The Hiroshima Lie

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Every year
during the first two weeks of August the mass news media and many
politicians at the national level trot out the "patriotic"
political myth that the dropping of the two atomic bombs on Japan
in August of 1945 caused them to surrender, and thereby saved the
lives of anywhere from five hundred thousand to one million American
soldiers, who did not have to invade the islands. Opinion polls
over the last fifty years show that American citizens overwhelmingly
(between 80 and 90%) believe this false history which, of course,
makes them feel better about killing hundreds of thousands of Japanese
civilians (mostly women and children) and saving American lives
to accomplish the ending of the war.

The best book,
in my opinion, to explode this myth is The
Decision to Use the Bomb
by Gar Alperovitz, because it not
only explains the real reasons the bombs were dropped, but also
gives a detailed history of how and why the myth was created that
this slaughter of innocent civilians was justified, and therefore
morally acceptable. The essential problem starts with President
Franklin Roosevelt's policy of unconditional surrender, which was
reluctantly adopted by Churchill and Stalin, and which President
Truman decided to adopt when he succeeded Roosevelt in April of
1945. Hanson Baldwin was the principal writer for The New York
Times who covered World War II and he wrote an important book
immediately after the war entitled Great
Mistakes of the War
. Baldwin concludes that the unconditional
surrender policy ". . . was perhaps the biggest political mistake
of the war . . . . Unconditional surrender was an open invitation
to unconditional resistance; it discouraged opposition to Hitler,
probably lengthened the war, costs us lives, and helped to lead
to the present aborted peace."

The stark fact
is that the Japanese leaders, both military and civilian, including
the Emperor, were willing to surrender in May of 1945 if the Emperor
could remain in place and not be subjected to a war crimes trial
after the war. This fact became known to President Truman as early
as May of 1945. The Japanese monarchy was one of the oldest in all
of history dating back to 660 B.C. The Japanese religion added the
belief that all the Emperors were the direct descendants of the
sun goddess, Amaterasu. The reigning Emperor Hirohito was the 124th
in the direct line of descent. After the bombs were dropped on August
6 and 9 of 1945, and their surrender soon thereafter, the Japanese
were allowed to keep their Emperor on the throne and he was not
subjected to any war crimes trial. The Emperor, Hirohito, came on
the throne in 1926 and continued in his position until his death
in 1989. Since President Truman, in effect, accepted the conditional
surrender offered by the Japanese as early as May of 1945, the question
is posed, "Why then were the bombs dropped?"

The author
Alperovitz gives us the answer in great detail which can only be
summarized here, but he states, "We have noted a series of
Japanese peace feelers in Switzerland which OSS Chief William Donovan
reported to Truman in May and June [1945]. These suggested, even
at this point, that the U.S. demand for unconditional surrender
might well be the only serious obstacle to peace. At the center
of the explorations, as we also saw, was Allen Dulles, chief of
OSS operations in Switzerland (and subsequently Director of the
CIA). In his 1966 book The
Secret Surrender
, Dulles recalled that u2018On July 20, 1945,
under instructions from Washington, I went to the Potsdam Conference
and reported there to Secretary [of War] Stimson on what I had learned
from Tokyo — they desired to surrender if they could retain the
Emperor and their constitution as a basis for maintaining discipline
and order in Japan after the devastating news of surrender became
known to the Japanese people.'" It is documented by Alperovitz
that Stimson reported this directly to Truman. Alperovitz further
points out in detail the documentary proof that every top presidential
civilian and military advisor, with the exception of James Byrnes,
along with Prime Minister Churchill and his top British military
leadership, urged Truman to revise the unconditional surrender policy
so as to allow the Japanese to surrender and keep their Emperor.
All this advice was given to Truman prior to the Potsdam Proclamation
which occurred on July 26, 1945. This proclamation made a final
demand upon Japan to surrender unconditionally or suffer drastic

Another startling
fact about the military connection to the dropping of the bomb is
the lack of knowledge on the part of General MacArthur about the
existence of the bomb and whether it was to be dropped. Alperovitz
states "MacArthur knew nothing about advance planning for the
atomic bomb's use until almost the last minute. Nor was he personally
in the chain of command in this connection; the order came straight
from Washington. Indeed, the War Department waited until five days
before the bombing of Hiroshima even to notify MacArthur — the commanding
general of the U.S. Army Forces in the Pacific — of the existence
of the atomic bomb."

makes it very clear that the main person Truman was listening to
while he ignored all of this civilian and military advice, was James
Byrnes, the man who virtually controlled Truman at the beginning
of his administration. Byrnes was one of the most experienced political
figures in Washington, having served for over thirty years in both
the House and the Senate. He had also served as a United States
Supreme Court Justice, and at the request of President Roosevelt,
he resigned that position and accepted the role in the Roosevelt
administration of managing the domestic economy. Byrnes went to
the Yalta Conference with Roosevelt and then was given the responsibility
to get Congress and the American people to accept the agreements
made at Yalta.

When Truman
became a senator in 1935, Byrnes immediately became his friend and
mentor and remained close to Truman until Truman became president.
Truman never forgot this and immediately called on Byrnes to be
his number-two man in the new administration. Byrnes had expected
to be named the vice presidential candidate to replace Wallace and
had been disappointed when Truman had been named, yet he and Truman
remained very close. Byrnes had also been very close to Roosevelt,
while Truman was kept in the dark by Roosevelt most of the time
he served as vice president. Truman asked Byrnes immediately, in
April, to become his Secretary of State but they delayed the official
appointment until July 3, 1945, so as not to offend the incumbent.
Byrnes had also accepted a position on the interim committee which
had control over the policy regarding the atom bomb, and therefore,
in April, 1945 became Truman's main foreign policy advisor, and
especially the advisor on the use of the atomic bomb. It was Byrnes
who encouraged Truman to postpone the Potsdam Conference and his
meeting with Stalin until they could know, at the conference, if
the atomic bomb was successfully tested. While at the Potsdam Conference
the experiments proved successful and Truman advised Stalin that
a new massively destructive weapon was now available to America,
which Byrnes hoped would make Stalin back off from any excessive
demands or activity in the post-war period.

Truman secretly
gave the orders on July 25, 1945 that the bombs would be dropped
in August while he was to be in route back to America. On July 26,
he issued the Potsdam Proclamation, or ultimatum, to Japan to surrender,
leaving in place the unconditional surrender policy, thereby causing
both Truman and Byrnes to believe that the terms would not be accepted
by Japan.

The conclusion
drawn unmistakably from the evidence presented, is that Byrnes is
the man who convinced Truman to keep the unconditional surrender
policy and not accept Japan's surrender so that the bombs could
actually be dropped thereby demonstrating to the Russians that America
had a new forceful leader in place, a "new sheriff in Dodge"
who, unlike Roosevelt, was going to be tough with the Russians on
foreign policy and that the Russians needed to "back off"
during what would become known as the "Cold War." A secondary
reason was that Congress would now be told about why they had made
the secret appropriation to a Manhattan Project and the huge expenditure
would be justified by showing that not only did the bombs work but
that they would bring the war to an end, make the Russians back
off and enable America to become the most powerful military force
in the world.

If the surrender
by the Japanese had been accepted between May and the end of July
of 1945 and the Emperor had been left in place, as in fact he was
after the bombing, this would have kept Russia out of the war. Russia
agreed at Yalta to come into the Japanese war three months after
Germany surrendered. In fact, Germany surrendered on May 8, 1945
and Russia announced on August 8, (exactly three months thereafter)
that it was abandoning its neutrality policy with Japan and entering
the war. Russia's entry into the war for six days allowed them to
gain tremendous power and influence in China, Korea, and other key
areas of Asia. The Japanese were deathly afraid of Communism and
if the Potsdam Proclamation had indicated that America would accept
the conditional surrender allowing the Emperor to remain in place
and informed the Japanese that Russia would enter the war if they
did not surrender, then this would surely have assured a quick Japanese

The second
question that Alperovitz answers in the last half of the book is
how and why the Hiroshima myth was created. The story of the myth
begins with the person of James B. Conant, the President of Harvard
University, who was a prominent scientist, having initially made
his mark as a chemist working on poison gas during World War I.
During World War II, he was chairman of the National Defense Research
Committee from the summer of 1941 until the end of the war and he
was one of the central figures overseeing the Manhattan Project.
Conant became concerned about his future academic career, as well
as his positions in private industry, because various people began
to speak out concerning why the bombs were dropped. On September
9, 1945, Admiral William F. Halsey, commander of the Third Fleet,
was publically quoted extensively as stating that the atomic bomb
was used because the scientists had a "toy and they wanted
to try it out . . . ." He further stated, "The first atomic
bomb was an unnecessary experiment . . . . It was a mistake to ever
drop it." Albert Einstein, one of the world's foremost scientists,
who was also an important person connected with the development
of the atomic bomb, responded and his words were headlined in The
New York Times "Einstein Deplores Use of Atom Bomb."
The story reported that Einstein stated that "A great majority
of scientists were opposed to the sudden employment of the atom
bomb." In Einstein's judgment, the dropping of the bomb was
a political — diplomatic decision rather than a military or scientific

Probably the
person closest to Truman, from the military standpoint, was Chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral William Leahy, and there was
much talk that he also deplored the use of the bomb and had strongly
advised Truman not to use it, but advised rather to revise the unconditional
surrender policy so that the Japanese could surrender and keep the
Emperor. Leahy's views were later reported by Hanson Baldwin in
an interview that Leahy "thought the business of recognizing
the continuation of the Emperor was a detail which should have been
solved easily." Leahy's secretary, Dorothy Ringquist, reported
that Leahy told her on the day the Hiroshima bomb was dropped, "Dorothy,
we will regret this day. The United States will suffer, for war
is not to be waged on women and children." Another important
naval voice, the commander in chief of the U.S. Fleet and Chief
of Naval Operations, Ernest J. King, stated that the naval blockade
and prior bombing of Japan in March of 1945, had rendered the Japanese
helpless and that the use of the atomic bomb was both unnecessary
and immoral. Also, the opinion of Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz
was reported to have said in a press conference on September 22,
1945, that "The Admiral took the opportunity of adding his
voice to those insisting that Japan had been defeated before the
atomic bombing and Russia's entry into the war." In a subsequent
speech at the Washington Monument on October 5, 1945, Admiral Nimitz
stated "The Japanese had, in fact, already sued for peace before
the atomic age was announced to the world with the destruction of
Hiroshima and before the Russian entry into the war." It was
learned also that on or about July 20, 1945, General Eisenhower
had urged Truman, in a personal visit, not to use the atomic bomb.
Eisenhower's assessment was "It wasn't necessary to hit them
with that awful thing . . . to use the atomic bomb, to kill and
terrorize civilians, without even attempting [negotiations], was
a double crime." Eisenhower also stated that it wasn't necessary
for Truman to "succumb" to Byrnes.

James Conant
came to the conclusion that some important person in the administration
must go public to show that the dropping of the bombs was a military
necessity, thereby saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of
American soldiers, so he approached Harvey Bundy and his son, McGeorge
Bundy. It was agreed by them that the most important person to create
this myth was Secretary of War, Henry Stimson. It was decided that
Stimson would write a long article to be widely circulated in a
prominent national magazine. This article was revised repeatedly
by McGeorge Bundy and Conant before it was published in Harper's
magazine in February of 1947. The long article became the subject
of a front-page article and editorial in The New York Times
and in the editorial it was stated "There can be no doubt that
the president and Mr. Stimson are right when they mention that the
bomb caused the Japanese to surrender." Later, in 1959, President
Truman specifically endorsed this conclusion, including the idea
that it saved the lives of a million American soldiers. This myth
has been renewed annually by the news media and various political
leaders ever since.

It is very
pertinent that, in the memoirs of Henry Stimson entitled On
Active Service in Peace and War
, he states, "Unfortunately,
I have lived long enough to know that history is often not what
actually happened but what is recorded as such."

To bring this
matter more into focus from the human tragedy standpoint, I recommend
the reading of a book entitled Hiroshima
Diary: The Journal of a Japanese Physician
, August 6, September
30, 1945, by Michiko Hachiya. He was a survivor of Hiroshima
and kept a daily diary about the women, children and old men that
he treated on a daily basis in the hospital. The doctor was badly
injured himself but recovered enough to help others and his account
of the personal tragedies of innocent civilians who were either
badly burned or died as a result of the bombing puts the moral issue
into a clear perspective for all of us to consider.

that we live in the nuclear age and there are enough nuclear weapons
spread around the world to destroy civilization, we need to face
the fact that America is the only country to have used this awful
weapon and that it was unnecessary to have done so. If Americans
would come to recognize the truth, rather than the myth, it might
cause such a moral revolt that we would take the lead throughout
the world in realizing that wars in the future may well become nuclear,
and therefore all wars must be avoided at almost any cost. Hopefully,
our knowledge of science has not outrun our ability to exercise
prudent and humane moral and political judgment to the extent that
we are destined for extermination.

2, 2006

V. Denson [send him
] is the editor of two books, The
Costs of War
and Reassessing
the Presidency
. In the latter work, he has chapters especially
relevant for today, on how Lincoln and FDR lied us into war.

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