Thursday, August 06, 2015

On this day (how could we, how could we?)

I am sharing this email with the permission of its author, the venerable civil rights attorney Guy Saperstein, whom I am privileged to call my friend and correspondent.

(Photos via Wikipedia and CommonDreams, added by me, DNT.)

Exactly 70 years ago, on the morning of August 6, 1945, the Enola Gay, a Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber, flew over Hiroshima and dropped the first atomic bomb on humans. The bomb exploded 2,000' above the ground and five square miles of Hiroshima was completely destroyed, incinerating and killing 90,000 people; 70,000 more people would die soon after from burns and radiation. Nearly all the killed people were civilians.

Three days later, on August 9, 1945, the United States would drop a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki, killing 70,000 civilians.

President Truman justified the use of nuclear weapons on "military necessity"---the need to avoid an invasion of Japan which would have cost American military lives, but, in fact, every one of Truman's military advisors and his Commander of the U.S. Army in the Far East, Douglas MacArthur, and Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, advised Truman that using nuclear weapons was not necessary to defeat the Japanese, who had a delegation in Washington D.C. negotiating for peace, and expressly advised Truman against using the bombs.

Historic records of Truman's administration later would reveal that use of nuclear weapons was never directed at Japan:  Truman's Secretary of State, James Byrnes, had convinced Truman that the Soviet Union would emerge from WWII as America's only rival and we needed to show them we had nuclear weapons and were willing to use them. Dropping the bombs on Japan was an attempt to dictate post-war terms to the USSR, not defeat Japan.  It was the beginning of the Cold War and the greatest single act of terrorism in the history of the world.

All of this has been documented by historians, most notably Gar Alperovitz in two books: Atomic Diplomacy and The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb.  Alperovitz' scholarship has stood up for 40 years.

Of course, this is not the version taught in schools and not the version popular in public conversation in America.  America doesn't do introspection.  America doesn't do contrition.  America fights terrorism, but never looks at its own acts of terrorism.

But maybe we could look at it today.


  1. Not sure what exactly qualifies as "the greatest single act of terrorism in the history of the world," since the firebombing of wooden-structure-filled Tokyo killed more people than the atomic bomb did. But yes, the U.S. isn't interested in examining its own crimes.

    1. Lisa, I believe Guy was referring to that--to the fact that the US does not "do contrition"--by pointing out the singular nature of the Hiroshima attack. In that single act, 90K civilians were killed instantly and 70K more would die shortly thereafter. The firebombing of Tokyo, while indisputably horrific, involved numerous attacks that took place over some nine months between November 1944 and August 1945.

      Many have a tendency to point to 9/11 as "the greatest single terror attack on American soil" because it involved a day during which over three thousand Americans, almost entirely civilian, were killed in a single act by attackers who were making a political point. Guy is saying, here were many, many times that number of people, almost entirely civilian too, killed in a single act by attackers who were making a political point (that point, primarily aimed at the USSR, being that the US had nukes and were not afraid to use them on civilians).