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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Countdown to Hiroshima: X-Minus-17 Days

Every year at this time, I trace the final days leading up to the first (and so far only) use of the atomic bomb against cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, in August 1945.   This is a subject that I have studied and written about in hundreds of articles and three books (including Atomic Cover-up  and Hollywood Bomb) since the early 1980s with a special emphasis on the aftermath of the bombings, and the government and media suppression in the decades after.   What happened on today's date:

July 20,  1945:    Secretary of War met several top U.S. generals in Germany.   Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower would years later in Newsweek write:   "Secretary of War Stimson, visiting my headquarters in Germany, informed me that our government was preparing to drop an atomic bomb on Japan. I was one of those who felt that there were a number of cogent reasons to question the wisdom of such an act. …the Secretary, upon giving me the news of the successful bomb test in New Mexico, and of the plan for using it, asked for my reaction, apparently expecting a vigorous assent.   During his recitation of the relevant facts, I had been conscious of a feeling of depression and so I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives.

"It was my belief that Japan was, at that very moment, seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of ‘face’. The Secretary was deeply perturbed by my attitude."

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Countdown to Hiroshima: X-Minus-19 Days

Two days ago in my annual series the highlight was the first nuclear test, at Trinity, on that date 71 years ago.  The following day, in Potsdam, Truman met Stalin for the first time, and had a new bounce in his step after receiving word of the positive test.  Still, he had to insist that the Soviets keep their promise to enter the war for he knew, as he wrote in his diary, that would mean "fini Japs," even without use of the atomic bomb.  As it would turn out, he decided not to wait for that but chose to use the bomb first.  

He wrote in his diary on this date he was certain that Japan would would quit when "Manhattan" (his name for the bomb, from the still-secret Manhattan project) appeared in the sky.

Also today Gen. Leslie Groves, who managed the Manhattan effort, sent a long and detailed memo to Secretary of War Stimson on the Trinity test, which included eyewitness accounts by scientists and what would become a decades-long theme: downplaying the negative effects of radiation. 

This is a subject that I have studied and written about in hundreds of articles and three books (including Atomic Cover-up  and Hollywood Bomb) since the early 1980s with a special emphasis on the aftermath of the bombings, and the government and media suppression in the decades after.  

Monday, July 17, 2017

Countdown to Hiroshima: X-Minus 20 Days

Every year at this time, I trace the final days leading up to the first (and so far only) use of the atomic bomb against cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, in August 1945.   In this way the fateful, and in my view, very tragic, decisions made by President Truman and his advisers, and the actions of scientists in Los Alamos, and others, can be judged more clearly in "real time."  As many know, this is a subject that I have studied and written about in hundreds of articles and two books (including the recent Atomic Cover-Up) since the early 1980s--along the way I've spent a month in the two atomic cities and weeks at the Truman Library--with a special emphasis on the aftermath of the bombings, and the government and media suppression in the decades after.

Now, today's entry, going back to July 17, 1945.
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Even at this late date, Americans would be surprised to learn that President Harry Truman, just three weeks before ordering use of the new atomic bomb against Hiroshima, wrote in his diary, after meeting Joseph Stalin in Germany, that the Russians’ promised entry into the war against Japan would end the conflict—“Fini Japs”—even without the Bomb. It happened on this date in 1945.

As it happened, the Russians did enter the war—on schedule—within two days of the bombing of Hiroshima, and some historians believe that this shock, as much as the two A-bombs (the second against Nagasaki on August 9), provoked the speedy Japanese surrender a few days later. The question remains: Would this have happened without the Bomb? It’s a close argument, but the fact remains: most citizens of the only country to use the dreadful weapon (killing 200,000 civilians) are not even aware of it.

Now here, verbatim, is a famous (to some) passage from Truman’s diary on July 17, 1945. Also note Truman’s assessment of Stalin as “honest.”
Just spent a couple of hours with Stalin. Joe Davies called on Maisky and made the date last night for noon today. Promptly at a few minutes before twelve I looked up from my desk and there stood Stalin in the doorway. I got to my feet and advanced to meet him. He put out his hand and smiled. I did the same, we shook, I greeted Molotov and the interpreter and we sat down.
After the usual polite remarks we got down to business. I told Stalin that I am no diplomat but usually said yes and no to questions after hearing all the arguments. It pleased him. I asked him if he had the agenda for the meeting. He said he had and that he had some more questions to present. I told him to fire away. He did and it is dynamite—but I have some dynamite too, which I am not exploding now. He wants to fire Franco, to which I wouldn’t object and divide up the Italian colonies and other mandates, some no doubt that the British have. Then he got on the Chinese situation told us what agreements had been reached and what was in abeyance. Most of the big points are settled. He’ll be in the Jap war on August 15. Fini Japs when that comes about.
We had lunch, talked socially, put on a real show, drinking toasts to everyone. Then had pictures made in the backyard.
I can deal with Stalin. He is honest, but smart as hell.
Most American when asked about the Soviets entering the war at that late day seem to believe they were just   “getting in on the spoils.”  In fact, we had demanded that the Soviets do this and we knew it was coming, bomb or no bomb. This has led to theories – which I have never embraced – that the main reason we dropped the bombs, knowing Japan was already defeated, was to keep the Soviets out of Japan, and intimidate them in the postwar era.   I’d call this a reason, not the reason.  

Be that as it may, there is no question that the Soviet declaration would have had a huge impact on the Japanese.  That's why Truman, in his diary, declared that the Russian attack alone meant "fini" for "the Japs."

The key point is:  We didn’t wait around to find out if the Japanese would have surrendered to us shortly (especially after we let them keep the emperor) to prevent the Russians from invading, or if a strong nudge via use of our bomb would have been required. 

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Countdown to Hiroshima, X-Minus-21 Days: Unholy Trinity and the Birth of the Atomic Age

While most people trace the dawn of the nuclear era to August 6, 1945, and the dropping of the atomic bomb over the center of Hiroshima, it really began three weeks earlier, in the desert near Alamogordo, New Mexico, with the top-secret Trinity test. Its 71st anniversary will be marked—or mourned today.

Entire books have been written about the test, so I’ll just touch on one key issue here briefly (there’s much more in my book with Robert Jay Lifton, Hiroshima in America, and my own recent book and ebook Atomic Cover-Up). It’s related to a hallmark of the age that would follow: a new government obsession with secrecy, which soon spread from the nuclear program to all military and foreign affairs in the cold war era.

In completing their work on building the bomb, Manhattan Project scientists knew it would produce deadly radiation but weren’t sure exactly how much. The military planners were mainly concerned about the bomber pilots catching a dose, but J. Robert Oppenheimer, “The Father of the Bomb,” worried, with good cause (as it turned out) that the radiation could drift a few miles and also fall to earth with the rain.

Indeed, scientists warned of danger to those living downwind from the Trinity site but, in a pattern-setting decision, the military boss, General Leslie Groves, ruled that residents not be evacuated and kept completely in the dark (at least until they spotted a blast brighter than any sun). Nothing was to interfere with the test. When two physicians on Oppenheimer’s staff proposed an evacuation, Groves replied, “What are you, Hearst propagandists?”

Admiral Williams Leahy, President Truman’s chief of staff—who opposed dropping the bomb on Japan—placed the bomb in the same category as “poison gas.” And, sure enough, soon after the shot went off before dawn on July 16, scientists monitored some alarming evidence. Radiation was quickly settling to earth in a band thirty miles wide by 100 miles long. A paralyzed mule was discovered twenty-five miles from ground zero.

Still, it could have been worse; the cloud had drifted over loosely-populated areas. “We were just damn lucky,” the head of radiological safety for the test later affirmed.

The local press knew nothing about any of this. When the shock wave had hit the trenches in the desert, Groves’ first words were: “We must keep the whole thing quiet.” This set the tone for the decades that followed, with tragic effects for “downwinders” and others tainted across the country, workers in the nuclear industry, “atomic soldiers,” those who questioned the building of the hydrogen bomb and an expanding arms race, among others.

Naturally, reporters were curious about the big blast, however, so Groves released a statement written by W.L. Laurence (who was on leave from the New York Times and playing the role of chief atomic propagandist) announcing that an ammunition dump had exploded.

In the weeks that followed, ranchers discovered dozens of cattle had odd burns or were losing hair. Oppenheimer ordered post-test health reports held in the strictest secrecy. When W.L. Laurence’s famous report on the Trinity test was published just after the Hiroshima bombing he made no mention of radiation at all.

Even as the scientists celebrated their success at Alamagordo on July 16, the first radioactive cloud was drifting eastward over America, depositing fallout along its path. When Americans found out about this, three months later, the word came not from the government but from the president of the Eastman Kodak Company in Rochester, New York, who wondered why some of his film was fogging and suspected radioactivity as the cause.

Fallout was absent in early press accounts of the Hiroshima bombing as the media joined in the triumphalist backing of The Bomb and the bombings. When reports of thousands in Hiroshima and Nagasaki afflicted with a strange and horrible new disease emerged, General Groves, at first, called it all a “hoax” and “propaganda” and speculated that the Japanese had different “blood.” Then the military kept reporters from the West from arriving in the atomic cities, until more than a month after the blasts, when it controlled access in an early version of today’s “embedded reporters” program.

When some of the truth about radiation started to surface in the U.S. media, a full-scale official effort to downplay the Japanese death toll—and defend the decision to use the bomb—really accelerated, leading to an effective decades-long “Hiroshima narrative.” But that’s a story for my Atomic Cover-Up book—which also covers the suppression of film shot by the US Army in Hirohsima and Nagasaki—and for another day here.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Countdown to Hiroshima: X-Minus-22 Days

Once again this year I have launched by daily "Countdown to Hiroshima," covering events on each particular date leading up to the atomic attacks on Japan in August, 1945.  Below you will find posts this week on petitions from atomic scientists that attempted to convince President Truman to demonstrate for the Japanese the power of the bomb before dropping it over the center of cities, killing tens of thousands of civilians.  But one of Truman's tops advisers, Ralph Bard, tried a different

He was Under Secretary of the Navy and also a member of the Interim Committee, which had advised Truman in June that he should approve the use of the bomb against Japanese cities as soon as it was tested (which would come on July 16, 1945) and ready.  Bard sent Secretary of War  the following memo and also may have met with  Truman to discuss it (there is some debate about this).   He remained convinced until the end of his life that Truman should have followed his advice. In fact, many historians believe that he is correct.  His three-angled proposal included warning the Japanese that the Soviets would likely declare war against them soon (which they did, just after Hiroshima); and to offer assurances that they could keep their emperor as a symbolic leader (which we okayed but only have we got a chance to use two of the new weapons). 
Ever since I have been in touch with this program I have had a feeling that before the bomb is actually used against Japan that Japan should have some preliminary warning for say two or three days in advance of use. The position of the United States as a great humanitarian nation and the fair play attitude of our people generally is responsible in the main for this feeling.

During recent weeks I have also had the feeling very definitely that the Japanese government may be searching for some opportunity which they could use as a medium of surrender. Following the three-power conference emissaries from this country could contact representatives from Japan somewhere on the China Coast and make representations with regard to Russia's position and at the same time give them some information regarding the proposed use of atomic power, together with whatever assurances the President might care to make with regard to the Emperor of Japan and the treatment of the Japanese nation following unconditional surrender. It seems quite possible to me that this presents the opportunity which the Japanese are looking for.

I don't see that we have anything in particular to lose in following such a program. The stakes are so tremendous that it is my opinion very real consideration should be given to some plan of this kind. I do not believe under present circumstances existing that there is anyone in this country whose evaluation of the chances of the success of such a program is worth a great deal. The only way to find out is to try it out.
RALPH BARD

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Countdown to Hiroshima: X-Minus-24 Days

This week I launched my annual daily countdown to the use of atomic bombs against Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the aftermath in 1945.  You can find the first couple of days below.  In one of them, I described how famed nuclear physicist Leo Szilard organized a petition campaign to try to get President Truman to order that their creation not be used against humans or if so, only after a demonstration to the Japanese of its power.  This sparked a similar petition, on or around this date in 1945,  by 67 scientists at Oak Ridge, Tenn., who were also working in the Manhattan.  For more see my Atomic Cover-up book.
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To the President of the United States: 
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We, the undersigned scientific personnel of the Clinton Laboratories, believe that the world-wide social and political consequences of the power of the weapon now being developed on this Project impose a special moral obligation on the government and people of the United States in introducing the weapon in warfare.

It is further believed that the power of this weapon should be made known by demonstration to the peoples of the world, irrespective of the course of the present conflict, for in this way the body of world opinion may be made the determining factor in the absolute preservation of peace.

Therefore we recommend that before this weapon be used without restriction in the present conflict, its powers should be adequately described and demonstrated, and the Japanese nation should be given the opportunity to consider the consequences of further refusal to surrender. We feel that this course of action will heighten the effectiveness of the weapon in this war and will be of tremendous effect in the prevention of future wars.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Countdown to Hiroshima: X-Minus-25 Days

Every year I post daily on what was taking place on this date in 1945 as the U.S. got ready to use atomic bombs against Japan.  You can see my first post this year just below on this blog, which provides a kind of overview/background, and links to my three books on the subject on the right rail of this blog.   Photo at left of tile I have from Ota River burned black by the A-bomb.  Here is today's item:

Even at this late date, few Americans are aware that the Soviet entry into the war against Japan just hours after the bombing of Hiroshima may have had as much (or more) to do with Japan's quick surrender than the bomb.  This is a subject of great debate among historians and it coming days in my posts you will see much more about it.  But for now, this link, and an expert  summary:

"Since September 1940, under the cover name 'Magic,' U.S. military intelligence had been routinely decrypting the intercepted cable traffic of the Japanese Foreign Ministry. The National Security Agency kept the 'Magic" diplomatic and military summaries classified for many years and did not release the series for 1942 through August 1945 in its entirety until the early 1990s. This summary includes a report on a cable from Japanese Foreign Minister Shigenori Togo to Ambassador Naotake Sato in Moscow concerning the emperor's decision to seek Soviet help in ending the war. Not knowing that the Soviets had already made a commitment to its Allies to declare war on Japan, Tokyo fruitlessly pursued this option for several weeks.

"The 'Magic' intercepts from mid-July have figured in Gar Alperovitz's argument that Truman and his advisers recognized that the emperor was ready to capitulate if the Allies showed more flexibility on the demand for unconditional surrender. This point is central to Alperovitz's thesis that top U.S. officials recognized a 'two-step logic' that moderating unconditional surrender and a Soviet declaration of war would have been enough to induce Japan's surrender without the use of the bomb."

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Countdown to Hiroshima, X-Minus-31 Days--Why This Matters Today

Seventy-two  years after the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the bomb is still very much with us--witness this week's crisis over the North Korea missile test--and controversy continues to swirl over the decision to obliterate the two Japanese cities.

Hiroshima, in any case, remains a vital lesson for us all, not only for the first use of a nuclear weapon there, but because of the “first use” nuclear policy the U.S. maintains today.  That's one reason that every year, here or at other sites in the past (such as The Nation, Huff Post and Editor & Publisher), I have published a nearly daily "Countdown to Hiroshima" marking key events on that date in 1945 leading up to the first use of the atomic bomb.   I begin that countdown today with this introduction.   

Even the fact that the U.S. still has a first-strike policy (meaning we will use nukes first in a crisis if need be) will surprise many, especially with the end of the Cold War now a distant memory for some.

It’s a subject practically off-limits in the media and in American policy circles. Even the recent antinuclear documentary Countdown to Zero, which outlines many serious nuclear dangers (from an accidental launch to a terror attack on America), failed to even mention the possibility that the U.S. might choose to use nuclear weapons again. Resisting a no-first-use policy, in fact, has been a cornerstone of U.S. nuclear policy for decades.

Following a few positive signs from Obama, I fear that moving very far in the direction of no-first-use is still a long way off in Trump's America.

Perhaps the strongest reason is this: most Americans, our media and our leaders (including every president), have endorsed our “first-use” of the bomb against Japan. This remains true today, despite new evidence and analysis that has emerged for so many years. I’ve been probing this for almost thirty years — in articles, a film, in a book — with little shift in the polls or change in heart among our policymakers and elected officials.

There has also been little change abroad — where the use of the bomb in 1945 has been roundly condemned from the beginning. Indeed, U.S. support, even pride, in our use of the weapon has given us little moral standing in arguing that other countries should not develop nuclear weapons and consider using them, possibly as a first, not a last, resort (that’s our policy, remember).

So it all goes back to Hiroshima and Nagasaki (as I make clear in my recent book Atomic Cover-Up.

While I respect the views of a range of historians on this matter, and the opinions of the men who fought in the Pacific, I happen to believe the bombs should not have been used against Japan — directly over massive cities — at that time. The war would likely have ended very shortly without it (or a bloody American invasion planned for months later), largely because of the Soviets finally declaring war on Japan — an event long-dreaded by Japanese leaders.

Yes, there was a day when conservatives like John Foster Dulles, columnist David Lawrence, Admiral William Leahy and General Dwight D. Eisenhower — “We shouldn’t have hit them with that awful thing,” Ike declared — clearly condemned the use of the bombs. They knew that the argument of “saving tens of thousands of American lives” only counted if an invasion actually was necessary. We had demanded “unconditional surrender,” dropped the bombs — then accepted the main Japanese demand, keeping their emperor as figurehead.

But the key point for today is this: how the “Hiroshima narrative” has been handed down to generations of Americans — and overwhelmingly endorsed by officials and the media, even if many historians disagree — matters greatly. (And see my book on the extremely significant suppression of footage shot in Hiroshima by U.S. military film crews.)

Over and over, top policymakers and commentators say, “We must never use nuclear weapons,” yet they endorse the two times the weapons have been used against cities in a first strike. To make any exceptions, even in the past — and in certainly a horrid situation — means exceptions can be made in the future. Indeed, we have already made two exceptions, with more than 200,000 civilians killed. The line against using nuclear weapons has been drawn... in the sand.

To cite just one example: Before our attack on Iraqi forces in Kuwait in 1990, then-Pentagon chief Dick Cheney said on TV that we would consider using nuclear weapons against Iraq but would hold off “at this point” — then specifically cited President Truman’s use of the bomb as morally correct. Some polls at the time showed strong support from the American public for using nukes if our military so advised. And other polls since then show the same thing concerning other nuclear scenarios. 

And, as I’ve noted, the fact that the United States first developed, and then used — twice — the WMD to end all WMDs has severely compromised our arguments against others building the weapon ever since. Hiroshima was our original sin, and we are still paying for it, even if most Americans do not recognize this.

That is why I always urge everyone to study the history surrounding the decision to use the bomb and how the full story was covered up for decades. There is certainly, in the minds of the media and the American public, no taboo on using nuclear weapons, and it all started, but did not end, with Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This is what nuclear abolitionists — or even those who simply want a partial easing of our first-use policy — are up against.

Greg Mitchell’s  book is “Atomic Cover-Up: Two U.S. Soldiers, Hiroshima & Nagasaki and The Greatest Movie Never Made.  One of his previous books, co-authored by Robert Jay Lifton, was “Hiroshima in America.”

Friday, June 16, 2017

Trailer for "The Tunnels"--on Escapes Under the Berlin Wall

Thursday, June 8, 2017

New Study 'Verifies' Deaths at Berlin Border

In my new book "The Tunnels," on escapes under the Berlin Wall (click on cover at right for more), I detail some of the most dramatic murders at the barrier in the early 1960s and beyond:  escapees, diggers, and guards alike.  I also note that there have been conflicting estimates of how many Germans were killed at the Wall, based on strict or loose accounting (some counts, for example, include a large number who committed suicide or died or heart attacks and other ailments while contemplating or attempting escapes).

Now a new study, released today, takes a new "strict" approach, and places the number at  327,  more than double the previous "verified" total.  (My photo at left.)  Just one detail:
The 327 victims came from both East and West Germany, and the vast majority (80 percent) were younger than 35 years old. The youngest victim was six-month-old Emanuel Holzhauer, who died of asphyxiation next to his parents inside the trunk of a car as they were being smuggled into the West from the GDR (East Germany).