Excerpted from The Japan Times, August 29, 2011 Article written by Hiroaki Sato.
This month 66 years ago the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Back in 1995, I had attended another ICP panel discussion on Hiroshima, which was part of the exhibition “The Pacific War.” That year was the 50th anniversary of the war’s ending. As I recall, the three main speakers on the earlier panel were historians, and each offered a different reason why the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki:
Gar Alperovitz argued that the U.S. wanted to assert its military superiority in the upcoming Cold War, that is, to intimidate the Soviet Union. Barton Bernstein posited that the U.S. dropped the bombs for domestic reasons. President Harry Truman feared that the American taxpayers would revolt if, with the war ended, they discovered he had not used the products of the horribly expensive government R&D venture, the Manhattan Project. It had cost $2 billion, today’s $20 billion. Ronald Takaki said the U.S. motive was largely racist.
[This time around], Adam Levy, Levy, after agreeing, in 2003, to be part of a plan to make a BBC documentary on Hiroshima, first read Richard Rhodes’ award-winning book, “The Making of the Atomic Bomb” (1986). When he came to the section citing some of the survivors’ words, he was sickened and sauntered out, finding himself in a bookstore. There, on a bookshelf, he spotted “a thin black book with a mysteriously blank spine.” Pulling it out, he saw the book was titled “After and Before: Documenting the A Bomb.” Its first half showed photos of nuclear explosions; the second half, those of “extraordinary devastation.”
With some research and luck, Adam Levy found that the photos originally belonged to U.S. Navy Lt. Robert L. Corsbie, and learned much about the man. Corsbie was a civil engineer and architect who had become a member of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey’s Physical Damage Division. The PDD’s sole purpose was to record and measure damage that the atomic blast had wrought on the buildings and other structures. [A]mong the web of motives for dropping the A-bomb was the physicists’ desire to learn the “effects” of the fruit of their efforts in an actual war. It was for that reason that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were selected: The cities had not been damaged by carpet bombing, and their population density and topographies were just right.
The work for the PDD over, Corsbie returned to civilian life, but was called back to assess the effects of nuclear tests in Nevada — exclusively on building structures. He became a leading advocate of bomb shelters and reinforced structures. That advocacy and expertise, however, killed R.L. Corsbie in a conflagration. One January night in 1967, his house in Ossining, New York caught fire. “Almost 200 volunteer firefighters, four pumper trucks, and a hook-and-ladder [were] called to fight the blaze, but to no avail.”
Why did the discovery of photos in Corsbie’s possession become the impetus for “Hiroshima: Ground Zero?” Because the U.S. government had put tight control on information on what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In 1947 the government did put together “The Effects of the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima, Japan,” and made hundreds of the PDD photos part of the three-volume report, but classified it.
As Richard Parker tells it in “John Kenneth Galbraith: His Life, His Politics, His Economics” (2005), the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey (USSBS) had an ironic history. The advocates of large-scale bombing as the surest means of defeating the enemy set up the survey team exactly to prove their point.
Galbraith argued that the production of ball bearings, tanks and warplanes actually increased after Britain and the U.S. started and intensified their “area” or “strategic” bombings. In Japan, the survey team also cast in doubt the efficacy of bombing in forcing Japan to surrender, but for a different reason: It was not so much the wholesale bombing as the naval destruction of Japan’s supply lines from overseas that did the work. Most likely, before the U.S. planned the invasion of Japan on Nov. 1, the USSBS concluded, “Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped.” Many U.S. military commanders had expected the same.
John Dower details in “Cultures of War” (2010) that Gen. Henry Arnold assembled the largest air armada ever of 1,014 aircraft to bomb Tokyo after Japan accepted the surrender terms. The motive was purely “vindictive” and “gratuitous,”