On his visit to Hiroshima last May, Obama did not apologise for the August 6, 1945 atomic bombing. Instead he gave a high-sounding speech against war. He did this as he was waging ongoing drone war in faraway countries and approving plans to spend a trillion dollars upgrading the US nuclear arsenal.
An apology would have been as useless as his speech. Empty words don’t change anything. But here was one thing that Obama could have said that would have had a real impact: he could have told the truth. He could have said:
“The atom bombs were not dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki ‘to save lives by ending the war’. That was an official lie. The bombs were dropped to see how they worked and to show the world that the United States possessed unlimited destructive power.”
There was no chance that Obama would say that. Officially, the bombing “saved lives” and therefore, it was worth it. Like the Vietnamese villages we destroyed in order to save them, like the countless Iraqi children who died as a result of US sanctions, the hundreds of thousands of agonising women and children in two Japanese cities remain on the debit side of the United States accounts with humanity, unpaid and unpunished.
The decision to destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a political not a military decision. The targets were not military, the effects were not military. The attacks were carried out against the wishes of all major military leaders. Admiral William Leahy, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote in his memoirs 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…” General Eisenhower, General MacArthur, even General Hap Arnold, commander of the Air Force, were opposed. Japan was already devastated by fire bombing, facing mass hunger from the US naval blockade, demoralised by the surrender of its German ally, and fearful of an imminent Russian attack. In reality, the war was over. All top US leaders knew that Japan was defeated and was seeking to surrender.
President Harry S Truman was meeting with Churchill and Stalin in the Berlin suburb of Potsdam when secret news came that the New Mexico test of the atomic bomb was a success. Observers recall that Truman was “a changed man”, euphoric with the possession of such power. While more profound men shuddered at the implications of this destructive force, to Truman and his “conniving” Secretary of State, James Byrnes, the message was: “Now we can get away with everything.”
They proceeded to act on that assumption – first of all in their relations with Moscow. In response to months of US urging, Stalin promised to enter the Asian war three months after the defeat of Nazi Germany, which occurred in early May 1945. It was well known that the Japanese occupation forces in China and Manchuria could not resist the Red Army. It was understood that two things could bring about Japan’s immediate surrender: Russia’s entrance into the war and US assurance that the royal family would not be treated as war criminals.
Both these things happened in the days right after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But they were overshadowed by the atom bomb. And that was the point. That way, the US atom bombs got full credit for ending the war. But that is not all.
The demonstrated possession of such a weapon gave Truman and Byrnes such a sense of power that they could abandon previous promises to the Russians and attempt to bully Moscow in Europe. In that sense, the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki not only gratuitously killed hundreds of thousands of civilians. They also started the Cold War.
This article has been excerpted: ‘Hiroshima: the Crime That Keeps on Paying, But Beware the Reckoning’.