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Hiroshima, Nagasaki and America's Immoral Addiction to Nuclear Weapons

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Americans "were free to say what they think,
because they did not think what they were not free
to say."

Leo Szilard

"Had Germany used atomic bombs on two allied cities
[during World War II], those responsible would have been
'sentenced…to death at Nuremberg and hanged…'"

Leo Szilard

America's immoral addiction to nuclear weapons was on display last week after Barack Obama demonstrated that rare ability to think and to say what most American politicians are not free to say, namely that he would not use nuclear weapons "in any circumstance" to fight terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Almost immediately Senator Hillary Clinton put the use of nuclear weapons back on the table, when she asserted: "I don't believe that any president should make any blanket statements with respect to the use or non-use of nuclear weapons." Poor Hillary!

By her willingness to contemplate the use of nuclear weapons, Senator Clinton appears ready, were she to be elected president, to add her name to the long list of presidents who have contemplated such use. As Joseph Gerson notes, in his recent book, Empire and the Bomb: How the US Uses Nuclear Weapons to Dominate the World: "On at least 30 occasions since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, every US president has prepared and/or threatened to initiate nuclear war during international crises, confrontations, and wars - primarily in the Third World." [p. 2]

For perspective, consider that, in 1939, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt expressed America's moral outrage, when he proclaimed: "The ruthless bombing from the air of civilians in unfortified centers of population during the course of hostilities…sickened the hearts of every civilized man and woman, and has profoundly shocked the conscience of humanity." [Gerson, p 33] Yet, within six years, Roosevelt would not only subject European and Japanese cities to such "ruthless bombing," his successor, Harry Truman, would do nothing to prevent America's technological utopians from turning mass murder into a one-brushstroke work of art -- by exploding single atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In fact, Secretary of War Henry Stimson "confided to Truman that with the US fire bombings that had razed nearly every major Japanese city to the ground, and with the atomic bombings that were to come, the US could 'get the reputation of outdoing Hitler in atrocities.'" [p. 13]

On August 6, 1945,-- sixty-two years ago today -- "Little Boy" exploded over Hiroshima. "People…within a half a mile of the hypocenter were vaporized or reduced to lumps of charcoal." The city became a living hell. "Outlines of bodies were permanently etched as white shadows in black nimbus on streets and walls, but the bodies themselves had disappeared….there were innumerable corpses without apparent injury. Parts of bodies held their ground, like two legs severed below the knees, still standing. Many of the dead were turned into statues, some solid and others waiting to crumble at a touch." [p. 61]

Six-year old Junko Kayashige was sitting by a windowsill when "Little boy" exploded. She survived, but found herself "walking on the roofs of houses which were smashed flat on the ground…there were people staggering…I could not tell men from women. The skin of their bodies and even their faces had peeled off and [was] dangling, looking like seaweed." [p. 64]

On August 9, 1945, "Fat Man" exploded over Nagasaki. Unlike in Hiroshima, where approximately 100,000 men, women and children died within weeks of the atomic blast - and another 100,000 during the next few months - the bomb over Nagasaki took but some 74,000 lives by the end of 1945.

Fourteen-year-old Senji Yamaguchi survived the Nagasaki blast to recount seeing the explosion "crush a pregnant woman against a wall and tear apart her abdomen. I could see her and her unborn baby dying. The blast instantly knocked down many homes and buildings as well. Mothers and children were trapped beneath the burning wreckage. They called out each other's names, and the mothers would cry out, pleading for someone to save their children. No one was able to help them, and they all burned alive." [p. 69]

Sixteen-year-old Sumiteru Taniguchi was riding his bicycle when "Fat Man" exploded. Tossed into the air by the blast, he managed to drag himself into a basement, where he groaned in agony for three nights. "A grotesque photograph pf Taniguchi's tortured and bloody body was taken by the U.S. Army. Decades later, when his wounds had yet to fully heal, the heart-rending and now subversive picture (see ) was banned from the Smithsonian Museum's 50th anniversary commemoration of the atomic bombings." [p. 68]

Admiral William D. Leahy, President Truman's chief of staff, opposed the use of nuclear weapons against Japan. So did General Dwight D. Eisenhower. As Leahy wrote in his memoirs, "[T]he use of the 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….[I]n being the first to use it, we…adopted an ethical standard common to 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." [Quoted from Gar Alperovitz, "Enola Gay: Was Using the Bomb Necessary?" Miami Herald, Dec. 14, 2003]

During the war, General Eisenhower was given to "a feeling of depression" when Secretary of War Henry Stimson informed him that the bomb would be used. Writing in his memoirs, Ike asserted: "[S]o 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." [Ibid]

The debate still rages about whether dropping the bombs was necessary to end the war. As Tsuyoshi Hasegawa asserts in his recent book, Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan, "Evidence makes clear that there were alternatives to the use of the bomb, alternatives that the Truman administration for reasons of its own declined to pursue." [p. 299]

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Walter C. Uhler is an independent scholar and freelance writer whose work has been published in numerous publications, including The Nation, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Journal of Military History, the Moscow Times and the San (more...)
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