Whitewashing Hiroshima: The uncritical glorification of American militarism
By Gary G. Kohls, MD
Online Journal Contributing Writer
Aug 11, 2009
Back in 1995, the Smithsonian was preparing an honest, historically-accurate display dealing with the 50th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Amid much right-wing reactionary wrangling, from various ultrapatriotic veterans groups all the way up to the Newt Gingrich/GOP-dominated Congress, the Smithsonian was forced to eliminate all of the painful but historically important parts of the story -- the Japanese civilian perspective. So again we had another example of powerful politically conservative groups influencing public policy -- and history -- because they couldn’t handle what was necessary to face up to unpleasant historical truths.
The historians did have a gun to their heads, of course, but in the melee, the mainstream media -- and therefore the public -- ignored a vital historical point. And that is this: The war would have ended soon without the atomic bombs, and thus there would not have been a bloody American land invasion of Japan. American intelligence, with the full knowledge of President Truman, was fully aware of Japan’s desperate search for ways to honorably surrender weeks before the order was given for the mass slaughter of innocent civilians that was Hiroshima.
American intelligence data, revealed in the 1980s, shows that the mythical large-scale US invasion (theoretically planned for no sooner than November 1, 1945) would have been unnecessary. Japan was working on peace negotiations with the Allies through its Moscow ambassador as early as April of 1945. Truman knew of these developments, the US having broken the Japanese code years earlier, and all of Japan’s military and diplomatic messages were being intercepted. On July 13, 1945, Foreign Minister Togo said, “Unconditional surrender (giving up all sovereignty) is the only obstacle to peace.” Truman knew this, and the war could have ended by simply conceding a post-war figurehead position for the emperor -- a leader regarded as a deity in Japan. That concession was refused by the US, the Japanese continued trying to obtain an honorable peace and the bombs were dropped with no regard given to Japan’e attempts to negotiate. And after the war, the emperor remained in place. So what were the real reasons for 1) the refusal to accept Japan’s offer of surrender and 2) the decision to proceed with the bombings?
Shortly after WWII, military analyst Hanson Baldwin wrote, “The Japanese, in a military sense, were in a hopeless strategic situation by the time the Potsdam insistence on Japan’s unconditional surrender was made on July 26, 1945.” Admiral William Leahy, top military aide to President Truman, said in his war memoirs, “I Was There,” “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 sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons. My own feeling is that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages.” And General Dwight D. Eisenhower agreed.
Truman proceeded with the plans to use the bombs, but he never officially ordered the Nagasaki bomb that followed Hiroshima by only three days. There are a number of factors that contributed to Truman’s decision.
1) The US had made a huge investment in time, mind and money ($2,000,000,000 in 1940 dollars) to produce three bombs, and there was no inclination -- and no guts -- to stop the momentum.
2) The US military -- as did its citizens -- had a bloodthirsty appetite for revenge because of Pearl Harbor. Mercy wasn’t in the vocabulary of the US military and the war-weary populace, and the missions were accomplished -- with essentially no objections by those who only knew the sanitized and censored-out version of events.
3) Hiroshima’s bomb was uranium and Nagasaki’s was plutonium. Scientific curiosity certainly was a significant factor for the bombing of Nagasaki. The decision to use both bombs had obviously been made well in advance. The three-day interval was unconscionably inadequate -- Japan being in shambles in its communications and transportation capabilities – and besides, no one, not the US military or even the Japanese high command, fully understood what had happened at Hiroshima. General Douglas MacArthur, commanding general of the entire Pacific theatre, was kept out of the loop about the existence of the bombs until five days before Hiroshima.
4) The Russians had proclaimed their intent to enter the war with Japan 90 days after V-E Day (Victory in Europe, May 8), which would have been Aug. 8, two days after Hiroshima was bombed. Indeed, Russia did declare war on August 8 and was marching across Manchuria when Nagasaki was incinerated. The US didn’t want Japan surrendering to anybody else, especially a future enemy, so the first nuclear “messages” of the infantile Cold War were sent. Russia indeed received far less of the spoils of war than they had anticipated, and the two superpowers were mired in the Cold War stalemate that eventually resulted in mutual moral and economic bankruptcy within a couple of generations.
An estimated 80,000 innocent and defenseless civilians -- plus 20,000 essentially weaponless young Japanese conscripts -- died instantly in the Hiroshima bombing. Hundreds of thousands more suffered agonizing bums, radiation sickness, leukemia and infections for the rest of their shortened lives, and generations of the survivor’s progeny inherited horrible radiation-induced illnesses, cancers and premature deaths. What has been covered up is the fact that 12 American Navy pilots, their existence well known to the US command, were incinerated in the Hiroshima jail on Aug. 6.
The 75,000 Nagasaki victims were virtually all innocent civilians, except for the inhabitants of an allied POW camp near Nagasaki’s ground zero. They were incinerated, carbonized and/or vaporized by a scientific experiment carried out by obedient, unaware soldiers and scientists. The War Dept. knew of the existence of the POWs but when informed, simply replied, “Targets previously assigned for Centerboard (code name for the Kokura/Nagasaki mission) remain unchanged.”
So the end of the war in the Pacific was just one more myth in a long list of myths that Americans have been fed by our military and political leaders, war being glorified in the process. A short list of some of the others includes the censored-out military invasions and occupations of countries such as this short list (just in the last 60 years): North Korea, Iran, Viet Nam, Laos, Cambodia, Granada, Panama, the Philippines, Chile, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras, Haiti, Colombia, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc, etc.
But somehow most of us Americans still hang on to our shaky “my country right or wrong” patriotism, desperately wanting to believe the cunningly-orchestrated myths that our nation only works for peace, justice and promoting democracy and not mainly supporting evil dictators or promoting corrupt exploitive capitalism.
While it is true that the US military has faced down occasional despots, with natural heroism and sacrifice from dead and dying American soldiers, more often than not our methods of rationalizing the atrocities of war are identical to those of the “godless communists” or “evil empires” on the other side of the battle line. August 6 and 9, 1945 are just two more examples of the brutalization of “total war,” which is always accompanied by the unforgivable human slaughter called “collateral damage” and “friendly fire.”
The time has come for Americans to stand up for real justice and peace (rather than the unaffordable and self-perpetuating “armed truces” we have all over the world) by acknowledging the whole truth of history and owning up to the numerous international war crimes and crimes against humanity that have been orchestrated by American militarism in the last half-century. And then we need to start acknowledging and speaking out about our nation’s all-too-common military atrocities, as would all courageous people who have high ethical standards.
Doing what is right for the whole of humanity for a change, rather than just what is advantageous for our over-privileged American life-style, would be real honor, real patriotism and an essential start toward real peace.
Dr. Kohls is a recently retired physician from Duluth, Minn., whose holistic mental practice dealt extensively with posttraumatic stress disordered (PTSD) patients, many of whom were military veterans and all of whose serious neurological and psychological disabilities were preventable.