Whenever Hiroshima is in the news -- lately, for Secretary of State John Kerry's visit and talk of President Obama's possible visit -- some number of opinion pieces follow, weighing President Truman's decision to drop two atomic bombs on Japanese cities at the end of World War II in the Pacific. Left or Right, most of these pieces seem to write themselves, following narrow and constricting lines of accepted narrative, as though the writers were actors reading lines in a play.
One in particular caught my attention this time aroound, namely for its headline, "Simply no other choice," which perfectly encapsulates the fore-ordained school of U.S. history that cancels questions and punishes exploration.
It made me think to repost the following August 2015 essay. Our forbears were not so meek.
As we approach the 70th anniversary of the atomic age, inaugurated in a radioactive blast at Hiroshima, know that the information below, which will prove shocking to some, has previously been collected, developed, verified in both newspapers and research tomes. It has been reported by time-tested journalists and noted historians. It has been confirmed and declared by top military figures and world famous political leaders. It is information that belongs to the American people, but it is information that is virtually lost to us, "disappeared" from what is well-described as our "court history," written not to shed light on events but to burnish the ideologies that be. Yes, more American betrayal.
Today's subject, then, is not only the two atomic bombs that the US dropped first on Hiroshima and then on Nagasaki, but also the fairy tales we tell each other about them.
To be honest, I used to believe and tell these fairy tales, too. I used to believe that the decision to drop atomic bombs on Japan was a display of heroic presidential strength -- a gruelingly difficult but also moral and strategically empowering decision that ended the war in the Pacific against Imperial Japan as quickly as possible, and, most important, saved one million American men from becoming casualties in a dreaded military invasion of the Japanese main island.
If the choice is between dropping the A-bomb or losing one million Americans, there is no choice. That is, drop the Bomb and save American lives -- and countless Japanese lives which would also have been lost in any such major military onslaught. But what if there were other ways, other means, to get the Japanese to sign that surrender?
Our customary focus on the up-down decision by Truman -- see, for example, the Wall Street Journal's Bret Stephens' "Thank God for the Atomic Bomb: Hiroshima and Nagasaki weren't merely horrific, war-ending events. They were life-savers" -- has had the effect of blinding us to the timeline preceding Hiroshima that is marked by Japanese peace bids (in itself a shocking concept), and, post-Hiroshima, suprisingly strong and high-level military objections to the notion that the Bomb ended the war in the first place.
Japanese peace overtures included a set of surrender terms laid out in a document sent by Gen. Douglas MacArthur to Franklin Roosevelt in January 1945, two days before the president set off for the disastrous Yalta conference (where FDR and Churchill would, among other things, bless Stalin's seizure of territories in China and elsewhere in exchange for five days of war-fighting against Japan). FDR turned down the January 1945 surrender terms. They are, however, virtually identical to those accepted by President Truman in August 1945. In between, of course, there was more to the Pacific war than the two atomic bombs on Japanese cities. In between there were epically costly American assaults on Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and the liberation of the Philipines.
A terrible question forms: Was this bloody, final phase of Allied and Japanese carnage actually necessary to bring World War II in the Pacific to an end? The answer that the record-less-traveled strongly suggests is, No, probably not.
It was the Chicago Tribune's Walter Trohan, who, just after the Japanese surrender in August 1945, first broke the January 1945 Japanese peace bid story. His source, later revealed, was impeccable: Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy, FDR's chief of staff. In 1965, Trohan wrote again about this January 1945 surrender bid, which had been re-confirmed by MacArthur himself in 1953 (American Betrayal readers will relate to Trohan's discovery that the original MacArthur document had disappeared from defense department archives). Trohan's article also includes highlights from the pre-Hiroshima Japanese attempted-surrender saga that had emerged since.
The Trohan story headline on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the Japanese surrender reads:
Ignored Japanese Peace Bids Plague U.S., West, with What Might Have Been.
What might have been?
Trohan reports on a November 1944 peace bid conveyed by Swedish ambassdor to Tokyo Widar Bagge. He notes also that in 1948, Rear Adm. Ellis M. Zacharias, wartime director of the office of naval intelligence, revealed that Japan had made five secret peace bids through the Vatican and the Kremlin.
In 1947, Trohan writes, " the Japanes disclosed in Tokyo that Premier Kuniaki Koiso proposed to discuss peace with Britain and the United States in 1944 and 1945. After the Koiso government fell, it was replaced by the government of Adm. Kantaro Suzuki, who undertook the negotiations for peace through Russia."
A disastrous idea, Trohan succinctly explains:
Russia stalled the [peace] negotiations in her determination to secure a dominant position in the Orient.
Aha. As discussed in American Betrayal, Stalin, unlike his British and American allies, was not fighting simply to destroy Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan (further, he was not fighting Imperial Japan at all, not until the last five days the Pacific war). Stalin was fighting to supplant them.
This is a big difference, as American Betrayal explains, but it is seldom pondered or even acknowledged. It means that as far as Stalin was concerned, war could easily have ended too soon -- before the Red Army had fought its way *safely* outside Soviet borders; before Communist allies across the map were ascendant; in the case of Japan, before Stalin could enter the Pacific war under favorable conditions and, more important, seize the territories treacherously promised him at Yalta.
This is something to keep in mind when trying to assess Stalin's actions, also those of his agents and assets covertly embedded in Allied (also Axis) governments, regarding the strategy, pace and scope of the Allied fight.
What about the role the Bomb is supposed to have played in ending the war in August 1945?
Today's Gospel-shorthand tells us it was the A-Bomb, and only the A-Bomb, that forced Japan to surrender, but that is not at all what many leading military and political lights of the day believed.
The following quotations come from Herbert Hoover's history of WWII, Freedom Betrayed:
On August 19, 1945, the AP reported:
Secretary of State ... Byrnes challenged today Japan's argument that the atomic bomb had knocked her out of the war.
He cited what he called Russian proof that the Japanese knew that they were beaten before the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Foreign Commissar Vyacheslaff M. Molotoff informed the Americans and British at the Berlin [Potsdam] Conference, Mr. Byrnes said, that the Japanese had asked to send a delegation to Moscow to seek Russian mediation for the end of the war -- an act that Mr. Byrnes said interpreted as proof of the enemy's recognition of defeat.
Potsdam, the last Allied wartime conference, took place between July 27 and August 2, 1945.
On September 20, 1945, Major General Curtis LeMay, who directed the air attacks on Japan, stated to the Associated Press:
The atomic bomb had nothing to do with the end of the war ... The war would have been over in two weeks without the Russians coming in and without the atomic bomb.
Hoover adds: "There were present at this interview two American Generals who were engaged in action against Japan -- General Barney Giles and Brigadier General Emmett O'Donnell -- both of whom agreed with General LeMay."
On October 5, 1945, Admiral Chester Nimitz told the Associated Press "he was convinced that the end of the war would have been the same without the atomic bomb or the entry of the Russians into the war:" On the same day Nimitz told Congress:
The atomic bomb did not end the war against Japan. The Japanese had, in fact, already sued for peace before the atomic age was announced to the world with the destruction of Hiroshima and before the Russian entry into the war. ...
Hoover quotes the memoirs of White House chief of staff Admiral Leahy, who wrote:
It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon against 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.
It was my reaction that the scientists and others want to make this test because of the vast sums that had been spent on the project ...
Here is one final quotation from Admiral Zacharias from How the Far East Was Lost by historian Anthony Kubeck. In a 1950 Look magazine article called "How We Bungled the Japanese Surrender," Zacharias wrote:
The Potsdam declaration, in short, wrecked everything we had been working for to prevent further bloodshed and insure our postwar strategic position. Just when the Japanese were ready to capitulate, we went ahead and introduced to the world the most devastating weapon it had ever seen and, in effect, gave the go-ahead to Russia to swarm over Eastern Asia. ... I contend that the A-bombing of Japan is now known to have been a mistake ... It was wrong on strategic grounds. And it was wrong on humanitarian grounds. ...
I could go on, but the existence of cracks in the consensus are clear.
Seventy-plus years later, surely it is time to explore them.