When I first
went to Hiroshima in 1967, the shadow on the steps was still there.
It was an almost perfect impression of a human being at ease: legs
splayed, back bent, one hand by her side as she sat waiting for
a bank to open. At a quarter past eight on the morning of August
6, 1945, she and her silhouette were burned into the granite. I
stared at the shadow for an hour or more, then walked down to the
river and met a man called Yukio, whose chest was still etched with
the pattern of the shirt he was wearing when the atomic bomb was
He and his
family still lived in a shack thrown up in the dust of an atomic
desert. He described a huge flash over the city, "a bluish
light, something like an electrical short," after which wind
blew like a tornado and black rain fell. "I was thrown on the
ground and noticed only the stalks of my flowers were left. Everything
was still and quiet, and when I got up, there were people naked,
not saying anything. Some of them had no skin or hair. I was certain
I was dead." Nine years later, when I returned to look for
him, he was dead from leukemia.
In the immediate
aftermath of the bomb, the allied occupation authorities banned
all mention of radiation poisoning and insisted that people had
been killed or injured only by the bomb’s blast. It was the first
big lie. "No radioactivity in Hiroshima ruin" said the
front page of the New York Times, a classic of disinformation
and journalistic abdication, which the Australian reporter Wilfred
Burchett put right with his scoop of the century. "I write
this as a warning to the world," reported Burchett in the Daily
Express, having reached Hiroshima after a perilous journey, the
first correspondent to dare. He described hospital wards filled
with people with no visible injuries but who were dying from what
he called "an atomic plague." For telling this truth,
his press accreditation was withdrawn, he was pilloried and smeared — and vindicated.
bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a criminal act on an epic
scale. It was premeditated mass murder that unleashed a weapon of
intrinsic criminality. For this reason its apologists have sought
refuge in the mythology of the ultimate "good war," whose
"ethical bath," as Richard Drayton called it, has allowed
the west not only to expiate its bloody imperial past but to promote
60 years of rapacious war, always beneath the shadow of The Bomb.
The most enduring
lie is that the atomic bomb was dropped to end the war in the Pacific
and save lives. "Even without the atomic bombing attacks,"
concluded the United States Strategic Bombing Survey of 1946, "air
supremacy over Japan could have exerted sufficient pressure to bring
about unconditional surrender and obviate the need for invasion.
Based on a detailed investigation of all the facts, and supported
by the testimony of the surviving Japanese leaders involved, it
is the Survey’s opinion that … Japan would have surrendered even
if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not
entered the war and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated."
Archives in Washington contain US government documents that chart
Japanese peace overtures as early as 1943. None was pursued. A cable
sent on May 5, 1945 by the German ambassador in Tokyo and intercepted
by the US dispels any doubt that the Japanese were desperate to
sue for peace, including "capitulation even if the terms were
hard." Instead, the US secretary of war, Henry Stimson, told
President Truman he was "fearful" that the US air force
would have Japan so "bombed out" that the new weapon would
not be able "to show its strength." He later admitted
that "no effort was made, and none was seriously considered,
to achieve surrender merely in order not to have to use the bomb."
His foreign policy colleagues were eager "to browbeat the Russians
with the bomb held rather ostentatiously on our hip." General
Leslie Groves, director of the Manhattan Project that made the bomb,
testified: "There was never any illusion on my part that Russia
was our enemy, and that the project was conducted on that basis."
The day after Hiroshima was obliterated, President Truman voiced
his satisfaction with the "overwhelming success" of "the
the United States is believed to have been on the brink of using
nuclear weapons at least three times. In waging their bogus "war
on terror," the present governments in Washington and London
have declared they are prepared to make "preemptive" nuclear
strikes against non-nuclear states. With each stroke toward the
midnight of a nuclear Armageddon, the lies of justification grow
more outrageous. Iran is the current "threat." But Iran
has no nuclear weapons and the disinformation that it is planning
a nuclear arsenal comes largely from a discredited CIA-sponsored
Iranian opposition group, the MEK — just as the lies about Saddam
Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction originated with the Iraqi
National Congress, set up by Washington.
The role of
western journalism in erecting this straw man is critical. That
America’s Defense Intelligence Estimate says "with high confidence"
that Iran gave up its nuclear weapons program in 2003 has been consigned
to the memory hole. That Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad never
threatened to "wipe Israel off the map" is of no interest.
But such has been the mantra of this media "fact" that
in his recent, obsequious performance before the Israeli parliament,
Gordon Brown alluded to it as he threatened Iran, yet again.
progression of lies has brought us to one of the most dangerous
nuclear crises since 1945, because the real threat remains almost
unmentionable in western establishment circles and therefore in
the media. There is only one rampant nuclear power in the Middle
East and that is Israel. The heroic Mordechai Vanunu tried to warn
the world in 1986 when he smuggled out evidence that Israel was
building as many as 200 nuclear warheads. In defiance of UN resolutions,
Israel is today clearly itching to attack Iran, fearful that a new
American administration might, just might, conduct genuine negotiations
with a nation the west has defiled since Britain and America overthrew
Iranian democracy in 1953.
In the New
York Times on July 18, the Israeli historian Benny Morris, once
considered a liberal and now a consultant to his country’s political
and military establishment, threatened "an Iran turned into
a nuclear wasteland." This would be mass murder. For a Jew,
the irony cries out.
begs: are the rest of us to be mere bystanders, claiming, as good
Germans did, that "we did not know"? Do we hide ever more
behind what Richard Falk has called "a self-righteous, one-way,
legal/moral screen [with] positive images of western values and
innocence portrayed as threatened, validating a campaign of unrestricted
violence"? Catching war criminals is fashionable again. Radovan
Karadzic stands in the dock, but Sharon and Olmert, Bush and Blair
do not. Why not? The memory of Hiroshima requires an answer.
Pilger was born and educated in Sydney, Australia. He has been
a war correspondent, filmmaker and playwright. Based in London,
he has written from many countries and has twice won British journalism’s
highest award, that of "Journalist of the Year," for his
work in Vietnam and Cambodia. His new book, Tell
Me No Lies: Investigative Journalism and Its Triumphs, is
published by Jonathan Cape in June.