by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
August 6, 2015
WE DIDN'T NEED TO DROP ATOMIC BOMBS ON JAPAN
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Seventy years ago this month, the United States dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
More than 250,000 people, mostly civilians, died in the attacks. Americans were told they were absolutely necessary to end the war against Japan and spare the lives of the expected 500,000 U.S. soldiers that were slated to invade the Japanese home islands.
That story remains with us to this day - that it was amilitary necessity for the United States to use A-bombs against two cities of marginal strategic importance.
It helped that all film footage and photos of the destruction after the bombings was confiscated by U.S. occupation forces and locked away for more than two decades, and the print accounts were heavily censored.
However, over time, the real story emerged.
One reason why Hiroshima and Nagasaki were A-bomb targets rather than Tokyo because they were among the few major Japanese cities that hadn't been destroyed by the U.S. bombing campaign.
On March 9, 1945, 300 U.S. B-29 bombers loaded with 2,000 tons of oil-gel and napalm bombs turned the city into an inferno that left over 100,000 dead.
"Probably more persons lost their lives by fire at Tokyo in a six-hour period than at any other time in the history of man," the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey concluded. That agency had been set up by the War Department to study the results of aerial attacks.
An A-bomb dropped on Tokyo would have just bounced off the rubble.
General Curtis LeMay led the raid on Tokyo. "I suppose if I had lost the war,'" he later commented, "I would've been tried as a war criminal. Fortunately, we were on the winning side."
Bombing civilians in cities was a tactic perfected by Germany in the Spanish Civil War and continued by Germany in the early years of World War II.
The Allies upped the ante in 1943 by adopting a strategy of saturation bombing of German cities to destroy civilian morale. The worst example of this came on Feb. 13, 1945, with the bombing of Dresden, in which over 100,000 people and one of the art world's most important cities died in the firestorm.
The fire bombing raids on Japanese cities continued. Ostensibly aimed at military targets, they instead killed hundreds of thousands of civilians. By July 1945, Japan was militarily finished and ready to surrender, but wanted to retain its emperor. The U.S. was holding out for unconditional surrender, but accepted Japan's conditions after the atom bombs were dropped.
Secretary of War Harold Stimson advised President Harry Truman that Japan would surrender "on terms acceptable to the United States," without A-bombs.
The Soviet Union was ready to enter the war against Japan, but President Truman counted on the A-bombs to force Japan to surrender before the Soviets jumped in. As it turned out - according to a top-secret U.S. study conducted in 1946 - it was the Soviets entering the war, not the atomic bombs, that convinced Japan to surrender.
Admiral William Leahy, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote in an internal memorandum in January 1942 that "in fighting with Japanese savages all previously accepted rules of warfare must be abandoned."
The A-bomb made Leahy change his tune three years later. He said it was "an inhuman weapon to use on a people that was already defeated and ready to surrender."
Leahy later called the atomic bombings a violation of "every Christian ethic I have ever heard of and all the known laws of war."
He wasn't the only top U.S. commander to have second thoughts. "It wasn't necessary to hit [the Japanese] with that awful thing," General Dwight Eisenhower said.
But considering the damage the fire bombing raids inflicted on Japan, it hardly made a difference whether napalm or nuclear weapons were used.
"We scorched and broiled and baked to death more people in Tokyo on that night of March 9-10 than went up in vapor at Hiroshima or Nagasaki," LeMay said.
On Aug. 14, 1945 - just hours before Japan officially adopted the U.S. terms for surrender - over 1,000 bombers were sent to Tokyo by General H.H. "Hap" Arnold, who according to the official Air Force history "wanted as big a finale as possible."
According to survivors, leaflets announcing the surrender were mixed in with the bombs.
Seven decades later, the myth persists that Hiroshima and Nagasaki had to be sacrificed to end the war and spare both American soldiers and the Japanese people the carnage of an invasion.
One thing is certain, though. The A-bombings were the first shot fired in the Cold War and that act set into motion the massive nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union. Our nation has been on a war footing from the day the surrender papers were signed by the Japanese on the deck of the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. Even after we lost our primary enemy in 1989, when the Berlin Wall came down and effectively ended the Cold War, the U.S. found new enemies to keep the Military-Industrial Complex occupied.
And it has been a miracle that there hasn't been another nuclear weapon detonated over the past 70 years.
There are now 16,000 nuclear weapons in the world, 90 percent of them belonging to the United States and Russia. Even if just one-half percent of the world's nuclear weapons - the equivalent of 100 Hiroshima-sized bombs - were detonated, it would bring death and destruction on a scale never before seen by humankind.
Seventy years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, humankind still has the power to destroy the planet in a matter of minutes, and still hasn't taken any appreciable steps toward reducing that threat.
How much longer will humanity keep pressing its luck? Will our nation ever find the courage to work with the rest of the world to not only renounce the use of nuclear weapons, but to abolish them forever?
AR's Chief of Correspondents, Randolph T. Holhut, holds an M.P.A. from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and is an award-winning journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at email@example.com.