Hiroshima & Nagasaki: Reflections

Tomorrow, August 6, marks the occasion of the dropping of the A-bomb 66-years ago on Hiroshima, initiating the nuclear age, with the final chapter yet to be written. Truman gave permission, believing it would shorten the war and spare substantial American troop losses in fighting an entrenched enemy on their homeland. A few days later, it was Nagasaki’s turn. These cities had been spared up to then from the intense aerial bombing of other Japanese cities. There were some advisors who wanted to go after Kyoto, Japan‘s cultural and historic centerpiece.

All my life I was led to believe in the Truman scenario. Less naive in my older years, I know now that the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki constitute crimes against humanity. I have met survivors of the Tokyo and Dresden fire-bombings. My sister-in-law survived the nightly Frankfurt bombings.

It wasn’t the first time American militarists committed such acts in WWII:

July 24-29, 1943, Hamburg was firebombed, killing 50,000 and producing 1 million refugees.

February, 1945, 2700 American and British bombers attacked Dresden, Germany, killing 35,000 civilians. Dresden made china and dolls, not armaments.

March 9-10,1945, fire-bombing killed 100,000 in Tokyo, with 100,000 wounded and 1 million refugees.

A month later, just several weeks before the end of hostilities in Europe, the medieval city of Wurzburg was bombed from the face of the earth.

We are good at decrying the crimes of our enemies. Unfortunately, the victors are the ones who write the official history. One of the sad things about war is how easy it becomes for humans to regress into savagery, losing their sense of fellow humanity.

As early as December, 1944, the Japanese were making peace overtures. Admiral William Leahy, chief of staff to both Roosevelt and Truman, wrote that “by the beginning of September [1944], Japan was almost completely defeated through a practically complete sea and air blockade” (I Was There, p. 259). In June, 1945, the Japanese were using the Soviets as intermediaries, offering peace to the Allies in exchange for retaining the Emperor. It was a dreadful mistake. The Soviets were planning to enter the war to pick up the spoils.

On July 27, 1945, the Potsdam Proclamation was broadcast in Japanese to the Japanese government, demanding unconditional surrender. The Japanese were willing to do so, Truman, however, deleted the Emperor provision from the Proclamation. In fact, the Proclamation called for criminal trials for those associated with the war. Truman had been advised by Secretary of War Stimson to allow for a constitutional monarchy. Stimson even made 11th hour pleas. Unfortunately, Truman was under the sway of hard liners such as Byrnes (Secretary of State) and Acheson (Under Secretary of State), men with no appreciation or exposure to the Japanese way of life.

With the dropping of the second bomb three days later on Nagasaki, the Russians entered the war. There are some who believe the bombs were dropped to impress the Soviets, now perceived as a potential adversary. (See Gar Alpervovitz. The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb.)

Ironically, in the final peace terms, Japan was allowed to retain its emperor, who was also exempted from a war trial. It would make for a smooth occupational presence. More tragically, it came too late and thousands of civilians were vaporized, burned, or relegated to slow deaths from radiation. (66,000 died in Hiroshima; 39,000 in Nagasaki. These figures do not include the thousands who died later.)

The best contemporary book on these horrific bombings happens to be by a Japanese, Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan. He offers compelling evidence that the bombs were dropped to preempt Russia’s entrance into the war.

Postscript: Comments of Note:

“These two specific bombing sorties cannot properly be treated in isolation from the whole system of obliteration attacks…We are mindful of incendiary raids on Tokyo, and of the saturation bombings of Hamburg, Dresden, and Berlin…the policy of obliteration bombing as actually practiced in World War II, culminating in the use of atomic bombs against Japan, is not defensible on Christian premises.”(Atomic Warfare and the Christian Faith: Federal Council of Churches, March 1946)

“We were. . .twice guilty. We dropped the bomb at a time when Japan already was negotiating for an end of the war but before those negotiations could come to fruition. We demanded unconditional surrender, then dropped the bomb and accepted conditional surrender….The Japanese would have surrendered, even if the Bomb had not been dropped, had the Potsdam Declaration included our promise to permit the emperor to remain on his imperial throne.” (Hanson W. Baldwin [Former Naval officer, military analyst and journalist], Great Mistakes of the War).

About RJ

Retired English prof (Ph. D., UNC), who likes to garden, blog, pursue languages (especially Spanish) and to share in serious discussion on vital issues such as global warming, the role of government, energy alternatives, etc. Am a vegan and, yes, a tree hugger enthusiastically. If you write me, I'll answer.
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