If you did not notice the great anniversary in United States history on August 6th, don’t worry. You’re not alone.
If you did not pause to acknowledge the momentous achievement on August 8th so many years ago, you are probably like many other Americans. Most people see these hot lazy days of summer drift by each year without the slightest awareness of the importance they signify in their national collective memory.
But these days are important to many millions of people across the world. I explain this to my students every year, because they have to be in school on these days. My district starts back to school in early August, so we are unusual, and I would say we are lucky in that they have history classes on these anniversaries.
Every year I pause to ask my students about the great anniversary of August 6th and August 9th.
Every year I ask them if they know that it was on August 6th that the United States achieved a status never before known by any nation in the history of nations.
On August 6th, 1945 the United States achieved a position of power never before seen in any human civilization anywhere in the history of human civilizations.
On August 6th, 1945 the United States defeated its most terrible and ferocious enemy it had ever seen.
But there is no celebration of this.
There are no statues. There are no parades.
On August 6th the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The first attack was followed by a second attack on Nagasaki on August 8th.
In Hiroshima, the explosion of Fat Man, the nickname for the bomb, killed 20,000 Japanese soldiers and 126,000 Japanese civilians.
The absence of any significant memorial of these attacks every year is itself a historical lesson. The silence is revealing. For if the dropping of the bomb was necessary and right, and the victory it achieved was moral and made possible by the destruction of these bombs, then surely there would be a proper memory of the events every year. Their sheer magnitude of importance would logically dictate that they be celebrated.
If there is no remembrance of these events then it suggests that they were not as honorable or necessary as they were initially described.
When announcing the attack to the American people, President Truman described the city of Hiroshima as a military base.
“The World will note that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima a military base. That was because we wished in this first attack to avoid, insofar as possible, the killing of civilians..”(President Harry S. Truman in a radio speech to the Nation, August 9, 1945).
It is hard to imagine that he did not understand that he had just presided over the destruction of a city and not a military base. While most Americans probably could not find Hiroshima on a map, and most likely never heard the name of this massive city center before destroying it, the idea that it was a military base was never challenged.
Indeed even today most Americans do not consider the atomic attacks as unjustified. They are commonly considered essential to ending the Japanese War.
But if history matters it does not follow that these attacks were necessary nor were they justified.
The Japanese government had been negotiating terms for surrender for a year prior to the attacks with the Soviet Union. The United States would not negotiate, insisting on “unconditional surrender.” This stance by the US may seem justified, except when we consider the only condition the Japanese maintained for their surrender. They wanted to jeep the Emperor.
If the United States agreed to allow Japanese to keep her Emperor, then lives would be saved and the war would end immediately. But the United States said no to this consideration, dropped two bombs and slaughtered hundreds of thousands of people.
If the United States would have allowed a single condition then the unborn children of Hiroshima and Nagasaki would not have been exposed to the radiation that American scientists knew would be released in the attack. These children were later born without arms or legs, and some had internal organs on the outside of their bodies.
If the United States would allow one person, the Emperor, to remain in possession of the title of Emperor but without power all the destruction would have been avoided because the Japan’s would have surrendered.
But you don’t need to take my word on this. The weapon was not needed to win the war in any significant military measure.
Harry Truman’s Chief of Staff declared that, “The use of this barbarous weapon…was of no material assistance in our war against Japan.”
The National Museum of the US Navy says that “the vast destruction wreaked by the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the loss of 135,000 people made little impact on the Japanese military.”
The U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey reported came to the following conclusion: “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.“
And the Supreme Allied Commander of our forces in WW2, Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “Japan was already defeated and dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary.”
And then there is that one condition the Japanese had for surrender: the Emperor.
After the war the Japanese were allowed to maintain their Emperor. In fact there is an Emperor of Japan even today.
So if the only condition for surrender was not an issue for the United States, and all the military authorities before during and after the attacks say it was unnecessary, and there is not memorial to this great victory, it stands to reason that the murder of hundreds of thousands of civilians was not required but was a conscious and immoral choice.
It was one of the worse crimes in humanity.
The General in charge of dropping the Atomic Bomb, General Curtis LeMay said, “If we had lost the war we would have been prosecuted as war criminals.”
The dropping of the Atomic bomb was unnecessary, immoral and criminal. There is no annual memorial to the attacks in the United States because the history is too damning to confront. Unfortunately it is this denial of history that maintains the myth that the attacks were somehow necessary, and continues the myth that nuclear weapons are somehow essential to our defense. The cost of not knowing our history is to place a terrible moral and economic burden on future generations. The lesson of history in this case is to confront the wrings of the past, teach the mistakes that were made and use them to guide us to not repeat them in the future.
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