The Americans bombed the Marshall Islanders; the British targeted Aboriginal lands in Australia and the islands of Micronesia; the French went to Algeria and then Polynesia; the Soviet Union chose Kazakhstan.

The Marshallese, like the Japanese before them, were characterized as subhuman. They were deliberately experimented on, to see what would happen to human beings living in a highly radioactive environment.

The uranium needed for atomic weapons was mined in places such as the Congo and Niger in Africa, and on Native American and First Nations lands in North America. 

Today, France still gets at least half of the uranium needed to power its commercial nuclear reactors from Niger. But many of the people who mine it live without electricity and running water.

Of course, it’s not an entirely racist story. Atomic veterans the world over have struggled for recognition of their suffering and for compensation, largely unsuccessfully. Many experienced the tests directly. Others were sent in later to “clean up” the radioactive mess left behind.

In the US, citizens of Nevada and surrounding states were shocked to learn that their own government was willing to treat them like guinea pigs. The more than one thousand atomic tests carried out at the Nevada Test Site, situated on Western Shoshone land, contaminated communities across multiple US states.

The United States has never officially apologized — to the people of Japan, or the Marshall Islands, or New Mexico, where the first Trinity test took place, or Nevada and the neighbouring states.

The dehumanizing of other human beings, mostly on the basis of what we erroneously call “race” (we are all the same “race”) is of course not restricted to the nuclear sector. Communities of color, at least in the United States, are routinely targeted by the fossil fuel and chemical industries and by industrial and inhumane factory farming.

Until we address the fundamental crime of racism, we likely cannot eliminate the existential threats of nuclear war and the climate catastrophe now upon us.

Linda Pentz Gunter is the international specialist at Beyond Nuclear and writer and editor at Beyond Nuclear International.

Webinar with Linda Pentz Gunter on Tuesday 8th August 2023. Click to get your ticket.

This event has now ended. A video recording will be made available in the near future.