Nagasaki: the massacre of the innocent and unknowing, by Craig Collie, Allen and Unwin, $32.99
Hiroshima Day, August 4, is an established part of the activist’s political calendar. Anti-war and anti-nuclear campaigns around the world hold rallies to mark the horrific day when 100,000 died in one terrible flash of the new atomic bomb.
Less well known are the events of August 9 when the United States dropped a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki killing 80,000 people.
US President Truman claimed that the bombs were necessary to save the tens of thousands of Japanese and American lives that would have been lost, had US armed forces had to invade the Japanese homeland islands.
But the claim was, and is, a lie. Firstly, no land invasion had even been planned to take place before November 1. It was expected that the declaration of war by Russia against Japan would be enough to force Japan to surrender.
Secondly, and perhaps even more significantly, US President Truman had known since June, from intercepted cables between Tokyo and Moscow, that the Japanese emperor had expressed interest in ending the war through negotiation. The decision to drop the atomic bomb on both Hiroshima and Nagasaki was made in August.
Even earlier, in May, a close adviser to the US President reported that, “ Peace feelers are being put out by certain elements in Japan…”
The use of the atomic bomb was actually the opening shot in the Cold War between the US and Russia. As one presidential adviser wrote in May 1945, “Once Russia is in the war against Japan, then Mongolia, Manchuria and Korea will gradually slip into Russia’s orbit, to be followed in due course by China and eventually Japan.
The successful testing of the atomic bomb in the US on July 16 came a few days before the Potsdam Conference between America, Russia and Britain. It dramatically changed the balance of forces between the Allied powers. This marked the beginning of the nuclear arms race, as Stain ordered that all the USSR’s resources be made available to break the US monopoly on the bomb.
Months before, the Allies had agreed that Russia would enter the war against Japan by mid-August.
But Japan had been urging Russia to use its diplomatic relations with the US to open peace negotiations. For its part, Russia, under the dictator Stalin, did not want Japan to surrender to the US before it had time to enter the war and could therefore claim some role in dividing the spoils of a Japanese surrender.
Now, armed with the bomb, the US could see a way of excluding Russia from any role in the occupation of Japan. And there was a bonus. The use of the bomb would also dramatically demonstrate America’s devastating military superiority to the Russians themselves.
A more bloody-minded calculation is difficult to imagine. Hundreds of thousands of lives were sacrificed for the interests of US imperialism. Collie describes how when President Truman got word of the “success” of the Hiroshima bomb, he jumped to his feet and shook his aide’s hand declaring, “Captain, this is the greatest thing in history.”
When Japan did not surrender after the Hiroshima bomb, and Russia declared war on Japan on August 8, a second bomb became imperative for the US.
Forty thousand people died instantaneously in Nagasaki. As Truman gave the order to begin mass production of further bombs, Japan surrendered on August 15.
Collie’s book tells the story of the bombing through meticulously following the fate of individuals and families that survived the Nagasaki bomb. They included teachers, doctors and Mitsubishi workers, individuals who survived the bomb at Hiroshima only to face a second bomb at Nagasaki, and Australian and Dutch POWs, some of whom were killed.
Those stories are horrific enough—the incineration of people and animals as heat rays evaporated water from organs, the third degree burns people suffered even 1500 metres from ground zero and the radiation sickness that followed days and weeks later.
Collie’s book puts the shocking history of the decision to drop the bomb before a popular audience.
For a more detailed history of the use of the bomb, there is Gabriel Kolko’s The Politics of War or Horowitz’s From Yalta to Vietnam or the very detailed book, The decision to use the atomic bomb by Gar Alperovitz.
Japanese people still live with the consequences of the bombing, and they are once again living with radiation, as it spills out of the Fukushima nuclear reactors. Collie’s book is a great reminder of why we commemorate Hiroshima Day to say “never again”.
By Ian Rintoul