I was almost a year old when the US dropped the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Since then I have read and watched numerous accounts of that historic event. It is difficult for me to explain my lingering concern about these events throughout my life. Yet, in the late 1980s I worked with Greenpeace Action in San Diego for a few years, and this rekindled my passion for nuclear issues.
To this day I am worried about nuclear proliferation and the fact that we still have 26,000 nuclear weapons in the world and the delivery systems to send them into the world’s major cities. And I do not see an honest "anti nuclear proliferation" position from my own government. What happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki still worries me.
During the peak of the rush hour on the morning of August 6, 1945, a nuclear bomb exploded 600 meters above the Shima Hospital in Central Hiroshima. A huge fireball expanded with a temperature of about 300,000 degrees, and a blast wave soon incinerated all it came in contact with. It is estimated that 100,000 people died instantly,and that 95,000 of them were civilians. Another 100, 000 civilians died an excruciatingly slow death from radiation poisoning.
Truman justified the horrible deed of dropping the nuclear bombs by claiming that it saved a million American lives, the number he said it would take to invade and occupy the main Japanese island. This is an arbitrary number that Truman estimated from somewhere deep in his brain. Yet some scholars disagree that such an invasion would be necessary.
In his excellent scholarly study entitled The Decision To Use The Bomb and The Construction of an American Myth, Gar Alperovitz presents evidence that Japan had already communicated an offer of surrender to the US, and that the only Japanese condition was that they be allowed to retain Emperor Hirohito and his office. The US would not talk and demanded an "unconditional surrender." Alperopvitz quotes several high ranking US military men who felt the use of the bomb was unnecessary and immoral.
By late July and early August 1945, the allied bombing campaign had left Japan in ruins. There was no Air Force to defend their cities from the American bombers that would obliterate Hiroshima and Nagasaki with nuclear firebombs. The American bombers floated calmly over the cities and dropped their payload, then calmly flew away without a scratch. There was no effective resistance from the air.
Most of Japan’s major cities had already been destroyed through the allies horrifying "firebombing" campaigns. A hundred thousand died horrendous deaths in the firebombing of Tokyo alone.
By July, the destruction of Japans six largest cities pressured Japanese diplomats to seek American allies to discuss terms of peace. No response was forthcoming. Hirohito even sent a telegraph message to Truman asking for peace. But it was too late. On July 26, 1945, the POTSDAM DECLARATION threatened Japan with complete destruction if it did not accept the American and British ultimatum of unconditional surrender. The US never warned Japan that it had the atom bomb.
Germany had already surrendered on May 8, 1945, so the Nazi war machine had already been neutralized. Eisenhower and other generals protested the decision stating that dropping the nuclear weapon was "unnecessary" and that Japan had already offered to surrender. This took courage.
In July of 1946, the US STRATEGIC BOMBING SURVEY offered the government’s official report on the Air War Against Japan. It reads:
Japan would have surrendered even if atom bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated. The Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs did not defeat Japan, nor by the testimony of the leaders who ended the war did they persuade Japan to accept unconditional surrender.
However, a constant rewriting of history by nationalist and "patriotic" historians since then has continually buried this report and replaced it with the current myth that it was absolutely necessary, a myth which is repeated on the locale news and in local newspapers every August 6th.
For years I have questioned the mythology that says we had to drop nukes on Japan. I guess you could say I have never accepted it. Still don’t.
We should have negotiated a surrender for Japan. We had a choice – dropping the atom bomb was as unnecessary as invading Iraq. But rationality did not prevail. Why can’t we admit it?
Such a decision would have still ended the war and most likely saved hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilian lives and perhaps, a good deal of American dignity and honor as well.