70 years ago Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed by nuclear bombs. The first was working with Uranium and the second with Plutonium. There are still several misconceptions surrounding that tragedy within a tragedy, false ideas which are still going around today. On the technical side those bombs marked the high point of the Manhattan project which had involved 200.00 people with an estimated investment of 2.5 billions USD.
No one knows exactly how many people died because of them. In Hiroshima alone perhaps 70.000 on the first day and 200.000 in the next five years. The US was already pounding all the largest cities of Japan with conventional aerial bombings, but some of the American strategists thought that the campaign will lead to nothing, only indiscriminate killing of civilians, leaving the armament sector standing. One of the worst bombing was that of Tokyo of 14 August 1945 – mark this date, after the nuclear bombing! – which lasted 14 hours and involved 1.014 bombers unloading 60.000 tons of bombs on the Japanese capital. At the same time the Japanese radio was broadcasting the voice of the Japanese Emperor announcing their surrender. That was a sort of final and useless fireworks display to close the war. When all was over was Harry Truman who later promoted the idea that the war was ended by the atom bombs and that after all they saved lives by consuming lives..
It is true that the estimates for a land invasion – scheduled for the 1st of November 1945 – would have involved American casualties as high as 1 million. The battle of Okinawa of 21 June 1945 had ended with the loss of 12.000 Americans lives, a price too high to pay for the Americans. At that time the Japanese army still had 4 million soldiers able to fight and had hundreds of Kamikaze planes ready to be thrown into battle. This is the American version of the events, a recurring theme, repeated in documentaries, books, articles and films.
But is it really all true? Modern historiography seems to tell another story. The war for Japan was clearly directed by Tokyo but due to poor communications, fallen telephone lines, roads out of use, the enormity of the atomic bombing could not be appreciated in a matter of 2 days by the people who directed the war, first among them, Emperor Hiro Hito. It was in fact the Soviet declaration of war of the 8th of August was a stronger shock than the bombing of Hiroshima, the Russian intervention was the final sign that all was lost for the Japanese. It is interesting to note that in 1946 Albert Einstein said that in his opinion the atomic bombs had been used to quicken the end of the war before the attack by Stalin, which at that point was absolutely not welcome by the US and he also thought that with Roosevelt alive he would have never authorized the use of the bomb.
Japan for months had been desperately looking for a way out. The Japanese refusal to surrender did stem from the declaration by Roosevelt at Casablanca on January 1943 about a surrender ‘without conditions’ which went down well with his electorate at home but basically meant nothing. Such words surprised even Churchill when they were uttered and were soon picked up by the press. But Roosevelt did not mean it, at least not literally. Since mankind experienced warfare there had always been conditions, no matter how harsh they might have been. The meaning of Roosevelt words was that they were resolute to win at all cost. The problem was that he died soon after and his successor, Truman, was forced to take them literally.
For Japan it would have been enough an agreement leaving the Emperor on the chrysanthemum throne – as the United States finally conceded – and they would have raised the white flag. This opinion was shared by all the men in Truman’s team except one, the most powerful and influential one, Secretary of State James (Jimmy) Byrnes – a complex man who could be a perfect case-study for a psychoanalyst. Byrne was a man full of hate, unfulfilled ambitions, egotist, who despised Truman for having taken the position of President when he though he had already pocketed it.
It is an historical fact that Churchill, MacArthur, Leahy, Grew, Eisenhower, Stettinus, Nimitz, Stimson and many other were pressing Truman – since at least May 1945 – to include the ‘Emperor Clause’ in the peace feelers presented to the Japanese Government but because of the negative influence of Byrnes that was never done. Those men could see that the real enemy at that time was the URSS not the wretched Japanese army. Japan was destined to be their ally as they had been during WWI. But the irresolute Truman, unable to think differently than Secretary of State Jimmy Byrnes, he proposed a ultimatum to Japan on 26 July 1945 but again the ‘Emperor Clause’ was missing. The Japanese Government, after having discussed it, seeing that nothing knew was in it, refused to answer. Japanese Prime Minister Kantaro Suzuki used a term that is still famous in diplomatic circles give a ‘mokusatu’ that means ‘answer with silence.’
General Eisenhower objected about using the bomb and he later wrote in his memoirs: “It wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing.”
President Truman’s Chief of Staff Admiral William Leahy wrote: “The use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender…[I]n being the first to use we…adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages.”
The famous hawk, Major General Curtis LeMay stated shortly after its use: “The war would have been over in two weeks without the Russians entering and without the atomic bomb…the atomic bomb had nothing to do with the end of the war at all.”
Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz stated publicly two months after Nagasaki that: “The Japanese had, in fact, already sued for peace…The atomic bomb played no decisive part, from a purely military standpoint.”
Adm. William F. Halsey also stated publicly: “The first atomic bomb was an unnecessary experiment…[the scientist] had this toy and they wanted to try it out.”
We close here with the somber words of Willard H. Reeves, a chaplain in the American navy.
‘That evening we quietly met for dinner. We knew well before the launch of the bomb that the enemy was defeated and they were looking for peace. There was sadness lingering in the air at the though that Hiroshima had been destroyed for nothing. At the end an officer broke the silence: ‘Why?’ was all he could say…When I returned home, after the war and I was telling my story, people looked at me in bewilderment. They had all been convinced by the press and by the statements released by people in Government’s that the launch of the two bombs had been necessary to end the war.’
The truth is that the atomic bombing at Hiroshima and Nagasaki did not shorten the war of a day.