August 9, 2005
Like Nagasaki, August 9 is an orphan of history.
And in that history, new, definitive evidence has finally surfaced that the atomic bombing there was completely unjustified.
More than 80,000 human beings perished in Nagasaki three days after at least that many died in Hiroshima.
The Bomb that destroyed this historic city was made of plutonium (Hiroshima's was uranium).
Whatever the case for nuking Hiroshima, it was far weaker for Nagasaki.
The US had already shown it had this ultimate weapon. It showed it was willing to use it. And it now had time to wait for the Japanese to gather themselves and surrender, which so many believe they were trying to do.
Lingering doubts about Hiroshima and Nagasaki have only multiplied over six decades. Statements from American strategists include one to the effect that the first bomb showed we had it and were willing to use it, while the second showed we were willing to use it irrationally.
Many believe the US used the both to scare the Soviets.
But the Soviets were probably the real reason Japan surrendered. New evidence, finally unearthed after six decades, indicates the Japanese wanted to avoid Soviet troops dissecting their island as they had already divided Germany. The Bomb may have had little to do with their submission.
Which is a tremendous multiple irony.
For years Franklin Roosevelt lobbied Soviet dictator Josef Stalin to enter the war against Japan. FDR did not want to go it alone in a land invasion.
Stalin had his hands full with Hitler. And after beating the Germans, his country was decimated. Stalin was not eager for more expensive warfare against the Japanese, with whom he had maintained an uneasy neutrality.
But Roosevelt died in April, 1945. Relations between the US and USSR deteriorated. Harry Truman was far more hostile to the Soviets than FDR had been.
And he was willing to use the Bomb to intimidate Stalin---or so he thought.
Stalin's spy network had already made him well aware of the Bomb and what it could do. Nor is there reason to believe he ever doubted Truman would use it.
By August, 1945, Truman was far less eager to have the Soviets marching into Japan than FDR had been. Victory seemed certain. The Americans were not keen to share an occupation with the Russians, as they had to do in Germany.
The immediate American rationale for using the Bomb was that it would avoid the need for a land invasion of Japan. The much-publicized estimated cost of a million American lives was at best a guess, based on no hard numbers.
In any event, the US was in no position to invade at least until November. With the Russians coming from the east, Japan faced an inescapable vice.
So why August 6, and then August 9?
First was a desire that the Japanese surrender BEFORE the Soviets could get there.
Second was a desire to show Japan, the Soviets and the world that the US had this weapon, and was willing to use it.
Third, and most plausible: $2 billion had been spent to develop these weapons. Jimmy Byrnes, Truman's Karl Rove of the day, warned that if they weren't used, Congress and the American public would demand to know where all that money went.
So why Nagasaki?
First and foremost, because a second bomb had been made, and it needed a place to be dropped.
Hiroshima and Nagasaki were two cities of very marginal military value. They had been purposely preserved from heavy bombing precisely so aerial photographs would cleanly illustrate the A-bombs' power. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have long been listed by the US military as "announced nuclear tests."
Kyoto was spared because of pleas from Secretary of War Henry Stimson and his wife that the cultural legacy of its many ancient temples should be preserved. But had there been a third bomb, Kyoto might not have been so lucky.
In Hiroshima, and then Nagasaki, humans were vaporized and irradiated primarily because the US had the technology to do it.
Three decades later, the Nagasaki anniversary finally acquired a happier aspect. On August 9, 1974, Richard Nixon's resignation became effective at noon. He had wanted to nuke Vietnam, but wrote in his autobiography that he feared the power of the anti-war movement, which eventually helped bring him down.
Perhaps that's the best way to balance the place of August 9 in our historic memory.
The gratuitous bombing of Nagasaki is the only blot on our national soul that could exceed the one from Hiroshima. But the forced departure of a man who was only barely stopped from repeating the nuclear horror has helped at least to begin the day's redemption.
So let's celebrate at least that much about August 9. And lets hope that by this time next year, George W. Bush will have followed in Nixon's footsteps.
HARVEY WASSERMAN'S HISTORY OF THE US is available via www.harveywasserman.com , along with A GLIMPSE OF THE BIG LIGHT: LOSING PARENTS, FINDING SPIRIT, and the upcoming SOLARTOPIA. He is co-editor, with Bob Fitrakis, of DID GEORGE W. BUSH STEAL AMERICA'S 2004 ELECTION? (www.freepress.org).
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