Saturday, August 09, 2008

Remembering Hiroshima and Nagasaki

On Wednesday and today , Saturday , people remembered the dropping of the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki .

Was the toll of all those innocent civilians justified because it shortened the war and saved the lives of tens of thousands American troops ?

An article from the Socialist Standard questions the validity of that claim .

Understandably Allied servicemen involved in the Pacific war, many of whom experienced the unspeakable horrors of Japanese prisoner of war camps, welcomed the atomic bombs as a “miracle of deliverance”. With a few notable exceptions, even those historians who conclude that dropping the bombs was not necessary to obtain Allied victory – that it would not even have been necessary to invade Japan – generally accept that using the bombs probably shortened the war. Even if only by a few weeks. In the grim reality of war, the life of a single comrade saved is worth a thousand enemy slain.

But what would such men think if they knew that, far from shortening the war, the atomic bombs actually prolonged it? That for all the crocodile tears shed about the “terrible plight” of the captives; for all hollow praise heaped upon the “heroic sacrifices” of the armed forces they were, after all, merely expendable pawns in the unrelenting hostilities of power politics? That “bringing our boys back as soon as possible”, was not actually the first order of business?

By the time the atom bombs were dropped, Allied victory through overwhelming military superiority was virtually assured.
Japanese diplomats initiated peace feelers as early as late summer 1944. They continued to do so - through Sweden, Switzerland, Russia and even the Vatican. Particular efforts were made via Moscow in the (mistaken) belief that the Neutrality Pact that existed between Japan and Russia made it the most viable channel.
Following the collapse of Okinawa (21 June 1945), Emperor Hirohito told the Supreme Council for the Direction of War to reverse their “Basic Policy”, urging them to seek peace by diplomatic means: “You will consider the question of ending the war as soon as possible”. It was the specific mission of the new cabinet of Prime Minister, Baron Kantaro Suzuki (appointed 7 April 1945), to seek peace. Neither the US nor Russia were interested in Japan’s efforts for peace; the US wanted to wait until it could drop the atom bombs and Russia until it was ready to declare war.

US Strategic Bombing Survey concluded, less than a year after the bomb had been dropped:

“Certainly before 31 December 1945 and in all probability before 1 November 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bomb had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated.”

Some historians argue that the bombs were unnecessary precisely because Russia intended to enter the war.

Projected invasion casualties ranging from “hundreds of thousands” to “millions” were post-war exaggerations designed to contribute to the successful establishment of a public justification for the dropping of the bombs.

The Japanese forces was described by Hanson W. Baldwin as consisting of “Green conscripts and second rate troops”; communication lines were in disarray; fuel was in extremely short supply; roads were in a poor state of repair; transport and transportation could be bombed at will; ports were becoming paralysed; food was scarce; illness through malnutrition was an increasing problem and (not surprisingly) public morale was diminishing by the day. In marked contrast to this, the US armed might remained immensely powerful.

Major General Curtis E. LeMay expressed the truth quite bluntly a few weeks after formal surrender of the Japanese Emperor. “The atomic bomb,” he stated, “had nothing to do with the end of the war”.

Since Hiroshima was designated as a major port and home of Regional Army Headquarters and the northern sectors of Nagasaki contained the Mitsubishi Steel and Arms Works, why did they remain largely untouched until the Bombs were dropped (Hiroshima hardly damaged at all and Nagasaki comparatively unscathed)?

The answer is provided by the proposals of the Target Committee, 27 April 1945:

“To enable us to assess accurately the effects of the bomb, the targets should not have been previously damaged by air raids.”

A complex labyrinth of reasons lay behind the decision to drop the atomic bombs. Once the vastly expensive machinery of production had commenced, and the original purpose of its instigation forgotten, sufficient resolve not to use it ceased to exist. The astronomical investment of public funds needed to be justified; the widespread public antipathy of the American population towards the Japanese following the Pearl Harbour attack, demanded revenge – a mood of which the American leadership was acutely aware. As Secretary for War Stimson subsequently observed:
“No man, in our position and subject to our responsibilities, holding in his hands a weapon of such possibilities could have failed to use it and afterwards look his countrymen in the face”.

The fact that two bombs were dropped, however – without warning – on specifically targeted and crowded locations which had been spared aerial bombardment; the fact that each bomb had different technology (one uranium-explosion; one plutonium-implosion), each with different yields, dropped at different heights but both resulting in prolonged and deadly after-effects of which little was understood, suggests the conclusion that the primary motives might have been the seldom mentioned (almost unmentionable) one of “scientific” experimentation.

Leaflets were dropped warning of an atomic attack. In an act of macabre cynicism that almost defies belief, those leaflets were not dropped until 9 August - three days after the bombing. Things improved for Nagasaki - they were only one day late.

Extracts from the Socialist Standard here and here

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