It is Time to End the Myth that Dropping the Atomic Bomb Ended the War

In your July 16th article, “Atomic Bomb Test Marks 70th Birthday Amid Fallout,” Duane Hughes, retired physicist, says the “history of the Trinity test is important because it helped end World War II and set the stage for a Cold War arms race.”  No doubt the testing and use of atomic bombs set the stage for the Cold War arms race, but that we needed to drop the bombs to end the war is an ongoing American myth that needs to end now.

When the US broke the Japanese code, the US government was aware that on July 13, 1945, Japan had contacted the Soviet Union to express its desire to surrender and end the war. President Truman was aware three months before he ordered the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that, according to Swiss and Portuguese sources, the Japanese government, knowing they could not win and wanted to begin the process of surrendering. The one thing the Japanese wanted was to retain the emperor.  Presidential advisor, Jimmy Byrnes, convinced Truman that dropping the bombs would allow the US to dictate the terms to end the war and let the Soviets and the world know we had the “bomb.”

What was the reaction of America’s top military leaders who led the allies to victory?  General Douglas Macarthur, commander of the allied forces in the Far East during the war, stated he was never even consulted about using the bomb against Japan.  According to Norman Cousins, consultant to MacArthur during the occupation of Japan, MacArthur stated that had he been consulted, he would have said that he saw no military justification for using the bomb and that if the US would simply have agreed to allow the emperor to stay the war might have been over weeks earlier.

General Eisenhower, when briefed on the atomic bomb tests in New Mexico and of their planned use against Japan, expressed his belief that there was no need to use the bomb because Japan was already defeated, and that the US should not shock the world by the use of a weapon that was no longer necessary to save American lives. General “Hap” Arnold, commander of the Army Air Corps, and General Omar Bradley shared Eisenhower’s opinion.  Perhaps one of the strongest critics against using the bomb was Admiral Leahy, Chief of Staff to both FDR and Truman. Leahy said, “It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan.” In Leahy’s opinion by dropping the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, “we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages.” Even former President Herbert Hoover weighed in telling Truman in May 1945, the if he were President he would, “make a shortwave broadcast to the people of Japan-tell them they can have their Emperor if they surrender, that it will not mean unconditional surrender except for the militarist-you’ll get a peace with Japan-you’ll have both wars over.”  In spite of this considered and widespread opposition by senior military officials who prosecuted the war and from a former president, Truman ordered Hiroshima and Nagasaki be bombed. On August 9 the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki and when the Japanese government did surrender, they were permitted to keep the emperor.

Hiding behind the myth may make it easier to accept the fact that we used these diabolical weapons in a senseless slaughter of hundreds of thousands of people.  There is perhaps a reason why the US government has not leveled with the American people. If the people continue to believe that the use of the A bombs was necessary to end the war and saved the lives, of perhaps, a million members of the armed forces than their use seems justified and will make it easier for the government to make its case that there is a legitimate use for these cataclysmic weapons.

Let’s end the myth and accept responsibility for what our nation did.

Barry Ladendorf, Board of Directors, Veterans For Peace


For more, check out Peter Kuznick expand on this myth and more. Kuznick is Professor of History and Director of the Nuclear Studies Institute at American University

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