By Timothy S. Flanders
The United States is the only country to have ever used biological (Korea), chemical (World War II, Vietnam) and nuclear weapons (World War II). Ever since the dropping of the nuclear bombs on the two Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, scholars have debated fiercely about the morality of this decision, which led to decades of nuclear fear and continues to threat the world. As part of the memorial of the bombing Hiroshima by the United States on August 6th, I decided to do an experiment to see how the news media covered this—both the commemoration yesterday and earlier articles around this date. Most of the US media either didn’t cover it, or focused on Japan’s recent nuclear problems, or repeated the government’s version of the story (that the bomb was dropped to save millions of lives), or interviewed crew members and wrote an “exiting story” about the bombing without mentioning that it killed hundreds of thousands of civilians.
Christian Science Monitor discussed Japan’s nuclear problems, and so did NPR. NPR did run a good article, however, in October two years ago, discussing the idea of healing memories. An article from NPR last October speaks of the continued suffering of the survivors of Hiroshima/Nagasaki. But NPR, one of the few US news media which covered the story yesterday, quoted the mayor of Hiroshima in his annual peace speech in his actual words “The atomic bomb is the ultimate inhumane weapon and an absolute evil. The hibakusha [Japanese survivors of the bombings], who know the hell of an atomic bombing, have continuously fought that evil.” (NPR, according to Mr. Purdue’s article, is probably the most reliable US media.) After NPR, the best US media does to approach the difficult questions of civilian casualties is present a little sentimentality occasionally (only a couple did this).
New York Times article entitled “HIROSHIMA; Enola Gay’s Crew Recalls The Flight Into a New Era” took the exciting soldier approach, quoting soldiers only and no other viewpoint:
“No. 1, there is no morality in warfare—forget it,” [Veteran] Mr. Tibbets, 80, said in an interview in New York. “No. 2, when you’re fighting a war to win, you use every means at your disposal to do it…I believe that when you’re in a war, a nation must have the courage to do what it must to win the war with a minimum loss of lives.”
Another NY Times article justified it. Another article on CNN fails to give the Axis side of the story. Yet another uses the “soldier excitement” writing and considers the Chinook helicopter accident which killed 30 US soldiers in Afghanistan to “top the list” over the massacre of hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians killed with two Atomic Bombs (the article gives the immediate death tolls, but does not mention the affect of radiation poisoning). Another video from CNN focuses again on the ‘excitement’ of the dropping of the bomb, but ends with a small sentimentality of a Nagasaki bomber seeing a Japanese soldier look for his house in ruined Nagasaki.
An article from Washington Post actually mentioned the Hiroshima memorials in Japan (but not around the world), but spent most of the time discussing controversies over recent Japan’s nuclear tragedies. The Wall Street Journal actually showed photos from the memorial in Japan, but has no article.
MSNBC blurb from Brian Williams repeats the government’s version of the story and repeated Truman justifying the bombing, certain he was doing the right thing. But did use the word “tragic” and “horrible” to describe it, although this was overshadowed by justifications.
The best article (excluding NPR) was through MSNBC, which showed Japanese children making paper cranes for world peace. Perhaps a runner up came also through MSNB, which mentioned, although vaguely, “people promoting peace” and mentioned some of their views, but did not quote them.
None showed an opposing view except only three which had vague sentimentalism (the children making cranes promoting peace, a vague reference to “people promoting peace,” and an Enola Gay crew member feeling a little “sad” when he saw a Japanese soldier looking for his home in Nagasaki). None made reference to the fact that throughout the rest of the world these questions loom very large and people around the world (not just in Japan) held memorials. In short, none of the US media (except perhaps NPR) even came close to informing the public about the important issues which Hiroshima must cause us to consider.
(This underscores the reality that 80% of US media is owned by five large corporations which have the power to control much of what is said (which has been vocally criticized by Walter Cronkite and others). Their approach is to make the consumer not think as much as possible, because it is easier for them to quickly consume the product. Consider the coverage of Bradley Manning verdict: it was covered in about 5 minutes by cable news. Independent News Democracy Now spent an hour on it, considering it more important information for the US public to think about. The highest goal of the mainstream news in profit—not public service. Thus stories are selected and presented according to a marketing scheme, not to be informative per se (NPR and PBS seem to be far more concerned about information)).
The BBC article is stupendous. It is far more scholarly. Looks at different view points—and lets them speak—and comes to a conclusion based on evidence. The conclusion it makes is that President Truman was right, and that the bombs did save lives. The article makes it seem like, however, that there is scholarly consensus on this point there is not (see below).
A Russia Today article talks about President Truman’s grandson who is still “unapologetic” and believes it to have saved lives, but truthfully says that “considerable debate” continues over its use. An Asia Times article is predictably critical, and focuses on the stories of Japanese individuals who survived the bombs (known as hibakusha, “those who were bombed”), but also looks at the wider questions of nuclear war, pointing out that “United States, Russia, France, England, China, Israel, Pakistan, India, and North Korea – have more than 27,000 operational nuclear weapons among them, enough to destroy several Earth-sized planets” and that by 2004 the US was still officially committed to using them. Not only that, but the nuclear bombs of then are nothing compared to today: “within 12 minutes, the United States and Russia could launch the equivalent of 100,000 Hiroshimas.” This article does a good job of discussing the implications of the Bomb on nuclear war—which no other news network does.
Another Asia Times article quotes the Hiroshima museum: “To engage now in debate whether the dropping of the bombs was necessary is merely empty argument. I want to leave that judgment up to the political scientists and historians. We should rather debate how to change the current situation with respect to nuclear weapons.” It further states the actual death toll—counting the radiation poisoning—at 340,000 by 1950, further adding that 320,000 in Japan today still experience health issues related to the bomb. It also critiqued the US war machine of the time (just after the Afghanistan invasion) by saying
Many fear that after its unilateral withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, and after increasing its military budget to a higher rate than the US average during the Cold War, the Bush administration is poised to lead the world into a new arms race, including deployment of nuclear weapons
With the advent of the drone wars under President Obama, this 2002 article does not forebode too far from the mark. The best part about this article, however is that it even boldly states that a human life is a human life, no matter what its citizenship: “Those who grieved last September at the tragedy that hit innocent people in New York’s World Trade Center must not stand by as the same thing happens to innocent people in Afghanistan and elsewhere in Asia.”
I found it awfully clear from this short survey that if US citizens don’t read world news (particularly from other sources than the BBC), they will not be very informed at all about the world. A wise friend once told me, “Money isolates rich people from reality.” I think the same is absolutely in this instance. While many people in the rest of the world consider the implications of President Truman’s destruction of around 300,000 civilians with a nuclear bomb, the US continues to churn out the ‘official story’ of the government which prevents them from seeing the greater complexity of the situation. The ‘official story’ of the government is that an invasion of Japan would have cost half a million lives. Thus the action taken to drop the nuclear bomb is believed to be ultimately altruistic—saving some million US and Japanese lives. But here are some of the complexities.
- One of the most crucial issues in deciding to drop the Atomic Bomb was keeping the Soviet Union from taking Japan. When Japan offered conditional surrender (that the Emperor be left in place to save face), President Truman’s aides (particularly Secretary of State James F. Byrnes) convinced him to accept it on the basis that it was crucial to get “Japan into our hands before the Russians could put any substantial claim to occupy and help rule it.” Truman himself stated that the Russians should not continue their assault on Manchuria to take more of Japanese territory, and stated in his diary that the Japanese were finished once the Russians entered the war—proving he knew a non-Atomic solution was feasible.
- The pre-bomb military estimates for casualties given to the Truman administration were around 20,000 and the worst case being 46,000. After the bomb, the Truman administration began claiming that it would have been 500,000—numbers that were concocted “consciously and artfully to discourage questions about it.”
- At the same time, a number of scientists from the Manhattan Project (which created the bomb) issued an official appeal to President Truman to not use the bomb (Albert Einstein who was instrumental in the bomb project, also later condemned its use). When the Atomic bomb was dropped, it was also part of a scientific experiment (led by those scientists who were willing) to gauge the effectiveness of the weapon.
- These facts were interpreted by many historians in the 60s and 70s (during a period of protest against the US invasion of Vietnam) to consider that the bomb was used by President Truman simply to gain control of Japan and not let Russia have it. It is considered the first act of the Cold War. These historians were maligned as “revisionists” since they sought to “revise” the official story given by the government.
- These historians were opposed by others who considered the revisionists “anti-American” and interpreted the facts to corroborate the official story of the government.
- This debate came to a head in 1994 when the Smithsonian institute was working on an exhibit of the Enola Gay (the bomber which dropped the Atomic bomb on Hiroshima) which would prevent much of the evidence from both sides in an attempt to make the US public think. However, Veterans organizations pressured Congress who then threatened to take away funding from the Smithsonian Institute if they ran the display. The Smithsonian gave in to pressure and did not present this information, opting for a smaller display that did not challenge the official story. The leader of the exhibit project, Martin Harwit, resigned in protest, saying that US citizens must be able to see both sides in a Democracy. He later wrote a book about it to show the public what was at stake. The reviews on Amazon show the intense debate over it.
- After much debate over “revisionists histories” however, scholars came to a large consensus during the Smithsonian controversy and after that the bomb was dropped primarily for military reasons (to end the war) and secondarily for diplomatic reasons (to check the Soviet Union). There was a consensus (at least in 1996, shortly after the Smithsonian Controversy) that the Truman administration did not drop the bomb primarily to prevent invasion casualties, since the estimates were low and alternatives were known to exit.
- Despite some consensus in some areas, scholarly attitudes continue to be sharply divided on the whole issue. One of the most recent works (Hiroshima in History: The Myths of Revisionism, 2007) sharply attacks the “revisionists” as being politically motivated, while claiming itself—which supports the official political version of the story—to be free from bias. On the other hand, “new evidence” still is becoming known which corroborates at least some of the “revisionist” interpretations.
Behind these debates are two political philosophies—one believes that the United States is “the greatest force for good in the history of the world.” The other is maligned as “anti-American” and “revisionist” and is critical of the United States’ strong imperialist tendencies, especially since the Second World War. Whatever the case, one thing can be considered frankly by all: if the atmosphere in scholarly circles is so hotly disputed, and the government can close a Smithsonian exhibit which would have sparked debate, what can be said of the average US citizens, who learns all of his information from the Lies My Teacher Told Me and the cable news channel? Without a doubt, he has no knowledge of the complexity of the issue, and trusts in the official story. The official story promotes the benevolence of the US, and obscures the complexities. Even if the US is indeed a benevolent force for good in the world, the US society still doesn’t allow its citizens to think for themselves. US calendars come marked with December 7th—Pearl Harbor Day—not with the 6th of August.
Written by Timothy Flanders
New Way of Life is a cooperative social justice blog written by people who share with each other about a new way of life. The post August 6th – A Date Which Will (Not) Live in Infamy appeared first on (New Way of Life) and has been syndicated with permission of the author.
 Hasegawa, Racing the Enemy, 212 in Joseph Gerson, Empire and the Bomb, 70; see also Gar Alperovitz in Atomic Diplomacy who notes in the diary of Secretary of Navy James Forrestal that James F. Byrnes was “most anxious to ge the Japanese affair over with before the Russians got in” (cited in Howard Zinn, People’s History of the United States, 423)
 Gerson, 70; Truman’s diary cited by J. Samuel Walker, “The Decision to Use the Bomb: A Historiographical Update,” 19
 As Mr. Waker notes, this is established y Mr. Rufus E. Miles Jr. in 1985 (“Hiroshima: The Strange Myth of Half a Million American Lives Saved,” International Security 10), corroborated by Mr. Barton J. Bernsten (“A Post-war Myth: 500,000 U.S. Lives Saved,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 42 (1986), and Mr. John Ray Skates (The Invasion of Japan: Alternatives to the Bomb (Columbia, 1994). These conclusions are also supported by Mr. Martin J. Sherzin (A World Destroyed, 1987) and Mr. Michael S. Sherry (The Rise of American Air Power: The Creation of Armageddon, 1987)
 This is stated by Mr. Walker in his rather balanced article cited above.
 See Julian and Malloy’s review of Mr. Maddox in The Journal of Military History 72.2 (2008), 535-539
 See, for example, the Navy’s website (http://www.navy.com/about/gffg.html) or an article from Max Boot, “US Imperialism: A Force for Good,” Council on Foreign Relations, May 13, 2003 (http://www.cfr.org/iraq/us-imperialism-force-good/p5959), the statements of both candidates during the 2008 campaign: Daniel W. Drezner, “Both Candidates are Economic Isolationists,” The National Interest, October 9, 2008 (http://nationalinterest.org/article/both-candidates-are-economic-isolationists-2879)
Our authors want to hear from you! Click to leave a comment