Voices from Russia

Thursday, 6 August 2015

American Exceptionalism and the Folly of Hiroshima

00 american exceptionalism personified. 060815


Seventy years ago, the world fell under the shadow of nuclear Armageddon, under which it has lived ever since. On 6 August 1945, a USAAF B-29 bomber named the “Enola Gay” dropped the world’s first atomic bomb, innocently named “Little Boy”, on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Survivors’ accounts allow historians to reconstruct what happened on that fateful summer day in 1945.

“Nineteen hundred feet over Hiroshima, a 49-foot diameter star began to form, burning at the heat of 300,000 degrees centigrade, consuming the bomb casing and turning it into a random cloud of charged atoms. Touching the ground, the tremendous energy first made the targets radioactive, and then destroyed them. Shima Clinic, directly below the atomic nova, simply turned to vapour, leaving behind only two concrete pillars. Anything made of carbon… wood… paper… human beings… became shadows of the hypocentre”.

“Little Boy” destroyed two-thirds of the city and instantly killed 80,000 people (40 percent of Hiroshima’s inhabitants). However, tens of thousands of survivors must have envied those who perished right away. Known as “ant-walking alligators”, they didn’t look human. Their skin seared from their skulls, leaving them with no eyes and only a small hole for a mouth. They couldn’t speak, and the sound they made was said to be more horrifying than any scream. They didn’t survive for long and died shortly after the blast, bringing the number of direct casualties of “Little Boy” close to 180,000. Thousands more became hibakusha (explosion-affected), who eventually died from leukaemia and other radiation related diseases. Three days later, on 9 August 1945, the Americans dropped a second atomic bomb on the city of Nagasaki, killing between 50,000 and 100,000 people.

The American use of nuclear weapons against Japanese cities has long been a subject of emotional debate around the world. The excuse given by generations of American politicians and historians is that the terrifying effects of the atomic bombings forced Japan’s immediate and unconditional surrender, saving innumerable lives of both the American GIs and Japanese civilians. However, as early as 1965, historian Gar Alperovitz argued that, although the bombs might have put an end to the war, Japan’s leaders wanted to surrender anyway, and likely would’ve done so before the American invasion planned for 1 November 1945. Therefore, Alperovitz concluded that the bombs’ use was unnecessary.

Indeed, during 1945 the USAAF carried out one of the most devastating bombing campaigns in history. Conventional bombing destroyed 66 Japanese cities… atomic bombs destroyed only two. The firebombing of Tokyo on 9-10 March 1945 remains the single most destructive attack on a city in the history of war. It burned out about 16 square miles of the city. An estimated 120,000 Japanese lost their lives… the single highest death toll of any bombing raid on a city. Ward Wilson, a senior fellow at the British American Security Information Council, wrote in Foreign Policy in 2013, “If you graph the number of people killed in all 68 cities bombed in the summer of 1945, you find that Hiroshima was second in terms of civilian deaths. If you chart the number of square miles destroyed, you find that Hiroshima was fourth. If you chart the percentage of the city destroyed, Hiroshima was 17th. Hiroshima was clearly within the parameters of the conventional attacks carried out that summer”.

On 13 August 1945, Japanese General Anami remarked that the atomic bombings were no more menacing than the firebombing that Japan had endured for months. Wilson asked if the Japanese weren’t concerned with city bombing in general or the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in particular, what were they concerned with? The answer he gives is simple… the USSR. Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, of the University of California at Santa Barbara, seconded this assessment in 2003, “The Soviet entry into the war played a more important role in Japan’s decision to surrender than the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki”.

At the Potsdam conference with Truman and Churchill in late July 1945, Stalin informed the two about his readiness to make good on the promise to enter the war against Japan shortly after victory over Germany. He gave that promise at the Tehran conference in 1943 in exchange for the Allies’ promise to open the Second Front in Europe. Stalin also told his Western counterparts that Tokyo had approached Moscow asking for mediation to end the war on honourable terms. However, Truman had his own plan. The successful test of the atomic bomb in New Mexico a day before Potsdam started convinced Truman that he could end the war without Stalin’s help. Truman hadn’t shared the secret of the Manhattan project with Stalin. It was late in the Potsdam conference that Truman made an oblique reference to the bomb, saying almost in passing that the USA “had a new weapon of unusual destructive force”. To his astonishment, Stalin showed no surprise whatsoever, quipping, “I’m glad to hear it”. Truman later complained to Churchill that Stalin “never asked a question”.

Stalin didn’t have to. He knew more about the bomb than Truman did, who only learned of the Manhattan project upon the death of President Roosevelt in April 1945 when he assumed the presidency. In contrast, Stalin knew about it for two years, courtesy of his mole at Los Alamos, Klaus Fuchs.  What bothered Stalin was that the Americans failed to tell him about the bomb. This fed Stalin’s suspicion of his allies’ true intentions once the war was over. Another snub to Stalin came in the form of the Potsdam Proclamation, demanding the unconditional surrender of Japan. The USA, Britain, and China issued it, and Stalin learned about it only from a press release. The US-drafted ultimatum’s text was such that left Tokyo no option but to reject it. Professor Tsuyoshi Hasegawa pointed up that it’s important to remember, “General Handy issued the order to drop the atomic bombs [note the plural], with the prior approval of [US Secretary of War] Stimson and [US Chief of Staff] Marshall, to General Carl Spaatz, Commander of the US Army Strategic Air Force, on 25 July, one day before they issued the Potsdam Proclamation”.

Before it gave the order, the Target Committee spent months shortlisting the candidate cities for the first atomic bombing. To better assess the effects of the nuclear weapon they looked for cities that had never been bombed before. They discussed the short list as early as May 1945… well before the first test of the new weapon. Hiroshima came in second… after Kyoto… but the personal intervention of Secretary of War Henry Stimson, who had fond memories of a pre-war honeymoon in the beautiful city, spared Japan’s ancient capital. He was also worried that laying nuclear waste to Japan’s intellectual and spiritual capital would push the Japanese away from the West and into the hands of the USSR, a neutral country at the time. Truman seemed to take away from Stimson’s arguments that Kyoto wasn’t as important a military target as Hiroshima.  He wrote in his diary that he agreed with Stimson that the “target will be a purely military one”. However, had Hiroshima been an important military target, it would’ve been most probably bombed before the Target Committee was even set up. Thus, through a terrible misconception, Truman consigned the civilians of Hiroshima to obliteration.

The report of the Hiroshima bombing reached Truman on the USS Augusta on his way back to the United States. He could not hide his excitement, and exclaimed, jumping to his feet, “This is the greatest thing in history”. Nevertheless, the bombing of Hiroshima didn’t immediately lead to Japan’s acceptance of the Potsdam Proclamation.  The day after the bombing, Foreign Minister Shigenori Togo sent a telegram to Ambassador Naotaki Sato in Moscow, enquiring about Moscow’s response to Tokyo’s earlier request for mediation. Only after the Soviet Union declared war on Japan on 9 August 1945, did the all-powerful war party in Tokyo realise that any further resistance would be futile. There are competing theories as to why the Americans wanted to drop the atomic bombs… to pip the USSR to the post in ending the Pacific War and enjoying its spoils… to demonstrate their newly acquired exceptional power to Stalin… to test the new weapon under real-life conditions. Whatever the reason, the civilians of Hiroshima and Nagasaki paid a terrible price for what President Obama calls “American Exceptionalism”.

6 August 2015

Sputnik International



Wednesday, 17 October 2012

American Students Choose Obama in Mock Presidential Election


The votes are in! Students in the USA chose President Barack Obama as the winner of the upcoming presidential election in a mock vote held by Scholastic, one of the largest publishers of children’s books and magazines in America. Elliott Rebhun, editor and publisher of Scholastic’s Social Studies Classroom Magazines, said in an interview with CNN, “Students made their voices heard once again, and it proved to be a tight race”. Scholastic has been conducting mock US presidential elections since 1940, and this year Obama, the Democratic nominee, received 51 percent of the vote, while former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate, received 45 percent. Four percent of students also cast votes for other candidates, such as their mothers and fathers, Republicans John McCain and Vice Presidential Nominee Paul Ryan, and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Scholastic invited people under the age of 18 to cast a vote for the president by voting on the organisation’s website or mailing in a paper ballot that students could find in one of its classroom magazines. Almost 250,000 students throughout the USA in elementary through high school participated in the Scholastic Student Vote, which took place from 15 August until the online poll closed on 10 October. A majority of students who live in swing states critical in the election, such as Colorado, Florida, Nevada, and Ohio, chose Obama, while Romney won Virginia by a slim margin in the mock election. The results of Scholastic’s mock elections have reflected the correct outcome in all but two presidential races. Students voted for Thomas E Dewey, who lost the election to Harry S Truman in 1948, and they chose Richard Nixon, who lost to John F Kennedy in 1960. Rebhun said, “The Scholastic Student Vote shows us that students are engaged and excited about the election, and provided classroom teachers with a tool to bring current events to life and teach students about our country’s democratic process”.

18 October 2012 (MSK)



« Previous Page

Blog at WordPress.com.