Brian Pearce

Hiroshima Re-visited

(October 1959)

From The Newsletter, 3 October 1959.
Transcribed by Christian Hogsbjerg.

THE article in the Spectator of September 18 by Charles Curran (of the Evening News) on the events leading up to the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, has rightly attracted much attention. Curran brings together and discusses critically much of the evidence which has been published since 1945 on how the decision to drop was arrived at, and the attendant circumstances.

The Communist Party will not thank him for recalling that on the morning after Hiroshima the Daily Worker called for ‘the employment of the new weapon on a substantial scale’ and that on the eve of Nagasaki it printed a cartoon that showed a bomber squadron labelled ‘Surrender Or Die’ dropping a swarm of missiles labelled ‘Atomic Bombs’ on a blazing target labelled ‘Japan’.

But it is simply not true that, as Curran alleges, ‘every London newspaper presented the news [of Hiroshima] with horror – except one’, the Daily Worker. There was no horror till a good while later. The Daily Mail, not unconnected with the Evening News, wrote that ‘the atomic bomb means the quick end of the Japanese war’. The News Chronicle, which is usually good for horror, had for its headlines: ‘Force of Nature Harnessed ... Allies Beat Germans in Power of Science’. (As a matter of historical fact, the first newspaper to protest against the use of the atomic bomb was the Vatican’s Osservatore Romano). The newspaper headlines of that period which stand up best to what we have learnt in the fourteen years since are those of the American Trotskyist weekly The Militant: ‘Atomic Bombs Imperil Existence of Humanity’ (August 11), ‘Only World Socialism Can Save Mankind From Atomic Destruction in Another Imperialist War. Workers of America! You Must Take Power Into Your Own Hands.’ (August 18)

Was it necessary

In general, though informative, Curran’s article seems hardly unprejudiced in its search for truth. The key phrase is: ‘Was it necessary to drop the bomb? The decision to do this flowed from two words: Unconditional Surrender’. Yet nowhere does the author mention that, after the dropping of the bomb, the Allies gave (on August 11) in effect the undertaking not to abolish the Imperial system in Japan which the Japanese leaders had been haggling for in their peace offers. (They said that ‘the Emperor’s authority to rule the State’ would be subordinate to the Allied supreme commander, and that ‘the ultimate form of government’ would be ‘established by the freely expressed will of the Japanese people’. Experience has shown that the Japanese leaders understood these phrases all too well when they accepted them as equivalent to guarantees for the Imperial system.)

This omission is all the more noticeable in that the fact had been recalled by G.F. Hudson in his important letter in the Observer of September 13. What the Allies did, Hudson pointed out, was ‘to accept, after the dropping of the bomb, the Japanese condition which, if accepted in July, would almost certainly have brought about Japan’s surrender without the bomb being dropped at all’.

Curran nowhere considers the view developed by Professor P.M.S. Blackett in his Military and Political Consequences of Atomic Energy (1948), that the hurry to drop the bomb had nothing to do with Japan at all. ‘If the saving of American lives had been the main objective, surely the bombs: would save been held back until (a) it was certain that the Japanese peace proposals were not acceptable, and (b) the Russian offensive, which had for months been part of the Allied strategic plan, and which the Americans had previously demanded, had run its course.’ The purpose of the bomb, Blackett deduced, was to demonstrate to Russia the Allies’ possession of and readiness to use, a weapon overwhelmingly more powerful than any the Russians had. ‘So we may conclude that the dropping of the atomic bombs was not so much the last military act of the second world war, as one of the first major operations of the cold diplomatic war with Russia now in progress.’

The title Curran gives his article is: Stalin Merely Smiled. This refers to Stalin’s alleged reaction when told at Potsdam by Truman and Churchill that they had a ‘new bomb’. The various spy trials and similar revelations of the cold war period have revealed, Curran points out, that Stalin must have known already, through his military intelligence service, all about the atomic bomb tests. This seems to Curran very caddish. Socialists, however, will hardly include the possession of an efficient military intelligence service among their criticisms of the Soviet bureaucracy. On the contrary, they point out that the efforts of this service, in the technical field, to strengthen the defence of the Soviet Union, are continually being frustrated by the false foreign policy of the bureaucracy and especially by the false direction it imposes on its satellite Communist Parties. For example, while devoted servants of the Soviet State, including foreign communists, were risking their lives and liberties to supply Stalin with information about the atomic bomb tests in America, he was setting the American Communist Party on the path of Browderism, openly liquidating the struggle against American finance-capital!

In relation to the actual Soviet intervention in the war against Japan (which smashed the mighty Kwantung Army in Manchuria, which could hardly have been dealt with by atomic bombing), Curran resorts to obvious nonsense. Stalin, he writes ‘was ready to fight only when the way had been made clear for him by Hiroshima and Nagasaki.’ In fact, the bomb was dropped on Nagasaki when the Soviet Army was already in action. And, in any case, the Soviet intervention had been agreed at Yalta to begin three months after the end of the war in Europe, as it did, to the very day, which Churchill himself was later to acknowledge.

The Evening News diplomatic correspondent wrote on August 7, 1945, that the decision to drop the bomb was taken because Russia could not be got to agree to go to war with Japan. The falsity of this statement had to be admitted only a few days later. Charles Curran appears to wish to revive this legend, or something like it, in an attempt to shift responsibility for the crimes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki from the shoulders of the Anglo-American imperialists.

Last updated on 17.10.2011