In a week or two the United States will take its official sobriety-and-stiletto style and a planeload of reporters to Hiroshima. It will be the first time a sitting president has visited that city rebuilt from the radioactive rubble that another president created. The only appropriate act for Barack Obama when he touches down would be to pull a pen from his pocket and sign a binding contract to beat every nuclear weapon in the U.S. arsenal into a plowshare. But that’s not what he’ll be there for.
Instead, the leader of the electronically surveilled free world will step shamelessly in front of a microphone and in unctuous tones pull back his suit coat to show the mushroom cloud and smoking hole, the charred corpses and dying children, the flattened landscape and the grim number 140,000. Then he will look China in the eye and smile.
Beside Obama will be Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, the official face of his country’s rapid remilitarization. These men will lay claim to the lessons of Hiroshima and tell us, as did Secretary of State John Kerry in April, that the bombing of that city is a reminder of the “complexity” of war. Difficult choices must be made in wartime. Like dropping atomic bombs on two cities.
Difficult choices, but not regrettable. Obama will not be issuing an apology for Hiroshima’s destruction, we have already been told. National security adviser Ben Rhodes wrote last week as saying that Obama “will not revisit the decision to use the atomic bomb at the end of World War II. Instead, he will offer a forward-looking vision focused on our shared future.” That forward look is the point of Obama’s photo-op at Hiroshima. As the U.S. and Japan strengthen their mutual defense commitments, the U.S. Navy continues to carry out incursions into Chinese-claimed waters in the South China Sea.
That context gives the chilling subtext to Rhodes’s claim that “[i]n making this visit, the President will shine a spotlight on the tremendous and devastating human toll of war.” More specifically, Obama will be shining his spotlight on the tremendous and devastating toll of nuclear weapons, not to hasten nuclear disarmament, though that will be a pretext of his visit, but to let China know that the U.S. was crazy enough to use nukes once and it is surely just as crazy now.
The official U.S. story about using atomic weapons on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a lie told so often that it has been taken as truth by perhaps most Americans, is that it was an anguished but necessary decision, made by a morally torn but resolute President Harry S. Truman. Only the atomic bomb, so the story goes, could hasten the end of a war that threatened to go on indefinitely, or until the U.S. undertook a catastrophically costly invasion of the Japanese mainland.
For the sordid truth about the decision to drop an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, see this article by Andre Damon of the World Socialist Web Site. But briefly, here are a few facts that should prove useful in your conversations during the day or two when Obama’s visit dominates the mainstream news:
The United States had established total air supremacy over Japan by early 1945 and had taken possession of islands within striking distance of the Japanese mainland. Also in early 1945, the U.S. had changed its strategy from carrying out precision bombing raids on military targets and had taken up the “total war” tactic of dropping incendiary bombs on civilian centers. The March 9-10 firebombing of Tokyo alone was responsible for the deaths of about 100,000 people.
What toll had all of this taken on the Japanese war machine? Here is General Curtis LeMay, the Head of the U.S. Strategic Air Command, responding to the question, asked in 1945, of how long he thought the war would go on: “We sat down and did some thinking about it, and it indicated that we would be pretty much out of targets around September 1, and with the targets gone, we couldn’t see much of any war going on at the time.”
General Dwight D. Eisenhower had “grave misgivings” about Truman’s decision to use the atomic bomb and thought it “completely unnecessary” since Japan was “already defeated.” Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, said after the war was over, “The atomic bomb played no decisive part, from a purely military point of view, in the defeat of Japan.”
By August 6, when the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan had been indicating for months that it was ready to surrender, holding out only on the condition that it be allowed to keep its emperor. The White House was actually ready to accede to this condition, but Truman decided to drop the bomb first and talk terms later. Why?
The Soviet Union had defeated the German army and, apart from the U.S., presented the only credible military power left after the war in Europe. By dropping the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Truman was performing a symbolic act for the benefit of the Soviets. The hundreds of thousands of Japanese murdered by the bombings were so many props in Truman’s performance. Thus was born the era of U.S. global domination, military and economic. Now, with the U.S.’s economic might in tatters, forces within the ruling elite appear ready to use its immense military power to try to salvage a decaying empire.
Hiroshima will again be turned into a stage, this time for a Chinese audience as well as Russian. Obama will claim to be, will be presented by the media as representing the American people. But he does not. He represents the corporate power that has its death grip on the American people. This power has shown itself more than willing to risk war with China, a war that would almost certainly result in a new nightmare of Hiroshimas.
Our hope lies with the striking Verizon workers, the Detroit and Chicago public school teachers, the young people drawn to Bernie Sanders because they know that American capitalism offers them nothing but debt and ecological disaster for a future. These groups and others must make common cause and bring about a change of system. They must make common cause with Chinese and Japanese workers. Only such a coalition of the human can muster a force great enough to counter an impending nuclear war. And that, Mr. Obama, is the lesson of Hiroshima.
Photo source: telegraph.co.uk