by Gary G. Kohls MD
August 6, 2015, is the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, a civilian city that had minimal military value, despite the claims of President Truman when he announced the event to the American people.
The whole truth of what the Nuremburg tribunal would later help define as an international war crime and a crime against humanity has been heavily censored and mythologized ever since war-weary Americans in 1945 accepted the propaganda that the bombings were necessary to shorten the war and prevent the loss of a million US soldiers during the allegedly planned November 1945 invasion.
Of course, the reason that the United States wasn’t sanctioned like Germany was for the Jewish holocaust was that America was the victor and the occupier and thus it was in charge of making and enforcing the rules in the New World Order.
The United States military ambushed the equally defenseless Nagasaki City three days later with the second atomic bomb to ever be used against a civilian population (that no longer had any military value to Japan). “Fat Man”, the plutonium bomb named after Winston Churchill, was detonated before the Japanese leadership fully understood what had happened at Hiroshima.
Lies my History Teachers Told Me
My high school history teachers all seemed to be ex-jocks who weren’t athletically talented enough to make it to the majors. The main chance for them to continue playing games for pay was to join the teaching profession and coach high school athletics. American history was of secondary importance in many small town high schools but it hardly made the list of interests for coaches, who reluctantly accepted the job; and so my classmates and I “learned” our lessons from some very uninspired, very bored and/or very uninformed teachers who would rather have been on the playing field.
In my coach’s defense, the history books that they had to teach from had been highly censored in order to promote patriotism; and so we “learned” that most everything that the “noble” British colonizers and “honorable” US empire builders ever did in the history of warfare was self-sacrificing, democracy-promoting and Christianizing – and that everything their freedom-seeking, revolutionary colonial victims did was barbaric, atheistic and evil. Anybody who resisted colonial oppressors was treated as a terrorist.
It was from these history books that we learned about the “glorious” end of the war against Japan via nuclear incineration. Everybody in my high school, including myself, swallowed the post-war propaganda hook, line and sinker.
50,000 American soldiers deserted or went AWOL during WWII
Of course, I now realize that my classmates and I, just like most other Americans (including the volunteer or conscripted members of the military), have been naïve victims of “lies our history teachers taught us”. In their defense, those teachers had been misled in their own schooling by equally mis-informed teachers who got their information from a variety of dis-informers who wrote the books: and those authors were the war- and empire-justifying militarists and assorted uber-patriotic pseudo-historians who had been duped into believing the myth of American exceptionalism.
Not included in that group of true believers were the 50,000 WWII American soldier-members of the “Greatest Generation” who, in many cases, logically and understandably deserted or went AWOL during their war service, a reality that has been conveniently censored out of our consciousness.
The First Casualty of War is Truth
One of General Douglas MacArthur’s first acts after taking over as Viceroy of Japan was to confiscate or otherwise destroy all the photographic evidence documenting the horrors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He imposed total censorship over journalists who wanted to report to the world about what had really happened at Ground Zero, again proving the old adage that “the first casualty of war is truth”. Embedding journalists in the US military so that only America-friendly reportage happened wasn’t the original idea of General Stormin’ Norman Schwarzkopf in Gulf War I.
Back in 1995, the Smithsonian Institution was preparing to correct some of the 50-year-old pseudo-patriotic myths about the Pacific War by staging an honest, historically-accurate display dealing with the atomic bombings from the Japanese civilian perspective.
Swift, vehement and well-orchestrated condemnations directed at the Smithsonian historian’s plans to tell unwelcome truths about war came from right-wing pro-war veterans organizations, the GOP-dominated Congress at the time, and other militarist groups (such as Newt Gingrich’s paymaster Lockheed Martin, one of many war-profiteering merchants-of-death multinationals whose profits and products depend on Congressional and Pentagon largesse). Gingrich actually threatened to stop federal funding of the Smithsonian, thus forcing it to censor-out all of the contextually important parts of the real story. And so the pseudo-patriotic myths about Hiroshima and Nagasaki continue to be preserved to this very day.
Historical Illiteracy in America is Endemic
We historically-illiterate Americans are blocked, again and again, from learning historical truths about the American Empire – and the control that the military and multinational corporations have over it. Anything that might shake voter confidence in – or incite grassroots revolution against – the unelected ruling elites, the Pentagon or the conscienceless transnational corporations (that control our two major party politicians, the mainstream media and the “invisible hand of the market”) is verboten.
The Smithsonian historians did have a gun to their heads, of course, but in the melee, we voters failed to learn an important historical point, and that is this: the war in the Pacific could have ended in the spring of 1945 without the need for the August atomic bombings, and therefore there might have been no Okinawa bloodbath that senselessly doomed thousands of American Marines, soldiers and sailors.
And there would have been no need for an American land invasion of Japan in November. Indeed, in the 1980s, released top secret records revealed that the contingency plans for a large-scale US invasion (planned for no sooner than November 1, 1945) would have been unnecessary.
To the victors go the spoils, and the American victors were the ones running the war crimes tribunals and thus also determined the content of my history text books.
America’s Leaders Knew that Japan was Searching for ways to Honorably Surrender Months before Hiroshima
American intelligence agencies, with the full knowledge of President Roosevelt’s and President Truman’s administrations, were fully aware of Japan’s search for ways to honorably surrender months before Truman gave the fateful order to incinerate Hiroshima.
Japan was working on peace negotiations through its ambassador in Moscow as early as April of 1945, with surrender feelers from Japan occurring as far back as 1944. Truman knew of these developments because the US had broken the Japanese code even before Pearl Harbor, and all of Japan’s military and diplomatic messages were being intercepted. On July 13, 1945, Foreign Minister Togo wrote: “Unconditional surrender (giving up all sovereignty, including the deposing of Emperor Hirohito) is the only obstacle to peace.”
Truman’s advisors knew about these efforts, and the war could have ended through diplomacy by simply conceding a post-war figurehead position for the emperor (who was regarded as a deity in Japan). That reasonable concession was – seemingly illogically – refused by the US in their demands for unconditional surrender, which was first demanded at the 1943 Casablanca Conference between Roosevelt and Churchill and then reiterated at the Potsdam Conference between Truman, Churchill and Stalin. Still, the Japanese continued searching for an honorable peace through negotiations.
Even Secretary of War Henry Stimson said: “the true question was not whether surrender could have been achieved without the use of the bomb but whether a different diplomatic and military course would have led to an earlier surrender. A large segment of the Japanese cabinet was ready in the spring of 1945 to accept substantially the same terms as those finally agreed on.” In other words, Stimson knew that the US could have ended the war before Hiroshima.
The Unreasonable Demand for Japan’s Unconditional Surrender Prolonged the War
After Japan officially surrendered on August 15, 1945, MacArthur allowed the emperor to remain in place as spiritual head of Japan, the very condition that forced the Japanese leadership to refuse to accept the earlier, humiliating, “unconditional surrender” terms.
So the two essential questions that need answering in order to comprehend what was going on behind the scenes are these: 1) Why did the US refuse to accept Japan’s only demand concerning its surrender (the retention of the emperor) and 2) why were the atomic bombs used when victory in the Pacific was assured?
The Factors Leading up to the Decision to use the Most Barbaric Weapons of Mass Destruction in the History of Warfare
There are a number of factors that contributed to the Truman administration’s fateful decision to use the atomic bombs.
- 1) Investment. The US had made a huge investment in time, mind and money (a massive 2 billion in 1940 dollars) to produce three bombs, and there was no inclination – and no guts – to stop the momentum.
- 2) Revenge. The US military and political leadership – as did many ordinary Americans – had a tremendous appetite for revenge because of the Pearl Harbor “surprise” attack. Mercy wasn’t in the mindset of the US military, the war-weary populace or even of average American Christians and their churches. The missions against Hiroshima and Nagasaki were accepted as necessary, with no questions asked, by most of those folks who only knew the sanitized, national security state version of events. Most Americans wanted to believe the cunningly-orchestrated propaganda.
- 3) A “use it or lose it” mentality and scientific curiosity. The fissionable material in Hiroshima’s bomb was uranium. The Trinity test bomb (exploded on July 16, 1945) and the Nagasaki bomb were plutonium bombs. Scientific curiosity was a significant factor that pushed the project to its deadly completion. The Manhattan Project leaders were curious. “What would happen if a city was leveled by a single uranium bomb?” “What would happen if plutonium was used?” Now that the war against Nazi Germany (the original intended target) was over, the most conscientious scientists felt that the bombs should not be used against civilian targets.
- 4) “Orders are orders”. Actually, the military decision to drop both bombs had been made well in advance of August 1945. Accepting the surrender of Japan prior to their use was not an option if the experiment was to go ahead. It should be obvious to anybody that the three-day interval between the two bombs was unconscionably short if the purpose of the first bomb was to force immediate surrender. Japan’s communications and transportation capabilities were in shambles, and no one, neither the US military nor the Japanese high command, fully understood what had happened at Hiroshima. (It is a fascinating fact that the Manhattan Project had been so top secret that even MacArthur, commanding general of the entire Pacific theatre, had been kept out of the loop – until July 1.)
- 5) The Russians. Stalin had proclaimed his intent to enter the war with Japan 90 days after V-E Day (Victory in Europe Day, May 8, 1945), which would have been two days after Hiroshima was bombed. Indeed, Russia did declare war on Japan on August 8 and was advancing eastward across Manchuria when Nagasaki City, the center of Japanese Christianity, was incinerated.
Certainly Russia was still feeling the sting of humiliating defeat and the loss of territory from the disastrous Russo-Japanese War of 1905 when they were beaten by upstart Japan. Elephants and ego-bloated nation-states have long memories, especially when they lose an argument, lose a fight or are embarrassed in public. Witness the 150-year-old enduring promise from segregationist devotees of the Confederate flag like Dylan Roof, the KKK, and the White Citizen’s Councils that “The South Will Rise Again”; or consider the rabid right-wing, sociopathic NeoNazis all around the world in their devotion to Adolf Hitler and their symbol of fascism, the Swastika.
The US didn’t want Japan surrendering to Russia and thus sharing the spoils of war. Russia was soon to be one of only two world superpowers – and therefore a future enemy of the United States. So the first “messages” of the Cold War were sent by the US to the USSR on August 6 and 9, 1945: “Stalin, stay away from Japan’s carcass. We own it. And besides, we have the bomb.”
Russia didn’t receive the spoils of the Pacific War that they had anticipated, and the two superpowers were instantly mired in the multi-trillion dollar stalemated nuclear arms race and the multitude of proxy wars that regularly risked the total extinction of humanity. What also happened along the way was the moral bankruptcy of both of the paranoid super-power nations that insisted on fighting the stupid cold war, a war that was fueled by war-profiteering corporations and borrow and spend economics.
The Reality for the Innocent Casualties of War
An estimated 80,000 innocent civilians, plus 20,000 weaponless young Japanese conscripts died instantly in the Hiroshima bombing raid. Hundreds of thousands more suffered slow deaths and disabilities from agonizing burns, radiation sickness, leukemia, anemia, thrombocytopenia and untreatable infections. The Japanese survivors and their progeny suffered a fate similar to the survivors and progeny of America’s “Atomic Soldiers”. (Atomic Soldiers were those soldiers who were exposed, in the line of duty, to the hundreds of nuclear tests in the 50s and 60s or to the depleted uranium that the US military used in the two Gulf Wars.) Each of those groups were afflicted with horrible radiation-induced illnesses, congenital anomalies, genetic mutations, immune deficiencies, cancers and premature deaths, still going on to this very minute.
(Another shameful reality that has been covered up is the fact that 12 American Navy pilots, their existence well known to the US command prior to the bombing, were instantly incinerated in the Hiroshima jail on that fateful day.)
Military Myths That our Teachers Taught us
So the official War Department-approved, highly censored version of the end of the war in the Pacific was added to an ever-lengthening list of myths that we Americans have been continuously fed by our corporate-controlled military, political and media opinion leaders. In the process, the gruesomeness and cruelty of war has been cunningly propagandized so that we consumers of information see only the glorification of American militarism.
Among the other censored out realities include what really happened in the US military’s participation in the destabilize-and-conquer campaigns and coups d’etat in Ukraine, Honduras, Venezuela, Libya, and bloody invasions and/or occupations of Korea, Iran, Viet Nam, Laos, Cambodia, Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, the Philippines, Chile, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Haiti, Colombia, Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc, etc. This list doesn’t necessarily cover the uncountable secret Pentagon/CIA covert operations and assassination plots in the rest of the world, where some 150 “sovereign” nations have been coerced into allowing the building of American military bases (permission lavishly paid for by bribes or threats of economic or military sanctions).
But somehow most of us still hang on to our shaky “my country right or wrong” patriotism, desperately wanting to believe the cunningly-orchestrated myths that say that the war-profiteering corporate elite (and the politicians, military leaders and media talking heads who are in their employ) only work for peace, justice, equality, liberty and “making the world safe”, not for democracy, but for predatory capitalism.
While it is true that the US military has faced down the occasional despot, with necessary sacrifice from dead and incurably-wounded (in body, mind and spirit) American soldiers and veterans, more often than not the rationalizations for going to war are the same as those of the “godless communists”, the anti-American “insurgents” and “freedom fighters” who just want us Yankees to go home where we belong.
August 6 and 9, 1945 are just two more examples of the brain-washing that goes on in all “total war” political agendas, which are consistently accompanied by the inevitable human death and destruction that is euphemistically labeled “splendid slaughter”, “collateral damage” or “friendly fire”.
What Happened to the Humanitarian, Peace-loving America That We Used to Know and Love?
It might already be too late to rescue and resuscitate the (mythical?) moribund humanitarian, peacemaking America that we used to know and love. It might be too late to effectively confront the corporate hijacking of liberal democracy in America. It might be too late to successfully bring down the arrogant and greedy ruling elites who are selfishly dragging our planet down the road to destruction. The rolling coups d’etat orchestrated by the profiteers of what I call Friendly American Fascism may have already accomplished its goals.
But I suppose there is always hope. Rather than being silent about the destabilizing conflicts that the war-mongers are provoking all over the planet (with the very willing assistance of Wall Street, the Pentagon, the weapons industries and their lapdogs in Congress), people of conscience need to start learning the whole truth of history, despite the psychological discomfort that they may feel (cognitive dissonance) when the lies that they had been led to believe can’t be believed any more. We need to start owning up to America’s uncountable war crimes that have been orchestrated in our names.
And so the whistle-blowers among us need to rise up in dissent, go to the streets in protest and courageously refuse to cooperate with those sociopathic personalities that have gradually transformed America into a criminal rogue state. Like Nazi Germany or Fascist Japan, rogue nations throughout history have been eventually targeted for downfall by its billions of angry, fed-up, suffering victims who live both inside and outside its borders. That fate awaits America unless its leaders confesses their sins, honestly ask for forgiveness and truly promise to join the peace-loving human race.
Doing what is right for the whole of humanity for a change, rather than just doing what is profitable or advantageous for our over-privileged, over-consumptive, toxic and unsustainable American way of life, would be real honor, real patriotism and an essential start toward real peace.
Dr Kohls is a retired family physician from Duluth, Minnesota who practiced holistic (non-drug) mental health care for the last decade of his career. He often dealt with the horrific psychological consequences of veterans (and civilians) who had suffered psychological, neurological and/or spiritual trauma. He continues to be involved in peace, nonviolence and justice issues and often writes about mental ill health, toxic food issues, corporate pollution, the corporate-controlled media, corporate-controlled politics, crony capitalism, militarism, racism, fascism, imperialism, totalitarianism, economic oppression, anti-environmentalism and other violent, unsustainable, anti-democratic movements.
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I agree Dr. Kohls that we should scrutinize the propaganda concerning the end of the war more closely. I also think we do the same for the start of the war–that is, how the US entered the war. Roosevelt provoked and antagonized Japan for years, ultimately attempting to cripple them with an oil embargo. The Japs did not want or need a war with the US. It was Roosevelt who wanted war with, to expand our ‘strategic posture’ in the far east beyond the Philippenes. And also prevent any of Japan’s other enemies from seizing the spoils of victory first. And the VAST MAJORITY of Americans were opposed to this, ripe up until Dec. 7, 1941, “a day that will live infamy.” And it should… but for a different reason than it does.
Congressional hearings (Pearl Harbor Committee) after the war showed that Roosevelt had advance warning from his own navy that Japanese carriers and planes wear headed directly for Pearl Harbor. He pointedly declined to authorize any attack on them before they could reach their target. Over two-thousand Americans–mostly sailors–were cynically sacrificed in order to give him his much-desired ‘casus belli’. But this has all been memory-holed–according to ‘The Narrative’, it just never happened.
The BBC is still peddling the ‘it shortened the war’ line in its Children’s TV programme about Hiroshima airing this week.
I’ve read in depth about what went on in the leadership of the Japanese government and military in the spring of 1945. From these readings, it was far from clear from the outside (regardless of our code breaking) that Japan was on the verge of surrendering; it was unclear, even to those leaders at the center of the turmoil in leadership circles, what would happen regarding a surrender. As you might guess, there were some who felt the surrender could not happen soon enough; conversely there were those “hawks” among the decision-makers that favored an unending national resistance regardless of the cost, as a principle of Japanese honor. The dropping of the atomic bombs did in fact drive the most right-wing in the Japanese leadership to finally concede the argument, which is what finally allowed that surrender to happen without an ensuing drawn-out civil/guerrilla war. Now, whether this outcome would have happened anyway is anyone’s guess, but it is really kind of lame to presume that would have happened with the benefit of 70+ years of hindsight and without sufficient factual evidence to back it up. The point about the Soviets is also still in play; indeed, the Red Army was all but unstoppable in the west by conventional means at the time and had occupied all of what of course later became the “Iron Curtain” countries. In late 1945 General Curtis Lemay was asked what the Soviets would require in order to advance into Switzerland and beyond, and he simply said “a decent pair of walking shoes”. Even some peace-oriented thought leaders here in the US believed we should go to war with Russia right then and there to end the threat (and the obvious coming US/USSR war) while we still had a nuclear advantage; it was all quite real at the time. The reasons given the American people since are surely “dumbed down” and meant to serve a heroic militaristic vision of ourselves, but that time was not OUR time today; it is useful to consider this in judging from our 70+ nuclear age-induced time of freedom from world war. We don’t understand what it felt like to be alive then and fearing their fears, bereaving their dead, etc. At the time of the Berlin airlift, Truman initially thought he only had two choices: accept the Soviet domination of Berlin and continued brinksmanship and expansion in Europe, or start WW3 with nuclear weapons. The almost accidental discovery of a “third way” occurred when the Soviets declined to shoot our transport planes down, and set in motion the onset of the Cold War.
The propaganda worked well. My WW II Vet Father believed until the end of his life that the bombing had precluded the necessity for him to go from Europe to the Pacific Theater for an invasion of mainland Japan. No amount of information I could provide was ever enough to convince him that what he had been told just was not true.
An excellent and very detailed post, thanks very much.
I only have one major objection about these two sentences:
“Certainly Russia was still feeling the sting of humiliating defeat and the loss of territory from the disastrous Russo-Japanese War of 1905 when they were beaten by upstart Japan. Elephants and ego-bloated nation-states have long memories, especially when they lose an argument, lose a fight or are embarrassed in public …”
It’s understandable that the author has written these sentences given what he has already said about the way he was taught (or not taught) history at school.
In fact, the Soviets had already punished Japan for that 1905 war at the Battle of Khalkhin-Gol in Mongolia in August 1939 after several years of skirmishing and fighting in the Soviet Far East region. This battle was decisive in deterring Japan from pursuing more territory in that part of Asia and focusing its imperial ambitions on Southeast Asia and the western Pacific region. Not long after defeating the Japanese, the USSR signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact with Germany to ensure that it would never have to fight a future war on two fronts (western and eastern) at the same time.
Incidentally I myself was never taught about the Soviet-Japanese conflicts in the 1930s while at high school and only found out about this history in the last couple of years.
Of course the fact that the Soviets were able to beat Japan about 2 1/2 years before Japan defeated the British Empire in February 1942 by taking Singapore would have been a little inconvenient for historians in the Anglosphere.
Yup, the high school coach was our history teacher, too. And the American Church has been as great a censor. Who has ever heard this form one of our heroes of the faith? https://spurgeonwarquotes.wordpress.com/
A couple of things you missed:
i) It was done to test that the weapons could be delivered safely.
ii) All the targets were untouched by conventional bombing so the citizens continued on their way when they saw the bombers. They did not rush to bomb shelters. The tests were thus to quantify the damage done to intact cities and to evaluate the effects of blast, radiation, fire etc on living people – a ghastly medical experiment far worse than anything Mengele did.