I am translating here the partial content of an article published on the 3rd of August 2005 on the Secolo d’Italia, an Italian daily newspaper. It was about the 60 years of the Hiroshima atomic bombing and the misconceptions surrounding it, false ideas which are still going around today, in 2013. I am not translating it verbatim, but summarizing the main points. No one knows exactly how many people died because of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Perhaps 70.000 on the first day and 200.000 in the next five years. That bomb marked the high point of the Manhattan project which had involved 200.00 people with an estimated investment of 2.5 billions USD. The US was pounding all the cities of Japan with aerial bombings, but some of their 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 – 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. Harry Truman promoted the idea that the war was ended by the atom bombs and that after all they saved lives by consuming lives. A concept that, perhaps, Saint Peter will have problem endorsing. 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. Americans were pressing Stalin to join the war against Japan. This is the American version of the events, a recurring theme, repeated ad nauseam 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. The Soviet declaration of war of the 8th of August was a shock much stronger than the bombing of Hiroshima, the final sign that all was lost.
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 of that war. The Japanese refusal to surrender was essentially based on 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. The reason is simple: since man started warfare there had always been conditions, no matter how harsh they might be. 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, interpreted them literally.
For Japan it would have been enough an agreement to leave the emperor on the chrysanthemum throne – as they finally did – 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 of them, Secretary of State Jimmy Byrnes – a complex man who be a perfect case study for a psychoanalyst. A man full of hate, unfulfilled ambitions, egotist, who despised Truman for having taken the position of President when he though it was already in his pocket. There was even a third bomb ready for lunch and the target was Tokyo, Byrnes was pushing to use it, but luckily Truman that time opted for a conventional air attack. 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 this was never done. Those men could see that the real enemy at that time was the URSS not the wretched Japanese. Japan was destined to be their ally as they had been during WWI. The irresolute Truman, unable to think differently than Byrnes, proposed a last 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 ‘mokusatu’ that means ‘answer with silence.’
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.