This article was originally published in Partisan issue no. 21, printed September 2005.
August 6 and 9 were the 60th anniversaries of the destruction of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by atomic bombs and the murder of tens of thousands of their citizens. Demonstrations took place at the nuclear weapons laboratories in Livermore, California and Los Alamos, New Mexico, at the nuclear weapons test site in Nevada and at the bomb factory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee to demand nuclear disarmament now. Roland Sheppard explains how the decision to drop the bombs was made:
One of the long-standing myths of U.S. history is that atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 to "save lives." The story is that the bombings, which killed hundreds of thousands of people, were necessary to bring World War II to an end.
In reality, the decision was purely political. Leading generals and admirals opposed the bombing. It was ordered to demonstrate the ruthlessness of the U.S. government.
As Ronald Takaki has written: "During the days before that fateful Aug. 6, 1945, Gen. Douglas MacArthur learned that Japan had asked Russia to negotiate a surrender. 'We expected acceptance of the Japanese surrender daily,' one of his staff members recalled. When he was notified that an atomic bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima, the general was livid. MacArthur declared that the atomic attack on Hiroshima was 'completely unnecessary from a military point of view.'"
(San Francisco Chronicle, 31 July 2005, originally written for Pacific News Service)
General Dwight D. Eisenhower, commander of allied forces in Europe and later president of the U.S., also called it "completely unnecessary" and later told an interviewer, "It wasn't necessary to hit them with that awful thing." Fleet Admiral William Leahy, the president's chief of staff, believed that Japan would fall without the necessity of a land invasion. Leahy later wrote that, in dropping the bomb, "we had adopted an ethical standard common to barbarians of the dark ages."
Why they did it
Why then did the president make the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima? In fact Truman gave an order not bomb Nagasaki. A memo published in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, May/June 1998, states that Truman "had given orders to stop atomic bombing. He said the thought of wiping out another 100,000 people was too horrible. He didn't like the idea of killing, as he said, 'all those kids.'"
So why was the bomb dropped? Why were Truman's orders on the second bomb not obeyed?
"Secretary of War Henry Stimson, for his part, regarded the atomic bomb as what he called the 'master card' of diplomacy towards Russia. However, he believed that sparring with the Soviet Union in the early spring, before the weapon was demonstrated, would be counterproductive. Before a mid-May meeting of a cabinet-level committee considering Far Eastern issues, Stimson observed that 'the questions cut very deep and [were] powerfully connected with our success with S-1 [the atomic bomb].'" (Gar Alperovitz, in "Hiroshima: Historians Reassess"
Foreign Policy (Summer 1995) No. 99: 15-34, where it is only available to subscribers; the section quoted is available online at page 4 of the version of the article on the National Center for Economic and Security Alternatives website.)
These new facts from history and Eisenhower's memoirs show that the carnage of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not to make Japan surrender and save American lives, but to warn the Soviet Union that the United States had the atomic bomb and its leaders were cold-blooded enough to use such a weapon of mass destruction. It was the opening salvo of the "Cold War" and beginning of the process of "Pax Americana."
Roland Sheppard is a retired business agent of Painters Local 4, San Francisco.
[Correction: The quote from Gar Alperowitz was misattributed in the print version to Jonathan Wallace, "Hiroshima and the Death of Denial," www.spectacle.org/696/denial.html, in the June 1996 issue of The Ethical Spectacle, which was quoted in another version of this piece.]
[Clarification: The quote from "a memo published in The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists" was actually a quotation from Henry Wallace's diary cited in an essay by historian Stanley Goldberg published there. The essay was less definitive than Wallace's diary, concluding that Truman didn't know the Nagasaki bomb was dropped until after the fact.]