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Historians like Gar Alperovitz and Martin Sherwin have known for many years, based on declassified U.S. government documents that Japan was going to surrender in 1945 even if the atomic bombs were no dropped and that no invasion would ever have been necessary. Their only condition was that the United States "guaranteed the safety of the Emperor Hirohito," and in the end the Truman administration agreed to this rather than prosecuting him as a war criminal (Sherwin xviii). At the time in the summer of 1945, all the top military and civilian officials of the administration except Secretary of State James Byrnes had already advised Truman to accept the Japanese surrender on this condition. Yet when the Potsdam Declaration was issued in July 1945, Truman and Byrnes removed the condition that would have allowed the emperor to remain in power. As Herwin put it, "for forty years, the American public had been misled about the decision-making process," as indeed most of it still is even today (Sherwin xv). From secret documents declassified over the last thirty years, Alperovitz and Sherwin also proved conclusively that Truman, Byrnes and Winston Churchill regarded the atomic bomb as an instrument of diplomatic coercion to win concessions from the Soviets in Eastern Europe and Asia, and that they dropped it on Japan as a demonstration of resolve that they had the will to use it on Russia. Americans like to see themselves as the "good guys" in history and still regard World War II as "the good war" that destroyed fascism in Europe and Asia, and do not like to imagine that racism, brutality, and cynical calculations of postwar power politics were also present on their side, but the record shows this was indeed the case with the decision to use the atomic bombs on Japan (Sherwin xvi). Therefore, the official version put forward in 1947 by Henry Stimson that the atomic bombs were used to save American lives, was incomplete at best, for other factors such as racism, ending the war before the Russians occupied more territory in Asia and using the threat of nuclear weapons in coercive diplomacy were all important factors.
Henry Stimson and the Official Explanation
In his 1947 Harper's Magazine article, former Secretary of War Henry Stimson asserted that the atomic bombs were used on Japan to end the war and avoid an invasion that might have cost up to a million casualties, and this was the official position of the U.S. government. He hardly mentioned the Soviets or the use of the bomb in atomic diplomacy, although he was always concerned about the problems of postwar control of nuclear energy once these weapons had been used. Stimson had written that "there was as yet no indication of any weakening in the Japanese determination to fight rather than accept unconditional surrender. If she should persist in her fight to the end, she had still a great military force" (Stimson 9). For this reason, his primary concern was using the atomic bomb to end the war quickly and decisively. The Japanese army still had two million troops in the home islands and it had not been destroyed like the navy and air force. Instead, it had lost relatively few casualties in fighting a series of bitter defensive battles on the Pacific islands, and still occupied China and most of Asia. Stimson thought that an invasion and occupation of Japan would lead to huge numbers of casualties, perhaps up to one million, and that the Japanese would continue to use kamikaze tactics and continue to fight to the death. Yet Stimson also added that "Japan is not a nation composed wholly of mad fanatics of an entirely different mentality from ours" (Stimson 11), and he recommended that it be allowed to surrender while retaining a constitutional monarchy. From documents declassified in the past thirty years, historians no know that this was an almost unanimous recommendation to President Truman from most American political and military leaders. This recommendation was not included in the Potsdam Declaration in July 1945 and the Japanese government rejected it as "unworthy of public notice" (Stimson 13). In spite of this, Stimson still argued that the use of the atomic bombs tipped the political balance in Japan in favor of the liberal peace faction.
Racism, Revenge and the War without Mercy in the Pacific
Racism on both sides was certainly a factor in the Pacific War, right up to the time the atomic bombs were used. Battles in the island hopping campaign were fought without mercy, with few prisoners taken, while the American public was also eager for revenge for Pearl Harbor and the Bataan Death March. Even before Hiroshima and Nagasaki, over sixty Japanese cities were firebombed into oblivion, including a raid on Tokyo on March 9, 1945 that created not simply a firestorm but a lake of fire -- a true hell on earth. For the U.S. And Britain, calls for the total extermination against the Japanese were routine, at both the popular and elite levels, as were depictions of the Japanese are monkey-men. In this theater of the Second World War "it is easy to forget the visceral emotions and the sheer race hate that gripped virtually all participants" with led to the conflict becoming literally merciless and remorseless (Dower 55-56). German atrocities and genocide against the Jews, Gypsies and Slavs were known during the war, although they were not played up in the Western media and popular culture nearly as much as Japanese war crimes against civilians and prisoners of war, at least not until after Germany was defeated. Even publications like the New York Times and New Yorker regularly used terms like "Japs," "Nips" and "yellow monkeys," as did almost all civilian and military officials. In 1943, half of all American soldiers surveyed believed that the Japanese would have to be totally exterminated to bring peace to the world, while Admiral William Halsey simply told his men that he expected them to kill all "Japs" and make more "monkey meat." General Sir Thomas Blamey told the Australian troops in 1942 that the Japanese were subhuman beasts who could hardly comprehend anything except being killed, and in 1945 Elliott Roosevelt stated that at least half the Japanese civilians would have to be killed off by the bombing campaign (Dower 72-73). American anthropologists, sociologists and psychologists joined in by describing the Japanese as naturally cruel, bullying, sadistic, aggressive, mentally and emotionally stunted, and lacking individual personalities. Liberal scientists like J. Robert Oppenheimer sounded callous in official documents, reporting casually that the bomb was unique in that "it detonation involves the production of radiation and radioactive substances" that would be ten billion times high than the lethal dose and exterminate all life on a square mile radius (Oppenheimer to Gen. Farrell, May 11, 1945). American newspapers celebrated the power and destructiveness of the new weapon in triumphalist terms when the government finally revealed the secret, and even a liberal paper like the San Francisco Chronicle ran in insert story under its headline about Hiroshima being obliterated titled "Japs Cancel Rail Service near Target" (San Francisco Chronicle, August 7, 1945). Of course, the city itself had been 'cancelled', as Nagasaki would be by the plutonium bomb two days later.
Atomic Diplomacy and the Nascent Cold War
Gar Alperovitz has a strong argument that the bombs were used for atomic diplomacy against the Soviets because his 1995 article in Foreign Policy was based on recently declassified documents, including Henry Stimson's secret records, that the general public had no way of knowing about in the 1940s. Most people today still do not know about these records, which is why they still accept the official version of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at face value. Nor has the mass media ever done a good job at covering the new information discovered by historians in recent decades. This shows beyond any doubt that Truman, Stimson, Secretary of State James Byrnes and other civilian and military leaders were thinking in 1945 that the atomic bomb would be an instrument of coercion against the Soviets. In May 1945, Truman also told Joseph Davies, a former ambassador to the Soviet Union, that one reason he was delaying the Potsdam Conference with Stalin was that "the test was set for June, but had been postponed until July," indicated that he wanted to know that the atomic bomb worked before meeting with the Soviets (Davies Diary, May 21, 1945). At Potsdam, Truman and Byrnes were openly excited by the successful test of the atomic bomb and the possibility that it would "a master card" and "royal straight flush" in diplomacy to coerce and restrain the Soviets (Alperovitz 31). Even before he departed for Germany Truman stated very bluntly that he intended to use the atomic bomb to intimidate the Russians when he said that "I'll have a hammer on those boys" (Alperovitz 30). Prime Minister Churchill was also very excited when he learned that…[continue]
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