Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Remembering Hiroshima & Nagasaki

In the introduction to their book, Hiroshima in America, Robert Jay Lifton and Greg Mitchell write, "You cannot understand the twentieth century without Hiroshima." David Krieger, president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation ( expands that belief by stating that the same may be said of the twenty-first century and the nuclear predicament that confronts humanity today -- "the path to assuring humanity's future runs through Hiroshima and Nagasaki's past."

At 8:15 a.m. on August 6, 1945, as the citizens of Hiroshima were beginning their day, the Enola Gay released its horrific cargo, a bomb that had been named "Little Boy," which fell for 43 seconds before detonating above Shima Hospital near the center of the city of Hiroshima which was leveled and some 90,000 people in it perished. Schools were destroyed and their students and teachers slaughtered. Hospitals with their patients and medical staffs were obliterated.

The bombing of Hiroshima was an act of massive destruction of a civilian population, the destruction of an entire city with a single bomb.

Harry Truman, president of the United States, upon being notified, said, "This is the greatest thing in history."

Three days after destroying Hiroshima, after failing to find an opening in the clouds over its primary target of the city of Kokura, a US B-29 bomber, named Bockscar, attacked the Japanese city of Nagasaki with a bomb that had been named "Fat Man." The attack took place at 11:02 a.m. and resulted in the immediate deaths of some 40,000 people.

Since the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki there has been a struggle for memory. The story of the bombings differs radically between what has been told in America and how the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki recount this tragedy. America's rendition is a story of triumph of technology and triumph in war. From the perspective of the vast majority of US citizens, the atomic bombs made possible the complete defeat of Japanese imperial power and brought World War II to an abrupt end which saved the lives of US soldiers. This view leaves the impression that bombing these cities with atomic weapons was useful, fruitful and an occasion to be celebrated.

Krieger reminds us that "the problem with this rendition of history is that the need for dropping the bombs to end the war has been widely challenged by historians. Many scholars, including Lifton and Mitchell, authors of Hiroshima in America, have questioned the official US account of the bombings. These critics have variously pointed out that Japan was attempting to surrender at the time the bombs were dropped, that the US Army Strategic Survey calculated far fewer US casualties from an invasion of Japan, and that there were other ways to end the war without using the atomic bombs on the two Japanese cities."

Reshape the myth -- listen to the voices from the past:

General Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander Europe during World War II and later US president, described his reaction upon having been told by Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson that atomic bombs would be used on Japanese cities: "During his recitation of the relevant facts, I had been conscious of a feeling of depression and so I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. It was my belief that Japan was, at that very moment, attempting to surrender with a minimum loss of 'face'. . . ."

General Henry 'Hap' Arnold, Commanding General of the US Army Air Forces during World War II, wrote, "It always appeared to us that, atomic bomb or no atomic bomb, the Japanese were already on the verge of collapse."

Truman's Chief of Staff, Admiral William D. Leahy, wrote, "It is my opinion that 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·. My own feeling was that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children·"

Krieger, David. "Remembering Hiroshima & Nagasaki", Blackaby Paper #4 by Abolition 2000-UK.

Lifton, Robert J. and Greg Mitchell, Hiroshima in America, New York: Avon Books, 1996.

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