Peter Kuznick: Why Did Americans Accept Barbaric Slaughter of Japanese Civilians?

Yves here. I am glad that Paul Jay decided to cover the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This was a horrific episode that gets less attention as time passes. It’s too often glossed over that Japan was already prostrated due to firebombings of Japanese cities and that Japan had been suing for peace for months.

One important account of the normalization of mass killings of civilians in World War II comes in the excellent but grim book Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century by Jonathan Glover. Glover did a considerable amount of archival research to find out who made the decision to drop the A-bombs on Japanese cities. All the key players, from Truman on down, acted as if the decision has already been made somewhere else, that they had to defer to the question having been settled away from them.

By Paul Jay. Originally published at

Paul Jay

Hi, I’m Paul Jay, and welcome to podcast. On the seventy-fifth anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6th and August 9th, 1945, I think it’s important to understand how the mass killing of civilians in war became acceptable, and how U.S. public opinion and media, on the whole, supported the use of weapons of mass destruction.

Now joining us to discuss this is Peter Kuznick. He’s a professor of history and director of the Nuclear Studies Institute at American University and is the author of “Beyond the Laboratory Scientists as Political Activists in the 1930s America” and with filmmaker Oliver Stone, he co-authored the twelve-part Showtime documentary film, series, and book, both titled “The Untold History of the United States.” Thanks for joining us, Peter.

Peter Kuznick

Happy to be with you, Paul

Paul Jay

So my understanding is that, more or less in the 19th century, even up until the First World War, as a tactic of war, strategy of war, the mass killing of civilians was more or less considered outside the bounds of acceptable warfare. Now, of course, civilians got killed and there was a certain amount of targeting, but mostly armies fought armies. But in the Second World War, that really changes where civilians on a mass basis become targets. And it’s not just by any means the Nazis that do it. It’s the British and the Americans as well.

And so this targeting of civilians before the use of the atomic bomb, I think, created the conditions to help make it acceptable to make the decision to drop the bomb. Can you talk a little bit about the history of the development of this large scale killing of civilians and then up to leading us to the decision to drop the bomb?

Peter Kuznick

You’re correct to say that this really is a phenomenon that occurs during World War Two. And that’s partly because even in World War I, air warfare was just taking off. In World War I there was some bombing of civilians. WWI is really the first time that airplanes are used to drop bombs on a large scale. And that happens during World War I. By the end of the war that was happening much more commonly in the interwar period. The British were using bombings to secure their empire in places like Iraq in the 1920s.

But still, at the start of the war, there was a general sense that killing civilians deliberately was off-limits. The US State Department in 1937 condemned this and said “Public opinion in the US regards such methods as the slaughter of civilian populations, in particular women and children – as barbarous. Such acts are a violation of the elementary principles of those standards of human conduct which have been developed as an essential part of modern civilization.” The State Department was very clear in its moral condemnation. Franklin Roosevelt, when war broke out in Europe in 1939, called upon the combatants to refrain from this “inhuman barbarism,” but it was already starting.

The most interesting comment that I’ve seen about it at the time, before the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, was by Dwight MacDonald, founder of Partisan Review, Politics, and other publications. MacDonald says in the summer of 1945 before Hiroshima, “I remember when Franco’s planes bombed Barcelona for the first time. What a chill of unbelieving horror and indignation went through our nerves at the idea of hundreds, yes, hundreds of civilians being killed. It seems impossible that that was less than 10 years before. Franco’s Air Force was a toy compared to the sky-filling bombing fleets deployed in this war. And the hundreds killed in Barcelona have become the thousands killed in Rotterdam and Warsaw, the tens of thousands in Hamburg and Cologne, the hundreds of thousands in Dresden and the millions in Tokyo. A month ago, the papers reported that over one million Japanese men, women, and children perished in the fires set by a single B-29 raid on Tokyo – one million. I saw no expression of horror or indignation in any American newspaper or magazine of sizable circulation. We have grown callous to massacre and the concept of guilt has spread to include whole populations. Our hearts are hardened, our nerves steady, our imaginations under control as we read the morning paper. King Mithridates is said to have immunized himself against poison by taking small doses, which he increased slowly. So the gradually increasing horrors of the last decade have made each of us, to some extent, a moral Mithridates, immunized against human sympathy.” So that was the process.

Paul Jay

And tell us again who that was, and when?

Peter Kuznick

Dwight MacDonald, a very, very brilliant progressive political analyst, in the 1930s and -40s, and that was the reality. In the beginning, people were horrified that hundreds of people would be killed. By the end of the war, we had grown so callous. The Germans start it, and the British retaliate and say they’re going to pay them back tenfold, targeting civilian populations.

The reality was that bombing was very, very inaccurate during the beginning of World War II, especially against heavily defended targets. In 1941, for example, the British reported that only 22% of bombers got within five miles of targets and only 7% got within five miles of heavily defended targets. Therefore the British, who couldn’t do the precise bombing, would do mass urban area bombing. The interesting thing is that the US avoided that until the end of ’43. The US went after transportation sites, industrial sites, key strategic nodal points in the German economy, and war machine. But we avoided urban bombing because it was so offensive to our ethics at the time. And that begins to change at the end of ’43 and ’44. But still, for the most part in the European war, we avoided targeting civilian populations. Of course, it happens in Dresden and that’s horrific and we regret that. But overall, we avoided it.

Paul Jay

The British were doing massive fire bombings of German cities and that seemed to help create acceptability to doing such.

Peter Kuznick

Some acceptability for the United States not really yet. The attitude was still that this was horrendous and inhumane. For example, General Ira Eaker comments: “Hap Arnold, the head of the Air Force, feared the reaction of the US public to urban-area bombing of women and children. He pointed to a large percentage of German people in this country and those who felt we should have not have become involved in a war with Germany at all. But 90 percent of Americans would have killed every Japanese.”

So there was a big difference in attitude between the European war, where we showed some restraint and the Pacific War where we showed no restraint. In fact, Major General Haywood Hansell, the head of the 21st bomber command that was doing the bombing in Japan, resisted orders to abandon precision bombing at the end of’44. He didn’t want to bomb urban areas. So Hap Arnold sacked him and installed General Curtis LeMay as commander of the 21st Bomber Command and LeMay had no such compunction. The large-scale bombing on the night of March 9th through 10th when 324 aircraft attacked Tokyo and killed probably one hundred thousand people, destroyed 16 square miles, injured a million, at least 41,000 seriously injured, more than a million homeless. The air reached eighteen hundred degrees Fahrenheit. LeMay says that the victims were scorched and boiled and baked to death. He referred to this as his masterpiece.

Paul Jay

So Roosevelt must have had to OK this.

Peter Kuznick

This is while Roosevelt was still alive – a month before his death. What we know is that the political leaders did not micromanage the military side of this. They put this responsibility in the hands of Gen. Arnold and people in Tokyo. But Roosevelt bears responsibility for this and not just Roosevelt. Robert McNamara was involved in this planning in the Pacific War – he was on Lemay’s staff. And Lemay said to them, if we lose this war, you know, we’re all going to be tried as war criminals because of the strategic bombing. and MacNamara has acknowledged that and said that they should have been, because of the killing, targeting Japanese cities. We’re using mostly incendiary bombs by the end of the war three-quarters of the bombs were incendiaries.

And they were designed to burn down Japanese paper cities, paper and bamboo cities, and they succeeded: destruction reached 99.5% in the city of Toyama. However, and I write about this in “Untold History,” the Toyama city leaders invited us to come to Toyama a couple of years ago and we met with some of the victims of the US bombing. We did some big public events and they actually began a bombing museum in Toyama, based on our visit there. But the U.S. firebombed more than one hundred Japanese cities.

And it gets so bad that in June of 1945, Secretary of War Stimson says to Truman, I don’t want to have the US get the reputation of outdoing Hitler in atrocities. Brigadier General Bonner Fellers, who was an aide to MacArthur, described the bombing of Japan in a confidential memo as one of the most ruthless and barbaric killings of noncombatants in all history. But clearly, the policy in Japan was very different and it went against everything decent that the US was supposed to be doing. It wasn’t just the US, of course it was the British as well. Freeman Dyson, the renowned British physicist, was part of the tiger force fleet of 300 British British bombers and was set to go over to Okinawa.

And he says, “I found this continuing slaughter of defenseless Japanese even more sickening than the slaughter of well-defended Germans. But still, I didn’t quit. by that time I had been at war so long I can hardly remember peace. No living poet had words to describe that emptiness of the soul which allowed me to go on killing without hatred and without remorse. Shakespeare understood it. He gave Macbeth the words, ‘I am in blood stepped in so that should I wait no more returning were as tedious as going over.’ And that that was what we did.” So, yes, we did lower the moral threshold. Strategic bombing and pervasive racism lowered the moral threshold. And when we did drop the atomic bombs, there was almost no expression of regret and remorse. Not in terms of the killing of Japanese civilians, women and children.

Paul Jay

Was it seen as just an extension of the firebombing?

Peter Kuznick

On a moral level, I think it was. The US media reacted very strongly to the atomic bombings. It was, as H.V. Kaltenborn says in his evening address on August 6, in his national radio address: “We’ve unleashed a Frankenstein and someday the weapons that we’re using against Japan will come back to haunt us; that we’ll be victimized ourselves. And that was the refrain that was widely repeated by the American media at the time – August sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, up to the end of the war.

That, as Edward R. Murrow says, there’s no sense of exhilaration and elation over the end of the war. There’s this sense of remorse and foreboding and the fear that eventually we’re going to be a victim of the same horrific weapons that we’re using now.

And what you see is that newspaper after newspaper, in the city of Minneapolis or Denver, they have a map of their city and they show what would happen in terms of the layers of destruction if a bomb the size of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs were dropped on their cities. So that was fascinating. There is none of that attitude of, Wow, we gave it to ’em. Truman in his initial statement about the atomic bomb said “This is revenge for Pearl Harbor” – that’s what he talks about initially. Then he later changed to the idea that we had to drop the bomb as the only way to avoid an invasion. Hundreds of thousands of Americans and millions of Japanese were killed in the invasion, and that’s why the bombings were necessary and humane and benevolent.

Paul Jay

What does this tell us about a very complex person of FDR who is seen as this sort of progressive visionary? Certainly in defense of private property and capitalism, as he said, but, heading towards a kind of social democracy, when you see what he was trying to achieve. That being said, this all had to happen under his watch. The development of the bomb and the fire-bombings are as bad or worse than the actual destruction caused by a nuclear bomb. What does it tell us about who Roosevelt was?

Peter Kuznick

I don’t know what it tells us about Roosevelt, being Roosevelt. I know what Roosevelt said about using the atomic bombs. He was very ambivalent about it, he talked about it. Initially, US develops the bomb under Roosevelt as a deterrent against the German bomb. And if we go back to that early history after the Germans split the Uranium atom in December of 1938, scientists knew that meant theoretically the capability of developing atomic bombs, but the American military was not interested in what that represented because they thought that it would take years and this war bomb, and this new weapon wouldn’t be ready in this war, and so they wanted to focus on other things. The ones who got the United States to build the bomb were the emigres, the physicists who had escaped from Nazi occupied Europe and had come to the United States and were terrified of what it would mean if Hitler got ahold of atomic bombs.

So they tried to pressure American leaders to develop the bomb, but Americans were not interested. That was why on July 16th, 1939, Leo Szilard and Eugene Wigner, two brilliant Hungarian physicists, went out to see Einstein, who was vacationing in Peconic, Long Island and told Einstein that the Germans had split the uranium atom, Einstein didn’t even know. And Einstein wrote that famous letter to Roosevelt urging the US to begin the bomb project and it got off the ground very, very slowly. It doesn’t really take shape until the end of 1941 and the beginning of 1942 with the establishment of the Manhattan Project.

And it was because, the idea was that the bomb would be a deterrent against a German bomb. There was no thought initially to using the bomb against Japan because we knew Japan did not have the technological scientific ability at that point to develop their own bombs.

Paul Jay

Ellsberg writes in Doomsday Machine, somewhere in the 42-43 period, I believe the Americans find out that Hitler is not building a bomb. One of the theories is that when they try to test one of these bombs, it might set the entire atmosphere on fire. And Hitler actually decides it’s not worth the risk to set the entire world on fire.

Peter Kuznick

It’s a little different. What happened was Arthur Holly Compton told Oppenheimer to develop a brain trust in the summer of 42′ and Oppenheimer, Bethe, Teller and other luminaries went out to Berkeley and they were doing their deliberations. And during that, they all froze in terror because they realized that an atomic bomb could either ignite all the nitrogen in the atmosphere or the hydrogen in the seas and set the world on fire so they stop what they’re doing. Oppenheimer gets on a train, rushes out to see Arthur Holly Compton, who is vacationing in Michigan, and lays this out to him. And Compton says, “better to live in slavery to the Nazis than to bring down the final curtain on mankind”. And they swallowed the bomb project, they go back out to Berkeley and they realized they didn’t account for all the heat that would be absorbed by radiation it’s complicated. But they realize that the odds of blowing up the world were only three in a million. They say those odds are acceptable and so they go back and they continue the bomb project.

Hitler actually did begin it in 42′. Paul Hardtack, who had been a Rutherford student, alerted the German war office in April 42′ to the possibility of making atomic bombs and they began the project. But then Hitler and Speer decided that rather than spend so many resources on a weapon that wouldn’t be available for another two years or more, maybe not in this war, they focused instead on the V1 and V2 rockets. The debate there is whether Heisenberg was head of the cars of Vilhelm Institute, actually was undermining the bomb project deliberately, as he later claimed. But we find out in late 44′ that the Germans aren’t developing a bomb,

Paul Jay

And that does not stop the U.S. from continuing to develop theirs once it’s known the Germans are not?

Peter Kuznick

No, in fact, Oppenheimer says that at that point they sped it up faster than ever because the pressure was to have it ready for when Truman met with Stalin at Potsdam. And so Oppenheimer said, we will work around the clock at breakneck speed to have it ready for Potsdam. One of the things about it is that, when they found out that Germany was not developing a bomb, only one scientist left the Manhattan Project, and that was Joseph Rotblat, a wonderful man who later gets the Nobel Peace Prize.

And Rotblat left on principle when he found out. But it was also Rotblat who Leslie Groves said, Groves shocked Rotblat over dinner in March of ’44 when he said, you realize, of course, that the main purpose of this project is to subdue the Russians. I mean, Groves was clear about that, that the bomb project was designed as a tool against the Soviet Union, he later said, “There was never from about two weeks from the time I took charge of this project any illusion my part that Russia was our enemy and the project was conducted on that basis”.

Paul Jay

And the scientists went along with it based on this, even though they’d all gotten into it because they thought they were going to stop Hitler from having a bomb.

Peter Kuznick

Well, the scientists at some point, the momentum of doing it just carries them away. Not all the scientists, because many of them urged the government not to use the bomb. In fact, Leo Szilard circulated a petition after they formed committees that met in Chicago. And in June of 45′, the Frank Committee, headed by James Frank, said that even if the United States develops the bomb, which we probably shouldn’t use because it’s going to lead to an uncontrollable arms race with the Soviet Union and put the world in mortal danger.

And then they blocked them from circulating that statement. And so Szilard drew up his own petition and says, we’re opening the door to an era of slaughter on an unimaginable scale. He said these weapons can be made as big and powerful as people wanted. And that’s what they understood for quite some time, is back in ’42 that, Edward Teller said to the other luminaries and Oppenheimer’s group, “let’s not waste our time on the atomic bomb, it’s trivial. Let’s immediately go for the Super bomb”, and Oppenheimer briefs the members of the interim committee on May 31st, America’s top political and military leaders and says that within three years the US will likely have weapons between seven hundred and seven thousand times as powerful as the Hiroshima bomb. And we knew that we went into this with our eyes wide open. And that’s what I call the apocalyptic narrative because Truman understood this better than anybody in his own primitive way.

Truman writes that he first got seriously briefed on the bomb by James Byrnes and on his first day in office on April 13th. And Truman writes that Byrnes told me this is a weapon great enough to destroy the whole world. Truman gets a fuller briefing on the bombings from Stimson and Groves, Secretary Stimson and General Groves, head of the Manhattan Project on April 25th, after which he writes, Truman writes, “Simpson says gravely that he didn’t know whether we should or could use the bomb because he was afraid that it was so powerful it could end up destroying the whole world. I felt the same fears as he and Groves continue to talk about it when I read Groves 24 page report”.

And then the kicker for me is on July 5th when Truman is at Potsdam and he gets the full briefing and how powerful a bomb tested on Alamogordo was, and Truman says, “We’ve discovered the most terrible weapon in history. This may be the fire destruction prophecy and the Euphrates Valley era after Noha’s ark, not a more powerful bomb, but the fire destruction and still knowing that Truman proceeds to use it, knowing there are alternatives, knowing the Japanese are defeated, knowing that they’re trying to surrender, knowing that the Soviets are about to come in, that the Japanese will certainly surrender then, he goes ahead and he uses this in precisely the way he was warned was most likely to trigger an arms race between the US and the Soviets, that could spell the doom of all life on our planet. Truman is not a bloodthirsty evil individual, but his actions certainly are incomprehensible from an ethical standpoint.

Paul Jay

Well, trying to make them comprehensible, what motivates it? The Soviet Union does not have the bomb at that point. There was the opportunity to close it all down after the Second World War and not enter this world of potential, even imminent, total annihilation.

One of the things that Ellsberg talks about now is how much the commercial interests of what Eisenhower called the military-industrial complex, that a lot of the impetus for developing all kinds of weaponry, including nuclear weaponry, but also the impetus for creating this Cold War, that there was a commercial imperative. That was one of the things that drove it. Do you agree with that?

Peter Kuznick

I agree with it, but I consider that less than the military and strategic imperatives. You know, certainly, during the bomb project in World War Two, the commercial motives were not driving force at all. Commercial interests are not part of the decision to use the bomb and the military-industrial complex does certainly play an important role in the development of American armaments and American research and the misdirection of American scientific research at the universities in the laboratories after the war. And I think that’s all very important.

And you could talk about the commercial interests in the sense that so many of the top leaders during World War Two and after with these dollars a year, men who came from Wall Street. I mean, if I did an accounting at one point about all the people who were the main planners of the Cold War policy who came out of Wall Street, whether it’s a Forrestal, I mean, you go through the list, almost all of them came from that world. So the way they saw the world was a banker’s worldview in developing an American empire. But that, to my mind, doesn’t really explain the use of the bombs in World War Two, because American leaders knew, full well, that there were two ways to end the war without using the atomic bombs. And they were very clear about this and they were explicit about it.

And the first way was to tell the Japanese they could keep the emperor because the main stumbling block to Japanese surrender was the idea that the emperor would be tried as a war criminal. Now, the emperor to them was a deity to most Japanese. MacArthur’s Southwest Pacific Command issued a background briefing the summer of 45′ that said execution of the emperor to them would be comparable to the crucifixion of Christ to us, all would fight to die like ants to stop it. Leahy, Stimpson Forestal, almost everybody around Truman told him that this might be impossible to get the Japanese to surrender under any circumstances. They implored Truman to change the surrender terms. Joseph Grew, who was at times the acting secretary of state, and former US ambassador to Japan, a very conservative man, Joseph, who was one of the only ones who knew anything about Japan.

And he urged Truman over and over again change surrender terms, not just the people in the administration, but you’ve also got The Washington Post writing an editorial in June of 45′ called Fatal Phrase saying they’ve got to change the surrender terms. They’ve got the leader of the Republicans in the Senate, Senator White, making a speech in July in 45′, urging Truman to clarify the surrender terms. They all knew that that was a huge stumbling block and we knew it in part because we’d broken the Japanese codes. We were intercepting their telegrams and they said over and over again explicitly, these are especially the telegrams of Foreign Minister Tōgō in Tokyo to Ambassador Sato in Moscow, trying to get the Soviets to intervene on Japan’s behalf to get better surrender terms. And Togo and Sato, back and forth, said the only obstacle to surrender is a demand for unconditional surrender. We can have peace tomorrow if the Americans would recognize our honor and our future existence if they would allow us to keep the emperor on the throne back and forth explicitly.

And Truman knew that because Truman refers to the intercepted on July 18th cable as the telegram from the Jap emperor asking for peace. Those are Truman words. Everybody around him shared that understanding. As Walter Brown, who is James Byrnes assistant, commented on the USS Augusta on the way back from Japan on August 3rd, three days before the atomic bomb says aboard the Augusta, the president, Admiral Leahy and Byrnes agree the Japanese are looking for peace. That was very, very clear. It was obvious to everybody. And we also know it from the Japanese war cabinet meetings at the time, again, explicit comments along those lines. But Truman, instead of listening to almost all of his advisers, listened to James Byrnes, and Byrnes kept telling him, don’t change the surrender terms, if you allow them to keep the emperor, you’ll be politically crucified.

Paul Jay

Now, who is Byrnes and why did he have so much influence? My understanding is even people like Dwight Eisenhower were against dropping the bomb. Why did Byrnes have so much sway with Truman?

Peter Kuznick

Truman had a very difficult childhood. He was born to John Peanuts Truman, who was about five feet four inches tall and would go around picking fights with guys a foot taller and beating them up to show how tough it was. He really wanted a macho son. Harry, his firstborn, didn’t fit the bill. He was forced to wear what they called hypermetropia, flat eyeballs, he wore these thick glasses. He couldn’t roughhouse, couldn’t play sports. And the kids would always treat him very badly and chase him home crying. And his mother would greet him at the door and say, Harry, don’t worry, you were meant to be a girl anyway. And he had a lot of psychological issues and is a failure in most aspects of life. He wasn’t able to go to college, not because it wasn’t smart enough, of course, but because family didn’t have money. And he went to work on his father’s farm. He went to three businesses and they all went bankrupt and was a failure in life and he says to his daughter at turning 49, he says, “Tomorrow I’ll be 49, for all the good in the world, they may as well take away the 40, I am maybe nine years old, for all the good I’ve done in the world”.

So he does well in World War One and he comes back and he gets offered a job by Tom Pendergast’s, who runs the Pendergast machine in Kansas City and is a dirty, corrupt machine. Truman is about as honest as they come, but at age 50, felt he was going nowhere. He wanted to run for Congress. Pendergast overlooked him. And so he was going to tell Pendergast’s on his 50th birthday that he’s going back to the farm and leaving the machine.

Pendergast meets with him and says, no, you can’t do that. We want to run you for the Senate. He says, running for the Senate, what do I know about the world? I just know how to build courthouses. The roads here, Missouri, Pendergast says, “Don’t worry, we’ll get you elected. We’ll get people to tell you what to do”. He does get him elected. Truman goes there and the other senators shun him. They call him the senator from Pendergast.

They won’t give him the time of day. This is 1934 the one person who befriends him is James Byrnes. And so while Truman is isolated there and shunned, Byrnes, who’s a very prominent senator from South Carolina, reaches out to befriend Truman. Truman is very grateful for that. When Truman is running for reelection in 1940, Roosevelt didn’t even support him and Truman was coming in third, looked like he was going to lose. Pendergast couldn’t help him because he was in federal prison in Kansas City.

So Truman then at the last minute, turns to the Hannegan Dyckman machine, the corrupt machine that runs Saint Louis, they cobble it together, they give them enough support, and he barely ekes out a victory in nineteen forty. So but Truman had this relationship with Byrnes. The story that Truman should never become vice president in 1944, that the man who was vice president between 41′-45′, Henry Wallace was the second most popular man in the United States.

Gallup released a poll asking potential voters who they wanted on the ticket as vice president in 44′, 65% of potential voters said they wanted Wallace back as vice president, 2% said they wanted Harry Truman. But Truman gets in there, is vice president for 82 days, Roosevelt dies, Truman becomes president on April 12th, 1945, the day that shall live in infamy. And so Truman on April 13th, his first day in office, Secretary of the Navy, Forrestal sends his private plane down to Spartanburg, South Carolina, to bring James Byrnes back to Washington. Truman was desperate. He sits down with Byrnes and he says, I don’t know anything, Roosevelt didn’t talk to me about what was going on, or the agreements at Yalta, I don’t know anything, fill me in on everything and Byrnes then starts to lay it out. That the Soviets can’t be trusted, that you know, that they’re breaking their agreements. So that’s a Truman who was inclined to think that way anyway, starts hearing it from Byrnes.

And even though that was the opposite of what Roosevelt believed and Roosevelt said right up to his dying day, Roosevelt was sure that the US and the Soviets would get along after the war.

Paul Jay

And Wallace’s as vice president was very much for cooperation with the Soviet Union.

And while Wallace was still in the cabinet, Roosevelt begged him to stay in the cabinet as Secretary of Commerce, and from that position, he wages a fight for more than a year or almost a year and a half against Truman’s Cold War nuclear proliferation policies from inside the cabinet until finally, Truman fires him in September of 1946. So that’s why he turns to Byrnes and trusts Byrnes and he looks to Byrnes, and he says from the first day that I can’t make you my secretary of state now because we’re finishing up the negotiations for the United Nations but as soon as that’s over, I’m going to make you secretary of state. But I want you to be my main adviser from behind the scenes. And so he looks to Byrnes for advice and Byrnes urges him not to change the surrender terms. Byrnes is the one who poisons his mind about the Soviet Union more than pretty much anybody in the beginning. And so Byrnes is his trusted adviser and values Byrnes over all these other advisers.

Paul Jay

So why does all this matter now? Because it does because we continue to live in a world, populated by more nuclear weapons and more destructive nuclear weapons, and including let’s jump ahead to the Obama administration, where Obama during his term decides to expand, I believe it’s a trillion-dollar investment over 30 years, but most of it’s spent in the first 10. And the Russians apparently are going to spend the same amount or are spending to modernize and create a whole new arsenal of nuclear weapons. In other words, we’re into another nuclear arms race. And barely a noise is made when this big expansion of nuclear weapons takes place. And I have to make one note here. As much as I’ve been mostly critical of Biden’s foreign policy positions, with the exception of Iran, apparently he was against doing this expansion and Obama went ahead with it anyway. So where are we now?

Peter Kuznick

We are a mess. Number one, because what you’re saying about Obama, we had great hope for Obama. Obama marched, in a huge anti-nuclear march in Central Park. Million person march, in 1982, Obama was there. Obama wrote critical things at Columbia about nuclear weapons. There was reason to believe that Obama would actually do something dramatic about it. It gives his Prague speech in June of 2009 in which he calls for nuclear abolition, but even there, if you look at the wording carefully, says the United States won’t be the first country to give up its nuclear weapons, it will be the last country.

So Obama was never you know, that’s the thing about Obama, even when his heart was in the right place, he never had the backbone to follow through on any of the good things that he thought or wanted to do.

But then he does pass the new START treaty, (a nuclear arms reduction treaty between the United States and the Russian Federation with the formal name of Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms). And it’s a very important treaty because it limits the number of strategic nuclear weapons and it limits the number of delivery vehicles that you have.

But as part of that, he agrees to this modernization, a 30 year modernization, one trillion dollars. Initially, the estimate then jumps to 1.2 trillion, and we now assume it’s 1.7 trillion, this is going to cost over 30 years. The modernization of the entire nuclear arsenal making it more efficient and more deadly, more lethal.

And how do other countries respond? As you said, Russia responds, Russia really started back in 2003 when the U.S. pulls out of the ABM Treaty. Then Russia decides, and as the US is building its missile defenses, that they’ve got to find a way to circumvent it.

And in March of 2018 in Vladimir Putin’s State of the Nation address, he announces that Russia now has five new nuclear weapons, all of which could circumvent American missile defenses. So all those tens of billion dollars that we spend are largely wasted at this point. So Russia is modernizing the US and in fact, all nine nuclear powers are modernizing. But to make it worse then, Obama gets the Nobel Peace Prize for that speech he made in Prague in 2009. But then update to Trump, and we’re really in much more dangerous territory from the beginning, at least. Obama and his nuclear posture review does lower the status of nuclear weapons. Trump and his Nuclear Posture Review in 2018 elevates the status of nuclear weapons, number one.

Paul Jay

What does that mean, “elevated” in terms of how early you might make such a choice?

Peter Kuznick

Yes. And the circumstances under which you can make that decision. So it’s not just going to be in terms of nuclear retaliation, it would be in terms of any kind of attack that has a fundamental impact on the United States. So that could be a cyberattack, we can use nuclear weapons for now, other kinds of WMD attacks. So it’s not just in retaliation for a nuclear attack. Number one, Trump’s attitude and he says explicitly is “what’s the point of having nuclear weapons if we can’t use them”? To a sane person that means get rid of nuclear weapons to a madman like Trump, it means make nuclear weapons more usable.

Paul Jay

And he talks about tactical nuclear weapons battlefield. Which, he or people that think like him, may think it’s possible to use against non-nuclear powers like, for example, Iran.

Peter Kuznick

Yes, in fact, Sy Hersh reported back in the George W. Bush administration that one of the things that was on the table when it looked like we were going to invade Iran or attack Iran was the use of nuclear weapons. So, yeah, there’s always that kind of planning. And the idea is that if Israel ever tries to take out those nuclear facilities in Iran, that they would have to use nuclear weapons in order to do so for the hardened targets, the underground targets. So in terms of the Trump policy, Trump’s first phone call he had with Vladimir Putin, Putin implores him to extend the new START treaty when it expires in February 2021.

Paul Jay

And just quickly, what are the most important parts of the START treaty?

Peter Kuznick

Well, I guess we have to back up a little bit because you look at Trump’s record on this. First thing he does is he dismantles the JCPOA, the Iran nuclear deal. That was as successful nuclear deal as we’ve ever had. There’s not just the United States, it was also the other original nuclear powers in Germany that negotiated this. Russia played a very important role in negotiating that deal with Iran. It was a great deal from the American perspective and the Israeli perspective, even though Netanyahu did everything he could to undermine it. It basically shipped 97% of the enriched uranium outside of Iran. It mothballed a high percentage of Iran’s nuclear reactors in the centrifuges and put great limits on the amount and the degree of enrichment that was acceptable for Iran’s nuclear program. It was tremendously successful. There were inspections after inspection of what was going on in Iran. The U.N. was reporting that this was working and Trump tears it up, okay, that’s number one.

Then he pulls the United States out of the INF treaty, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear forces treaty in 2019. Then he pulls the United States out of the Open Skies Treaty.

So the only piece left now of this nuclear architecture, the anti-nuclear arms control architecture, really is the new START treaty, which expires on February 2021. And the new START treaty had put sharp limits on the number of strategic weapons that each side can deploy and on the number of other delivery systems. So Trump’s on the phone with Putin and Putin says we have to extend the new START treaty. Some Trump excuses himself puts the phone down and asks the people at the table his advisers, what’s the new START treaty? He didn’t even know what it was, idiot. And then he gets back on it, says, no, no, I don’t like that treaty. And so the understanding since then has been that the United States will likely withdraw from the new START treaty. Now, there are discussions going on and maybe even Trump will reconsider.

Certainly, Biden will renew the new START treaty, once he’s in power

Paul Jay

In the journalist, Kaplan’s, book on nuclear weapons, he has a section where with the START treaty, Obama’s trying to get the Republicans to go along with it and they don’t want to. And they often say, well, if you put a trillion dollars into nuclear weapons, then we’ll go along. Biden apparently, according to the book, said you don’t need to make this kind of a deal to get to do the START treaty because these guys never keep their word anyway.

Do you know anything about this whole thing? It tells us something about who Biden is, if the story’s true.

Peter Kuznick

I’ve seen that from other sources as well, that insiders knew that Obama was giving away the store unnecessarily. And that’s always the history of the Obama presidency. He always negotiates against himself and gives away and makes concessions that were unnecessary. And what Obama has done there is open the door to this, the worst kind of nuclear arms race that could happen because as Biden apparently understood, this was a terrible policy to allow this kind of extension, making it more lethal, making nuclear weapons more deadly, more efficient. There’s just no rationale that justifies that. I also have heard that Biden pushed Obama to go to Hiroshima, and that was a great thing that Obama did. He undermined it by with what he did there and even more so with what he said there. But it was certainly the right thing to go to Hiroshima. So, we know that Biden is a super hawk or had been throughout much of his life, but maybe he’s learned some lessons.

Even Robert Gates now just came out with a new memoir. And Gates has said that he learned a lot of lessons. Gates was opposed to the US operations in Libya, he said he was opposed to the bombing of Syria, said we haven’t we learned anything from Afghanistan and Iraq and Libya that these kinds of things have unintended consequences? I think Biden’s learned some of that, too.

Paul Jay

So, so many of the former secretaries of state and military leaders and others have been sounding the alarm about not just the possibility of an accidental or deliberate nuclear war. They almost say it’s inevitable. It’s as if there’s a 100% chance there will be something, you know, if and when, but not if. I shouldn’t say if, just when. Don’t the Bidens and others in the elites understand how dangerous this is, and yet they seem, in terms of their policy, to be completely blind to it?

Peter Kuznick

One of the ones who felt most strongly that way was Robert McNamara. Having lived through the Cuban missile crisis, McNamara shared Kennedy’s and Khrushchev’s understanding that when these crises start, they go out of control. What terrified Kennedy and Khrushchev the most during the Cuban missile crisis was that even though they both were doing everything they could to try to prevent a war and a nuclear war, they both knew that they had lost control of the situation and that we avoided annihilation in ’62 during the Cuban missile crisis, not by brilliant statesmanship, but by pure blind, dumb luck.

And that’s why Khrushchev writes to Kennedy afterwards and says, “From evil, we must make some good. Our populations that felt the flames of thermonuclear war, we have to do now is take advantage, turn that into something positive. We have to eliminate every conflict between our two nations that could cause another crisis”. And Kennedy responded in kind, with Norman Cousins help, Kennedy did respond and toward the end, the two of them were moving toward ending the Cold War and mean we could have entered a period of great peace and prosperity for the human race. Kennedy was assassinated, Khrushchev was ousted, and we went back to the old Cold War.

But that potential was there. And so even now, the idea is that by accident or by design, and it’s not just US and Russia and US and China and those US relations, Russia and China are the worst they’ve been in decades.

But you look at India and Pakistan, the latest scientific studies show that a limited nuclear war between India and Pakistan, which 100 Hiroshima sized nuclear weapons were used, to create partial nuclear winter, the cities would burn five million tons of smoke and soot would be raised into the stratosphere within two weeks circle the world, block the sun’s rays, lower temperatures on much of the earth below freezing, destroying agriculture. And that limited nuclear war could lead to up to two billion deaths. That’s one hundred Hiroshima sized nuclear weapons. The reality is we’ve got almost 14,000 nuclear weapons between 70-80 times as powerful as the Hiroshima bomb. And that’s the reality. India, Pakistan almost went to war last year after the terrorists killed 40 Indian troops in Kashmir and they bombed each other’s countries.

And we know that the previous one, the former head of the Pakistani army, says, well, you could get killed getting hit by a car. You can get killed in a nuclear war. What’s the difference? You have to die sometime. We look at who we have making policy. So you’ve got Trump, “Make America Great Again” and Modi, “Make India Great Again”.

Paul Jay

And Trump and Biden are competing in their anti-China rhetoric.

Peter Kuznick

Isn’t that something

Paul Jay

Larry Wilkerson says when he was in government, in the Army, they did various war games where they would play out what a conflict with China would look like if there became a confrontation in the South China Sea. And he says each time they played it, it ended up in nuclear war. So they had to stop the game.

Peter Kuznick

And the other thing is that for years, they did these nuclear war studies about limited nuclear war. OK, so we drop one on Russians and they drop one on us and then we negotiate. But study after study found it impossible to reach an endpoint that these limited nuclear war scenarios don’t work in the war games that we’ve tried to conduct, that they almost always go completely out of control and to complete nuclear war. So, yeah, it just becomes increasingly untenable to maintain these nuclear weapons

Paul Jay

As much as there’s a nuclear arms race between the United States and Russia, to a much lesser extent, apparently, China. And there’s been studies, according to Wilkerson as well, about how many nuclear weapons are really needed to defend the United States. And it’s like thousands less than there are.

What do we know about what the Chinese are doing?

Peter Kuznick

The Chinese approach makes much more sense. First of all, they’ve got a no first use policy, which means they would never use nuclear weapons to initiate a war. Right now, Russia and the United States have about 93% percent of the world’s nuclear weapons. China has had a very different approach. They’ve got about 300, whereas we have maybe 7,000, they have three hundred. What they understand is that 300 is as effective as 7000 as a deterrent.

Kennedy during the Cuban missile crisis, asked McNamara. He said, what is it? What are the chances, the likelihood that even one Soviet bomb will get through? And McNamara said, it’s inevitable. And Kennedy said, even that makes this unthinkable. One nuclear bomb, Einstein and Russell in the manifesto in 1955 said that if there’s a nuclear war and New York, Moscow and London are destroyed, then within a few hundred years, the human species will recover from that from the cities being wiped out.

But the danger is a complete annihilation and a full-scale thermonuclear war with the Chinese, understand, is that to deter another country from attacking them, three hundred nuclear weapons is more than enough of a deterrent. 300 nuclear weapons would end the United States as a nation and probably cause enough pollution in the atmosphere and to cause billions of deaths worldwide, including in China. But what Trump keeps saying is, I don’t want to extend the new START treaty unless China is involved.

China’s got to become part of this, too. That’s nonsense. The Chinese arsenal is a fraction of the arsenal of the United States and Russia and the Chinese are not going to be involved in this. So we need an arms control deal between the United States and Russia immediately because that’s where the real threat is. But we also need to deal with the situation between India and Pakistan, India and China. I mean, there are so many hotspots around the world.

The situation in Europe seems to have come that calm down a little bit in Eastern Europe from what it was. But that’s still a powder keg. Syria could unravel at any point. The situation with North Korea, despite Trump’s bluster, has not improved. So all of these scenarios are still hotspots, which is why the Bulletin Atomic Scientists have the hands of the Doomsday Clock at 100 seconds before midnight because any one of these could still unravel and spiral out of control.

Paul Jay

And we hear next to nothing about any of this in any presidential election campaign and most of the mainstream media. It’s just not even part of the discourse.

Peter Kuznick

No. And it’s too bad because Biden could make a big issue out of this. Biden could talk about the new START treaty and could show what Trump’s been saying and messaging and show that Trump’s been calling for a new arms race and make it clear what that means. And he can put himself on the other side of this and he could even talk about the UN nuclear ban treaty, which the United States doesn’t support, and neither have any of the other nuclear powers thus far, but the rest of the world, over a majority of nations in the world, have called for the banning of nuclear weapons, which was something, as mentioned before, that could have happened as early as nineteen 1945-1946.

Henry Wallace fought for this, the Atcheson Lilienthal plan in 45′ and 46′ before the United Nations would have eliminated nuclear weapons. We’ve had various opportunities, at Reykjavik in 1986, Reagan and Gorbachev came within one word of eliminating all strategic offensive nuclear weapons there. If Reagan had been willing to limit testing of Star Wars to the laboratory for the next ten years, Gorbachev would have signed the agreement to eliminate nuclear weapons. So we’ve come close. It’s not impossible and there’s no reason for us to give up. There’s no reason to even be totally pessimistic about this. Human species is in some ways potentially evolving positively. Look at how history is being rethought of in the United States in terms of slavery, in terms of Confederate monuments, in terms of women’s issues. We can rethink our nuclear history. We can understand that the atomic bombs in World War Two were not only unnecessary, they were reprehensible. We can understand that seven of America’s eight, five-star admirals and generals are opposed to using nuclear weapons, that Truman himself says he went to Potsdam to make sure that the Soviets were coming in. And then he says when Stalin tells them for coming in, he says, Finie Japs (ed: finish the Japs). When the Russians come into the war, Truman knew the war was over without using atomic bombs. Let’s restudy this history, let’s learn the lessons and let’s project them into the present and the future and begin to develop the kind of anti-nuclear movement that we had so powerfully in the 1980s in this country and around the world. But that doesn’t exist anymore on the campuses, in the state, houses, and the media. There’s been silence about this issue, and we have to try to bring this to people’s attention again, because this is the near term way of ending life on the planet and not giving ourselves a chance to solve global warming, to solve global poverty, to solve issues of environmental degradation. The other things that we want to solve so that human beings can live a decent life, they should be living.

Paul Jay

All right. Thanks very much for joining us, Peter.

Peter Kuznick

Thank you, Paul.

Paul Jay

And thank you for joining us on podcast.

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  1. Olga

    More from Kuznick (posted at Links, too), who studies the topic extensively:
    And today, there is this on war:
    “And always bombing. Bombing is the America way in war. Korea received nearly four times as much bomb tonnage as Japan had. On Vietnam the U.S. dropped more than three times the tonnage that it had in the whole of the Second World War. Today’s numbers are staggering: Afghanistan received, between 2013 and 2019, 26 thousand “weapons releases“. 26,171 bombs around the world in 2016 alone. Geological bombing. Precision attacks, they say. But the reality is quite different – not all of the bombs are “smart bombs” and smart bombs are only as smart as the intelligence that directs them. The truth is that, with the enormous amount of bombs and bad intelligence directing the “smart bombs”, the end result is Raqqa – everything destroyed.”
    Way to go for the indispensable nation!

    1. RBHoughton

      Quote – I remember when Franco’s planes bombed Barcelona for the first time. – unquote. That was the beginning. The Japanese had been bombing civilians in China. Indeed they started it before the air raids on Barcelona and Guernica. Western politicians and diplomats were shocked by aerial bombing. Here was a way to fight and win without exposing your own men to danger. Everyone wanted to do it. Chamberlain’s ‘peace with honour’ at Munich was an aspect of international thought at that time – we can’t win until we can respond in kind, we need more time. Professor Kuznick has done us all a favour by drawing attention to this matter that had been overlooked by state historians.

    2. Acacia

      More about the history from Yuki Tanaka:

      Firebombing and Atom Bombing

      The firebombing of Tokyo, or for that matter the bombing of any city, whether it be Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Dresden, or London, cannot be fully comprehended unless it is examined in the context of the history of indiscriminate bombing throughout the twentieth century.

  2. Zamfir

    I have always wondered: what if the US canceled the Manhattan program at some point? It’s expensive and they are winning anyway. It seems a like plausible outcome.

    I assume the bomb will be developed anyway, but it might take a long time without a specific threat and without wartime funding. I don’t know how long.

    The early cold war must then play out very different. In the 1950s, it’s almost like the US is preparing to fight a mirror. They don’t really now what the Soviet Union can do, so they just assume that it is doing the same as the US. Every bomb, every bomber, they assume that the Soviet Union has the same. Or more, a bomber gap.

    That way, nothing is ever enough. The more they built, the more they assumed the Russians have built already. From a Russian perspective, this must have looked crazy and scary. 100 bombs, then 1000, then 10000, each of them to destroy Russian cities.

    The USSR does eventually become that mirror image, with its own capability to a destroy a thousand cities. It cost them something like 20% of GDP for 2 decades to catch up – in peacetime! I assume that even Stalin would have preferred to spend that effort elsewhere, if he felt safe to . And his successors even more.

    It’s impossible to know, but I can imagine nuclear weapon development just kind of fizzling out. A somewhat theoretical construct that no one really pushes through because no one else is.

    1. Louis Fyne

      Or and I’m being serious—-the USSR never learns the lesson that Americans will nuke anyone, anywhere, for any passable reason and incorrectly presumes that its conventional superiority post-1945 will back up any bluster in 1946-49.

      So the Berlin blockade happens, the USSR shoots down some US cargo planes and invades West Germany but Poland, Eastern Germany and every major USSR city gets nuked in response until the USSR surrenders

      just saying

      1. Acacia

        A hypothetical shoot-down of some US cargo planes in Berlin and a land invasion of West Germany would merit every major Soviet city getting nuked in response?

        Col. Ripper was onboard with SIOP-62, too.

  3. prodigalson

    Thanks for posting this, this is an excellent summary and primer on a lot of different topics tied to this issue, along with personal details I didn’t know about Truman and others.

  4. Mike Furlan

    Do you want to spend American, Chinese, Filipinos, etc lives to save Japanese lives?

    While the war goes on at least a thousand a day are dying.

    “I think it’s important to understand how the mass killing of civilians in war became acceptable”

    It was happening, no matter what we did in 1945.

    About 3 million Japanese civilians died, how many Chinese, 20 million? No atomic bomb, no fleets of 4 engine bombers killed those 20 million.

    The only moral thing to do was to end the war as quickly as possible, or don’t fight it at all.

    1. Oso

      which could have been done without the atomic bombs. pay attention. and as an apparently proud american – do native/black/iraqi/afghani/vietnamese et lives not matter to you? you are fronting for the most barbaric regime in world history.

      admittedly one of the few times your military fought an enemy who could fight back.

      1. Mike Furlan

        “which could have been done without the atomic bombs.”

        Of course, but when? Nobody knew. In the last major battle on Okinawa, 90% of the Japanese troops fought to the death. Facts didn’t point to a Japanese surrender.

        A thousand a day are dying else where in Asia.

        US sailors are dying in Kamikaze attacks.

        What ever choice you make, people are going to die. The OP seems to think that the only people who matter are the Japanese.

        1. juno mas

          . . . except the casualties in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not “troops” fighting to the death.

          The takeaway from the article is that American claims of the moral high ground is false. We see that every time there is a US military intervention: Civilians, military generals (Iran), wedding parties; hot-war, cold-war, no-war the US is sure to find an excuse to kill people (including their own citizens).

          (My father was a wounded survivor of Pearl Harbor and he was stunned by the devastation wrought by The Bomb.)

          1. jm

            Post-war, Kido Koichi, the Emperor’s closest political advisor, arguably more powerful than the Premier, stated that he believed that by making it possible to bring the war to an end the atomic bombs and Soviet invasion saved the lives of up to 20 million of his countrymen.

            He also stated that those were not the real reasons Japan finally accepted the terms of the Potsdam Proclamation.

            The real reason is revealed by Navy Minister Yonai’s comment to Vice-Admiral Takagi Sokichi that the bomb and Soviet invasion were in a sense “gifts from heaven”, because they made it possible to end the war without revealing the real reason, namely, the appalling deterioration of the “domestic situation”. There was a palpable fear among the civilian oligarchy (and also among some of the military, especially some in the Navy) that domestic morale was being so impacted by looming starvation and the destruction of the air raids that if the war was continued as the hardliners wished, there would be a communist revolution in Japan, toppling the emperor system (the whole political system, not just Hirohito) irrevocably (as in the Russian revolution).

            If the fire-bombings had not caused the appalling deterioration of the domestic situation and the destruction of weapons production that they did, the bomb and the Soviet invasion quite likely would not have brought surrender. Within about 36 hours of the Hiroshima bombing, the military in Hiroshima were informing Tokyo that people in even modest air raid shelters had survived very near the hypocenter, and wearing white clothing protected against burns (note that taking any kind of cover would prevent the burns and injuries from broken glass suffered outside a 2 km radius).

            Alas, without the carnage inflicted by the conventional bombing raids the Japanese military could have continued resistance for a very long time, as they had substantial stockpiles of food and many materials. Note that the main aim of the fire-bombing raids was to cripple weapons production by destroying the small parts-making factories dispersed around Japan, because “precision” bombing of final assembly plants was ineffective. Japanese sources attest to the effectiveness of that strategy — production was crippled by not having the parts to assemble. Note also that the US believed they had more stockpiles than they did, enough to continue the war through most of 1946.

            Do not lose sight of the fact that Japan in the prewar and war-time years was just as racist and imperialist as Nazi Germany, and even more militaristic. The dogma pounded into every schoolchild was that the highest aim to which a Japanese could aspire was to die for the greater glory of the Emperor — that war was the “father of creation and mother of culture”. Note also that at the end of the war Japan’s forces numbered 4 million regular military in Manchuria, China, Indochina and Indonesia, plus 2 million more in the homeland, augmented by millions more in “volunteer” combat corps.

            Any path to defeat of Japan other than that taken would have resulted in vastly more Japanese “non-combatant” deaths.

            By the way, beliefs that Japanese “peace feelers” should have been taken seriously by US leaders are mistaken. Intercepted messages revealed that those initiated by Japanese in Europe had no support from Tokyo, and that those initiated by Tokyo ostensibly intending to open negotiations through the good offices of the Soviet Union lacked credibility (you can read them on the net at — read *carefully* keeping in mind that Sato had no clout in Tokyo and noting which came from Sato and which from Togo — note that Togo never responds to Sato’s requrest for concrete proposals). The US intelligence appraisal of the Togo-Sato exchange was that it was a stratagem to buy time. Keep in mind also that the Japanese Foreign Office had little credibility — remember the deceptions of the pre-Pearl-Harbor negotiations.

        2. Acacia

          You are arguing the position of LeMay, who admitted to McNamara that in firebombing the 60+ largest Japanese cities to the ground, he could be prosecuted as a war criminal.

          Also, did you read the article? Facts pointed to a Japanese surrender, if the Japanese could have kept their Emperor. This was known. The US repeatedly refused this overture, and then when the war was finished, after the atomic attacks, MacArthur flips and says “if you like your Emperor, you can keep your Emperor” and Hirohito wasn’t tried as a war criminal.

          1. Wagner Way

            One should watch David Lynch’s haunting and profound depiction of the atomic bomb in 2017’s Twin Peaks. It’s now on YouTube. He suggests that evil incarnate was unleashed through the process of the detonation. The continued notion that the bomb dropping on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was inevitable and unquestionably justifiable given the stakes is ideology at it’s purest. I do believe that a Japanese surrender could have been achieved by other means, as the article suggests. Saying “well war is awful” is no explanation for what I experienced while at the memorial museum in Hiroshima. Some were vaporized instantly yes, other civllians had the unfortunate fate of having their skins drip and ooze from their bones while they were still alive.

    2. John Wright

      But the article has “Groves shocked Rotblat over dinner in March of ’44 when he said, you realize, of course, that the main purpose of this project is to subdue the Russians. I mean, Groves was clear about that, that the bomb project was designed as a tool against the Soviet Union, he later said, “There was never from about two weeks from the time I took charge of this project any illusion my part that Russia was our enemy and the project was conducted on that basis”.

      And why drop two bombs so quickly spaced in time (August 6, August 9)?

      In the USA, the political process takes a long time to agree to anything, even in an emergency (Covid, GFC or 9-11).

      The second bomb occurred with little time (August 6,7,8) for the Japanese hierarchy to respond to the first.

      Rather than dropping the first bomb on a populated area, the USA could have given advance knowledge of the bomb to the Japanese and dropped it on a less populated/uninhabited Japanese area as a brutal demonstration.


      “In 1965, historian Gar Alperovitz published a book which argued that the use of nuclear weapons on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was intended to gain a stronger position for postwar diplomatic bargaining with the Soviet Union, as the weapons themselves were not needed to force the Japanese surrender.”

      1. Thomas P

        There was another logical although cynical reason for the brutality given by the people behind the bomb: they wanted an unequivocal demonstration of the horrors of nuclear warfare. Taking out an uninhabited island might make Japan surrender, but it would not be enough of a shock to scare people from using nuclear weapons in the future.

        It’s not hard to imagine a scenario where WW II ends without anyone using a nuclear bomb, but both sides gradually building up an arsenal, not based on MAD, but on the doctrine that the nuclear bomb is just lika any other weapon, to be used when needed.

        1. vlade

          I’m not sure whether “they wanted it”.

          That said, for me if it wasn’t Hiroshima/Nagasaki, it _would_ have been somewhere else, who knows where. Because it’s one thing to talk about the horrors, the other thing to see them (even not first hand).

          We now have a perfect supporting fact for this – the pandemic. The scientists and all called how unprepared we are (in fact, how supporting of pandemic our society is), and how much it’s not a question of “if” but “when”. Yet they were all happily ignored – even as it started ramping up (never mind the ones who still ignore it).

          So if anyone believes that an atomic weapon, once constructed, would not be used, they are IMO extremely naive. It’s again not a question of “if” but when and where.

          So I see the victims of Hiroshima/Nagasaki as the unfortunate price mankind had to pay to see the result of nukes and take (or not) lessons from it.

          1. d

            lets see the virus was first noted back in November or December of last year. and the US only vaguely woke up to the that back in January, and its now August, and after 160,000 Americans (or possibly more) have died. looks like we werent ready does it of this is ‘success’

      2. jm

        That it was Groves view that, “There was never from about two weeks from the time I took charge of this project any illusion my part that Russia was our enemy and the project was conducted on that basis,” that doesn’t mean it was that of other US leaders; nor does it mean that the bombs would not have been developed or used against Japan but for the desire to have a counterweight to the Red Army juggernaut.

        General Marshall, for instance, was firmly of the belief that Japan was not going to capitulate until US troops were on the ground in the homeland, and that even two or more atomic bombings against cities were not going to bring Japan to surrender on acceptable terms. He was leaning toward holding back the next six or seven for use as tactical weapons over the Kyushu invasion beaches. (Would not have significantly endangered US troops — bombs would have been exploded at 500m altitude as at Hiroshima, so little fallout, and induced radiation in soil beneath would decay in a few hours to levels that would not cause radiation sickness. Much less dangerous than the entrenched Japanese defenders they would have killed or injured.

        The close spacing of the bombs was to prevent Japanese hardliners from claiming the US couldn’t have more than one. If you could read the Japanese-language historical record (as I can and do), you would realize it’s a pretty safe bet they would have.

        As for feasibility of a demonstration, within about 36 hours after Hiroshima, the military there were reporting to Tokyo that there were effective countermeasures. People in even modest bomb shelters survived unharmed, even directly beneath the explosion. People farther than 2 km away could survive the blast and ionizing radiation, and could minimize burns from the intense UV, visible and infrared light by wearing white clothing (and avoid such burns completely by being sheltered by anything that would block the light). If there’d been a demonstration, the military would have figured that out and implemented countermeasure beforehand, and Hiroshima and Nagasaki casualties might have so light that the bombs would have had no shock effect.

        As for Gar Alperovitz’s book, it’s been panned by scholars across the political spectrum for “contentious” use of the historical record (a polite scholarly way of describing its egregious cherry-picking of the record, and its abuse of quotations). Were the bombs “necessary” to force the Japanese to surrender”? No. But other paths to surrender did not have an obviously lower human cost. Note that the close blockade of Europe which brought Germany to disintegrate internally at the end of WWI is estimated to have cost 700,000 deaths from starvation (100,000 *after* the armistice during the Versailles treaty negotiations), and at the time many denounced that blockade as a war crime.

        And claims that the Japanese “only wanted to keep their deloved Emperor” are bunk.

        And Admiral Leahy, whose statement in his memoirs that he considered the bomb a barbaric weapon is nearly always quoted by revisionists, also said in those memoirs a few pages before that “… no one could foresee on the first day of August, 1945, that Japan would be out of the war in less than two weeks.” But revisionists never quote that.

    3. mpalomar

      Sorry for the long post.

      “Japan was working on peace negotiations through its Moscow ambassador as early as April of 1945 when the battle of Okinawa was just starting. Harry Hopkins, President Truman’s close adviser, was aware of Japan’s desire for an armistice. He cabled the president from Moscow, saying: “Japan is doomed and the Japanese know it. Peace feelers are being put out by certain elements in Japan…On July 13, 1945, Foreign Minister Togo said: “Unconditional surrender (giving up all sovereignty, thereby deposing Hirohito, the Emperor god) is the only obstacle to peace.”

      “Secretary of War Henry Stimson said:

      ‘The true question was not whether surrender could have been achieved without the use of the bomb but whether a different diplomatic and military course would have led to an earlier surrender. A large segment of the Japanese cabinet was ready in the spring of 1945 to accept substantially the same terms as those finally agreed on.’ ”

      “Admiral William Leahy, top military aide to President Truman, said in his war memoirs, I Was There:

      ‘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. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons. My own feeling is that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages.’ ”

      “And General Dwight D. Eisenhower, in a personal visit to President Truman a couple of weeks before the bombings, urged him not to use the atomic bombs. Eisenhower said:

      ‘It wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing . . . to use the atomic bomb, to kill and terrorize civilians, without even attempting [negotiations], was a double crime.’ ”

      The other critical point is polarising former WWII ally Russia, the advent of the cold war and the ensuing, needless arms race that led to decades of regional hot wars with hundreds of thousands of deaths, the MIC and the resultant dystopian global civilisation we all now suffer.

      “By August 30, 1945, a scant twenty-two days after the Japanese city of Hiroshima was subjected to nuclear holocaust, and ten days after Stalin ordered the acceleration of the Soviet bomb project, General Leslie Groves was presented with a document that listed Soviet cities and industrial facilities, along with a calculation as to how many atomic bombs would be required to destroy each targeted area (Moscow and Leningrad were each assigned six atomic bombs).”

      1. flora

        On July 13, 1945, Foreign Minister Togo said: “Unconditional surrender (giving up all sovereignty, thereby deposing Hirohito, the Emperor god) is the only obstacle to peace.”

        Not a small obstacle.

        1. jm

          Moreover, in his memoirs Foreign Minister Togo wrote that his first reaction to the Potsdam Proclamation was that its statement, “These are our terms …” made surrender conditional. Others noted that (as a speech by Truman in April had also declared), the Proclamation also spoke of unconditional surrender of Japan’s armed forces, not of “Japan”.

          The Foreign Ministry’s top officials, meeting the morning the Proclamation was received, voted for its immediate acceptance. Ahead of an August 3 cabinet meeting, a cabinet advisory council of influential civilians also recommended immediate acceptance; but the response of Premier Suzuki, usually depicted as a member of the “peace faction”, was that the Proclamation was evidence of US/UK war weariness, and that if Japan just held its course they would fold first.

          As I wrote in an earlier comment, Admiral Leahy, whose statement in his memoirs that he considered the bomb a barbaric weapon is nearly always quoted by revisionists, also said in those memoirs a few pages before that “… no one could foresee on the first day of August, 1945, that Japan would be out of the war in less than two weeks.” But revisionists never quote that.

          As for Eisenhower’s claim that he opposed the use of the bomb, it’s bizarre. He had just completed a war in Europe in which the German government, whose troops had surrendered in the many hundreds of thousands when faced with hopeless situations, had continued resistance until nearly the entire nation had been overrun. How could he have though that the Japanese, whose troops had fought to nearly the last man in every battle, no matter how hopeless their situation, were going to surrender before their homeland was even invaded???

          Regarding the Stimson quote that, “A large segment of the Japanese cabinet was ready in the spring of 1945 to accept substantially the same terms as those finally agreed on.,” this really didn’t matter, and reveals Stimson’s ignorance of the Japanese system of government. The fundamental defect of the Japanese constitution was that the cabinet had no control over the military. So until the military could be brought to heel, the cabinet was irrelevant. Also, it was an “unwritten constitution” tradition that cabinet decisions had to be unanimous. So only the Emperor’s final “Sacred Decision” sufficed to force the hardliners in both military and cabinet into line.

    4. rowlf

      The only moral thing to do was to end the war as quickly as possible, or don’t fight it at all.

      If I read Ralph Nutter’s book about his time with Curtis LeMay correctly, that was LeMay’s position. Fight hard to end the war quickly and minimize the loss of your people, versus drag out the fighting and have more people on both sides killed or suffering.

      Nutter also mentions that when LeMay was briefed by General George Marshall about the use of the nuclear bombs, LeMay felt that due to the aerial mining and the fire bombing of Japan the nuclear bombs were not necessary.

      My copy of Nutter’s book “With the Possum and the Eagle” is loaned out but if I remember correctly, there was a picture in it of a neighborhood in a Japanese city after a firebombing campaign showing the burned remains of houses but also showing the drill presses that were in each burned out house. It is a good book and explains why LeMay switched to area bombing in the European Theater after German countermeasures made the Norden bombsite and precision bombing ineffective.

    5. Basque Half Back

      Imperial Japanese soldiers cannibalized Indian soldiers who fought for the British Army; the Imperial Japanese soldiers used Chinese and Korean girls and women for sexual slavery; the Imperial Japanese soldiers bombed Shanghainese civilians; they bayoneted Allied soldiers. Imperial Japanese soldiers also raped Shanghainese and Dutch women. Therefore, not one but two atomic bombs should have been dropped on Imperial Japan. Europeans and Americans do not fully know the extent of Japanese barbarity. We in the Orient still remember.

      1. juno mas

        None of this has a leg up on Abu Greib (Iraq) for sinister, amoral, war crimes!

        Or maybe one should look at the photos of the young girls in that mass of bodies (mostly women and children) photographed at the Mi Lai massacre in Vietnam.

        The US did little to the enlisted perpetrators.

        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          And even less ( as in nothing at all) to the writers and developers and initial-givers of the orders.

      2. Jeremy Grimm

        If revenge or punishment is your chief end in suggesting more Japanese civilians should have been slaughtered — why is an atomic bomb necessary to accomplish that end? The fire bombs were doing just fine and could satisfy your blood lust without the cold war side effects and the associated growth and ascendancy of the Military Industrial Complex.

        I think it is very unfortunate that no one in the US government seems to have any idea of how the Japanese are regarded in the Orient, and not just on account of their World War II atrocities. They made an indelibly bad name for themselves for many centuries. And Obama cut a deal with Shinzo Abe to let him beef up the Japanese military in return for Abe’s support for TPP. []

  5. 430 MLK

    Some years ago, I remember reading an interesting academic article, “Disaster and decentralization“ by Matthew Farish, which made the argument that suburbanization was spurred in part by American fears of nuclear retaliation. Less dense suburbs, with domestic and business zones separated, were strategically safer.

    1. Sheldon

      And, the Interstate Highway Act called for clear spaces of at least a mile between overpasses, so that freeways could be used as emergency military airstrips.

      1. juno mas

        Well, the real reason for the half mile separation is that vehicles getting on and off the Interstate at freeway speed need time to maneuver to the appropriate lane. (This zone is known in highway engineering parlance as the “weave”; it’s the most dangerous aspect of freeway driving. Cars entering from the previous on-ramp and interacting with cars attempting to leave the freeway at the next off-ramp gets dicey when there is only 30 seconds or so of travel time / decision making.

  6. Anarcissie

    I have read that there is no weapon which was ever made that was not used, at least experimentally, and that there was no combination of the laws of Nature and the resources available that could create a new weapon that wasn’t at least thought about very seriously. If so, then it didn’t really matter what Truman or Roosevelt or Stalin or Hitler or any of their underlings thought, schemed, decided; the current of the Death Wish that swept them forward toward the abyss was too strong. And in the future, guilt-tripping people about Hiroshima or the Holocaust doesn’t seem effective in the slightest. Because, here we are.

    I wonder if there is any way out. There certainly doesn’t seem to be in normal politics.

  7. ambrit

    I found Kuznick to be suffering from a little bit of TDS. He even holds out hope for Biden!!!??? It highlights the fact that these two are mainly fronts for an American Foreign Policy Elite. The fact that Trump wasn’t up to speed on the START treaty isn’t a disqualifying fact. Every executive relies on a staff of “experts” to guide their thinking. If his staff gave Trump a concise precis of the state of play between America and Russia, and Trump wouldn’t read it, then that is Trump’s fault. Then the conscientious staffer would gather his or her courage in their hands and tell Trump that fact and take the consequences. That Trump was supposedly so clueless is an indictment of the system within which he works, not just the man himself.
    Any executive who can hold all the disparate facts in their head and govern effectively from that base alone qualifies for the title of “Philosopher King.”‘The Obama Experience’ should have dispelled the glamours of that concept from the public consciousness.
    If anything, the present situation with the present administration betokes the need for a rebalancing of the powers and responsibilities of the branches of government. The Imperial Executive model of governance is only as good as the head of state and his or her close circle of advisors.
    There are very good reasons why the American Founding Fathers, (yes, they were all men back then, the extant social system kept smart women in the background for the most part,) compromised on a system of governance that dispersed power. Those reasons have not gone away. As VietnamVet says in his comments, it is past time for America to return to real Representative Government.

  8. William Hunter Duncan

    We had a troll on one of our websites who turned out to be a geologist who was a leader of the fracking movement, who used to love to talk about how the Japanese deserved to be bombed like that, and should have been bombed much more than that.

    I took his vigorous support for fracking to be of the same spirit as killing millions of innocent Japanese. He also thought the suburbs were like a peak of evolution, and of course American Empire too. His ideas were much more emblematic of Americans than most others on that website, though we pretty much predicated most of the chaos since 2008 before it happened, with a much more clear eye about the pathology of this economy.

    1. Plague Species

      At this rate, Trump will soon be responsible for murdering more innocent non-combatant Americans in cold blood than the number of innocent non-combatant Japanese, Germans too, who were murdered in cold blood by American bombing campaigns during WWII, be the bombing campaigns traditional firebombing or nuclear.

      Also, if Trump gets a second term, maybe his lifelong dream will come true and he can give the order to nuke some country, China more than likely.

      How many dead Americans will it take for the marginalizing term TDS to be considered an absurd and insulting retort to legitimate criticism of the Criminal In Chief, Donald Trump? 5 million? 10 million? 300 million? Or maybe, and I think this is it, no number is too large. The person who utters TDS could be the last person standing and they would be arrogantly directing it at Angela Merkel from the ashes that were once America.

      Richard Haas, on Morning Joe this morning, gave worship to The Bomb just as Pompeo in the video, and his reasoning is, get this, nuclear weapons kept the Cold War cold. Well then, it was all worth it, wasn’t it? Brinksmanship has saved us. For now. But we’re still hanging by a thread. What about when the Cold War is over, which it is allegedly despite the mechanics working on the freezer, what then with all the nuclear weapons thawing out from the deep freeze of the Cold War? We’ll soon find out.

  9. David

    The rationale for strategic bombing was established early on in the UK by military thinkers like JFC Fuller – less so in the US perhaps. Briefly, it was argued that you could win a war by bringing about the collapse of the society and the government of the enemy, without the need for protracted and bloody ground combat, by aerial bombardment. A few days, or at the most weeks, of such bombardment would cause massive popular unrest which would bring down the government. Fuller and other argued that, even if civilians died, the overall loss of life would be far smaller than if a major conventional war were fought out, along the lines of 1914-18. For reasons which have been extensively documented, the UK went along with this approach, the US a bit less. In the Japanese context, the idea was to destroy the fabric of Japanese society, and so avoid the need for a bloody land invasion.
    In any event, we are apt to forget how the combatants at the time viewed each other: essentially as subhumans who could and should be wiped out (see John Dower, “War Without Mercy” on this). The Anglo-Saxons were bad, the Japanese as bad if not worse.

    1. Olga

      Well, that did not quite work out in Vietnam, now did it.
      And bombing of Cambodia did bring about a collapse of the society – with the outcome we are all familiar with.
      This Fuller guy sounds like a war criminal – not sure what is the difference between him and nazis.

  10. Sheldon

    But, incinerating 400,000 refugees, children, women and old people in the art and cultural center of Europe, Dresden, was “fighting fascism”, therefore was a A-OK!

  11. Prairie Bear

    Just finished listening to this, really good and I may very well go back through it or the transcript to review some of the points that were new to me. I will probably also share. I don’t have much hope that anyone will listen to the whole thing, even though it’s only audio and they could do it while doing something else.

    I do wish he could have said a tiny bit more about Henry Wallace, although I know time was tight, and any number of hour-long interviews could be devoted to Wallace. As a general rule, I don’t subscribe to the “great man” or “crucial moment” view of history, but I think Wallace might have been an exception. FDR dumping Wallace for Truman in ’44 and Truman’s accession to the Presidency was a disaster. Had Claude Pepper made it to the podium at the ’44 Democratic convention a few seconds earlier … Among many other things, it sounds like Wallace would not have dropped the bomb and we might not have had the Cold War.

    About a year ago, I was at my gym, overhearing some conversation between a couple of old guys like me. I recognized them as regulars, part of a loose group of middle-aged and older guys who tended to come at the same time and work out and socialize. I had gathered that some or most of them were veterans. On this occasion, the topic of the Pearl Harbor National Memorial had come up. One guy had been there, maybe both, and the one was talking about you go in and there’s this and there’s that and he said something vaguely hostile-sounding about the Japanese. The other guy said like ‘well we got a whole lot of them back’ and the first guy said something like, “We should have gotten a lot more!” Or maybe “all” as I wasn’t right in the conversation and can’t be sure.

    But good night grief! Srsly, after 74 years you still hate the Japanese? These guys of course weren’t WWII veterans, but probably from Vietnam era. It really is to despair of ever changing anything for the better. There was a thread on FB this morning where it seemed like every other comment was of the “dropping the bombs on Japan saved millions of lives” variety. Then I came over here and saw this post and only a few comments at that point. Despite the much higher quality and intelligence of commentary on NC, it had already appeared. Oh well …

    1. Jessica

      I agree with your suspicion of the great man theory and with your notion that Wallace instead of Truman in 1944 might have been one of the exceptions.
      As I have read it, it is not that FDR dumped Wallace in 1944, but that he no longer had the stamina to fight the party bosses to keep him.
      In 1940 too, the party bosses told FDR that Wallace was unacceptable. He told them that that was fine and he would step down with Wallace. The bosses backed down.
      By 1944, his health was failing. Had the war been over already, I doubt he would have run.

    2. Jeremy Grimm

      More is said about Henry Wallace in the documentary series Peter Kuznick did with Oliver Stone: “The Untold History of the United States.”

      “Grave of the Fireflies” written and directed by Isao Takahata, and animated by Studio Ghibli might change some of this bad feeling toward the Japanese, and the sentiment about how “… we should have gotten a lot more!” However, when I traveled in South Korea back in the middle 1980s every temple or old building had a long recounting of how many times the building had been burned by the Japanese. The earliest date I recall seeing on one temple was from the 16th Century, with a list of dates after that spread by fifty to a hundred years apart.

  12. Phil in KC

    My uncle Freddie was a newly-minted US Navy ensign in 1945 and he was slated to be sent to the Pacific Theater to participate in the invasion of Japan. My father’s cousin was an infantryman being readied for the same task. Both explained to me the great relief they felt when the war ended somewhat abruptly (by their perceptions) in the week after the bombs were dropped. But they were also appalled by the destructive force of the weapon, especially Freddie, who had a science background. Those in the know did not seem to feel as celebratory as the rest of the populace, said Freddie, because they could easy see the consequences of the decision to drop the bombs.

    I think most people at that time were not aware of the fiery death unleashed by Curtis LeMay in March 1945. A little more than a month later, newsreels in movie theaters were showing films of Nazi death camps being liberated. My parents told me that these newsreels had a profound effect on the audiences who viewed them–not a sound as the narrator described the grim images. Some people started wretching. Others cried. A callous people would not have reacted so, in my opinion. Thus, Hiroshima had to be justified to the American people in terms of “us or them.” There were indeed a number of people who thought that we had descended to the level of our enemies and who thought we needn’t have done so. Eisenhower was one.

    A final note on Truman. He said famously that he never lost a night’s sleep concerning the decision to drop the bombs. If he sincerely meant that, then we would have to conclude he was a sociopath along the lines of Stalin, Hitler, or Mao. He was none of those. My father knew Truman personally, and said he was as fine and decent a man as one could wish for. So it must have been braggadocio. And taking a cue from HST, the US has been BS’ing itself and world for many years since.

  13. rd

    The two major turning points in the indiscriminate strategic bombing were September 7, 1940 and October 7, 1940.

    On September 7, 1940 the German Air Force switched from bombing primarily military targets to bombing the Port of London. This was in daylight hours so there was still some level of accuracy bombing strategic targets in a densily populated city because the bombardiers could actually see their targets. However, civilan damage and casualties started to increase dramatically.

    On October 7, 1940. the German Air Force started significant night operations. Once that began, the slippery slope started in earnest. Accuracy dropped precipitously and the targets were usually in densily populated areas. Total war had truly begun moving away from terrorizing civilians with Stuka dive bombers to indiscriminate bombings of cities.

    The British took that experience and returned it in earnest over the next couple of years. The fire bombings started in 1943 although the American Army Air Force tended to be more strategic bombing Germany than the British who had gone through the Blitz. LeMay turned that into an art form bombing Japan with many civilian buildings constructed of wood. Racism and the horrendous battles to retake islands in the Pacific were much of the reason for the different approach in the Pacific. You can see the different nature of the two fronts simply by watching “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific”, both done by largely the same production teams.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      I’ve also read Paul Fussell’s essay. It is very convincing … unless you question the assumption it was based upon. Peter Kuznick offered several reasons to question that assumption in his interview with Paul Jay. My impression is that Paul Fussell all too readily believed what he was told before drafting his essay.

    2. km

      American bombers (Liberators and Flying Fortresses) were more stoutly constructed and better armed than their British counterparts (Lancasters and Halifaxes).

      Also, American escort fighters had much better range than any British aircraft. Once the P-51B Mustang entered service, it could fly with the bombers all the way to Berlin and then all the way back.

      Even if the British had wanted to, daylight bombing would have been suicidal for Bomber Command (the British equivalent of SAC).

  14. VietnamVet

    I agree with Paul Fussell “Thank God for the Atom Bomb”. 75 years ago there was an instant sigh of relief from millions of soldiers. An invasion of the home islands would have been hell. Also, don’t forget one reason for the New Deal and high income tax rates on the rich until Ronald Reagan was the Red Scare – the fear of a communist revolt. USSR agreed to invade Hokkaido and would still be there. The atomic bombs and keeping the Emperor on the throne allowed the Japanese Elite to save face and surrender. Russia remains in the Kuril Islands to this day.

    It is the nature of war that the opposing side is demonized. Today it is white supremacy. 1,003 Americans died yesterday. The Donald Trump needs to stoke the innate human fear of others to stay President.

    The WaPo review “The new Eisenhower Memorial is stunning, especially at night. But is this the last of the ‘great man’ memorials?” is interesting. I did not know it was finished. During the First Gulf War I walked by the site daily on the way to work. One day an office building there had broken windows towards the top. I never learned how. The article states “The country that Eisenhower led to victory three-quarters of a century ago is now a pathetic object, mocked and pitied around the world, unable to keep its people safe from a virus that other countries have contained…. in a few years, its connection to Eisenhower will seem a secondary feature of the design, which will be primarily regarded with affection as a green island of old-fashioned geniality in a failing city that was once the capital of the free world.”

    1. rd

      As President, Eisenhower was a major civil rights force, including appointing Earl Warren as Chief Justice resulting in Brown v B. of Education. He developed the Interstate Highway System. At the end, he warned of the “military-industrial complex” that still resonates today. Unfortunately, he supported the domino theory which was the basis for getting engaged in Vietnam.

    2. Ruby Furigana

      Dwight Eisenhower’s view on using the Atomic Bomb:

      The incident took place in 1945 when Secretary of War Stimson, visiting my headquarters in Germany, informed me that our government was preparing to drop an atomic bomb on Japan. I was one of those who felt that there were a number of cogent reasons to question the wisdom of such an act. The Secretary, upon giving me the news of the successful bomb test in New Mexico, and of the plan for using it, asked for my reaction, apparently expecting a vigorous assent.

      During his recitation of the relevant facts, I had been conscious of a feeling of depression and so I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. It was my belief that Japan was, at that very moment, seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of “face.” The Secretary was deeply perturbed by my attitude, almost angrily refuting the reasons I gave for my quick conclusions.

      Source: The White House Years: Mandate for Change: 1953-1956: A Personal Account (New York: Doubleday, 1963), pp. 312-313.

  15. lordkoos

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but hasn’t mass slaughter of civilians been a “normal” part of making war since ancient times?

    1. GF

      No, the ancients weren’t as barbaric as we are. They mostly made slaves of the conquered populations.

      1. Hayek's Heelbiter

        Not exactly sure about that.
        From the King James Bible, 1 Samuel 15:3, 7-8

        Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass…
        And Saul smote the Amalekites from Havilah until thou comest to Shur, that is over against Egypt.
        He also took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword.

        Saul, did, however, spare the best sheep and goats and was denounced by Samuel and with dire consequences for the people of Israel.

      2. RBHoughton

        The rule of war in ancient time was ‘give your conquered enemy a golden bridge to retire across’ – there was none of our ‘unconditional surrender’ that the Anglosphere insists upon.

      3. Tom Bradford

        During the First Crusade the Jesus-loving knights slaughtered Jews en masse just getting to the ‘Holy Land’ (see Worms, Mainz and Cologne) and once in the Holy Land exterminated Moslem men, women and children by the village and town full.

    2. H. Alexander Ivey

      You are wrong, the answer is no.

      Your question is too short, too rhetorical, and too flip on a too serious subject (does the USA wage war in a blood thisty manner) to warrant a full reply.

  16. d

    not sure there would have been a cold war, nor am i sure the USSR would have stop after conquering Germany, they would just as likely to have continued on as far as they could go. Other than the US and the UK, most European countries were recovering and could not have put up much resistance. so if you think just dont drop the bomb will mean no cold war, in part you might be right, but the war might not be cold, but hot. Stalin might not be ok with peace, if he has to be.

  17. Synoia

    Peter Kuznick

    “By the end of the war, we had grown so callous. The Germans start it, and the British retaliate and say they’re going to pay them back tenfold, targeting civilian populations.”

    Umm, I discovered that the German bombing of London was provoked by Churchill, who was the first to bomb Civilians, by bombing Berlin, as a tactic to save the Airfields in the south of England, which were being destroyed by German bombing.

    “The Germans started it” might not be so accurate.

    I cannot speak or write of the Germans actions in the Spanish Civil war.

    1. ambrit

      The British practice of “Concentration Camps” for civilians during the Boer War was the earliest systematic use of industrialized terror that I can come up with.
      Do we need to make a distinction between wartime atrocities and run of the mill ethnic genocides, such as the Turks massacring the Armenians, etc.? Both are crimes perpetuated against civilian populations.

      1. Synoia

        The Boer (The Afrikaans) referred to that war as “The South African War” with no drop in inflection at the end of the sentience, leaving one hanging for the unspoken ending – probably “of independence.”

        Kitchener established the Concentration camps to House the farmers Widows and Children, so removing the “Boer” fighters support., and died from a plague of diphtheria.

        My hall of residence at University was named Kitchener Hall. and had much interesting art in the mess hall.

    2. Tom Bradford

      I recall as a young man long ago making some asinine comment on an ‘eye-for-an-eye’ basis about the bombings of Dresden and Hamburg etc. to a grandmother who had been in London during the Blitz – (my father had been evacuated and, had he not, I wouldn’t be here!). Her response, as I recall, was to observe that it’s one thing to kick a dog that has bitten you. It’s something else to take a sledgehammer to it.

    3. rd

      I’ve seen some different stories over the years on how the bombing of London first started. Here is a recent evaluation of some of these stories:

      The gist is that it is likely that a couple of German bombers accidentally bombed London on August 24, 1940. Churchill assumed this was not an accident and ordered a bombing raid of Berlin (at that time it was effectively the equivalent of the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo). This raid ticked off Hitler who then ordered bombing of London to begin in earnest. This then caused great suffering to the civilians, but allowed the RAF to reconstruct airfields and continue building planes and training pilots so that they were better preapred to defend against the Germans. The Germans then switched to mainly nighttime attacks due to mounting losses of planes and aircrews.

      It appears that the fog of war and missing records makes the initiation of this sequence uncertain.

  18. Fritzi

    Racism definitely played a huge part.

    Yes, it may not be be what actually gets conflicts started, but it is perfectly suited to help making them escalate to ever more extreme cruelty and savagery.

  19. Wukchumni

    Why have Americans accepted tens of thousands of deaths per year from guns that tend to leave barbaric slaughters of civilians in their wake?

  20. upstater

    Some years back I read about the development of the B-29, which began in the late 1930s. It’s development costs exceeded the Manhattan Project. And once completed, it was going to be used, just like the atomic bomb. There were almost 4,000 built.

    When the only tools you have are hammers, everything becomes a nail.

    Kuznick’s description of Truman and the people in the decision process was very informative.

    1. rd

      The B-17, B-24, and B-29 programs by the Americans in the late 30s along with the Lancaster developed by the British were major strategic achievements. Neither the Germans nor the Japanese developed four-engine long-range bombers that were built in any significant quantity. This seriously limited their ability to project strategic air power. The Battle of Britain may have ended quite differently if the Germans had four-engine bombers in 1940 that could deliver large payloads anywhere in Britain. Instead, they could only deliver much smaller payloads to only portions of Britain with one and two engine bombers.

      1. km

        That assumes that the Germans would have been able to develop and pay for those four-engined bombers, without denuding funding for other programs.

        Incidentally, starting in 1942, the Germans did build the Heinkel He-177 Greif, which looked like a two-engined bomber but in fact had four engines. It was a flaming turkey (pun intended), as it was prone to dramatic engine fires, among other sins.

  21. jeff

    “Hundreds of thousands of Americans and millions of Japanese were killed in the invasion, and that’s why the bombings were necessary and humane and benevolent.”

    This is a stretch. No matter how callous, unsympathetic, vengeful or racist US leaders were during WWII, there is no evidence to suggest that they were homicidal sociopaths. There is no evidence that Truman or anyone in Truman’s cabinet believed this, thought this or subscribed to this idea that using a hydrogen bomb was humane and benevolent.

    Back then as today, fear drives many decisions. McCarthyism, Japanese Internment camps, turning away Jewish refugees during WWII – these morally repugnant actions were fear based.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      Either Air Force General Curtis Lemay or General Thomas Sarsfield Power, commander in chief of the Strategic Air Command, might modify your opinion of whether any “US leaders were during WWII, … were homicidal sociopaths.” Daniel Ellsberg had some unkind things to say about both men in his interviews with Paul Jay when he was still with the Real News.

      Ellsberg further elaborated on this story about GEN Power in one interview:
      “When RAND proposed a counterforce strategy, which would require SAC to restrain itself from striking Soviet cities at the beginning of a war, Power countered with:

      Restraint? Why are you so concerned with saving their lives? The whole idea is to kill the bastards. At the end of the war if there are two Americans and one Russian left alive, we win!” []

  22. sierra7

    It cannot I believe be argued that the dropping of the nuclear bombs (twice) didn’t “….save American lives….and probably many Japanese ones”. This is in reflection of what the previous immediate battles demonstrated: A deep fanatical belief by the Japanese that Americans would slaughter the Japanese after any kind of invasion/surrender. Mass civilian suicides on Saipan and Okinawa were surreal realities observed by many shocked Americans military.
    Truman expected a shocked Stalin at Potsdam when he revealed a tantalizing clue about a new secret weapon of devastating dimensions. Quite the opposite. Stalin was already aware of our nuclear program and the results of the tests. After all, the US, Japan, Germany and Russia were working towards the same goals, German less than the others; Japan less (because of many reasons) than the US and Russia.
    Roosevelt “trusted” Russia during WW2; too many of the entrenched ruling class of the US did not. They had been ecstatic (as many ruling class Britons and French) when the Hitler invaded Russia in 1941. That “political/economic/sociological “war” had been going on within the western industrial class and “communism” since the Paris Communes in the 1800’s . It had been war ever since.
    I firmly believe that the dropping of those bombs on Japan were definite violent spectacles aimed towards Russia and what power the US then had….and believed they would exclusively possess for decades going forward. Of course the “lead” in “atomic superiority” only lasted a few years until Russia had it’s own bomb. The secondary reason was to end the war as quickly as possible with a minimum loss of life on our side. Simple.
    As far as the ensuing “Cold War” Russia had been invaded three times in the past several hundred years mostly thru the “Polish Corridor”…..the Netherlands, Napoleon, and Nazi Germany. Is it any wonder that they would want some kind of “cordon sanitaire” in Western Europe after the war to deter any more murderous invasions?
    Too bad Roosevelt didn’t live longer. I don’t believe we would have had a “Cold War” at all. Destiny placed a huge amount of power into the hands of a politically/globally ignorant soul.
    Henry Wallace was a very interesting person. (“One World” Henry Wallace book). His view of the world clashed with all the capitalist classes of both the US and Europe in his day. No wonder he was pushed aside!
    Fast forward to today: We are still mired in the same old pit of digging deeper and deeper. Spending another trillion dollars to “modernize” nuclear weapons is a work of the insane.
    The Western ruling elites will take no prisoners if they see their (perceived) dominant world position threatened. They will use whatever necessary to deny power to the masses. Even unto death…..of the world. We are seeing that in our own country today…..many mass demonstrations against entrenched racism; the militarization of the domestic police forces; a government totally out of touch with the general population on almost anything to be discussed. A political authoritarian duopoly that is slowly loosing control of their perceived power.
    And total corruption of our law and financial systems.
    The world will not be safe until all countries, large and small posses nuclear weapons parity. Until all countries are assembled in a circle with the nuclear gun pointed at the next door neighbor.
    It’s a world I chose not to see.
    That is the real enemy today.

  23. David in Santa Cruz

    My late father was a U.S. Army medical quartermaster in the Pacific theater from 1943-1945. A 21-year old Master Sergeant; he was a real-life Radar O’Reilly in New Guinea, Dutch East Indies, and the Philippines, including the Battle of Manila. He was preparing field hospitals for the massive casualties expected during the upcoming invasion of Japan when the bombs ended the war.

    He always told me that the organized sadism practiced by the Imperial Japanese Army gave him nightmares for the next 70 years — and that the Americans responded in kind. He hated war and what it did to human beings. Other than Henry Wallace, he hated the politicians who preached that wars were just policies.

    While he thought that the atomic bombs were barbaric, he always told me that he was grateful that they were dropped and brought down the curtain on that horrible war.

    Interesting discussion, but I don’t waste too much time on past motivations. We must end war now, and we’re doing a lousy job.

  24. attila the hun

    As far as the Japanese military were concerned, surrendering was unthinkable. The Japanese soldier fought to the death to avoid disgracing himself and his family and viewed with contempt foreign troops who surrendered. An invasion of the Japanese home islands would have resulted in many millions of Japanese military and civilian deaths and many hundreds of thousands of G I’s killed and wounded. Horrible as it was, the use of the atomic bombs brought the war to a conclusion and in the end probably saved countless Japanese and American lives. In this case at least, the end probably justified the means.

    1. topcat

      after reading the article you still say this? Did you not read that the Japanese were surrendering? There would have been no invasion.You are simply not willing to question your long held views. Please try.

      1. Dom

        The article mentions that the Japanese were seeking peace, not surrender. There is a difference. For one thing the Supreme War Council was divided. And secondly to the Imperial military peace meant, no occupation, Japan handles its own disarmament, Japan prosecutes its own war criminals and Japan gets to retain some of the spoils of its conquest. Would any government accept these terms from a nation that started the war?

    2. Acacia

      As far as the Japanese military were concerned …

      Sigh. You are repeating the tired, propaganda version of the end of the Pacific war. It doesn’t hold up if you give serious consideration to the historical record.

      You might learn something from actually reading the interview with Peter Kuznick.

    3. Alexandra

      I can’t help but notice that in every case where someone argues the use of the atomic bomb was justified, they refer to “the Japanese” or “the Japanese troops/military” as if they all universally held the same views; AND as if we, outsiders to that society, are in any position to understand what those beliefs were. Some even apparently believe that every single member of Japanese society, from soldiers to babies, hold equal responsibility for the evils of the Empire.

      Shall we apply the same standard to the British and the Americans? The fact of the matter is that all empires do evil by definition. If one sincerely believes that civilians bear the guilt equally, and that revenge is morally justifiable, then we are all living in glass houses. In fact not many people are/have been lucky enough to be free of the original sin of being born within an empire.

      I really recommend the book _Kamikazes and Cherry Blossoms_ by Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney. She takes a detailed look at Japanese war propaganda as well as kamikaze pilots’ letters and journals, and it’s clear that not only were the Japanese not monolithic in their views but many–even soldiers–held deep misgivings and had nuanced views on their position. It’s also a cautionary tale about how insidious is the power of propaganda wielded by cynical warmongers and power-grabbers.

      1. sierra7

        There is also an enormous amount of documentation referring to the pre-Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. The jockeying by Japan for some kind of leadership eminence in the Far East…..the relentless ongoing squeezing of their economy by the US for not abandoning Manchuria; the political turmoil in Japan between the civilian leadership and the violent opposition by the growing military thinking.
        Admiral Yamamoto early on in the planning of the PH attack said plainly that if the US wasn’t defeated in 6 months Japan had almost no chance to win any war with them. Lots of resentment towards the Western and mostly European countries and their pre-20th century demands and humiliations on the Far East; it was time for revenge and their (Japan’s) “place in the Sun”!

  25. Basil Pesto

    Thanks for sharing this interview. I’ve not yet had the chance to listen to it, but it’s a topic I’m familiar with and feel unusually strongly about so I wanted to weigh in on the debate before the article goes ‘cold’, so to speak. With that caveat, I apologise if I cover ground that is already covered in the interview, or make a submission in my argument that has been superceded by information in the interview and following debate.

    I’m not sure since when exactly but I’ve thought for many years that the dropping of the bombs were egregious (I don’t identify under any particular political brand so it’s not a belief that was shaped tendentiously). That they were war crimes seems axiomatic. But, as we can see when the subject of the A-bombs comes up, it’s an unusually widely accepted consensus that it was a necessary evil in order to end the war in the pacific. For a long time, my response to this was probably something like ‘fair enough’, even when I began to understand that the act was fundamentally a war crime (probably when I studied international law at undergrad level). But it wasn’t til I saw Leahy’s quote – at the house – now museum – in Potsdam where the Potsdam Conference was held, of all places – that I started to question that historiography more acutely.

    At any rate, my personal intellectual history on the matter isn’t very interesting. The long and short of it is that I think the idea that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were solemnly taken strategic decisions in order to end the war as soon as possible with minimal Allied casualties is bad, lazy and tendentious history – and the result of a historiography that has strongly pushed this argument precisely because the alternative is unconscionable: that these were merciless and barbaric attacks, and field laboratories for nuclear warfare (I think this consideration is crucial, and often overlooked).

    There is simply too much primary source material – not just from Leahy – which suggest to me that this argument is a flimsy ex post facto rationalisation of the crimes (in its own way, this is redolent of the Lost Cause historiography). Take for example this essay published by Ohio State University and Miami University’s history departments: ‘Hiroshima: Military Voices of Dissent’:

    Most Americans have heard World War II veterans claim that the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved their lives. This historical argument often leads to another: that those who fought against the Japanese, or who expected to be part of an invasion of Japan, are of one mind in believing that the use of the atomic bomb was unquestionably the right decision at the time.

    Relayed through family stories, media portraits and political soundbites, this “you weren’t there and therefore don’t have any right to offer your views” argument discourages thoughtful discussion of one of the most important decisions in American history. And it contradicts the more informed opinion of some of the top officers these veterans served under.

    Indeed, contrary to conventional opinion today, many military leaders of the time — including six out of seven five-star officers — criticized the use of the atomic bomb.

    Take, for example, Admiral William Leahy, White House chief of staff and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the war. Leahy wrote in his 1950 memoirs that “the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender.” Moreover, Leahy continued, “in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.”

    President Dwight Eisenhower, the Allied commander in Europe during World War II, recalled in 1963, as he did on several other occasions, that he had opposed using the atomic bomb on Japan during a July 1945 meeting with Secretary of War Henry Stimson: “I told him I was against it on two counts. First, the Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing. Second, I hated to see our country be the first to use such a weapon.”

    Admiral William “Bull” Halsey, the tough and outspoken commander of the U.S. Third Fleet, which participated in the American offensive against the Japanese home islands in the final months of the war, publicly stated in 1946 that “the first atomic bomb was an unnecessary experiment.” The Japanese, he noted, had “put out a lot of peace feelers through Russia long before” the bomb was used.

    Lacking the knowledge of these and other military leaders, rank-and-file veterans tend to support the bomb’s use. Contrary to popular belief, however, not all Pacific war veterans applaud the atomic annihilation of two Japanese cities.

    Responding to a journalist’s question in 1995 about what he would have done had he been in Truman’s shoes, Joseph O’Donnell, a retired marine corps sergeant who served in the Pacific, answered that “we should have went after the military in Japan. They were bad. But to drop a bomb on women and children and the elderly, I draw a line there, and I still hold it.”

    Doug Dowd, a Pacific-theater rescue pilot who was slated to take an early part in the invasion of Japan if it had come to that, recently stated that it was clear in the final months of the war that the Japanese “had lost the ability to defend themselves.” American planes “met little, and then virtually no resistance,” Dowd recalled. He added, “It is well-known [now] that the Japanese were seeking to make a peace agreement well before Hiroshima.”

    Or take Ed Everts, a major in the 7th weather squadron of the Army Air Corps. Everts, who received an air medal for surviving a crash at sea during the battle at Iwo Jima, told us that America’s use of atomic bombs was “a war crime” for which “our leaders should have been put on trial as were the German and Japanese leaders.”

    Still, that’s a small sample and it’s a historical question which will never be settled, and perhaps I’m wrong. But setting aside the historical question, there are considerations of moral philosophy that are raised by the debate.

    The first is a fairly straightforward one. Imperial Japan was a repulsive entity and I’m glad they lost the war. Two wrongs still don’t make a right, and the conduct of Japan as a political entity does not excuse the horrific slaughter which the citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were subjected to. Many of the counter-arguments to the so-called revisionist argument that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bad actually (and I think given a lot of the primary source material from high-ranking allied officers, calling this argument revisionist is a bit rich) are fallacious in similar ways, and can be given short shrift.

    The second is a bit more complicated. Another counter is that if the US wasn’t the first to develop and deploy the bomb, someone else would have. Indeed, today I saw a link to this interesting piece in the daily beast:

    My response to this essentially boils down to: and?

    Rationalising the deployment of the bomb by saying ‘someone else would’ve done it, so good thing we did’ is misanthropic and nihilist in the extreme, and does not adequately account for the moral failing at the heart of the development of the bomb – a munition that is so awesomely powerful and indiscriminate that it all but guarantees the incineration or poisoning of civilian populations (to say nothing of the environment).

    Put another way, I recall the argument that the holocaust was a failure of human civilization (I can’t recall where, sadly. I thought maybe it was Arendt but haven’t been able to corroborate). While understanding that the exact nature and magnitude of the offences are different, I’m inclined to believe that the development and deployment of these atomic weapons belongs in that same category. This would be the true whether it had been enacted by the USSR against Japan, Japan against Hawaii (or Germany against New York City), or whomever against whomever. It was bad

    Anyway, I apologise; it’s late here and I’m very tired so this isn’t as well structured/argued as I would like, so I’ll finish up with this final point. Mind you, it’s merely hypothetical and conjectural, but nevertheless: one might ask whether or not the United States’ failure to adequately and sincerely reckon with Hiroshima and Nagasaki – as opposed to Germany’s attempts to reckon with the holocaust, for example, or Japan’s submission to pacifism (while fully recognising that these are positions both nations came to because they were defeated) – may or may not account for the US’ generally unchecked propensity for intercontinental violence in the decades since.

    P.S. I think I mentioned this last month when there was a cross-post about the US nuclear arsenal so, at the risk of repeating myself, I strongly recommend reading John Hersey’s ‘Hiroshima’, for anyone who is interested in this subject. It is horrifying. It’s also inspiringly first-rate journalism. I was also able to visit Hiroshima in 2009 and I would recommend that to anyone as well.

    1. jm

      I see no evidence that Basil Pesto reads or even speaks Japanese.

      I do, and have expended thousands of dollars and hours over the last 25 years researching this subject in both Japanese and English, acquiring a large collection of Japanese source material, both the most recent Japanese-language books on the topic, long out-of-print diaries and memoirs of Japanese leaders, and collections of primary documents such as “Shuusen Kousaku no Kiroku” (“A Record of War-End Maneuverings”).

      Basil Pesto is not competent to write on this subject.

      Note for example that he presents the quote “… it was clear in the final months of the war that the Japanese ‘had lost the ability to defend themselves.’ American planes ‘met little, and then virtually no resistance,'”. Anyone who is competent even in just the English-language literature on this subject will know that the Japanese had most definitely not lost the ability to defend themselves, and that American planes met little resistance was due to the fighters that could have opposed them were being kept back for use in kamikaze attacks against the invasion the high command intended to force he Allies into. Anyone who also can and does read Japanese can know that the planned invasion of southern Kyushu was going to be a repeat of Okinawa on a five-plus-times larger scale. Japanese military dead alone would have mounted to at least half a million, “non-combatant” dead perhaps twice that number (a large fraction being not true non-combatants, but rather members of the “Volunteer Combat Corps” — actually not voluntary at all).

      See also my other comments here.

      P.S. Note also that I have spent days in the National Archives of the UK copying Blechley Park decrypts of intercepted Japanese diplomatic and miliitary attache messages, and much time in Japanese libraries, and in the University of Chicago’s magnificent East Asian collections, reading materials I was unable to buy.

      1. Basil Pesto

        Thanks for your reply. Do you have any writing that has culminated from your research? It sounds fascinating and I am certainly open to hearing good faith arguments against my previously held positions. Perhaps those of us who don’t read Japanese are unqualified to opine on this subject, though I must admit I’m not sure why you singled me out in that regard, although I suppose my original comment was longer than others. At any rate, as you say, certainly cherrypicking is a problem.

        A socratic debate between Kuznick and yourself (or a representative of your historical argument) would also be most very interesting and informative, I think.

  26. Denis Drew

    I always said that — if we had not fought Germany; us desperately trying to survive — it never would have occurred to us to bomb a single populated city (!) in Japan. We just continued the policies of desperation without thinking about it. Japan was helpless and a threat to no one. We could simply have walled it off from all connection with the world — told them to sign on the dotted line or go back to rice farming for the next 25-50 years; no raw materials or finished goods from the outside.

  27. d

    lets see the virus was first noted back in November or December of last year. and the US only vaguely woke up to the that back in January, and its now August, and after 160,000 Americans (or possibly more) have died. looks like we werent ready ,does it of this is look like ‘success’ . not unless you were expecting that many to die this year.

  28. jm

    Additional comment:
    Peter Kuznick makes the statement that, “… they all froze in terror because they realized that an atomic bomb could either ignite all the nitrogen in the atmosphere or the hydrogen in the seas and set the world on fire so they stop what they’re doing. … they go back out to Berkeley and they realized they didn’t account for all the heat that would be absorbed by radiation it’s complicated. But they realize that the odds of blowing up the world were only three in a million. They say those odds are acceptable and so they go back and they continue the bomb project.”

    This is horse manure.
    (alas, a $20 purchase)
    (highly technical, note that last section refers not to WWII era fission weapons but to a hypothesized giant H-bomb),according%20to%20physicist%20Hans%20Bethe.

  29. killllljapppppppppsssss

    I’m Japanese.
    Let me give you the opinion of the average Japanese.
    The bomb was dropped, and the Japanese are grateful to the U.S.
    The pre-war government did so many terrible things, and I’m grateful to America for bringing it down.
    Japan’s government is such a shitty one that they regret not dropping an atomic bomb on Tokyo and wiping out the garbage

  30. tuffy

    because the japanese beheaded more pow’s then died in hiroshima and nagasaki combined.and also the secret frankenstein laborotory called project 17 that they did horriffic experiments on humans and animals.the japanese escaped their war crimes pretty much.they caught filipino babies on bayonets.they were convinced they were superior in every way.and its too bad the germans and japs didnt win.europe would still be white.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I can’t find evidence for the beheadings claim or the baby bayoneting (which BTW the US depicted as a German crime during its World War I propaganda) but it is indisputable that the Japanese engaged in numerous, often large scale war crimes, most of all against Chinese captives.

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