“Based on a detailed investigation of all the facts, and supported by the testimony of surviving Japanese leaders involved . . . certainly prior to 31 December 1945, and in all probability prior to 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.” –United States Strategic Bombing Survey: Summary Report (Pacific War)

Atomic cloud over Nagasaki from Koyagi-jima Author: Hiromichi Matsuda

August 6 marks the destruction of Hiroshima and the annual op-ed obeisance to civic mythology. Serious men will echo the conclusion of prominent mainstream historians such as John Gaddis: “Having acquired this awesome weapon, the United States used it against Japan for a simple and straightforward reason: achieve victory, as quickly, as decisively, as economically as possible.” Once again, post hoc arguments will be received wisdom: The Japanese surrendered six days after the bomb destroyed Nagasaki; therefore, the bomb ended the war. Not only that, the bomb was a blessing in disguise: It avoided the need for Operation Olympic – the invasion of Japan that would have taken untold numbers of American and Japanese lives. Revisionist historians – if they’re cited – will reject such reasoning and stress a fact hidden in plain sight: The defeat of Japan was a foregone conclusion prior to August. 67 firebombed cities lay in ruins, and American forces had decimated the Japanese military.

Debate about dropping the bomb should have ended long ago, very long ago, July 1, 1946 to be precise. The implication of the document published on that date, and cited above, is inescapable – the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was gratuitous. The document is not the product of reviled revisionist historians who dare to dispute comforting civic mythology. The sorely neglected, inconvenient truth is found in the official US War Department document just cited: the United States Strategic Bombing Survey: Summary Report (Pacific War). The War Department Survey recounts the anticipated outcome of terrorism with an American accent: “As might be expected, the primary reaction of the populous to the bomb was fear, [and] uncontrolled terror.” To reiterate: “Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bomb had not been dropped.”

General Curtis LeMay, Commander of the US Army Airforce – General Buck Turgidson in Dr. Strangelove – took the Adolph Eichmann defense: because he was following orders it took away the blame: “Truman told me to do it. He told me in a personal letter.” Curiously, noted super hawk Edward Teller – Dr. Strangelove was his avatar – personally told me what his biographers recount: He opposed using the bomb on civilians. (To be recounted in “My dinner with Edward” – a future recollection.) Other Manhattan Project scientists also opposed dropping the bomb on civilians, and Oppenheimer and Einstein would soon lament their roles in developing the ultimate terror weapon.

So why was the bomb dropped? Civic mythology, as we’ve seen, provides very good reasons; what are the real reasons? A truism: Generals are always fighting the last war, and warriors use every weapons at their disposal. However, generals also fight future wars. Evidently, General Leslie Groves (Manhattan Project director) fought future wars amid the bomb’s development. Physicist Joseph Rotblat – the only scientist to leave the Project – recounts the “disagreeable shock” when Groves told him: “The real purpose in making the bomb was to subdue the Soviets.” The instantaneous destruction of two virtually unscathed cities displayed the awesome power of the atom to the Soviets and sent terrorism’s signature message – be afraid, be terribly afraid!

Groves also revealed more mundane concerns. Historians such as Gregg Herken and Gideon Rose suggest that Groves feared he would spend the rest of his life testifying on Capitol Hill unless Congress got an impressive return on the $2 billion invested in his Project. Of course, mythmakers saw nothing mundane about accomplishing what Newton said that God, in His infinite wisdom, prohibited – splitting atoms. Thanks to the technological magic – unleashing the power that binds the firmament – a new millennium dawned, ushering in an American Century. The Exceptional Nation would glory in an epoch of unprecedented peace, harmony, and prosperity.

Despite – or because of – the advent of the Soviet bomb in 1949, the atomic bomb was credited with winning wars and keeping the peace. In the world according to nuclear deterrence theory, nuclear terror – the threat of mutually assured destruction – accomplished what Christ couldn’t do: ushering in peace on earth without goodwill toward men. Those who should know better still invoke post hoc arguments: Nuclear terror began in 1945; subsequently, no hot war occurred between the superpowers. The conclusion is obvious with those with a will to believe. Never mind that, save for the American invasion of Siberia in 1918, there’s no history of war between these states.

The jeremiad of Bernard Brodie, an early nuclear strategist, still resonates: Nuclear weapons are incredibly destructive. Even so, none of the presidential candidates makes the abolition of nuclear weapons a top priority; indeed, these ultimate weapons of mass destruction are usually ignored. (Like Obama, Bernie gave a de rigueur nod to a world without nuclear weapons.) Listening to the debates, you would never know that Robert McNamara advocated nuclear abolition in his last speech. You wouldn’t hear the warning of General Lee Butler, the former supreme commander of US nuclear forces:

“I made the long and arduous intellectual journey from staunch advocate of nuclear deterrence to public proponent of nuclear abolition. We have yet to fully grasp the monstrous effects of these weapons, that the consequences of their use defy reason . . . poisoning the earth and deforming its inhabitants.”

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Ron Hirschbein is the author of four books on war and peace studies, and he explores the advent of nuclear terror in The United States and Terrorism: An Ironic Perspective (2015).

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