August 2003 #1

Hiroshima and the Bundy Lies

A little boy raises his hand to his forehead to shield his eyes from the sun. His shadow seems to show he was saluting an invisible captain. 

A toddler laughs with pleasure as her father holds her up, spins her around and kisses her cheek as he leaves for work. Their shadow seems to show that he is holding her up to the sun.

An older couple stroll in the gardens enjoying an early morning reprieve from the noise of their crowded street. Their shadow seems to show them holding hands.

A while ago I discussed the lies surrounding the so-called Bay of Tonkin incident which was fabricated by the then US government to plunge them and us into the Vietnam War. I argued that it should be no surprise to us that the war on Iraq was based on lies and deceit. I argued that those who promote war will use any excuse to attempt to justify their acts of bastardry and terror. As we see now, just a few short weeks after the “end” of this latest war, history is being re-written by them as they try and convince us they were right and we were wrong to oppose them.

A feature article in Wednesday's Melbourne Age caught my eye. Written by Nicholas Kristof, described as a “Pulitzer Prize winner” and New York Times columnist, the article is titled “Why the nuclear attack on Japan was right” and it attacks “revisionist historians”. Revisionist historians, let’s remember, are usually described as being part of the “black armband” brigade or members of dissident communities fighting lost battles and Kristof doesn’t let us down. He accuses those of us who attempt to understand our society by what it does (or did) rather than meekly accepting what it said it would do (or did). Kristof argues that although there is persuasive evidence supporting the moral argument against the US dropping the only atomic weapons used in war so far, there is a far greater argument supporting it. Hi main line of argument follows that being written by Japanese historians. But what are the Japanese revisionists arguing? From what records are they gathering evidence to take up their “anti-American” stand (wouldn’t Senator Alston love to join in this one) which shows the vast majority have deep reservations about the US use of nuclear weapons - both on Japan or at any time in the future.

Well here are some of the historically recorded and publicly available statements and facts of that terrible time in and around August 1945 as provided by the US protagonists themselves. 

Admiral William Leahy, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and President Truman's Chief of Staff said, “[T]he 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 ... In being the first to use it [the atomic bomb], we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages.”

General Eisenhower said, "Japan was at that very moment seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of 'face'... It wasn't necessary to hit them with that awful thing.” 

Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet stated in a public address given at the Washington Monument on October 5, 1945, “The atomic bomb played no decisive part, from a purely military standpoint, in the defeat of Japan.”

Returning to Kristof for a moment, he argues that those who, in 1945, wanted a “test” explosion on an uninhabited island off the Japanese coast to demonstrate the potential of the bomb and therefore cower the Japanese into surrender, were wrong. However, what do you think of the words of the Under-Secretary of the Navy, Ralph Bard, who in a June 27, 1945 memorandum stated, “Ever since I have been in touch with this program I have had a feeling that before the bomb is actually used against Japan that Japan should have some preliminary warning for say two or three days in advance of use. The position of the United States as a great humanitarian nation and the fair play attitude of our people generally is responsible in the main for this feeling”. Bard resigned and his successor, Rear Admiral L. Lewis Strauss (who went on to become chairperson of the US Atomic Energy Commission) also stated that “the use of the atomic bomb … was not necessary to bring the war to a successful conclusion” and “my proposal to the Secretary was that the weapon should be demonstrated over some area accessible to the Japanese observers, and where its effects would be dramatic.”

In effect Kristof is trying to do some revisionist history himself. He shy’s away from the facts that the US bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki without warning and without just cause. He then argues that one faction of the Japanese elite grasped the opportunity to claim the bombing supported their “peace” cause and thus, in some way, vindicates the fact that the US government lied to its own people, to its allies and carried out the worst act of mass destruction ever seen on earth by one human community against another. What Kristof doesn’t enter into are the political arguments that ignore human rights and moral dilemmas posed by such a barbarous act.

The political arguments for using these weapons go something like this. The US was to meet the Russians and the Brits at Potsdam to sign a pact so that the USSR could join in the Pacific theatre. Truman delayed that meeting until the 17th July 1945, the day after the first test of an atomic weapon in New Mexico. Truman’s team did a snow job on the Russians and got them to agree to postpone their entry into the Pacific theatre for one week, from August the 8th to the 15th. The Russians agreed but realised they had been lied to when the first bomb was dropped on August the 6th and they subsequently entered the war on the 9th August, the day the Nagasaki bomb was exploded. The Japanese surrendered on the 10th and the US accepted a conditional surrender in order to cut the Russians out. Prior to this the US had demanded unconditional surrender of all political and royal titles. The August 10th surrender allowed the Japanese to keep their Emperor - which was central to their demands. Many historians argue that if the US had dropped the demand for an unconditional surrender earlier, the war could have been over by June 1945 and a peaceful resolution negotiated.

So why all the fuss by Kristof about revisionist historians and their lack of “understanding” as to why it was a good thing to kill 200,000 people? It seems that like our present situation, the US president was surrounded by hawks and was led by them. James Byrnes who was the National Security Advisor to Truman, convinced the President that the only way the Russians could be contained was by “bullying” them into submission. This could be achieved by using a nuclear weapon on a city to show them what would happen if they threatened US imperial expansion. McGeorge Bundy, the most prominent supporter of the US bombing, argued that the use of the bomb was justified to save US lives and that the US military did not consider the weapons to be any different from conventional bombs. He finishes by saying that the US administration was unanimous in their decision.

The US did conduct saturation bombing of over 60 Japanese cities in June and July 1945. Those raids are estimated to have killed over one million people and left 20 million homeless. Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which were key civilian industrial cities which were central to the Japanese war effort, were spared the terror of fire bombing so they could be sacrificed as demonstrations of this new weapon of mass destruction.

Finally, lets turn to the man who ordered, knowingly and rationally (??), the use of these weapons. What kind of reply does President Truman make to hawks like Kristof? What was his stated reason for experimenting on human beings in ways the Nazi never dreamed of? In June 1945 Truman wrote in his diary that he knew the Japanese wanted to surrender. “Stalin will be in the Jap War on August 15th. Fini Japs when that comes about” was another entry in July. He wrote to his wife a few days later and noted that “I've gotten what I came for - Stalin goes to war on August 15th with no strings on it... I'll say that we'll end the war a year sooner now, and think of the kids who won't be killed.” Truman’s stated aim was to keep the Russians out of Japan and ruthlessly he and his advisors and senior government officers, went about deceiving their coalition partners about their strategic aims. In 1946 McGeorge Bundy was commissioned to create a range of falsehoods that prevail to this day and are spread by populists such as Nicholas Kristof.

We cannot support on the one hand a system that we say is just, right and humanitarian and allows us the freedom to vote, speak our minds or even take to the streets while at the same time allowing that system to act against the stated moral principles we accept as underpinning our society.  The time to stand up and demonstrate for what we know in our heart of hearts is right has come. All I ask is that you join the growing number of people willing to embrace the pain of change and actively assist in resisting the will of those who would do to us, what they have already allowed to happen to “them”.

While I’m sure there is a Japanese history that needs to be examined critically and widely, basing an argument on the say so of disaffected factions who claimed the high moral ground after the fact, places one on very shaky ground. Kristof would do much better than perpetuating the US governments tradition of Bundy like lies on the days we remember with shame, to think of the little boy whose shadow is burned onto a wall. Or to think of the father who still had the taste of his daughters cheek on his lips or the old couple whose surreptitious hand-holding was the last thing they ever did.

Those images are always far removed from the warmongers and sycophantic minions who support them. Our leaders need to be reminded that there is no justification for war that includes the deliberate targeting of innocent civilians. There is no need to lie to us if their case for defensive violence is sound. We are not fools but I fear that unless we react, respond and unite to oppose war in our name, more innocent blood will be spilt – in our name.

(Thank to Chris Lewis of the University of Colorado in Boulder for use of some historical material.