Obama Does Hiroshima

by Simon Wood

“He started suffering nosebleeds about a week after the bombing. They called a doctor, and my aunt put a wash basin by his side and stayed up all night taking care of him. But the bleeding from his gums and nose grew worse, and he finally died on the 22nd. Before he breathed his last, he complained that his stomach and legs hurt very much. I was sleeping next to him, and he told me to bring a knife because an atomic bomb was lodged in his stomach. I couldn’t bear to watch him suffer, so I got up to get him a knife, but my uncle scolded me. My brother’s corpse had no blood at all. It was as white as a wax dummy. My mother died in Nagasaki at about the same time, and my sister and younger brother died weeping over her body. I was told they held the funeral for all three on the same day.” – Emiko Fukahori, survivor of Nagasaki nuclear bombing [Source]

“Since I only have a few months left in the office, I thought it was a good time for me to reflect on the nature of war. Part of my goal is to recognise that innocent people caught in war can suffer tremendously. And that’s not just the thing of the past. That is happening today in many parts of the world.” – US President Barack Obama on his reasons for visiting Hiroshima [Source]

hiroshima dome-2015-05-27

Hiroshima Dome, May 27, 2016, shortly before the area was closed to the public to make way for Barack Obama’s visit. Photo by Robert Jacobs.

In Japan for the 2016 G-7 summit, US President Barack Obama will make history as the first acting US president to visit Hiroshima, the site of the world’s first nuclear bombing. Obama, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 to ‘encourage his initiatives to reduce nuclear arms, ease tensions with the Muslim world and stress diplomacy and cooperation rather than unilateralism’, might well be expected to explain to observers the inherent contradiction of visiting a scene of unspeakable nuclear tragedy as he authorizes the spending of $1 trillion on ‘redesigned nuclear warheads, as well as new nuclear bombers, submarines, land-based missiles, weapons labs and production plants’.

On August 6th 1945 the US dropped a uranium gun-type atomic bomb (Little Boy) on Hiroshima, directly over Shima hospital. The hospital along with its staff and patients were instantly vaporized and much of the city was destroyed. Three days later a plutonium implosion-type bomb (Fat Man) was dropped on the city of Nagasaki in Kyushu.

The code names of the bombs, chosen to reflect their design shapes, were taken from the 1941 movie, The Maltese Falcon. At least 129,000 people were killed.

Obama’s visit to Hiroshima has revived debate over the bombings. Much of this debate has focused on whether the bombings were necessary to force the surrender of the Japanese. Those in agreement with this generally cite the standard historical US government line that multitudes of lives on both sides that would have been lost in a ground invasion were preserved, conventional wisdom that is rarely – if ever – questioned in mainstream analysis. This conclusion, however, which assumes benign and humanitarian motives on the part of the US commanders in killing some to save many, does not stand up to proper scrutiny.

First, one cannot assume benign motives on the part of the US. Indeed, one need only look at the firebombing of Tokyo five months earlier. The Operation Meetinghouse air raid of 9-10th March 1945 was the single deadliest air raid of World War II. 330 B-29 bombers – ‘packed with various incendiary explosives, including white phosphorous and napalm, a gasoline-based, fuel-gel mixture developed at Harvard University’ – were dropped on the civilians inhabitants of Tokyo. The incendiaries were chosen specifically to target the wooden residential structures.

Rory Fanning writing in Jacobin magazine elaborates:

Like a sticky fiery plague, the globs of napalm clung to everything it touched. The M-69s were so effective at starting fires in Tokyo that night that gale force winds turned thousands of individual fires into one massive firestorm. Temperatures around the city raged between 600 and 1800 degrees Fahrenheit. In some areas, the fires melted asphalt.

[Architect of Tokyo firebombing General Curtis] LeMay planned the attack to coincide with 30 MPH winds in order to intensify the effect of the bombs. Ultimately, sixteen square miles of Tokyo were reduced to ash.

LeMay claimed that the Japanese government relied on residential “cottage” war production, thus making the civilians living in Tokyo a legitimate military target. However, by 1944 the Japanese had essentially terminated its home war production. A full 97 percent of the country’s military supplies were protected underground in facilities not vulnerable to air attack the day of the bombing. The Americans knew this.

The United States had broken Japan’s Red and Purple cipher machines well before 1945, allowing them access to the most classified enemy intelligence. American generals understood the war would soon be materially impossible for the Japanese.

The US Naval blockade had also prevented oil, metal, and other essential goods from entering Japan long before March 9. Japan was so cut off from basic supplies that it was constructing its planes partially out of wood.

The Japanese population at this point in the war was most concerned with starvation. The 1945 rice harvest was the worst since 1909. Surveys commissioned by Japan’s government in April 1945 reported the population was “too preoccupied with the problems of food” to worry about fighting a war. Victory for the Allies was guaranteed by the start of the year.

The most damning evidence against the firebombing can be traced to August 19, 1945, when Walter Trohan of the Chicago Tribune finally published a piece gracefully titled “Roosevelt Ignored M’Arthur Report on Nip Proposals” that he had been sitting on for seven months.

Trohan wrote: Release of all censorship restrictions in the United States makes it possible to report that the first Japanese peace bid was relayed to the White House seven months ago. . . .

The Jap offer, based on five separate overtures, was relayed to the White House by Gen. MacArthur in a 40-page communication, [who] urged negotiations on the basis of the Jap overtures. . . .

The offer, as relayed by MacArthur, contemplated abject surrender of everything but the person of the Emperor. President Roosevelt dismissed the general’s communication, which was studded with solemn references to the deity, after a casual reading with the remark, “MacArthur is our greatest general and our poorest politician.”

The MacArthur report was not even taken to Yalta.

In January 1945 — two days before Franklin Roosevelt was to meet with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in Yalta — the Japanese were offering surrender terms almost identical to what was accepted by the Americans on the USS Missouri in the Japan Bay on September 2, 1945.

The Japanese population was famished, the country’s war machine was out of gas, and the government had capitulated. The Americans were unmoved. The firebombing and the nuclear attacks were heartlessly carried out. If anyone is guilty of disregarding the “context” of the firebombing of Tokyo, it’s the sycophantic and biased American historians who deride these critical facts.

So why did the Americans continue to raid and terrorize the Japanese civilian population knowing the war could have been over? Many argue that the Americans were flexing their muscles for Russia in anticipation of the ensuing Cold War. Countless pages have been written about this.

But what is too often overlooked is the racism of the day. It is America’s racism that best explains the extent of the firebombing and the nuclear attacks. The racist mindset that all too many Americans were comfortable with in the Jim Crow era easily bled onto the Japanese. The horror stories of the almost two hundred thousand Japanese Americans who lost their livelihoods as a result of Roosevelt’s internment camps are just one example of how Americans saw not only the Japanese but Japanese-Americans.

The firebombing of Japan was about testing new technologies on a civilian population. Significant funds had gone into the development of American military technology — 36 billion in 2015 dollars funded the creation of the atomic bomb. Napalm was new as well. The firebombing of Tokyo marked the first time it was used on a dense civilian population. The Americans wanted to assay their new inventions on a group of people who they thought were less than human.

LeMay famously remarked, “Killing Japanese didn’t bother me very much at that time . . . I suppose if I had lost the war, I would have been tried as a war criminal.” LeMay later leveraged his war credentials and racism to earn a spot on segregationist Gov. George Wallace’s 1968 presidential ticket.

A 1944 opinion poll found that 13% of Americans favored exterminating the entire Japanese race – man, woman and child – after the war, with 33% saying that Japan should be split up and destroyed as a political entity and 28% advocating ‘supervision and control’. While the well-documented atrocities of the Japanese can explain much of this hatred, this dehumanization of the Japanese people as a whole can only have made it easier to justify the mass bombing of civilians. There is ample evidence that a large number of American citizens at the time viewed the Japanese as subhuman.

This summary of James J. Weingartner’s “Trophies of War: U.S. Troops and the Mutilation of Japanese War Dead, 1941-1945” describes the extent of anti-Japanese sentiment [Source, Primary Source]:

U.S. historian James J. Weingartner attributes the very low number of Japanese in U.S. POW compounds to two key factors: a Japanese reluctance to surrender and a widespread American “conviction that the Japanese were ‘animals’ or ‘subhuman’ and unworthy of the normal treatment accorded to POWs.” The latter reasoning is supported by Niall Ferguson, who says that “Allied troops often saw the Japanese in the same way that Germans regarded Russians [sic] — as Untermenschen.” Weingartner believes this explains the fact that a mere 604 Japanese captives were alive in Allied POW camps by October 1944. Ulrich Straus, a U.S. Japanologist, believes that front line troops intensely hated Japanese military personnel and were “not easily persuaded” to take or protect prisoners, as they believed that Allied personnel who surrendered, got “no mercy” from the Japanese. Allied soldiers believed that Japanese soldiers were inclined to feign surrender, in order to make surprise attacks. Therefore, according to Straus, “[s]enior officers opposed the taking of prisoners[,] on the grounds that it needlessly exposed American troops to risks …”

Genocide researcher Daniel Goldhagen in his book Worse than War wrote: “So it is no surprise that Americans perpetrated and supported mass slaughters – Tokyo’s firebombing and then nuclear incinerations – in the name of saving American lives, and of giving the Japanese what they richly deserved.”

Weingartner argues that there is a common cause between the mutilation of Japanese war dead and the decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki. According to Weingartner both were partially the result of a dehumanization of the enemy, saying, “[T]he widespread image of the Japanese as sub-human constituted an emotional context which provided another justification for decisions which resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands.”

On the second day after the Nagasaki bomb, Truman stated: “The only language they seem to understand is the one we have been using to bombard them. When you have to deal with a beast you have to treat him like a beast. It is most regrettable but nevertheless true”.

Dehumanization makes atrocities easy to justify, even when they are perpetrated against children. A recent example can be found during the 2014 Israeli bombing of Gaza, when groups of Israelis gathered on a hillside to watch their government’s bombs (supplied by nations like the US and UK) striking Palestinian residential areas, cheering in full knowledge that children were being murdered in their homes. Journalist Jonathon Cook has documented how the language of genocide and dehumanization has already entered Israeli mainstream discourse.

With the widespread US racism and hatred against the Japanese established and the benign intentions of the US forces in World War II discredited, a disturbing question arises: were the atomic bombings, as with the firebombing of Tokyo, opportunities taken to test new weapons and substances on a civilian population? The notion must be examined, given that several objectives could be achieved simultaneously in using the bomb (providing motive). These objectives include demonstrating the will and ability to use such destructive, deadly weapons on civilians, thereby sending a terrifying message to the Soviet Union and China, both already identified as powerful future adversaries. The materials and technology could be tested in the field, with the opportunity to examine the physical, medical and psychological consequences of using such a weapon. It was less than a month after the first nuclear test (Trinity) on July 16th 1945 and the first two types of nuclear bomb were rushed to completion soon after. With hindsight, it is a striking coincidence that these two different types were tested on two different Japanese cities? And all this could be justified with a ready-made excuse, one that the American public would easily swallow given the overall feelings toward the Japanese at the time: that thousands of needless American deaths would be averted.

In order to add credence to such a claim, one must discredit the commonly employed argument that use of atomic bombs was unavoidable – absolutely necessary – to spare the lives that would be lost in a ground invasion.

Researcher Jonah Walters writes:

There is no truth to the common argument that the United States military had to use nuclear bombs on Japanese civilians to end World War II.

American leaders at the time understood well that they had other options. In fact, Truman mentions this in his memoirs, recalling his worry that, should American atomic tests fail, the Soviet ground invasion of Japan would precipitate the Japanese surrender, thus amplifying Soviet influence in East Asia. The Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US military had begun planning a detailed ground invasion of their own, a strategy deliberately developed to avoid the use of nuclear warfare in the Pacific.

But more importantly, Japan was profoundly isolated in the region and in the world following the surrender of Nazi Germany. The Japanese state had already begun to collapse, with military and executive bureaucracies in disarray. The Soviet declaration of war — which occurred on August 8, between the bombing of Hiroshima and the bombing of Nagasaki — so panicked Japanese Prime Minister Kantarō Suzuki that, when he was advised not to plan a military response to the imminent invasion, he reportedly replied, “then the game is up.”

The 1946 United States Strategic Bombing Survey in Japan after examining numerous documents and interviewing hundreds of military and civilian leaders in Japan after the surrender concluded:

There is little point in attempting precisely to impute Japan’s unconditional surrender to any one of the numerous causes which jointly and cumulatively were responsible for Japan’s disaster. The time lapse between military impotence and political acceptance of the inevitable might have been shorter had the political structure of Japan permitted a more rapid and decisive determination of national policies. Nevertheless, 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

Another question that arises and adds credence to the theory that the official justifications for using the bomb were lies is the fact that the invasion of Kyushu was planned for October/November. Given that US intelligence was well aware of Japan’s desperate situation under the naval blockade, the destruction of its infrastructure and the poor 1945 rice harvest that was causing widespread starvation, and was also long aware of Japan’s willingness to surrender under certain terms that could be negotiated, there is no reason why these surrender terms were not discussed before the use of such a terrible weapon was sanctioned.

Indeed, Truman’s eagerness and glee at the use of the bomb is documented:

The successful test of the atom bomb on July 16, shortly before the formal opening of the Potsdam Conference, gave Truman what he later called “a hammer on those boys.” Truman’s demeanor at Potsdam completely changed, and he became much more aggressive and arrogant in negotiations with Stalin. During the initial days of the Potsdam Conference, Truman was still seeking to get assurance from the Soviet Union that it would join the war with Japan. However over the next several weeks, it is clear that administration officials hoped that use of the bomb would bring a quick end to the war before the Soviet invasion progressed very far and before Japan made a separate deal with Stalin.

Many of the scientists who worked or supported the Manhattan Project did so because of their intense hatred of Hitler and the Nazi regime. The project was originally justified on the grounds that if Hitler were to acquire the bomb first the consequences would be absolutely devastating. But by the time the United States had perfected the technology, Germany had been defeated. Nevertheless, the Truman administration not only decided to use the bomb, but did so with evident glee. Truman famously declared that he did not lose a night’s sleep over the decision. According to one account, when he heard the news about Hiroshima while crossing the Atlantic, he declared, “This is the greatest thing in history,” and then “raced about the ship to spread the news, insisting that he had never made a happier announcement. ‘We have won the gamble,’ he told the assembled and cheering crew.”

Commenting on this phenomenon, the historian Gabriel Jackson remarked, “In the specific circumstances of August 1945, the use of the atom bomb showed that a psychologically very normal and democratically elected chief executive could use the weapon just as the Nazi dictator would have used it. In this way, the United States—for anyone concerned with moral distinctions in the different types of government—blurred the difference between fascism and democracy.”

A common argument employed to justify the atomic bombings is that Japan ‘deserved it’ because of its own atrocities. One wonders if these same people would also support a nuclear attack by Vietnam over a major US city, killing hundreds of thousands and destroying most of the buildings, in response to atrocities committed by US forces during the Vietnam War like the My Lai massacre (one among many). Would the American toddlers murdered in their schools also ‘deserve it’ because troops from their nation did terrible things to people in wars long before their birth? That educated adults can even for a moment entertain the idea that civilians – including infants – can somehow be held responsible for the crimes of their governments and/or soldiers and somehow deserve retribution in the form of violent death is a particularly damning indictment of the current ethical standards of great swathes of humanity, especially those who have grown up and live in an environment saturated by a corporate-owned media that creates a false picture of ‘humanitarian wars’ waged by Western powers.

The other pressing question that has dominated media analysis and discussion is the question of whether Obama should apologise for the nuclear bombings. State Department officials have ruled out an apology and the Japanese government appears not to expect or require one, for reasons spelled out by Jake Adelstein. He notes that this is despite a 2015 Russian news agency poll that found that 60% of the Japanese people want an apology of some sort.

Any apology offered by Obama on behalf of his nation, however, would be meaningless.

For an apology to have meaning, the sentiments behind the words have to correspond to reality. Implicit in any genuine apology by Obama for the needless deaths of the civilians of Hiroshima and Nagasaki would be a demonstrated sorrow for civilian deaths elsewhere in the world both now and in the past. This is manifestly not the case. Obama personally authorizes drone strikes from the Oval Office in full awareness of the fact that 90% of drone strike victims are not the intended targets, often innocent bystanders – including hundreds of children.

An honest, heartfelt apology would imply that the United States is concerned with human rights or mass killing. Time and again, the US has proved that the polar opposite is true; that its strategic objectives trump human welfare every time. A fairly comprehensive list compiled of US interventions and actions that have led to deaths in foreign nations estimates that at least 20 million people have been killed by the US since World War II.


Guatemala: In 1951 Jacobo Arbenz was elected president of Guatemala. He appropriated some unused land operated by the United Fruit Company and compensated the company. That company then started a campaign to paint Arbenz as a tool of an international conspiracy and hired about 300 mercenaries who sabotaged oil supplies and trains. In 1954 a CIA-orchestrated coup put him out of office and he left the country. During the next 40 years various regimes killed thousands of people. In 1999 the Washington Post reported that an Historical Clarification Commission concluded that over 200,000 people had been killed during the civil war and that there had been 42,000 individual human rights violations, 29,000 of them fatal, 92% of which were committed by the army. The commission further reported that the U.S. government and the CIA had pressured the Guatemalan government into suppressing the guerilla movement by ruthless means.

Indonesia: In 1965, in Indonesia, a coup replaced General Sukarno with General Suharto as leader. The U.S. played a role in that change of government. Robert Martens, a former officer in the U.S. embassy in Indonesia, described how U.S. diplomats and CIA officers provided up to 5,000 names to Indonesian Army death squads in 1965 and checked them off as they were killed or captured. Martens admitted that “I probably have a lot of blood on my hands, but that’s not all bad. There’s a time when you have to strike hard at a decisive moment.” Estimates of the number of deaths range from 500,000 to 3 million. From 1993 to 1997 the U.S. provided Jakarta with almost $400 million in economic aid and sold tens of million of dollars of weaponry to that nation. U.S. Green Berets provided training for the Indonesia’s elite force which was responsible for many of atrocities in East Timor.

Chile: The CIA intervened in Chile’s 1958 and 1964 elections. In 1970 a socialist candidate, Salvador Allende, was elected president. The CIA wanted to incite a military coup to prevent his inauguration, but the Chilean army’s chief of staff, General Rene Schneider, opposed this action. The CIA then planned, along with some people in the Chilean military, to assassinate Schneider. This plot failed and Allende took office. President Nixon was not to be dissuaded and he ordered the CIA to create a coup climate: “Make the economy scream,” he said. What followed were guerilla warfare, arson, bombing, sabotage and terror. ITT and other U.S. corporations with Chilean holdings sponsored demonstrations and strikes. Finally, on September 11, 1973 Allende died either by suicide or by assassination. At that time Henry Kissinger, U.S. Secretary of State, said the following regarding Chile: “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist because of the irresponsibility of its own people.” During 17 years of terror under Allende’s successor, General Augusto Pinochet, an estimated 3,000 Chileans were killed and many others were tortured or “disappeared.”

The full sordid, horrifying list, which is not complete, makes it clear that the United States is indifferent to its treaty obligations with regard to international law, human rights and democracy, all the while maintaining an image – carefully cultivated and protected by indoctrinated, ‘gatekeeper‘ journalists in the corporate media – of benign intent.

Obama apologising for the nuclear bombings would be like a still-active serial arsonist apologising to you for burning down your house in the distant past: a fake, meaningless gesture. While US representatives are certainly capable of such dishonesty, it is fortunate at least that the wronged people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki will be spared treatment of this nature. Their earnest hopes for a nuclear-free world, however, will not be realised by the likes of Obama or any of the presidential candidates that will succeed him.

Hiroshima’s online peace memorial guide tells us: ‘The flame of peace has burned continuously since it was lit on August 1, 1964. It symbolizes the anti-nuclear resolve to burn the flame until the day when all such weapons shall have disappeared from the earth’. With NATO posturing on Russia’s borders and growing confrontations with China showing no signs of abating, the possibility is there that it is humans that will ‘disappear from the earth’ before these terrible weapons do.

Co-president Tilman Ruff of the Geneva International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War addressed the Open-Ended Working Group on nuclear weapons on May 13 in Geneva:

The scenario presented by Dr. Helfand last week for a regional nuclear war between India and Pakistan used 100 Hiroshima size weapons—fewer than half the 220 nuclear weapons those two states currently possess.

These 100 weapons would constitute less than 0.5% of the nuclear weapons in the world, and less than 0.1% of their explosive yield. More than five million tons of sooty black smoke would be injected high into the atmosphere.

The subsequent global cooling, darkening and drying over decades, is conservatively estimated to put two billion people in jeopardy from starvation.

This is without factoring in markedly increased ultraviolet radiation and disruption of agricultural inputs—seed, fertiliser, pesticides, fuel and transport—that would inevitably follow a nuclear war.

Nor does this estimate include the epidemics of infectious disease that inevitably accompany famines, nor conflict within and between countries over dwindling food supplies.

Declines in food production following such a relatively small regional nuclear war would be greatest at higher latitudes. The nuclear-dependent states in this room who support the “progressive” business-as-usual approach all lie predominantly at mid and high latitudes. They would be among the countries experiencing the greatest declines in their major food crops. In higher latitudes, such as in northern Europe, food production would virtually cease.

Suddenly injecting five million tons of smoke into the upper atmosphere would very likely end human civilization.

Up to 144 nuclear warheads can be carried by one US Ohio class submarine, each 6-30 times the size of the Hiroshima bomb. Even at the low end of their yield, if targeted on Chinese cities, the warheads on one submarine would produce 23 million tons of smoke. The US has 14 such submarines, Russia a similar number. Each of them is a global climate catastrophe waiting to happen.

Instead of accepting platitudes from Obama on his earnest desire for world peace, the world must demand action on mankind’s possession of this weapon that amounts to a possible death sentence for the entire human species and most life on the planet if there is even one miscalculation or misunderstanding between nuclear-armed powers. In our increasingly volatile global climate, nuclear disarmament must be treated as an urgent priority.

This article was originally published by Simon Wood, Thursday, May 26, 2016 on the blog The 99.99998271%.




One Comment

    Join discussion: leave a comment