With rare exception, the question of whether the atomic bombs were necessary to end World War Two is debated only deep within the safety of academic circles.
Could a land invasion have been otherwise avoided? Would more diplomacy have achieved the same ends without the destruction of two cities? Could an atomic test on a deserted island have convinced the Japanese? Was the surrender instead driven primarily by the entry of the Soviets into the Pacific War, which, by historical accident, took place two days after Hiroshima—and the day before Nagasaki was immolated?
But it is not only the history of the decision itself that is side stepped. Beyond the acts of destruction lies the myth of the atomic bombings, the post-war creation of a mass memory of things that did not happen.
The short version of the atomic myth, the one kneaded into public consciousness, is that the bombs were not dropped out of revenge or malice, immoral acts, but of grudging military necessity. As a result of this, the attacks have not provoked or generated deep introspection and national reflection.
The use of the term “myth” is appropriate. Harry Truman, in his 1945 announcement of the bomb, focused on vengeance, and on the new, extraordinary power the United States alone possessed. The military necessity argument was largely created later, in a 1947 article defending the use of the atomic bomb, written by former Secretary of War Henry Stimson, though actually drafted by McGeorge Bundy (later an architect of the Vietnam War) and James Conant (a scientist who helped build the original bomb). Conant described the article’s purpose at the beginning of the Cold War as
“You have to get the past straight before you do much to prepare people for the future.”
The Stimson article was a response to journalist John Hersey’s account of the human suffering in Hiroshima, first published in 1946 in the New Yorker and later as a book. Due to wartime censorship, Americans knew little of the ground truth of atomic war, and Hersey’s piece was shocking enough to the public that it required that formal White House response. Americans’ general sense of themselves as a decent people needed to be reconciled with what was done in their name. The Stimson article was quite literally the moment of creation of the Hiroshima myth.
The national belief that no moral wrong was committed with the atomic bombs, and thus there was no need for reflection and introspection, echoes forward through today (the blithe way Nagasaki is treated as a historical after thought – “and Nagasaki, too” – only drives home the point.) It was 9/11, the new Pearl Harbor, that started a series of immoral acts allegedly servicing, albeit destructively and imperfectly, the moral imperative of saving lives by killing. America’s decisions on war, torture, rendition and indefinite detention are seen by most as the distasteful but necessary actions of fundamentally good people against fundamentally evil ones. Hiroshima set in motion a sweeping, national generalization that if we do it, it is right.
And with that, the steps away from the violence of Hiroshima and the shock-and-awe horrors inside the Iraqi prison of Abu Ghraib are merely a matter of degree. The myth allows the world’s most powerful nation to go to war as a victim after the tragic beheadings of only a small number of civilians. Meanwhile, the drone deaths of children at a wedding party are seen as unfortunate but only collateral damage in service to the goal of defeating global terrorism itself. It is a grim calculus that parses acts of violence to conclude some are morally justified simply based on who held the knife.
We may, in fact, think we are practically doing the people of Afghanistan a favor by killing some of them, as we believe we did for tens of thousands of Japanese that might have been lost in a land invasion of their home islands to otherwise end World War Two. There is little debate in the “war on terror” because debate is largely unnecessary; the myth of Hiroshima says an illusion of expediency wipes away any concerns over morality. And with that neatly tucked away in our conscience, all that is left is pondering where to strike next.
Japan, too, is guilty of failing to look deep into itself over its own wartime atrocities. Yet compared to the stunning array of atrocities during and since World War Two, the world’s only use of nuclear weapons still holds a significant place in infamy. To try and force the Japanese government to surrender (and no one in 1945 knew if the plan would work) by making it watch mass casualties of innocents, and then to hold the nation hostage to future attacks with the promise of more bombs to come, speaks to a cruelty previously unseen.
For President Obama to visit Hiroshima without reflecting on the why of that unfortunate loss of lives, acting as if they occurred via some natural disaster, is tragically consistent with the fact that for 71 years no American president felt it particularly important to visit the victimized city. America’s lack of introspection over one of the 20th century’s most significant events continues, with 21st century consequences.
Featured image: Hooper’s War
The Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki Was a “Human Experiment for Developing Nukes”
Japanese Political Consultant Yuki Oikawa
The mantra that the bombings were conducted to force Japan into surrender and prevent further killing and destruction, and that it was a proportionate response to the Imperial Japanese Navy’s attack on Pearl Harbor is being disputed, and many strong arguments are being made in denial of that credence.
A Japanese political consultant tells Fars News Agency that the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a “human experiment to gather scientific data.”
“It was a human experiment to gather scientific data. It aimed to make mass experiments of the uranium bomb on Hiroshima and the plutonium bomb on Nagasaki to test humans and to obtain data for the development of nuclear weapons,” said Yuki Oikawa in an interview with Fars News Agency.
Mr. Oikawa believes that the Japanese were ready to surrender before the nuclear attacks took place, and historical evidence shows the American leaders were aware of Japan’s readiness to admit defeat unconditionally.
A political consultant and commentator, Yuki Oikawa has had a distinguished career with appointments in diverse financial, religious and political positions. He has commented and written on the Japanese politics, Japanese-American relations, China’s politics and human rights and environmental issues. He was recently named head of the Institute for Research in Human History (IRH), a think tank of modern history research.
He also serves as director of foreign affairs for the Happiness Realization Party (HRP) of Japan.
Q: Mr. Oikawa; as a political consultant, and more importantly, as a Japanese citizen, what’s your feeling towards what happened about 70 years ago to thousands of your fellow citizens? About 220,000 Japanese civilians were killed during the first use of atomic weapons in thehistory of warfare. How did that terrible incident affect the Japanese society, the psyche of the Japanese people and the mentality of the future generation?
A: Japan was occupied by the allied and US from 1945 to 1952. During the period, Japanese people were educated the history that Japan made a war of aggression and killed so many, and then the allied [and] US dropped the atomic bombs in order to stop the war; otherwise, much more Japanese would have died. This is what we learned at school. And this education created a biased mentality, which is called the “masochistic view of the own history.”
The masochistic view lost the love for the country and faith in God. In other words, people in this country became negative on Japan’s future. Instead, they focused on seeking the individual success.
Prime Minister Yoshida, at the time of the occupation of Japan, made a decision on simply developing the economy and totally depending upon US for protecting Japan. His policy led to the formation of one of the largest world’s economies.
However, because the people have been keeping a negative mentality on Japan’s future, they had not enjoyed the success of the economy. As Japan lost the success in the 1990s, the people are still suffering from more than 20 years of recession. It is said that Japanese people’s mentality is manifested in the form of a failure of economy.
Prior to the 70th anniversary of the World War II, the public was gradually realizing that the Japanese people had been brainwashed by the education system that was set up at the occupation, making them to be conservative.
Q: There have been many documents and memos confirming the unfair treatment of the Japanese soldiers and civilians by the invading American forces, including the raping of women, killing citizens and selling their skull for about $35 among merchant marines, verbally offending the children and adolescents being taken as captives, etc. The US Army General Jacob H. Smith ordered his soldiers upon the start of the Philippines War, “kill everyone over 10 years old.” Why did the American forces take such an attitude and treat the Japanese, Koreans, Filipinos and Vietnamese as second-rate creatures?
A: I have the experience of researching the troubles and accidents caused by the members of the US occupation army. It is true that as you said, there were much evidence of their brutal actions. I found that not all were real, and the Japanese left-wings such as socialists and communists fabricated them. But still there are many civilian victims who suffered from American’s violence.
I think that the Americans acted in these unacceptable ways in the Asian countries based on the Western idea of racial discrimination, and this is the underlying reason why Japan began the war against Europeans and Americans.
It is impossible for the advanced nations to order “kill them all,” because most of the Westerners are Christians. But it is possible if they accept the idea of white supremacy. That’s why US developed the first atomic bombs and then used them in Japan, not in Germany.
And I think that the Americans were very much afraid of the Japanese because they experienced the fiercest battle in their history against Japan.
Q: Some conservative American pundits and experts opine that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was necessary, and the killing of some 220,000 Japanese citizens was not something significant, because far more citizens were killed during such attacks as the US bombing of the German city of Dresden. Is it really that civilian lives are sometimes undervalued and taken too lightly by the US government during the wartime?
A: I am not the right person to answer this question because I am not the specialist of US politics but I can confirm that US government conducted a human experiment by using people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki for the purpose of the further development of the nuclear weapons.
Let me explain how the Japanese people view and understand US atomic bombing in Hiroshima and Nagasaki 70 years ago. Most of the Japanese people believe that the purpose of the atomic bombings is to force Japan to surrender, and US-Japan War – the Pacific War, was a bad war. Japan committed many war crimes during the war period. Japan must reflect on its own behaviors.
However, now as of the 70th anniversary, people ask themselves, “did the US need to drop atomic bombs on Japan?” The questions that remain, and can never be resolved, are whether the bombings were necessary or not. The new issue is whether the use of the bomb was necessary to force Japanese into surrender.
Since the new evidence of the history has become available, it’s clear that Japan was ready to surrender before the bombs were dropped. Japan had long ago decided to surrender unconditionally – and the Americans knew that. On July 20, 1945, General Eisenhower reported this to President Truman. It means that the US and Allied powers had some motivations behind the dropping of atomic bombs.
It was a human experiment to gather scientific data. It aimed to make mass experiments of the uranium bomb on Hiroshima and the plutonium bomb on Nagasaki to test humans and to obtain data for the development of nuclear weapons.
And, killing over 200,000 civilians, mainly elderly people, women and children, must be a war crime and a serious violation of international law. It wasn’t the atomic bombs which caused Japan to surrender. From the recent studies in Japan, one can say that it was the Soviet Union’s invasion of Japan that caused it.
Q: According to a Detroit Free Press survey, 85% of the American citizens in 1945 approved of the use of nuclear weapons against Japan. 60 years later, in 2005, a survey by the Pew Research Center indicated that this figure had declined sharply as 57% of the American citizens endorsed the use of atomic bombs. Is it that the mentality of the American public has shifted regarding what their government and army did to Japan at the final stages of the World War II and its legal and moral justifiability?
A: I just experienced what you said in this question in my joining US radio shows in this month. I talked with the radio show hosts in twelve radio stations just after the 70th anniversary of atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I made the comments in my answer to one of your previous questions in the shows and all hosts agreed. That was not my expectation. And I felt that they no longer kept closing their eyes to the historical facts even if it is not convenient for them.
I emphasized that we should avoid the emotional arguments and calmly analyze the facts of history in the radio shows and all of the hosts strongly agreed.
Q: There are conventions and treaties which ban the possession and deployment of chemical and biological weapons; however, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty doesn’t have any stipulation on disarmament, nor does it expressly ban the use of nuclear weapons. There are currently 9 countries that possess nuclear weapons, including four states that never ratified or signed the NPT. Is it possible to devise any legally binding framework to compel these nations to abandon their nuclear weapons?
A: As an individual of the only nation which experienced atomic bombing, the current legal frameworks of banning the nuclear weapons are not real.
US President Obama insisted “world without nuclear weapons” is not real. What his statement stands for is “world with less nuclear weapons,” and it is still not real. I don’t think it is possible.
My desire is that not only a legal framework, but a spiritual framework can pave the way for the decreasing of the nuclear weapons naturally by sharing the common values beyond nationalism, racism, and religion. I mean I cannot find any other ways, because the legal, political and social efforts have already failed.