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   Vol. 67/No. 29           August 25, 2003  
Why Washington bombed Hiroshima
On August 6, 1945, and again on August 9, the U.S. government dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, becoming the only government in the world that has ever used nuclear weapons in warfare. Tens of thousands of people died instantly, with thousands more dying later. This year is the 58th anniversary of that atrocity. To mark the occasion the Militant is printing excerpts from an article by Fred Halstead, a longtime leader of the Socialist Workers Party, that appeared in the Jan. 25, 1965, issue of the paper under the headline, “What the Record Shows: U.S. Guilt at Hiroshima.”

The general impression still exists in this country (but not abroad) that somehow the dropping of the A-bombs on Japan caused the end of the war and eliminated a bloody invasion of the Japanese home islands, thus saving more lives than the A-bombs themselves snuffed out. This is a lie manufactured and spread in the first place by President Truman and British prime ministers Churchill and Attlee, who took responsibility for the decision to drop the bombs….

What are the facts? This is what the Encyclopedia Britannica (1959 edition) has to say: “After the fall of Okinawa [on June 21, 1945], [Japanese Prime Minister] Suzuki’s main objective was to get Japan out of the war on the best possible terms, though that could not be announced to the general public… Unofficial peace feelers were transmitted through Switzerland and Sweden… Later the Japanese made a formal request to Russia to aid in bringing hostilities to an end….”

These Japanese overtures were known to Washington because the dispatches between Foreign Minister Togo in Tokyo and Japanese Ambassador Sato in Moscow were intercepted by the United States.

The entire affair is documented in the Hoover Library volume Japan’s Decision to Surrender, by Robert J.C. Butlow (Stanford University, 1954). Butlow quotes the dispatch that was received and decoded in Washington July 13, 1945: “Togo to Sato… Convey His Majesty’s strong desire to secure a termination of the war… Unconditional surrender is the only obstacle to peace.” These requests continued through July.

Butlow documents that Washington knew the one “condition” insisted upon by the Japanese government was the continuation of the emperor on his throne and the symbolic recognition this implied of the Japanese home islands as a political entity. As it turned out this was exactly the “condition” that was granted when the peace was finally signed after the A-bombings August 6 and 9….

Why, then, did the United States drop the bombs? One of the few writers who claims to believe the official alibi is Robert C. Batchelder, author of the well-documented The Irreversible Decision (1962). Even Batchelder admits: “It seems clear that had the [U.S.] attempt to end the war by political and diplomatic means been undertaken sooner, more seriously, and with more skill, the decision to use the atomic bomb might well have been rendered unnecessary.”

Batchelder explains the affair away by attributing it to U.S. diplomatic inefficiency and a tendency in U.S. leaders to deal with the war in purely military terms and neglect political aspects. But the evidence indicates the final A-bomb decision was made precisely for political reasons.

Indeed, some top U.S. military men—including Eisenhower and the chief of staff of the U.S. armed forces at the time, Adm. William D. Leahy—declined to support use of the bomb. In his book, I Was There (1950), Leahy says: “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….”

[The atomic bombing of] Hiroshima and Nagasaki cost, by the conservative American estimates, 110,000 dead and as many injured; and, by Japanese estimates, twice that many. The evidence strongly indicates that one major motivation of the A-bomb decision was precisely to test the bomb on live targets, so as to confront the postwar world with the proven fact of overwhelming U.S. military superiority. It also established the fact that U.S. imperialism not only had the bomb but had the ruthlessness to use it.

The haste with which the bomb was used indicates that the U.S. purposely ignored the Japanese peace requests (which were known in Washington on July 13) in order to drop the bomb before the war ended. No one was sure the bomb would work until July 18 when it was tested in New Mexico. The only other two bombs in existence were quickly dispatched to the Pacific base and were dropped on August 6 and 9. This haste is unexplained by combat problems. By that stage of the war U.S. bombers and ships encountered no serious resistance and no U.S. troop attacks were scheduled until November 1, so the haste was not necessary to “save American lives.”

One of the most thoughtful works on the subject is that by the British nuclear scientist, P.M.S. Blackett, entitled Fear, War and the Bomb (London, 1949).… It is Blackett’s well-founded thesis that one reason for the haste was to drop the bomb before the Russians entered the war against Japan. The allies had already agreed at Yalta that the USSR would attack Japan three months after Germany surrendered. Stalin had notified the United States that the Russian armies would be ready for that attack on schedule, that is, August 8. The bomb was dropped on Hiroshima August 6….

To sum up: That Japan was defeated and suing for peace before the bombs were dropped is a fact established beyond doubt. The motivations of U.S. rulers in dropping the bombs anyway is, of course, a disputed question. But the evidence utterly fails to support the official alibi that it was done to avoid costly battles. On the contrary, the evidence overwhelmingly indicates that the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were murdered, not to end World War II, but to launch what later came to be known as the cold war.  
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