US atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki : 75th Anniversary

by Don Franks

This talk was given to the Wellington Anti-Capitalist Alliance, fifteen years ago.   

The ultimate weapons of mass destruction so far seen on this planet have been used just twice, 60 years ago this month. August 6 and August 9 1945 witnessed the US atomic bombing of  Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In Hiroshima, 13 square kilometres of the city was obliterated along with an estimated 80,000 people. Three months later at least another 70,000 people had died from radiation and injuries.

Hiroshima 6 August 1945

Over the years since 1945, tens of thousands more residents of the two cities have continued to suffer and die from radiation-induced cancers, birth defects and stillbirths. A New Zealand visitor told me:

“In May 1999 I went with four other Wellington posties to Japan for Mayday. At the end of the visit we split into two groups – I was in the group that went to Nagasaki. The other group went to Hiroshima. Nagasaki is a city very much like Wellington – a city on hills around a harbour.  (They still have their trams.) I was also included in the groupset to Nagasaki because it has a small but significant Catholic history. In Nagasaki, we were told how in 1945 the pilot of the US bomber had a few alternative sites to drop a nuclear bomb. One of the targets was said to be the Mitsubishi Shipyards in an arm of the harbour at Nagasaki.  After a bit of flying around because of smoke and cloud, the pilot found a gap in the clouds, saw some railyards and signs of what was obviously Nagasaki, and at 11.02am on 9 August 1945 he obliterated the heart of Nagasaki City. Of Nagasaki’s population of 250,000, 75,000 people died and 75,000 suffered various degrees of injury – mostly burns. The passionate anti-war and anti-militarism feelings of all the workers and people of Japan we met in 1999 has left a deep impression on me. While in Nagasaki City we stood at ground zero – marked out by concentric circles of bricks – and we visited the memorial Peace Fountain. A fountain of continuously flowing water was chosen as a memorial because of the thousands of citizens who died slowly of terrible burns, crying out for water …”

The atrocities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were engineered by a tiny secret meeting of US rulers in Washington.  For 60 years the lie has been repeated that the US bombing was necessary “to save allied lives” in a prolonged invasion of Japan. US historians Peter Kuznick, and Mark Selden recently studied the diplomatic archives of the US, Japan, and the USSR. They found that three days before Hiroshima, Truman agreed at a meeting that Japan was “looking for peace”. His senior generals and political advisers told him there was no need to use the A-bomb. But the bombs were dropped anyway. “Impressing Russia was more important than ending the war”, Selden told the New Scientist. The capitalist media immediately labeled Selden’s finding a “controversial theory.” In fact, US terror attacks of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were clearly intended to warn the leaders of the Soviet Union that their cities would suffer the same fate if the USSR attempted to stand in the way of Washington’s plans to create of global domination. Nuclear scientist Leo Szilard recounted to his biographers how Truman’s secretary of state, James Byrnes, told him before the Hiroshima attack that:

“Russia might be more manageable if impressed by American military might and that a demonstration of the bomb may impress Russia”. 

This recollection is confirmed from the other side of the fence in the memoirs of  Marshal Zhukov who wrote:

“I do not recall the exact date, but after the close of one of the formal meetings, Truman informed Stalin that the United States now possessed a bomb of exceptional power, without, however, naming it the atomic bomb. As was later written abroad, at that moment Churchill fixed his gaze on Stalin’s face, closely observing his reaction. However, Stalin did not betray his feelings and pretended that he saw nothing special in what Truman had imparted to him. Both Churchill and many other Anglo-American authors subsequently assumed that Stalin had really failed to fathom the significance of what he had heard. In actual fact, on returning to his quarters after this meeting Stalin, in my presence, told Molotov about his conversation with Truman. The latter reacted almost immediately. “Let them. We’ll have to talk it over with Kurchatov and get him to speed things up.” I realized that they were talking about research on the atomic bomb. It was clear already then that the US Government intended to use the atomic weapon for the purpose of achieving its Imperialist goals from a position of strength in ‘the cold war’. This was amply corroborated on August 6 and 9. Without any military need whatsoever, the Americans dropped two atomic bombs on the peaceful and densely-populated Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”

Washington planned and threatened the use of nuclear weapons on at least 20 occasions in the 1950s and 1960s. They were only restrained when the USSR developed enough nuclear capacity to risk “mutually assured destruction”, and by US rulers’ fear that their use of nuclear weapons would ignite mass anti-US political revolt by ordinary people around the world. Washington’s policy of nuclear terror still stands. The US refuses to rule out the first use of nuclear weapons in a conflict.  Between the dropping of the Atom Bomb on Hiroshima on 6th August 1945, and the 11th September 2001 when the first hit on mainland USA finally landed, the US bombed 21 different countries. They installed right-wing, military governments in countless others and forced still more into submission by imposing sanctions and trade blockades.

As always, the question is how to change the situation?

Since 1945 there have been countless commemorations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, all over the world. Some have taken the form of militant anti-war demonstrations. In Wellington, on the 40th anniversary of  Hiroshima Day six thousand people marched, demanding “No nuclear warships!” More recent events have been small officially sanctioned ceremonies. These have been long on abstract rhetoric about peace and short on concrete demands that might help achieve it. Prime Minister Helen Clark is very fond of making appearances and speeches at anniversaries of military conflict. It is quite on the cards that she will make some pronouncement this Hiroshima day. We might expect some election politicking at the expense of National’s incompetent dithering about their anti-nuclear policy. What we ought not to expect from Labour, or National or other capitalist party is straight out condemnation of US imperialism’s terrorist attacks on Japan 60 years ago, or any demand that the US scrap all their weapons of mass destruction today. The fundamental reason Clark and co will not make any such condemnation or demands is that their class is a junior partner among the imperialist powers. In these circumstances the Anti-Capitalist Alliance see the way forward indicated in the words of Lenin, who stated:

“The sentiments of the masses in favour of peace often express incipient protest, anger and consciousness of the reactionary character of the war. It is the duty of all communists to utilise these sentiments. They will take a most ardent part in every movement and in every demonstration on this ground; but they will not deceive the people by conceding the idea that peace without annexations, without the oppression of nations, without plunder, without the germs of new wars among the present governments and ruling classes is possible in the absence of a revolutionary movement. Such a deception of the people would merely play into the hands of the secret diplomacy of the belligerent governments and facilitate their counter-revolutionary plans. Whoever wants a lasting and democratic peace must be in favour of civil war against the governments and the bourgeoisie.”

Further reading:

Mick Hume on The Pacific War, racism and Hiroshima

John Pilger on The lies of Hiroshima are the lies of today

Sabena Norten on World War II: the real story

James Heartfield on The Second World War: the battle of the books