Pearl Harbor, Internment, and Hiroshima: Historical Lessons

by Paul D'Amato

International Socialist Review, November-December 2001


The mobilization for war in Afghanistan was accompanied by references to the Japanese "sneak attack" on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The purpose of the analogy is self-evident. But to understand the full significance of the comparison, we must look more closely at what happened before, during, and after the Pearl Harbor attack.

The attack on Pearl Harbor, though it began the shooting war, was by no means the start of the war in the Pacific. "The American people," commented a 1943 Fortune article, "were eased into the war by a process of discreet gradualism and manufactured inevitability.... Pearl Harbor merely legalized the accomplished fact."' Evidence that has become available since the war shows that the U.S. not only deliberately maneuvered Japan to be the first to attack, but had foreknowledge of Japan's plans. After war was declared, a wave of anti-Japanese racism swept the U.S., and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt ordered 120,000 Japanese, the majority of them American citizens, to be interned in concentration camps for the duration of the war. The war ended with one of its worst atrocities: the obliteration of two cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, by the use of the world's first atomic bombs.

Today, the U.S. is bombing Afghanistan, "fighting terrorism" with cruise missiles, cluster bombs, and special forces. In the process, it whips up anti-Arab racism and prepares new laws allowing it to round up and detain "suspects" indefinitely. This is reason enough to remember what really happened in the Pacific war.


Battle for control of the Pacific region

After Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor, destroying many ships and killing more than 2,300 people, Time magazine sounded the tocsin for war, and the message was revenge: "Over the U.S. and its history, there was a great unanswered question: What would the people...say in the face of the mightiest event of their time? What they said-tens of thousands of them-was: 'Why, the yellow bastards!"

Though racism and a thirst for revenge fueled popular support for war, the road to war between Japan and the U.S. had little to do with revenge for Pearl Harbor and everything to do with a clash between two powers bent on controlling the Pacific.

The United States had its origins in a rapacious expansionism, beginning with westward conquest at the expense of the Indian population and the forcible seizure of Western states from Mexico in the 1840s under the rubric of"manifest destiny."

After the Civil War, American capitalism exploded in a fury of growth. Domestic manufacturing, worth $2 billion in 1860, was worth $9.5 billion by 1890. In the same period, the population tripled, agricultural production tripled, and the total value of manufacturing products went from $ 1 billion to $11.5 billion, pushing the U.S. into first place over Britain. Like other relative newcomers to the game of world power politics, Japan and Germany, the U.S. began to seek its place as a "great power"-on the level of Britain and France-commensurate with its new economic weight.

The new impetus of the U.S. to project its power internationally was expressed clearly by Indiana Senator Albert Beveridge in 1898: "American factories are making more than American people can use; American soil is producing more than it can consume. Fate has written our policy for us; the trade of the world must and shall be ours.... We will cover the ocean with our merchant marine. We will build a navy to the measure of our greatness."

What such "greatness" would mean was soon demonstrated in practice in the war with Spain that started in the same year. The U.S. fought this "splendid little war" under the guise of freeing oppressed peoples from Spanish tyranny. But the people of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines quickly discovered that they had only shed one colonial ruler for another-the United States. Together with Hawaii, which the U.S. had seized in 1898, the Philippines became the steppingstone for U.S. power projection in the Pacific.

It is worth noting, in light of the September 11 attacks, how the U.S. came to declare war on Spain. In February 1898, a mysterious explosion ripped through and sank the USS Maine sitting in Havana's harbor, killing 268 men. Immediately, the U.S. press conducted a hysterical campaign blaming Spain. Though subsequent inquiries never determined the cause of the explosion, the incident was used to prepare the American public to back a war to drive Spain from its colonies.

Not all were convinced. The monthly journal of the International Association of Machinists smelled a rat, commenting that

the carnival of carnage that takes place every day, month and year in the realm of industry, the thousands of useful lives that are annually sacrificed to the Moloch of greed, the blood tribute paid by labor to capitalism, brings forth no shout for vengeance and reparation.... Death comes in thousands of instances in mill and mine, claims his victims, and no popular uproar is heard.

In a widely circulated appeal to workers, Bolton Hall, the treasurer of the American Longshoremen's Union, wrote:

If there is war, you will furnish the corpses and the taxes, and others will get the glory. Speculators will make money out of it-that is, out of you. Men will get high prices for inferior supplies, leaky boats, for shoddy clothes and pasteboard shoes, and you will have to pay the bill, and the only satisfaction you will get is the privilege of hating your Spanish fellow-workmen, who are really your brothers and who have had as little to do with the wrongs of Cuba as you have.

That the U.S. wanted to create an empire-not free oppressed peoples-was clear in what it did in the Philippines. After defeating Spain in a decisive naval battle in Manila Bay, Admiral George Dewey concluded an agreement with Spanish forces. The Filipino nationalist rebels who had risen up and laid siege to Manila would be kept out of the city while a mock battle was held between Spanish and U.S. forces, after which the Spanish would surrender to the U.S. military. The Filipinos struggling for independence were held at bay outside Manila while their homeland was transferred from Spanish to U.S. control.

From the beginning, it was clear that the U.S. was measuring its colonial aims in the same racist manner as its European counterparts. President William McKinley, in an 1899 meeting with a Methodist delegation, explained that-after much nightly pacing and prayer-he had come to a conclusion: Since the U.S. could not hand the Philippines back to Spain or turn them over to France or Germany, and since the Filipino people were "unfit for self-government," "there was nothing left for us to do but take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and Christianize them." General William Shafter made clear the same year just what "uplifting" Filipinos would mean:

It may be necessary to kill half of the Filipinos in order that the remaining half of the population may be advanced to a higher plane of life than their present semi-barbarous state affords.

In its subsequent three-year war to subdue the archipelago and destroy the independence movement, U.S. forces conducted a scorched-earth policy that devastated the country and its people, the majority of whom supported the independence fighters. The populations of entire islands were herded into concentration camps, and hundreds of thousands were killed. One general reported that as many as 600,000 people were killed or died of disease on the island of Luzon alone-and an estimated 1 million Filipinos were killed, according to one historian.

"Kill and burn, kill and burn, the more you kill and the more you burn the more you please me," General "Howlin' Jake" Smith told his troops. An American congressman who visited the Philippines in 1901 reported on what these bloodcurdling pronouncements meant in practice:

You never heard of any disturbances in northern Luzon because there isn't anybody there to rebel.... The good Lord in heaven only knows the number of Filipinos that were put under ground. Our soldiers took no prisoners, they kept no records; they simply swept the country and wherever and whenever they could get hold of a Filipino they killed him. "

But the U.S. was a colonial latecomer. Much of Africa and Asia had already been carved up between Britain, France, and Germany. Britain alone controlled 11.5 million square miles of territory and 305 million subjects at the turn of the century. So while the U.S. was able to secure a handful of strategic colonies and bases in the Pacific, its main policy was one of building an "informal" empire. In its "backyard"-the Caribbean and Central America-this involved outright military occupation in some cases. More often it involved "gunboat diplomacy," where the threat of superior force was used to guarantee the interests of U.S. merchants and investors, and where puppet regimes were regularly installed as the cheaper option.

In the Pacific, where the other great powers had already begun the scramble for Asia, the U.S. pursued what it called the "open door"-the use of its economic superiority, along with diplomatic and military means, to ensure that Asia's markets and resources were not closed off to U.S. interests. Woodrow Wilson explained in 1907 how the U.S. intended to open doors:

Since trade ignores national boundaries, and the manufacturer insists on having the world as a market, the flag of his nation must follow him, and the doors of the nations which are dosed against him must be battered down. Concessions obtained by financiers must be safeguarded by ministers of state, even if the sovereignty of unwilling nations be outraged in the process."

In China, where the U.S. competed with other great powers, it demanded the open door, but in Latin America, where it had already battered down the door for its own interests, it demanded the closed door-to keep Europe out. As the Second


World War approached, the U.S. began to see Japan as a potential rival in the Pacific, a power that threatened to close the door on U.S. influence. U.S. military planners were aware of the fact that U.S. economic clout would be insufficient at some point to maintain and extend its influence in the Pacific region. Japan was an aspiring but economically far weaker power than the United States. Unlike the U.S., Japan was a country entirely dependent on raw materials from outside its borders. It therefore sought to consolidate a territorial empire in Asia, first by annexing Korea in 1910, then parts of China, then later the Dutch East Indies (an important source of oil), and elsewhere. Japan conquered Manchuria in northern China in 1931, then proceeded to annex key ports in China. Much like the U.S. in Vietnam, the Japanese army became bogged down in a war of attrition, unable to win and unable to extricate itself.

Whereas the U.S. justified its imperial policies with references to "democracy" and "freedom," Japanese officials spoke of "building a Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere" and liberating Asians from "American and British imperialism." Like the U.S. in the Philippines, such rhetoric covered a policy of brutal colonialism.

Maneuvering Japan to attack first

U.S. officials were in no doubt that the clash of interests between the U.S. and Japan in the Pacific would lead to war. It was only the timing that was in question. Wary of Japanese advances in China, the U.S. backed the Guomindang army of Chiang Kai-shek, a man described by state department officials as a "gangster"-a warlord among warlords who feared the aspirations of Chinese peasants and workers more than he did the Japanese invaders.

In the buildup to war, the U.S. engaged in a series of actions designed to draw Japan into attacking it. This was necessary, U.S. officials felt, because opinion polls in 1940 still showed that a majority of Americans were opposed to direct U.S. involvement in the European war. Lieutenant Commander Arthur H. McCollum, head of the Far East desk of the Office of Naval Intelligence, the man in charge of routing communications intelligence to Roosevelt between early 1940 and the Pearl Harbor attack, wrote a memorandum in October 1940, advocating eight actions designed to provoke a Japanese attack:

A. Make an arrangement with Britain for the use of British bases in the Pacific, particularly Singapore. B. Make an arrangement with Holland for the use of base facilities and acquisition of supplies in the Dutch East Indies [now Indonesia]. C. Give all possible aid to the Chinese government of Chiang Kai-shek. D. Send a division of long-range heavy cruisers to the Orient Philippines, or Singapore. E. Send two divisions of submarines to the Orient. F. Keep the main strength of the U.S. Fleet, now in the Pacific, in the vicinity of the Hawaiian Islands. G. Insist that the Durch refuse to grant Japanese demands for undue economic concessions, particularly oil. H. Completely embargo all trade with Japan, in collaboration with a similar embargo imposed by the British Empire.

In the lead-up to Pearl Harbor, the United States implemented each of McCollum's points-always careful to ease the embargo on Japan enough to allow them to obtain fuel for their fleet operations. Referring to the deployment of U.S.

warships in or near Japanese territorial waters, Roosevelt remarked, "I just want them to keep popping up here and there and keep the Japs guessing." The day after McCollum's memo, Roosevelt was quoted as saying, "Sooner or later the Japanese would commit an overt act against the United States and the nation would be willing to enter the war."

Events unfolded as scripted, the U.S. tightening the screws by degrees on Japan. In July 1940, Roosevelt cut off the supply of oil, scrap iron, and aviation gasoline to Japan; however, it allowed Japan to purchase enough oil from U.S. suppliers to keep its military operations running. At the same time, the U.S. intervened to prevent Japan from purchasing oil from the Dutch East Indies. Roosevelt knew from intercepted diplomatic communications that Japan was now planning to seize the Dutch East Indies by force, using as a secret staging area land leased from the Dutch. Informed of the plans, the Dutch government refused to grant the lease.

Secretary of War Henry Stimson's diary records a November 25, 1941, meeting with Roosevelt, Admiral Harold Stark, and others to discuss "how we should maneuver them [the Japanese] into a position of firing the first shot without allowing too much danger to ourselves."'' After the war, he testified to a congressional committee:

In spite of the risk involved, however, in letting the Japanese fire the first shot, we realized that in order to have the full support of the American people it was desirable to make sure that the Japanese be the ones to do this so that there should remain no doubt in anyone's minds as to who were the aggressors.

British Minister of Production Oliver Littleton was more abrupt in his assessment: "Japan was provoked into attacking Pearl Harbor. It is a travesty on history even to say that America was forced into the war."

According to historian Robert B. Stinnett in his new book Day of Deceit: The Truth about FDR and Pearl Harbor, U.S. officials not only maneuvered Japan to attack, but knew that the attack was coming at Pearl Harbor. McCollum, the intelligence officer who had devised the plan to provoke Japan into attacking the U.S., dismissed as "rumor" a January 1941 report from the third secretary of the U.S. embassy in Tokyo that he had received information from a reliable Peruvian minister that "Japanese military forces were planning, in the event of trouble with the United States, to attempt a surprise mass attack on Pearl Harbor using all their military resources."

More importantly, U.S. naval intelligence had not only broken Japan's "purple code" used to transmit diplomatic messages, but also had cracked the code used by the Japanese navy to transmit radio messages, according to Stinnett's research. Assistant Chief of Naval Operations Rear Admiral Robert Ingersoll wrote a letter on October 4, 1940, to the U.S. Navy's two Pacific commanders explaining, "Every major movement of the Orange (America's code name for Japan) Fleet has been predicted."

To this day, the original intercepts obtained by U.S. naval intelligence have not been turned over to the National Archives. Records of U.S. Naval Intelligence Station H indicate that the commander of the Japanese attack, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, dispatched 13 radio messages, none of which has been released to the National Archive, November 24-26, when Japan's fleet was heading toward Hawaii. Neither the Pacific Fleet's radio intercept traffic chief, Homer Kisner-the man who daily delivered decoded Japanese radio transmissions to Pearl Harbor from Station H-nor any of his operators was ever called before any of the nine Pearl Harbor investigations that happened after the war.

Despite claims by the U.S. government that the Japanese forces steaming toward Hawaii maintained radio silence, Kisner confirmed in interviews with Stinnett that his operators intercepted several Japanese naval transmissions prior to the December 7, 1941, attack. Admiral Husband Kimmel, in charge of the U.S. Pacific Fleet when Pearl Harbor was attacked, was never apprised of any of the intercepts. "I can't understand, may never understand, why I was deprived of information available in Washington," Kimmel wrote after the war.

Wartime hysteria and internment

After December 7, a wave of racist hysteria swept the United States. The FBI immediately began to arrest and detain people of Japanese ancestry who were suspected of "aiding the enemy," even though "not a single documented act of espionage, sabotage or fifth column activity was committed by an American citizen of Japanese ancestry or by a resident Japanese alien on the West Coast." In Norfolk, Virginia, every Japanese person found was immediately jailed. In Nashville, the Tennessee Department of Conservation requested 6 million licenses to hunt Japanese people. The purchasing department rejected the request, noting, "Open season on 'Japs'-no license required." Some restaurants on the West Coast posted signs after Pearl Harbor that read, "This Restaurant Poisons Both Rats and Japs." Newspapers and organizations, especially on the West Coast, clamored for Japanese removal. The Los Angeles Times, in its call for removal, declared, "A viper is nonetheless a viper wherever the egg is hatched-so a Japanese American, born of Japanese parentage grows up to be a Japanese, not an American." The Western Growers Protective Association snarled:

We've been charged with wanting to get rid of the Japs for selfish reasons. We might as well be honest. We do. It's a question of whether the white man lives on the Pacific Coast or the Brown man.

On February 19, 1941, Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 authorizing the removal and internment of persons of Japanese ancestry living on the U.S. West Coast. General John De Witt of the Western Defense Command, the man in charge of implementing this order, referred to Japanese as an "enemy race." He told a congressional committee that "we must worry about the Japanese all the time until he is wiped off the map "

Fully 120,000 men, women, and children-63 percent of them U.S.-born citizens-were given six days to dispose of their property before shipping out. Families were forced to sell most of their possessions-cars, furniture, pianos, farms, and houses-for next to nothing. De Witt's instructions for Japanese families to report to their nearest "Civil Control Station" indicated that no pets, personal items, or household goods would be allowed.

The historian John Dower describes what happened next:

For many Japanese-Americans, the verbal stripping of their humanity was accompanied by humiliating treatment that reinforced the impression of being less than human. They were not merely driven from their homes and communities on the West Coast and rounded up like cattle, but actually forced to live in facilities meant for animals for weeks and even months before being moved to their final quarters in the relocation camps. In the state of Washington, two thousand Japanese-Americans were crowded into a single filthy building in the Portland Stockyard, where they slept on gunnysacks filled with straw. In California, evacuees were squeezed into stalls in the stables at racetracks such as Santa Anita and Tanforan. At the Santa Anita assembly center, which eventually housed eighty-five hundred Japanese-Americans, only four days elapsed between the removal of the horses and the arrival of the first Japanese-Americans; the only facilities for bathing the horse showers, and there as elsewhere the stench of manure lingered indefinitely. Other evacuees were initially housed in horse or cattle stalls at various fairgrounds. At the Puyallup assembly center in Washington (which was called Camp Harmony), some were even lodged in converted pigpens. The only redeeming touch of grace in these circumstances lay in the dignity of the victims themselves.

Internees were sent to 10 different camps in remote desert locations in seven states, surrounded by barbed wire and towers with guards armed with machine guns and high-powered searchlights. The guards were under orders to call on anyone attempting to leave the camps to halt, and, if they didn't, to shoot them on sight.

At the Heart Mountain camp in Wyoming, which had a peak prison population of 10,757 people, prisoners lived in 468 buildings. Each building was divided into six rooms, and each room averaged 1S x 22 feet with military cots for beds. There were only two laundry and bathroom facilities per approximately 20 buildings. One hundred twenty-four soldiers and three officers guarded the camp.

At the camp schools, children were forced to salute the American flag and sing "My Country 'Tis of Thee." To add insult to injury, the U.S. government then decided in September 1942 to force 21,000 Japanese males eligible for military service to sign up for duty. Twenty-two percent refused. At Heart Mountain, 63 prisoners who resisted the draft each were sentenced to three years in prison. In November 1942, Japanese American hospital workers at the Heart Mountain camp went on strike to demand the same pay as Caucasian-American workers.

Joseph Kurihara, a U.S. citizen who served in the First World War, was interned at the Manzanar camp at Tule Lake, California-a camp designated for "troublemakers." "America, the standard bearer of democracy," he wrote after his release at the end of the war, "had committed the most heinous crime in its history, imprinting in my mind...the dread that even democracy is a demon in time of war."

The racism against Japanese abroad reached genocidal proportions. In order to dehumanize the enemy and make killing in large quantities easier, Japanese were represented in the media and by politicians as "animals, reptiles, or insects (monkeys, baboons, gorillas, dogs, mice and rats, vipers and rattlesnakes, cockroaches, vermin-or, more indirectly, 'the Japanese herd' and the like)," according to one historian. The commander of the Pacific forces, Admiral William F. Halsey, paraphrasing Sherman, said to a press conference in 1944, "The only good Jap is a Jap who's been dead six months." He added, "When we get to Tokyo...we'll have a little celebration where Tokyo was." Halsey's motto was, "Kill Japs, kill Japs, kill more Japs!" The Marine magazine Leatherneck concurred. Under a caricature of an insect with slanted eyes and protruding teeth and the caption "louseous Japanicas," the magazine explained:

Extensive experiments on Guadalcanal, Tarawa, and Saipan have shown that this louse inhabits coral atolls in the South Pacific, particularly pill boxes, palm trees, caves, swamps and jungles. Flame-throwers, mortars, grenades, and bayonets have proven to be an effective remedy. But before a complete cure may be effected, the origin of the plague, the breeding grounds around the Tokyo area, must be completely annihilated.

The war had a brutalizing effect on the soldiers involved. Life magazine even published a full-page photograph of a blonde woman posing with a Japanese skull sent by her fiancee. This was not an isolated case. Edgar L. Jones, a former war correspondent in the Pacific, listed some of the atrocities committed by American forces in the Pacific:

We shot prisoners in cold blood, wiped out hospitals, strafed lifeboats, killed or mistreated enemy civilians, finished off the enemy wounded, tossed the dying into a hole with the dead, and in the Pacific boiled the flesh off enemy skulls to make table ornaments for sweethearts, or carved their bones for letter openers.


The bombing of Japan

On September 28, 1937, the State Department issued a statement condemning Japanese bombing of civilian targets in China, arguing that "any general bombing of an extensive area wherein there resides a large population engaged in peaceful pursuits is unwarranted and contrary to principles of law and of humanity." On June 3, 1938, the State Department issued a similar statement condemning as "barbarous" the "ruthless bombing of unfortified localities with the resultant slaughter of civilian populations, and in particular of women and children." The principles espoused in these self-serving pronouncements were completely disregarded by the U.S. once it entered the war. Altogether, Allied bombing during the war killed at least 1.6 million civilians, more than 900,000 of them Japanese. In the firebombing of Tokyo that took place March 9-10, 1945, hundreds of 2,000-ton incendiary bombs were dropped by 334 U.S. B-29s, causing a firestorm that completely incinerated everything within a 1 6-mile radius. About 100,000 people were killed, a million injured, and a million made homeless in a matter of hours. The U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, created in 1944, compiled a detailed report to study the effects of aerial attacks during the war. It estimated that more people probably lost their lives in a six-hour period after the bombing than at any time in human history. Nearly 100,000 more people were killed over the next few nights in similar raids on Nagoya, Osaka, and Kobe. The air raids ended only because U.S. forces ran out of incendiary bombs.

In Hiroshima, a city with a civilian population of about 300,000 and 43,000 additional military personnel, citizens spun various stories as to why their city had been spared from the incendiary bombing that had ravaged so many other Japanese cities. One "theory" was that so many people from Hiroshima had emigrated to the United States. One elderly widow recalled:

Hiroshima was so related to America.... So many people had relatives in America, and therefore America would show sympathy toward Hiroshima-there were many in our neighborhood who had relatives in America, and believed this.

The real reason that Hiroshima had not been firebombed was far more chilling. Hiroshima was "spared" for mass killing at a later date. Japan was so devastated that the men in charge of developing and deploying the atomic bomb worried that there would be no targets left to demonstrate the awesome power of the new weapon. Some months after the firebombing of Japanese cities, on June 6, Secretary of War Henry Stimson wrote this diary entry:

I told him [President Harry Truman] how I was trying to hold the airforce down to precision bombing but that with the Japanese method of scattering its manufacturing it was difficult to prevent area bombing. I did not want to have the United States get the reputation of outdoing Hitler in atrocities; and second, I was a little fearful that before we could get ready, the Air Force might have Japan so thoroughly bombed out that the new weapon would not have a fair background to show its strength. He laughed and said he understood.

On August 6, 1945, a B-29 dropped a single atomic bomb, nicknamed "Little Boy" on Hiroshima. On August 9, another bomber dropped a plutonium bomb, called "Fat Man," on Nagasaki. A history professor who survived the Hiroshima blast described what he saw:

I climbed Hijiyama Hill and looked down. I saw that Hiroshima had disappeared.... I was shocked by the sight.... What I felt then and still feel now I just can't explain with words. Of course I saw many dreadful scenes after that-but that experience, looking down and finding nothing left of Hiroshima- was so shocking that I simply can't express what I felt.... Hiroshima didn't exist-that was mainly what I saw-Hiroshima didn't exist.

People within a few thousands meters of the blast were simply evaporated by it. Ninety percent of the people within half a mile from the blast radius in both cities were instantly killed. A boy in the fifth grade at the time of the Hiroshima blast described the dreadful effects on the dead and dying:

The river became not a stream of flowing water but rather a stream of drifting dead bodies. No matter how much I might exaggerate the stories of the burned people who died shrieking and of how the city of Hiroshima was burned to the ground, the facts would still be dearly more terrible.

A sixteen-year-old boy saw "human bodies in such a state that you couldn't tell whether they were humans or what.... There is a pile of bodies in the road and people are writhing in their death agonies." About 150,000 people died instantly in Hiroshima, and another 70,000 in Nagasaki. Another 120,000 died in the aftermath of the two explosions from radiation sickness, burns and other wounds.

President Truman was elated when he was informed that the bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima, as this historian's account shows:

Then on August 6, upon receiving a message from Stimson that Hiroshima had been successfully bombed, Truman grabbed the officer carrying the message and said, "This is the greatest thing in history!" After a confirmatory second message a few minutes later, he called out across the enlisted men's mess to [Secretary of State James] Byrnes and read him the message aloud, adding, "It's time for us to get on home." He was "exuberant".... So much so that he tapped on a glass with a utensil to make an announcement to the enlisted men present- much as one might do before making a toast-declaring that "we have just dropped a new bomb on Japan which has more power than twenty thousand tons of TNT. It has been an overwhelming success!" The crew cheered and Truman himself, according to a reporter, "was not actually laughing but there was a broad smile on his face."

Even after the A-bomb attacks, the U.S. Air Force continued to rain bombs on Japan. In one final raid on Tokyo, 1,000 aircraft dropped 12 million pounds of high explosives and incendiaries, leaving tens of thousands dead.

From the moment the atomic bombs were dropped, U.S. officials began justifying their action on two grounds: as retaliation for Pearl Harbor, and because the bombings "saved American lives." Truman's first official statement after Hiroshima read in part, "The Japanese began the war from the air at Pearl Harbor. They have been repaid many fold."' Thus an air raid on a military target that led to fewer than 3,000 deaths was compared to a single bomb that killed 150,000 people and flattened a city instantly. Three days later, Truman explained in a report on the Potsdam conference:

The world will note that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base. That was because we wished in this first attack to avoid, in so far as possible, the killing of civilians.

In later years, Truman was fond of citing the "fact" that had the U.S. not dropped the atomic bomb, "half a million" American troops would have died in the planned land invasion of Japan. This was the purest fabrication. The truth is that the Joint War Plans Committee estimated on June l0, 1945, that 40,000 Americans would be killed in the invasion of the Japanese mainland, not "half a million." Moreover, by the end of June, American military planners had concluded that Japan had already lost the war: Its cities were devastated, its people were demoralized, and its soldiers no longer had the capacity or will to fight. Japan had even made indirect overtures to the U.S. to discuss the possibility of surrender-rebuffed by Truman, who demanded "unconditional surrender." A top-secret report prepared for the Combined Chiefs of Staff meeting at Potsdam argued:

We believe that a considerable portion of the Japanese population now consider absolute military defeat to be probable. The increasing effects of sea blockade and cumulative devastation wrought by strategic bombing, which has already rendered millions homeless and has destroyed from 25 percent to 50 percent of the built-up areas of Japan's most important cities, should make this realization increasingly general. An entry of the Soviet Union into the war would finally convince the Japanese for the inevitability of complete defeat.

The report suggested that the U.S. should offer Japan "a conditional surrender." Admiral William Leahy, who believed that an invasion of Japan was unnecessary, also advised Truman to accept a Japanese surrender that would allow them to retain the emperor. Many concur that Japan only needed the facesaving gesture of keeping the emperor in place to lay down its arms. By July, the emperor had already indicated that he was interested in suing for peace. "It is my opinion," wrote Leahy a few years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, "that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender."' In the end, following Japan's surrender days after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the U.S. did precisely what Leahy had earlier recommended-it allowed Japan to retain the emperor.

The U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey concluded:

Based on a detailed investigation of all the facts and supported by the testimony of the surviving Japanese leaders involved, it is the Survey's opinion that certainly prior to 31 December 1945, and in all probability prior to 1 November 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even of Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated.

Dropping the bomb, then, had nothing to do with "saving lives"-a perverse notion in any case.

Then what was the purpose of unleashing this death and destruction? It was about demonstrating to U.S. allies and rivals, in particular Russia, the other key victor of the war, who would be top boss in the postwar world. With the atomic bomb, the U.S. no longer needed Russia to open a second front with Japan. In one stroke, the U.S. was able to keep Russia out and show the world the effects of its new weapon.

In mid-May, Stimson had a long conversation with Assistant Secretary of War John McCloy about how to "deal with Russia." Stimson said it was a time to

let our actions speak for words. The Russians will understand them better than anything else. It is a case where we have got to regain the lead and perhaps do it in a pretty rough and realistic way.... I told [McCloy] this was a place where we really held all the cards. I called it a royal straight flush and we mustn't be a fool about the way we play it. They can't get along without our help and industries and we have coming into action a weapon which will be unique.... [L]et our actions speak for themselves.

Historian Herbert Feis concluded,

It is quite possible that it was thought the proof of the power of the weapon, as demonstrated in actual warfare, might be an effective source of added authority to the American Government in the settlement of matters at issue with the Soviet Union.

If Roosevelt justified mass internment and Truman the obliteration of two cities, all on the basis of an attack that killed about 2,400 military personnel at Pearl Harbor, then what will Bush justify on the basis of the September 11 attacks? As U.S. warplanes and missiles bombard Afghanistan, a country already reduced to rubble and starvation by 20 years of warfare-much of it fueled with funds from Washington- do pilots scream "Remember September 11!" as they do?

In 1941, the U.S. entry into war was not about revenge, but American empire. Revenge was the public campaign, racist hysteria a means to prepare young working-class men to die, but the aims reflected the interests of men with names like Rockefeller and Morgan. Today, war is again being waged to advance the economic and strategic goals of the world's only military superpower, and again it is being waged in the name or justice and revenge. Today, we must remember our history if we are to resist this war.


Paul D'Amato is associate editor of the International Socialist Review.

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