Saturday, August 06, 2005

The Manila Times

August 6, 2005

, Japan
-- The day has grown dark and so has the river but the sky has remained luminous and clear.[1]

Cyclists zip intermittently past empty benches and pedestrians walking along the bank of the gently flowing Motoyasu river. A few meters away, a heavy tram rumbles across the steel bridge, past the room-less windows and windowless rooms of the Genbaku Dome-mae. The Atom Bomb Dome. A skeletal reminder of what has been and what may yet be.

A man with a camera has already circled the Dome thrice, kneeling, twisting his body, crouching, constantly snapping pictures yet never seeming to find the right angle. Who knows if there really is one?

The Atom Bomb Dome is the ruins of the former Hiroshima Prefect Industrial Promotion Hall. At 8:15 in the morning of August 6, 1945 a weapon of mass death was detonated in the air 600 meters right above the hall which reduced to ashes nearly all the buildings within two kilometers of the bomb's hypocenter and which eventually claimed around 200,000 lives. Hiroshima's population at the time of the atomic bombing was approximately 350,000.

"In order to have this tragic fact known to succeeding generations and to make it a lesson for humankind," prayed the memorial plaque installed at the Atom Bomb Dome on August 6, 1967, the "ruins shall be preserved forever."

Forever may be too brief a reminder.

"I told [Pres. Roosevelt]," wrote US Secretary of Defense Henry Stimson in his diary on June 6, 1945 of the terrible bomb they were creating. "I was anxious about this feature of the war for two reasons: first, because 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 [US] Air Force might have Japan so thoroughly bombed out that the new weapon would not have any fair background to show its strength. He laughed and said he understood."[2] According to the aptly named US Targeting Committee, in order to "ensure that the effects of the atomic bombing could be accurately observed" - air raids by the US Air Force in shortlisted target cities were subsequently prohibited.[3]

But the US was left with no other recourse but to drop the bomb. Dreadful as the atom bombing consequences were, the war would have gone on and taken even more lives. So goes the fiction.

"Japan was already defeated," observed an American general called Dwight Eisenhower after the atrocity. "[D]ropping the bomb was completely unnecessary."[4] Apparently so.

In the middle June 1945, six members of the Japanese Supreme War Council had already authorized Foreign Minister Togo to approach the Soviet Union, which was not at war with Japan, to mediate an end to the war "if possible by the end of September."

Weeks later, on July 13 - four days before Harry Truman, Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin gathered in Potsdam to prepare for the end of the war, Germany having surrendered two months earlier - Togo sent a telegram to Ambassador Sato who was in Moscow to craft Japan's capitulation: "Unconditional surrender is the only obstacle to peace. It is his Majesty's heart's desire to see the swift termination of the war."[5]

But other hearts had other desires. And other targets?

It is important to state, wrote General Leslie Groves, who was in charge of the "Manhattan Project" - the code name for America's atom bomb program - "that there was never from about two weeks from the time I took charge of the project any illusion on my part but that Russia was the enemy and that the project was conducted on that basis. I didn't go along with the attitude of the whole country that Russia was a gallant ally. I always had suspicions and the project was conducted on that basis."[6]

Dropping the atomic bomb, wrote the British scientist P.M.S. Blackett, one of Churchill's advisers, "was not so much the last military act of the second world war as the first act of the cold diplomatic war with Russia."[7]

On July 18, 1945, perhaps after the glowing reports from New Mexico of the Manhattan Project's atom bomb test - the world's first - on July 16 had sank in, Truman wrote in his Journal: "[I] Believe Japs will fold up before Russia comes in. I am sure they will when Manhattan appears over their homeland."[8] And so the bombs were dropped - and they came with a tradeoff that involved much more than anyone bargained for.

On June 11, 1945 - the same month the Japanese Supreme War Council sent out surrender feelers - James Franck and other American scientists remembered what had not yet happened.[9] In a secret position paper sent to the US Targeting Committee, Franck and his colleagues wrote: The atomic bomb "cannot possibly remain a 'secret weapon' at the exclusive disposal of [the US] for more than a few years ... If the United States was to be the first to release this new means of indiscriminate destruction upon mankind, she would sacrifice public support throughout the world, precipitate the race for armaments, and prejudice the possibility of reaching an international agreement on the future control of such weapons."[10]

"It is my opinion," wrote US Admiral William Leahy in his 1950 memoir, "that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan." "In being the first to use it," wrote Leahy, the chief of staff for Roosevelt and Truman, "we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won be destroying women and children."[11]

Shinichi Tetsutachi, was the owner of a little tricycle that was badly burned like him. The boy was almost four years old when the bomb struck; he died on the night of the bombing. Shinichi's father thought his son was too young to be buried in a lonely grave away from home. He buried Shinichi in their backyard with his possession hoping his son "could still play with the tricycle." Shinichi's remains were dug up by his father in 1985 and transferred to the family grave. The tricycle was donated to the Hiroshima Peace Museum.[12]

Hiroshima mother Kishie Musukawa was 47 when the atom bomb exploded. Kishie "was so gravely injured that when the fires approached, she was prepared to die. However, she found this crutch, which had been blown nearby, and somehow made it home. She always felt that the crutch was a gift from her oldest son Munetoshi (then, 12) who had perished in the bombing."[13]

"I fought with myself for 30 minutes before I could take the first picture," said the photographer Yoshito Matsushige who was the only person in Hiroshima who managed to take photos of the victims - just two - the day the atomic bomb was dropped.[14] "After taking the first, I grew strangely calm and wanted to get closer. I took about 10 steps forward and tried to snap another, but the scenes I saw were so gruesome my viewfinder clouded with tears."

"We pray that He may guide us to use it His ways and for His purpose," beseeched Truman in the aftermath of the Hiroshima holocaust as he thanked Providence for delivering the bomb into US hands. Days later, the second blessed atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, killing one fourth of Japan's Catholics.[15]

"I am an airman, a pilot. In 1945, I was wearing the uniform of the U.S. following the orders of our commander-in-chief," said American pilot Paul Tibbets who flew the airplane Enola Gay, which dropped the Hiroshima bomb. "We SS men were not supposed to think about these things," went the amoral testimony of Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Hess at the Nuremberg Trials. "We were all so trained to obey orders without even thinking that the thought of disobeying an order would never have occurred to anybody."[16]

"Memory is a wonderful thing if you don't have to deal with the past," said Julia Delpy to Ethan Hawke in the captivating movie Before Sunset.

"Up to fifty atomic bombs should be dropped on Chinese cities," huffed Gen. Douglas MacArthur during America's war with Korea.[17]

"I want to remember but sometimes it's hard," wrote Brett Dakin in his book about living in Laos - the most heavily-bombed country in history: during the Vietnam War, the US dropped more ordnance on Laos alone than it did during all of World War II.[18]

All 67 of the US nuclear bombs "detonated in the Marshall Islands contributed one way or another to the nuclear legacy that haunts us to this day," said Tony de Brum of the Lolelaplap Trust during the Seventh Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference at the UN on May 11, 2005.

Haunting, de Brum knows, is a mild word. If we were to take the total yield of the nuclear weapons the US tested in the Marshall Islands between 1946 and 1958 and spread them out over time, we would have the equivalent of 1.6 Hiroshima bombs dropped on the Marshall Islands "every day for twelve years."[19]

Hiroshima as strategy: "The US intends to shatter Iraq physically, emotionally and psychologically," said the architect of Shock and Awe, Harlan Ullman, "... so that you have this simultaneous effect - rather like the nuclear weapons at Hiroshima - not taking days or weeks but minutes."[20]

The three headlines of 2005: "US warns North Korea about nuclear program." "US says no to Iran nuclear plans." "US Senate votes to revive nuke weapons program."[21]

"There is a greater than 50 per cent probability of a nuclear strike on US targets within a decade," warned former officials of the US defense establishment.[22]

Is anyone listening?

The combined nuclear weapons of the US and Russia represent 96 percent of the global nuclear arsenal. Both sides maintain thousands of nuclear warheads on hair-trigger alert, ready for launching. According to former US defense secretary Robert McNamara, few know, however, that the early-warning systems of both countries register alarms daily, triggered by wildfires, satellite launchings and solar reflections off clouds or oceans. And against hackers and terrorists, McNamara added ominously, there remains no guarantee.[23]

"Why [anyone] would want to move against us in an overt manner that would cause us to use our air or naval power against them would be beyond me ... We can generate more military power per square inch than anybody else on Earth, and everybody knows it ... If you ever even contemplate our nuclear capability, it should give everybody the clear understanding that there is no power that can match the United States militarily.," boasted US General John Abizaid in December 2004.[24]

On the 60th anniversary of one of the most ghastly acts of mass slaughter in human history, madness riots like weeds and memory withers like a rare plant seemingly condemned to die before it can take firm root.


[1] From a series of articles by the author written based on his visit to Hiroshima this year - beginning on the 21,746th day since the atomic bomb was dropped, or the 268th day since a nuclear test was last performed.

[2] "Truman on trial: The Prosecution, Opening Argument," Philip Nobile, History News Network, August 3, 2001. See:

[3] From declassified US memos on display at the Hiroshima Peace Museum, 2005.

[4] The Bombs of August," Howard Zinn, The Progressive, August 2000.

[5] Ibid.

[6] In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer, US Govt. Printing Office, Washington, 1954.

[7] P.M.S. Blackett: Military Consequences of Atomic Energy, 1948.

[8] Ibid., 2.

[9] Original of "remembered what had not yet happened" by Eduardo Galeano in Genesis, the first book of his Memory of Fire trilogy.

[10] Declassified documents on display at the Hiroshima Peace Museum.

[11] Weapons of mass destruction, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the Atomic Testing Museum, Japan Focus, April 7, 2005. See:

[12] From the Hiroshima Peace Museum's artifacts display.

[13] Ibid.

[14] See "I couldn't press the shutter in hell" by Yoshito Matsushige in Eyewitness Testimonies: Appeals from the A-Bomb Survivors, Third Edition, Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation, 2003. Matsushige was actually only able take only two photos of the survivors, at Miyuki Bridge about 2.3 kilometers from the hypocenter, before he retreated, overcome with emotion. His third and fourth photos were of his house and the fifth - a policeman issuing survivors certificates in Minamimachi - was taken in the evening of the fateful day. Other quotes in the paragraph are from the captions of Matsushige's harrowing photos on permanent display in the Hiroshima Peace Museum.

[15] Ibid. 2.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Niall Ferguson, Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire, Penguin Books, 2005.

[18]Brett Dakin, Another Quiet American: Stories of Life in Laos, Asia Books, 2003.

[19] From "BRAVO and Today: US Nuclear Tests and the Marshall Islands," Tony de Brum, Japan Focus, May 19, 2005.

[20] "800 missiles to hit Iraq in first 24 hours," Andrew West, The Sun-Herald-Australia, January 26, 2003. See:

[21] "US Senate votes to revive nuke weapons program," Philippine Daily Inquirer, July 3, 2005.

[22] "Revisiting Hiroshima," Noam Chomsky,, August 2, 2005.

[23] "Nuclear threat hasn't passed," Robert McNamara and Helen Caldicott, Today, April 29, 2004

[24] From "Tomgram: Dilip Hiro on the geopolitics of the Iranian bomb,", December 2, 2004.

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