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Comment: Justification for bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki doesn't stand up to scrutiny

A commentary by a Victoria ­historian. “All the facts at hand indicate that the atomic bombs had no positive role in the end of the war.”
Decorated lanterns float at sunset on the reflective pools bordering the new Japanese Pavilion in Gorge Park during Hiroshima & Nagasaki Day ceremonies on Tuesday. Larry Hannant writes that history has made clear that the use of nuclear weapons in the Second World War was brutal and unnecessary. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

It’s distressing to see someone try to make a case for the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki based on self-serving memoirs of U.S. politicians and generals.

Contrary to those partisan accounts, historians working with wide-ranging and objective sources and moved by a less-partisan purpose have reduced to rubble the rationalizations offered by Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower and Omar Bradley.

Apparently ignorant of what historians have been setting out with greater and greater certainty, people are still peddling hoary tales about the end of the Second World War in the Pacific.

Among them are the assertions that “the Japanese government refused to negotiate an end to the conflict,” that the military conquest of Japan would be an agonizingly-long battle causing over 10 million deaths and that the incineration of more than 200,000 Japanese brought a quick end to the war.

Historians such as Stanley Goldberg and Martin J. Sherwin and writer Malcolm Gladwell have provided evidence that refutes much of this propaganda.

They and others have learned, for instance, that British and American cryptanalysis broke every Japanese military code and that Japanese communications were transparent already by 1942.

By July 1945, Gladwell shows, six months of unrelenting U.S. Air Force firebombing of defenceless Japanese cities had killed one million people. The U.S. had excellent intelligence confirming that Japanese leaders recognized facts and were ready to surrender.

Their one concern was to keep the emperor in place, which the U.S. rejected under the doctrine of unconditional surrender. But as Goldberg puts it, after the two bombs were used, the U.S. “now allowed that the Japanese might keep their emperor.” In fact, they did.

Goldberg and Sherwin insist that “rather than shortening the war, the existence of the atomic bomb program probably lengthened it.”

Why? Because the selfish interest of the Manhattan Project’s administrator, General Leslie Groves, was to rationalize the shocking cost of his pet project to build two different types of bombs and demonstrate that both would work in practice. The U.S. would allow Japan to surrender only after atomic superiority had been proven.

Sherwin also dismisses the notion that the supposedly intransigent Japanese elite were even the main targets of the bomb. He quotes James Conant, the Manhattan Project’s chief science administrator, who spelled out that the U.S. focus was not Japan but the Soviet Union.

That ally would be sufficiently intimidated only if it was convinced “that we would have the bomb in quantity and that we would use it without hesitation in another war.” Using two bombs relying on different technologies to obliterate cities with no military value certainly qualified.

All the facts at hand indicate that the atomic bombs had no positive role in the end of the war. More importantly, facts tell us that they can have no positive role today.

Nuclear weapons are incomparably more destructive. Many more states with unprincipled leaders possess those terrible munitions. A nuclear war on even a small scale would produce a months-long nuclear winter that would render much of the world uninhabitable.

People everywhere must demand that nuclear weapons be abolished completely and forever.

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