John Ellison, writes in the Morning Star how, 70 years ago, the US brought nuclear annihilation to Hiroshima.
FOR democratically minded and peace-loving people of this country, the defeat of Hitler’s Germany and of Hirohito’s Japan in WWII was an essential task, however bloody and protracted.
But it was essential only because these profoundly anti-democratic, militarist-expansionist regimes had been stroked, pampered and assisted to become more powerful aggressors.
Britain under “national” governments, its vast empire still intact, played a key role in fostering nazi Germany’s re-armament plans, having already, in 1931, given an unequivocal blessing to imperial Japan’s occupation of Manchuria.
“Appeasement” of friendly fascism and militarism abroad was thus in its early stages a gift from the British government from a position of strength, not a concession from weakness, while the option of making a security alliance with the internationally isolated but rapidly industrialising Soviet Union was scorned.
Such is the tragic history which anti-fascists of the time were unable to reverse — a history which incubated, and finally gave birth to, a second global conflict.
The war in the West ended on May 8 1945. The Soviet Union had played the largest part in this war, defending itself against the nazi onslaught and then advancing to Berlin — with some 25 million of its citizens sacrificed in the process.
Stalin’s government had undertaken to enter the war against Japan three months later, and did so on August 8, attacking Japan’s forces in Manchuria immediately.
But already, on August 6, a single atomic bomb had been dropped by a US aircraft on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, and another (this time the “big laboratory” experiment was with a plutonium bomb) was to fall on Nagasaki three days later.
Vast areas of both cities, and their largely civilian populations, were incinerated. The casualty figures can never be more than estimates, but if the numbers of those immediately killed are enlarged by those dying of burns and irradiation before the end of the year, the estimated Hiroshima death toll is around 140,000 and that of Nagasaki is around 70,000.
By 1950 many more delayed deaths had lifted the combined total to around 300,000, and there have been many more since, especially through varieties of cancer.
Even then, the weapon used was, in the words of renowned radical journalist James Cameron in his 1969 autobiography Point of Departure, not “much of a bomb, by the monstrous standards of the present.”
By the early 1950s advanced versions had acquired 1000 times the power of the little Hiroshima bomb.
The pioneer use of these satanic instruments, which had been agreed by wartime premier Winston Churchill in July and not argued with by his Labour successor Clement Attlee when informed on August 1 of the intention to deploy them, was a crime which has not yet produced a confession.
It was professed, with much noisy sincerity, that the purpose was to hasten the war’s end, and therefore to save the lives of vast numbers of Allied soldiers.
Indeed Japan did surrender on August 14, influenced, Japanese Cabinet records show, by rapid Soviet advances over the previous few days. But this was untrue, as was the denial that the bombs had produced mass radiation suffering among survivors.
The occupation forces’ headquarters of General Douglas MacArthur suppressed reportage of an early visit to devastated Nagasaki by George Weller, a Chicago Daily News journalist. But it failed (though it tried) to spike the report of a young Australian journalist accredited to the Pacific Fleet, Wilfred Burchett.
The momentous account of Burchett’s visit, made at great personal risk, to the site of Hiroshima, appeared in the Daily Express on September 6 1945.
“Hiroshima,” he wrote, “looks as if a monster steam-roller had passed over it and squashed it out of existence.”
Even more terrible: “People are still dying, mysteriously and horribly — people who were uninjured by the cataclysm — from an unknown something which I can only describe as atomic plague.” He described the living proof he had seen in hospital wards. All this appeared under the headlines “THE ATOMIC PLAGUE” and “I Write This as a Warning to the World.”
It was a lie, a brazen lie, that atomic bombs were necessary to end the war in order to protect Allied lives. It was a lie as big as any Goebbels ever put out. Even in the London Times, a correspondent on August 16 soberly stated, well aware of a recent approach by Emperor Hirohito to the Soviet Union to mediate: “The assertion that new American bombs have brought the Japanese war to a magic end is a myth.”
More conclusively, within the US government, the Strategic Bombing Survey of early 1946 concluded on the basis of “a detailed investigation of all the facts, and supported by the testimony of all the surviving Japanese leaders involved,” 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.”
The truth is that pre-Hiroshima defeats of Japan’s armed forces, coupled with massive conventional bombing of Japan’s cities, had brought the country to its knees. Just one huge fire-bombing raid on Tokyo in March 1945 had killed almost 80,000 people.
So, very much on the defensive, and hoping to salvage from negotiations at least the continuance of the emperor system of government, overtures were being made to the Soviet government, in the hope these might strengthen Japan’s position vis-a-vis the US.
But while reluctant to concede full and unconditional surrender, there is no doubt that in July 1945 the Hirohito government was, and had been, on the verge of giving in.
David Bergamini’s voluminous 1971 work Japan’s Imperial Conspiracy quotes, for example, a cable from Naotake Sato, Tokyo’s Moscow ambassador, of July 12, which includes the words: “JAPAN IS DEFEATED … WE MUST FACE THAT FACT AND ACT ACCORDINGLY.”
The US administration had good reason to know of Japan’s desperate plight from intercepting and decoding cables between ambassador Sato and foreign minister Togo.
While Hirohito, that summer of killing, pursued a loser’s peace, US secretary of state for war Henry Stimson was (according to Truman’s memoirs) keen enough to use the new weapon “in the shaping of history,” even if it were not likely to shorten the war.
The major reason for its use was more to do with dealing with the Soviet Union — whose possible involvement in settling Japan’s future would be unwelcome — than dealing with Japan.
This motive was attested to by the director of the Manhattan Project responsible for the A-bomb, General Leslie Groves.
So Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed into oblivion to give a brutal message to the Soviet Union. It was a practical demonstration of the A-bomb’s massacre capabilities and therefore of enhanced US power; and it shamed history as much as shaped it.
The philosopher-mathematician and peace campaigner Bertrand Russell called the bombing “a wanton act of mass murder,” and so it was.
Burchett was promptly brought to account for exposing the truth. His camera (carrying unique photographs) was stolen and his accreditation removed.
He had no option but to leave Japan, and the US occupation authorities dubbed him a victim of Japanese propaganda. The New York Times affirmed: “No Radioactivity in Hiroshima Rain.” Denial of radiation illness resulting from the attack was part of an information clampdown sustained by the US authorities in Japan for the next five years.
So in commemorating this fearful anniversary, we must stand with the diminishing band of “explosion-affected” survivors, known as the “Hibakusha,” and, in doing so, stand against any future activation of this savage weaponry.
Each of the missiles carried by Britain’s four Trident submarines carries far more killing power than the Manhattan Project’s 1945 monsters.
Defenders of updating this horrific Pandora’s box should think again for the sake of humanity’s future.