07 August 2015, The Tablet

We still live by Hiroshima’s standards

This month will see the 70th anniversary of the greatest single-act war crime in history, an event Pope Paul VI denounced as “a butchery of untold magnitude”.

Most people will simply ignore this; we live in a state of chronic denial about Hiroshima. It is precisely and solely because of this denial that we are prepared to repeat this crime, and unimaginably worse, with Trident.

The ubiquitous glib excuse that it “shortened the war and saved allied lives” is morally worthless - and historically untrue. Acceptance of Japanese surrender was evaded until such time as the A Bomb was ready to be used - thus prolonging the war. Hiroshima did not cause Japan to surrender. In fact, she did not surrender till nine days later, and the true reason has been airbrushed out of history. 

All during WWII, Russia and Japan had a mutual non-aggression pact. As agreed at Yalta, three months the after the surrender of Germany, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan on 9 August, and invaded Manchuria. Marshal Aleksandr Vasilievsky inflicted a crushing defeat on Japan’s 1,200,000-strong army, defeating them within a matter of days. South Sakhalin and the Kurile Islands were seized. The Soviet Union was now poised to invade mainland Japan.

Emperor Hirohito faced a desperate choice; either do a deal with the Americans, or put himself at the tender mercy of Stalin’s Commissars, which would certainly have meant his own execution as a war criminal. It was a no-brainer. He agreed to the unconditional surrender of the armed forces of Japan (but not of himself - a face-saving concession on the part of the USA). To forestall a Soviet occupation of Japan, the Americans now agreed to accept the continuation of the Emperor as head of state - the one and only condition which the Japanese had been asking for since May. 

In a memorandum of 19 July, Secretary of War Henry Stimson frankly admitted that the bombs were used “to gain political advantage over the Soviet Union in the post-war situation”. Vannevar Bush, Chairman of the Joint US Chiefs of Staff, was candid. He said the bomb was “delivered on time so that there was no necessity for any concessions to the Russians”.

Hiroshima was a stunning demonstration of American power in the opening Cold War. It was militarily unnecessary, and tragically set the appalling standard we still live by.

Brian Quail, Glasgow

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