On May 27, Barack Obama became the first sitting American president to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, the site of the world’s first atomic bombing. Though highly photogenic, the visit was otherwise one that avoided acknowledging the true history of the place.
Like his official predecessors (Secretary of State John Kerry visited the Peace Memorial in early April, as did two American ambassadors before him), Obama did not address the key issues surrounding the attack. “He [Obama] will not revisit the decision to use the atomic bomb,” Benjamin Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, stated.
With rare exception, the question of whether the atomic bombs were necessary to end World War Two is debated only deep within the safety of academic circles: could a land invasion have been otherwise avoided? Would more diplomacy have achieved the same ends without the destruction of two cities? Could an atomic test on a deserted island have convinced the Japanese? Was the surrender instead driven primarily by the entry of the Soviets into the Pacific War, which, by historical accident, took place two days after Hiroshima—and the day before Nagasaki was immolated?
But it is not only the history of the decision itself that is side stepped. Beyond the acts of destruction lies the myth of the atomic bombings, the post-war creation of a mass memory of things that did not happen.
The short version of the atomic myth, the one kneaded into public consciousness, is that the bombs were not dropped out of revenge or malice, immoral acts, but of grudging military necessity. As a result of this, the attacks have not provoked or generated deep introspection and national reflection.
The use of the term “myth” is appropriate. Harry Truman, in his 1945 announcement of the bomb, focused on vengeance, and on the new, extraordinary power the United States alone possessed. The military necessity argument was largely created later, in a 1947 article defending the use of the atomic bomb, written by former Secretary of War Henry Stimson, though actually drafted by McGeorge Bundy (later an architect of the Vietnam War) and James Conant (a scientist who helped build the original bomb). Conant described the article’s purpose at the beginning of the Cold War as “You have to get the past straight before you do much to prepare people for the future.”
The Stimson article was a response to journalist John Hersey’s account of the human suffering in Hiroshima, first published in 1946 in the New Yorker and later as a book. Due to wartime censorship, Americans knew little of the ground truth of atomic war, and Hersey’s piece was shocking enough to the public that it required that formal White House response. Americans’ general sense of themselves as a decent people needed to be reconciled with what was done in their name. The Stimson article was quite literally the moment of creation of the Hiroshima myth.
The national belief that no moral wrong was committed with the atomic bombs, and thus there was no need for reflection and introspection, echoes forward through today (the blithe way Nagasaki is treated as a historical after thought – “and Nagasaki, too” – only drives home the point.) It was 9/11, the new Pearl Harbor, that started a series of immoral acts allegedly servicing, albeit destructively and imperfectly, the moral imperative of saving lives by killing. America’s decisions on war, torture, rendition and indefinite detention are seen by most as the distasteful but necessary actions of fundamentally good people against fundamentally evil ones. Hiroshima set in motion a sweeping, national generalization that if we do it, it is right.
And with that, the steps away from the violence of Hiroshima and the shock-and-awe horrors inside the Iraqi prison of Abu Ghraib are merely a matter of degree. The myth allows the world’s most powerful nation to go to war as a victim after the tragic beheadings of only a small number of civilians. Meanwhile, the drone deaths of children at a wedding party are seen as unfortunate but only collateral damage in service to the goal of defeating global terrorism itself. It is a grim calculus that parses acts of violence to conclude some are morally justified simply based on who held the knife.
We may, in fact, think we are practically doing the people of Afghanistan a favor by killing some of them, as we believe we did for tens of thousands of Japanese that might have been lost in a land invasion of their home islands to otherwise end World War Two. There is little debate in the “war on terror” because debate is largely unnecessary; the myth of Hiroshima says an illusion of expediency wipes away any concerns over morality. And with that neatly tucked away in our conscience, all that is left is pondering where to strike next.
Japan, too, is guilty of failing to look deep into itself over its own wartime atrocities. Yet compared to the stunning array of atrocities during and since World War Two, the world’s only use of nuclear weapons still holds a significant place in infamy. To try and force the Japanese government to surrender (and no one in 1945 knew if the plan would work) by making it watch mass casualties of innocents, and then to hold the nation hostage to future attacks with the promise of more bombs to come, speaks to a cruelty previously unseen.
For President Obama to visit Hiroshima without reflecting on the why of that unfortunate loss of lives, acting as if they occurred via some natural disaster, is tragically consistent with the fact that for 71 years no American president felt it particularly important to visit the victimized city. America’s lack of introspection over one of the 20th century’s most significant events continues, with 21st century consequences.
Barack Obama became the first U.S. President to visit Hiroshima on Friday, more than seven decades after the U.S. B-29 bomber Enola Gay dropped a 10,000-pound atomic bomb nicknamed “Little Boy” on the city whose military value was far less than that of Tampa to the United States. More than 70,000 people were instantly killed, and virtually the entire city was flattened. Many survivors would suffer prolonged and unimaginably painful aftereffects of radiation, which would cost at least 100,000 more people their lives. The effects of radiation would harm people for years and decades after the initial explosion.
Obama stood at a podium with the epicenter of the blast, the Genbaku Domu, in the background and said that he had “come to mourn the dead.” While Obama mourned, there was one thing he did not do: apologize.
He said that “death came from the sky.” No mention of why. Or who was responsible, as if it were a natural disaster rather than a crime perpetrated by actual people. Obama was either unwilling or unable to confront the truth and make amends.
Here’s what he could have said to try to do so:
Seventy-one years ago, on a bright cloudless morning, an American warplane unleashed the most horrific and inhuman weapon ever invented, immediately imperiling the survival of the entire human species. This act of terrorism was the ultimate crime: a crime of mass murder, a crime of war, and a crime against humanity.
The victims, those who died incinerated in a flash, and those who died slowly and painfully over years from chemical poisoning, were never able to see justice served. Sadly, there is no way the criminals who carried out this heinous and barbaric act will ever face justice for their crimes.
I cannot change that. But, there is one thing I can do as the leader of the nation in whose name the bombing of Hiroshima was carried out: I can tell you, residents of Hiroshima and the rest of Japan, that I am sorry. I am sorry on behalf of my government and my country. I wish an American President would have come earlier and said this. This apology is decades overdue. It is a small and symbolic act, but it is necessary as a first step for true reconciliation.
A nuclear bomb should have never been dropped on Hiroshima. The most important goal of mankind should be to ensure that no nuclear bomb is ever dropped again. Anywhere in the world. Ever.
It would be easy to stand here and tell you that there are reasons why the American military and political officials chose to use a nuclear bomb. I could say it served a greater good of saving lives that would have been lost if the war had continued. I could say it was a decision made by people who were dealing with the pressure and horrors of fighting a war. But that would not be the truth. Those would be empty rationalizations. There is no justification for the bomb. Period.
The truth is that by August 6, 1945 Japan was defeated and had been seeking a conditional surrender for months. And American war planners knew this. They knew it because they had cracked the Japanese code and were intercepting their messages. 
Japan was willing to surrender under the condition that their Emperor, who was seen as a God among the Japanese people, be allowed to maintain his throne and not be prosecuted for war crimes. The Emperor himself called for “a plan to end the war” six weeks before the fateful day.  After so much unspeakable death and destruction, this reasonable offer should have been met with ecstatic celebration and relief.
Instead, U.S. officials disregarded it. They decided that it was necessary not just to defeat Japan, but to leave them utterly humiliated and disgraced. They wanted to demonstrate to their public that they could force another country to lay prostrate in front of them in complete submission. This is the mindset of terrorists, torturers, and sadists.
The United States joined with China and Great Britain to issue the Potsdam Declaration on July 26, in which they called on Japan “to proclaim now the unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forces.” These were terms they understood Japan could not accept.
Unfortunately, the use of the atomic bomb had become inevitable after the massive investment of time and treasure represented by the Manhattan Project. Military planners worried about “the possibility that after spending huge amounts of money … the bomb would be a dud. They could easily imagine being grilled mercilessly by hostile members of Congress.”
Historian and former Nuclear Regulatory Commission employee J. Samuel Walker confirmed that aside from “shortening the war and saving American lives, Truman wanted to justify the expense and effort required to build the atomic bombs.”
That financial considerations and a self-interested desire for bureaucrats to validate themselves and protect their careers could lead to the single most destructive and cruel act in history is an abomination. It is a deep offense to the idea that people are innately moral, and it makes us ask how in a democratic society we can vest people with the authority to make decisions of such profound impact secretly and without accountability?
Walker notes that another consideration for using the bomb on Hiroshima was to put fear into the leaders of the Soviet Union and make them “more amenable to American wishes.” Just six weeks earlier the UN Charter had been established. It included the demand that “all members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force” against other states. The drafters could of the treaty could never have imagined such an unconscionable violation of their words so soon after the monumental pact had been written.
As horrific as the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima was, it did not occur in a vacuum. What no one in mainstream American political discourse has so far been able to admit is that not only was there no justification for the bomb, there was little justification for the war against Japan in the first place.
The war was the result of the notion, which first emanated from the Council on Foreign Relations in 1941, that the U.S.’s “national interest” called for a “Grand Area” that consisted of the Western hemisphere, the British Empire and the Far East, while assuming the majority of Europe would be controlled by Nazi Germany. This was translated into a policy that demanded a military confrontation with Japan for control of the Far East. 
A pillar in this policy was an economic embargo against Japan. Cut off from imports and raw materials from the United States and Great Britain, Japan grew desperate and subsequently sought to expand its Empire. Japan saw itself in need of a sphere of influence involving the same areas in the Far East as the United States.
The U.S. had several options to avoid war. For one, they could develop a program of agricultural and economic self-sufficiency which would allow them to insulate themselves from dependence on colonial powers, as well as allow them to steer clear of unpredictable and potentially hostile regions of the world.
But for businessmen who wanted to maintain control over the direction of the economy and keep their own fortunes growing at a limitless pace, this was a nonstarter. Instead, they were dedicated to challenging Japan. Hence, the embargo and the buildup for an inevitable military confrontation over Eastern Asia.
This is the background to Pearl Harbor. Japan was obviously not justified for attacking sovereign American territory in a blatant act of aggression. But we cannot pretend that it was not predictable or logical from their point of view.
Japan felt itself backed into a corner by the embargo. They felt they needed to expand further into Asia. They believed that if they did so, the U.S. military would have attacked them. They were right.
Both countries should have worked together to recognize each other’s perceived interests, deescalate, and achieve a mutually acceptable compromise. It is the ability to understand one’s perceived adversary as a rational counterpart, rather than an evil and irrational enemy, that separates humans from beasts. If we are not able to use this ability, we are no better than a predator seeking his prey.
The nuclear bombing of Hiroshima did not need to happen. But the bombing that took place on this site was just a symptom of the war it was part of. War will necessarily produce horrific crimes, some of which are unimaginable at the time they happen. As horrific as the nuclear bomb was, 70 years of technological advancements have made not just the destruction of an entire city, but of an entire country or continent within the realm of possibility.
We need to eliminate nuclear weapons from the earth. But that is not enough. Chemical weapons like napalm, Agent Orange, depleted uranium, and white phosphorous; biological weapons like Dengue bacteria and germ bombs; and conventional weapons like cluster bombs, pineapple bomblets, butterfly bombs and land mines are just some of the savage weapons used by the U.S. military alone in the years since the close of World War II to kill and maim millions of people. Many other countries possess similar weapons of mass destruction and have the capacity to do the same.
We need to eliminate war. All war. Forever. War is evil, plain and simple. We cannot undo the actions of the past. But we can let them guide us to a better world where we don’t repeat the horrors that the people of Hiroshima suffered here 71 years ago. That will be the only way to prevent the victims from having died in vain.
 Zinn, Howard. A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present. New York: HarperCollins, 2003. pp. 423.
 U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey: The Effects of the Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, June 19, 1946. President’s Secretary’s File, Truman Papers. http://www.trumanlibrary.org/whistlestop/study_collections/bomb/large/documents/index.php?pagenumber=33&documentid=65&documentdate=1946-06-19&studycollectionid=abomb&groupid=
 Shoup, Laurence H. and William Minter. Imperial Brain Trust: The Council on Foreign Relations & United States Foreign Policy. Lincoln, NE: Authors Choice Press, 2004.
President Obama made an historic visit to Hiroshima today—the first sitting US president to do so since the US atomic bombing of that city on August 6, 1945, followed three days later by the atomic bombing of Nagasaki.
As he did in Prague, in 2009, President Obama gave a very moving and meaningful speech about the impact of nuclear weapons, reflecting upon the experience of the victims of nuclear warfare—the Hibakusha.
“Their souls speak to us,” he said. “They ask us to look inward, to take stock of who we are and what we might become.”
In reiterating his call for a world without nuclear weapons, President Obama acknowledged that the suffering of the Hibakusha gives us “a shared responsibility to look directly into the eye of history and ask what we must do differently to curb such suffering again.” The very existence of nuclear weapons, he said, “fuels our moral imagination.”
These thoughts and words, though profound, have not been matched by US actions to eliminate nuclear weapons. To the contrary, the Obama administration is implementing a $1 trillion, 30-year program to build new and more usable nuclear weapons, along with more accurate delivery systems and the infrastructure to keep producing them well into the 21st century. This administration has done less to reduce the number of US nuclear weapons than any of its recent predecessors. Not only has the US failed to reduce its own reliance on nuclear weapons, it has induced other countries, including Japan, to rely upon US nuclear weapons for their own security. Hiroshima survivor Setsuko Thurlow has rightly called this extended nuclear deterrence arrangement with Japan an insult to the Hibakusha.
Moreover, while President Obama payed homage to the Hibakusha and to the victims of all wars, declaring that we must “reimagine our connection to one another as members of one human race,” the United States has boycotted a series of international conferences and the meetings of a UN working group with a mandate to recommend ways of doing things differently to achieve a world without nuclear weapons and to ensure that no other city ever suffers the fate of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
All of the other nuclear-armed states—Russia, China, France, the UK, India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea—have paid similar lip service to the goal of a nuclear-weapons-free world, and all are engaged in their own large and expensive nuclear rearmament programs. All of them have boycotted the UN working group that is laying the groundwork for a new legal instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons based on their humanitarian impact. All of the nuclear-armed states, including the US, are turning their backs on the meaning of Hiroshima and the appeal of the Hibakusha.
When the US and the other nuclear-armed states stop doing everything they can to block a treaty banning nuclear weapons, and abandon plans to rebuild and perpetuate their nuclear arsenals, President Obama’s call for a world free of nuclear weapons will have meaning. Until then it is empty rhetoric.
Visiting US Secretary of State John Kerry will not offer any apologies to the people of Hiroshima over the 1945 atomic bombing of the Japanese city, a senior US official says.
Kerry arrived in Hiroshima on Sunday and is reportedly arranging for a trip by President Barack Obama as the first US president to visit the city, as part of his trip to Japan for a G7 summit in late May.
“If you are asking whether the secretary of state came to Hiroshima to apologize, the answer is no,” a senior US official told reporters Sunday, on condition of anonymity.
“If you are asking whether the secretary and I think all Americans and all Japanese are filled with sorrow at the tragedies that befell so many of our countrymen, the answer is yes,” he noted.
Kerry and a number of other foreign ministers are slated to visit Peace Memorial Park as well as a museum dedicated to the obliteration of the city by an American atomic bomb on August 6, 1945.
The bombing killed nearly 140,000 people and was shortly followed by another US atomic bombing on the port city of Nagasaki, killing about 70,000 people three days later.
Kerry was visiting the memorial to “recognize the huge loss of life” during the war, said State Department spokesman Mark Toner.
“It is also an acknowledgement that since the end of World War II that the United States and Japan have become the closest of friends and strong allies,” he added.
Attending the two-day G7 gathering was also on Kerry’s agenda, where he will be discussing with other leaders “urgent international political and security concerns and to speak with one, clear voice on concrete actions needed.”
Diplomats from nuclear-armed Britain and France, as well as Canada, Germany, Italy and Japan will also partake in the G7 meeting.
Kerry’s trip to Japan comes after a visit to Afghanistan where he met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Saturday.
The absence of justice over Hiroshima and Nagasaki is due to America’s refusal to admit the truth about its nuclear holocaust.
That denial is necessary because otherwise it would reveal the criminal nature of US governments and their ongoing criminal prerogative to continue using the threat of nuclear weapons to maintain global hegemony.
Nagasaki, the second atomic bombing of Japan by the United States on August 9, 1945, was in many ways an even bigger crime. The US government had three days to assess the devastating human horror of the first bomb dropped on Hiroshima on the morning of August 6, in which some 70,000 civilians were incinerated.
Hardly a building was left standing in the southern Japanese port city amid humans vaporised or turned into charred jelly, yet the American leaders went ahead with the second atomic bombing on the western city of Nagasaki in which another 40,000 people were annihilated. In total over the following year, the death toll would reach at least 200,000, and many more again over subsequent decades from cancers and other malignancies.
Both attacks can be adjudged as premeditated mass murder – indeed acts of genocide by any legal definition – that had little to do with compelling Imperial Japan to surrender towards the end of the Pacific War.
It is documented by historians that the American and British wartime leaders were well aware that Japan was seeking to surrender in early 1945 – not least because of the merciless firebombing by the Western powers of the capital, Tokyo, and other Japanese cities, where the death tolls would match those later incurred at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
With Soviet Russia about to enter the Pacific War in mid-August 1945, as agreed upon at the Potsdam conference held in July, it seems unequivocal that the Americans rushed to deploy their new nuclear weapon as a way of demarcating the postwar order in Asia-Pacific.
The first atomic explosion was tested by the Americans only three weeks prior on July 16 in the desert of New Mexico.
The Americans and the British did not want their then wartime Soviet ally to make territorial gains in Asia, as it had done in Europe when it alone had largely rolled back and defeated Nazi Germany.
To prevent Stalin’s Red Army also taking Japan and other Asian territories as it was poised to do on entering the Pacific War, American President Harry Truman went ahead with the A-bombing of Japan. The Americans were not planning a land invasion of Japan’s mainland until November 1945.
So, official US claims that the atomic bombs were dropped in order to promptly end the Pacific War are partially true. But the objective was not to save up to one million American troop lives, as Truman claimed. Rather the real objective was to forestall the geopolitical advance of the Soviet Union and the “dread of communism”.
Thus, the atomic bombing of Japan by the US was not the last act of the Pacific War, but rather was the opening act of the soon-to-be Cold War between the American-led Western world and the Soviet Union.
Since the Soviet Union would not obtain its own nuclear weapons until 1949, the dropping of the A-bombs on Japan certainly would have served as blood-curdling check on Moscow and any ambitions it may have had in expanding into Asia following the defeat of Japan.
However, the salient point here is that the US deployed weapons of mass destruction on civilian populations not for any supposed military or moral imperative – the defeat of Japan and saving of American lives. No, the objective was primarily political, that is, the prevention of perceived Soviet geopolitical advance in the postwar global order. That makes the twin bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki nothing less than acts of state terrorism – on a scale that puts the American government in a barbarous class of its own.
The myth of military necessity to defeat Japan so as to save American lives has proven to be an enduring one. A recent public opinion survey by the Pew Institute found that a majority of Americans – 56 per cent – believe that it was right to drop the A-bombs on Japan.
But if we strip away that myth then that leaves us with a most chilling conclusion – that American leaders viewed it as their right to obliterate 200,000 civilians for geopolitical objectives. That genocidal ideology – to use weapons of mass destruction – still resides in Washington.
At the close of the Second World War, American and British leaders weighed up a secret plan, Operation Unthinkable, in which they contemplated dropping atomic weapons on their then Soviet wartime ally. The treacherous plan was eventually shelved.
But in July 1961, the head of the American CIA, Allen Dulles, and the US Joint Chiefs of Staff presented a plan to President John F Kennedy for a pre-emptive nuclear strike on the Soviet Union. To his credit, Kennedy quashed the proposal in disgust, reportedly saying to one of his aides, “And we call ourselves the human race.”
Just this year, in June, the Associated Press reported on a Pentagon plan under Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey for “pre-emptive nuclear strikes to take out Russian military sites”. According to AP : “The options go as far as one implied – but not stated explicitly – that would improve the ability of US nuclear weapons to destroy military targets on Russian territory.”
Seventy years ago, the world witnessed the cold-blooded destruction of entire human populations with nuclear weapons. Today, the world has some 16,000 such weapons each many times more powerful than those dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Ninety per cent of the world’s stockpile of nuclear weapons is possessed by the US and Russia.
But it is the US that has doggedly prevented moves towards full-scale nuclear disarmament – despite incumbent President Barack Obama having been awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 2009. Under Obama, the US is planning to spend some $355 billion over the next decade in upgrading its nuclear arsenal.
In May this year, the US blocked a global nuclear disarmament initiative signed by 107 nations, including Russia and Iran, which called for the immediate implementation of the 40-year-old Non-Proliferation Treaty.
It was the US that also unilaterally withdrew in 2002 from the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty between Washington and Moscow.
Ironically, in the same week that the world commemorates the horror of the American atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, President Obama delivered a major speech in which he hailed the recent Geneva nuclear accord with Iran because it “would prevent Iran from obtaining the bomb” – a bomb that the Iranian leadership has repeatedly said it is not seeking nor desires. The monstrous American arrogance in Obama’s words is breath-taking.
What the world has to contend with is this: the only country to have ever used nuclear weapons with cold-blooded criminality, still presumes the right to use those weapons for its own twisted political objectives.
The United States is so contaminated with its own “exceptionalism” and propaganda that the world remains perilously under the pall of horror that was visited upon on Japan 70 years ago. Until that American genocidal ideology is disarmed then the threat to world peace will persist.
Aftermath of the US Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – Voice Over – Russian Ambassador 1945
On 1 September 1939 – the date of the beginning of the Second World War – the President of the United States of America, Franklin D. Roosevelt, wrote to «the Governments of France, Germany, Italy, Poland and His Britannic Majesty» saying that «The ruthless bombing from the air of civilians in unfortified centres of population during the course of the hostilities which have raged in various quarters of the earth during the past few years, which has resulted in the maiming and in the death of thousands of defenceless men, women, and children, has sickened the hearts of every civilized man and woman, and has profoundly shocked the conscience of humanity».
He was rightly appalled about the aerial slaughter of civilians and desired each country to which he addressed his appeal «to affirm its determination that its armed forces shall in no event, and under no circumstances, undertake the bombardment from the air of civilian populations or of unfortified cities, upon the understanding that these same rules of warfare will be scrupulously observed by all of their opponents».
We are now marking the seventieth anniversary of the explosion of the atomic bombs that destroyed the Japanese cities of Hiroshima on 6 August 1945 and Nagasaki three days later, killing a total of over 100,000 «defenceless men, women, and children,» prompting the nuclear scientist Robert Oppenheimer to quote from the Bhagavad Gita, the Hindu religious and philosophical text, that «Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds».
Development of the atomic bomb began in 1939 but went into high gear as the Manhattan Project three years later. What is intriguing is that President Roosevelt approved the programme on 9 October 1941, a full two months before the Japanese attacked America at Pearl Harbor killing 2,403 people — including civilians. The subsequent declaration of war by the US resulted in concentration on means of war-winning by any means, and resulted in development of the ultimate weapon.
Even before the atomic explosions it was apparent that the major nations involved in the Second World War had no qualms about inflicting devastation. The British considered that their «aim is, therefore, twofold: namely, to produce (i) destruction, and (ii) the fear of death» and to that end mercilessly bombed German cities. The rationale was that it was the Germans who started it and who in 1940-41 subjected London to a non-stop 60 days and nights of aerial bombardment that killed 30,000 people.
In a macabre game of explosive ping-pong the countries at war sought more and deadlier ways to wreak havoc on their opponents, and it would have been difficult to have found a citizen of any of these countries who would have failed to agree with the actions of their government. It was thus that Project Manhattan received its massive impetus, and in an amazing display of technical prowess and organisational proficiency its scientists designed and produced the Atom Bomb.
It was astonishing that President Roosevelt had not told his Vice-President, Harry Truman, one single thing about the bomb project which some well-informed people believed was a potentially catastrophic venture. The first bomb was tested on 16 July 1945 at Alamogordo in New Mexico and caused concern among the scientists who had been involved in its development, 70 of whom sent a letter to President Roosevelt pointing out that use of the atomic bomb would likely presage «an era of devastation on an unimaginable scale» and that «a nation which sets the precedent of using these newly liberated forces of nature for purposes of destruction may have to bear the responsibility of opening the door to an era of devastation on an unimaginable scale».
Their letter wasn’t allowed to reach the President. He never knew of its existence, but in any event was convinced that the A-bomb was essential and had written to Oppenheimer, who had grave doubts about the military’s attitude to nuclear developments, that «whatever the enemy may be planning, American science will be equal to the challenge». The Bomb was going to be used, no matter the consequences, although the president who gave the order to drop the bombs in August 1945 was Harry Truman, who learned of the project’s existence on 13 April 1945, the day after Roosevelt died.
As recorded by Eric Schlosser in his edifying book Command and Control, there had been air attacks on Japan of staggering intensity in the months before the atom bombs were employed. On the night of 9 March 1945, for example, «American planes struck Tokyo with 2,000 tons of bombs containing napalm and jellied gasoline… Within hours the firestorm consumed one quarter of the city. It killed about 100,000 civilians… «Worse was yet to come because Truman icily warned that the Japanese «may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth».
There were not many large concentrations of Japanese that had not been subjected to firebombing, and choosing the ultimate victims was not easy. Kyoto was removed from the list of four targets because the Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, pointed out that it was a major cultural centre of great importance to Japanese art and history — and Nagasaki was chosen instead. By such decisions are the fates of human beings decided. Countless thousands of Kyoto citizens were spared, but 39,000 in Nagasaki were condemned to death.
First came Hiroshima, where on 6 August «a firestorm engulfed the city» and 66,000 people were killed. Next on the target list was Kokura, and in yet another horrible twist of fate the city was covered in smoke and haze and the plane was diverted to Nagasaki where the second bomb, hideously named Fat Man, was dropped on 9 August.
The war against Japan then ended, but it should be remembered that between the destruction of the two cities there was a Charter was being approved, on 8 August in the German city of Nuremburg, signed by the victorious allies, that included guidelines for the forthcoming trial of German war criminals by the International Military Tribunal. In an alarming example of double standards, the judges were informed that «The following acts, or any of them, are crimes coming within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal for which there shall be individual responsibility… (b) War Crimes: namely, violations of the laws or customs of war. Such violations shall include… wanton destruction of cities, towns, or villages». It did not include the words of President Roosevelt, that it was sickening to «undertake the bombardment from the air of civilian populations or of unfortified cities,» but made it clear that such attacks were against the laws of war.
The Nuremburg Charter guided the conviction of German war criminals, and it is hideous coincidence that it was signed at the very time when «Death, the destroyer of worlds» was thundering down on Japan in what Truman called «a rain of ruin from the air».
Which goes to show that justice is reserved for those who win wars.
Really, Sad Nuclear Anniversary.
Brian Cloughley writes about foreign policy and military affairs. He lives in Voutenay sur Cure, France.
RT |August 4, 2015
70 years after the US dropped nuclear bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the real reasons behind the decision still divide historians. Recently declassified documents from the time suggest that the nuclear strikes may have been performed not out of military necessity but to intimidate the USSR. RTD’s Peter Scott travels to the two Japanese cities that were devastated by the attacks, where he visits a victims’ memorial and meets nuclear blast survivors still haunted by their memories. He also interviews President Truman’s grandson, Clifton Truman Daniel, on the subject of his grandfather’s controversial legacy.
How Patriotism Means Never Having To Say You’re Sorry
“Never, never waste a minute on regret. It’s a waste of time.” — President Harry Truman
Here we are, 70 years after the nuclear obliteration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and I’m wondering if we’ve come even one step closer to a moral reckoning with our status as the world’s only country to use atomic weapons to slaughter human beings. Will an American president ever offer a formal apology? Will our country ever regret the dropping of “Little Boy” and “Fat Man,” those two bombs that burned hotter than the sun? Will it absorb the way they instantly vaporized thousands of victims, incinerated tens of thousands more, and created unimaginably powerful shockwaves and firestorms that ravaged everything for miles beyond ground zero? Will it finally come to grips with the “black rain” that spread radiation and killed even more people — slowly and painfully — leading in the end to a death toll for the two cities conservatively estimated at more than 250,000?
Given the last seven decades of perpetual militarization and nuclear “modernization” in this country, the answer may seem like an obvious no. Still, as a historian, I’ve been trying to dig a little deeper into our lack of national contrition. As I have, an odd fragment of Americana kept coming to mind, a line from the popular 1970 tearjerker Love Story: “Love,” says the female lead when her boyfriend begins to apologize, “means never having to say you’re sorry.” It has to be one of the dumbest definitions ever to lodge in American memory, since real love often requires the strength to apologize and make amends.
It does, however, apply remarkably well to the way many Americans think about that broader form of love we call patriotism. With rare exceptions, like the 1988 congressional act that apologized to and compensated the Japanese-American victims of World War II internment, when it comes to the brute exercise of power, true patriotism has above all meant never having to say you’re sorry. The very politicians who criticize other countries for not owning up to their wrong-doing regularly insist that we should never apologize for anything. In 1988, for example, after the U.S. Navy shot down an Iranian civilian airliner over the Persian Gulf killing all 290 passengers (including 66 children), Vice President George H.W. Bush, then running for president, proclaimed, “I will never apologize for the United States. Ever. I don’t care what the facts are.”
It turns out, however, that Bush’s version of American remorselessness isn’t quite enough. After all, Americans prefer to view their country as peace-loving, despite having been at war constantly since 1941. This means they need more than denials and non-apologies. They need persuasive stories and explanations (however full of distortions and omissions). The tale developed to justify the bombings that led to a world in which the threat of human extinction has been a daily reality may be the most successful legitimizing narrative in our history. Seventy years later, it’s still deeply embedded in public memory and school textbooks, despite an ever-growing pile of evidence that contradicts it. Perhaps it’s time, so many decades into the age of apocalyptic peril, to review the American apologia for nuclear weapons — the argument in their defense — that ensured we would never have to say we’re sorry.
The Hiroshima Apologia
On August 9, 1945, President Harry Truman delivered a radio address from the White House. “The world will note,” he said, “that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base. That was because we wished in this first attack to avoid, insofar as possible, the killing of civilians.” He did not mention that a second atomic bomb had already been dropped on Nagasaki.
Truman understood, of course, that if Hiroshima was a “military base,” then so was Seattle; that the vast majority of its residents were civilians; and that perhaps 100,000 of them had already been killed. Indeed, he knew that Hiroshima was chosen not for its military significance but because it was one of only a handful of Japanese cities that had not already been firebombed and largely obliterated by American air power. U.S. officials, in fact, were intent on using the first atomic bombs to create maximum terror and destruction. They also wanted to measure their new weapon’s power and so selected the “virgin targets” of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In July 1945, Secretary of War Henry Stimson informed Truman of his fear that, given all the firebombing of Japanese cities, there might not be a target left on which the atomic bomb could “show its strength” to the fullest. According to Stimson’s diary, Truman “laughed and said he understood.”
The president soon dropped the “military base” justification. After all, despite Washington’s effort to censor the most graphic images of atomic annihilation coming out of Hiroshima, the world quickly grasped that the U.S. had destroyed an entire city in a single blow with massive loss of life. So the president focused instead on an apologia that would work for at least the next seven decades. Its core arguments appeared in that same August 9th speech. “We have used [the atomic bomb] against those who attacked us without warning at Pearl Harbor,” he said, “against those who have starved and beaten and executed American prisoners of war, against those who have abandoned all pretense of obeying international laws of warfare. We have used it in order to shorten the agony of war, in order to save the lives of thousands and thousands of young Americans.”
By 1945, most Americans didn’t care that the civilians of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had not committed Japan’s war crimes. American wartime culture had for years drawn on a long history of “yellow peril” racism to paint the Japanese not just as inhuman, but as subhuman. As Truman put it in his diary, it was a country full of “savages” — “ruthless, merciless, and fanatic” people so loyal to the emperor that every man, woman, and child would fight to the bitter end. In these years, magazines routinely depicted Japanese as monkeys, apes, insects, and vermin. Given such a foe, so went the prevailing view, there were no true “civilians” and nothing short of near extermination, or at least a powerful demonstration of America’s willingness to proceed down that path, could ever force their surrender. As Admiral William “Bull” Halsey said in a 1944 press conference, “The only good Jap is a Jap who’s been dead six months.”
In the years after World War II, the most virulent expressions of race hatred diminished, but not the widespread idea that the atomic bombs had been required to end the war, eliminating the need to invade the Japanese home islands where, it was confidently claimed, tooth-and-nail combat would cause enormous losses on both sides. The deadliest weapon in history, the one that opened the path to future Armageddon, had therefore saved lives. That was the stripped down mantra that provided the broadest and most enduring support for the introduction of nuclear warfare. By the time Truman, in retirement, published his memoir in 1955, he was ready to claim with some specificity that an invasion of Japan would have killed half-a-million Americans and at least as many Japanese.
Over the years, the ever-increasing number of lives those two A-bombs “saved” became a kind of sacred numerology. By 1991, for instance, President George H.W. Bush, praising Truman for his “tough, calculating decision,” claimed that those bombs had “spared millions of American lives.” By then, an atomic massacre had long been transformed into a mercy killing that prevented far greater suffering and slaughter.
Truman went to his grave insisting that he never had a single regret or a moment’s doubt about his decision. Certainly, in the key weeks leading up to August 6, 1945, the record offers no evidence that he gave serious consideration to any alternative.
“Revisionists” Were Present at the Creation
Twenty years ago, the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum planned an ambitious exhibit to mark the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II. At its center was to be an extraordinary artifact — the fuselage of the Enola Gay, the B-29 Superfortress used to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. But the curators and historical consultants wanted something more than yet another triumphal celebration of American military science and technology. Instead, they sought to assemble a thought-provoking portrayal of the bomb’s development, the debates about its use, and its long-term consequences. The museum sought to include some evidence challenging the persistent claim that it was dropped simply to end the war and “save lives.”
For starters, visitors would have learned that some of America’s best-known World War II military commanders opposed using atomic weaponry. In fact, six of the seven five-star generals and admirals of that time believed that there was no reason to use them, that the Japanese were already defeated, knew it, and were likely to surrender before any American invasion could be launched. Several, like Admiral William Leahy and General Dwight Eisenhower, also had moral objections to the weapon. Leahy considered the atomic bombing of Japan “barbarous” and a violation of “every Christian ethic I have ever heard of and all of the known laws of war.”
Truman did not seriously consult with military commanders who had objections to using the bomb. He did, however, ask a panel of military experts to offer an estimate of how many Americans might be killed if the United States launched the two major invasions of the Japanese home islands scheduled for November 1, 1945 and March 1, 1946. Their figure: 40,000 — far below the half-million he would cite after the war. Even this estimate was based on the dubious assumption that Japan could continue to feed, fuel, and arm its troops with the U.S. in almost complete control of the seas and skies.
The Smithsonian also planned to inform its visitors that some key presidential advisers had urged Truman to drop his demand for “unconditional surrender” and allow Japan to keep the emperor on his throne, an alteration in peace terms that might have led to an almost immediate surrender. Truman rejected that advice, only to grant the same concession after the nuclear attacks.
Keep in mind, however, that part of Truman’s motivation for dropping those bombs involved not the defeated Japanese, but the ascending Soviet Union. With the U.S.S.R. pledged to enter the war against Japan on August 8, 1945 (which it did), Truman worried that even briefly prolonging hostilities might allow the Soviets to claim a greater stake in East Asia. He and Secretary of State James Byrnes believed that a graphic demonstration of the power of the new bomb, then only in the possession of the United States, might also make that Communist power more “manageable” in Europe. The Smithsonian exhibit would have suggested that Cold War planning and posturing began in the concluding moments of World War II and that one legacy of Hiroshima would be the massive nuclear arms race of the decades to come.
In addition to displaying American artifacts like the Enola Gay, Smithsonian curators wanted to show some heartrending objects from the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima, including a schoolgirl’s burnt lunchbox, a watch dial frozen at the instant of the bomb’s explosion, a fused rosary, and photographs of the dead and dying. It would have been hard to look at these items beside that plane’s giant fuselage without feeling some sympathy for the victims of the blast.
None of this happened. The exhibit was canceled after a storm of protest. When the Air Force Association leaked a copy of the initial script to the media, critics denounced the Smithsonian for its “politically correct” and “anti-American” “revision” of history. The exhibit, they claimed, would be an insult to American veterans and fundamentally unpatriotic. Though conservatives led the charge, the Senate unanimously passed a resolution condemning the Smithsonian for being “revisionist and offensive” that included a tidy rehearsal of the official apologia: “The role of the Enola Gay… was momentous in helping to bring World War II to a merciful end, which resulted in saving the lives of Americans and Japanese.”
Merciful? Consider just this: the number of civilians killed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki alone was more than twice the number of American troops killed during the entire Pacific war.
In the end, the Smithsonian displayed little but the Enola Gay itself, a gleaming relic of American victory in the “Good War.”
Our Unbroken Faith in the Greatest Generation
In the two decades since, we haven’t come closer to a genuine public examination of history’s only nuclear attack or to finding any major fault with how we waged what Studs Terkel famously dubbed “the Good War.” He used that term as the title for his classic 1984 oral history of World War II and included those quotation marks quite purposely to highlight the irony of such thinking about a war in which an estimated 60 million people died. In the years since, the term has become an American cliché, but the quotation marks have disappeared along with any hint of skepticism about our motives and conduct in those years.
Admittedly, when it comes to the launching of nuclear war (if not the firebombings that destroyed 67 Japanese cities and continued for five days after “Fat Man” was dropped on Nagasaki), there is some evidence of a more critical cast of mind in this country. Recent polls, for instance, show that “only” 56% of Americans now think we were right to use nuclear weapons against Japan, down a few points since the 1990s, while support among Americans under the age of 30 has finally fallen below 50%. You might also note that just after World War II, 85% of Americans supported the bombings.
Of course, such pro-bomb attitudes were hardly surprising in 1945, especially given the relief and joy at the war’s victorious ending and the anti-Japanese sentiment of that moment. Far more surprising: by 1946, millions of Americans were immersed in John Hersey’s best-selling book Hiroshima, a moving report from ground zero that explored the atomic bomb’s impact through the experiences of six Japanese survivors. It began with these gripping lines:
“At exactly fifteen minutes past eight in the morning, on August 6, 1945, Japanese time, at the moment when the atomic bomb flashed above Hiroshima, Miss Toshiko Sasaki, a clerk in the personnel department of the East Asia Tin Works, had just sat down at her place in the plant office and was turning her head to speak to the girl at the next desk.”
Hiroshima remains a remarkable document for its unflinching depictions of the bomb’s destructiveness and for treating America’s former enemy with such dignity and humanity. “The crux of the matter,” Hersey concluded, “is whether total war in its present form is justifiable, even when it serves a just purpose. Does it not have material and spiritual evil as its consequences which far exceed whatever good might result?”
The ABC Radio Network thought Hersey’s book so important that it hired four actors to read it in full on the air, reaching an even wider audience. Can you imagine a large American media company today devoting any significant air time to a work that engendered empathy for the victims of our twenty-first century wars? Or can you think of a recent popular book that prods us to consider the “material and spiritual evil” that came from our own participation in World War II? I can’t.
In fact, in the first years after that war, as Paul Boyer showed in his superb book By the Bomb’s Early Light, some of America’s triumphalism faded as fears grew that the very existence of nuclear weapons might leave the country newly vulnerable. After all, someday another power, possibly the Soviet Union, might use the new form of warfare against its creators, producing an American apocalypse that could never be seen as redemptive or merciful.
In the post-Cold War decades, however, those fears have again faded (unreasonably so since even a South Asian nuclear exchange between Pakistan and India could throw the whole planet into a version of nuclear winter). Instead, the “Good War” has once again been embraced as unambiguously righteous. Consider, for example, the most recent book about World War II to hit it big, Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. Published in 2010, it remained on the New York Times best-seller list in hardcover for almost four years and has sold millions of copies. In its reach, it may even surpass Tom Brokaw’s 1998 book, The Greatest Generation. A Hollywood adaptation of Unbroken appeared last Christmas.
Hillenbrand’s book does not pretend to be a comprehensive history of World War II or even of the war in the Pacific. It tells the story of Louis Zamperini, a child delinquent turned Olympic runner turned B-24 bombardier. In 1943, his plane was shot down in the Pacific. He and the pilot survived 47 days in a life raft despite near starvation, shark attacks, and strafing by Japanese planes. Finally captured by the Japanese, he endured a series of brutal POW camps where he was the victim of relentless sadistic beatings.
The book is decidedly a page-turner, but its focus on a single American’s punishing ordeal and amazing recovery inhibits almost any impulse to move beyond the platitudes of nationalistic triumphalism and self-absorption or consider (among other things) the racism that so dramatically shaped American combat in the Pacific. That, at least, is the impression you get combing through some of the astonishing 25,000 customer reviews Unbroken has received on Amazon. “My respect for WWII veterans has soared,” a typical reviewer writes. “Thank you Laura Hillenbrand for loving our men at war,” writes another. It is “difficult to read of the inhumanity of the treatment of the courageous men serving our country.” And so on.
Unbroken devotes a page and a half to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, all of it from the vantage point of the American crew of the Enola Gay. Hillenbrand raises concerns about the crew’s safety: “No one knew for sure if… the bomber could get far enough away to survive what was coming.” She describes the impact of the shockwaves, not on the ground, but at 30,000 feet when they slammed into the Enola Gay, “pitching the men into the air.”
The film version of Unbroken evokes even less empathy for the Japanese experience of nuclear war, which brings to mind something a student told my graduate seminar last spring. He teaches high school social studies and when he talked with colleagues about the readings we were doing on Hiroshima, three of them responded with some version of the following: “You know, I used to think we were wrong to use nukes on Japan, but since I saw Unbroken I’ve started to think it was necessary.” We are, that is, still in the territory first plowed by Truman in that speech seven decades ago.
At the end of the film, this note appears on the screen: “Motivated by his faith, Louie came to see that the way forward was not revenge, but forgiveness. He returned to Japan, where he found and made peace with his former captors.”
That is indeed moving. Many of the prison camp guards apologized, as well they should have, and — perhaps more surprisingly — Zamperini forgave them. There is, however, no hint that there might be a need for apologies on the American side, too; no suggestion that our indiscriminate destruction of Japan, capped off by the atomic obliteration of two cities, might be, as Admiral Leahy put it, a violation of “all of the known laws of war.”
So here we are, 70 years later, and we seem, if anything, farther than ever from a rejection of the idea that launching atomic warfare on Japanese civilian populations was an act of mercy. Perhaps some future American president will finally apologize for our nuclear attacks, but one thing seems certain: no Japanese survivor of the bombs will be alive to hear it.
Christian Appy, professor of history at the University of Massachusetts, is the author of three books about the Vietnam War, including most recently American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity (Viking).
Copyright 2015 Christian Appy
The US atomic destruction of 140,000 people at Hiroshima and 70,000 at Nagasaki was never “necessary” because Japan was already smashed, no land invasion was needed and Japan was suing for peace. The official myth that “the bombs saved lives” by hurrying Japan’s surrender can no longer be believed except by those who love to be fooled. The long-standing fiction has been destroyed by the historical record kept in US, Soviet, Japanese and British archives — now mostly declassified — and detailed by Ward Wilson in his book “Five Myths about Nuclear Weapons” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013).
Greg Mitchel’s “Atomic Cover-Up” (Sinclair Books, 2011) also helps explain the durability of the “saved lives” ruse. Wartime and occupation censors seized all films and still photos of the two atomic cities, and the US government kept them hidden for decades. Even in 1968, newsreel footage from Hiroshima held in the National Archives was stamped, “SECRET, Not To Be Released Without the Approval of the DOD.” Photos of the atomized cities that did reach the public merely showed burned buildings or mushroom clouds — rarely human victims.
In “Hiroshima in America: 50 Years of Denial,” (Grosset/Putnam, 1995) Robert Lifton and Mitchell note that Gen. Leslie Groves, head of the Manhattan Project, “left nothing to chance.” Even before Hiroshima, he prohibited US commanders from commenting on the atomic attacks without clearance from the War Department. “We didn’t want MacArthur and others saying the war could have been won without the bomb,” Groves said.
In fact, MacArthur did not believe the bomb was needed to end the war, but he too established a censorship program as commander of the US occupation of Japan. He banned reporters from visiting Hiroshima or Nagasaki, expelled reporters who defied the ban and later said that those who complained that censorship existed in Japan were engaged in “a maliciously false propaganda campaign.”
That most people in the United States still believe the “saved lives” rationale to be true is because of decades of this censorship and myth-making, begun by President Harry Truman, who said Aug. 6, 1945, “Sixteen hours ago an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima, an important Japanese Army base. … That was because we wished this first attack to avoid, insofar as possible, the killing of civilians.” In fact, the city of 350,000 had practically no military value at all and the target was the city, not the base three kilometers away.
Taking President Truman at his word, the 140,000 civilians killed at Hiroshima are the minimum to be expected when exploding a small nuclear weapon on a “military base.” Today’s “small” Cruise missile warheads – which are 12 times the power of Truman’s A-bomb – could kill 1.68 million each.
Official censorship of what the two bombs did to people and the reasons for it has been so successful, that 25 years of debunking hasn’t managed to generally topple the official narrative. In 1989, historian Gar Alperovitz reported, “American leaders knew well in advance that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was not required to bring about Japan’s surrender;” and later, in his 847-page “The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb” (Random House, 1995), “I think it can be proven that the bomb was not only unnecessary but known in advance not to be necessary.” The popular myth “didn’t just happen,” Alperovitz says, “it was created.”
Kept hidden for decades was the 1946 US Strategic Bombing Survey’s conclusion that Japan almost certainly would have surrendered in 1945 without the atomic bombs, without a Soviet invasion and without a US invasion. Not long after V-J Day in 1945, Brig. Gen. Bonnie Feller wrote, “Neither the atomic bombing nor the entry of the Soviet Union into the war forced Japan’s unconditional surrender. She was defeated before either of these events took place.”
President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a five-star general and the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, said in his memoirs he believed “that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary.”
Adm. William Leahy, the wartime Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote in 1950, “It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material success in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender….” Feller’s, Ike’s and Leahy’s opinions were conspicuously left out of or censored by the Smithsonian Institution’s 1995 display of the atomic B-29 bomber “Enola Gay.”
Admiral Leahy’s 1950 myth- and censor-busting about the Bomb could be an epitaph for the nuclear age: “I was not taught to make war in that fashion,” he said of Hiroshima’s incineration, “and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.”
John LaForge is a co-director of Nukewatch in Wisconsin and edits its Quarterly newsletter.
The historiography of the atomic bomb can be roughly categorized into three camps: traditionalists, revisionists, and middle-ground “consensus” historians.  Traditionalists, also referred to as orthodox historians and post-revisionists, studying the atomic bomb generally accept the view posited by the Truman administration and articulated most clearly in Henry Stimson’s 1947 Harper’s Magazine article. In short, this argument assumes that the use of the atomic bombs against Japan was justifiable on military grounds in order to prevent a costly invasion of the Japanese home islands. Often attached to such analysis is the notion that insofar as the atomic bombs ended the war prior to an invasion and saved hundreds of thousands or millions of lives, the use of the atomic bombs was also a morally sound decision. There tends to be a remarkable level of homogeneity amongst the traditionalist arguments. Whereas they may emphasize certain facts or aspects of the debate, they tend to present strikingly similar arguments, with a few exceptions.
The revisionists, in contrast, tend to be far more heterogeneous. Revisionist historians are unconvinced by the official narrative, and tend to emphasize the alternatives to the atomic bomb not pursued by the Truman administration. Furthermore, most revisionists accept, on some level, the “atomic diplomacy” thesis articulated first by Gar Alperovitz in 1965. To one degree or another revisionists argue that the Truman administration purposefully chose not to pursue alternatives to ending the war and that post-war diplomatic concerns vis-à-vis the Soviet Union were germane to, and in some historian’s view dictated, the use of the atomic bombs.
The third camp, the consensus historians, are those who J. Samuel Walker refers to as having “reached a broad, though hardly unanimous, consensus on some key issues surrounding the use of the bomb.” These include the fact that Truman and his advisers were aware of alternatives that seemed likely to end the war, that invasion would likely not have been necessary, and that the atomic bomb did not save hundreds of thousands or millions of lives. What distinguishes them from the traditionalists is the argument that the atomic bombs were not a military necessity. On the other hand, their rejection or hesitancy to incorporate atomic diplomacy into their analysis differentiates them from the revisionists.
Given the nature of the three camps, the organizational framework I have utilized includes three sections. The first section will deal with the debate between traditionalists and revisionists. It will focus on questions of atomic diplomacy, the Potsdam Conference, unconditional surrender, Soviet entry into the war, projected casualty figures, and certain key figures in the Truman administration, the Soviet Union, and Japan. The second section will examine the points of disagreement within the revisionist camp. Although revisionists all challenge the orthodox position, they are significantly less homogenous than the latter. The third section of the essay will explore the consensus historians and their disagreements with both the traditionalists and the revisionists. Given the level of unanimity amongst the traditionalist historians, it is unnecessary to dedicate a section exploring differences between them because with rare exceptions, which will be noted when appropriate, there is remarkably little disagreement. The essay will conclude with a brief analysis of the authors, such as Robert Newman and Paul Boyer, who have extended their chronological framework significantly beyond the actual use of the atomic bombs.
The Traditionalists vs. the Revisionists
The five monographs within the traditionalist camp that will be analyzed here are Robert James Maddox’sWeapons for Victory: The Hiroshima Decision (2004), Robert P. Newman’sTruman and the Hiroshima Cult (1995), Richard B. Frank’s Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire (1999), Paul D. Walker’sTruman’s Dilemma: Invasion or the Bomb (2003), and Wilson D. Miscamble’s The Most Controversial Decision: Truman, the Atomic Bombs, and the Defeat of Japan (2011). On the other side of the debate are four revisionist historians, including Gar Alperovitz’s The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb and the Architecture of an American Myth (1995), Martin J. Sherwin’s A World Destroyed: Hiroshima and Its Legacies (2003), Ronald Takaki’s Hiroshima: Why America Dropped the Atomic Bomb (1995), and Tsuyoshi Hasegawa’s Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan (2005). The positions of the traditionalists and the revisionists regarding atomic diplomacy, the Potsdam Conference, Japanese surrender, the unconditional surrender policy, Soviet entry into the war, projected casualty figures, and key individuals involved in the decision to use the bomb and Japanese surrender are fundamentally at odds.
The question of atomic diplomacy is what creates the fundamental divide between the two camps. Although there is great variation between revisionist and traditionalist positions on unconditional surrender, the role and race and racism, and other factors, most questions tend to be subsumed within and intricately bound up with atomic diplomacy. Since the revisionists first posited this thesis, it is appropriate to adumbrate their arguments. Objecting to the official narrative that “Truman simply had no choice except to use the atomic bomb,” Alperovitz argues that Truman, significantly influenced by James Byrnes, used the bomb as a form of “atomic diplomacy” to pursue post-war U.S. interests in both Europe and Asia. In essence, Alperovitz argues that the U.S. government “generally understood” that “Japan was defeated and preparing to surrender before the bomb was used.”  According to Alperovitz there was a “quite general” notion amongst U.S. officials at Potsdam that the bomb would strengthen U.S. diplomacy vis-à-vis the Soviet Union. It was during this time that “a conscious decision not to encourage Soviet participation in the war” was undertaken. Attempts “to delay the Red Army’s attack to the extent feasible” were meant to “limit Soviet political influence in Asia.” For Alperovitz atomic diplomacy is the crucial element in explaining the use of the bomb.
Martin Sherwin supplements Alperovitz’s atomic diplomacy thesis by extending the importance of such diplomatic concerns backwards into the Roosevelt administration. Sherwin posits that the policies of the Roosevelt administration suggest “that the diplomatic value of the bomb began to shape his atomic energy policies as early as 1943.” Although Sherwin cites Roosevelt’s elusive decision making process and sudden death as inhibitors to fully understanding his policy, he posits that Roosevelt “consistently opposed international control and acted in accordance with Churchill’s monopolistic, anti-Soviet views.” Ronald Takaki, despite emphasizing the role of race and racism in the decision, also concedes that atomic diplomacy was indeed a factor. He notes the “incredible pressure” on Manhattan project scientists to complete the bombs prior to the Potsdam conference. Similarly, he explains how Truman purposefully postponed the conference to coincide with the bomb tests. Takaki maintains that two “schools of thought” dominated the thinking of U.S. officials, including the “quid-pro-quo” strategy, articulated by people like Henry Stimson, and the “monopoly” strategy a la James Byrnes.  In Tsuyoshi Hasegawa’s view, the Potsdam Proclamation was not a warning to Japan, but an attempt to justify the use of the bomb.
Hasegawa’s argument aligns with Alperovitz’s as well. He maintains that a “race” began at Potsdam between the United States and the Soviet Union when the Soviets set August 15 as their projected state of entry into the war. This “gave American policymakers a definite deadline to work for.”  Thus, the timing of the Potsdam Proclamation was “integrally connected with the schedule for deployment of the atomic bombs.” The Truman administration desired to end the war via the atomic bombs in order to avoid Soviet entry and maintain hegemony in the Pacific in the post-war world. Therefore, the Truman-Byrnes commitment to unconditional surrender and the Potsdam declaration was simply a prelude to the use of the atomic bombs. Byrnes position was essentially: “if we insisted on unconditional surrender, we could justify dropping of the atomic bomb.” Concerned about the post-war political consequences of Soviet participation in the war, U.S. planners sought to bring about Japan’s surrender before the Soviets could join. At best, Soviet participation in the war was an “insurance policy” in case the atomic tests failed.
Thus, the revisionist position is quite clear. Officials in the United States were deeply concerned about post-war hegemony, particularly in the Pacific but in Europe as well, and saw the use of the atomic bomb against Japan as a way to contain the Soviet Union. Subsequently, any and all alternatives that could have ended the war, albeit not in time to prevent Soviet entry, were disregarded and not pursued. This conclusion is often premised on the fact that Japan was already defeated and near surrender. Alperovitz argues that “Japan was defeated and preparing to surrender before the atomic bomb was used. Though the question of timing was in dispute, it is also certain that this was generally understood in the U.S. government at the time.”  Hasegawa contends that the “Soviet entry into the war played a greater role than the atomic bombs in inducing Japan to surrender” and, as such, the Japanese would have quickly surrendered upon Soviet entry even without the use of the atomic bombs.
It is on these grounds that the traditionalists most vehemently challenge the revisionists. Robert James Maddox challenged what he saw as “blatant revisionist distortions” in order to construct his argument that the single-most decisive factor in forcing the Japanese to surrender and preventing a costly land invasion of Japan was the use of the atomic bombs. Whereas Alperovitz maintained that the casualty figures for a land invasion were inflated as post-war justifications by the Truman administration, Maddox suggests that the half-a-million figure “cited by Truman, and even higher ones, were circulated within the upper echelons of government.” For Maddox bombs were utilized out of military necessity because the Japanese would not have surrendered without the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Indeed, according to Maddox the “very idea of surrender was alien to the Japanese samurai tradition.” Furthermore, ULTRA intercepts suggest surrender prior to an invasion was not even a serious option, let alone inevitable. Richard Frank goes even further, arguing that the conclusions the revisionist reach regarding the MAGIC are erroneous because they ignore the fact that Japanese peace feelers were completely “want of official sanction.”  Thus, the “thesis that Japan was actively seeking to surrender in 1945, and that American policy makers knew this primarily from code breaking,” is rejected by the traditionalists.
Robert Newman concurs with this analysis, adding that most “Hiroshima cultists,” including Gar Alperovitz, P. M. S. Blackett, Paul Boyer, the Smithsonian exhibit authors, and others who “swallow this conclusion of the [United States Strategic Bombing Survey] whole” are incorrect because the study itself was extremely flawed.  Information in the survey was purposefully distorted to support conclusions already arrived at a priori by Paul Nitze, and the testimony of most high-ranking Japanese officials “overwhelmingly indicated that Japan was not about to surrender before the bomb.” Thus, the “Truman bashers” are incorrect to argue that the bomb changed no minds. In fact, according to Newman it “created a situation in which the peace party and the emperor could prevail.”  Wilson Miscamble also views himself as “exploding permanently the myth of a Japan ready to surrender,” a “myth” perpetuated by the United States Strategic Bombing Survey of 1946. 
Richard Frank furthers this argument by explaining that Japan’s “fundamental policy,” based on the Ketsu-Go defense plan, was a national resistance program intended to bloody the invading enemy enough to force political negotiations and ipso facto avoid unconditional surrender. Frank relies heavily upon the document produced by the Big Six entitled “The Fundamental Policy to Be Followed Henceforth in the Conduct of the War,” which argued Japan “must fight to the finish and choose extinction before surrender.” In essence, Japan was “effectively locked on course for a fight to the last man, woman, and child.” Furthermore, Frank continues this theme, arguing that the goal was to “severely bloody the invaders” to the point of achieving political goals. Ultra documents, according to Frank, did much to “unmask their carefully wrought plans.” The forces on Kyushu far exceeded the 350,000 number given to Truman. Indeed, by November 1 Japanese strength would be 680,000, much closer to the 1:1 ration of American to Japanese soldiers that U.S. leaders desperately wanted to avoid. Paul Walker takes this argument to its logical extreme. He argues that due the 35 percent casualty rate of the Iwo Jima and Okinawa battles, as well as the “fanaticism of the Japanese military and their updated code of Bushido,” casualties would have ranged from around 250,000 in the invasion of Kyushu alone, to over one million with the invasion of both Kyushu and Honshu. Miscamble maintains that “retrospective castigations” like William D. Leahy’s memoirs in 1950, which denounced the atomic bomb as a “modern type of barbarism not worthy of Christian man,” can be dismissed since “no military officials counseled the president against using the weapons prior to Hiroshima.” Maddox concurs, explaining that despite the retroactive denunciations of the atomic bomb by top-ranking military officials, no military officials seriously attempted to guide Truman away from using the bomb prior to its deployment. The fact that the bomb was utilized out of military necessity dismisses the “gravest charge against Truman,” namely that the atomic bomb was deployed “primary as a diplomatic weapon to intimidate the Soviet Union.”
The question of Soviet entry into the war preoccupies an important space in the discourse as well. Tsuyoshi Hasegawa maintains that “Soviet entry into the war played a greater role than the atomic bombs in inducing Japan to surrender.” Interestingly, Maddox claims the Soviets invaded Manchuria not to be “a good ally” but rather “to get in on the kill,” an analysis Hasegawa would largely share. However, where the revisionists and the traditionalists differ, is that most traditionalists seriously downplay the role of Soviet entry into the war. In Frank’s narrative, “Soviet intervention was a significant but not decisive reason for Japan’s surrender… reinforcing but not fundamental.” Miscamble maintains that revisionist historians who emphasize Soviet entry in the war “distort history by overemphasizing” its importance. According to Miscamble, Hasegawa’s claim that Truman was disappointed at the Soviet entry into the war “are not substantiated by the historical evidence.”  Paul Walker points out that when the emperor finally surrendered on August 15, 1945, the Russian invasion was not mentioned as a cause of surrender. Hasegawa counters this point by citing “another historic document” written by Sakomizu’s  assistant and sanctioned by the emperor that was not issued until August 17. This re-script explained that if Japan continued fighting after the entrance of the Soviet Union into the war it would endanger “the very foundation of the empire’s existence,”  reinforcing Hasegawa’s claim that Soviet intervention was key.
Perhaps the most creative defense of the use of the atomic bomb from the traditionalist camp is the moral one. One of the primary objectives of Wilson Miscamble is to “confront the question regarding the morality of the atomic bomb.” Miscamble suggests that for Byrnes and Truman “moral complexity or future diplomatic implications failed to complicate their straight forward thinking.” If the atomic bomb “might save American lives” then it must be used, and this “remained, throughout, the essential motivation that guided the decision.”  Whereas revisionists argue that Japan was defeated, he makes a stark distinction between defeat and surrender, explaining that the U.S. would have eventually won the war by “continued obliteration bombing of Japanese cities and infrastructure, a choking blockade, the terrible invasions… [and these] would have meant significantly greater Allied casualties and much higher Japanese civilian and military casualties.” Likewise, the abrupt end to the war also brought an end to Japanese brutality in other parts of Asia. Furthermore, “indiscriminate bombing had become the norm for the Anglo-American forces well before 1945,” indicating that any “moral Rubicon” had already been crossed prior to Hiroshima. Thus, the bomb was the “lesser of the evils available,” and subsequently Miscamble pleas that in “future anniversaries of the dropping of the atomic bomb… one might hope for less moralizing condemnation of Truman’s decision… Perhaps there might even be some empathy for the man who felt required to make the decision and who carried the burden of it.”
Robert Newman makes a slightly less sophisticated moral defense, proclaiming that neither “Hiroshima cultists nor professional moralists had even considered the possibility that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were legitimate retribution for the millions of deaths caused by Japan’s fourteen-year rampage through China and the Pacific,” an idea he apparently entertains. Newman suggests that the atomic bombs were moral actions taken in order to prevent greater evil. According to him the general arguments against Truman’s choice to use the bomb come in four general varieties: first, atomic bombs are intrinsically evil and should not be used; second, their use violated the principle of noncombatant immunity; third, the bombs were used on invalid motives, including retribution, revenge, and reprisal; and fourth, no specific warning was given. To the first, Newman responds that “the case for immorality of today’s overkill arsenals and war fighting doctrines is strong,” but “to apply the same case retrospectively to 1945, however, is senseless.” To the second, Newman quotes Bamba Nobuya to suggest that the “Marxist interpretation of imperialistic war,” namely that “the ‘people’ should have been innocent,” is incorrect. The Japanese population did not just passively support imperialism, “on the contrary, most people competed to get front seats on the fascist bandwagon.”  Thus, they were not noncombatants and to attack them was legitimate. To the third point Newman maintains that because the Japanese were involved in developing atomic weapons as well, even though U.S. leaders were not aware of this at the time, it retroactively justifies the decision. Since “upwards of 250,000 people… would have died each month the Japanese Empire struggled in its death throes beyond July 1945,” and since the bomb had the ability to end the war early, it could not have been used for the wrong reasons. To the last point, he responds that the shock value of the bomb was decisive in ending the war, and thus it would have been ineffective and prolonged the war to issue the warning.
Finally, the issue of culture and its relationship to policies of surrender are intricately bound up in the traditionalist narrative. For Paul Walker, a key element of the war was the “barbarism, savageness, and race hatred” of “an oriental enemy with a brutal heritage.”  According to Walker, the Japanese in World War II “believed they were fighting in the proud traditions of their samurai ancestors.” This ideological reliance upon “a version of Bushido” meant that military schools taught “a perverted cult of death” which made “young Japanese men expendable numbers for the military’s reckless and costly adventures.”  Tracing Japanese history from the Forty Seven Ronin to the Meiji Restoration and beyond, Walker paints a picture of uniform brutality and aggression. This culminates in the period from 1894 to 1945, where “Japan was involved in almost constant warfare with her neighbors.” Since being a prisoner of war was “completely unacceptable, considered dishonorable or shameful, and contrary to the samurai code,” the Japanese were essentially automatons that fought to the death. In contrast with U.S. imperialism, where “Filipinos had a positive image of America” and U.S. intervention in Vietnam “sorted itself out,” Japanese imperialism was infinitely more brutal, according to Walker. This notion that the Japanese were imbued with fanaticism and the ideology of Bushido, which permeated their consciousness for centuries, is an important part of Walker’s thesis because it attempts to reinforce the notion that the toll of casualties would be great in a U.S. invasion of Japan. Miscamble suggests a similar theme, explaining that the “the twisted neo-samurai … geared up with true banzai spirit to engage the whole population in a kind of national kamikaze campaign.”  Maddox is slightly less crude, suggesting that that the “very idea of surrender was alien to the Japanese samurai tradition.”
Thus, within the traditionalist camp one finds a remarkable degree of unanimity. While some authors, such as Miscamble and Newman, focus on the moral argument, others, such as Maddox, implore the military aspect. Others still emphasize the “savage” culture of the “Oriental enemy” a la Paul Walker. Yet, all of the traditionalists tend to converge in their main analysis. There is little disagreement among them on any vital issues. In one way this greatly distinguishes them from the revisionist camp, which presents a quite heterogeneous and diverse array of analyses.
The Revisionist Camp
The traditionalists and revisionists part ways on the fundamental divide of atomic diplomacy. Within the traditionalist camp arguments are largely convergent, whereas within the revisionists camp the nuances are far more pronounced. All tend to agree that some level of atomic diplomacy was in play. Most, however, disagree on a variety of other issues. Gar Alperovitz and Martin Sherwin heavily emphasize the role of atomic diplomacy. In contrast, Takaki suggests race and racism as primary variables. Hasegawa maintains that an “international” perspective is vital, and criticizes past revisionists for heavily focusing on leaders in Washington. As Gar Alperovitz is the first and quintessential revisionist, much of the internal discussion amongst revisionists is characterized by correcting, expanding, or challenging certain assumptions Alperovitz has made.
The first distinction of analysis can be seen in the characterization of the Roosevelt and the Truman administration. Alperovitz imbues individual political actors, particularly Harry Truman and his adviser James Byrnes, with immense agency over the use of the bomb. He warns against “analyses which assert that a combination of factors-political, military, racial, and financial-produced the decision.” He also makes the case against “momentum theories,” which may have “an odd feeling of seeming plausibility about them,” but which go against the evidence that top U.S. military officials were against the bombing. Throughout his work it is stressed that individual political actors were absolutely fundamental in the decision, and that no sort of “momentum theory” is capable of capturing the dynamics of the top-level discussions that led to the final decision. Alperovitz emphasizes the importance of the Truman-Byrnes relationship, implicitly suggesting that the outcome may have been different with Roosevelt in office.
Martin Sherwin articulates a somewhat distinct argument that draws a strong line of continuity between the Roosevelt and Truman administrations. For Sherwin, an “analysis of the policies [Roosevelt] chose… suggests that the diplomatic value of the bomb began to shape his atomic energy policies as early as 1943.” Although Sherwin cites Roosevelt’s elusive decision making process and sudden death as inhibitors to fully understanding his policy, he posits that Roosevelt “consistently opposed international control and acted in accordance with Churchill’s monopolistic, anti-Soviet views.” He concludes that Roosevelt’s commitment to amicable postwar relations with the Soviets has “often been exaggerated,” and that “his prescriptions for the diplomatic role of the atomic bomb… reveal a carefully guarded skepticism regarding the Grand Alliance’s prospects for surviving the war intact.” Thus, Sherwin argues that Truman did not “inherit the question” of whether to employ the bomb as a means of atomic diplomacy, but he “inherited the answer” since by 1943 the diplomatic value of the bomb had already begun to shape atomic energy policies. The decision to use the bomb, and its diplomatic implications, were prescribed by Roosevelt. Truman’s decisions were more or less technical, revolving around how specifically to use the bomb. Where Alperovitz has attempted to present a break or disconnect between what he perceives as Roosevelt’s uncertain and wavering atomic policies, Sherwin presents a forceful analysis suggesting strong continuity between the two administrations.
A second point of contention amongst revisionists is the role of race and racism in the decision to use the bomb. Here Alperovitz argues that while “it is certainly possible” that racism amongst U.S. officials played a role in the decision to drop the bomb, “it is all but impossible to find specific evidence that racism was an important factor.” In contrast, while Takaki adopts Alperovitz’s notion of atomic diplomacy, he drastically parts with him on the issue of race. Takaki’s primary focus is understanding the decision within the trajectory of US racism.  In this regard, it seems his argument is best encapsulated when he declares, borrowing from John Dower, that “in this ‘war without mercy,’ Truman made the deadly mushroom cloud of ‘Manhattan’ appear over Japan in order to destroy an enemy he regarded as ‘a beast’.” Takaki explicates upon the “racialization of the Pacific War,” positioning it within the historic context of racism and US expansionism. After briefly addressing Japanese notions of racial superiority, Takaki attempts to place Truman’s decision to use the atomic bombs within the “sociological imagination” of anti-Japanese racism in US society. In doing so, he links the war in the Pacific to earlier periods of conquest. His analysis focuses on the complex processes by which the US idea of democracy was intricately bound up with westward expansion and slavery, all institutions saturated with racialized notions of superiority. Citing the Chinese Exclusion Act, “Yellow Peril” hysteria, the American Federation of Labor anti-Japanese agitation, and the Asiatic Exclusion League, Takaki draws a long line of continuity culminating in the internment of Japanese Americans and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For Takaki, notions of racial superiority and anti-Asian racism were key variables in the “sociological imagination” which facilitated the bombing of hundreds of thousands of civilians. It is in this context of a society deeply permeated with both institutional and individual racism that Truman’s actions must be analyzed. Takaki analyzes Truman’s biography, emphasizing the implicit notions of racial superiority deeply embedded in him and his family of ex-slave owners. Takaki outlines Truman’s broadly anti-Asian sentiments, such as in 1911 when he explained that he “does hate Chinese and Japs” and that the “yellow men [ought to be] in Asia.”  By 1945, Truman referred to the “Japs” as “savages, ruthless, merciless and fanatic.” Thus, the “sociological imagination” was a highly racialized one that helped rationalize the slaughter of innocent Japanese civilians in the minds of men like Truman.
Tsuyoshi Hasegawa also takes Alperovitz to task on more than one occasion. Throughout Racing the Enemy he points out that he views his work as a corrective to the mistakes of revisionist historians. As he explains, the “sharp division between revisionist and orthodox historians in the Unites States” has failed to address the crucial international dimension because “the main point of contention is over American perceptions of Soviet intentions” that “depict Soviet actions as a sideshow and assign to Moscow a secondary role at best.” Furthermore, although Hasegawa is certainly not an orthodox historian, he is mildly critical of the revisionists who have preceded him: “Although much of what revisionist historians argue is faulty and based on tendentious use of sources, they nonetheless deserve credit for raising an important moral issue that challenges the standard American narrative of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” Thus, Hasegawa strengthens the revisionist narrative by correcting some of the errors and increasing the attention to the international dynamic at work.
Alperovitz in large part bases his argument on the conclusions of the 1946 United States Strategic Bombing Survey which argued that Japan “would likely have surrender in 1945 without atomic bombing, without a Soviet declaration of war, and without an American invasion.”  In contrast with Alperovitz and most other revisionist historians who uncritically accept the United States Strategic Bombing Survey’s conclusion, Hasegawa maintains that “defeat and surrender are not synonymous,” and Paul Nitze’s “conclusion was repeatedly contradicted by the evidence in the Survey itself.” He largely accepts the critique of the USSBS findings put forward by Barton Bernstein. Instead, he argues that “even without the atomic bombs, the war most likely would have ended shortly after Soviet entry into the war-before November 1.” Strangely, Hasegawa tends to overemphasize his departure from Alperovitz on this point, or he must have simply overlooked Alperovitz contention that, even had the atomic bomb not been used, it is “almost a certainty that the Japanese would have capitulated upon the entry of Russia into the war.”
On a number of other points Hasegawa and Alperovitz certainly do disagree, however. Whereas Alperovitz characterizes the Sino-Soviet negotiations between Stalin and the Nationalists as a U.S. ploy to prolong Russian entry in the war, Hasegawa responds that in the Sino-Soviet negotiations, the “interests of Truman, Stalin, and Chiang Kai-shek all converged: the successful conclusion of a Sino-Soviet treaty could make everyone happy.”  Hasegawa does not view the difficult negotiating by the Chinese as a concocted plot by the U.S. to keep the Soviets out of the war. “Revisionist historians are wrong,” Hasegawa explains, “in asserting that Harriman’s actions were meant to pressure Soong to resist Stalin’s demand in order to prevent Soviet entry into the war against Japan.” Likewise, throughout his work Hasegawa repeatedly attempts to re-characterize Byrnes as someone not nearly as bent on geopolitical conflict with the Soviet Union as other revisionist historians have made him out to be. For instance, in response to the Soviet Kurils Operation as part of August Storm, Hasegawa argues that Byrnes, “though often regarded by revisionist historians as an ardent advocate for a tough stance against the Soviet Union… favored a conciliatory position on this issue.” Thus, the internecine differences amongst the revisionists exist. They are not nearly as pronounced or as heated as the differences between the traditionalists and the revisionists, but significantly more obvious than any real disagreement amongst traditionalist scholars.
Consensus Historians vs. The Traditionalists and the Revisionists
Between the traditionalist and revisionist historians lay a murky “middle ground” that encompasses a group of scholars who posit quite different arguments regarding the atomic bomb but tend to share in common a notion that alternatives existed. These “consensus” historians, as J. Samuel Walker refers to them,  in some way suggest that Truman and his advisers were aware of alternatives that seemed likely to end the war. The “consensus” historians reject the traditionalist argument that the atomic bombs were a military necessity and at the same time greatly distance themselves from the atomic diplomacy thesis. Samuel Walker’sPrompt and Utter Destruction: Truman and the Use of the Atomic Bombs Against Japan (1997), Dennis Wainstock’sThe Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb: Hiroshima and Nagasaki (1996), and Sean L. Malloy’s Atomic Tragedy: Henry L. Stimson and the Decision to Use the Bomb Against Japan (2008) form the core of this “consensus” or middle ground camp.
Dennis Wainstock argues that the policy of unconditional surrender was a “policy of revenge, and it hurt America’s national self-interest.”  He continues, suggesting that had the United States given Japan conditional surrender terms, including retention of the emperor, Japan would have surrendered significantly earlier than it did. This means that neither the atomic bombs nor Soviet intervention would have been required. By prolonging the war in Europe and East Asia the policy of unconditional surrender expanded Soviet power in both areas, thereby harming U.S. interests. The dropping of the atomic bomb only “hastened the surrender of an already defeated enemy.”  Wainstock does not neatly align with either the traditionalist or revisionist camp. First, he aligns his critique of unconditional surrender within “U.S. national interests.” His emphasis is that unconditional surrender unnecessarily prolonged the war, and Truman’s commitment to it subsequently harmed U.S. interests since the prolonged war eventually allowed the Soviet Union to enter the arena and exercise increased influence in East Asia. This “policy of revenge [unconditional surrender]… hurt America’s national self-interest” because it “prolonged the war… and helped to expand Soviet power.”
It is in this way that Wainstock differs sharply from all of the traditionalists who, in one way or another defend the policy of unconditional surrender. Whereas Paul Walker, Richard Frank, and Wilson Miscamble tend to be generally supportive of the unconditional surrender policy, James Maddox, in a rather reserved way, argues that “there is no way of telling whether the doctrine prolonged the war in any way.”  Robert Newman is Wainstock’s primary adversary in this regard, however. Newman argues two main points: first, Truman “had no good reason” to believe that permitting retention of the emperor would have led to early capitulation and, second, the “Potsdam Declaration defined surrender in a fashion acceptable to the Japanese peace forces.” To “those who insist that unconditional surrender was a purely punitive stance,” he proclaims that the “leaders of the Japanese peace party… saw in the Potsdam terms an acceptable alternative to the destruction Japan would otherwise sustain.” The reason that Truman eventually accepted the condition that the emperor be retained was, according to Newman, because “peace was too tantalizing to resist.”  In the end, however, Newman is sure that retaining the emperor, “what Hiroshima cultists insist was a viable alternative for Truman to end the war early… was really no alternative at all.” Furthermore, the conditions outlined at Potsdam were not unconditional surrender, and the Japanese knew it. Thus, for Newman the entire thesis constructed by Wainstock rests on dubious grounds.
Regarding his differences with the revisionists, Wainstock concedes that “perhaps Truman’s decision to drop the bombs was an attempt to both impress the Soviets… and to end the war before the Soviets entered and seize the Far Eastern territories.” Even if this were true, however, it was totally counterproductive since in the end it prolonged the war and allowed Soviet entry, something that could have been prevented by altering the policy. This brief commentary is all the space that Wainstock provides for the atomic diplomacy thesis. In other words, despite accepting that atomic diplomacy may have played some minor role, Wainstock contends that a blind policy of unconditional surrender was of prime importance in the decision. This is where his greatest disagreement comes to the fore with the revisionists, and in particular Hasegawa. Hasegawa contends that even if Truman had “accepted a provision in the Potsdam declaration allowing the Japanese to retain a constitutional monarchy,” it would “not have immediately led to Japan’s surrender.” It is doubtful, Hasegawa maintains, “that Japan would have capitulated before the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and the Soviet Union entered the war.” Thus, whereas the policy of unconditional surrender is the fundamental variable for Wainstock, it is significantly less so for Hasegawa. Wainstock significantly minimizes the significance of atomic diplomacy and inflates the importance of the unconditional surrender policy.
Sean Malloy, like Takaki, attempts to analyze the decision to use the atomic bomb through the “lens of biography.”  Malloy attempts to approach “the use of the bomb through a conceptual framework he calls the “context of use,” positioning the use of the bomb as a “compound product of a series of choices” rather than “the result of single decision.”  Malloy makes the argument that Stimson, as secretary of war, unintentionally “presided over a set of policies that accelerated the budding nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union,” despite his “deep concern with limiting the effects of war on civilians and fostering trust between nations as the foundation of the peace that followed.”  In essence, realpolitik dominated Stimson’s approach to the atomic bomb and undermined his moral commitments.
One example of this is Stimson’s oversight of the 1945 Stassfurt operation intended to secure Anglo-American hegemony over uranium supplies. By the time of Strassfurt, when the U.S. moved in to seize the largest known stock of uranium in Europe, they “did as so as part of a one-sided nuclear arms race” in which, “by 1945, the Soviet Union was already America’s primary nuclear rival.” Thus, while Stimson is the tragic hero with a fatal flaw, James Byrnes is his foil, presented as the bad apple in the administration who desires conflict with the Soviet Union. Malloy’s key argument, then, is that “by his own actions during World War II, the secretary of war had helped to set in motion exactly the kind of destructive international competition in armaments that he had spent much of his long public career attempting to avoid.”  The almost capricious nature of his rapidly changing positions, and the tenuous justifications which frequently accompanied them, indicates that Stimson’s moral convictions were more often than not drown out for the sake of political expediency. Malloy’s conception of the atomic bomb as a “tragedy” is the principle departure from the traditionalists who tend to glorify the use of the bomb and celebrate it for ending the war and saving lives.
Malloy’s differences with the revisionist camp are rather nuanced, but significant. Once again, his conception of the bombs as a “tragedy,” rather than a calculated diplomatic initiative, separates him from the revisionists. Second, he makes the argument that the secretary of war “was in a unique position to shape many of the decisions about the use of the bomb.” This is in direct contradistinction to other historians, such as Alperovitz, who emphasize the agency of actors such as James Byrnes at Stimson’s expense. Second, Malloy attempts to put forward a sort of “momentum theory” that Alperovitz considers “seemingly plausible” but in reality historically bankrupt. During the various decisions that led to the atomic bombing, the morals and convictions of officials were often sublimated for political expediency. For Malloy, this was particularly true of Stimson. In this way, a sort of “momentum theory” is employed by Malloy to mitigate the pernicious intent of certain actors and explain away the “failures” of their decisions. Thus, the atomic bombs were not intentionally used as diplomatic tools by most of the Truman administration, but policy “failures” as individuals were swept up in events. Further modifying the arguments of Alperovitz and Hasegawa, Malloy argues that “American domestic politics” were a primary reason that Truman “failed at Potsdam” to use the “two potentially useful, if imperfect, diplomatic levers… in an effort to end the war.”  Furthermore, whereas Hasegawa presents Soviet entry as vital, Mallow suggests that “neither the public threat of Soviet entry nor the lure of allowing the Japanese to retain the emperor after the war were diplomatic panaceas.”  Thus, Malloy’s differences with the revisionists are perceptible.
A slightly different approach is apparent in J. Samuel Walker’s book. He sets out to answer two interrelated questions: was the bomb “necessary at all” and, “if so, what exactly did it accomplish?” By the conclusion of the book, Walker asserts that the answer to the first question “seems to be yes and no. Yes, it was necessary to end the war as quickly as possible. No, it was not necessary to prevent an invasion of Japan.” Addressing the second question, he maintains that the bomb “shortened the war and saved the lives of a relatively small but far from inconsequential number of Americans.” By situating his thesis within these parameters, S. Walker avoids having to take a position regarding the morality of the atomic bombings and instead focuses on rather narrow notions of “military necessity.” He presents a variegated list of reasons Truman dropped the bomb: “(1) the commitment to ending the war successfully at the earliest possible moment; (2) the need to justify the effort and expense of building the atomic bombs; (3) the hope of achieving diplomatic gains in the growing rivalry with the Soviet Union; (4) the lack of incentives not to use atomic weapons; and (5) hatred of the Japanese and a desire for vengeance.”
Walker’s differences with the traditionalists are quite clear: Walker suggests three rectifications to the popular narrative, a narrative the traditionalists largely accept: first, “there were other options available for ending the war… without the bomb and without an invasion”; second, due to Japan’s enervated capacity for war, Truman and his advisers did not regard invasion as inevitable; last, even if invasion was necessary to end the war, military planners “projected the number of American lives lost at far fewer than the hundreds of thousands that Truman and his advisers claimed after the war.” Furthermore, Walker relies on the USSBS, a point of divergence between himself and both the traditionalists and Hasegawa, to conclude “the war would probably have ended before an American invasion of Kyushu became necessary.”  Walker essentially dismisses the entire traditionalist approach, with the caveat that Truman was indeed concerned with saving as many American lives as possible.
It is important to note that he is rather critical of the revisionist approach as well. First and foremost, Walker specifically outlines what Alperovitz disparages as an analysis asserting “that a combination of factors-political, military, racial, financial-produced the decision.” Alperovitz’s criticism of such an approach is that it “is easy to assemble fragments of evidence” that suggest such an analysis, but jumping from these “fragments to an explanatory conclusion about decision-making at the very top of the U.S. government is suspect.” Thus, Walker’s “five fundamental considerations” are a significant departure from Alperovitz. More significantly, Walker actually considers the entire atomic diplomacy thesis as a sideshow. For instance, he maintains that “Truman did not drop the bomb primarily to intimidate the Soviets.” It was at best an ancillary consideration, a “bonus.”
Thus, the “consensus” historians, largely agree that potential alternatives existed, that invasion may not have been necessary, and that the atomic bombs were probably not responsible for saving hundreds of thousands of lives. In other words, they were not a military necessity. At the same time, the atomic bombs were not deployed primarily as diplomatic mechanisms. Even if they eventually came to fulfill this role, it was either the unintentional result of “momentum” or a tertiary variable barely perceptible vis-à-vis other considerations.
Conclusion: The Myth, the Cult, Nuclearism, and Nuclear Consciousness
In the post-war era, the debate and discussion over the bomb has been of tremendous importance. Both the traditionalist and revisionist camps have plotted the trajectory of the discourse surrounding Hiroshima and Nagasaki in different ways. Gar Alperovitz has suggested that officials promulgated propaganda in a top-down manner in order to manufacture an “American myth” surrounding the use of the atomic bombs. Robert J. Lifton’s preface to Martin Sherwin’s A World Destroyed laments the emergence of “nuclearism,” the ideology that the atomic bomb is a “deity” capable of both “destroying the world” and “capable of ruling and protecting the world, even of keeping the world going.” In contrast, Robert Newman denounces Alperovitz and other revisionists as “Hiroshima cultists,” “Truman bashers,” and a host of other pejoratives for creating a “cult” that worships at the altar of Hiroshima. Lastly, Paul Boyer, in his book By the Bomb’s Early Light: American Thought and Culture at the Dawn of the Atomic Age (1994), suggests that a sort of “nuclear consciousness” has infused itself in the perceptions and ideology of Americans in the post-war era. In fact, “nuclear reality” so deeply pervades our “consciousness that it is hard to imagine what existence would have been like without it.”  In these various ways authors have interpreted the post-war world after the atomic bomb.
In the second part of his book, Alperovitz explores the creation of the mythology surrounding the ostensibly “inevitable” use of the bomb. He maintains that three decisions, including the rejection to provide enough time for Japan to surrender, the choice to not offer the Japanese emperor assurances, and the explicit decision not to test a Russian entry into the war, “set the terms of reference for the bomb’s subsequent seemingly ‘inevitable’ use… [and] so tightly framed the remaining issues as to make it all but impossible thereafter to oppose the bombings.”  This “framing of the bomb,” alongside the top-down campaign of disinformation immediately after the war, were key factors that facilitated the permeation of American consciousness with the “inevitability” narrative.
Stimson, Truman, Byrnes, and Groves were key figures in this top-down propaganda campaign. Despite what Alperovitz argues was an ancillary role in the actual decision to drop the bomb, Stimson did play a vital role in propagating the official discourse, citing Stimson’s 1947 Harper’s article which was presented as “a mere recital of the facts.” Stimson posited a rigid dichotomy later picked up by traditionalist historians: either a costly invasion or use of the bomb was required to end the war. As Alperovitz explains, the article was an “extraordinary success,” with the New York Times, the Washington Post, Reader’s Digest, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, and an indeterminate number of other media outlets “decidedly uncritical and, indeed, often effusive in praise.” Truman’s argument that “the dropping of the bombs stopped the war” and “saved millions of lives” was the main line of thought he propagated continuously after the war. He maintains that the “over a million” figure” became the essential source for a myth which has been repeated with only occasional challenge for much of the last half century” despite modern scholarship demonstrating “the estimate to be without any serious foundation in the documents of that period.”  Byrnes systematically distorted and revised the past by shrouding himself in secrecy and meticulously managing his personal writings. Groves’ role as “an expert public relations artist and news ‘spin’ master” also comes to light when he devised a strategy whereby U.S. officials would “saturate” the “huge market hungry for information with officially approved material from the only authoritative source available.” In Japan itself a Civil Censorship Division of the Occupation had some 8,700 staffers engaged in examining thousands of newspapers, magazines, textbooks, motion pictures, and even private mail to ensure they did not stray too far from the official discourse. The most pernicious form of censorship was also the most ubiquitous; namely, government classification. Thus, as Alperovitz argues, “the ‘normal’ functioning of government… is even more effective than the occasional excesses which make the headlines.” In these ways the historical narrative from beginning to end was “managed” by U.S. officials.
Part of Martin Sherwin’s work is intended to combat the legacy of nuclearism. In a world where humans have “infused [the atomic bomb] with a constellation of awe and mystery. That constellation has included tendencies to embrace the bomb, to become fiercely dependent upon it, indeed, to render it something close to a deity.” The “willful embrace of the cruelest weapon ever created is the essence” of nuclearism. Suggesting a line of continuity with Paul Boyer, A World Destroyed suggests that an “idealistic aura of peacemaking was inseparable from the bomb’s lure of ultimate technology and ultimate power-all of which became part of the transcendent technology of nuclearism.” Hence, “the bizarre emphasis on the bomb’s ostensible function of ‘saving lives’ rather than destroying them, of rendering the world peaceful rather than bringing to it a specter of annihilation.”  This “bizarre emphasis” has been the plaything of traditionalist scholars for decades.
In sharp contrast with Alperovitz and Sherwin, Robert P. Newman’s thesis in Truman and the Hiroshima Cult is the paradigmatic post-revisionist account of the atomic bomb and its aftermath. In it he argues that a “cult,” with attendant cultists, has arisen around Truman and the Hiroshima decision. These “Hiroshima cultists” argue, in a variety of forms, that Japan was on the verge of surrender, that the “unconditional surrender” formula unnecessarily prolonged the war, and that Truman’s decision to drop the bomb was driven either by racism towards the Japanese or diplomatic concerns vis-à-vis the Soviets, or some combination thereof. Newman vehemently rejects what he refers to as the “Japanese-as-victim cult,” suggesting that any and all of the above suggestions are fundamentally incorrect. Newman proclaims that neither “Hiroshima cultists nor professional moralists had even considered the possibility that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were legitimate retribution for the millions of deaths caused by Japan’s fourteen-year rampage through China and the Pacific.”
Newman traces the development and growth of what he maliciously and interchangeably refers to as the “Japan-as-Victim myth” or “Hiroshima cult.” He begins by explaining how in the immediate aftermath of the war “the whole world viewed Japan as villainous.”  After 1948, however, things began to change, in both Japan and the United States. In 1949 John Hersey’s Hiroshima was published, which Newman credits with having the opposite but equally powerful impact that Anne Frank’s diary had on Germany. Where Anne Frank’s diary forced Germany to come to terms with its atrocities, Hiroshima shielded Japan from having to do so, and helped begin the “Japan-as-Victim” myth. Furthermore, in 1951 P. M. S. Blackett published Fear, War, and the Bomb, which argued that the bomb was not the last act of the Second World War but the first act of the Cold War. Finally, in 1954 when the U.S. tested the new H-bomb and the crew of a tuna trawler were affected by radioactive fallout, the “five most important Japanese newspapers took a common position: this was the third atomic bombing.” 
Despite all this, however, in 1964 a public opinion poll suggested that 49 percent of the Japanese public viewed the United States as their “favorite foreign country.” By 1973, after the U.S. atrocities in Vietnam and use of Japan to accomplish them, this “popularity” had dropped to 18 percent.  By the late sixties people were questioning earlier U.S. military endeavors, notably the dropping of the atomic bombs, as a reflection of the changing political tide and anti-Vietnam war sentiment. By 1989, the “majority opinion even among Japanese scholars” was accepting of both the Blackett thesis and racism as primary factors in the dropping of the atomic bomb. In the United States, the gradual buildup of anti-nuclear activism, starting with The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in the late 1940s to the “Scientists’ Declaration on Nuclear Power” in 1975, had a major impact on retroactive views of the bombings. Thus, “accurate charges” of postwar “overkill… seemed to legitimate chargers of overkill levied at the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs.” Furthermore, many “who became disillusioned with the American terror bombing in Vietnam became converts to the Hiroshima guilt trip.” Newman also cites Ian Buruma’s The Wages of Guilt, which explores the myriad of factors for why a “Japan-as-Victim” cult developed but no comparably “cult” developed around Germany. The key factor as Newman sees it, however, was Vietnam. Without it, “the Japanese-as-victims cult in the United States would still be puny.” Newman’s work is a vicious attack on the legacy of revisionists like Gar Alperovitz and Martin Sherwin.
Paul Boyer’s study, By the Bomb’s Early Light: American Thought and Culture at the Dawn of the Atomic Age, addresses the “unsettling new cultural factor” of the atomic bomb that had been introduced in immediate post-war period from 1945 to 1950.  His contention is that the bomb “had transformed not only military strategy and international relations, but the fundamental ground of culture and consciousness” in the United States. These five formative years shaped how Americans first “confronted the bomb, struggled against it, and absorbed it into the fabric of the culture.”  In short, Boyer maintains that the 1945 to 1946 period was a time of “obsessive post-Hiroshima awareness of the horror of the atomic bomb,” while in the period from 1947 to 1950 and after there was a “diminished cultural attention and uneasy acquiescence” as the “dread destroyer of 1945 had become the shield of the Republic by 1950.” In essence, Sherwin’s “transcendent technology of nuclearism” permeated what Boyer calls America’s “nuclear consciousness.” This “nuclear consciousness” was infused into the very core of American ideology in the post-war era and so deeply pervades American “consciousness that it is hard to imagine what existence would have been like without it.” Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Boyer argues, “stand as signposts marking both a gash in the living flesh of our historical consciousness and a turning point in our ethical history.” 
From 1945 to 1946 an “intense discourse” had surrounded the atomic bomb, where after 1947 this “diminished to scattered murmurs and faint echoes” and by 1950 “America’s nuclear culture… would appear as a gray and largely deserted landscape.” Around this time the Atomic Energy Commission began a full throttle propaganda campaign to associate atomic energy with health, happiness, and prosperity. This campaign drew in scientists, educators, radio personalities, health workers, and others, directly reaching some four million Americans and indirectly affecting many more. A “policy of deep secrecy about atomic-bomb research and stockpiling,” alongside the “pervasive official practice… of playing down the bomb’s dangers” continued to condition the American public. In this context, and with the ensuing Cold War schism that dominated international relations, the “civil defense” paradigm displaced the “international control” slogan dominant during 1945-6. This multifaceted propaganda campaign was so successful that by 1950 Americans had overwhelmingly, if not unanimously, embraced the atomic bomb. The mid-1950s saw a resurgence of debate over the atomic bomb and then a re-decline after 1963. He argues that the illusion of diminished risk, the loss of immediacy, the promise of a world transformed by atomic energy, the complexity and comfort of deterrence theory, and the importance of the Vietnam War led to the decline of atomic prominence. Interestingly, whereas Newman positions the Vietnam War as the central feature in establishing the “Hiroshima cult,” Boyer contends that the Vietnam War actually lessened discussion and debate over the atomic bomb.
Although Boyer aligns neatly with revisionist historians, he does refocus the chronological lens. Where other historians have drawn a line of continuity between the development of the bomb and its use, or between the Roosevelt and Truman administrations, Boyer furthers that line of continuity by exploring the state’s role in managing post-Hiroshima public discourse. In this way Boyer’s work partially overlaps and agrees with but significantly transcends Alperovitz’ “architecture of an American myth.” By focusing on the state’s institution of a broad, far-reaching propaganda campaign that helped shape popular opinion, Boyer repositions the role of the state not just as user of the atomic bomb, but also as manager of the dominant discourse after its use. In this way, Boyer provides a unique historiographical contribution by arguing that atomic policies “transformed not only military strategy and international relations, but the fundamental ground of culture and consciousness” in the United States.
Thus, not only is the discourse surrounding the actual use of the atomic bomb split into competing camps, the post-war discourse itself is a topic of debate. In this regard, Paul Boyer’s work is the most thorough, sophisticated, and systematic cultural analysis of the post-war discourse. For those of us interested in challenging not only the excesses of war, but the inter-imperial rivalries that ultimately lead to the use of the bomb, understanding the nuances of the historiographical debate is vital. More importantly, in the wake of the 1995 Smithsonian controversy and the ever-expanding list of countries with access to nuclear armaments, those of us on the left must continue to wage war on the post-war discourse justifying and rationalizing the atomic bomb.
Alperovitz, Gar. The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb and the Architecture of an American Myth. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995.
Boyer, Paul. By the Bomb’s Early Light: American Thought and Culture at the Dawn of the Atomic Age. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1994.
Frank, Richard B. Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire. New York: Penguin Books, 1999.
Hasegawa, Tsuyoshi. Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005.
Maddox, Robert James. Weapons for Victory: The Hiroshima Decision. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2004.
Malloy, Sean L. Atomic Tragedy: Henry L. Stimson and the Decision to Use the Bomb Against Japan. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008.
Miscamble, Wilson D. The Most Controversial Decision: Truman, the Atomic Bombs, and the Defeat of Japan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.
Newman, Robert P. Truman and the Hiroshima Cult. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1995.
Walker, J. Samuel. Prompt and Utter Destruction: Truman and the Use of the Atomic Bombs Against Japan. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2004.
Walker, Paul D. Truman’s Dilemma: Invasion or the Bomb. Gretna: Pelican Publishing Company, 2003.
Stimson, Henry L. “The Decisions to Use the Atomic Bomb.” Harper’s Magazine (1947).
Sherwin, Martin J. A World Destroyed: Hiroshima and Its Legacies. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003.
Takaki, Ronald. Hiroshima: Why America Dropped the Atomic Bomb. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1995.
Wainstock, Dennis. The Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb. New York: Enigma Books, 2011.
 I borrow the term “consensus” from J. Samuel Walker.
 Tsuyoshi Hasegawa utilizes “orthodox” to describe this position.
 Henry L. Stimson, “The Decisions to Use the Atomic Bomb,” Harper’s Magazine (1947). See full article: http://classrooms.tacoma.k12.wa.us/stadium/mberggren-2/us-history/download/Stimson%2B-%2BHarper%2BFeb%2B1947%2B-%2BDecision%2Bto%2BUse%2Bthe%2BAtomic%2BBomb.pdf?id=230795
 J. Samuel Walker, Prompt and Utter Destruction: Truman and the Use of the Atomic Bombs Against Japan (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2004), 105.
 Originally published in 1995.
 A reiteration and strengthening of his 1965 work Atomic Diplomacy.
 Originally published in 1973.
 Truman, Stimson, Byrnes, Stalin, Hirohito, and the Big Six in Japan are examples where disagreement is most pronounced.
 Gar Alperovitz, The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb and the Architecture of an American Myth (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995), 19.
 Alperovitz, The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb, 225.
 Martin J. Sherwin, A World Destroyed: Hiroshima and Its Legacies (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003), 6.
 Sherwin, A World Destroyed, 7.
 This argument maintained that the US should share atomic technology with the Soviet Union in exchange for political cooperation.
 This position stated that the US should maintain a monopoly over atomic technology as long as possible and advance its diplomatic aims through harsh bargaining from its position of atomic power.
 Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005), 140.
 Hasegawa, Racing the Enemy, 154.
 Ibid., 135.
 Ibid., 139.
 Alperovitz, 19.
 Robert James Maddox, Weapons for Victory: The Hiroshima Decision (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2004), xv.
 Maddox, Weapons for Victory, 146.
 Ibid., 113.
 Richard B. Frank, Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire (New York: Penguin Books, 1999), 104.
 This is Newman’s term for revisionist historians.
 The USSBS maintained that in all likelihood Japan would surrender prior to November 1, 1945 without the atomic bombing or the entrance of the Soviet Union into the war. It further states that had Japan not surrendered by November 1, it would definitely have surrendered prior to the end of 1945.
 Robert P. Newman, Truman and the Hiroshima Cult (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1995), 36.
 Newman, Truman and the Hiroshima Cult, 47.
 This is one of Newman’s other terms for revisionists.
 Ibid., 49.
 Wilson D Miscamble, The Most Controversial Decision: Truman, the Atomic Bombs, and the Defeat of Japan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 91.
 Frank, 95.
 Ibid., 96.
 Ibid., 197.
 Paul D. Walker, Truman’s Dilemma: Invasion or the Bomb (Gretna: Pelican Publishing Company, 2003), 171.
 Miscamble, 115. Original emphasis.
 Maddox, 153.
 Hasegawa, 5.
 Maddox, 131.
 Frank, 348.
 Miscamble, 89.
 Ibid., 91.
 Sakomizu was chief secretary to the cabinet of Japan during World War II.
 Hasegawa, 250.
 Miscamble, 3.
 Ibid., 44.
 Ibid., 113.
 Ibid., 119.
 Ibid., 124.
 Newman, xiii. Emphasis added.
 Ibid., 120.
 Ibid., 130.
 Ibid., 138. Emphasis original.
 Paul Walker, 15.
 Ibid., 17.
 Ibid., 18-19.
 Ibid., 27.
 Ibid., 43-44.
 Miscamble, 120-1.
 Maddox, xv.
 Alperovitz, 656.
 Ibid., 657.
 Sherwin, 6.
 Ibid., 7.
 Ibid., 8.
 Alperovitz, 655.
 Ronald Takaki, Hiroshima: Why America Dropped the Atomic Bomb (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1995), 8.
 Takaki, Hiroshima, 100.
 Ibid., 94.
 Hasegawa, 2.
 Hasegawa, 300.
 Alperovitz, 4
 Hasegawa, 295.
 Ibid., 296.
 Alperovitz, 85.
 Hasegawa., 129.
 Ibid., 188
 Ibid., 275
 Samuel Walker cites Barton Bernstein as one of the pioneering “consensus” historians of Hiroshima.
 Dennis Wainstock, The Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb (New York: Enigma Books, 2011), 178.
 Wainstock, The Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb, 178.
 Ibid., 178.
 Maddox, 8.
 Newman, 57.
 Ibid., 71.
 Ibid., 73.
 Ibid., 77.
 Wainstock, 171
 Hasegawa, 290
 Ibid., 291
 Sean L. Malloy, Atomic Tragedy: Henry L. Stimson and the Decision to Use the Bomb Against Japan (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008), 7.
 Malloy, Atomic Tragedy, 8.
 Ibid., 81.
 Ibid., 11.
 Ibid., 67.
 Ibid., 70.
 Ibid., 9.
 Ibid., 129. Here he is referring to retention of the emperor (modifying unconditional surrender) and the public threat of Soviet entry into the war.
 Malloy, 129
 Samuel Walker, 6.
 Ibid., 109.
 Ibid., 109.
 Ibid., 92.
 Ibid., 5-6.
 Ibid., 89.
 Alperovitz, 656.
 Walker, 95.
 Sherwin, xi.
 Paul Boyer, By the Bomb’s Early Light: American Thought and Culture at the Dawn of the Atomic Age (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1994), xix.
 Boyer, By the Bomb’s Early Light, xx.
 Alperovitz, 631.
 Ibid., 455.
 Ibid., 466.
 Ibid., 598.
 Ibid., 610.
 Ibid., 613.
 Sherwin, xi.
 Ibid., xi.
 Ibid., xii.
 Ibid., xi.
 Newman, xiii.
 Ibid., 153.
 Ibid., 161.
 Ibid., 164.
 Ibid., 177.
 Ibid., 183.
 Ibid., 184.
 Boyer, xxi.
 Ibid., xxi.
 Ibid., xx.
 Ibid., 352 and 349.
 Boyer, xx
 Ibid., 182.
 Ibid., 291.
 Ibid., 303.
Fukushima’s missing melted cores and radioactive gushers continue to fester in secret.
Japan’s harsh dictatorial censorship has been matched by a global corporate media blackout aimed—successfully—at keeping Fukushima out of the public eye.
But that doesn’t keep the actual radiation out of our ecosystem, our markets … or our bodies.
Speculation on the ultimate impact ranges from the utterly harmless to the intensely apocalyptic.
But the basic reality is simple: for seven decades, government Bomb factories and privately-owned reactors have spewed massive quantities of unmonitored radiation into the biosphere.
The impacts of these emissions on human and ecological health are unknown primarily because the nuclear industry has resolutely refused to study them.
Indeed, the official presumption has always been that showing proof of damage from nuclear Bomb tests and commercial reactors falls to the victims, not the perpetrators.
And that in any case, the industry will be held virtually harmless.
This “see no evil, pay no damages” mindset dates from the Bombing of Hiroshima to Fukushima to the disaster coming next … which could be happening as you read this.
Here are 50 preliminary reasons why this radioactive legacy demands we prepare for the worst for our oceans, our planet, our economy … ourselves.
1. At Hiroshima and Nagasaki (1945), the U.S. military initially denied that there was any radioactive fallout, or that it could do any damage. Despite an absence of meaningful data, the victims (including a group of U.S. prisoners of war) and their supporters were officially “discredited” and scorned.
2. Likewise, when Nobel-winners Linus Pauling and Andre Sakharov correctly warned of a massive global death toll from atmospheric Bomb testing, they were dismissed with official contempt … until they won in the court of public opinion.
3. During and after the Bomb Tests (1946-63), downwinders in the South Pacific and American west, along with thousands of U.S. “atomic vets,” were told their radiation-induced health problems were imaginary … until they proved utterly irrefutable.
4. When British Dr. Alice Stewart proved (1956) that even tiny x-ray doses to pregnant mothers could double childhood leukemia rates, she was assaulted with 30 years of heavily funded abuse from the nuclear and medical establishments.
5. But Stewart’s findings proved tragically accurate, and helped set in stone the medical health physics consensus that there is no “safe dose” of radiation … and that pregnant women should not be x-rayed, or exposed to equivalent radiation.
6. More than 400 commercial power reactors have been injected into our ecosphere with no meaningful data to measure their potential health and environmental impacts, and no systematic global data base has been established or maintained.
7. “Acceptable dose” standards for commercial reactors were conjured from faulty A-Bomb studies begun five years after Hiroshima, and at Fukushima and elsewhere have been continually made more lax to save the industry money.
8. Bomb/reactor fallout delivers alpha and beta particle emitters that enter the body and do long-term damage, but which industry backers often wrongly equate with less lethal external gamma/x-ray doses from flying in airplanes or living in Denver.
9. By refusing to compile long-term emission assessments, the industry systematically hides health impacts at Three Mile Island (TMI), Chernobyl, Fukushima, etc., forcing victims to rely on isolated independent studies which it automatically deems “discredited.”
10. Human health damage has been amply suffered in radium watch dial painting, Bomb production, uranium mining/milling/enrichment, waste management and other radioactive work, despite decades of relentless industry denial.
11. When Dr. Ernest Sternglass, who had worked with Albert Einstein, warned that reactor emissions were harming people, thousands of copies of his Low-Level Radiation (1971)mysteriously disappeared from their primary warehouse.
12. When the Atomic Energy Commission’s (AEC) Chief Medical Officer, Dr. John Gofman, urged that reactor dose levels be lowered by 90 percent, he was forced out of the AEC and publicly attacked, despite his status a founder of the industry.
13. A member of the Manhattan Project, and a medical doctor responsible for pioneer research into LDL cholesterol, Gofman later called the reactor industry an instrument of “premeditated mass murder.”
14. Stack monitors and other monitoring devices failed at Three Mile Island (1979) making it impossible to know how much radiation escaped, where it went or who it impacted and how.
15. But some 2,400 TMI downwind victims and their families were denied a class action jury trial by a federal judge who said “not enough radiation” was released to harm them, though she could not say how much that was or where it went.
16. During TMI’s meltdown, industry advertising equated the fallout with a single chest x-ray to everyone downwind, ignoring the fact that such doses could double leukemia rates among children born to involuntarily irradiated mothers.
17. Widespread death and damage downwind from TMI have been confirmed by Dr. Stephen Wing, Jane Lee and Mary Osbourne, Sister Rosalie Bertell, Dr. Sternglass, Jay Gould, Joe Mangano and others, along with hundreds of anecdotal reports.
18. Radioactive harm to farm and wild animals downwind from TMI has been confirmed by the Baltimore News-American and Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.
19. TMI’s owner quietly paid out at least $15 million in damages in exchange for gag orders from the affected families, including at least one case involving a child born with Down’s Syndrome.
20. Chernobyl’s explosion became public knowledge only when massive emissions came down on a Swedish reactor hundreds of miles away, meaning that—as at TMI and Fukushima—no one knows precisely how much escaped or where it went.
21. Fukushima’s on-going fallout is already far in excess of that from Chernobyl, which was far in excess of that from Three Mile Island.
22. Soon after Chernobyl blew up (1986), Dr. Gofman predicted its fallout would kill at least 400,000 people worldwide.
23. Three Russian scientists who compiled more than 5,000 studies concluded in 2005 that Chernobyl had already killed nearly a million people worldwide.
24. Children born in downwind Ukraine and Belarus still suffer a massive toll of mutation and illness, as confirmed by a wide range of governmental, scientific and humanitarian organizations.
25. Key low-ball Chernobyl death estimates come from the World Health Organization, whose numbers are overseen by International Atomic Energy Agency, a United Nations organization chartered to promote the nuclear industry.
26. After 28 years, the reactor industry has still not succeeded in installing a final sarcophagus over the exploded Chernobyl Unit 4, though billions of dollars have been invested.
27. When Fukushima Units 1-4 began to explode, President Obama assured us all the fallout would not come here, and would harm no one, despite having no evidence for either assertion.
28. Since President Obama did that, the U.S. has established no integrated system to monitor Fukushima’s fallout, nor an epidemiological data base to track its health impacts … but it did stop checking radiation levels in Pacific seafood.
29. Early reports of thyroid abnormalities among children downwind from Fukushima, and in North America are denied by industry backers who again say “not enough radiation” was emitted though they don’t know how much that might be.
30. Devastating health impacts reported by sailors stationed aboard the USS Ronald Reagan near Fukushima are being denied by the industry and Navy, who say radiation doses were too small to do harm, but have no idea what they were.
31. While in a snowstorm offshore as Fukushima melted, sailors reported a warm cloud passing over the Reagan that brought a “metallic taste” like that described by TMI downwinders and the airmen who dropped the Bomb on Hiroshima.
32. Though it denies the sailors on the Reagan were exposed to enough Fukushima radiation to harm them, Japan (like South Korea and Guam) denied the ship port access because it was too radioactive (it’s now docked in San Diego).
33. The Reagan sailors are barred from suing the Navy, but have filed a class action against Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), which has joined the owners at TMI, the Bomb factories, uranium mines, etc., in denying all responsibility.
34. A U.S. military “lessons learned” report from Fukushima’s Operation Tomodachi clean-up campaign notes that “decontamination of aircraft and personnel without alarming the general population created new challenges.”
35. The report questioned the clean-up because “a true decontamination operations standard for ‘clearance’ was not set,” thereby risking “the potential spread of radiological contamination to military personnel and the local populace.”
36. Nonetheless, it reported that during the clean-up, “the use of duct tape and baby wipes was effective in the removal of radioactive particles.”
37. In league with organized crime, Tepco is pursuing its own clean-up activities by recruiting impoverished homeless and elderly citizens for “hot” on-site labor, with the quality of their work and the nature of their exposures now a state secret.
38. At least 300 tons of radioactive water continue to pour into the ocean at Fukushima every day, according to official estimates made prior to such data having been made a state secret.
39. To the extent they can be known, the quantities and make-up of radiation pouring out of Fukushima are also now a state secret, with independent measurement or public speculation punishable by up to ten years in prison.
40. Likewise, “There is no systematic testing in the U.S. of air, food and water for radiation,” according to University of California (Berkeley) nuclear engineering Professor Eric Norman.
41. Many radioactive isotopes tend to concentrate as they pour into the air and water, so deadly clumps of Fukushima’s radiation may migrate throughout the oceans for centuries to come before diffusing, which even then may not render it harmless.
42. Radiation’s real world impact becomes even harder to measure in an increasingly polluted biosphere, where interaction with existing toxins creates a synergy likely to exponentially accelerate the damage being done to all living things.
43. Reported devastation among starfish, sardines, salmon, sea lions, orcas and other ocean animals cannot be definitively denied without a credible data base of previous experimentation and monitoring, which does not exist and is not being established.
44. The fact that “tiny” doses of x-ray can harm human embryos portends that any unnatural introduction of lethal radioactive isotopes into the biosphere, however “diffuse,” can affect our intertwined global ecology in ways we don’t now understand.
45. The impact of allegedly “minuscule” doses spreading from Fukushima will, over time, affect the minuscule eggs of creatures ranging from sardines to starfish to sea lions, with their lethal impact enhanced by the other pollutants already in the sea.
46. Dose comparisons to bananas and other natural sources are absurd and misleading as the myriad isotopes from reactor fallout will impose very different biological impacts for centuries to come in a wide range of ecological settings.
47. No current dismissal of general human and ecological impacts—”apocalyptic” or otherwise—can account over time for the very long half-lives of radioactive isotopes Fukushima is now pouring into the biosphere.
48. As Fukushima’s impacts spread through the centuries, the one certainty is that no matter what evidence materializes, the nuclear industry will never admit to doing any damage, and will never be forced to pay for it (see upcoming sequel).
49. Hyman Rickover, father of the nuclear navy, warned that it is a form of suicide to raise radiation levels within Earth’s vital envelope, and that if he could, he would “sink” all the reactors he helped develop.
50. “Now when we go back to using nuclear power,” he said in 1982, “I think the human race is going to wreck itself, and it is important that we get control of this horrible force and try to eliminate it.”
As Fukushima deteriorates behind an iron curtain of secrecy and deceit, we desperately need to know what it’s doing to us and our planet.
It’s tempting to say the truth lies somewhere between the industry’s lies and the rising fear of a tangible apocalypse.
In fact, the answers lie beyond.
Defined by seven decades of deceit, denial and a see-no-evil dearth of meaningful scientific study, the glib corporate assurances that this latest reactor disaster won’t hurt us fade to absurdity.
Fukushima pours massive, unmeasured quantities of lethal radiation into our fragile ecosphere every day, and will do so for decades to come.
Five power reactors have now exploded on this planet and there are more than 400 others still operating.
What threatens us most is the inevitable next disaster … along with the one after that … and then the one after that …
Pre-wrapped in denial, protected by corporate privilege, they are the ultimate engines of global terror.