“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)
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:
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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I don’t see you examining what was happening within the Japanese war cabinet, because that is what really counts. They refused to surrender. It took the interference of the emperor after the bomb was dropped on Nagasaki to compel the cabinet to surrender. Even with that, there was an attempt at a coup by generals who wanted to keep on fighting. I really do not get it. I suggest you read about the battle of Okinawa to understand what it took to defeat Japan. Every island battle was a bloody fight that took weeks. The fighting grew even more difficult as US forces closed in on the main island. The bombs, however terrible they were, ended the war. It did prevent what would have amounted to be a bloody invasion. Japan was no victim and the US is not evil.
Thanks for your challenging comment, Fred, Did anyone believe the Japanese posed a threat in summer, 1945? Even earlier, at Potsdam & Yalta the Allies agreed the Axis Powers were finished.
What most salient: Why do you reject the official US Government claim that the bomb DID NOT precipitate the Japanese surrender? Did the War Dept. get it wrong?
What do you mean by threat?
1. Japan still had significant forces in in China, meaning they had the potential to ignite their power
2. Like Nazi German, only complete defeat would guarantee that the regime would not re-emerge in the same form. I guess you can say they were in need of an exorcism .or better yet, when there’s an infection, it has to be killed completely. There were no half measures.
So yes, Japan were still a threat and still had a lit of fight left in them
Yes, the defeat of Japan was a “forgone conclusion” but the cost in American and Japanese lives would have been formidable. Fred’s comments are accurate, and the points he makes about the Japanese war cabinet’s plan to continue the war, and the Emperor’s overriding intervention are accurate. This is well documented in John Toland’s history, “The Rising Sun” which he wrote after reviewing Japanese war cabinet documents with his Japanese wife.
The motives for using the bomb undoubtedly were multiple, including the deterrence of Soviet dominance and aggression, and perhaps, the justification of the costly Manhattan project. Mutually assured destruction arguably has since prevented some interstate wars, for fear of retaliation. The stockpile of nuclear weapons has been reduced considerably, but not to the point where a minimal stockpile of weapons would suffice, although their complete elimination seems an impossible goal.
Some people think the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a form of genocide, but Michael Shermer in his recent book, “The Moral Arc” disagrees.
I have pasted a summary of his views below:
“There continues to be a debate about the morality and legality of the past use of atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In addressing this issue, Shermer distinguishes between categorical and continuous thinking approaches. The categorical approach sees any mass killing as a form of genocide; the continuous approach distinguishes among types of mass killing by their contexts. Genocide has been defined as the deliberate mass killing of groups of people because of their group identity.”
Shermer states “Truman’s goal in dropping the bombs was to end the war, not to eliminate the Japanese people” so it was not an attempt at genocide. As to the morality of dropping the bombs, the intent was to end the war and to prevent the slaughter of millions of people on both sides. Truman’s advisers projected American deaths between 250,000 and 1 million, and Japanese deaths of at least 5.5 million had the war continued. In that context, Shermer states: “On balance, then, dropping the atomic bombs was the least destructive of the options on the table. Although we wouldn’t want to call it a moral act, it was in the context of the time the least immoral act by the criteria of lives saved.”
If our goal was “to prevent the slaughter of…people on both sides”, why didn’t we drop one bomb instead of two, and why didn’t we drop it (them) in the least populated area of Japan? Better by far, why couldn’t we have announced that we had this weapon, set one off publicly in an appropriate place (if there is such a thing) to prove it (which would also have served our purpose with the Russians), and told them that if they didn’t surrender within a certain time frame we would start dropping atomic bombs on them? It seems certain now that they would have surrendered.
The Japanese war cabinet met again after the1st bomb w dropped and the voted not to surrender. This is all well documented . Japanese cities suffered more casualties for conventional bombing than from the atomic bombs. Life had no importance in the collative Japanese culture of the time. US combat soldiers watched in horror on Okinawa as Japanese woman jumped to thie death rather than surrender.
In reply to your adroit question, Peter: Some argue that the US wanted to test both the plutonium AND the U235 mechanisms.
Also, it’s difficult to overstate the US bloodlust for revenge after Pearl Harbor.
I appreciate your comments, Milton. But, to reiterate, what’s your response to the official, US Strategic Bombing Survey? Are we dealing with cognitive dissonance here?
According to the Survey, no invasion of Japan was necessary to exact a surrender. And notice, the surrender was not unconditional: the emperor remained.
The emperor was rendered powerless. Allowing total occupation is unconditional surrender. Japanese documents do not support anything you writing. I just don’t understand why you do not try to understand Japanese war culture.
Had the US been forced to invade, it would have come at a horrific cost. Every man, woman and child were indoctrinated to fight to the very end. You might want to note how few soldiers surrendered at the end of every battle. Americans were ready for the end of the war and might not have agreed to finance it though bond purchases, if they saw thousands returning home in coffins. They might have forced the US into truce with Japan. Surrender without occupation would have allowed the viral regime to rebuild its military and try and restore their pride in conquest. The occupation and rebuilding of Japan and West Germany represented the very bets of American ideals
But according to the official US Government source, there was no need for an invasion. I appreciate readers taking the time to post challenging comments, but thus far, no one comments on the US Strategic Bombing Survey.
Further inquiry will reveal that a number of high officials, including Navy Admirals–and even Edward Teller–opposed dropping the bomb on civilians.
Once again, there is little regard to what the Japanese were thinking. They did not surrender. Politicians, not generals, knew that Japan had to unconditionally surrendered and be occupied. The final outmode was very good for Japan- a rebuilt a productive democracy with US $. The US ushered in a modern Japan, an accomplishment as fine as the Marshal Plan
You do realize Dresden was was fire bombed by the Brits. I also have little sympathy for the genocidal Nazis.
You start a world war. You either win or it will not end well
No sympathy for Nazis–to be sure! The heaviest bombing–and wanton destruction of civilians–occurred AFTER the Allies concluded that the Axis powers were defeated.
Have you no sympathy for hundreds of thousands of the innocent suffocated or burned to death in Dresden or Hiroshima?
They were victims of their tyranny of their own regimes,
I was 18 in 1945 and remember my feelings. The war had been a scary horror and if it hadn’t ended I would have been drafted. Being pre-med saved me. After the terrible price both sides paid-especially in Okinawa, I would have dropped the bomb with almost no regret. Would Japan have surrendered without the bomb? Who knows, but the Japanese military tried to silence the Emperor’s surrender speech.
Frank M Kline
24 Sorrel Lane
Rolling Hills Estates, CA
It’s worth reading ” “With the Old Breed:” At Peleliu and Okinawa by E.B. Sledge . It gives the readier a good idea od what the Marines endured taking those islands
The war in the pacific, in the memorable words of historian John Dower, was “a war without mercy.” Japanese fanatics killed the innocent before and after the war: The Japanese are still reluctant to apologize. The US killed untold numbers of civilians by firebombing 67 Japanese cities. In an apologia, McNamara laments that he and Lemay were “war criminals” for burning an estimated 100,000 civilians to death that terrible night in Tokyo. Perhaps regret & apology are due for the gratuitous bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as Japan lay in ruins.
Again, I wonder why there’s no response to the Strategic Bombing Survey?
Ariel bombig was stil in its infancy and was inaccurate. Both Japan and Germany maintained their level of industrial production through most of the war, even with all the bombing. Japan was a war machine and everyone was expected to sacrifice their lives. How did Japan think this war was going to end? They know the attack on Pearl Harbor was a mistake-“waking up the sleeping giant”
So again I must ask: Why did the official US Strategic Bombing Survey get it wrong? To reiterate, the official US position is that the A-bomb didn’t end the war, nor was an invasion necessary to exact a surrender.
I’m having a difficult time understanding why Tikkun readers ignore this defining document.
I had nothing to do with the US bombing survey, it was a decision the Japanese military government had to make and the refused surrender until the last bomb was dropped by Nagasaki. That swell documented. Victory only comes with surrender not with bombing surveys.