“Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” ~Robert Oppenheimer after the first test of the atomic bomb.
Hiroshima ~ Uranium Atomic Bomb (Made in USA)
August 9, 1945
Nagasaki — Plutonium Atomic Bomb (Made in England)
written August 25, 2013 at 9:00 am
63 years ago this month:
When the shocking news emerged that morning, exactly sixty-eight years ago, it took the form of a routine press release, a little more than 1,000 words long. President Harry S. Truman was in the middle of the Atlantic, returning from the Potsdam conference with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin. Shortly before 11 o’clock, an information officer from the Pentagon arrived at the White House carrying bundles of press releases. A few minutes later, assistant press secretary Eben Ayers started reading the announcement to about a dozen members of the Washington press corps.
In this way, on this day, President Truman informed the press, and the world, that America’s war against fascism—with victory over Germany already in hand—had culminated in exploding a revolutionary new weapon over a Japanese target. It was vital that this event be viewed as consistent with American decency and concern for human life.
And so, from its very first words, the official narrative was built on a lie, or at best a half-truth. Hiroshima did contain an important military base, used as a staging area for Southeast Asia, where perhaps 25,000 troops might be quartered. But the bomb had been aimed not at the “Army base” but at the very center of a city of 350,000, with the vast majority women and children and elderly males.The two most important reasons Hiroshima had been chosen as our number-one target were: it had been relatively untouched by conventional bombs, meaning its large population was still in place and the bomb’s effects could be fully judged; and the hills which surround the city on three sides would have a “focusing effect” (as the target committee put it), increasing the bomb’s destructive force. Indeed, a US survey of the damage, not released to the press, found that residential areas bore the brunt of the bomb, with less than 10 percent of the city’s manufacturing, transportation and storage facilities damaged.
There was something else missing in the Truman announcement: because the president in his statement failed to mention radiation effects, which officials knew would be horrendous, the imagery of just “a bigger bomb” would prevail for days in the press. Truman described the new weapon as “revolutionary” but only in regard to the destruction it could cause, failing to even mention its most lethal new feature: radiation.
On the evening of August 9, Truman addressed the American people over the radio. Again he took pains to picture Hiroshima as a military base, even claiming that “we wished in the first attack to avoid, in so far as possible, the killing of civilians.” By then, an American B-29 had dropped a second atomic bomb over the city of Nagasaki, which killed tens of thousands of civilians and only a handful of Japanese troops (along with Allied prisoners of war). Nagasaki was variously described by US officials as a “naval base” or “industrial center.”
On the night of March 9-10, 1945, a wave of 300 American bombers struck Tokyo, killing 100,000 people. Dropping nearly 1,700 tons of bombs, the war planes ravaged much of the capital city, completely burning out 16 square miles and destroying a quarter of a million structures. A million residents were left homeless.
On May 23, eleven weeks later, came the greatest air raid of the Pacific War, when 520 giant B-29 “Superfortress” bombers unleashed 4,500 tons of incendiary bombs on the heart of the already battered Japanese capital. Generating gale-force winds, the exploding incendiaries obliterated Tokyo’s commercial center and railway yards, and consumed the Ginza entertainment district. Two days later, onMay 25, a second strike of 502 “Superfortress” planes roared low over Tokyo, raining down some 4,000 tons of explosives. Together these two B-29 raids destroyed 56 square miles of the Japanese capital.
Even before the Hiroshima attack, American air force General Curtis LeMay boasted that American bombers were “driving them [Japanese] back to the stone age.” Henry H. (“Hap”) Arnold, commanding General of the Army air forces, declared in his 1949 memoirs: “It always appeared to us, atomic bomb or no atomic bomb, the Japanese were already on the verge of collapse.” This was confirmed by former Japanese prime minister Fumimaro Konoye, who said: “Fundamentally, the thing that brought about the determination to make peace was the prolonged bombing by the B-29s.”
Japan Seeks Peace
Months before the end of the war, Japan’s leaders recognized that defeat was inevitable. In April 1945 a new government headed by Kantaro Suzuki took office with the mission of ending the war. When Germany capitulated in early May, the Japanese understood that the British and Americans would now direct the full fury of their awesome military power exclusively against them.
American officials, having long since broken Japan’s secret codes, knew from intercepted messages that the country’s leaders were seeking to end the war on terms as favorable as possible. Details of these efforts were known from decoded secret communications between the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo and Japanese diplomats abroad.
In his 1965 study, Atomic Diplomacy: Hiroshima and Potsdam (pp. 107, 108), historian Gar Alperovitz writes:
Although Japanese peace feelers had been sent out as early as September 1944 (and [China’s] Chiang Kai-shek had been approached regarding surrender possibilities in December 1944), the real effort to end the war began in the spring of 1945. This effort stressed the role of the Soviet Union …
In mid-April  the [US] Joint Intelligence Committee reported that Japanese leaders were looking for a way to modify the surrender terms to end the war. The State Department was convinced the Emperor was actively seeking a way to stop the fighting.
A Secret Memorandum
It was only after the war that the American public learned about Japan’s efforts to bring the conflict to an end. Chicago Tribune reporter Walter Trohan, for example, was obliged by wartime censorship to withhold for seven months one of the most important stories of the war.
In an article that finally appeared August 19, 1945, on the front pages of the Chicago Tribune and the Washington Times-Herald, Trohan revealed that on January 20, 1945, two days prior to his departure for the Yalta meeting with Stalin and Churchill, President Roosevelt received a 40-page memorandum from General Douglas MacArthur outlining five separate surrender overtures from high-level Japanese officials. (The complete text of Trohan’s article is in the Winter 1985-86 Journal, pp. 508-512.)
This memo showed that the Japanese were offering surrender terms virtually identical to the ones ultimately accepted by the Americans at the formal surrender ceremony on September 2 – that is, complete surrender of everything but the person of the Emperor. Specifically, the terms of these peace overtures included:
- Complete surrender of all Japanese forces and arms, at home, on island possessions, and in occupied countries.
- Occupation of Japan and its possessions by Allied troops under American direction.
- Japanese relinquishment of all territory seized during the war, as well as Manchuria, Korea and Taiwan.
- Regulation of Japanese industry to halt production of any weapons and other tools of war.
- Release of all prisoners of war and internees.
- Surrender of designated war criminals.