The single most destructive bombing of WWII wasn’t Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but the firebombing raids of Dresden in February of 1945, with upwards of 135,000 men, women, and children slain. In wars between nations, the deaths of civilians is historically all-too common; and the norm, not the exception. Yet it’s the horrors of the dropping of the A-bomb that captures horror and condemnation from half the world. There is a belief among some that the U.S. is the greatest terrorist state; and that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the greatest single acts of terrorism, due to the purposeful targeting of a civilian population center.
There also seem to be two main competing historical narratives: On the one side, the Bombs helped to end the war sooner and ultimately saved millions of Japanese and American lives because it allowed for unconditional surrender and the avoidance of a land invasion that would have incurred massive casualties on both sides. The unfortunate sacrifice of 100,000 lives to save millions. (And also sent a message to the Soviets). On the other: Japan was on the verge of surrender but the U.S. government decided to drop the bombs anyway, as a scientific experiment. That the dropping of the bombs was cruel, inhumane, and barbaric.
Something that I find a significant number of people seem unaware of, is that prior to the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, millions of leaflets were dropped in over 30 Japanese cities warning of the impending attacks:
By noon on 28 July, OWI’s presses on Saipan were rolling with notices warning civilians to evacuate 35 Japanese cities scheduled to be bombed within the next few days. About 1 million leaflets fell on the targeted cities whose names appeared in Japanese writing under a picture of five airborne B-29s releasing bombs. Given the extent of the effort, it is extraordinary that many Americans are not aware that Japanese cities were warned prior to being bombed. Even today, members of the B-29 crews recall their fears that the warnings would make them easier targets for Japanese planes and antiaircraft artillery. However, they concurred with Gen. Curtis LeMay’s proposal at the time.10 Military newspapers featured the unprecedented action under such headlines as “B-29 Command Now Calling Its Shots” and “580 B-29s Follow Up Leaflet Warnings With 3800 Tons Of Fire And Explosives.”11 Visualize what it must have been like for people in the targeted cities to look up and see more than 100 B-29 “Superfortresses” overhead. The image lends understanding to the Allies’ decision to warn civilians, even at their own risk.
Advertising the Destruction of Hiroshima
At 2:45 a.m. on 6 August, the Allies’ B-29 “Enola Gay” left the island of Tinian near Saipan. Its primary target was Hiroshima, where the 2nd Japanese Army stood poised to defend against an expected Allied invasion of their homeland. At 8:15 a.m., the “Enola Gay” destroyed Hiroshima with a single atomic bomb.
Back on Saipan, the OWI presses were turning out leaflets that revealed the special nature of Hiroshima’s destruction and predicted similar fates for more Japanese cities in the absence of immediate acceptance of the terms of the Potsdam agreement. By 9 August, more than 5 million leaflets about the atom bomb had been released over major Japanese cities. The OWI radio station beamed a similar message to Japan every 15 minutes.
Front side of OWI notice #2106, dubbed the “LeMay bombing leaflet,” which was delivered to Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and 33 other Japanese cities on 1 August 1945. The Japanese text on the reverse side of the leaflet carried the following warning: “Read this carefully as it may save your life or the life of a relative or friend. In the next few days, some or all of the cities named on the reverse side will be destroyed by American bombs. These cities contain military installations and workshops or factories which produce military goods. We are determined to destroy all of the tools of the military clique which they are using to prolong this useless war. But, unfortunately, bombs have no eyes. So, in accordance with America’s humanitarian policies, the American Air Force, which does not wish to injure innocent people, now gives you warning to evacuate the cities named and save your lives. America is not fighting the Japanese people but is fighting the military clique which has enslaved the Japanese people. The peace which America will bring will free the people from the oppression of the military clique and mean the emergence of a new and better Japan. You can restore peace by demanding new and good leaders who will end the war. We cannot promise that only these cities will be among those attacked but some or all of them will be, so heed this warning and evacuate these cities immediately.” (See Richard S. R. Hubert, “The OWI Saipan Operation,” Official Report to US Information Service, Washington, DC 1946.)
Leaflets Dropped On Cities In Japan
Leaflets dropped on cities in Japan warning civilians about the atomic bomb, dropped c. August 6, 1945
TO THE JAPANESE PEOPLE:
America asks that you take immediate heed of what we say on this leaflet.
We are in possession of the most destructive explosive ever devised by man. A single one of our newly developed atomic bombs is actually the equivalent in explosive power to what 2000 of our giant B-29s can carry on a single mission. This awful fact is one for you to ponder and we solemnly assure you it is grimly accurate.
We have just begun to use this weapon against your homeland. If you still have any doubt, make inquiry as to what happened to Hiroshima when just one atomic bomb fell on that city.
Before using this bomb to destroy every resource of the military by which they are prolonging this useless war, we ask that you now petition the Emperor to end the war. Our president has outlined for you the thirteen consequences of an honorable surrender. We urge that you accept these consequences and begin the work of building a new, better and peace-loving Japan.
You should take steps now to cease military resistance. Otherwise, we shall resolutely employ this bomb and all our other superior weapons to promptly and forcefully end the war.
EVACUATE YOUR CITIES.
ATTENTION JAPANESE PEOPLE. EVACUATE YOUR CITIES.
Because your military leaders have rejected the thirteen part surrender declaration, two momentous events have occurred in the last few days.
The Soviet Union, because of this rejection on the part of the military has notified your Ambassador Sato that it has declared war on your nation. Thus, all powerful countries of the world are now at war with you.
Also, because of your leaders’ refusal to accept the surrender declaration that would enable Japan to honorably end this useless war, we have employed our atomic bomb.
A single one of our newly developed atomic bombs is actually the equivalent in explosive power to what 2000 of our giant B-29s could have carried on a single mission. Radio Tokyo has told you that with the first use of this weapon of total destruction, Hiroshima was virtually destroyed.
Before we use this bomb again and again to destroy every resource of the military by which they are prolonging this useless war, petition the emperor now to end the war. Our president has outlined for you the thirteen consequences of an honorable surrender. We urge that you accept these consequences and begin the work of building a new, better, and peace-loving Japan.
Act at once or we shall resolutely employ this bomb and all our other superior weapons to promptly and forcefully end the war.
EVACUATE YOUR CITIES.
Front side of OWI notice #2106, dubbed the “LeMay bombing leaflet,” which was delivered to Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and 33 other Japanese cities on 1 August 1945. Office of War Information [OWI] presses were turning out leaflets that revealed the special nature of Hiroshima’s destruction and predicted similar fates for more Japanese cities in the absence of immediate acceptance of the terms of the Potsdam agreement. The Japanese text on the reverse side of the leaflet carried the following warning: “Read this carefully as it may save your life or the life of a relative or friend. In the next few days, some or all of the cities named on the reverse side will be destroyed by American bombs. These cities contain military installations and workshops or factories which produce military goods. We are determined to destroy all of the tools of the military clique which they are using to prolong this useless war. But, unfortunately, bombs have no eyes. So, in accordance with America’s humanitarian policies, the American Air Force, which does not wish to injure innocent people, now gives you warning to evacuate the cities named and save your lives. America is not fighting the Japanese people but is fighting the military clique which has enslaved the Japanese people. The peace which America will bring will free the people from the oppression of the military clique and mean the emergence of a new and better Japan. You can restore peace by demanding new and good leaders who will end the war. We cannot promise that only these cities will be among those attacked but some or all of them will be, so heed this warning and evacuate these cities immediately.” (See Richard S. R. Hubert, “The OWI Saipan Operation,” Official Report to US Information Service, Washington, DC 1946.) By 9 August, more than 5 million leaflets about the atom bomb had been released over major Japanese cities. The OWI radio station beamed a similar message to Japan every 15 minutes.
Yet for the anti-American left, the United States is a war-mongering empire who’s committed atrocities and terrorized innocent civilians; the only nation to have dropped an atomic bomb.
Critics argue that Hiroshima was not a military installation. I found the following NPR article of interest regarding how Hiroshima came to be the target of choice:
in early 1945, the U.S. was still months away from building its first bomb and certainly didn’t know what to hit.
“Should it be a city? Should it be a military installation? Should you be just displaying the bomb, without killing anybody?” These are questions that were yet to be decided, says Alex Wellerstein, a historian at the Stevens Institute of Technology.
Wellerstein has devoted his career to studying nuclear weapons and the decision to use them. He says that in the spring of 1945, the military convened a target committee, a mix of officers and scientists, to decide where the bomb should fall.
The minutes of this committee were declassified years ago — and they show it considered some far less deadly targets. The initial list included a remote military installation and Tokyo Bay, where the bomb would have been detonated as a demonstration.
But the target committee decided those options wouldn’t show the world the power of the new bomb.
“They want people to understand that this is something different, and so picking a place that will showcase how different it is, is very important,” Wellerstein says.
The committee settled on two “psychological” objectives of the first atomic bombing: to scare the Japanese into unconditional surrender and to impress upon the world the power of the new weapon.
That second goal was especially important to the researchers choosing the target. The atomic bomb was still top secret, but the scientists had an even more frightening secret. Within a few years, they expected to have a “super-bomb”: the hydrogen (or thermonuclear) bomb. At the time, they believed H-bombs on top of missiles could destroy the world.
Physicist Edward Teller wasn’t on the committee, but a letter he wrote sums up the anxiety of the bomb builders:
“Our only hope is in getting the facts of our results before the people. This might help to convince everybody that the next war would be fatal. For this purpose actual combat use might even be the best thing.”
The target committee decided the A-bomb had to kill. At the time, American bombers were already firebombing many cities, killing tens of thousands.
So, they decided this bomb would not just kill — it would do something biblical: One bomb, from one plane, would wipe a city off the map. It would be horrible. But they wanted it to be horrible, to end the war and to try to stop the future use of nuclear bombs.
They chose Hiroshima.
“Hiroshima is compact,” Wellerstein says. “If you put a bomb like this in the middle of it, you end up destroying almost the entirety of the city.”
Also, Hiroshima was a real military target. There were factories and other facilities there.
The Army estimated the bomb killed 70,000 to 80,000 people. The war ended.
And did it make nuclear war unthinkable?
“It did have that effect on the decades that followed,” says Robert Norris, a longtime arms control advocate and fellow with the Federation of American Scientists who also studied the history of the first bombings.
Because of the horrific dropping of the two bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the civilized world has worked toward avoidance of nuclear war.
Reagan made it his personal mission to free the world of nuclear weapons. How did he go about it? By entering an arms race with the Soviets.
President Obama’s approach appears to be one of appeasement; and pushes the false narrative that anyone opposed to his nuclear deal with Iran wants war and not peace.
Between now and the congressional vote in September, you are going to hear a lot of arguments against this deal, backed by tens of millions of dollars in advertising. And if the rhetoric in these ads and the accompanying commentary sounds familiar, it should, for many of the same people who argued for the war in Iraq are now making the case against the Iran nuclear deal.
Obnoxious how OIF is used as metaphor for those supposedly on the wrong side of history. Let’s see here….who else aside from Republicans argued for the war in Iraq?
“We know that he has stored secret supplies of biological and chemical weapons throughout his country.”
Al Gore, Sept. 23, 2002
“I will be voting to give the President of the United States the authority to use force– if necessary– to disarm Saddam Hussein because I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a real and grave threat to our security.”
Sen. John F. Kerry (D, MA), Oct. 9, 2002
“Without question, we need to disarm Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal, murderous dictator, leading an oppressive regime He presents a
particularly grievous threat because he is so consistently prone to miscalculation … And now he is miscalculating America’s response to his
continued deceit and his consistent grasp for weapons of mass destruction
So the threat of Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction is real …”
Sen. John F. Kerry (D, MA), Jan.23.2003
“In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological
weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program.
He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including al Qaeda members. It is clear, however, that if left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons.”
Sen. Hillary Clinton (D, NY), Oct 10, 2002
“If we wait for the danger to become clear, it could be too late.”
–Sen. Joseph Biden, Sept. 4, 2002
Drifting back to the original topic of the post, comes a reminder in a recent LA Times article:
A retired professor at the state-run Kyoto University recently discovered a blueprint at the school’s former Radioisotope Research lab, Japan’s Sankei newspaper and other local media reported recently.
The notebooks were related to research work by Bunsaku Arakatsu, a professor at the university whom Sankei said was asked by the Japanese navy to develop an atomic bomb during the war.
Also found were drawings of a turbine-based centrifuge apparently to be used for the study of uranium enrichment. It was dated March 1945. Another blueprint was found of a centrifuge that a Japanese company, Tokyo Keiki, was producing, with a notation indicating the device was scheduled to be completed Aug. 19, 1945 — four days after Japan announced that it was surrendering.
Experts say the material buttresses information contained in U.S. archives and casts light on the direction the research was headed.
For some, the documents also have contemporary resonance, and are a painful reminder that Japan was headed toward developing the same kind of intensely destructive weapons the United States had.
“These drawings are more confirmation of the Japanese atomic bomb effort, something many in Japan do not want to admit,” said Robert K. Wilcox, the L.A. based- author of “Japan’s Secret War: Japan’s Race Against Time to Build Its Own Atomic Bomb.”
Wilcox, who has been researching the program for decades, said Japan’s problem was not a lack of know-how.
“They knew the physics needed for creating the bomb and the engineering needed to build it,” he said. “It was lack of element resources like uranium that was the real problem for them.”
Such supplies were not readily available in Japan so its leaders looked toward occupied territories.
“In 1945, the Japanese navy alone spent a fortune to gather uranium,” Wilcox said. “They needed a win-the-war weapon and an atomic bomb was seen as one of those.”
The Japanese government burned thousands of documents as the war was ending. Researchers believe many documents related to Japan’s atomic bomb program were destroyed. U.S. occupation forces confiscated almost anything that remained.
So the documents discovered in Japan have drawn intense interest.
“We can say the blueprint is a monument to the elementary levels the research reached at the early stages,” Masakatsu Yamazaki, an expert on nuclear development history and an emeritus professor at Tokyo Kogyo University told the Sankei. “It’s historically meaningful and it’s amazing that it remained.”
After the American bombings, there was little public discussion about Japan’s attempts to develop an atomic bomb. But Wilcox and Japanese scholars who have since studied the matter say there were two programs to produce a nuclear weapon.
The first plan was commissioned by the Japanese navy and code-named F Research, which involved Arakatsu, the professor. The Japanese army carried out the other program, known as the Nigo Research project, headed by Yoshio Nishina, a physicist at the Riken Institute in Tokyo.
Some scholars believe Japan could have made a nuclear bomb if it had succeeded in acquiring uranium and been able to enrich it. Two major setbacks delayed progress, researchers and those involved in the programs have said.
Masa Takeuchi, who had played a central role in researching thermal diffusion under Nishina, said in the 1960s that Japanese researchers had completed a thermal diffusion device that would have allowed extraction of uranium 235 as early as 1944, but U.S. bombings destroyed their secret facilities.
The other problem was that Japan couldn’t get enough uranium to move forward, another researcher, Kunihiko Higoshi of Gakushuin University, said in 2013.
“Nishina told us that a U-boat from Germany would bring us the uranium. It never arrived,” Higoshi said.
On May 19, 1945, a Nazi submarine was captured and discovered to be delivering 1,200 pounds of uranium oxide to the Japanese military. The vessel was dispatched for Japan shortly after Adolf Hitler committed suicide, a time when the Germans wanted to dispose of their large amounts of uranium. Two Japanese officers were aboard the submarine; both committed suicide upon being captured.
In an article published in October 1946, the Atlanta Constitution cited an unidentified Japanese officer as saying that U.S. air raids on Japan forced the military to move its bomb plant to Japanese-occupied territory in what is now North Korea, delaying Tokyo’s bomb development schedule by three months.
Most experts believe that Japan did not have the capability to build a nuclear weapon before the U.S. bombings.
Takeuchi told the Yomiuri newspaper that when he heard that “a new type of bomb” had been dropped on Hiroshima, he thought to himself, ‘How the hell did the U.S. come up with an atomic bomb!’
“It was overwhelmingly regrettable and frustrating,” he said.
When Japan surrendered, the occupying U.S. forces discovered just five cyclotrons, devices that speed up atoms in order to separate isotopes that can then be used for a bomb. U.S. atomic facilities in New Mexico, by comparison, contained hundreds of separators operating day and night to produce just four bombs.
“I don’t think Japan’s nuclear program was very advanced or that it played a role in the decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” said Jeff Kingston, director of Asian Studies at Temple University’s Japan Campus, and author of “Contemporary Japan.”
The uranium seized from the German submarine ended up in the American atom bombs, John Lansdale Jr., head of security for the Manhattan Project, said in a 1995 New York Times interview.
Chieko Takeuchi, widow of the atomic scientist, recalled her husband saying, “If we’d built the bomb first, of course we would have used it. I’m glad, in some ways, that our facilities were destroyed.”
It is possible to respectfully mourn the loss of lives- be it “innocent” civilian or enemy soldiers- and the horrific deliverance of “Little Boy” and “Fat Man”; and yet still support that what needed to be done was done. That lives were saved at the expense of lives.
How will today’s future play itself out?
A former fetus, the “wordsmith from nantucket” was born in Phoenix, Arizona in 1968. Adopted at birth, wordsmith grew up a military brat. He achieved his B.A. in English from the University of California, Los Angeles (graduating in the top 97% of his class), where he also competed rings for the UCLA mens gymnastics team. The events of 9/11 woke him from his political slumber and malaise. Currently a personal trainer and gymnastics coach.
The wordsmith has never been to Nantucket.