Did US nuke Hiroshima, Nagasaki to advance 'imperialistic goals'?

John Wight
John Wight has written for newspapers and websites across the world, including the Independent, Morning Star, Huffington Post, Counterpunch, London Progressive Journal, and Foreign Policy Journal. He is also a regular commentator on RT and BBC Radio. John is currently working on a book exploring the role of the West in the Arab Spring. You can follow him on Twitter @JohnWight1
Atomic bomb mushroom clouds over Hiroshima (left) and Nagasaki (right). © Charles Levy
When the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, it turned the clock on human progress back centuries. Seven decades on it still symbolizes the twisted morality of those for whom conflict remains the natural state of human existence.

'The B-29 bomber the ‘Enola Gay’ arrived over Hiroshima early on that summer’s morning carrying a nuclear payload symbolizing the exaltation of death, destruction, and brute force as the summit of an Enlightenment, which had ushered into being the liberal values that underpin Western democracy. They were encapsulated by the painter Pablo Picasso, who said of the event, “The genius of Einstein leads to Hiroshima.”

That the dropping of the bomb was justified in the cause of those democratic values merely adds another layer of insanity to what by any measure was one of the greatest crimes in human history.

Those who defend the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima, followed by a second bomb on Nagasaki days later, assert that they actually saved lives in bringing a speedier end to the war than would have occurred otherwise. They cite the heavy casualties US forces suffered during the series of battles to take control of the Pacific islands that lay between Hawaii and Japan, a casualty rate which suggested that a land invasion of Japan itself would exact a terrible price on the troops, convinced that the fanatical resistance by the Japanese army hitherto would be even more fanatical when it came to defending mainland Japan.

However this view was refuted by General Douglas McArthur, the top US commander in the Pacific, who said that the Japanese were “already beaten” by the time of the bomb, a view endorsed by the head of US air operations in the Pacific, General Curtis LeMay, who asserted that, “Even without the atomic bomb and the Russian entry into the war, Japan would have surrendered in two weeks.”

McArthur and LeMay had good reason to hold this view, as by the time of Hiroshima the country’s military was both exhausted and decimated, while Japan’s infrastructure had been almost completely destroyed. Compounding the sense of defeat was the prospect of a Soviet invasion erupting across its northern border, what with Germany defeated months previously and the complete attention of the Allies having now turned to the Pacific theater.

Indeed, the scale of destruction and the loss of civilian life as a consequence of the US conventional bombing campaign that had been waged against Japan in the weeks and months previously qualified as a war crime by itself. The fire-bombing of Tokyo on March 9-10, 1945, for example, involved 334 aircraft dropping incendiary bombs consisting of napalm, thermite, and white phosphorous. An estimated 100,000 people were killed and thousands more injured, many horrifically. Curtis LeMay, rather than lamenting, gloried in the carnage it wrought, revealing that the victims were “scorched and boiled and baked to death.”

Over a hundred Japanese cities were fire-bombed prior to Hiroshima, prompting future US Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, a member of LeMay’s staff, to conclude that, had the United States lost the war, ‘they’ would all be charged as war criminals.

From the scientists and engineers who applied themselves to the task of creating and building the world’s first atomic bomb, to the pilots and aircrew who flew it to its target, doing so in the knowledge of the awful destruction it would unleash, it is still difficult to comprehend the ability of so many to carry out a process with such a horrific objective in mind. Yet by then the Japanese had been so dehumanized and demonized by US propaganda there was little if any sympathy when it came to slaughtering them in large numbers. The brutal atrocities committed by the Japanese armed forces against prisoners of war and people under their occupation fed a narrative depicting all Japanese – men, women, and children – as subhuman whose extermination was justified.

The Bockscar and its crew, who dropped the Fat Man atomic bomb on Nagasaki © Wikipedia

Imperialistic ambitions?

Most of all, what must be understood about the inordinate resources applied to creating the world’s first nuclear bomb by the United States was less to do with defeating Japan in World War II and more to do with ensuring US world domination in the aftermath. This was the view held by the Soviet Union’s Marshal Zhukov, who in his memoirs reflected that, “It was clear already then that the US Government intended to use the atomic bomb for the purpose of achieving its imperialist goals.”

The intended message was certainly received loud and clear in Moscow, as within days of the bomb being dropped the Soviets embarked on a crash program to develop their own bomb, thus joining a nuclear arms race that over ensuing decades saw untold money and resources given over to researching and developing ever more destructive bombs and missiles that could have been applied to curing disease, ending hunger, poverty and creating a world founded on peace and justice rather than the one we have known and know today, punctuated by war, conflict, mistrust and fear.

For the men who actually flew the mission to drop the world’s first atomic bomb, known as ‘Little Boy’, over Hiroshima, the sight and spectacle was something they would never forget. Abe Spitzer, a radioman on an accompanying aircraft, described it as “a dozen colors, all of them blindingly bright, and in the center the brightest of all, a gigantic red ball of flame that seemed larger than the sun.” Meanwhile, the co-pilot o the Enola Gay itself, Robert Lewis, wrote in his flight log: “My God! What have we done?’

For those on the ground, words such as ‘spectacle’ do not come close to describing the unimaginable horror they experienced. Hiroshima at that time was a city of approximately 300,000 civilians, 43,000 soldiers and 45,000 Korean slave laborers. There were also several thousand Japanese-Americans living in the city, mostly children whose parents had been interned in the United States. Thousands were killed instantly, completely incinerated, while an estimated 140,000 died as a result of the bomb by the end of the year from their injuries or radiation poisoning. By 1950 this figure had increased to 200,000.

The scale of the destruction and carnage did not concern US President Harry S Truman, however, who upon receiving news of the mission while dining aboard the USS Augusta, is said to have jumped up from the table and exclaimed, “This is the greatest thing in history.”

Perhaps the words of Japanese poet, Sankichi Toge, who survived Hiroshima, offer a more apt description of the event than those of President Truman. In his poem titled ‘August Sixth’, Sankichi writes:

How could I ever forget that flash of light!
In an instant thirty thousand people disappeared from the streets;
The cries of fifty thousand more
Crushed beneath the darkness…

Then, skin, hanging like rags,
Hands on breasts:
Treading upon shattered human brains…

Years later, towards the end of his presidency, Truman hosted a private dinner attended by Britain’s Winston Churchill, the wartime prime minister. At one point, according to Truman’s daughter, Churchill turned to the president and said, “Mr. President, I hope you have your answer ready for the hour when you and I stand before St. Peter and he says, ‘I understand you two are responsible for putting off those atomic bombs. What have you got to say for yourselves?’”

There is no record of Truman’s response.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.