Nagasaki and Hiroshima: Justifying Horror, or Not Even Trying
Justifying Horror, or Not Even Trying
[Image: a composite by the author. One the left is Tadako Kawazoe, a 78 year old survivor of the bombing of Nagasaki (source). On the right is a public domain image of a small part of the destruction of Hiroshima. Both images are cropped and merged.]
Publication date: 2022-08-09
Update 2022-09-03: Culture section added.
Update 2022-10-22: A magnificent interview with Peter Kuznick on the history of nuclear war is added to sources.
A reading of this article has been published.
To the survivors, and their families, and the surviving families of those who died when the last nuclear weapon was used in war in Nagasaki, 77 years ago, today.
Forever may they be the last to suffer the use of nuclear weapons.
If one asks why did the USA drop the first nuclear weapon in war on the city of Hiroshima, Japan on August 6th 1945, then one must surely ask why did they repeat the act three days later with a different type of nuclear weapon on a different city to vaporize and poison the people of Nagasaki?
The pithy statement that "history is written by the winners" is insightful.
This article examines the two nuclear bombings in war, on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to explore where this observation may lead. One revelation which emerges is that certain questions of history are prohibited, even though the event occurred three quarters of century previously.
The turning point in the naval component of the Pacific theatre of WWII was the Battle of Midway. The USA Navy's Naval History and Heritage Command summarizes the outcome of the battle as:
Due to American COMINT capabilities, astute intelligence analysis, judicious aircraft carrier tactics, and more than a little luck, the U.S. Navy had inflicted a smashing defeat on the Imperial Japanese Navy.
By spring 1945, via further naval victories, also assisted by COMINT (decrypting Japanese messages) the USA's Navy had dominant control of whichever parts of the Pacific they wished. Japan had been blockaded. Her resources were dwindling.
[Image: (From left) Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, and Joseph Stalin at the Yalta Conference, 1945. The source is Britannica.]
At the Yalta Conference, Crimea, on 4-11 February 1945, many post war issues of Europe were discussed. Additionally, Russia was asked to join the Pacific war against Japan in exchange for territories, including outer Mongolia and the south of Sakhalin island (which had been lost to Japan during the 1904-05 war between them). Russia committed to this within "2 or 3 months" of the defeat of Germany. This she did, just on the 3 month deadline, declaring war against Japan on August 8th. Russia began an invasion of Japanese conquered Manchuria the next day, the same day on which the USA detonated its second nuclear warhead, this time over Nagasaki.
Due to the USA's cryptanalysts having significantly broken the Japanese "purple code" used by its diplomatic service years earlier, the higher levels of the USA government were surely aware that in spring 1945 Japan was ready to surrender. Japan's key concern was keeping their Emperor Hirohito.
The USA demanded "unconditional surrender".
[Image: post firebombing of Tokyo. Source.]
There were many mechanisms by which this could be achieved, including:
Continuing with the costly, both financial and in human lives, invasion of the Japanese islands. This would have become even more costly had the USA invaded the main islands.
Allowing Russia's Red Army to continue from the north and invade the northernmost main Japanese island of Hokkaidō
Continuing to bomb Japan's cities with conventional weapons. The USA was regularly firebombing cities with napalm, including the capital Tokyo (pictured above).
Exploding a nuclear weapon over a forest, flattening the whole thing like a bunch of match sticks and lighting the center as a demonstration of this new weapon. This was the preference of the scientists who had developed the nuclear weapons, if such weapons were to be used.
Destroying an entire city and instantly kill 70 000+ people in Hiroshima. The vast majority of the victims would be civilian, with woman, children and elderly men being the most numerous "targets".
The financial and human costs of option one were not appealing to the USA. Neither was the political cost of option two. Instead of options three or four, or any other available options, the USA chose option five.
Most consideration of the justification for the USA's use of two nuclear weapons in war focuses on Hiroshima. This makes sense as it was the first such event. Thus, before turning to examine current narratives on the nuclear bombing of Nagasaki, we begin with Hiroshima.
Harry Truman, then USA President, justified the "horrendous act" (his words) to save the lives of USA soldiers.
[Image: post “Little Boy” atomic attack on Hiroshima. Source.]
Little has changed in the "public narrative" since 1945. The following is from a CNN article published in 2019 on the anniversary of the destruction of Hiroshima and the murder of well over 70 000 people in a few seconds.
Charles Maier, a professor of history at Harvard University, said that while it was possible for Truman to have made another decision, he said "It would have been hard to justify to the American public why he prolonged the war when this weapon was available."
"It seemed to offer a potentially magical solution that would spare a lot of pain," he told CNN.
Maier, who teaches a course on World War II, said Japan was not ready to surrender unconditionally and there was a concern that a weapons demonstration would have not done the job. Such a demonstration would have detonated a nuclear weapon in a non-inhabited but observable area to compel Japan to surrender, an approach that was favored by a group of scientists and Assistant Secretary of War John McCloy, according to Rushay."
CNN is a leading publisher of "acceptable discussion" in the USA's media-sphere.
Professor Maier’s first point is disengenous. The Manhattan project was kept secret for over four decades. If the weapons had not been used nobody would have known that they existed in the “public”. Maier then declares that there "was concern" that a weapons demonstration (flattening a forest) would not have "done the job" to force an unconditional surrender. The natural question is, why did they not give it a try? Of course, this is not asked. The scope of allowed questioning is being defined. The narrative that "it was required" is being reinforced. Now three generations removed from the event, even Truman's tone of "a horrendous act" is omitted.
The lack of seriousness with which the historic, horrendous attack is treated by mainstream media was displayed on this year's anniversary by MSN and Reuters. Both of their articles conflate the solemn commemoration, and the call for abolition of nuclear weapons coming from Hiroshima, with the current conflict in Ukraine.
The opening sentence of the Reuters' article by Elaine Lies reads:
Bells tolled in Hiroshima on Saturday as the city marked the 77th anniversary of the world's first atomic bombing, with officials including the United Nations secretary general warning of a new arms race following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
The cavalier attitude to reporting on an historic event displayed in these three pieces is sickening.
If only these journalists had the courage of Wilfred Burchett, the first western journalists to visit Hiroshima after the nuclear bomb was detonated. This Australian traveled to the city against all advice and restriction. His article "The Atomic Plague" was printed around the world and described as "the scoop of the century". It is an historic piece of journalism. Though this work may be unknown to many modern journalists it is preserved and occasionally republished.
Should the reader wish to learn more about the atomic event on August 9th in Nagasaki, a list of references which are purely historical are provided. They cover first hand accounts, a timeline of the attack and other facts. They are collected under the "Sources, Historical" heading following this article. There is also a selection of analytical or opinion pieces collected under "Sources, Analytic".
[Image: post “Fat Man” atomic attack on Nagasaki. The foreground is a destroyed temple. The background is where Nagasaki used to be.]
A curious situation has arisen. Questions are asked about why Hiroshima was nuked, but those questions are almost non-existent for Nagasaki. Articles on Nagasaki ask questions of why that city, or describe the challenges of the flights and targeting. While the descriptions of the operation and the choice of target are interesting pieces of historical discussion, the fundamental question of why a second, different type of nuclear bomb was dropped on a second city is almost never asked in accepted USA media. It is as if the low octane mumbling cited above, applied to the motives for destroying Hiroshima, has already answered the question.
An exception to the rule is an article by Sarah Pruitt published at History(.com). Her answer to "why" is summarized in the sub-title:
The explicit reason was to swiftly end the war with Japan. But it was also intended to send a message to the Soviets.
The article is well researched and written, and worth reading.
She deserves credit for the second conclusion. The first is countered in an article by Ward Wilson published in Foreign Policy. Mr Wilson makes a convincing argument that the reason that Japan's Supreme Council, "a group of six top members of the government — a sort of inner cabinet — that effectively ruled Japan in 1945", convened on the morning of August 9th, before the bombing of Nagasaki, and days after the bombing of Hiroshima, had nothing to do with either of these events. Wilson asks an incisive question:
In the three weeks prior to Hiroshima, 26 cities were attacked by the U.S. Army Air Force. Of these, eight — or almost a third — were as completely or more completely destroyed than Hiroshima (in terms of the percentage of the city destroyed). The fact that Japan had 68 cities destroyed in the summer of 1945 poses a serious challenge for people who want to make the bombing of Hiroshima the cause of Japan’s surrender. The question is: If they surrendered because a city was destroyed, why didn’t they surrender when those other 66 cities were destroyed?
Wilson finally states that which is declared in his title:
If the Japanese were not concerned with city bombing in general or the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in particular, what were they concerned with? The answer is simple: the Soviet Union.
He then provides ample evidence for this conclusion based on examining Japan's strategic options at the time and concludes that:
The impact of the Soviet declaration of war and invasion of Manchuria and Sakhalin Island was quite different, however. Once the Soviet Union had declared war, Stalin could no longer act as a mediator — he was now a belligerent. So the diplomatic option was wiped out by the Soviet move. [from the next paragraph] It didn’t take a military genius to see that, while it might be possible to fight a decisive battle against one great power invading from one direction, it would not be possible to fight off two great powers attacking from two different directions. The Soviet invasion invalidated the military’s decisive battle strategy, just as it invalidated the diplomatic strategy. At a single stroke, all of Japan’s options evaporated. The Soviet invasion was strategically decisive — it foreclosed both of Japan’s options — while the bombing of Hiroshima (which foreclosed neither) was not.
This demolishes the current belief in "the bomb ended the war more quickly".
We can now come to this conclusion, however, it is not necessarily the case that USA military command knew this at the time. They would have known of the level of destruction caused by those 8 of 26 firebombed cities which did not cause an "unconditional surrender". Following the Hiroshima attack, they had the surveillance and intelligence data to know that the horrific damage to Hiroshima was just a faster method than napalming a wooden city.
Thus, we return to the central, almost never asked question:
Why did the USA drop a second, new type of atomic weapon on a second city?
There is only one plausible explanation for the nuclear attack on Nagasaki, and this explains why the question of "why the attack was conducted" is almost never asked.
Nagasaki was not a weapons demonstration, but a weapons test by the USA military. Truman was so alarmed by the Nagasaki bombing that he finally did issue an order.
Truman had not explicitly ordered the dropping of either of the first two atomic weapons, but immediately following Nagasaki he ordered that his express permission was required before any other nuclear bomb was dropped.
The reason the question of "why" is never asked is because the obvious conclusion illustrates the pure brutality and immorality of some elements of the USA's military command at the time. If Hiroshima is a war crime, which it certainly is, then Nagasaki is a wanton war crime.
The bombing of Nagasaki was for two purposes, as an horrific, human sacrifice weapons test and a warning to the Soviet Union.
For this over a hundred thousand people in Nagasaki died on the day and weeks, months and years thereafter.
The Overton Window of War
The limits placed on allowable questions regarding the Nagasaki "event" is a window into "narrative control", an element of "history is written by the victor". It shows us that certain historical events are so grotesque that the motives for them are not allowed to be asked. This control is most strongly applied to the “victor’s” population, rather than to the victim’s.
Questions which lead to troubling conclusions may be made in academia or in private but are strenuously avoided by the accepted media-sphere.
[Image: a travellers photograph of a section of the Nagasaki Peace Park. The inscription reads “This remain shows a part of the wall which surrounded the Urakami Branch of Nagasaki Prison which was located here when the A-bomb exploded.”]
On this anniversary we perhaps should leave the consideration of history to tomorrow, and instead remember the suffering of the families in both Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Women and children were murdered, as were non-combatant men. Mothers lost children, children lost parents, and children lost siblings. Families were torn asunder for the claimed purpose of "ending the war quickly". The reality is far more bleak.
While many a political "commemoration" event occurs in Hiroshima, they never seem to travel to Nagasaki. The city has, nonetheless, become a place and park of inspiration for nuclear disarmament.
While survivors still live, we should listen carefully to their voices.
Battle of Midway, (USA) Naval History and Heritage Command, last updated 2022-03-22
JN-25, NSA/CSS, 2021-08-20
Emperor Hirohito, Atomic Heritage Foundation, no date of publication provided
Firebombs, U.S.A., Alex Wellerstein, his website, 2014-03-12
(Wellerstien provides an interactive map for USA citizens to compare the firebombing to Japan to its equivalent if the same attacks had been delivered upon the USA.)
Why the US dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Ryan Browne and Scottie Andrew, CNN, 2019-08-06
Hiroshima, Japan, marks anniversary of nuclear bombing, Pedro Oliveira Jr., MSN, 2022-08-06
Hiroshima prays for peace, fears new arms race on atomic bombing anniversary, Elaine Lies, Reuters, 2022-08-06
Wilfred Burchett: The Atomic Plague, Transcend Media Service (republishes the original article), 2015-08-10
Hiroshima, Then Nagasaki: Why the US Deployed the Second A-Bomb, Sarah Pruitt, History(.com), 2020-07-21
The Bomb Didn’t Beat Japan … Stalin Did, Ward Wilson, Foreign Policy, 2013-05-30
Nagasaki: The Last Bomb, Alex Wellerstein, The New Yorker, 2015-08-07
77 years on, Nagasaki A-bomb survivor starts sharing her story with young people overseas, The Mainichi, 2022-08-07
Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki - 1945, Atomic Heritage Foundation, 2014-06-05
The Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, (USA) National Park Service, no publication date
(This covers the day of each bombing. It is based on the Atomic Heritage Foundation’s far more detailed timeline which considers the lead up to and aftermath of these events. )
Who Opposed Nuking Japan?, Scott Horton, Antiwar, 2021-06-05
The myths of Hiroshima, KAI BIRD AND MARTIN J. SHERWIN, Los Angeles Times, 2005-08-05
The First Armageddon: August 9th, 1945, Gregg Stanley, Unz Review, 202-08-07
Were the Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki a War Crime and a Crime Against Humanity?, Rossen Vassilev Jr., Global Research, 2020-08-04
70 years after Hiroshima, opinions have shifted on use of atomic bomb, Bruce Stokes, Pew Research Center, 2015-08-04
Fat Man, The Nagasaki bomb, Nul Pàs, youtube channel, uploaded 2014-08-09
Peter Kuznick: A History of Nuclear War, Letters and Politics, 2022-10-11
The Decision to Drop the Bomb by Richard Rhodes, J. Samuel Walker, and J. Shipley Newlin, AtomicHeritage, youtube channel (for the Foundation), uploaded 2013-03-11
If you like what you read here, you can please the author by sharing it.
Do Not Subscribe: This blog does not always issue "notifications" via Substack. Use RSS. The URL is the obvious: https://yesxorno.substack.com/feed .
Following @YesXorNo1 on Twitter is the next best alert mechanism.
Copyright and Licensing
This work is copyright to the blog's author with CC BY-SA 4.0 licensing. Have fun, reuse, remix etc. but give credit and place no further restrictions. Lets build culture.