|Since the building is still standing, this scene – a child jumping rope – had to have been miles from the epicenter of the Hiroshima bomb. Yet the intensity of the blast radiation permanently etched her shadow on the wall.|
To Bomb or not to Bomb?
I don’t now remember the exact date, but about this time in the summer of 1956, with Hiroshima (August 6, 1945) and Nagasaki (August 9, 1945) on my mind, I asked a Japanese friend what she remembered about WWII. We had both been children during the war, but old enough to remember things, especially by 1945.
Midori told me she remembered strafing, but no bombing.
I was an electronics tech (E-5) serving aboard the USS Hamul, AD-20, stationed at Yokosuka Naval Base. YNB had been the main base of the Imperial Japanese Navy, but I had been taking it for granted as the main U.S. naval base in the Western Pacific. (It still is, home port of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan.)
What Midori said made me think again about YNB. Looking around from the signal bridge of my ship, I saw a lot of new construction, yes. But also a lot of really old and obviously unbombed facilities.
YNB guards the entrance to Tokyo Bay and surely had to have been high on the U.S. list of potential military targets. Including possible targets for an atomic bomb. They would have been able to see the mushroom cloud from Tokyo. By 1945 the U.S. had total air superiority over Japan. We firebombed the major cities and dropped atomic bombs on two mostly civilian cities. Did we never bomb the main base of the Imperial Japanese Navy at all?
It took me years to fully deal with that question or face up to the implications of possible answers. I was a very patriotic and idealistic young man. On discharge from the Navy I took a job for a year as a “missile guidance technician” for what became Lockheed-Martin. I went back to college to prepare for a career with either the CIA or NSA, majoring in mathematics and taking a year of Russian history and two years of Russian language.
Eventually, I changed my career path (becoming a college English teacher, for one thing). And began to seriously look for answers. Here’s what I found:
On April 18, 1942, one of the Doolittle raid bombers (remember the movie Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo?) dropped one bomb on YNB on its way to Tokyo. Skip to July 18, 1945, when Admiral Bull Halsey ordered a dive-bomber attack primarily aimed at the battleship Nagato, which had been Admiral Yamamoto’s flagship in the attack on Pearl Harbor, but then was out of diesel fuel and helplessly moored off to one side of YNB. The base itself was largely undamaged. I think the strafing Midori remembered was probably strafing to suppress anti-aircraft fire during this attack.
Top-level U.S. planners early in the war decided to spare YNB because it would be needed as a key U.S. “forward defense” base in preparation for WWIII, against Russia or possibly China. Such “forward-thinking” preparations are apparent in government records, memoirs and diaries of top U.S. military and government officials of the time, especially in regard to possible use of The Bomb.
Top admirals and generals, including Eisenhower, MacArthur and even Curtis LeMay, almost unanimously maintained that there was no military necessity to use the Bomb at all to force Japan to surrender or to “prevent the loss of millions of American lives in an invasion of Japan.” That myth was later fostered by government and media and vehemently believed by most of the American public.
Top U.S. government officials were focused far beyond Japan on an anticipated long-term global struggle for power. President Truman’s closest advisor, Secretary of State James F. Byrnes, for example, in May of 1945 “did not argue that it was necessary to use the bomb against the cities of Japan in order to win the war [but that] our possessing and demonstrating the bomb would make Russia more manageable in Europe.” (I’m quoting from The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb, by Gar Alperovitz, 1995.)
But the Bomb we “demonstrated” at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 was a mere toy compared with the level of devastation that would be wreaked by even one of the thousands of nuclear weapons today in the hands of seven nations.
Even more scary: the U.S. is conducting a “modernization” of our nuclear arsenal that will cost an insane $4 million per hour over the next thirty years, the plan suggesting that our strategists imagine (insanely) the possibility of a “winnable” nuclear conflict. And, as I pointed out in my letter to the editor in last Wednesday’s Times-News, we are now threatening Russia with what looks to them like preparation for a nuclear first-strike. Taking the world again to the brink of nuclear disaster.
It’s time to end the global struggle for power. We desperately need a global struggle for peace.
More info at ananuclear.org and at orepa.org.