By Barry Ladendorf
President, Board of Directors
Veterans For Peace
[reprinted from the VFP publication, Peace in Our Times, July 18, 2015]
In a July 16 Associated Press article, “Atomic Bomb Test Marks 70th BirthdayAmid Renewed Interest,” Duane Hughes, retired physicist, is quoted as saying that the “history of the Trinity test is important because it helped end World War II and set the stage for a Cold War arms race.”
No doubt the testing and use of atomic bombs set the stage for the Cold War arms race, but that we needed to drop the bombs to end the war is an ongoing American myth that needs to end now.
When the United States broke the Japanese code, the U.S. government was aware that on July 13, 1945, Japan had contacted the Soviet Union to express its desire to surrender and end the war.
President Truman was aware three months before he ordered the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that, according to Swiss and Portuguese sources, the Japanese government, knowing they could not win, wanted to begin the process of surrendering. The one thing the Japanese wanted was to retain the emperor. Presidential advisor Jimmy Byrnes convinced President Harry S. Truman that dropping the bombs would allow the United States to dictate the terms to end the war and let the Soviets and the world know we had the “bomb.”
What was the reaction of America’s top military leaders who led the allies to victory?
General Douglas MacArthur, commander of the allied forces in the Far East during the war, stated he was never even consulted about using the bomb against Japan. According to Norman Cousins, consultant to MacArthur during the occupation of Japan, MacArthur stated that had he been consulted, he would have said that he saw no military justification for using the bomb and that if the United States would simply have agreed to allow the emperor to stay the war might have been over weeks earlier.
General Dwight D. Eisenhower, when briefed on the atomic bomb tests in New Mexico and of their planned use against Japan, expressed his belief that there was no need to use the bomb because Japan was already defeated, and that the United States should not shock the world by the use of a weapon that was no longer necessary to save American lives. General “Hap” Arnold, commander of the Army Air Corps, and General Omar Bradley shared Eisenhower’s opinion.
Perhaps one of the strongest critics of using the bomb was Admiral William Leahy, chief of staff to both President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Truman. Leahy said, “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.” In Leahy’s opinion, by dropping the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, “we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages.”
Even former President Herbert Hoover weighed in, telling Truman in May 1945 that if he were President he would, “make a shortwave broadcast to the people of Japan — tell them they can have their Emperor if they surrender — that it will not mean unconditional surrender except for the militarists — you’ll get a peace with Japan — you’ll have both wars over.”
In spite of this considered and widespread opposition by senior military officials who prosecuted the war and from a former president, Truman ordered that Hiroshima and Nagasaki be bombed. On August 9, the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki and when the Japanese government did surrender, they were permitted to keep the Emperor. Hiding behind the myth may make it easier to accept the fact that we used this diabolical weapon in a senseless slaughter of hundreds of thousands of people. Let’s end the myth and accept responsibility for what our nation did.
[Ed.: For another excellent analysis of these myths, see Howard Zinn’s August 2000 article here: http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Zinn/Bombs_August.html ]