Hiroshima

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Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 126 August/September 1995

‘The historic fact remains that the decision whether or not the use the atomic bomb to compel the surrender of Japan was never an issue.’ Winston Churchill

‘The greatest thing in history’ US President Truman

On 6 August 1945 the US Air Force dropped ‘Little Boy’, named after President Roosevelt, on Hiroshima. 140,000 people were killed, they are dying still. Three days later ‘Fat Man’, named after Churchill, killed 110,000 in Nagasaki. This terrifying force was unsheathed not primarily to bring Japan to its knees, but to announce US imperialism as the dominant world power. The bomb would guarantee dominance.

The British government consented to the use of the bomb on 4 July. It tested successfully in the New Mexican desert on 16 July 1945. ‘It was a sunrise such as the world had never seen, a great green super-sun climbing in a fraction of a second to a height of more than 8,000 feet, rising ever higher until it touched the clouds, lighting up the earth and sky all around with a dazzling luminosity’, The New York Times. ‘I am become death, destroyer of the worlds’ – Robert Oppenheimer, ‘father of the atom bomb’, recited the Bhagavad Gita as he watched.

Berlin’s Potsdam Conference of Truman, Churchill and Stalin opened the following day. Churchill received a note from the US Secretary of War: ‘Babies satisfactorily born’. He was delighted: ‘we should not need the Russians’ to beat the Japanese. Considering their different spheres of influence, Churchill observed that the US President ‘told the Russians just where they got on and off…’ On 19 July the joint US Chiefs of Staff adopted a policy of ‘striking the first blow’. Returning from Postdam, Truman ordered General Eisenhower to draft a plan for all out war against the Soviet Union, seen as the main challenge to US power.

The US Army concluded that Japan had made the decision to surrender by 26 June. A 1946 US Strategic Bombing Survey states: ‘the Japanese would have surrendered even if the atomic bomb had not been used’. Two days after the Hiroshima explosion the Red Army attacked the Japanese forces. Japan’s Prime Minister told his War Council, ‘the entry this morning of the Soviet Union into the war puts us in a hopeless position and makes it impossible to continue the war’. The next day Nagasaki. Truman claimed the two bombs had saved the lives of first a quarter, then a half and finally a million US soldiers. US invasion plans projects 20,000 US dead.

‘The sun and the earth melted together’

‘The sum spent on the atomic project, £500 million, is much more than had been spent on the whole of scientific research and development since the beginning of time.’ J D Bernal

The explosive effect of the bomb on Hiroshima was thought to be 15,000 tons of TNT, but how it would affect the population in the short and long term nobody knew.

A blinding flash, ‘the sound of an enormous door slamming in the depths of hell’, buildings flattened, a firestorm, darkness, a whirlwind strong enough to tear down trees … radiation:

‘As we talked, large blisters formed on Noriko’s face and it became so swollen that I could scarcely recognise her. At the river we saw a young schoolgirl slowly walking along with pieces of skin hanging from her arms. Someone said she was trying to cool her burned skin, but as she rubbed water on it came off. She cried in pain.’ Hideko Tamura Friedman

‘For more than a decade after the bombings, the hibashuka – literally ‘explosion-affected persons’ – lived in an economic limbo. Non-hibashuka employers developed a prejudice against the survivors as word got around that they were prone to all sorts of ailments: a nagging weakness and weariness, dizziness now and then, digestive troubles, all aggrieved by the feeling of oppression, a sense of doom, for it was said that unspeakable diseases might at any time plant flowers in the bodies of their victims and even of their descendants.’ John Hersey, Hiroshima.

Waves of death and disease passed through the survivors: radiation induced cataracts, leukaemia, mental retardation and abnormal head sizes among pre-natally exposed children, thyroid cancers, breast, lung, stomach and colon cancers. The hibashuka say the US regarded them as laboratory guinea pigs or rats.

Strategies and plans

Just before World War Two, Wall Street bankers and industrialists, seeing the British Empire waning and seeking to replace it, moved into the US War and State departments. From 1945 they devised a series of nuclear attack plans against the Soviet Union, increasing the number of Soviet cities to be destroyed from 20 in 1945 to 200 in 1949 and 3,261 by 1957. These plans had nothing to do with ‘deterrence’, ‘defence’, etc; they were to win a nuclear war. At no time were they discussed with the US people.

A key figure in the first plans was millionaire merchant banker turned Defence Secretary James Forrestal. Forrestal believed the US media, government and schools were infiltrated by communists from ‘international Jewry’. He collaborated with J Edgar Hoover in ‘exposing communist subversion’.

US nuclear war strategy contains two principles: strike first and escalation dominance. Escalation dominance requires domination at each stage of weaponry and cultivating the impression of readiness to use them right up to the global nuclear war. Mastery at the ultimate level helps achieve control at every lower level.

The Soviet Union’s size meant that Soviet cities could only be reached from bases in ‘the British Isles, North Africa, Egypt, northwestern India and possibly western China’. The policy of encircling the Soviet Union with nuclear bases ensued. However, the US and British governments feared that a nuclear attack would result in the Red Army pouring across Germany into France, Italy, Spain and Portugal. Nevertheless, the nuclear monopoly was played with effect.

Iran

During World War Two Britain, the US and the Soviet Union agreed to occupy Iran and withdraw militarily six months after the war. Iranian oil was to be split three ways. Before the end of the war the USA reneged on the agreement by opposing Soviet claims. The Soviets refused to withdraw and the Red Army moved to support independence movements in the Azerbaijan province and the Kurdish Mahabad Republic.

Truman summoned Soviet ambassador Gromyko in March 1946 and told him if the Red Army did not leave Iran in 48 hours, ‘We’re going to drop it on you’. The Red Army withdrew and British and US troops stood guard while the Shah’s forces destroyed the independent republics.

Berlin

US and British imperialism saw Berlin as a forward base from which to destabilise Soviet held territory. The Soviet Union blockaded the city on 24 June 1948. Four days later Truman announced the despatch of 60 ‘atomic capable’ B-29 bombers. It was a bluff. The Pentagon produced a string of plans to ‘atomic blitz’ the Soviet Union. Nuclear war planners attempted to acclimatise the media to the use of atomic bombs saying that they were not so different to other weapons.

Plans were drawn up to occupy the Soviet Union using White Russian exiles as a puppet government. The country would be dismembered, with the Baltic and Muslim states and possibly the Ukraine being permanently sliced off, never again to challenge US dominance.

During 1949 the crisis stalemated and the US, Britain and the Soviet Union moved towards a recognition of a de facto status quo division of Europe East and West. The US government considered the nuclear threat to have been successful.

Korea

On 3 September 1949 the US discovered that the Soviet Union had exploded its own nuclear bomb. Mao Ze Dong declared the People’s Republic of China on 1 October. US war planners went into apoplexy; new long-range B-52s would drop bombs on the Soviet Union as the bombs came off the production line. They rushed to build a hydrogen bomb, 1,000 times more powerful than the atomic bomb.

Horrified at the prospect of global annihilation Oppenheimer visited Truman: ‘Mr President, I feel I have blood on my hands’. Truman turned to Under Secretary Dean Acheson and told him not to bring Oppenheimer around anymore, ‘Blood on his hands! Dammit, he hasn’t half as much blood on his hands as I have! You just don’t go around bellyaching about it’.

Oppenheimer was branded a security risk and isolated during the McCarthy era. Strict security surrounded those working on the hydrogen bomb. They tended to be fervent anti-communists and fascist types.

War broke out in Korea in June 1950. Chinese troops were deployed alongside their Korean comrades. In July Truman secretly authorised the shipping of the atomic bomb components to England. The first time nuclear weapons crossed the Atlantic. On 30 November Truman publicly acknowledged he was considering using atomic weapons against the Chinese. US nuclear bombers flew dummy runs over North Korea.

11 February 1953 US National Security Council minutes state that President Eisenhower ‘then expressed the view that we should consider the use of tactical atomic weapons on the Kaesong area’. A March Joint Chiefs of Staff memo reads, ‘The efficacy of atomic weapons in achieving greater results at less cost … points to the desirability of re-evaluating the policy which now restricts the use of atomic weapons in the Far East’. The minutes of the 20 May 1953 meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff with the President state that Eisenhower, however, was persuaded to use nuclear weapons in Korea if negotiations failed.

Eisenhower’s Vice President Richard Nixon believed that nuclear threats were decisive in ending the Korean war and maintaining the partition. Nixon waved the nuclear ‘diplomatic stick’ over Vietnam, over China during the Indo-Pakistan war and over the Middle East. The threat was used at Suez 1956, Cuba 1962, Jordan ‘Black September’ 1970, Iran 1980 etc. Once it was the Soviet Union that would be turned into a ‘smoking, radiating ruin’. This year it was North Korea’s turn to be threatened with becoming ‘a charcoal briquette’ (Colin Powell).

The collapse of the socialist bloc, growing inter-imperialist rivalry, the variety of nuclear weapons in stock, the development of ‘shield’ technology, the prospect of nuclear victory being just hours away, the era of push-button wars where ‘civilised’ men commit massacres they never see, the nuclear tests – all tell us that the nuclear apocalypse is close to hand.

Einstein added his mighty voice to those scientists who campaigned for world disarmament and for the use of science to satisfy human needs, not destruction. The shockwaves of Hiroshima reverberate down the 20th century. The fight to end a system that can protect itself only by threatening worldwide destruction is now more vital than ever. We can begin by joining those who are already campaigning against the nuclear tests in the Pacific.

Trevor Rayne