Hiroshima, the useless massacre.


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.





4 commenti su “Hiroshima, the useless massacre.

  1. Very interesting article, moving too. When I was young there weren’t discussions about the need of the two atomic bombs. Then, I remember, the second one started arousing doubts and, slowly, timidly, some articles appeared putting under discussion the entire project. A process of revision that still lasts today and touches delicate cords, of course. The problem is that those bombs were and still are the pillars of the power of the USA. I’d like to read more about the end of the Second World War and I’m always in search of books and articles, also because my impression is that we are far from the truth. There is a terrible sense of ingenuity too, as if Americans were boys playing with a toy bigger than their imagination. But why the second bomb then? Or, following the simple logic of a superpower, pay attention, why not a bomb against the North Korea, where 36,000 American soldiers died? There is also the smell of a historical revenge, old testament-like, and a sort of full disregard about the civilian lives, as shown during the bombardment against the German towns too. The only comment that I can dare is that we cannot stockpile our brain, never, but we have to dig deeper the things, reading and reading again. Institutions have fallen, everywhere, and their “truth” is not valid altogether – this is the lesson.

  2. Thank you, Ciriaco.

    Once the mechanism was started, it could not be stopped. Fortunately the third bomb on Tokyo was not dropped. I guess also the personal ambition of scientists came into play. After the first bomb on Hiroshima, working with Uranium, they wanted to see if also the second bomb, working with Plutonium was functioning.

    This devilish cooperation between scientists and military could be seen at work on a horrendous atomic experiment carried out by Soviets few years later on their own people to see the effect of a nuclear strike. Thousand of innocent Russian civilians and military sacrificed to a non existing Molok. President Gorbacev later ordered the erection of a monument to remember the sacrifice of those people who died ‘for the greatness of the Soviet Union.’

    MacArthur wanted to use the bomb against the North Korean but it leaked to the press and Truman dismissed him.

  3. Angelo, thank you for this masterpiece of literary journalism or history retold with high literary standards. You are both a historian and a writer, in the classical vein, and we need them both.

    I did not know the facts well, now I realize, in spite of having read supposedly “authoritative” books on WWII for long. There are many important issues at the stake in this article. One that concerns me today is the US’s propaganda that has been mystifying generations of well-meaning people around the world as the champion of human rights, democracy and freedom, starting for their own citizens, while the contrary is true. The bandage closing my eyes fell with the Iraq war -actually too late- and now I see so much clearly.

    On WWII, perhaps giving new light on the precipitated end we should pay attention to the new book by Oxford professor Rana Mitter:


    The bulk of the Japanese army was in occupied China, their surrender at that moment affected the balance of forces Mao – Chiang Kai Shek apparently against the latest, and China had the largest number of victims only after the Soviet Union. The scale of human suffering brought by Japan into millions of Chinese partly explain Chinese people’s generally favourable view of the atomic bombs that, they understand, put at end to their slaughter.

  4. Thank you, Juan. I think that Communsts did not care about the killing of Chinese civilians, that was rethoric created much later by them. If you read the book by Mao’s doctor still banned in China ‘The private life of Chairman Mao’ you may read that during a summit between Mao and premier Tanaka (Mao’s doctor was there) the Japanese Prime Minister apologized for the suffering inflicted to China before and during WWII. Mao dismissed it, saying: ‘It doesn’t matter without that I would be not sitting here.’

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