The Good War

“World War Two has warped our view of how we look at things today. We see things in terms of that war, which in a sense was a good war. But the twisted memory of it encourages the men of my generation to be willing, almost eager, to use military force anywhere in the world.”

“It was one war that many who would have resisted ‘your other wars’ supported enthusiastically. It was a ‘just war’ if there is any such animal. In a time of nuclear weaponry, it is the language of a lunatic.”

~ Quotes from “The Good War”: An Oral History of World War II, Studs Terkel, 1997


History as Propaganda

The standard US history of WWII has always asserted that it was the “Good War” and that the first and only use of atomic bombs on civilian targets was necessary to force Japan to surrender and to save American lives.

Nothing could be farther from the truth, and yet this myth prevails and is taught in public school history classes to new generations of Americans, [as does the myth of a “surprise attack” on Pearl Harbor – see Betrayal at Pearl Harbor].

US media coverage of the atomic bombing of the Japanese people showed decimated buildings and landscapes, but studiously avoided showing any human casualties until documents were declassified in the 1980s.





A heated controversy erupted surrounding the Smithsonian Institution’s 1995 50th anniversary exhibit of the Enola Gay, the B-29 that dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima. US veterans went ballistic. They condemned the emphasis on the ghastly deaths caused by the bomb and the lingering aftereffects of radiation, and took offense at the portrayal of Japanese civilians as blameless victims.

The exhibit, The Crossroads: The End of World War II, the Atomic Bomb and the Cold War, was drafted by the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum staff, and arranged around the restored Enola Gay.

Smithsonian Enola Gay

Critics of the planned exhibit, especially those of the American Legion and the Air Force Association, charged that the exhibit focused too much attention on the Japanese casualties inflicted by the nuclear bomb, rather than on the motivations for the bombing or the discussion of the bomb’s alleged role in ending the conflict with Japan. As a result, after various failed attempts to revise the exhibit in order to satisfy competing interest groups, the exhibit was canceled on January 30, 1995.

A new exhibit, which was scheduled to open in December 2003, identified the Enola Gay as the aircraft that “dropped the first atomic weapon used in combat” and described the B-29 as “the most sophisticated propeller-driven bomber of World War II”, but was not going to explore the historical context of Hiroshima or nuclear weapons.

The Committee for a National Discussion of Nuclear History and Current Policy charged that the proposed exhibit would be “devoid not only of historical context and discussion of the ongoing controversy surrounding the bombings, but even of basic information regarding the number of casualties”. The Committee declared that displaying the Enola Gay as a technological achievement reflects “extraordinary callousness toward the victims, indifference to the deep divisions among American citizens about the propriety of these actions, and disregard for the feelings of most of the world’s peoples”. A number of historians and other prominent Americans signed the statement, which was delivered to Smithsonian officials. Signers included Noam Chomsky, Robert Jay Lifton, E.L. Doctorow, Daniel Ellsberg, Jonathan Schell, Kurt Vonnegut, Norman Lear, Martin Sheen, and Oliver Stone.

Americans have long been incapable of self-reflection, let alone second guessing our received history, particularly our military history. And we Americans, almost alone in the world, are incapable of recognizing our own sins or apologizing to our victims.

The dropping of the atomic bombs was not so much the last military act of the Second World War as the first act of the Cold War. According to Manhattan Project scientist Leo Szilard, Secretary of State Byrnes had said that the bomb’s biggest benefit was not its effect on Japan but its power to “make Russia more manageable in Europe”.


Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

From Wikipedia:

In August 1945, during the final stage of the Second World War, the United States dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The two bombings, which killed at least 129,000 people, remain the only use of nuclear weapons for warfare in history.

As the war entered its sixth and final year, the Allies had begun to prepare for what was anticipated to be a very costly invasion of the Japanese mainland. This was preceded by an immensely destructive firebombing campaign that obliterated many Japanese cities. The war in Europe had concluded when Nazi Germany signed its instrument of surrender on May 8, 1945, but with the Japanese refusal to accept the Allies’ demands for unconditional surrender, the Pacific War dragged on. Together with the United Kingdom and China, the United States called for the unconditional surrender of the Japanese armed forces in the Potsdam Declaration on July 26, 1945; this was buttressed with the threat of “prompt and utter destruction”.

By August 1945, the Allied Manhattan Project had successfully detonated an atomic device in the New Mexico desert and subsequently produced atomic weapons based on two alternate designs. The 509th Composite Group of the US Army Air Forces was equipped with the specialized Silverplate version of the Boeing B-29 Superfortress, that could deliver them from Tinian in the Mariana Islands.

A uranium gun-type atomic bomb (Little Boy) was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, followed by a plutonium implosion-type bomb (Fat Man) on the city of Nagasaki on August 9. Little Boy exploded 2,000 feet above Hiroshima in a blast equal to 12-15,000 tons of TNT, destroying five square miles of the city. Within the first two to four months of the bombings, the acute effects of the atomic bombings killed 90,000–166,000 people in Hiroshima and 39,000–80,000 in Nagasaki; roughly half of the deaths in each city occurred on the first day. During the following months, large numbers died from the effect of burns, radiation sickness, and other injuries, compounded by illness and malnutrition. In both cities, most of the dead were civilians, although Hiroshima had a sizable military garrison.

On August 15, just days after the bombing of Nagasaki and the Soviet Union’s declaration of war, Japan announced its surrender to the Allies. On September 2, it signed the instrument of surrender, effectively ending World War II. The bombings’ role in Japan’s surrender and their ethical justification are still debated.


Hiroshima; Breaking the Silence, 1995

From Howard Zinn (1922-2010, American historian and social activist, political science professor at Boston University, and author of the best-selling A People’s History of the United States):

Howard Zinn

Howard Zinn

The bomb dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 turned into powder and ash, in a few moments, the flesh and bones of 140,000 men, women, and children. Three days later, a second atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki killed perhaps 70,000 instantly. In the next five years, another 130,000 inhabitants of those two cities died of radiation poisoning.

No one will ever know the exact figures, but these come from the most exhaustive report available, “Hiroshima and Nagasaki: The Physical, Medical, and Social Effects of the Atomic Bombings”, put together by a team of thirty-four Japanese scientists and physicians, then translated and published in the US in 1981. Those statistics do not include countless other people who were left alive, but maimed, poisoned, disfigured, blinded.

The climate of World War II… was a climate of unquestioned moral righteousness. The enemy was Fascism. The brutalities of Fascism were undisguised by pretense: the concentration camps, the murder of opponents, the tortures by secret police, the burning of books, the total control of information, the roving gangs of thugs in the streets, the designation of “inferior” races deserving extermination, the infallible leader, the mass hysteria, the glorification of war, the invasion of other countries, the bombing of civilians. No literary work of imagination could create a more monstrous evil. There was, indeed, no reason to question that the enemy in World War II was monstrous and had to be stopped before it enveloped more victims.

But it is precisely that situation – where the enemy is undebatably evil – that produces a righteousness dangerous not only to the enemy, but to ourselves, to countless innocent bystanders, and to future generations.

We could judge the enemy with some clarity. But not ourselves. If we did, we might have noted some facts clouding the simple judgement that since they were unquestionably evil, we were unquestionably good.

The pronoun “we” is the first deception, because it merges the individual consciences of the citizenry with the motives of the state. If our (the citizens’) moral intent in making war is clear – in this case the defeat of Fascism, the halt to international aggression – we assume the same intent on the part of “our” government. Indeed, it is the government which has proclaimed the moral issues in order to better mobilize the population for war, and encouraged us to assume that we, government and citizens, have the same objectives.

There is a long history to that deception, from the Peloponnesian wars of the fifth century before Christ through the Crusades and other “religious” wars, into modern times, when larger sections of population must be mobilized, and the technology of modern communication is used to advance more sophisticated slogans of moral purity.

As for our country, we recall expelling Spain from Cuba, ostensibly to liberate the Cubans, actually to open Cuba to our banks, railroads, fruit corporations, and army. We conscripted our young men and sent them into the slaughterhouse of Europe in 1917 to “make the world safe for democracy”. (Note how difficult it is to avoid the “we”, the “our”, that assimilates government and people into an indistinguishable body; but it may be useful to remind us that we’re responsible for what the government does.)

Indeed, although the desperate need for support in the war brought forth the idealistic language of the Atlantic Charter with its promise of self-determination, when the war ended the colonized people of Indochina had to fight against the French, the Indonesians against the Dutch, the Malaysians against the British, the Africans against the European powers, the Filipinos against the United States, to fulfill that promise.

The question of “motive” for the United States in making war against Japan is put this way by Bruce Russett in his book, No Clear and Present Danger:

“Throughout the 1930s the United States government had done little to resist the Japanese advance on the Asian continent. [But:] The Southwest Pacific area was of undeniable economic importance to the United States – at the time most of America’s tin and rubber came from there, as did substantial quantities of other raw materials.”

Again on the American motive. A year before Pearl Harbor, a State Department memorandum on Japanese expansion did not talk of the independence of China or the principle of self-determination. It said:

“our general diplomatic and strategic position would be considerably weakened by our loss of Chinese, Indian and South Seas markets (and by our loss of much of the Japanese market for our goods, as Japan would become more and more self-sufficient) as well as by insurmountable restrictions upon our access to the rubber, tin, jute, and other vital materials of the Asian and Oceanic regions.”

That has a familiar sound. Shortly after World War II, in the early 1950s, massive American aid to the French fighting to hold on to their pre-war colony of Indochina was accompanied by righteous declarations of the need to fight Communism. But the internal memoranda of the National Security Council were talking of the US need for tin, rubber, and oil.

There were pious statements about self-determination, noble words in the Atlantic Charter that the Allies “seek no aggrandizement, territorial or other”. However, two weeks before the Charter, US Acting Secretary of State Sumner Welles was assuring the French government: “This Government, mindful of its traditional friendship for France, has deeply sympathized with the desire of the French people to maintain their territories and to preserve them intact.”

It is understandable that the pages of the Defense Department’s official history of the Vietnam War (The Pentagon Papers) were marked “TOP SECRET – Sensitive” because they reveal that in late 1942 President Roosevelt’s personal representative assured French General Henri Giraud: “It is thoroughly understood that French sovereignty will be re-established as soon as possible throughout all the territory, metropolitan or colonial, over which flew the French flag in 1939.”

And if the world might be deluded into thinking that the war was fought to end military intervention by great powers in the affairs of weaker countries, the post-war years quickly countered that delusion, as the two important victors – the United States and the Soviet Union – sent their armies, or surrogate armed forces, into countries in Central America and Eastern Europe.

After Pearl Harbor, Congressman John Rankin of Mississippi said: “I’m for catching every Japanese in America, Alaska and Hawaii now and putting them in concentration camps. Damn them! Let’s get rid of them now!”

Anti-Japanese hysteria grew. Racists, military and civilian, persuaded President Roosevelt that the Japanese on the West Coast constituted a threat to the security of the country, and in February of 1942 he signed Executive Order 9066. This empowered the army, without warrants or indictments or hearings, to arrest every Japanese-American on the West Coast, most of them born in the United States – 120,000 men, women, and children – to take them from their homes, and transport them to “detention camps”, which were really concentration camps. [At the same time, the Roosevelt administration failed to act in any way to save European Jews from their concentration camps and ultimate fate.]

The persistent notion that the Japanese were less than human probably played some role in the willingness to wipe out two cities populated by people of color.

In any case, the American people were prepared, psychologically, to accept and even applaud the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. One reason was that although some mysterious new science was involved, it seemed like a continuation of the massive bombing of European cities that had already taken place.

No one seemed conscious of the irony – that one of the reasons for general indignation against the Fascist powers was their history of indiscriminate bombing of civilian populations. Italy had bombed civilians in Ethiopia in its conquest of that country in 1935. Japan had bombed Shanghai, Nanking, other Chinese cities. Germany and Italy had bombed Madrid, Guernica, other Spanish cities in that country’s civil war. At the start of World War II, Nazi planes dropped bombs on the civilian populations of Rotterdam in Holland, Coventry in England.

Franklin D. Roosevelt described these bombings as “inhuman barbarism that has profoundly shocked the conscience of humanity”. But very soon, the United States and Britain were doing the same thing and on a far larger scale. The Allied leaders met at Casablanca in January, 1943 and agreed on massive air attacks to achieve “the destruction and dislocation of the German military, industrial and economic system and the undermining of the morale of the German people to the point where their capacity for armed resistance is fatally weakened”.

This euphemism – “undermining of the morale” – was another way of saying that the mass killing of ordinary civilians by carpet bombing was now an important strategy of the war. Once used in World War II, it would become generally accepted after the war, even as nations were dutifully signing on to the UN Charter pledging to end “the scourge of war”. It would become American policy in Korea, in Vietnam, and in Iraq.

In short, terrorism, condemned by governments when conducted by nationalist or religious extremists, was now being adopted as official policy. It was given legitimacy because it was used to defeat certain Fascist powers. But it kept alive the spirit of Fascism.

By the time the decision was made to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, our minds had been prepared. Their side was vicious beyond description. Therefore, whatever we did was morally right. Hitler, Mussolini, Tojo and their general staffs became indistinguishable from German civilians, or Japanese school children. The US Air Force General Curtis LeMay (the same one who, during the Vietnam war, said “We will bomb them back to the Stone Age”) asserted: “There is no such thing as an innocent civilian.”


Hiroshima – Needless Slaughter, Useful Terror, 1995

From William Blum (born 1933, American author, historian, former State Department employee) on the 50th anniversary of the A-bomb:

William Blum

William Blum

By 1945, Japan’s entire military and industrial machine was grinding to a halt as the resources needed to wage war were all but eradicated. The navy and air force had been destroyed ship by ship, plane by plane, with no possibility of replacement. When, in the spring of 1945, the island nation’s lifeline to oil was severed, the war was over except for the fighting. By June, Gen. Curtis LeMay, in charge of the air attacks, was complaining that after months of terrible firebombing, there was nothing left of Japanese cities for his bombers but “garbage can targets”. By July, US planes could fly over Japan without resistance and bomb as much and as long as they pleased. Japan could no longer defend itself.

After the war, the world learned what US leaders had known by early 1945: Japan was militarily defeated long before Hiroshima. It had been trying for months, if not for years, to surrender; and the US had consistently ignored these overtures. A May 5 cable, intercepted and decoded by the US, dispelled any possible doubt that the Japanese were eager to sue for peace. Sent to Berlin by the German ambassador in Tokyo, after he talked to a ranking Japanese naval officer, it read:

“Since the situation is clearly recognized to be hopeless, large sections of the Japanese armed forces would not regard with disfavor an American request for capitulation even if the terms were hard.”

As far as is known, Washington did nothing to pursue this opening. Later that month, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson almost capriciously dismissed three separate high-level recommendations from within the Truman (Roosevelt had just died) administration to activate peace negotiations. The proposals advocated signaling Japan that the US was willing to consider the all-important retention of the emperor system; i.e., the US would not insist upon “unconditional surrender”.

Stimson, like other high US officials, did not really care in principle whether or not the emperor was retained. The term “unconditional surrender” was always a propaganda measure; wars are always ended with some kind of conditions. To some extent the insistence was a domestic consideration – not wanting to appear to “appease” the Japanese. More important, however, it reflected a desire that the Japanese not surrender before the bomb could be used. One of the few people who had been aware of the Manhattan Project from the beginning, Stimson had come to think of it as his bomb – “my secret”, as he called it in his diary. On June 6, he told President Truman he was “fearful” that before the A-bombs were ready to be delivered, the Air Force would have Japan so “bombed out” that the new weapon “would not have a fair background to show its strength”. In his later memoirs, Stimson admitted that “no effort was made, and none was seriously considered, to achieve surrender merely in order not to have to use the bomb”.

Meeting at Potsdam

And to be successful, that effort could have been minimal. In July, before the leaders of the US, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union met at Potsdam, the Japanese government sent several radio messages to its ambassador, Naotake Sato, in Moscow, asking him to request Soviet help in mediating a peace settlement. “His Majesty is extremely anxious to terminate the war as soon as possible”, said one communication. “Should, however, the United States and Great Britain insist on unconditional surrender, Japan would be forced to fight to the bitter end.”

On July 25, while the Potsdam meeting was taking place, Japan instructed Sato to keep meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Molotov to impress the Russians “with the sincerity of our desire to end the war [and] have them understand that we are trying to end hostilities by asking for very reasonable terms in order to secure and maintain our national existence and honor” (a reference to retention of Emperor Hirohito).

Having broken the Japanese code years earlier, Washington did not have to wait to be informed by the Soviets of these peace overtures; it knew immediately, and did nothing. Indeed, the National Archives in Washington contains US government documents reporting similarly ill-fated Japanese peace overtures as far back as 1943.

Thus, it was with full knowledge that Japan was frantically trying to end the war, that President Truman and his hardline Secretary of State, James Byrnes, included the term “unconditional surrender” in the July 26 Potsdam Declaration. This “final warning” and expression of surrender terms to Japan was in any case a charade. The day before it was issued, Harry Truman had approved the order to release a 15 kiloton atomic bomb over the city of Hiroshima.

Many US military officials were less than enthusiastic about the demand for unconditional surrender or use of the atomic bomb. At the time of Potsdam, Gen. Hap Arnold asserted that conventional bombing could end the war. Adm. Ernest King believed a naval blockade alone would starve the Japanese into submission. Gen. Douglas MacArthur, convinced that retaining the emperor was vital to an orderly transition to peace, was appalled at the demand for unconditional surrender. Adm. William Leahy concurred. Refusal to keep the emperor “would result only in making the Japanese desperate and thereby increase our casualty lists,” he argued, adding that a nearly defeated Japan might stop fighting if unconditional surrender were dropped as a demand. At a loss for a military explanation for use of the bomb, Leahy believed that the decision “was clearly a political one”, reached perhaps “because of the vast sums that had been spent on the project”. Finally, we have Gen. Dwight Eisenhower’s account of a conversation with Stimson in which he told the secretary of war that:

“Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary …. I thought our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. It was my belief that Japan was, at that very moment, seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of ‘face’. The secretary was deeply perturbed by my attitude, almost angrily refuting the reasons I gave for my quick conclusions.”

If, as appears to be the case, the US decision to drop the A-bombs was based on neither the pursuit of the earliest possible peace nor it being the only way to avoid a land invasion, we must look elsewhere for the explanation.

Target Soviet Union

It has been asserted that dropping of the atomic bombs was not so much the last military act of the Second World War as the first act of the Cold War. Although Japan was targeted, the weapons were aimed straight to the red heart of the USSR.

According to Manhattan Project scientist Leo Szilard, Secretary of State Byrnes had said that the bomb’s biggest benefit was not its effect on Japan but its power to “make Russia more manageable in Europe”.

General Leslie Groves, Director of the Manhattan Project, testified in 1954: “There was never, from about two weeks from the time I took charge of this Project, any illusion on my part but that Russia was our enemy, and that the Project was conducted on that basis.”

The United States was thinking post-war. A Venezuelan diplomat reported to his government after a May 1945 meeting that Assistant Secretary of State Nelson Rockefeller “communicated to us the anxiety of the United States Government about the Russian attitude”. US officials, he said, were “beginning to speak of Communism as they once spoke of Nazism and are invoking continental solidarity and hemispheric defense against it”.

Churchill, who had known about the weapon before Truman, understood its use: “Here then was a speedy end to the Second World War,” he said about the bomb, and added, thinking of Russian advances into Europe, “and perhaps to much else besides …. We now had something in our hands which would redress the balance with the Russians.”

Referring to the immediate aftermath of Nagasaki, Stimson wrote of what came to be known as “atomic diplomacy”.

In the State Department there developed a tendency to think of the bomb as a diplomatic weapon. Outraged by constant evidence of Russian perfidy, some of the men in charge of foreign policy were eager to carry the bomb for a while as their ace-in-the-hole …. American statesmen were eager for their country to browbeat the Russians with the bomb held rather ostentatiously on our hip.

“The psychological effect on Stalin [of the bombs] was twofold,” observed historian Charles L. Mee, Jr. “The Americans had not only used a doomsday machine; they had used it when, as Stalin knew, it was not militarily necessary. It was this last chilling fact that doubtless made the greatest impression on the Russians.”

After the Enola Gay released its cargo on Hiroshima on August 6, common sense – common decency wouldn’t apply here – would have dictated a pause long enough to allow Japanese officials to travel to the city, confirm the extent of the destruction, and respond before the US dropped a second bomb. At 11 o’clock in the morning of August 9, Prime Minister Kintaro Suzuki addressed the Japanese Cabinet: “Under the present circumstances I have concluded that our only alternative is to accept the Potsdam Proclamation and terminate the war.” Moments later, the second bomb fell on Nagasaki. Some hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians died in the two attacks; many more suffered terrible injury and permanent genetic damage.

After the war, His Majesty the Emperor still sat on his throne, and the gentlemen who ran the United States had absolutely no problem with this. They never had.

The United States Strategic Bombing Survey of 1946 concluded:

It seems clear that, even without the atomic bombing attacks, air supremacy over Japan could have exerted sufficient pressure to bring about unconditional surrender and obviate the need for invasion. Based on a detailed investigation of all the facts, and supported by the testimony of the surviving Japanese leaders involved, it is the Survey’s opinion that certainly prior to 31 December 1945, and in all probability prior to 1 November 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated.


From the Horses’ Mouths:

“…in [July] 1945… Secretary of War Stimson, visiting my headquarters in Germany, informed me that our government was preparing to drop an atomic bomb on Japan. I was one of those who felt that there were a number of cogent reasons to question the wisdom of such an act. … first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. It was my belief that Japan was, at that very moment, seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of ‘face’.

~ Dwight Eisenhower, Mandate For Change, pg. 380

On May 28, 1945, Hoover visited President Truman and suggested a way to end the Pacific war quickly: “I am convinced that if you, as President, will make a shortwave broadcast to the people of Japan – tell them they can have their Emperor if they surrender, that it will not mean unconditional surrender except for the militarists – you’ll get a peace in Japan – you’ll have both wars over.”

~ Richard Norton Smith, An Uncommon Man: The Triumph of Herbert Hoover, pg. 347.

“…the Japanese were prepared to negotiate all the way from February 1945…up to and before the time the atomic bombs were dropped; …if such leads had been followed up, there would have been no occasion to drop the [atomic] bombs.”

~ Herbert Hoover, quoted by Barton Bernstein in Philip Nobile, ed., Judgment at the Smithsonian, pg. 142

In early May of 1946, Hoover met with General Douglas MacArthur. Hoover recorded in his diary, “I told MacArthur of my memorandum of mid-May 1945 to Truman, that peace could be had with Japan by which our major objectives would be accomplished. MacArthur said that was correct and that we would have avoided all of the losses, the Atomic bomb, and the entry of Russia into Manchuria.”

~ Gar Alperovitz, The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb, pg. 350-351.

“It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon 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.”

~ William Leahy (Chief of Staff to Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman), I Was There, pg. 441.

“…the Potsdam declaration in July, demand[ed] that Japan surrender unconditionally or face ‘prompt and utter destruction.’ MacArthur was appalled. He knew that the Japanese would never renounce their emperor, and that without him an orderly transition to peace would be impossible anyhow, because his people would never submit to Allied occupation unless he ordered it. Ironically, when the surrender did come, it was conditional, and the condition was a continuation of the imperial reign. Had the General’s advice been followed, the resort to atomic weapons at Hiroshima and Nagasaki might have been unnecessary.”

~ William Manchester, American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880-1964, pg. 512.

“MacArthur’s views about the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were starkly different from what the general public supposed… When I asked General MacArthur about the decision to drop the bomb, I was surprised to learn he had not even been consulted. What, I asked, would his advice have been? He replied that he saw no military justification for the dropping of the bomb. The war might have ended weeks earlier, he said, if the United States had agreed, as it later did anyway, to the retention of the institution of the emperor.”

~ Norman Cousins (consultant to General MacArthur during the American occupation of Japan), The Pathology of Power, pg. 65, 70-71.

“I have always felt that if, in our ultimatum to the Japanese government issued from Potsdam [in July 1945], we had referred to the retention of the emperor as a constitutional monarch and had made some reference to the reasonable accessibility of raw materials to the future Japanese government, it would have been accepted. Indeed, I believe that even in the form it was delivered, there was some disposition on the part of the Japanese to give it favorable consideration. When the war was over I arrived at this conclusion after talking with a number of Japanese officials who had been closely associated with the decision of the then Japanese government, to reject the ultimatum, as it was presented. I believe we missed the opportunity of effecting a Japanese surrender, completely satisfactory to us, without the necessity of dropping the bombs.”

~ John McCloy (Assistant Secretary of War) quoted in James Reston, Deadline, pg. 500.

“I think that the Japanese were ready for peace, and they already had approached the Russians and, I think, the Swiss. And that suggestion of [giving] a warning [of the atomic bomb] was a face-saving proposition for them, and one that they could have readily accepted… In my opinion, the Japanese war was really won before we ever used the atom bomb. Thus, it wouldn’t have been necessary for us to disclose our nuclear position and stimulate the Russians to develop the same thing much more rapidly than they would have if we had not dropped the bomb.”

~ Ralph Bard (Under Secretary of the Navy), “War Was Really Won Before We Used A-Bomb”, U.S. News and World Report, 8/15/60, pg. 73-75.

“I proposed to Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal that the weapon should be demonstrated before it was used. Primarily it was because it was clear to a number of people, myself among them, that the war was very nearly over. The Japanese were nearly ready to capitulate… Secretary Forrestal agreed wholeheartedly with the recommendation… It seemed to me that such a weapon was not necessary to bring the war to a successful conclusion, that once used it would find its way into the armaments of the world…”.

~ Lewis Strauss (Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Navy) quoted in Len Giovannitti and Fred Freed, The Decision To Drop the Bomb, pg. 145, 325.


“The plan I devised was essentially this: Japan was already isolated from the standpoint of ocean shipping. The only remaining means of transportation were the rail network and intercoastal shipping, though our submarines and mines were rapidly eliminating the latter as well. A concentrated air attack on the essential lines of transportation, including railroads, would isolate the Japanese home islands from one another and fragment the enemy’s base of operations. I believed that interdiction of the lines of transportation would be sufficiently effective so that additional bombing of urban industrial areas would not be necessary.

“While I was working on the new plan of air attack… I concluded that even without the atomic bomb, Japan was likely to surrender in a matter of months. My own view was that Japan would capitulate by November 1945.”

~ Paul Nitze (Vice Chairman, US Strategic Bombing Survey) , From Hiroshima to Glasnost, pg. 36-37

The US Strategic Bombing Survey group, assigned by President Truman to study the air attacks on Japan, produced a report in July of 1946 that was primarily written by Nitze and reflected his reasoning:

“Based on a detailed investigation of all the facts and supported by the testimony of the surviving Japanese leaders involved, it is the Survey’s opinion that certainly prior to 31 December 1945 and in all probability prior to 1 November 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated.”

~ quoted in Barton Bernstein, The Atomic Bomb, pg. 52-56.

“…when we didn’t need to do it, and we knew we didn’t need to do it, and they knew that we knew we didn’t need to do it, we used them as an experiment for two atomic bombs.”

~ Brigadier General Carter Clarke (The military intelligence officer in charge of preparing intercepted Japanese cables – the MAGIC summaries – for Truman and his advisors), quoted in Gar Alperovitz, The Decision To Use the Atomic Bomb, pg. 359.


“Prof. Albert Einstein… said that he was sure that President Roosevelt would have forbidden the atomic bombing of Hiroshima had he been alive and that it was probably carried out to end the Pacific war before Russia could participate.”

~ Albert Einstein, Einstein Deplores Use of Atom Bomb, New York Times, 8/19/46, pg. 1.

After Germany surrendered, Szilard attempted to meet with President Truman. Instead, he was given an appointment with Truman’s Secretary of State to be, James Byrnes. In that meeting of May 28, 1945, Szilard told Byrnes that the atomic bomb should not be used on Japan. Szilard recommended, instead, coming to an international agreement on the control of atomic weapons before shocking other nations by their use. According to Szilard, Byrnes was not interested in international control: “Byrnes… was concerned about Russia’s postwar behavior. Russian troops had moved into Hungary and Rumania, and Byrnes thought it would be very difficult to persuade Russia to withdraw her troops from these countries, that Russia might be more manageable if impressed by American military might, and that a demonstration of the bomb might impress Russia.”

~ Leo Szilard (The first scientist to conceive of how an atomic bomb might be made), quoted in Spencer Weart and Gertrud Weiss Szilard, ed., Leo Szilard: His Version of the Facts, pg. 184.


by Robert Riversong: may be reproduced only with attribution for non-commercial purposes and a link to this page.


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