70th anniversary of the use of “The Bomb” against civilians

It has been 70 years since the United States became the only nation in history that deployed two atomic “weapons of mass destruction” against civilian populations. On August 6, 1945, a B-29 known as the Enola Gay took off from Tinian island, north of Guam. After flying six hours to the main Japanese island of Honshu, pilot Paul Tibbets flew his aircraft over the city of Hiroshima released “Little Boy”, an atomic bomb with the explosive power of 16 kilotons of TNT.

The ruins of Hiroshima

At 8:15:44, Japan time, the city of Hiroshima was obliterated, with 70,000 people immediately vaporized or charred beyond recognition. The victims included some 16 American prisoners of war that were held in Hiroshima. Soon, another 200,000 people would die after agonizing deaths brought about by the effects of radiation sickness. For only the second time in the history of humankind, a nuclear mushroom cloud appeared in our planet’s atmosphere, the first being the earlier test of the atomic bomb in New Mexico.

In Washington, President Harry Truman announced that America had dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima and unless Japan immediately surrendered unconditionally to the Allies, the United States was prepared to drop additional bombs on Japanese cities. According to a number of history books, some of which having been unduly influenced by the nascent American military-industrial complex, Japan never responded to Truman’s demand.

On August 9, three days later, another B-29 called Bockscar took off from Tinian with a heading toward the industrial city of Kokura. Cloudy weather forced a change in plans to the secondary target, the port city of Nagasaki. At 11:01:47 local time, Bockscar released “Fat Many”, carrying an explosive punch greater than “Little Boy”, as many as 75,000 people died initially from the blast, many of them workers at the Mitsubishi weapons and other factories in the area. Japanese Emperor Hirohito announced Japan’s decision to surrender unconditionally on August 12, 1945. Had Hirohito not surrendered, the United States had plans to drop atomic bombs on Kyoto, Yokohama, and Kokura. If those bombings failed to succeed in forcing Japan’s hand, two additional nuclear bombings would be launched against Niigata and Hirohito’s own imperial palace in downtown Tokyo.

It is now known that there was, in addition to the Imperial Japanese government, another targeted audience for the U.S. decision to use atomic weapons on civilian populations. That other audience was the Soviet government and its leader Joseph Stalin. This nuclear muscle flexing by the United States would eventually lead to the nuclear arms race of the Cold War. Joining the survivors of the Japan bombings in being subjected to health-damaging nuclear test blasts conducted by the American government were the Pacific islanders of the Marshall Islands and “downwinders”, mostly Native Americans and Mormons living in eastern Nevada and Utah.

It can be legitimately argued that the decision by the United States to be the first and only nation to use nuclear weapons in wartime helped trigger off a costly and dangerous arms race that is still with us today. America’s monopoly on nuclear weapons was short lived. The Soviet Union was the second nation to develop nuclear weaponry and the club was soon joined, in order, by Britain, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea. Recalcitrant nations opposed to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action hammered out between the P5+1 nations and Iran have made it clear they intend to join the nuclear club. These countries include Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

It is also now known that the Japanese emperor did not object to the idea of offering peace terms to the Allies when some members of the Japanese Council of State suggested such a move at a meeting held in Tokyo on January 10, 1945. A White House Memorandum for President Franklin Roosevelt, dated January 17, 1945, cited the meeting of the Japanese body and the emperor’s lack of opposition to an olive branch being extended by Tokyo to Washington. That same day, the Japanese representative to the Holy See, Masahide Kanyama, met with the Vatican Secretary of State, Giovani Montini, the future Pope Paul VI, and Pio Rossignani, the private secretary to Pope Pius XII, Kanayama made a direct appeal for papal intervention to mediate between Japan and the Allies:

“The pacifists in Japan have great faith in the Holy See. An attempt by the Holy See to initiate mediation would greatly encourage our pacifists, even if there should be no immediate concrete results”.

In response, the future pontiff, Montini, appeared to side with the Allies:

“It is clear to us that the gap between the viewpoints of the two belligerents is too wide to permit Papal mediation”.

But Kanayama had reason to push for negotiations with the Allies. He learned from the Japanese ambassador in Moscow – Russia still maintained a non-aggression pact with Japan – that the Big Three (Roosevelt, Stalin, and Chirchill) were to meet soon, that Japan would be on the agenda. Japan urgently needed Pope Pius’s intervention to begin talks before the Allied meeting. The urgency was made even greater since Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek would not be present at the talks, which would be held in Yalta. Therefore, there would be no Chinese leader present demanding a steep price for talks to begin between Japan and the Allies.

Sensing Katayama’s concerns about the Chinese, Montini asked, “Would it not be possible for the Japanese Government to offer terms that would be closer to those of the Anglo-Americans so that the Holy See could begin mediation on more concrete bases?”

Katayama said he would convey Montini’s request to Tokyo. The Pope’s secretary did not rule out papal intervention as a mediator.

By February 1945, Russia and Japan were on the same page and proposed a Far East peace conference that would include Russia, China, Great Britain, the United States, France, and Japan. Japan wrongly believed that Russia would not enter the Pacific war on the side of the Allies.

However, in February, Myron Taylor, Roosevelt’s personal envoy to Pope Pius, met with Japanese ambassador to the Holy See, Harada Ken, at the Vatican. In a February 16, 1945 memo to Roosevelt, it was conveyed by Ken to FDR’s envoy that: “Japanese elements desirous of peace are not responsible for the Pacific war, and that those elements might be able to make their will felt if the Anglo-Americans would offer acceptable terms”.

Taylor, in response, reminded Harada that:  “American public opinion still remembers the unprovoked attack on Pearl Harbor. He promised, however, to initiate a friendly investigation of the possibilities for negotiation”.

On April 6, the Apostolic Delegate in Yokohama, Lorenzo Tatewaki Toda, sent a telegram to the Pope, the contents of which were delivered by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) to Roosevelt on April 11, the day before FDR’s sudden death. Toda, a relative of Hirohito, stated to the Pope, “the present is the most favorable moment to conquer the intransigence of the extreme militarists in the interests of a peaceful solution to the war. He promises as soon as possible to send the Holy See a set of conditions, which it may judge acceptable to the Anglo-Americans, and he beseeches the Pope to pray that Japan’s rulers may become convinced of the necessity of an honorable peace”.

After Truman became president, Japanese, through their Minister in Switzerland, asked the Anglo-Americans for cease fire talks through the Soviet Union. All Japan asked for was retaining the emperor as head of state to prevent “Japan’s conversion to Communism”.

OSS chief William Donovan and Undersecretary of State Joseph Grew, America’s ambassador to Japan when Pearl Harbor was attacked and who was interned by the Japanese for seven months before repatriation in a diplomat exchange, are said to have favored pursuing negotiations with Japan.

The American militarists had already convinced Truman to use the bomb. There would be no negotiated surrender by Japan. The heirs of the atomic bomb militarists who surrounded Truman are still with us today. They are bow called “neocons” who advance the “new American century” concept. They are as wrong today as they were on the day America launched the first wartime nuclear attacks. August 6 and 9, 1945 were America’s “days of infamy”.