Why did America Really Bomb Hiroshima?

On August 6, 1945, the United States of America dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. Three days later, it dropped a second bomb on Nagasaki. These bombs remain the only two nuclear devices ever deployed during war and, according to many experts, decisive reasons for Japans’ subsequent surrender on August 15. But a substantial amount of experts think the Hiroshima atomic bomb and the Nagasaki atomic bomb were unnecessary and worse, were dropped for political purposes. So, who’s right?

The “Little Boy” atomic bomb explodes over Hiroshima (August 6, 1945)
“At the time this photo was made, smoke billowed 20,000 feet above Hiroshima while smoke from the burst of the first atomic bomb had spread over 10,000 feet on the target at the base of the rising column.”
Source: The National Archives

The Chaos Book Club

Today is Day 17 of the Chaos book club. Chaos is an adventure thriller along the lines of Indiana Jones or books written by Clive Cussler, James Rollins, Douglas Preston, or Steve Berry. Thanks to those of you who’ve bought the novel already. If you haven’t already done so, please consider picking up a copy at one of the following locations:

Amazon Paperback * Kindle E-Book * Nook E-Book * Smashwords E-Book * iBooks E-Book * Kobo E-Book * Diesel E-Book * Sony E-Book

The Hiroshima Atomic Bomb: The Official Story

As I mentioned above, the official story of the Hiroshima atomic bomb is that it caused Japan to surrender and thus, ended World War II. This saved hundreds of thousands of American lives since soldiers were spared from having to conduct Operation Downfall, or the planned invasion of Japan.

Problems with the Official Story

But here’s the problem with that scenario. Prior to the Hiroshima atomic bomb, President Harry Truman was aware of the fact that Japan was willing to surrender as long as Emperor Hirohito was allowed to keep his position and was not forced to stand trial for war crimes. Hirohito’s stated purpose was that he wanted to maintain discipline and order in Japan after the war was over. President Truman insisted on an unconditional surrender however, and went ahead with the bombings. But after Japan surrendered, Hirohito was allowed to keep his throne and escape prosecution. This strange sequence of events begs the question…what purpose did the Hiroshima atomic bomb serve?

Incidentally, this isn’t a new question. In fact, people started asking it almost immediately. And it wasn’t just ordinary people…it was prominent American leaders. Supreme Commander Dwight Eisenhower, General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, Fleet Admiral William Leahy, Brigadier General Carter Clarke, and Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz all found reason to disagree with the bombings. In a letter to President Truman, Fleet Admiral Leahy went so far as to say:

“The use of [the atomic bombs] at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons… The lethal possibilities of atomic warfare in the future are frightening. My own feeling was that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.” ~ Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy, Chief of Staff to President Truman

And this wasn’t just post-war regrets either. In his book, The Decision to Use the Bomb, Gar Alperovitz shows that practically every single American civilian and military advisor suggested that Truman accept Japan’s terms. But Truman chose to listen to the lone dissident, James Byrnes, instead. So, what was Byrnes up to? Clues can be found in discussions surrounding the 1945 Potsdam Conference.

“It was Byrnes who encouraged Truman to postpone the Potsdam Conference and his meeting with Stalin until they could know, at the conference, if the atomic bomb was successfully tested. While at the Potsdam Conference the experiments proved successful and Truman advised Stalin that a new massively destructive weapon was now available to America, which Byrnes hoped would make Stalin back off from any excessive demands or activity in the post-war period.” ~ John Denson, The Hiroshima Lie

The Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Myth & Damage Control?

So, there’s a case to be made that the Hiroshima atomic bomb was deployed to scare Russia rather than to defeat Japan. But if this is true, then why is the general public largely unaware of this today?

According to Alperovitz, the “Hiroshima myth” started shortly after Japan’s surrender. Admiral Halsey, Commander of the Third Fleet, called the bombs “a mistake.” Albert Einstein took to The New York Times to tell people that “a great majority of scientists were opposed to the sudden deployment of the atom bomb.” Other military leaders started to come forward, expressing their misgivings over the decision.

James Conant, Chairman of the National Defense Research Committee, decided that it was important to convince the American public that the atomic bombs were necessary. He approached Secretary of War Henry Stimson, who wrote a long article on the subject for Harper’s magazine. This became the basis for the story that is widely-accepted today. Truman would later uphold this point of view, adding that his decision saved half a million lives.

“The most influential text is Truman’s 1955 Memoirs, which states that the atomic bomb probably saved half a million US lives— anticipated casualties in an Allied invasion of Japan planned for November. Stimson subsequently talked of saving one million US casualties, and Churchill of saving one million American and half that number of British lives.” ~ Kyoko Iriye Selden, The Atomic Bomb: Voices from Hiroshima and Nagasaki

The Hiroshima Atomic Bomb…the first shot of the Cold War?

World War II is often called “The Last Good War.” Unfortunately, at least in this case, the facts point to a different conclusion. The atomic bombs killed 90,000-166,000 people in Hiroshima and 60,000-80,000 in Nagasaki. Many of these people were women and children. Worse, there is reason to believe that the bombs were deployed to scare the USSR rather than for military purposes. If true, then the atomic bombs weren’t just the last shots of World War II…they were the first shots of the Cold War.

By the way, my purpose here isn’t to find fault with America. Indeed, too often citizens conflate the idea of “America the government” with “America the country.” It’s quite possible to find fault with one and not the other. In this case, I’m questioning the choice of President Harry Truman and the motives of James Byrnes.

The Hiroshima Atomic Bomb & Chaos

In my mind, the most interesting fictional villains are the ones that have a point. They may pursue evil goals and commit horrible atrocities along the way. But if you strip away everything, I think the best villains are the ones that have a legitimate gripe. Since much of the backstory for my novel Chaos takes place during World War II, it seemed only natural that the villain would draw his rage from that conflict as well. But since adventure novels are full of ex-Nazis, I wanted to go in a different direction. Thus, I created Jack Chase. His motive (SPOILER ALERT!), which you can probably guess from this post, is atomic in nature…

Chase grabbed both side of his silk shirt and yanked. It burst open, revealing a disgusting mass of scars, welts, and discoloration.

Bile rose in my throat. “What the hell happened to you?”

“August 6, 1945.” His voice took on a harsh, bitter edge. “The Enola Gay dropped Little Boy on Hiroshima. Eighty thousand civilians died instantly. Thousands more perished afterward, due to injuries and radiation fallout.”

“You were there? But that’s impossible. You told me your father was an American soldier who died while you were an infant. You said you wanted justice for him.”

“My father was an American soldier. He was also a prisoner of war. The Japanese kept him in Hiroshima, along with at least eleven others, as a deterrent to prevent American bombings. Somehow, a Geisha girl found her way into his cell. She gave birth to me. But the politicians didn’t care about any of that. The deterrent, if you will, wasn’t large enough.” ~ David Meyer, Chaos

By the way, Chase’s past is based on fact. According to Barton Bernstein’s, Unraveling a Mystery: American POWs Killed at Hiroshima, at least 11 and possibly as many as 23 American POWs died in the Hiroshima blast. It’s a sad and often forgotten footnote to that awe-inspiring disaster.

Later, we see the full extent of Jack Chase’s fury as he races to unleash his sinister plan…a plan that promises to rewrite the world as we know it. If you want to know what happens, pick up a copy of Chaos at one of the links above.

That’s all for today. Tomorrow, we’re going further back in time, specifically to Manhattan circa 1869. Stop by tomorrow to explore one of New York City’s greatest secrets…I hope to see you then!

 

Chaos Book Club

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3 Responses to Why did America Really Bomb Hiroshima?

  1. “too often citizens conflate the idea of “America the government” with “America the country.””
    Hear hear! One of my goals as a travel writer is to show people that foreign countries with nasty governments don’t have nasty people. I’ve traveled safely through places like Iran, Pakistan, and Syria. the people were wonderful to me. As for the governments, well. . .

  2. David says:

    Well said Sean!

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