Whitewashing Hiroshima: The Uncritical Glorification of American Militarism

in 1995, the Smithsonian Institute was preparing an honest but aggressive
display dealing with the 50th anniversary of the atomic bombings
of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Amid much right-wing reactionary wrangling,
from various ultrapatriotic veterans groups all the way up to the
Newt Gringrich-dominated Congress, the Smithsonian was forced to
eliminate that painful but historically important part of the story
– the Japanese civilian perspective. So again we had another
example of powerful politically conservative ultrapatriotic groups
influencing public policy – and messing with history because
they didn’t have the courage to face up to unpleasant historical

historians did have a gun to their heads, of course, but in the
mle, the media and the public overlooked a vital historical point.
And that is this: The two bombs did not have to be used to end the
war and there wouldn’t have been a bloody American invasion of Japan.
American intelligence, with the full knowledge of President Truman,
was fully aware of Japan’s desperate search for ways to honorably
surrender weeks before the order was given for the American-led
nuclear Holocaust that was Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

intelligence data, revealed in the 1980s, show that a large-scale
US invasion (planned for no sooner than November 1, 1945) would
have been unnecessary. Japan was working on peace negotiations with
the Allies through its Moscow ambassador in July of 1945. Truman
knew of these developments because the US had broken the Japanese
code years earlier, and all of Japan’s military and diplomatic messages
were being intercepted. On July 13, 1945, Foreign Minister Togo
said: “Unconditional surrender (giving up all sovereignty)
is the only obstacle to peace.” Truman knew this, and the war could
have ended by simply conceding a post-war figurehead position for
the emperor, a leader regarded as a deity in Japan. That concession
was refused by the US; the Japanese continued negotiating for peace;
and the bombs were dropped. And, ironically, after the war, the
emperor was allowed to remain in place. So what were the real reasons
for 1) the refusal to accept Japan’s offer of surrender and 2) the
decision to proceed with the bombings?

after WWII, military analyst Hanson Baldwin wrote: “The Japanese,
in a military sense, were in a hopeless strategic situation by the
time the Potsdam demand for unconditional surrender was made on
July 26, 1945.” Admiral William Leahy, top military aide to President
Truman, said in his war memoirs, I
Was There
: “It is my opinion 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 because of the effective sea blockade and the successful
bombing with conventional weapons. My own feeling is that in being
the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to
the barbarians of the Dark Ages.” And General Dwight Eisenhower

proceeded with the plans, but he never officially ordered the Nagasaki
bomb that followed Hiroshima. There are a number of factors that
helped Truman make his decision.

  1. The US
    had made a huge investment in time, mind and money ($2,000,000,000
    in 1940 dollars)
    to produce the bombs, and there was no inclination – and
    no guts – to stop the momentum.

  2. The US
    military – as did its citizens – had a bloodthirsty
    appetite for revenge because of Pearl Harbor. Mercy wasn’t the
    mind-set of these professed Christians, and the missions were
    accomplished – with glee.

  3. The Nagasaki
    bomb was a plutonium bomb and Hiroshima’s was uranium. Scientific
    curiosity certainly was a major factor at Nagasaki. The decision
    to use both had obviously been made well in advance. The three
    day interval was unconscionably inadequate – Japan being
    in shambles in its communications and transportation capabilities
    – and no one, not even the Japanese high command, fully
    understood what had happened at Hiroshima.

  4. The Russians
    had proclaimed their intent to enter the war with Japan 90 days
    after V-E Day, which would have been Aug. 8, two days after
    Hiroshima. Indeed, Russia did declare war on
    August 8 and was marching across Manchuria when the innocent
    civilians of Nagasaki were incinerated. The US didn’t want Japan
    surrendering to anybody else, especially an upcoming enemy,
    so the first nuclear “messages” of the infantile Cold War were
    sent. Russia indeed received less of the spoils of war, and
    the two superpowers were mired in mutual moral and economic
    near-bankruptcy for the rest of the century – with no end
    in sight.

estimated 80,000 innocent civilians – plus 20,000 young, essentially
weaponless Japanese conscripts – died instantly in the Hiroshima
bombing. Hundreds of thousands of others suffered agonizing burns
and infections for the rest of their shortened lives, and generations
of the survivor’s progeny inherited horrible radiation-induced illnesses,
cancers and premature death. What has been covered up is the fact
that 12 American POWs, Navy pilots, their existence well known to
the US command, were killed in a Hiroshima jail on Aug. 6.

75,000 Nagasaki victims were virtually all innocent civilians, except
for the inhabitants of an allied POW camp near Nagasaki’s ground
zero. They were instantaneously incinerated, carbonized and evaporated
by a scientific experiment carried out by obedient, unaware soldiers.
The War Dept. knew of the existence of the POWs but, when informed,
simply replied: “Targets previously assigned for Centerboard (atomic
bomb mission code name) remain unchanged.”

the end of the war in the Pacific was just one more myth in a long
list of myths we have been fed by our military and political leaders,
war being glorified in the process. A short list of some of the
others include the covered-up military actions (and frequently CIA-orchestrated
atrocities) in Korea, Viet Nam, Laos, Cambodia, Granada, Panama,
Iraq, the Philippines, Chile, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala,
Haiti, Colombia, etc., etc. But somehow we still hang on to our
shaky “my country right or wrong” patriotism, desperately wanting
to believe that our nation only works for peace, justice and democracy
and not mainly for the form of capitalism that has been corrupted
to its core. While it is true that the US military has faced down
a few despots, with natural heroism and sacrifice from the physically,
psychologically and spiritually dead and dying American soldiers,
more often than not our methods of rationalizing the atrocities
of war are identical to those of the “godless communists” or “evil
empire” on the other side of the battle line. August 6 and 9, 1945
are just two more examples of the brutalization of innocent civilians
in “total war," whether it is called “‘regretful' collateral
damage” or “friendly fire."

time has come for Americans to stand up for real justice and real
peace (rather than the fake variety of our unaffordable “armed truces”
that we have all over the world) by acknowledging the whole truth
of history and owning up to the numerous censored-out American war
crimes and crimes against humanity, that have been perpetrated in
our names over the last half-century. And then we need to start
accepting the consequences of our nation’s actions, like the courageous
and honorable people we claim to be. Doing what is right for the
whole of humanity for a change, rather than just what is advantageous
for us already over-privileged Americans, would be real honor, real
patriotism and an essential start toward real peace.

6, 2004

Kohls, MD [send him mail],
an associate of Every Church a Peace
, is a practicing physician in Duluth, MN.