Guest essay by Peter Hammond
This year, 2015, will mark the 70th anniversary of the dropping of the Atom bomb on Hiroshima, 6 August 1945 and Nagasaki, 9 August 1945.
Did the Atomic Bombs Actually Save Lives?
I was taught that the U.S. dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in order to end WWII and save both American and Japanese lives. But most of the top American military officials at the time said otherwise. The U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey group, assigned by President Truman to study the air attacks on Japan, produced a report in July of 1946 that concluded: “Based on a detailed investigation of all the facts and supported by the testimony of the surviving Japanese leaders involved, it is the Survey’s opinion that certainly prior to 31 December 1945 and in all probability, prior to 1 November 1945, Japan would have surrendered, even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated.”
Atomic Weapons Were Not Needed to End the War, or to Save Lives
General (and later president) Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of all Allied Forces, said: “The Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing.” (Newsweek, 11/11/63, “Ike on Ike”). Eisenhower also noted: “In July 1945, Secretary of War Stimson, visiting my headquarters in Germany, informed me that our government was preparing to drop an atomic bomb on Japan. I was one of those who felt that there were a number of cogent reasons to question the wisdom of such an act… I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. It was my belief that Japan was, at that very moment, seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of ‘face’. The Secretary was deeply perturbed by my attitude….”
Unnecessary and Unethical
Admiral William Leahy, the highest ranking member of the U.S. military from 1942 until retiring in 1949, who was the first de facto Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote: “It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons. The lethal possibilities of atomic warfare in the future are frightening. 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.”
No Military Justification
General Douglas MacArthur agreed: “MacArthur’s views about the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were starkly different from what the general public supposed…. He saw no military justification for the dropping of the bomb. The war might have ended weeks earlier, if the United States had agreed, as it later did anyway, to the retention of the institution of the emperor.”
The Potsdam Threat
Moreover: The Potsdam Declaration, in July 1945, demanded that Japan surrender unconditionally, or face ‘prompt and utter destruction’. MacArthur was appalled. He knew that the Japanese would never renounce their emperor, and that without him an orderly transition to peace would be impossible anyhow, because his people would never submit to Allied occupation unless he ordered it. Ironically, when the surrender did come, it was conditional, and the condition was a continuation of the imperial reign. Had the General’s advice been followed, the resort to atomic weapons at Hiroshima and Nagasaki would have been unnecessary.
Assistant Secretary of War John McLoy noted: “I have always felt that if, in our ultimatum to the Japanese government issued from Potsdam (July 1945), we had referred to the retention of the emperor as a constitutional monarch and had made some reference to the reasonable accessibility of raw materials to the future Japanese government, it would have been accepted… We missed the opportunity of effecting a Japanese surrender, completely satisfactory to us, without the necessity of dropping the bombs.”
The War was Already Won
Under Secretary of the Navy, Ralph Bird said: “The Japanese were ready for peace, and they already had approached the Russians and the Swiss. And that suggestion of giving a warning of the atomic bomb was a face-saving proposition for them, and one that they could have readily accepted. In my opinion, the Japanese war was really won before we ever used the atom bomb. Thus, it wouldn’t have been necessary for us to disclose our nuclear position and stimulate the Russians to develop the same thing much more rapidly than they would have if we had not dropped the bomb… The Japanese were becoming weaker and weaker. They were surrounded by the Navy. They couldn’t get any imports and they couldn’t export anything. Naturally, as time went on and the war developed in our favour it was quite logical to hope and expect that, with the proper kind of a warning, the Japanese would then be in a position to make peace, which would have made it unnecessary for us to drop the bomb and bring Russia in.” (“War Was Really Won Before We Used A-Bomb,” U.S. News and World Report, 8/15/60)
It Had Nothing to do with Ending the War
General Curtis LeMay, the tough cigar-smoking Army Air Force “hawk”, stated publicly shortly after the nuclear bombs were dropped on Japan: “The war would have been over in two weeks… The atomic bomb had nothing to do with the end of the war at all.”
No Invasion was Necessary
The Vice Chairman of the U.S. Bombing Survey Paul Nitze wrote: “I concluded that even without the atomic bomb, Japan was likely to surrender in a matter of months. My own view was that Japan would capitulate by November 1945. Even without the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it seemed highly unlikely, given what we found to have been the mood of the Japanese government, that a U.S. invasion of the islands scheduled for 1 November 1945 would have been necessary.”
Opening up Asia for Communism
Deputy Director of the Office of Naval Intelligence Ellis Zacharias wrote: “Just when the Japanese were ready to capitulate, we went ahead and introduced to the world the most devastating weapon it had ever seen and, in effect, gave the go-ahead to Russia to swarm over Eastern Asia. Washington decided it was time to use the A-bomb. I submit that it was the wrong decision. It was wrong on strategic grounds. And it was wrong on humanitarian grounds.” (Ellis Zacharias, “How We Bungled the Japanese Surrender,” Look, 6/6/50)
Immoral and Unnecessary
Brigadier General Carter Clarke, the Military Intelligence officer in charge of preparing summaries of intercepted Japanese cables for President Truman and his advisors, said: “When we didn’t need to do it, and we knew we didn’t need to do it, and they knew that we knew we didn’t need to do it, we used them as an experiment for two atomic bombs. Many other high-level military officers concurred. For example: The commander in chief of the U.S. Fleet and Chief of Naval Operations, Ernest J. King, stated that the naval blockade and prior bombing of Japan in March of 1945, had rendered the Japanese helpless and that the use of the atomic bomb was both unnecessary and immoral.”
A Double Crime
“Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz stated in a press conference on September 22, 1945, that ‘The Admiral took the opportunity of adding his voice to those insisting that Japan had been defeated before the atomic bombing and Russia’s entry into the war.’ In a subsequent speech at the Washington Monument on October 5, 1945, Admiral Nimitz stated ‘The Japanese had, in fact, already sued for peace before the atomic age was announced to the world with the destruction of Hiroshima and before the Russian entry into the war.’ It was learned also that General Eisenhower had urged Truman, in a personal visit, not to use the atomic bomb. Eisenhower’s assessment was ‘It wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing… to use the atomic bomb, to kill and terrorize civilians, without even attempting negotiations, was a double crime.’ Eisenhower also stated that it wasn’t necessary for Truman to ‘succumb’ to the tiny handful of people putting pressure on the president to drop atom bombs on Japan.”
“British officers were of the same mind. For example, General Sir Hastings Ismay, Chief of Staff to the British Minister of Defence, said to Prime Minister Churchill that ‘when Russia came into the war against Japan, the Japanese would probably wish to get out on almost any terms short of the dethronement of the Emperor.’ On hearing that the atomic test was successful, Ismay’s private reaction was one of ‘revulsion.'”
Why Were Bombs Dropped on Populated Cities Without Military Value?
Even military officers who favoured use of nuclear weapons mainly favoured using them on unpopulated areas, or Japanese military targets… not cities.
Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Navy Lewis Strauss proposed that a non-lethal demonstration of atomic weapons would be enough to convince the Japanese to surrender… and the Navy Secretary agreed: “I proposed to Secretary Forrestal that the weapon should be demonstrated before it was used… the war was very nearly over. The Japanese were nearly ready to capitulate… My proposal… was that the weapon should be demonstrated over… a large forest of cryptomeria trees not far from Tokyo… Would lay the trees out in windrows from the centre of the explosion in all directions as though they were matchsticks, and, of course, set them afire in the centre. It seemed to me that a demonstration of this sort would prove to the Japanese that we could destroy any of their cities at will… Secretary Forrestal agreed wholeheartedly with the recommendation… It seemed to me that such a weapon was not necessary to bring the war to a successful conclusion, that once used it would find its way into the armaments of the world…”
Warning Should Have First Been Given
General George Marshall agreed: “‘these weapons might first be used against straight military objectives such as a large naval installation and… a number of large manufacturing areas from which the people would be warned to leave – telling the Japanese that we intend to destroy such centres….'”
Neither Hiroshima nor Nagasaki were deemed militarily vital by U.S. planners. (This is one of the reasons neither had been heavily bombed up to this point in the war.) Moreover, targeting at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was aimed explicitly on non-military facilities surrounded by workers’ homes.
Historians Agree that the Bomb Wasn’t Needed
Historians agree that nuclear weapons did not need to be used to stop the war or to save lives. As historian Doug Long notes: “U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission historian J. Samuel Walker writes, ‘The consensus among scholars is that the bomb was not needed to avoid an invasion of Japan and to end the war within a relatively short time. It is clear that alternatives to the bomb existed and that Truman and his advisors knew it.'” (J. Samuel Walker, “The Decision to Use the Bomb: A Historiographical Update,” Diplomatic History, Winter 1990)
Politicians Agreed that Atomic Bombs were Not Needed
Ex-president Herbert Hoover said: “The Japanese were prepared to negotiate all the way from February 1945… up to and before the time the atomic bombs were dropped;… if such leads had been followed up, there would have been no occasion to drop the atomic bombs.”
The Japanese Wanted to End the War
Under Secretary of State Joseph Grew noted: “In the light of available evidence I myself and others felt that if such a categorical statement about the retention of the dynasty had been issued in May, 1945, the surrender-minded elements in the Japanese government might well have been afforded by such a statement a valid reason and the necessary strength to come to an early clear cut decision. If surrender could have been brought about in May, 1945, or even in June or July, before the entrance of Soviet Russia into the Pacific war and the use of the atomic bomb, the world would have been the gainer.”
Why Then Were Atom Bombs Dropped on Japan?
If dropping nuclear bombs was unnecessary to end the war, or to save lives, why was the decision to drop them made? Especially over the objections of so many top military and political figures?
Scientists Like to Test their Toys
One theory is that scientists like to play with their new toys: On September 9, 1945, Admiral William F. Halsey, commander of the Third Fleet, was publicly quoted extensively as stating that the atomic bomb was used because the scientists had a:”toy and they wanted to try it out… The first atomic bomb was an unnecessary experiment… It was a mistake to ever drop it.”
Even Scientists Opposed Using the Atom Bomb
However, most of the Manhattan Project scientists, who developed the atom bomb, were opposed to using it on Japan. The scientists questioned the ability of destroying Japanese cities with atomic bombs to bring surrender when destroying Japanese cities with conventional bombs had not done so. They recommended a demonstration of the atomic bomb in an unpopulated area of Japan.
Precipitating an Atomic Arms Race
Albert Einstein, an important catalyst for the development of the atom bomb (but not directly connected with the Manhattan Project), said: “‘A great majority of scientists were opposed to the sudden employment of the atom bomb’. In Einstein’s judgment, the dropping of the bomb was a political, diplomatic decision rather than a military or scientific decision. Indeed, some of the Manhattan Project scientists wrote directly to the Secretary of Defense in 1945 to try to dissuade him from dropping the bomb. ‘We believe that these considerations make the use of nuclear bombs for an early, unannounced attack against Japan inadvisable. If the United States would be the first to release this new means of indiscriminate destruction upon mankind, she would sacrifice public support throughout the world, precipitate the race of armaments, and prejudice the possibility of reaching an international agreement on the future control of such weapons.” (“Political and Social Problems, Manhattan Engineer District Records, Harrison-Bundy files,” National Archives (also contained in: Martin Sherwin, A World Destroyed)
Launching the Cold War
History.com notes: “In the years since the two atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, a number of historians have suggested that the weapons had a two-pronged objective…. It has been suggested that the second objective was to demonstrate the new weapon of mass destruction to the Soviet Union. By August 1945, relations between the Soviet Union and the United States had deteriorated badly. The Potsdam Conference between U.S. President Harry S. Truman, Russian leader Joseph Stalin, and Winston Churchill (before being replaced by Clement Attlee) ended just four days before the bombing of Hiroshima. The meeting was marked by recriminations and suspicion between the Americans and Soviets. Russian armies were occupying most of Eastern Europe. Truman and many of his advisers hoped that the U.S. atomic monopoly might offer diplomatic leverage with the Soviets. In this fashion, the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan can be seen as the first shot of the Cold War.”
A Crime Against Humanity
The conventional explanation of using the bombs to end the war and save lives is disputed by Peter Kuznick and Mark Selden, historians from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. New studies of the US, Japanese and Soviet diplomatic archives suggest that Truman’s main motive was to limit Soviet expansion in Asia.
New Scientist reported in 2005: “The US decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 was meant to kick-start the Cold War rather than end the Second World War, according to two nuclear historians who say they have new evidence backing the controversial theory. Causing a fission reaction in several kilograms of uranium and plutonium and killing over 200,000 people was done more to impress the Soviet Union than to cow Japan. ‘He knew he was beginning the process of annihilation of the species’, says Peter Kuznick, director of the Nuclear Studies Institute at American University in Washington DC, US. ‘It was not just a war crime; it was a crime against humanity.'”
Japan was Searching for Peace
According to an account by Walter Brown, Assistant to US Secretary of State James Byrnes, Truman agreed at a meeting three days before the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima that Japan was ‘looking for peace’. Truman was told by his army generals, Douglas Macarthur and Dwight Eisenhower, and his Naval Chief of Staff, William Leahy, that there was no military need to use the bomb. “Impressing Russia was more important than ending the war in Japan.”
Russia was our Real Enemy not Japan
John Pilger points out: “The US Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, told President Truman he was ‘fearful’ that the US Air Force would have Japan so ‘bombed out’ that the new weapon would not be able ‘to show its strength’. He later admitted that ‘no effort was made, and none was seriously considered, to achieve surrender’… General Leslie Groves, Director of the Manhattan Project that made the bomb, testified: ‘There was never any illusion on my part that Russia was our enemy, and that the project was conducted on that basis.’ The day after Hiroshima was obliterated, President Truman voiced his satisfaction with the ‘overwhelming success’ of ‘the experiment.'”
Conservatives Opposed the Atom Bomb as Immoral
University of Maryland professor of political economy, and former Legislative Director in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, and Special Assistant in the Department of State, Gar Alperovitz declared: “Though most Americans are unaware of the fact, increasing numbers of historians now recognize the United States did not need to use the atomic bomb to end the war against Japan in 1945. Moreover, this essential judgment was expressed by the vast majority of top American military leaders in all three services in the years after the war ended: Army, Navy and Air Force. Nor was this the judgment of ‘liberals’, as is sometimes thought today. In fact, leading conservatives were far more outspoken in challenging the decision as unjustified and immoral than American liberals in the years following World War II.
Serving the Cause of Communism in Asia
“Instead of allowing other options to end the war, the United States rushed to use two atomic bombs at almost exactly the time that an 8 August Soviet attack had originally been scheduled: Hiroshima on 6 August and Nagasaki on 9 August. The timing itself has obviously raised questions among many historians.”
The most illuminating perspective, however, comes from top World War II American military leaders. The conventional wisdom that the atomic bomb saved a million lives is so widespread that most Americans haven’t paused to ponder something rather striking to anyone seriously concerned with the issue: Not only did most top U.S. military leaders think the bombings were unnecessary and unjustified, many were morally offended by what they regarded as the unnecessary destruction of Japanese cities and what were essentially noncombat populations. Moreover, they spoke about it quite openly and publicly.
A Political Decision
General George C. Marshall is on record as repeatedly saying that it was not a military decision, but rather a political one.
On 11 August 1945, the Japanese government filed an official protest over the atomic bombing to the U.S. State Department through the Swiss Legation in Tokyo, observing: “Combatant and non-combatant men and women, old and young, are massacred without discrimination by the atmospheric pressure of the explosion, as well as by the radiating heat which result therefrom. Consequently there is involved a bomb having the most cruel effects humanity has ever known… The bombs in question, used by the Americans, by their cruelty and by their terrorizing effects, surpass by far gas or any other arm, the use of which is prohibited. Japanese protests against U.S. desecration of international principles of war paired the use of the atomic bomb with the earlier firebombing, which massacred old people, women and children, destroying and burning down Shinto and Buddhist temples, schools, hospitals, living quarters, etc. They now use this new bomb, having an uncontrollable and cruel effect much greater than any other arms or projectiles ever used to date. This constitutes a new crime against humanity and civilization.”
In 1963, the bombings were the subject of a judicial review. The District Court of Tokyo found, “the attacks upon Hiroshima and Nagasaki caused such severe and indiscriminate suffering that they did violate the most basic legal principles governing the conduct of war.”
The Hague Conventions
In the opinion of the court, the act of dropping an atomic bomb on cities was at the time governed by International Law found in the Hague Regulations on Land Warfare of 1907 and the Hague Draft Rules of Air Warfare of 1922 – 1923 and was therefore illegal.
In the documentary The Fog of War, former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara recalled General Curtis LeMay, who relayed the Presidential order to drop nuclear bombs on Japan, said: “If we’d lost the war, we’d all have been prosecuted as war criminals. And I think he’s right. He, and I’d say I, were behaving as war criminals. LeMay recognized that what he was doing would be thought immoral if his side had lost. But what makes it immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win?”
Indiscriminate Mass Murder
Takashi Hiraoka, Mayor of Hiroshima, said in a hearing to The Hague International Court of Justice (ICJ): “It is clear that the use of nuclear weapons, which cause indiscriminate mass murder that leaves effects on survivors for decades, is a violation of international law”. Iccho Itoh, the mayor of Nagasaki, declared in the same hearing: “It is said that the descendants of the atomic bomb survivors will have to be monitored for several generations to clarify the genetic impact, which means that the descendants will live in anxiety for [decades] to come… with their colossal power and capacity for slaughter and destruction, nuclear weapons make no distinction between combatants and non-combatants or between military installations and civilian communities… The use of nuclear weapons… therefore is a manifest infraction of international law.”
University of Chicago historian Bruce Cumings states there is a consensus among historians “the Nagasaki bomb was gratuitous at best and genocidal at worst.”
Professor R.J. Rummel’s definition of democide includes not only genocide, but also an excessive killing of civilians in war, to the extent this is against the agreed rules for warfare; he argues the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were war crimes, and thus democide. Rummel quotes among others an official protest from the US government in 1938 to Japan, for its bombing of Chinese cities: “The bombing of non-combatant populations violated international and humanitarian laws.” He also considers excess deaths of civilians in conflagrations caused by conventional means, such as in the Tokyo bombings, as acts of democide.
In 1967, Noam Chomsky described the atomic bombings as “among the most unspeakable crimes in history”. Chomsky pointed to the complicity of the American people in the bombings. The definition of terrorism is “the targeting of innocent civilians to achieve a political goal”.
Unnecessary Suffering and Destruction
The Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 set rules in place regarding the attack of civilian populations. The Hague Conventions stated that religious buildings, art and science centres, charities, hospitals, and historic monuments, were to be spared as far as possible in a bombardment, unless they were being used for military purposes. The Hague Conventions also prohibited the employment of “arms, projectiles, or material calculated to cause unnecessary suffering”.
“When you besiege a city for a long time while making war against it to take it, you shall not destroy its trees…” Deuteronomy 20:19
Evangelist and author Rev. Peter Hammond is the Founder and Director of Frontline Fellowship, the Founder and Chairman of Africa Christian Action, the Director of the Christian Action Network and the Chairman of The Reformation Society.
The original article was published as a circular email and on the ReformationSA website.
©2015 Used by Permission