Hiroshima & Nagasaki 69 Years Latertags: Hiroshima;Nagasaki; Truman;Murray Polner
Hiroshima & Nagasaki: 69 Years Later
By Murray Polner
The 69th anniversary of the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was approaching last August and a neighbor, a retired fireman and WWII veteran, asked if I thought the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were justified. He said he did because otherwise many American soldiers and marines might have been killed in a land invasion of Japan’s main islands. Okinawa, he said, was bad enough, he added, given the carnage that resulted. Invading Japan would have been far worse. In no way was he dismissing the killing of so many civilians but like virtually all Americans at the time he unquestioningly believed the Government’s assertions –obviously not stated in this precise way—that because of the attack on Pearl Harbor and the many American deaths occurred while hopskotching across the islands of the Pacific, it was perfectly alright to kill vast numbers of enemy civilians in war. President Truman’s announcement at the time avoided dealing with the issue when he emphasized that Hiroshima was a military base. Ergo, the city was a legitimate wartime target. He never tried to explain Nagasaki.
A memory: On an army transport on the way home from my military service I met a young, newly married couple. He was a U.S. airman with a new Japanese bride who had lived in Hiroshima. On August 6, 1945 the bomb dropped. Her mother, she explained, was so terrified that she sent her to grandma and grandpa in Nagasaki, just in time to live through the attack on Nagasaki three days later.
My wife and I rented a TV film “Trinity” made in 1980, featuring interviews by and about J. Robert Oppenheimer, Hans Bethe, Edward Teller, General Leslie Groves and the team of physicists who developed the first atom bomb in Alamogordo, New Mexico. We viewed the film on August 6th, completely forgetting that the sixth of August was the date a Japanese city was incinerated and the world changed forever.
But were the two bombings warranted?
Hiroshima was never a military base. Tokyo, another possible target, had already been devastated by firebomb raids. Still, either Truman had no real knowledge about Hiroshima or simply fabricated a tale that it was a military city. In future years he never expressed the slightest doubt about the green light he had given to his bombers. (0r, for that matter, taking us into the Korean War without congressional approval; obviously, he’s not my favorite president). Truman, reputedly a prodigious reader, never bothered reading John Hersey’s classic 1946 book Hiroshima, once widely read and studied by American students from high school through college. Hersey’s description of what the bombers did to Japanese civilians is unbearable as in a scene when he depicts the melting of human eyeballs from the intense heat. “In a city of two hundred and forty- five thousand, nearly a hundred thousand people had been killed or doomed at one blow,” wrote Hersey; “a hundred thousand more were hurt.”
Americans cheered the bombing, the victory and the technological achievement but not everyone among Washington’s elite circles agreed. Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy, FDR and Truman’s chief of staff, for example, was horrified, saying, “The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender,” adding, “My own feeling was that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.” Bravo to Admiral Leahy!
David Swanson’s perceptive book War is a Crime quotes the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey stating that Japan would have surrendered no later than November 1, 1945 or by the end of December 1945 “even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped.” General Dwight Eisenhower, like Leahy, supported the SBS’ conclusion but both were overwhelmed by those eager for retribution and possibly an eventual go at the Soviets.
Today, nine nations possess nuclear arsenals (U.S., Russia, India, Pakistan, Israel, France, the U.K., China and North Korea) and repeated but thus far false accusations are regularly aimed at Iran (Israeli propaganda aimed at its pets in Congress) for either harboring or working on a Bomb. Some American politicians love saying that all options are “on the table” when referring to Iran and North Korea. I wonder under what circumstances the U.S. would repeat Hiroshima and Nagasaki and be willing to destroy, say, millions in Teheran or Pyongyang.
To my neighbor who asked if the two atomic attacks were justified, I said that I thought it was not since the war was already won and a land invasion was unnecessary. But above all else, I added, the reasons for an attack that may or may not have been war crime (though future nuclear attacks should certainly be judged as crimes) were manufactured by policymakers and subsequently became the gospel, and thereafter echoed by millions.
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