LETTER: History Author Responds to Discussion of Bombing of Hiroshima, Nagasaki


Dear Editor,

I was dismayed to read the responses to the Watertown Citizens’ article about the importance of commemorating the 75th anniversaries of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki A-bombings. These comments reflected ignorance of history and passion for vengeance. As we know, the refusal to learn from history means that it will be repeated, often in a disguised form.

Most important to know is that the A-bombs initially killed approximately
200,000 innocent children, women and men, with many more dying from cancer and other radiation diseases in the years that have followed.

In time, it will be broadly understood that the Asia-Pacific theaters of WWII were the result of clashing empires: Japanese, U.S. and British. The U.S. carved out its international empire during the Spanish American war, including the conquests and colonization of the Philippines, Guam, Samoa, the annexation of Hawaii and Theodore Roosevelt’s “Open Door” entry into the colonization of eastern China. Japan began its empire in the 1890s, with U.S. encouragement to create its own Monroe Doctrine, beginning with Korea and Manchuria. By the 1930, “militarists” in Japan opted not to
continue growing their empire within the U.S. and British empires, but to go for the “whole melon.” With its troops bogged down in China and desperate for oil to pursue that war, Tokyo simultaneously invaded Indonesia for its petroleum and attacked Pearl Harbor. Its senior military leaders understood that given U.S. economic and military power, they could not prevail over the United States, but they hoped to buy time for a negotiated settlement that would consolidate its Monroe Doctrine-like East Asia Co-
Prosperity Sphere.

Those willing to investigate the historical record will learn that through the
spring and early months of the summer of 1945, Japanese diplomats, especially in Europe, had been suing for peace – including meeting at the Vatican and with Alan Dulles of the OSS in Geneva. Their bottom-line condition was that Emperor Hirohito be allowed to remain on his throne. With the U.S. committed to “unconditional surrender,” that condition was rejected until Truman accepted it AFTER the A-bombings.

The historical record also demonstrates that all senior U.S. military leaders
opposed the A-bombings, which were politically, not militarily motivated. Secretary of War Stimson had advised Truman that Japan’s surrender could be arranged “on terms acceptable” to the U.S. and that he “did not want to have the United States get the reputation of outdoing Hitler in atrocities.” General (later President) Eisenhower opposed the A-bombings saying, “The Japanese were ready to surrender, it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing.” [And] Admiral Leahy, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff agreed, saying “The use of these barbarous weapons at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance to the war.” And General LeMay, who led the firebombing campaign, was convinced that without a group invasion Japan would surrender by November when there would be no targets left to attack.

The determinative reason the A-bombings were inflicted was to bring the war to an immediate end, so that the U.S. would not have to share influence with the Soviets in Manchuria, northern China, or Korea. Secondary reasons were, as Truman wrote, to “have a hammer over those boys”, meaning Soviet leaders, and to prevent the possibility of having but not using the A-bombs – built at a cost of $2 billion – from becoming a 1948 election issue.

By the standards of the International Court of Justice’s advisory opinion on the use and threatened use of nuclear weapons, the Hiroshima and Nagasaki A-bombings were crimes against humanity. Most important now are to honor the A-bomb survivors’ warning that human beings and nuclear weapons cannot coexist, and Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein’s admonition that we “remember our humanity and forget the rest.”

Joseph Gerson (PhD)
Author of With Hiroshima Eyes: Atomic War,
Nuclear Extortion and Moral Imagination

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