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The Lessons We Still Haven't Learned From Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Originally published at http://www.commondreams.org/views/2020/08/05/lessons-we-still-havent-learned-hiroshima-and-nagasaki


Trump, the GOP, and the DNC, and their greed.

Lessons We Still Haven’t Learned.

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Beyond the suffering bestowed on the people of Japan, perhaps the biggest catastrophe of these bombings is the majority of our citizens who to this day, look at the events as some kind of deserved victory for our country. Instead of the total shame they should feel, for being part of the only country in the world to use nuclear weapons against another.


While Trump has accelerated the rate at which the US has abandoned international weapons treaties, it was President Obama who pushed for trillions of dollars for nuclear weapons “modernization” (://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2015/02/obamas-trillion-dollar-nuclear-weapons-gamble/104217/)and, it was under President Obama, that usable nuclear weapons were developed (://www.revealnews.org/article/new-mexico-thrives-on-nuclear-bomb-despite-us-pledge-to-reduce-arsenal/).

But, the US embrace of nuclear weapons terrorism extends far beyond the abhorrent practices of the Democrat and Republican Parties.

Scientists and engineers continue to support nuclear weapons research and development. The lists shown below shows some corporations that work on the development of nuclear weapons. Each and every US university with engineering programs, welcomes these corporations to events such as career fairs.




Perhaps physicists, engineers, and military personnel did not recognize that a leader might use poor judgment for similar reasons that lead us to imagine that physicists, engineers, and military personnel are suited to make such decisions.

We cannot allow a handful of people such decisions and we cannot allow a handful of people extreme wealth if we are to thrive on a beautiful green and blue world.


Actually, several of the atomic scientists working at Los Alamos to build the first nuclear weapons independently passed the plans to the Russians because these scientists thought that there might occur in the US a fascist government, and they wanted an outside counter-balance to that.

Of course, it would be better to have no weapons of mass destruction at all.

“My God, what have we done?” Said co-pilot Captain Robert Lewis of the plane “Enola Gay.” The one over Hiroshima.
But pilot Lieutenant Colonel Tibbets had no regrets. Einstein latter regretted writing to Roosevelt advising him to build those bombs. He said it was the biggest regret of his life.

General Dwight Eisenhower: “I voiced to Secretary of War Stimson 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 the weapon whose employment was , I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. It was my belief that Japan was, this very moment, seeking a way to surrender with a minimum loss of ‘face.’”

Admiral Leahy, chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff during WW2 said;
“The use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was not of material assistance in our war against Japan.”

“Albert Einstein always regretted the role he played in getting the Manhattan Project under way. In 1948 he declined an invitation to be the first president of the newly created state of Israel. He spent his last years working with fellow scientists in a campaign to prevent the future use of nuclear weapons.” He could and should have said “future production” of nuclear weapons, or their keeping.

There are also India and Pakistan who could additionally have bad leaders.

No one should have weapons of mass destruction. There is so much militarism around us.


there is another lesson not much noted, that Japan’s military empire building and aggression ended very badly for them. While some countries may have earned that lesson (Germany?) others large and small are sill employing their military to expand their reach and that too may end badly


“The **Manhattan Project was a research and development undertaking during World War II of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers /World War II that produced the first nuclear weapons. It was led by the United States with the support of the United Kingdom and Canada. From 1942 to 1946, the project was under the direction of Major General Leslie Groves Engineers. Nuclear physicist Robert Oppenheimer was the director of the Los Alamos Laboratory that designed the actual bombs. As engineer districts by convention carried the name of the city where they were located, the Army component of the project was designated the Manhattan District ; Manhattan gradually superseded the official codename, Development of Substitute Materials, for the entire project. Along the way, the project absorbed its earlier British counterpart, Tube Alloys. The Manhattan Project began modestly in 1939, but grew to employ more than 130,000 people and cost nearly US $2 billion (equivalent to about $23 billion in 2018).Over 90 percent of the cost was for building factories and to produce fissile material, with less than 10 percent for development and production of the weapons. Research and production took place at more than thirty sites across the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada.”


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HRC was a bigger warhawk than Trump. As long as the money for arms rules we will have more and more wars and the chance of a Terminator moment increases. Perpetual war in the Mid East as Trump says not the Democrats was a huge mistake. We need anti-war progressives. The Right Wing idea that the endless wars benefit Israel, the MIC and Wall Street and are therefore GOOD flips to the middle and poisons the Dems as well-like Biden and Obama. HRC lost the antiwar voters, will Joe get them back?

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So true, and there is never much to say about the fire bombing in Germany or the thousands of soldiers put in concentration camps. There are a lot of dirty hands in business of war.

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I agree with Dwight that the nuclear bombing of Japan was completely unnecessary and that it saved American lives. If I had been in Truman’s shoes, I would have told the Japanese: " I NOW HAVE WEAPON SO TERRIBLE THAT I HESITATE TO USE IT EVEN ON MY ENEMIES; BUT UNLESS YOU UNCONDTIONALLY SURRENDER NOW, YOU WILL LEAVE ME OTHER CHOICE".

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Hi bardamu,

My undergraduate degree is in Physics. I remember learning about Werner Heisenberg and the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. At some point (not in my Quantum Physics classes) I learned Heisenberg won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1933 - the same year that Hitler took the leadership of Germany after being given emergency powers following the Reichstag fire. Physicists always referred to Heisenberg with a great deal of reverence. What I didn’t learn about, until much later, was that Heisenberg also directed Hitler’s efforts to build an atomic bomb (://www.ba.infn.it/~cufaro/copenhagen/2001_Rose_Heisenberg.pdf). My battles with STEM ethicists have made clear to me that there is a mindset of intentionally refusing to speculate on the applications of science and technology. Some of this relates to the arrogance of practitioners who claim that STEM is “objective” and inherently neither good nor evil. My sense is that many in STEM are like Heisenberg and either refuse to consider the potential (or likely) applications of their research, or they understand these potentials but aren’t bothered by them.


Excellent summation, ThomasMarx, of the moment when humanity witnessed its ability to annihilate itself and yet continued to accelerate and magnify that ability until it became the proverbial Sword of Damocles poised above us all to this day.

Eisenhower’s belief that Japan was ready to surrender was in fact the consensus view of the Allied military prior to the successful testing of the atomic bomb in mid-July 1945, let alone its deployment over Japan twice a few weeks later. The US had broken the Japanese diplomatic code and had intercepted Japanese “peace feelers” being sent by the less-fanatical navy faction of the fascist military junta (the army faction under General Hideki Tojo was the diehard faction) by May and June 1945 and, in an unprecedented development, mid-July queries by Emperor Hirohito himself seeking an end to the war.

By this time, the US had a naval blockade around Japan and it was bombing Japan from the air virtually at will as Japan’s air- and naval forces were practically non-existent. (What airplanes and pilots it had left were used instead in the infamous kamikaze suicide attacks.) Japan had a million-man army in Manchuria, but it had no way to return those troops to the home islands for defense against a potential invasion. In any case, those troops were soon to be targeted by the Soviet Union when it entered the war against Japan, having declined to renew its neutrality pact with Japan.

Ah, the Soviet Union. The Allied consensus also assumed that the entry of the Soviet Union into the war against Japan, finally agreed upon at the February 1945 Yalta Conference, would “lever” the Japanese into surrender (to use US Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall’s term), with the agreed-upon entry date to be early August 1945. The first Soviet-Japanese skirmish occurred on August 8 in Manchuria.

So, why were the atomic bombs used against Japan when they were not necessary? Nor was an invasion of Japan necessary, which is the other half of the atomic-bomb myth that I grew up with: If the US didn’t use the atomic bombs, then the US would have to invade the home islands, with an American death toll estimated between a half-million to one million lives.

In that exchange you report between Eisenhower and Stimson, Eisenhower also relates his “sense of growing horror and depression” at Stimson’s somewhat chipper attitude toward the atomic bomb. When Stimson gave his first briefing on the bomb to Harry Truman, who as vice president was largely unaware of the Manhattan Project, on April 25, 1945, roughly two weeks after Truman became president, Stimson barely mentioned Japan at all. Instead, his focus was on Poland and disagreements the Western Allies were having with the Soviet Union, with Stimson alluding to the atomic bomb as “the master card of diplomacy” as his concerns were with managing the Soviet Union in the postwar period–not with engineering the defeat of Japan. (Germany would officially surrender on May 8, and in the Pacific, the US on April 1 had invaded Okinawa, the final step in the “island-hopping” strategy to the Japanese home islands, and would be victorious by the end of June.)

Similar concerns about managing the Soviets in the postwar period were voiced by James F. Byrnes, Truman’s advisor and mentor from their days in the US Senate who would officially become Truman’s Secretary of State on July 3, 1945. Byrnes referred to the atomic bomb as “a stick behind the door,” echoing Stimson’s trump-card attitude toward the new weapon.

Byrnes’s role in the decision to use the atomic bomb has not been given the attention it deserves. He was Truman’s top advisor, a more worldly and experienced man (Byrnes had also been, briefly, a US Supreme Court Justice under FDR and would later become the governor of South Carolina), and he would be instrumental in the Potsdam Declaration of late July 1945, which was essentially an ultimatum to the Japanese to surrender or else, with the “or else,” known only by the US, being the atomic bomb.

As noted, Japan was ready to surrender. It had only one condition–but it was a doozy: Guarantee us that nothing will happen to the emperor, who was regarded as a deity. Without that guarantee that Hirohito would not be deposed or tried as a war criminal, Japan would fight to the death. This was understood by all the Allied civilian and military leaders and was not contested by them; their consensus was, tell the Japanese they can keep the emperor, who was a figurehead anyway, and they will surrender.

This guarantee was included in Paragraph 12 of an earlier draft of the Potsdam Declaration (drafted at the July 1945 Potsdam Conference, the last conference the Allied powers would hold). Virtually alone among the attendees, Byrnes objected to Paragraph 12 and was instrumental in persuading Truman to call for its removal. The Declaration was presented to the Japanese without Paragraph 12 near the end of July; their reaction was “mokusatsu,” a complex attitude of taking it under advisement that entailed more thought and exploration than they were allotted: Truman had actually authorized use of the atomic bomb for any time after August 2, but bad weather delayed the first bombing until August 6.

The entire issue of not agreeing to the Japanese condition regarding the emperor was rendered tragically (and I think despicably) moot because on August 11, one day after Japan announced its surrender–and two days after Nagasaki was atomic-bombed–the US agreed that the Japanese could keep the emperor without harm or penalty. (Defenders of the decision to use the atomic bombs point to Japan’s surrender, which stated that the atomic bombings were the proximate reason for the surrender, as proof that the bombings worked; however, as a 1946 US intelligence study noted, government elements in Japan that included Hirohito used the bombings as the pretext to convince the fanatical army faction to agree to the surrender they had been seeking all along. That same study also noted that an invasion of Japan was a “remote possibility.”)

As you’ve noted well with your citations from Eisenhower and Leahy (Douglas MacArthur also expressed similar sentiments), the atomic bombing of Japan was unnecessary. So why were the bombs used? There is no definitive proof, but the inference many historians such as Gar Alperovitz (whose The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb informs my comments) have drawn is that they were used as a demonstration of US power aimed specifically at the Soviet Union in order to make the Soviets more manageable in the post-World War Two era, which soon became the Cold War, and, following the Soviets’ development of the hydrogen bomb in 1953, led to the “nuclear nightmare diplomacy” (as Gil Scott-Heron once put it) we continue to live under.

As many others including Noam Chomsky have noted, the US knew it would emerge from the war as the pre-eminent superpower (alone among the major Allied and Axis powers, the US was virtually unscathed by the war), and it appeared eager to brandish its “master card of diplomacy” (to borrow Stimson’s phrase) as it inaugurated the “American Century” proclaimed by Time-Life founder Henry Luce in 1941.

But as postwar reckoning of the atomic-bomb decision began to grow in the US, an article titled “The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb” appeared in the February 1947 issue of Harper’s magazine, which perpetuated the prevailing myth that had the US not used the atomic bombs on Japan, it would have to invade Japan at a cost of a half-million to one million US lives. The article appeared under Henry Stimson’s byline, but it was actually written by a young McGeorge Bundy, who would go on to serve in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations where he became one of the chief prosecutors of the Vietnam war.

The casualty figures were cut from whole cloth: There was no evidence to support them. Actually, the US military had done projections during the war concerning a potential invasion of Japan. The earliest that any invasion could have taken place was November 1945–three months after the bombs were used and three months after the Soviet Union entered the war. It would have been an invasion of Kyushu, the island on which Nagasaki is located, and projections were for about 25,000 US deaths. A second invasion, slated for April 1946 on the main island of Honshu (where Tokyo is located), would have cost about 21,000 US lives. A far cry from the Stimson article. (US military deaths in World War Two were about 250,000 overall.) And no mention in the article about Japanese attempts to negotiate a surrender, nor any mention of the Soviet Union’s “levering” the Japanese into surrender with its entry into the war against Japan.

The “historical revisionism” is in the official myth about the decision to use the atomic bomb. The consensus at the time it was used was that it was unnecessary, and this is now the historical consensus regardless of why the bombs were used at all.

For those in the Los Angeles area, or for those online, I urge you to listen to or record a reading of the book “The Last Train to Hiroshima” to be played on the overnight show on KPFK, 90.7 FM, this Thursday night from 12 midnight to 6 AM. I have heard it before, and it is the most moving account of the two atomic bombings I’ve ever encountered. ~www.kpfk.org/on-air/somethings-happening


To Helen Caldicott:

Thank you for writing “Nuclear Power is not the Answer” !!! And your contributions in general to our striving for a sane and more just world.

Collectively the human race is still adolescent - extremely dangerous to itself and others.

This Covid 19 Pandemic is a yet another opportunity to grow up.

I doubt we will get many more such opportunities.


After the 2nd World War, we had the Nuremberg trials, but the nuclear bombing in Japan was never considered by the International Criminal Court. Anyone knows why?

On another note, here a quote from E. O. Wilson
“We have paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions, and god like power. That’s where we are as a species.”


Thank you, Helen, for a lifetime of effort to prevent our fate. It isn’t your fault.


Thank You!

I suppose that the mind remains enough a black box that this sort of thing will remain a matter for speculation for at least a while longer. I have thought that styles of cognition dispose some thinkers to ask _why _and others to ask how. But looking back and forth across campus, I don’t know that I see it, really.

Apparently we cannot gainfully allow humans to occupy positions that administrate interests different than their own. We cannot have kings, rich people, CEOs, private or central government banks, or large for-profit entities, and we need some reign on priesthoods of expertise.

How to get there? I don’t know, but not by fiat, and apparently not by revolution. I suspect that we have to build an alternate system to supplant this madness as it falters and flails, maybe working at things with a principle not of nonviolence, exactly, but of least intervention–small, cooperative units, larger federations, and so forth.

But you know, were this someone else’s comment, I might call it unworkably general. I am off to feed the chickens. Hopefully someone will drop by with an idea.

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Thanks for the tip.

My cells probably still contain DDT from OC, for what-all that may be worth. I sure watched enough of it used. I remember when the robins left, and when some of them came back, along with some brown pelicans.

Here’s to pea clams and sand crabs on the shores again!

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Not quite. They believed that the current government and society in the U.S. needed a ‘counter-balance’.