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Reader View: Atomic bombs were not needed to defeat Japan

Posted: Saturday, September 19, 2015 7:00 pm

By Craig CampbellCraig Campbell

A recent letter to the editor (“Dropping atomic bombs saved (yes, saved) millions of lives,” Aug. 23) from a resident of the exclusive enclave known as Los Alamos took issue with the entirely accurate analysis by Greg Mello’s My View (“Hiroshima, Nagasaki: What now?” Aug. 16) about the decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Mello’s analysis is in conformance with virtually all of the accounts by historians and others who have made use of information long suppressed. Very few Americans even at this date are aware of the almost uniform opposition by high-level military brass to using these weapons, especially on civilian populations.

The consensus of the majority of these people, including then-Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, is that the Japanese were surrounded, incapable of importing food or fuel, and were basically defeated. Eisenhower, in a message to Secretary of War Henry Lewis Stimson: “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.’ ”

Similar sentiments were recorded from Adm. William Leahy — the highest ranking member of the U.S. military from 1942 until retiring in 1949; Gen. Douglas MacArthur; Assistant Secretary of War John McLoy; Under Secretary of the Navy Ralph Bird; Paul Nitze; and even tough Gen. Curtis LeMay. There are many other top military figures who recorded similar sentiments against using atomic weapons on civilian populations, as well as the more widely known opposition of a large number of Manhattan Project scientists.

The Los Alamos writer of the letter appears to be totally unfamiliar with the current consensus of historians who have studied in detail records from many sources and who generally agree that nuclear weapons did not need to be used to stop the war or save lives.

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission historian J. Samuel Walker has studied the history of research on the decision to use nuclear weapons on Japan. He writes, “The consensus among scholars is that the bomb was not needed to avoid an invasion of Japan and to end the war within a relatively short time. It is clear that alternatives to the bomb existed and that Truman and his advisers knew it.”

The Los Alamos writer mentions the terrible fire bombing of Tokyo and other cities that also killed thousands. He does not mention that LeMay remarked that if we had lost the war, the United States would have been charged with war crimes for deliberately targeting civilian populations.

The general consensus among historians who have studied the subject is that the decision to use the bombs had more to do with a demonstration to the Russians, who were about to declare war on Japan and invade Manchuria, that the U.S. was the major power in the world. There was concern over the possibility of Japan surrendering to the Russians instead of the U.S. There was also concern over the status of the emperor — a status that originally was denied. In the end, the emperor was allowed to retain a level of official power, a final arrangement that Gen. MacArthur felt was necessary for the Japanese to accept the occupation.

Craig Campbell lives in Santa Fe and is a retired landscape architect.


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