TRNN examines the myth that using nuclear weapons on civilian populations was necessary to force Japan to surrender
NEWSCASTER: Beneath that sinister pool of smoke, the world’s most destructive force has been unleashed. JAISAL NOOR: On August 9, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb named Fat Man on the Japanese city of Nagasaki killing more than 150,000 people. Today, hundreds gather to mark the 72nd anniversary of the bombing with the mayor of Nagasaki, warning of the dangers of increasing tensions between North Korea and the United States. TOMIHISA TAUE: There still are nearly 15,000 nuclear weapons in the world. Tension is mounting when it comes to the international situation surrounding nuclear weapons. Strong fears are spreading that nuclear weapons may be used in the not-so-distant future. JAISAL NOOR: This happened a day after Donald Trump threatened nuclear war with North Korea. DONALD TRUMP: North Korea, best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. He has been very threatening beyond a normal statement and as I said, they will be met with fire fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before. JAISAL NOOR: Pyongyang responded by threatening the island of Guam. TIM SHORROCK: Frankly, I was rather shocked. This sounds like the North Koreans that the U.S. is always drawing caricature of, this kind of bluster and threats we often hear from Pyongyang. We’ve been hearing it for years or when they’ve come close to tensions like this, when they’ve come close to war like this, but to hear it from President Trump is definitely frightening because he’s clearly going way beyond what the situation calls for and frankly, I think we’re at an emergency situation now because I think that there’s so much pressure on this administration, within the administration and from outside, from think tanks and various television networks like CNN, to have a war. People want to have a war with North Korea and I think it’s, for a while, I’ve been thinking that the Trump administration was focusing on diplomacy, which Tillerson, the Secretary of State, keeps talking about and Mattis, the Secretary of Defense, keeps talking about, but then you hear other comments from his National Security Advisor, McMaster about military action. Then you hear this kind of bluster from Trump today. I mean, this kind of fire and brimstone the world has never seen before, well let’s tell President Trump that actually the world has seen this kind of fire before. JAISAL NOOR: Today we examine the myth that the use of nuclear weapons against Japan was necessary to end World War Two. With scholars and authors, Peter Kuznick and Gar Alperovitz. GAR ALPEROVITZ: It’s very clear now that the atomic bomb was totally unnecessary. The reason I say that is the intelligence studies, which were available to the President in July of 1945, the bomb was used in August, said very clearly that when the Russians entered the war in Japan, and we had asked them to come help and they were about to help the first week of August. That’s the date that they were supposed to come in. When that happens, this will precipitate a collapse and a crisis in Japan. They’re already trying to get out of the war. They know they can’t face the Russian army and us. That will end the war. The only thing you need to do is be sure to say you’re not going to harm their emperor, because he’s a god in their culture and if you give that kind of assurance when the Russians come in, the war is over. American policy leaders understood that. They know that. Every historian has studied it, knows these documents are now available, so they had it available. More important than that, the invasion, which might have cost 25,000 lives, 30,000, that’s the estimates. It was later exaggerated to a million, couldn’t take place for another three months, because of the weather, because of getting troops. It was easy to test weather or not the intelligence was correct. The Russians were coming in and we knew they were going to, everyone said it. The war was going to end. That was the top military understanding and they used the bomb anyway, so I think the story’s clear enough. Most historians know the bomb was unnecessary. There’s a big debate on why it was used. PAUL JAY: Well, that was my next question. If it’s to make a political point, what’s the point. GAR ALPEROVITZ: Well, the documents are less clear about this, but what looks to be, there’s many, many documents that say look, this is going to give me a hammer on those boys, meaning the Russians. That’s the President talking. Another on says, this is the … PAUL JAY: This is Truman. GAR ALPEROVITZ: Truman. The Secretary of War says, “This is the master card of diplomacy against the Russians, the atomic bomb.” There’re many, many documents that strongly suggest particularly the Secretary of State, James Byrnes, understood that the bomb was more a diplomatic tool than a military tool. The Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army and the combined chiefs, General Marshall, said, “This is not a military decision. It has nothing to do with the military. It may be a diplomatic, political, other kind of decision, but it’s not a military decision.” Interestingly, the military, I mentioned this I think in our last discussion, richly all the major American military leaders, went public after the war saying the atomic bomb was totally unnecessary. Some called in barbaric. The President’s Chief of Staff went public. Can you imagine the Chief of Staff saying, and he was a good friend of the President. He said, “This was barbarism. I wasn’t taught to kill children and women.” That’s very clear. The strongest evidence is, and you can’t prove this with the available documents, that was mainly aimed at the Russians because there was, they want to use it as political pressure and political weapon, both in eastern Europe and in Asia where the Cold War really was started … PETER KUZNICK: It really is the starting point of where things go badly wrong. We can look at 1898 and the invasion of the Philippines as an important turning point, but after that, it’s really the atomic bombing more than almost anything else. It give the United States a sense of impunity. It gives the United States a sense of power. The United States can really throw its weight around now. We don’t have to be afraid of anybody and Truman says that on the USS Augusta back. He says it to the sailors. He says, “We’ve got this new weapon coming into the war.” Right from the very first time he’s briefed on it, it’s very interesting that Truman was Vice President for 82 days before Roosevelt died and nobody even told him that we were building the atomic bomb. He was considered such a lightweight. There was so little respect for him. Nobody even brought him in on the fact that we’re building this extraordinary bomb. He finds out after Roosevelt dies. The night after the emergency cabinet meeting. Stimson informs him. The next day, Jimmy Byrnes flies up from South Carolina and then he gives him a fuller briefing and Truman writes in his memoir, that Byrnes says, “It’s a weapon great enough to destroy the whole world and it may allow us to dictate our own terms at the end of the war.” A weapon great enough to destroy the whole world, Truman writes in his memoir. Then he’s briefed on that on April 25 by Stimson and Groves. They give a fuller briefing on this and after which Truman writes that Stimson says that, “This is so powerful and so dangerous that even if we have it, maybe we shouldn’t use it,” and Truman says, “I felt the same way after reading the report and hearing their briefing.” Then the Potsdam on July 25, he gets the full report on how powerful the trinity test had been at Alamogordo and he writes, “We’ve discovered the most terrible weapon ever.” He says, “This may be the fire destruction prophesied in the Euphrates Valley era after Noah and his fabulous ark.” Truman knows this is not just a bigger more momentous weapon, he knows he’s beginning a process that could end life on the planet. He goes ahead and uses it in the most reckless possible way. The way that people had been warning, was likely to trigger an arms race with the Soviet Union. VOICE OF OLIVER STONE: Truman vacillated and ultimately yielded to the Byrnes-Forrestal hard line faction. The feared and potentially suicidal arms race would continue. When Truman finally met with Robert Oppenheimer in October 1945, he asked him to guess when the Russians would develop their own atomic bomb. Oppenheimer did not know. Truman responded that he knew the answer. Never. Contrary to the belief of Truman’s inner circle, the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki did not make the Soviet Union anymore pliable. PETER KUZNICK: Six of America’s seven five star admirals and generals, who won their fifth star during the war, are on record as saying the bomb was either morally reprehensible, militarily unnecessary or both. We’re talking about people we don’t think of as pacifist, we’re thinking about Dwight Eisenhower who said repeated on several occasions that he spoke to Stimson at Potsdam and urged him not to use the bomb because, “The Japanese were already defeated,” he said, “And I hated to see our country be the first to use such a weapon.” One of the most intriguing though is Douglas MacArthur. MacArthur who actually advocated use of atomic bombs during the Korean War, was appalled that we used atomic bombs in this war. PAUL JAY: Because in Korea, he thought it was necessary and in this one he didn’t. VOICE OF OLIVER STONE: General MacArthur Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in the Pacific, considered the bomb completely unnecessary from a military point of view. He later said that the Japanese would have surrendered in May if the U.S. had told them they could keep the Emperor. JAISAL NOOR: For full interviews with our guest featured today, go to the RealNews.com. This is Jaisal Noor.