And Nagasaki Bombings
By Joseph Kay
6 August 2005
Part one: Prompt
and utter destruction
the early morning hours of August 6, 1945, an American B-29 warplane,
named the Enola Gay, rolled down the runway of an American airbase on
the Pacific island of Tinian. It flew for almost six hours, encountering
no resistance from the ground.
At 8:15 a.m. local
time, the plane dropped its payload over the clear skies of Hiroshima,
a Japanese city with an estimated population of 255,000. The atomic
bomb that the plane was carrying, Little Boy, detonated
some 600 meters above the city center, killing 80,000 people30
percent of the populationimmediately or within hours of the explosion.
Three days layer,
on August 9, a similar plane carrying a more powerful weapon left Tinian
but had more difficulty reaching its intended destination. After encountering
fire from the ground, and finding its target city Kokura covered in
clouds, it flew on to its second target, Nagasaki, a heavily industrialized
city of about 270,000. Due to the specific topological features of Nagasaki,
and to the fact that the bomb missed the city center, the effects were
slightly less devastating. An estimated 40,000 people were killed outright.
Over the next several
months, tens of thousands more died from their injuries, including radiation
sickness caused by the nuclear devices. While exact figures involving
such magnitudes are inherently difficult to come by, estimates of the
total number of men, women and children killed within four months of
the two blasts range from 200,000 to 350,000. Never before had such
devastation been wrought so quickly.
The bombs, combined
with a Soviet invasion of Japanese-controlled Manchuria on August 8,
led quickly to the end of the war in the Pacific. On September 2, the
government of Japan signed a treaty with the allied powers that essentially
ceded complete control of the country to the American military.
coming four months after the surrender of Germany, brought the Second
World War to an end. At the same time, it marked a new stage in the
increasingly antagonistic relationship between the United States and
the Soviet Union, which had been military allies in the war. Within
four years, the Soviet Union acquired its own nuclear weapon, initiating
a nuclear arms race that continued for four decades.
The official rationale
given by the US government for its use of nuclear weapons in the war
has always been that it was necessary to save American lives by avoiding
the necessity of an invasion of Japan. After the war, government officials,
facing criticism for their decision to use the bomb, suggested that
between 500,000 and 1 million Americans, and several million Japanese,
were saved by dropping the bombs that completely destroyed Hiroshima
This rationale has
always been highly suspect, and in subsequent years much evidence emerged
demonstrating that not only were the estimated casualty figures from
an invasion highly exaggerated, but that the war could have been quickly
ended even without an invasion.
While the reasons
for the use of the bombs are complex, they center around two interrelated
geopolitical aims of the American ruling elite at the end of the war:
(1) the desire to limit the influence of the Soviet Union in East Asia
by bringing the war to an end before the Soviet forces advanced far
into China toward Japan, and (2) the wish to have a physical demonstration
of the unrivaled power of the American military, and its willingness
to use this power to advance its interests.
The motives behind
the decision to use the atom bomb will be examined in detail in the
second part of this series. The contemporary significance of this most
terrible anniversaryincluding the recent explosion of American
militarism and the push to develop new types of nuclear weaponswill
be the subject of the third article.
A new type of bomb
The Potsdam declaration,
issued by the Allied powers on July 26, 1945, pledged the prompt
and utter destruction of Japan if it did not agree to unconditional
surrender. For the cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, this is certainly
what the atomic bombs brought.
By the time of the
bombing of Hiroshima, many of Japans large cities had been attacked
severely by American air power. After the US military had gained control
of Japanese airspace, the Air Force began to systematically bomb metropolitan
areas, including the devastating firebombing of Tokyo earlier in the
year, which killed an estimated 87,000 people. The fact that Hiroshima
had so far not been targeted was considered something of an anomaly
by its residents, since, in addition to civilian production facilities,
the city housed an important military headquarters.
bomb caught the people of Hiroshima unprepared. A weather scouting plane
had triggered sirens earlier in the morning, but an all-clear signal
had been given once it departed. The Enola Gay and two planes that were
accompanying it were assumed to be more scouting planes, and therefore
the alarms were not sounded when they flew over the city.
The blast of the
uranium bomb dropped on Hiroshima had the explosive equivalent of about
13,000 tons of TNT. The nuclear reaction in the bomb generated temperatures
of several million degrees Centigrade. At the hypocenter, the point
on the ground 600 meters below the explosion, temperatures reached 3,000
to 4,000 degrees Centigrade, two times the melting point of iron. The
intense flash of heat and light, which incinerated everything within
a kilometer-and-a-half of the hypocenter, was followed by an enormous
shock wave that destroyed most buildings within two kilometers.
The Hiroshima bomb
was targeted at the Aioi Bridge, which it missed by about 250 meters.
According to one account, the bomb exploded instead directly above a
hospital headed by a Dr. Shima: The Shima hospital and all its
patients were vaporized.... Eighty-eight percent of the people within
a radius of 1,500 feet died instantly or later on that day. Most others
within the circle perished in the following weeks or months.
Those close to the
hypocenter were instantly incinerated without leaving behind a trace,
except for perhaps a shadow on a wall or street where their bodies had
partially protected the surface from the initial flash of heat. One
author notes that those closest to the blast passed from being
to nothingness faster than any human physiology can register.
Those slightly farther
from the center of the explosion did not die immediately, but suffered
from severe third-degree burns all over their bodies, in particular
to any areas that were exposed directly to the heat. They suffered a
period of intense pain before dying of their injuries. Those who witnessed
the explosion and survived invariably describe these victims in the
most horrific terms.
A doctor who had
been on the outskirts of the city when the explosion occurred wrote
about what he saw as he rushed in to help the victims. He explained
how, as he approached the city center, a strange figure came up
to me little by little, unsteady on its feet. It surely seemed like
the form of a man but it was completely naked, bloody and covered with
mud. The body was completely swollen. Rags hung from its bare breast
and waist. The hands were held before the breasts with palms turned
down. Water dripped from the rags. Indeed, what I took to be rags were
in fact pieces of human skin and the water drops were human blood....
I looked at the road before me. Denuded, burnt and bloody, numberless
survivors stood in my path. They were massed together, some crawling
on their knees or on all fours, some stood with difficulty or leaned
on anothers shoulder.
of disfigured people with skin hanging down like rags is
common among those who survived to tell what they saw. Many saw people
roaming the streets, in intense pain, often blind from the burns or
deaf from the explosion, with their arms stretched out in front of them,
with forearms and hands dangling ... to prevent the painful friction
of raw surfaces rubbing together, some staggering like
died in this way. A doctor named Tabuchi described how, all through
the night, hundreds of injured people went past our house,
but this morning [August 7] they had stopped. I found them lying on
both sides of the road so thick that it was impossible to pass without
stepping on them. One survivor wrote how he witnessed Hundreds
of those still alive ... wandering around vacantly. Some were half-dead,
writhing in their misery.... They were no more than living corpses.
Many of those who
did not die immediately sought to find their way to the rivers or reservoirs
to seek relief from the burning pain. A survivor describes how he saw
that the long bank of the river at Choju-En was filled with a large
number of burned human beings. They occupied the bank as far as the
eye could see. The greatest number lay in the water rolling slowly at
the mercy of the waves, having drowned or died at the banks
edge. Another doctor, Hanoka, described how he saw fire reservoirs
filled to the brim with dead people who looked as though they had been
Much of the city
within several kilometers of the blasts center was completely
destroyed. Buildings that were not flattened by the explosion itself
were consumed in the ensuing fire that engulfed the largely wooden homes.
Many who were trapped when their homes collapsed over them died in this
Dr. Hachiya writes,
Hiroshima was no longer a city, but a burnt-over prairie. To the
east and to the west everything was flattened. The distant mountains
seemed nearer than I could ever remember. The hills of Ushita and the
woods of Nigitsu loomed out of the haze and smoke like the nose and
eyes of a face. How small Hiroshima was with its houses gone.
Within a week of
the explosions in both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, most of those who had
been severely injured had either died or were beginning to recover.
However, it was at this point that thousands of patients unexpectedly
began to experience sudden attacks of high fever which had risen
above forty degrees Celsius.... And then they began to bleed from their
mucous membranes and soon spat up quantities of blood.... It was also
at this time that an uncanny form of depilation, or hair loss, began
among the survivors. When patients raised their hands to their heads
while struggling with pain, their hair would fall out with a mere touch
of the fingers.
This was radiation
disease caused by the nuclear reaction, which emitted enormous quantities
of gamma rays. At the time, however, doctors in the city had not yet
learned about the peculiar nature of the bomb dropped over the city,
and speculated that the population was suffering from a wave of dysentery,
or perhaps chemical poisoning from something released by the bomb.
A British medical
report explained that the radiation released from the explosion did
not destroy the cells in the bloodstream, but attacked the primitive
cells in the bone marrow, from which most of the different types of
cells in the blood are formed. Therefore serious effects begin to appear
only as the fully-formed cells already in the blood die off gradually
and are not replaced as they would normally by new cells formed in the
bone marrow.... As red cell formation ceased, the patient began to suffer
from progressive anemia. As platelet formation ceased, the thin blood
seeped in small and large hemorrhages into the skin and the retina of
the eye, and sometimes into the intestines and the kidneys. The fall
in the number of white cells ... in severe cases lowered resistance,
so that the patient inevitably fell prey to some infection, usually
spreading from the mouth and accompanied by gangrene of the lips, the
tongue, and sometimes the throat.... Deaths probably began in about
a week after the explosion, reached a peak in about three weeks and
had for the most part ceased after six to eight weeks.
The radiation disease
affected those nearest the blast most severely. However, it left profound
psychological scars on many of those who survived, constantly tormented
by the thought that, though healthy today, they too could succumb tomorrow.
The above description
is derived primarily from testimony of survivors of the Hiroshima bomb.
However, the effects in Nagasaki were similar. The Nagasaki bomb was
dropped before the full devastation of the Hiroshima bomb had become
widely known. The day of the bombing was pushed up to August 9 from
August 11, because of poor weather forecasts for the latter date.
Nagasaki had long
been a principal port and one of the most beautiful cities on the Japanese
island of Kyushu. Its main industry was shipbuilding, which made it
a target for the second bomb. The bomb exploded over the suburb of Urakami,
home to what was then the largest cathedral in East Asia.
While there were
many atrocities committed during the Second World War, the bombings
of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were undoubtedly two of the greatest single
acts of wanton destruction, in which the lives of hundreds of thousands
of people, mainly civilians, were wiped out. They are events that should
not be allowed to slip from the memory of working people around the
worlda testament to the ruthlessness and destructive capacity
of American militarism.
1. Wyden, Peter. Day One: Before Hiroshima and After, Simon and Schuster:
New York, 1984, p. 253.
2. Frank, Richard. Downfall: The End of Imperial Japanese Empire, Random
House: New York, p. 265.
3. Hida Shuntaro. The Day Hiroshima Disappeared, in Hiroshimas
Shadows, edited by Kai Bird and Lawrence Lifschultz, The Pamphleteers
Press, Stony Creek, Connecticut: 1998, p. 419.
4. Hachiya, Michihiko. Hiroshima Diary, The University of North Carolina
Press, Chapel Hill: 1955. p. 4.
5. Frank, p. 266
6. Hachia, p. 14.
7. Okabe, Kosaku. Hiroshima Flash, in Hibakusha: Survivors
of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Kosei Publishing Co., Tokyo: 1986. p. 35.
8. Shuntaro, p. 419.
9. Hachiya, p.14.
10. Ibid., p. 8.
11. Shuntaro, p. 428.
12. Frank, p. 468.
Part two: American imperialism and the atom bomb
wreaked upon the populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki has long been
justified by the American government on the grounds that it was necessary
to save American lives. This rationale has not ceased to
be the officially sanctioned historical truth even though it has been
thoroughly debunked by evidence that has come out over the past sixty
To cite one example,
the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal wrote on August 5, 2005
that the bombs averted an invasion of the Japanese mainland, for
which the Truman Administration anticipated casualties of between 200,000
and one million. Moreover, a mainland invasion could have
resulted in millions of Japanese deaths. According to this calculus,
the hundreds of thousands of Japanese citizens, mainly civilians, who
suffered an inexpressible agony and death from the atom bomb were sacrificed
in the interest of preserving as many lives as possible.
Even if one were
to accept the premises of this argument, it would not mitigate the fundamental
criminalitylegal and moralinvolved in the annihilation of
these urban centers. However, the premises are entirely mythical. Not
only have the estimated casualty figures been exaggerated , but the
main reasons for the US governments decision to drop the bombs
had nothing to do with avoiding an American invasion of Japan.
As with any great
historical question, there were a number of different factors that went
into the decision to drop the bomb, and it will be impossible to deal
with all of them here. We will confine ourselves to touching on some
of the basic issues and documents.
It is first of all
necessary to note that the dropping of the atomic bombs on largely defenseless
citieswhich, while they held military headquarters or military-related
industries, were predominantly civilian in characterhad a certain
continuity with the manner in which the United States was carrying out
the war in the Pacific.
Once it had gained
control of Japanese airspace, the American military increasingly turned
to what can only be described as terrorist methodsindiscriminate
attacks on civilian populations for the purpose of spreading fear and
panic. Before Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the most devastating example of
these methods was the firebombing of Tokyo on March 9, 1945, which killed
some 87,000 people . This followed by less than a month the infamous
firebombing of the German city of Dresden, on February 13-14, 1945.
Despite its humanitarian
pretenses, the American military was demonstrating in these actions
that it was capable of acting just as brutally as Germany or Japan in
the conduct of war. There was an interesting exchange, during a discussion
between President Harry Truman and Secretary of War Henry Stimson on
June 6, 1945 that gives a sense of the manner in which the American
government considered the question of the mass annihilation of Japanese
in a memorandum that he raised certain pragmatic concerns with the area
bombing of Japanese cities being carried out by the US Air Force: I
told [Truman] I was anxious about this feature of the war for two reasons:
first, because I did not want to have the United States get the reputation
of outdoing Hitler in atrocities; and second, I was a little fearful
that before we could get ready the Air Force might have Japan so thoroughly
bombed out that the new weapon [the atom bomb] would not have a fair
background to show its strength. He laughed and said he understood
. Stimson was concerned that the wanton destruction of Japanese cities
would disrupt plans for the use of the atom bomb because there would
be no fair background, that is, a suitably populated and
intact urban center. The conversation also demonstrates that at this
point the United States completely dominated Japan militarily, able
to destroy its cities virtually at will.
The use of the bomb
as a terrorist weaponthat is, as a means of instilling mass terror
among the Japanese populationwas underscored in a meeting of the
Interim Committee on May 31, 1945. The Interim Committee consisted of
those directly involved in the Manhattan Project, such as Robert Oppenheimer
and other scientists, as well as Truman administration officials, including
Secretary of State James Byrnes and Secretary of War Stimson. It was
set up to discuss the use of the atomic bomb, propose targets and consider
related issues. According to a transcript of that meeting, After
much discussion concerning various types of targets and the effects
to be produced, the Secretary [of War Stimson] expressed the conclusion,
on which there was general agreement, that we could not give the Japanese
any warning; that we could not concentrate on a civilian area; but that
we should seek to make a profound psychological impression on as many
of the inhabitants as possible. At the suggestion of Dr. [James] Conant,
the Secretary agreed that the most desirable target would be a vital
war plant employing a large number of workers and closely surrounded
by workers houses (emphasis added).
Despite the reference
to not concentrating on a civilian area, the committee explicitly rejected
the use of the bomb first on a purely military or uninhabited region,
as some of the scientists who had worked with the panel recommended
Many of the scientists
who worked or supported the Manhattan Project did so because of their
intense hatred of Hitler and the Nazi regime. The project was originally
justified on the grounds that if Hitler were to acquire the bomb first
the consequences would be absolutely devastating. But by the time the
United States had perfected the technology, Germany had been defeated.
Nevertheless, the Truman administration not only decided to use the
bomb, but did so with evident glee. Truman famously declared that he
did not lose a nights sleep over the decision. According to one
account, when he heard the news about Hiroshima while crossing the Atlantic,
he declared, This is the greatest thing in history, and
then raced about the ship to spread the news, insisting that he
had never made a happier announcement. We have won the gamble,
he told the assembled and cheering crew .
Commenting on this
phenomenon, the historian Gabriel Jackson remarked, In the specific
circumstances of August 1945, the use of the atom bomb showed that a
psychologically very normal and democratically elected chief executive
could use the weapon just as the Nazi dictator would have used it. In
this way, the United Statesfor anyone concerned with moral distinctions
in the different types of governmentblurred the difference between
fascism and democracy.
The atomic bomb and the drive for American hegemony
Prior to World War
II, it would have been taken for granted that any civilized society
could use a weapon such as the atomic bomb only under the most desperate
conditions. The idea that such a weapon could be used against a civilian
population would have been considered incomprehensible unless done by
a society thoroughly debased and morally corrupted. And yet the United
States has the singular distinction of being the only country ever to
use an atomic bomb. Moreover, it used it not out of military necessity,
but for political and strategic reasons, above all, as a tool in its
conflict with the Soviet Union. To understand the broader interests
involved, it is necessary to place the events of August 6 and August
9, 1945 in their historical context.
By early 1945, the
war in Europe, begun in 1939, was coming to an end, though Germanys
final surrender did not take place until May. The turning point of the
war had been the German defeat at the Battle of Stalingrad in February
1943, followed by the American-British invasion of Europe in the spring
While the Soviet
Union was allied with the United States and Britain, there were enormous
divisions within the Allied camp. In spite of the Stalinist degeneration
of the USSR, the Soviet bureaucracy still based itself on the property
relations established in the October revolution of 1917. And in spite
of Stalins best efforts to accommodate the imperialist powers,
neither the British nor the American ruling elite ever reconciled themselves
to the existence of these property relations.
But at the time,
the United States and Britain required the help of the Soviet Union
in the war against both Germany and Japan. The leading role of the Red
Army in defeating Germany meant that the other powers were forced to
grant it concessions, particularly in Eastern Europe. At the conference
at Yalta in February 1945, the Big Three essentially agreed
to the division of Europe between them, including the joint control
of Germany. Moreover, the administration of US President Franklin Delano
Roosevelt felt that it was critical to gain Soviet participation in
the war against Japan in order to bring it to a quick conclusion. Since
1941, the Soviet Union and Japan had maintained what has been called
a strange neutrality: while the Soviet Union was at war
with Japans ally Germany and Japan was at war with the Soviet
Unions ally the United States, the two countries had agreed to
a neutrality pact in 1941, which stipulated that they not engage in
war with each other.
At Yalta, in return
for an agreement that the Soviet Union would join the war against Japan
in two or three months after Germanys surrender, Roosevelt
and Churchill accepted several territorial and commercial concessions,
including Soviet control of much of Mongolia and several islands and
ports near Japan that were considered crucial to Soviet interests.
By the spring of
1945, the Truman administrationRoosevelt died on April 12was
looking to the possession of the atomic bomb as a way to alter the equation
and shift the balance of forces toward the US. In his diary of May 14,
1945, Secretary of War Stimson reported a conversation with General
George Marshall, the Presidents chief of staff, in which Stimson
warned against getting in a confrontation with the Soviet Union before
possession of the atom bomb was certain. Stimson writes that he told
Marshall that my own opinion was that the time now and the method
now to deal with Russia was to keep our mouths shut and let our actions
speak for words...It is a case where we have got to regain the lead
and perhaps do it in a pretty rough and realistic way. They have rather
taken it away from us because we have talked too much and have been
too lavish with our beneficences to them. I told him this was a place
where we really held all the cards. I called it a royal straight flush
and we mustnt be a fool about the way we play it. They cant
get along without our help and industries and we have coming into action
a weapon which will be unique .
The next day, Stimson
expressed concerns that an upcoming meeting between Truman, Stalin and
Churchill at Potsdam would take place before the first atomic test.
It may be necessary, Stimson wrote, to have it out
with Russia on her relations to Manchuria and Port Arthur and various
other parts of North China, and also the relations of China to us. Over
any such tangled wave of problems the S-1 [code name for atomic bomb]
secret would be dominant and yet we will not know until after that time
probably, until after that meeting, whether this is a weapon in our
hands or not. We think it will be shortly afterwards, but it seems a
terrible thing to gamble with such big stakes in diplomacy without having
your master card in your hand .
In the end, Truman
had the Potsdam conference postponed for several weeks in order to give
the Manhattan Project more time. On May 21, Joseph Davies, the former
ambassador to the Soviet Union, reported on a meeting with Truman in
which Truman said he did not want to meet [at Potsdam] until July.
He had his budget (*) on his hands. The test was set for June, but had
been postponed until July. At the bottom of the page, Davies added
later an explanation of what he meant by budget: Footnote
(*): the atomic bomb. He told me then of the atomic bomb experiment
in Nevada. Charged me with the utmost secrecy .
Thus officials in
the Truman administration quite consciously saw the atomic bomb as the
master card in its dealings with the Soviet Union. Because
of uncertainty that the test would succeed, Truman went to Potsdam with
his Secretary of State James Byrnes with the aim of again gaining a
promise from the Soviet Union that it would enter the war against Japan.
Truman wrote in his diary, If the test [of the atomic bomb] should
fail, then it would be even more important to us to bring about a surrender
[through a Soviet invasion] before we had to make a physical conquest
of Japan .
The successful test
of the atom bomb on July 16, shortly before the formal opening of the
Potsdam Conference, gave Truman what he later called a hammer
on those boys . Trumans demeanor at Potsdam completely
changed, and he became much more aggressive and arrogant in negotiations
with Stalin. During the initial days of the Potsdam Conference, Truman
was still seeking to get assurance from the Soviet Union that it would
join the war with Japan. However over the next several weeks, it is
clear that administration officials hoped that use of the bomb would
bring a quick end to the war before the Soviet invasion progressed very
far and before Japan made a separate deal with Stalin.
This was certainly
the position of Secretary of State Byrnes. Responding to a statement
by Secretary of Navy James Forrestal that Truman had said his
principal objective at Potsdam would be to get Russia in the war,
Byrnes declared that it was most probable that the Presidents
views changed; certainly that was not my view .
Truman and Byrnes
became worried that Japan would try to reach a deal with the Soviet
Union and sue for peace through the Soviet Union rather than through
a neutral power or through the United States. These concerns were amplified
by communications from Japan that were intercepted by the Americans.
For example, the diplomatic summary of one intercepted Japanese message
notes, On 11 July [Japanese] Foreign Minister Togo sent the following
extremely urgent message to Ambassador [to the Soviet Union]
Sato: We are now secretly giving consideration to the termination
of the war because of the pressing situation which confronts Japan both
at home and abroad. Therefore, when you have your interview with [Soviet
Foreign Minister] Molotov in accordance with previous instructions you
should not confine yourself to the objective of a rapprochement between
Russia and Japan but should also sound him out on the extent to which
it is possible to make use of Russia in ending the war. The message
went on to indicate that Japan was willing to give large concessions
to Russia in order to prevent a Russian invasion . At this point
Japan still hoped that it could forestall a Soviet invasion.
A significant July
24 diary entry of Walter Brown, assistant to Secretary of State James
Byrnes, records that, JFB [Byrnes] still hoping for time, believing
after atomic bomb Japan will surrender and Russia will not get in so
much on the kill, thereby being in a position to press for claims against
China. Later, on August 3, three days before Hiroshima, Brown
writes, Aboard Agusta/President, Leahy, JFB [Byrnes] agrred [sic]
Japas [sic] looking for peace...President afraid they will sue for peace
through Russia instead of some country like Sweden .
What these and other
documents make clear is that not only were American leaders concerned
that the war would end in a way favorable to the Soviet Union, but also
that they knew Japan was very close to suing for peace. In his book
The Decision to Use the Atom Bomb, Gar Alperovitz makes a convincing
case for a two-step theory of Japanese surrender. According
to Alperovitz, the combination of the Soviet invasion, which eventually
took place on August 8, and a guarantee to the Japanese state that the
position of the emperor would not be threatened, would have put an end
to the war without an invasion and without the use of the atom bomb.
This indeed was
the conclusion of a Joint Intelligence Committee report to the Joint
Chiefs of Staff on April 29, 1945: The increasing effects of air-sea
blockade, the progressive and cumulative devastation wrought by strategic
bombing, and the collapse of Germany (with its implications regarding
redeployment) should make this realization [that absolute defeat is
inevitable] widespread within the year...The entry of the USSR into
the war, would, together with the foregoing factors, convince most Japanese
at once of the inevitability of complete defeat...If...the Japanese
people, as well as their leaders, were persuaded both that absolute
defeat was inevitable and that unconditional surrender did not imply
national annihilation [that is, the removal of the emperor], surrender
might follow fairly quickly .
Under the direction
of Byrnes, the Potsdam Proclamationan ultimatum to Japan demanding
unconditional surrenderwas worded in such a way that the guarantee
to the emperor was not given. Moreover the US and Britain decided not
to invite the Soviet Union to sign the proclamation. On the one hand,
this made it clear that the US and Britain were taking their own route
to a Japanese surrender. On the other hand, it made the threat of a
Soviet invasion ambiguous, thus sustaining Japanese hopes of an eventual
Soviet mediation. This made Japanese rejection of the proclamation a
certainty, opening the way for the use of the bomb .
invasion of Japan by American troops was scheduled for November. If
the American government used the bomb primarily to avoid the necessity
of an invasion, it is impossible to explain why Truman did not wait
longer before making the decision, particularly given the mountain of
intelligence indicating the desperate position of Japan at the time.
that emerges is why the second bomb was dropped so quickly, before the
Japanese had a chance to understand what had happened in Hiroshima and
to respond. Again, the question of the Soviet invasion is central. The
bombing of Nagasaki occurred one day after this invasion began. Moreover,
Alperovitz notes, Truman declared that Rumania, Bulgaria, and
Hungary were not to be spheres of influence of any one power
on August 9the day of the Nagasaki bombing .
Bound up with the
immediate interests of the United States in curtailing Soviet influence
in Eastern Europe and East Asia was the general aim of the Truman administration
to establish Americas hegemonic position following the end of
the war. Historian Thomas McCormick summed it up well when he wrote,
In two blinding glaresa horrible end to a war waged horribly
by all partiesthe United States finally found the combination
that would unlock the door to American hegemony.
To achieve this
hegemonic aim, it was necessary to sacrifice the cities of Hiroshima
and Nagasaki. McCormick notes, A prearranged demonstration of
the atomic bomb on a noninhabited target, as some scientists had recommended,
would not do. That could demonstrate the power of the bomb, but it could
not demonstrate the American will to use the awful power. One reason,
therefore, for American unwillingness to pursue Japanese peace feelers
in mid-summer 1945 was that the United States did not want the war to
end before it had had a chance to use the atomic bomb .
There is a certain
naïveté on the part of the American people with regard to
the utter ruthlessness of the American ruling class, particularly in
relation to the Second World War. That war has long been presented by
the American media and political establishment as a great war for democracy,
against fascism and tyranny. In fact, the principal reason that the
United States entered the warand the underlying motivation behind
all its actions in prosecuting the warwas to establish itself
as the dominant and unchallenged world power. In pursuit of this aim
the lives of hundreds of thousands of Japanese were of little consequence.
 Figures given after the war about the number of American lives that
would have been lost in an invasion were entirely mythical, and were
conjured up largely post facto to justify the use of the bombs. This
question will not be dealt with in this article, however an analysis
can be found in Barton Bernsteins essay A Postwar myth:
500,000 US lives saved in Hiroshimas Shadow, edited by Kai
Bird and Lawrence Lifschultz, The Pamphleteers Press, Stony Creek,
 One historian described the firebombing of Tokyo as follows: The
first planes that reached the Japanese capital dropped incendiaries
designed to start fires that would serve as markers in the target area
for the bombers that followed. The target zone included industrial and
commercial sites and densely populated residential districts with flimsy
and highly flammable housing. Once the area was clearly delineated by
flames, waves of B-29s dropped hundreds of tons of firebombs. They created
a conflagration of monumental proportions, which was intensified by
the winds that swept Tokyo that night. The fires consumed an area of
about sixteen square miles, created so much turbulence that they tossed
low-flying planes around in the air, and killed so many Japanese that
the stench of burning flesh sickened crews in the B-29s. (Walker,
J. Samuel, Prompt & Utter Destruction: Truman and the use of Atomic
bombs against Japan, The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel
Hill: 2004. p. 27)
 Stimson, Henry. Henry Stimson Papers, Sterling Library, Yale University.
Available at the National Security Archive: http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB162/15.pdf.
 Notes of the Interim Committee Meeting Thursday, 31 May 1945,
10:00 A.M. to 1:15 P.M.2:15 P.M. to 4:15 P.M. p. 13-14.
Available at the National Security Archive: http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB162/12.pdf.
 Among these scientists was the great Hungarian physicist Leo Szilard,
who while helping to develop the bomb came to have strong doubts about
using it. In one passage of the minutes to the same meeting of the Interim
Committee quoted above, General Leslie Groves, the general in charge
of the Manhattan Project, warns of certain undesirable scientists...of
doubtful discretion and uncertain loyalty, no doubt referring
primarily to those concerned about the use of the bomb (Ibid. p. 14).
The Interim Committee also rejected the idea that the nuclear technology
should be shared with the international community in order to avoid
a nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union, another position held by
many of the scientists working on the project.
 Offner, Arnold. Another such victory: President Truman and the Cold
War, 1945-1953, Stanford University Press, Stanford: 2002. p. 92.
 Jackson, Gabriel. Civilization & Barbarity in 20th-Century Europe,
Humanity Books, Amherst, New York: 1999. p. 176-77. Szilard noted pointedly
in 1960: If the Germans had dropped atomic bombs on cities instead
of us, we would have defined the dropping of atomic bombs on cities
as a war crime, and we would have sentenced the Germans who were guilty
of this crime to death at Nuremberg and hanged them. (From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atomic_bombings_of_Hiroshima_and_Nagasaki.)
 Stimson, Henry. Henry Stimson Diary. May 14, 1945. p. 2 Available
at the National Security Archive: http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB162/7.pdf
 Ibid., May 15, 1945. p. 1.
 Davies, Joseph. Diary entry for May 21, 1945 Available at the National
Security Archive: http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB162/8.pdf.
 Quoted from Alperovitz, Gar. The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb,
Vintage Books, New York: 1995. p. 124.
 Truman interview with Jonathan Daniels, November 12, 1949. Quoted
from Alperovitz, p 239.
 Quoted from Hasegawa, Tsuyoshi. Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman
and the Surrender of Japan, Harvard University Press, Cambridge: 2005.
 MagicDiplomatic Summary, War Department,
Office of Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, No. 1204July 12, 1945,
Top Secret Ultra. Available at the National Security Archive:
 Quoted from Alperovitz, p. 268.
 Quoted from Alperovitz, p. 415.
 Quoted from Alperovitz, p. 113-114.
 In his diary Truman wrote that he was sure that Japan
will not accept the Potsdam Proclamation, but we will have given
them the chance. That is, the proclamation was a pro forma statement
meant to give some sort of justification for a decision that had already
been made: the use of the atomic bomb. For a partial transcript of Trumans
diary see, http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB162/38.pdf.
 Alperovitz, p. 429-30.
 McCormick, Thomas J. Americas Half-Century: United States
Foreign Policy in the Cold War and After, The Johns Hopkins University
Press, Baltimore: 1995. p. 44 -45.
Part three: American militarism and the nuclear threat today
The following is
the third and final part in a series marking 60 years since the dropping
of atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Part
one, describing the destructive effects of the bomb on the population
of the two cities, was published on August 6. Part two, analyzing the
motivations behind the decision to drop the bomb, was published on August
The decision by
the administration of President Harry Truman to use atomic weapons against
Japan was motivated by political and strategic considerations. Above
all, the use of the bomb was meant to establish the undisputed hegemonic
position of the United States in the post-war period.
were also the basic driving force behind the American intervention in
the war itself. The Second World War has long been presented to the
American people as a Good War, a war for democracy against
fascism and tyranny. While it was no doubt true that millions of Americans
saw the war in terms of a fight against Hitlerite fascism and Japanese
militarism, the aims of those who led them to war were altogether different.
The American ruling class entered the Second World War in order to secure
its global interests. While the political character of the bourgeois
democratic regime in the United States was vastly different than that
of its fascist adversaries, the nature of the war aims of the United
States were no less imperialistic. In the final analysis, the utter
ruthlessness with which the United States sought to secure its objectivesincluding
the use of the atomic bombflowed from this essential fact.
The American government
hoped that by using the bomb it would shift the balance of forces in
its growing conflict with the Soviet Union. However, the American monopoly
of the bomb was short-lived. The Soviet Union responded to the bombing
of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 by rapidly increasing the amount of resources
devoted to its own atomic bomb project. In 1949, the Soviet Union carried
out its first atomic weapon test.
Sections of the
US ruling elite and military establishment still hoped that they might
be able to use the bomb in actual military situations. In 1950, Truman
threatened to use nuclear weapons against the Chinese during the Korean
War, and General Douglas McArthur urged the government to authorize
the military to drop a number of bombs along the Korean border with
Manchuria. These proposals were eventually rejected for fear that the
use of the bomb might provoke a nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union.
With the development
of the much more powerful hydrogen bomb, first tested in late 1952,
the US hoped to renew its nuclear advantage. The Republican Eisenhower
administration came into office in 1953 pledging a more aggressive policy
against the Soviet Union, including the rollback of Soviet
control over Eastern Europe. In January 1954, Secretary of State John
Foster Dulles gave a speech in which he stated that the US would deter
aggression by depending primarily upon a great capacity
to retaliate, instantly, by means and at places of our own choosing.
This pledge of massive retaliation was generally interpreted
as a threat to use nuclear weapons in response to a local war such as
the Korean War or the war that later developed in Vietnam.
However, this nuclear
advantage was again eliminated in August 1953, when the USSR tested
its first hydrogen bomb. The two countries rapidly developed a capacity
that created conditions of mutually assured destruction
in the event of a nuclear war.
period and the following decades, a battle raged within the political
establishment over policy in relation to the Soviet Union and atom bomb.
Even with the threat of nuclear war, there continued to exist a substantial
section of the American ruling class that was unwilling to tolerate
any constraints on American military power.
The option of engaging
in nuclear war was never off the table for any post-Hiroshima/Nagasaki
administration, Democratic or Republican. What Trumans Secretary
of War Henry Stimson called the master card was always there
in the background ready to be pulled out if need be. In 1962, the Kennedy
administration nearly initiated a nuclear war with the Soviet Union
over the Cuban missile crisis.
As the economic
situation deteriorated in the 1970s, those who advocated a more aggressive
orientation toward the Soviet Union began to gain in prominence. This
started under the Democratic Party administration of Jimmy Carter and
received a boost during the Reagan administration in the 1980s. Reagan
oversaw a renewed arms buildup and also sought to gain an offensive
nuclear superiority by developing a defensive missile shield (the so-called
Star Wars program), something that the Anti-Ballistic Missile
(ABM) Treaty of 1972 had been designed to prevent. A successful defensive
shield would allow the US to strike with nuclear weapons first, since
it could shoot down any retaliatory action.
Since the self-destruction
of the Soviet Union in 1991, the American ruling class has reached a
new consensus based upon preemptive war and the unilateral assertion
of American interests through military force.
Fewer treaties, more bombs
eruption of American militarism has assumed an especially malignant
form during the presidency of George W. Bush. Since coming into power,
the Bush administration has developed a two-pronged strategy to expand
American military capacity. On the one hand, it has rejected or undermined
any international agreement or treaty that places boundaries on what
the United States can or cannot do militarily. On the other hand, it
has taken steps to develop its military technology, including its nuclear
technology, to prepare the way for the use of this technology in future
In 1999, the Republican-dominated
US Senate went out of its way to reject the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty
(CTBT), which had previously been signed by the Clinton administration.
In 2001, Bush announced that he would not seek Senate approval again,
and instead would look for a way to bury the treaty. The
treaty would ban the testing of new nuclear weapons, which the Bush
administration opposes because it is planning on developing new nuclear
weapons that it will need to test.
In December 2001,
Bush announced that the US would unilaterally withdraw from the ABM
Treaty in order to allow it to renew the Star Wars project,
now called National Missile Defense. The development of a NMD system
is still a priority of the administration, and is part of its drive
to achieve military domination of space. Like the Reagan administration
program, a missile defense system would open up the way for offensive
nuclear strikes against countries such as China or Russia.
During an international
review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) earlier this year,
the Bush administration announced a position that was aimed at undermining
the foundation of the agreement. In exchange for a promise not to acquire
nuclear weapons, the treaty guarantees non-nuclear powers the right
to develop non-military nuclear technology. The treaty also includes
a pledge from the nuclear powers to gradually eliminate their nuclear
stockpiles. The new Bush administration position, however, is to deny
states that the US determines to be rogue states, such as
Iran, the right to develop nuclear energy programs. At the same time,
far from eliminating its own nuclear stockpiles, the US has taken steps
to modernize its existing weapons and develop new weapons for offensive
use. Indeed, in the run-up to the conference, which ended without an
agreement, the Bush administration explicitly insisted on its right
to use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear power.
Over the past decade,
the US government has developed a policy of offensive nuclear weapon
use, rejecting the Cold War conception that nuclear weapons would be
intended primarily as a deterrent. A Nuclear Posture Review in 1997
during the Clinton administration reportedly took the first steps toward
targeting countries such as North Korea, China and Iran.
This policy was
made explicit in another review, leaked to the press in 2002, in which
the Pentagon announced that the old process [of nuclear arms control]
is incompatible with the flexibility US planning and forces now require.
It explicitly threatened a host of countries by targeting them for potential
nuclear attack. It also provided very general guidelines for the future
use of nuclear weapons, declaring that these weapons may be used against
targets able to withstand nonnuclear attack or in the event
of surprising military developments.
Last summer, Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld issued an Interim Global Strike Order
that reportedly includes a first strike nuclear option against a country
such as Iran or North Korea. There were also nuclear weapons options
in the planning guidelines for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Bush administration
has taken steps toward the development of new bunker-busting
nuclear weapons specifically designed for use in combat situations.
Existing stockpiles have been modernized, and according to a New York
Times article from February 7, 2005, American scientists have
begun designing a new generation of nuclear arms meant to be sturdier
and more reliable and to have longer lives than the old weapon
The US repeatedly
issues threats against countries over their alleged development of nuclear
weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. The most
recent target has been Iran, which the US has threatened with military
attack if it does not abandon its nuclear energy program. All these
threats are meant to justify future US invasions, in which the use of
nuclear weapons by the United States is by no means excluded.
Through the policy
of preemptive war, the US has arrogated for itself the right to attack
any country that it deems to be a threat, or declares might be a threat
sometime in the future. There is no part of the world in which the United
States does not have an interest. It has sought to progressively expand
its influence in Central Asia and the former Soviet Union through the
war in Afghanistan and political intervention in countries such as the
Ukraine. It is seeking to dominate the Middle East through the war in
Iraq and the threat of war in Iran. It is expanding its activities in
Africa and has made repeated threats against North Korea and China as
part of its efforts to secure its influence in East Asia.
Under these conditions,
there are innumerable potential scenarios in which a war will erupt
leading to the use of nuclear weapons. This includes not only potential
invasions of countries such as Iran, but an American war against a smaller
power could easily spark a broader conflictwith China, Russia
or even the powers of Europe, all of which have nuclear weapons themselves.
that befell Hiroshima and Nagasaki will never be forgotten. Their fate
will stand forever as testimony to the bestiality of imperialism. Against
the backdrop of the renewed eruption of American militarism, the events
of August 1945 remind us of the alternatives that confront mankindworld
revolution or world war, socialism or barbarism.