Though it has been seventy years since the United States of America introduced to the world the very weapons which could potentially annihilate the global population when it dropped two atomic bombs on the island nation of Japan, the world is no closer to nuclear nonproliferation than it was during the first years of the Cold War. Despite the many mutual promises made to significantly downsize their respective nuclear arsenals, the United States and Russia are continually in possession of the world’s largest stockpiles. And in the case of the United States, there isn’t even a significant attempt to reverse course. While proclaiming his desire to live in a world without nuclear weapons, President Barack Obama has in actuality authorized the U.S.’s vast nuclear arsenal to be renewed and “modernized” at a cost of $1 trillion over the next thirty years. (So much for being too “broke” to alleviate homelessness and poverty!) The sheer hypocrisy of this is astounding on too many different levels. While the U.S. – in an attempt to starve Iran economically and draw it into war – continues to falsely accuse the Islamic Republic of trying to obtain a single nuclear weapon, the U.S. is renewing its vast arsenal which already numbers in the thousands. All the while these neocons would like the world to forget that there has been only one nation in the history of the planet that holds the dubious distinction of stooping so low as to use these weapons of mass destruction on an enemy population during war time. That is of course the United States, which dropped not one, but two atomic weapons on civilian populations in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan at World War II’s end, and then attempted to cover its tracks by claiming the bombs actually saved lives in the end.
Condemning the horrific and unprecedented atrocities committed by the U.S. against Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the most unequivocal terms is by no means an attempt to absolve imperial Japan of its own crimes against humanity during WWII, nor is it an implication that it was an innocent victim during that war. Rather, Japan was much the same as all the other imperialist nations at the time, including the U.S. The only difference in the crimes carried out on behalf of the imperialist powers of the West – the U.S., Great Britain, France, Germany, etc. – as opposed to those of Japan is that in the case of the latter it was a non-white nation engaged in the cruel enterprises of colonialism and imperialism. Japan, just like the West, carried out monstrous atrocities against the native inhabitants of Asian countries it invaded, a prerequisite for placing people under colonial occupation with the goal of robbing them of their natural resources and labor in order to build and enrich the empire. It was not benevolent concern for the indigenous inhabitants of nations suffering under the heel of Japanese imperialist aggression which was the cause of America’s enmity towards Japan leading up to WWII, however. To the contrary, for much of the 20th century American policymakers openly welcomed the ravaging of China by Japan and the nations of the West, subjecting China to an what was known as an “Open Door Policy”. The U.S. certainly couldn’t make the case that it was concerned for Asian people subjected to Japanese occupation, considering how at the turn of the 20th century U.S. soldiers occupying the Philippines went about savagely murdering Filipino men, women and children, putting them into pens (concentration camps) guarded by vicious dogs, and subjected them to water-boarding and other forms of torture. [Zinn, Howard. A Peoples’ History of the United States. (1980). Pages 313-317.] At the end of the first five years of U.S. occupation, 15% of the Filipino population ceased to exist. Nor could it be argued that the U.S. was particularly concerned about the people affected by the Japanese colonization of the Korean peninsula or the occupation of Vietnam, considering how brutal the U.S. military itself was to be with these same peoples when America went to war with them in the years following Japan’s defeat. The true source of hostility between the United States and Japan stemmed from the growing Japanese military presence in the Southwest Pacific Ocean where the U.S. extracted important raw materials for its market, such as tin, rubber, and jute among other things. It was for this reason the U.S. imposed a total oil and scrap iron embargo on Japan in the summer of 1941, resulting in Japan losing “access to three-fourths of its overseas trade and 88 percent of its imported oil.” The embargo was instituted for the purpose of preventing Japan from becoming “more and more self-sufficient” (according to a State Department Memo) and less in need of American-produced goods. By instituting the Japanese embargo, the U.S. all but declared war on Japan in all but name only, an action most Americans today are taught nothing about. It was this embargo that ultimately lead to what’s been presented as a startling, totally unexpected attack on a Pearl Harbor naval base at the end of the same year. [Zinn, pgs. 410-411.]
By the end of July, 1945, after three years of war, an American victory was all but assured. The U.S. military “had control of the sea and air and were systematically eliminating [Japan’s] ability to wage war.” The Japanese “were surrounded by the Navy. They couldn’t get any imports and they couldn’t export anything.” That Japan was by all means defeated is a fact which even the highest officials of the U.S. military establishment and the officially-appointed U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey attested to. According to Admiral William Leahy, the de facto Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and highest ranked military officer from 1942-1949, “The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons.” In the words of General (and future President) Dwight D. Eisenhower, “The Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing.” The scientific director of the “Manhattan Project” (which produced the first nuclear weapons) himself, J. Robert Oppenheimer, stated that the bombs were dropped on “an essentially defeated enemy”. In fact the Japanese had made it known that they were willing to surrender but for one condition, that they be allowed to retain their Emperor as constitutional monarch. In the opinion of Ellis Zacharias, the Deputy Director of the Office of Naval Intelligence, “Just when the Japanese were ready to capitulate, we went ahead and introduced to the world the most devastating weapon it had ever seen.” Even the hot-blooded General Douglas MacArthur was of the opinion that dropping A-bombs on Japan was unnecessary. “The war might have ended weeks earlier,” said MacArthur, “if the United States had agreed, as it later did anyway, to the retention of the institution of the emperor.” And finally there was General Curtis LeMay who would assert without reservation, “The atomic bomb had nothing to do with the end of the war at all.”
The sole condition onto which Japan tied its surrender – that of retaining their Emperor Hirohito – had been on the table since the end of 1944, and the Roosevelt White House and U.S. Military establishment were both fully aware of this. Two days prior to the Yalta Conference at which the leaders of the major ‘Allied’ powers – Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin – met, Gen. Douglas MacArthur sent to President Roosevelt a summary of the Japanese position, including its sole condition of surrender. This he was able to do due to the fact that the U.S. military had decoded the Japanese code years earlier and therefore was able to intercept and read all messages sent from Japan to its foreign emissaries, including one from February 24, 1945 from Japanese foreign minister Shigerori Togo declaring, “It is his Majesty’s heart’s desire to see swift termination of the war.” According to MacArthur’s summary of the intercepted telegrams,
“The Japanese would accept an occupation, cease hostilities, surrender its arms, remove all troops from occupied territories, submit to criminal war trials, let its industries be regulated, asking only that their emperor be retained.”
The above is exactly what came to pass, only the Americans would make the decision to carry out the war for seven more months instead of simply allowing for the single condition that the emperor remain, a condition they later acceded to anyway. As Counter Punch‘s Thomas Knapp put it,
“The US fought two of the war’s bloodiest battles — Iwo Jima and Okinawa, at a cost of tens of thousands of Americans killed — then unleashed Little Boy and Fat Man on Japan’s civilian population, rather than accept that condition. But once the war was over, Hirohito was allowed to remain Emperor.”
During the early morning hours of August 6, 1945, at precisely 8:16 a.m. Japanese time, the B-29 bomber plane known as Enola Gay unleashed for the first time in history a weapon of mass destruction on a civilian population when it dropped the atomic bomb known as “Little Boy” on a highly-populated area in the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Of a population of 350,000 people, 100,000 were immediately incinerated. In the days and weeks to come, tens of thousands more would succumb to their wounds, and those who survived would suffer effects such as tumors and cancer, caused by the intense radiation, for the rest of their lives. According to the Los Angeles Times, of the more than 140,000 victims killed, 95% were “women and children and other noncombatants.” Survivor Setsuko Thurlow, who was at school with her classmates when the bomb hit, recalls being one of only three of her classmates to have survived the bomb’s initial impact. The others she remembers screaming as they were burned alive. Equally horrifying was the sight of many of the bomb’s survivors on the streets. “Parts of their bodies were missing,” she recalls, “flesh and skin hanging from their bones, some with their eyeballs hanging in their hands, and some with their stomachs burst open, with their intestines hanging out.”
And then, not even three days after plunging Hiroshima into ruins and creating a living hell on earth, the Enola Gay dropped yet another atomic bomb, this one given the name “Fat Man”, on a mostly civilian-populated city – Nagasaki. 50,000 people were killed on impact, and tens of thousands more died in the days and weeks to follow. This second atomic bombing of a Japanese city “followed so closely upon the first there was no time for the Japanese war council to meet with the emperor and reach their conclusion to surrender.” The terms of surrender for the Japanese were made known five days later, on August 14. According to the terms deemed acceptable by the U.S., Hirohito would remain as Emperor of Japan, proving without a shadow of a doubt that the dropping of “Little Boy” and “Fat Man” on the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were unnecessary acts of aggression (war crimes). President Harry S. Truman, whose decision it ultimately was to use the bombs, was fully aware his actions would lead to “the burning, mutilation, blinding, irradiation of hundreds of thousands of Japanese men, women, and children.” Even the U.S.’s own official Strategic Bombing Survey came to the disturbing conclusion that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were chosen as the two targets “precisely due to their concentration of activities and population.” [Zinn, pg. 424.] In the case of Nagasaki, there is some speculation that the true purpose of dropping this bomb was seeing the effects of what a bomb made of plutonium as opposed to uranium (which was what “Little Boy” was made from) would do to a city and its population. What is no longer doubted however is the fact that at least the first bomb was dropped as a warning to the Soviet Union, as if to say, “Do not challenge us. Otherwise, this is what will become of you.” This is underlied by the fact that Stalin had agreed earlier at the Yalta Conference to join the United States in the war against Japan after defeating Germany in Europe. Once the Soviets began to make good on this promise, the decision was made to end the war in such a way that the U.S. would emerge as the sole-occupier of Japan. In a sense it was the initiating act of the Cold War.
In the immediate aftermath of the bombing of Hiroshima (and days later Nagasaki), the American public was bombarded with pro-military propaganda claiming the bombings were not only morally justifiable but were in fact necessary because they “saved over a million American lives” that would have been lost in event of a ground invasion. Interestingly, the man who came up with this number later admitted to essentially pulling it from his ass. Yet it is still cited in high school and college textbooks across the nation. The late great historian Howard Zinn once noted how in the minds of the U.S. military establishment, “if Americans can be induced to accept [the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki], they can accept any war, any means, so long as the war makers can supply a reason.” Unfortunately the general American public has subsequently demonstrated many times over that no atrocity is too egregious to tolerate being committed in their name.
***Below is a set of images from those fateful days and their aftermath in August, 1945. Weapons of war, death and destruction are the true legacy the United States has left on this world. We can either learn from this, or we can continue on the path to ultimate annihilation that those who control the U.S. military industrial complex seem most intent on doing.