BY PATTI IIYAMA
Hiroshima: Why America Dropped the Atomic Bomb by Ronald Takaki. 193 pp. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1995. $16.95 paper.
With Hiroshima Eyes: Atomic War, Nuclear Extortion and Moral Imagination by Joseph Gerson. 203 pp. Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1995. $19.95 hardcover.
At 8:15 on the morning of Aug. 6, 1945, a U.S. bomber dropped an atomic bomb over Hiroshima. Some 70,000 people, many of them school children who had been mobilized to build firebreaks, died instantly. Birds in flight ignited. The heat of the blast kindled a raging fire that seared the city. It was followed by a black rain. More than 60,000 died within months from burns, radiation poisoning, and shock. Another 70,000 died by 1950.
The 50th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in August, revealed a deepening debate in this country over why the U.S. government dropped this new, horrible weapon. The big-business press launched a campaign to defend the use of the bomb.
On one hand most editors, commentators, and politicians have argued that the bomb "helped save lives" by making a U.S. invasion of Japan's main islands unnecessary.
On the other hand, a recent Gallup poll cited in Newsweek shows that people over the age of 50 narrowly approve the use of the atomic bomb, and that most younger Americans, especially those under 30, believe that using the atomic bomb was wrong. Moreover, an increasing number of historians and academics say the traditional accounts of the bombings, based on the government's version, should be revised. They argue that dropping the bomb was militarily unnecessary.
Many books have been published on this 50th anniversary. Among those defending the "revisionist" school are: Ronald Takaki's Hiroshima: Why America Dropped the Atomic Bomb and Joseph Gerson's With Hiroshima Eyes: Atomic War, Nuclear Extortion and Moral Imagination. Both summarize the facts that show the bomb was not needed to force Japan's military regime to surrender.
Takaki and Gerson point to Washington's "anxiety" about Soviet domination in China and other Asian countries, as well its occupation of eastern Europe. The dropping of the atom bomb, they say, was primarily a political warning to the Soviet Union and heralded the beginning of the Cold War.
The truth, however, is more complex. The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was the opening shot in a new "hot" war Washington was preparing: to crush the massive revolt against colonial oppression from China to India beginning to sweep the world, prevent the spread of the socialist revolution, and to move toward rolling back the conquests working people had won in the Soviet Union in order to restore capitalism there. The U.S. rulers boasted that they were launching the "American Century."
In spite of its initial monopoly of this new and terrible means of mass destruction, however, Washington quickly ran into insurmountable roadblocks in its war drive. It was forced to retreat to conducting what it called a "cold war."
Origins of Pacific War
In order to understand why the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were sacrificed, it is important to know why the war in the Pacific was fought. Washington said the Japanese military regime's aggression in Asia had to be stopped and the bombing of the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, had to be avenged.
Origins of Pacific War
The real driving force behind the war in the Pacific, however, was the fight between the profit-hungry predators in the United States and Japan over, as Gerson states, "the expansion and maintenance of empire in the Pacific and Asia."
Since capitalism developed relatively late in Japan, its rulers were not able to participate in the earliest imperialist divisions of Asia. But with the 1895 Sino- Japanese War, Tokyo began to wrest colonies from other imperialist powers by seizing control of Taiwan, Korea, and parts of northern China. In 1932 the Japanese imperialists invaded Manchuria and established a puppet government there.
Their major rival for control of Asia was the capitalist ruling class in the United States, who had long been eyeing China as a huge market for selling goods and investing capital. In the 1930s, the growing protectionist trade barriers imposed by the U.S. and European governments fueled the Japanese drive to conquer China and Southeast Asia in order to obtain oil, rubber, iron ore, and other raw materials.
By the spring of 1942, Tokyo, in a series of stunning victories, had conquered Indonesia, Indochina, the Philippines, Malaya, and Burma. Its troops were at the threshold of invading Australia, India, and Laos and controlled most of eastern China. But by the end of 1942, the tide was beginning to turn.
The overwhelming industrial and military might of the U.S. capitalists crushed their Japanese rivals. By the end of 1944 oil shipments from the East Indies had almost stopped, imports had fallen by 40 percent, half of Japan's merchant fleet and two-thirds of her tankers were destroyed.
On March 9, 1945, the U.S. military began firebombing Japanese cities, starting with Tokyo. City after city came under attack. Virtually every industrial center was destroyed. A report by the Japanese cabinet acknowledged that the steel and chemical industries were about to collapse, the railway system would soon cease functioning, and shipping was insufficient even to maintain transportation between the main islands of Japan.
Recognizing that the war was lost, Tokyo began to send out peace feelers to governments in Europe. Then, in early July, the Japanese government requested the Soviet Union, which had not yet entered the Pacific war, to mediate between Tokyo and Washington to end the war. The only condition the Japanese officials placed on their surrender was that Hirohito and the emperor system be preserved.
In spite of a recommendation by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the cabinet that the U.S. government accept conditional surrender, U.S. president Harry Truman and British prime minister Winston Churchill rejected the Japanese government's efforts to end the war. Instead, they issued a joint statement on July 25 saying that they would accept only "un-conditional surrender" from the Japanese regime.
Three weeks later, Washington accepted the Japanese surrender on the same terms that Tokyo had proposed in July. The only change was the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
As early as 1946, two U.S. government studies concluded that the bombings were not a military necessity. In addition to the recently discovered War Department Operations Division study, the official U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey judged that "certainly prior to 31 December 1945 and in all probability prior to 1 November 1945 [the date of the planned Kyushu invasion], Japan would have surrendered even if the bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated."
Takaki points out that Tokyo exhorted Asians to unite in a race war against the white "brutes," "wild beasts," and "hairy savages" of Europe and the United States. This demonization of the enemy justified atrocities like the infamous Bataan Death March, which occurred in 1942 after 76,000 American and Filipino soldiers surrendered to the Japanese in the Philippines. On the 65-mile forced march to their internment camp, 7,000 were bayoneted or clubbed to death or buried alive when they fell behind.
At the same time, Washington stereotyped the Japanese as "loathsome buck-toothed little yellow savages." This racist dismissal of the Japanese as less than human was the propaganda used to get acceptance in the United States for Washington's war against Japan and for its bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Takaki puts forward the view that Truman's racism and psychological insecurities are the key to understanding why the U.S. government dropped A-bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Truman's policies were racist, but singling this out throws Takaki's book off balance. The U.S. capitalist ruling class had larger political considerations in mind when it decided to incinerate the populations of two Japanese cities.
Preparations for a `hot' war
Soon after the Japanese government surrendered on August 14, President Truman halted all lend-lease shipments, including food, to the Soviet Union, one of its war-time allies. Takaki quotes Acting Secretary of State Joseph Grew as saying, "A future war with Soviet Russia is as certain as anything can be certain."
Preparations for a `hot' war
By October, Truman was attempting to rally the people of the United States for a confrontation with the USSR. There "can be no compromise with the forces of evil....[The] atomic bombs which fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki must be a signal," the president asserted.
The U.S. rulers were preparing for a new war. By dropping the bombs on human beings, they showed that they had no qualms about using this incredibly destructive weapon, over which they had a monopoly. One of their immediate aims was crushing the democratic revolution in China that they feared could overturn capitalist rule there. This was the prize for which they had waged a bloody war with their Japanese rivals for nearly four years. At the same time they wanted to drive the Soviet Union out of Eastern Europe.
Although Washington had started to put everything into place to fight another war, it was prevented from doing so for two reasons beyond its control: the refusal of Chinese workers and peasants to be cowed into submission, and the mass protests of U.S. troops after the war demanding, "Bring us home now."
Thus, the U.S. warmakers were not able to launch the "hot" war to establish the American Century.
Since 1945 Washington has threatened or considered using nuclear weapons many times. Gerson details a few of these occasions: during the Korean war, at the end of the Indochina war in 1954; the 1962 missile crisis; the Vietnam War, and in the Middle East from 1946 through the Gulf War in 1991. It weighed the political price it would pay for using nuclear bombs in each instance and decided not to do so.
In the course of documenting the U.S. government's "nuclear extortion" over the last 50 years, Gerson aims his guns at the Cuban government for its "contribution to the intensity of the [1962 missile] crisis." He states that during that crisis, "Fidel Castro pressed Nikita Khrushchev to launch a preemptive nuclear attack against the United States in the event of a U.S. invasion of Cuba." Gerson repeated the same slander during the July 31-August 2 International Symposium in Hiroshima where he was a featured speaker. That gathering marked the 50th anniversary of Washington's A-bomb attacks on Japan.
Gerson fails to mention that the proposal to place missiles and tactical nuclear weapons on Cuban soil was not Cuba's, but the Soviet government's for its own foreign policy goals. At a January 1992 conference in Havana that brought together participants from Cuba, the Soviet Union, and the United States to discuss the 1962 missile crisis, Castro said: "We were not too pleased with the missiles actually. If it had been a matter only of our defense, we would not have accepted the emplacement of the missiles here." This was not because of the dangers involved, Castro said, "but rather because this would damage the image of the revolution....The presence of the missiles would in fact turn us into a Soviet military base and that had a high political cost."
Orlando Fundora López, the Cuban representative participating in the Hiroshima conference, refuted Gerson by explaining that the Cuban revolution has never relied on Soviet missiles or weapons, but the armed power of the Cuban people, for its defense. It was, in fact, the massive mobilization of the Cuban people during the missile crisis that convinced the Kennedy administration of the difficulties of invading the island and the political price that would be paid.
Neither Takaki nor Gerson, while agreeing that nuclear weapons must be banned and dismantled, can suggest a realistic solution, other than placing political pressure on the governments with nuclear weapons.
But the question of nuclear weapons and their use is connected to the drive of the capitalist rulers toward war. Today - as the competition between the capitalist profiteers has become more intense - political, economic, and military conflicts are growing. Since the 1991 Gulf War, the possibilities of a third imperialist world war are clearer.
Only if working people wrest power out of the hands of the capitalist exploiters and establish their own government can workers and farmers bring an end to horrible predatory wars for profits and get rid of all nuclear weapons.
Patti Iiyama is a member of Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Local 4227 in Houston, Texas. She had relatives who were killed by the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
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