August 29 2011

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,”

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  1. August 30 2011 at 1:30 pm

    An interesting response from someone who identifies himself as “Al”.

    Al Says:
    I note that the article was excerpted from The Japan Times. I view it as Japanese propaganda.

    From 1939 — 1945, it was declared WAR among nations, by its very despicable nature, which “inflict(ed) harm indiscriminately on innocent noncombatants…”

    Let’s look at the decision to drop the Bomb in terms of pros and cons. The following was written by Bill Dietrich of The Seattle Times:

    Why the Bomb Was Needed or Justified:

    The Japanese had demonstrated near-fanatical resistance, fighting to almost the last man on Pacific islands, committing mass suicide on Saipan and unleashing kamikaze attacks at Okinawa.

    Fire bombing had killed 100,000 in Tokyo with no discernible political effect. Only the atomic bomb could jolt Japan’s leadership to surrender.

    With only two bombs ready (and a third on the way by late August 1945) it was too risky to “waste” one in a demonstration over an unpopulated area.

    An invasion of Japan would have caused casualties on both sides that could easily have exceeded the toll at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    The two targeted cities would have been firebombed anyway.

    Immediate use of the bomb convinced the world of its horror and prevented future use when nuclear stockpiles were far larger.

    The bomb’s use impressed the Soviet Union and halted the war quickly enough that the USSR did not demand joint occupation of Japan.

    Why the Bomb Was Not Needed, or Unjustified:

    Japan was ready to call it quits anyway. More than 60 of its cities had been destroyed by conventional bombing, the home islands were being blockaded by the American Navy, and the Soviet Union entered the war by attacking Japanese troops in Manchuria.

    American refusal to modify its “unconditional surrender” demand to allow the Japanese to keep their emperor needlessly prolonged Japan’s resistance.

    A demonstration explosion over Tokyo harbor would have convinced Japan’s leaders to quit without killing many people.

    Even if Hiroshima was necessary, the U.S. did not give enough time for word to filter out of its devastation before bombing Nagasaki.

    The bomb was used partly to justify the $2 billion spent on its development.

    The two cities were of limited military value. Civilians outnumbered troops in Hiroshima five or six to one.

    Japanese lives were sacrificed simply for power politics between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

    Conventional firebombing would have caused as much significant damage without making the U.S. the first nation to use nuclear weapons. [I love "conventional firebombing." It makes it seem that burning alive is more in accord with the rules of war and less painful than vaporizing.]

    Make up your own mind. The decision wasn’t as clear cut as simplistic logic would have you believe.

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