Every August, upon the anniversaries of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, comments resume about American decisions at the end of World War II. Despite the passage of 65 years, heated opinions are repeated as fact and myths become immortalized as truths. Beyond distorting the historical record, wishful thinking leads us to repeat past mistakes in new ways against new enemies.
Among the inaccuracies :
1. Japan was ready to fight to the end.
Facts: In an intercepted cable of July 12, 1945, Japanese Emperor Hirohito revealed his decision to intervene to end the war. In Harry S. Truman’s journal, the U.S. president characterized the message as “telegram from Jap Emperor asking for peace.” Tokyo was prepared to surrender unconditionally if the monarchy would be retained, the very position the Allies accepted after Hiroshima.
Five days later, Truman predicted that Stalin would “be in the Jap war by August 15. Fini Japs when that comes about.” Nevertheless, he ordered the bombing of Hiroshima on Aug. 6. The USSR entered the war on Aug. 8. Truman ordered the Aug. 9 bombing of Nagasaki anyway.
2. Dropping the bomb was necessary to prevent an American invasion.
Facts: In 1946, a U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey report based on intelligence available to the White House concluded: “Certainly prior to Dec. 31, 1945, and in all probability prior to Nov. 1, 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russian had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated.”
3. Dropping the bomb saved lives.
Facts: Stanford historian Barton Bernstein’s study of declassified documents found that the worst-case scenario by military planners was 46,000 deaths if the U.S. invaded both Kyushu and Honshu islands. Since Hiroshima, these estimates have grown exponentially as if to justify using the bomb. In notes, Truman cites 250,000 casualties (dead, wounded, missing). His published memoir raises the number to 500,000 dead. Still later, he referred to saving a million lives. In 1991, President H.W. Bush claimed that the bomb saved “millions.”
Since both presidents, among countless others, ignored the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey conclusion that an invasion was unnecessary, it is no wonder average Americans do the same. All of these morbid calculations ignore the stark fact that more than 187,000 humans died at Hiroshima.
Russell Vandenbroucke, professor and chair of theatre arts at the University of Louisville, is the author of “Atomic Bombers,” a play that was broadcast on public radio to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Hiroshima. This column was provided by the PeaceVoice Program of the Oregon Peace Institute.