The nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki – an American perspective

Are they the single greatest acts of terrorism in human history?

This question has been posed by Juan Cole, Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan. Since 2002 he has written a weblog, Informed Comment (


Kyoko Hayashi, a Nagasaki survivor, stood at Trinity Site where the first atomic bomb was exploded After viewing museum films that lionized the scientists of the atomic bomb project, she writes with superhuman restraint, “I understand winners create a proud history…[but] the world did not need your experiment.’’

trinity siteHayashi’s words echo the stark sentiment expressed by Admiral William Halsey, Commander of the Third Fleet, in 1946: “The first atomic bomb was an unnecessary experiment…It was a mistake to ever drop it.” And before Congress in 1949, he testified that “bombing–especially atomic bombing–of civilians is morally indefensible.”

Key World War II American military leaders from all branches of the armed forces, among them Generals Eisenhower, Arnold, Marshall and MacArthur; and Admirals Leahy, Nimitz, and Halsey strongly dissented from the decision to use the bombs–some before August 1945, some in retrospect–for both military and moral reasons. American intelligence had broken the Japanese codes and knew that Japan was already defeated and in peace negotiations with the Soviet Union. Surrender was imminent. Further, a demonstration bombing away from residential areas (also supported by many atomic bomb scientists) could have been used instead to force immediate surrender.

Political advisors to President Truman overrode the expert military opinion against dropping the atomic bomb. Among them was Secretary of State James Byrnes who argued that using atomic weapons would daunt Russia and secure American domination after the war. This morally corrupted compass–contravening all international conventions of war–set the course for Vietnam, Korea and Iraq.

At their fortieth anniversary reunion in Los Alamos, New Mexico, 70 of 110 physicists who had worked on the atomic bomb signed a statement in support of nuclear disarmament. Many had changed their minds about the bomb long ago. In December 1996, retired Air Force General Lee Butler, former commander of the Strategic Air Command that oversaw the entire nuclear arsenal, used a National Press Club luncheon as a forum to urge his government to take the lead in abolishing all nuclear weapons. “Nuclear war,” he held, “is a raging, insatiable beast whose instincts and appetites we pretend to understand but cannot possibly control.” Nothing, he concluded, not deterrence, not national security, justifies these weapons of physical and genetic terror.

Most recently, William Perry, the highly respected former defense secretary in the Clinton Administration, offered a bleak and chilling assessment: “Today, the danger of some sort of a nuclear catastrophe is greater than it was during the Cold War and most people are blissfully unaware of this danger.” “Our chief peril,” he writes in My Journey at the Nuclear Brink, “is that the poised nuclear doom, much of it hidden beneath the seas and in remote badlands, is too far out of global public consciousness. Passivity shows broadly.” Only by dumb luck, he adds, have we escaped nuclear war thus far. Contrary to government and defense industry group think, nuclear weapons do not provide security, they only endanger it.

Contrast this realist wisdom from military and defense experts with our government’s current nuclear weapons policy. Over the next thirty years, the United States plans to spend $1 trillion to modernize the existing arsenal of nuclear bombs and warheads and their delivery systems by air, land and sea, despite our existing capacity to destroy the world many times over. No other discretionary long-term public expenditure approaches this immense sum, nor is it clear how it will be paid for: “We’re…wondering how the heck we’re going to pay for it,” concedes undersecretary of defense Brian McKeon. Nor did presidential debate moderators raise this mammoth public expenditure for nuclear weapons modernization in questions to the candidates.

Pick your issue of Americans’ insecurity and suffering paychecks that working people cannot live on, costs of education and housing, climate change, prison reform, human trafficking…and imagine what our trillion dollar taxes targeted to modernize nuclear weapons and police the world militarily could do re-invested in what the majority of Americans need and want for a sustainable and secure future.

We live in a state of widespread public ignorance and public passivity because of government secrecy and denial about the “raging, insatiable beast” of nuclear weapons and because of the immense insider power of the defense industry. Studies of whose priorities shape government policy have consistently concluded that U.S. government policies do not represent the interests of the majority of the country’s citizens, but are instead shaped by the interests of the wealthy class and powerful corporate lobbies.

Read the whole article (fully referenced) here:

Last year Cole wrote:




This entry was posted in nuclear weapons and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s