Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Countdown to Hiroshima: X-Minus 2 Days

Each summer I count down the days to the atomic bombing of Japan (August 6 and August 9, 1945),  marking events from the same day in 1945.  I've been doing it here for more than two weeks now.   I've written  three books on the subject:  Hiroshima in America (with Robert Jay Lifton),  Atomic Cover-Up (on the decades-long suppression of shocking film shot in the atomic cities by the U.S. military),  and Hollywood Bomb  (the wild story of how an MGM 1947 drama was censored by the military and Truman himself). 

August 4, 1945:

—On Tinian, Little Boy is ready to go, awaiting word on weather, with General LeMay to make the call. With the weather clearing near Hiroshima, still the primary target, taking off the night of August 5 appears the most likely scenario. Secretary of War Stimson writes of a “troubled” day due to the uncertain weather, adding: “The S-1 operation was postponed from Friday night [August 3] until Saturday night and then again Saturday night until Sunday.”

—Hiroshima remains the primary target, with Kokura #2 and Nagasaki third.

—Paul Tibbets, pilot of the lead plane, the Enola Gay, finally briefs others in the 509th Composite Group who will take part in the mission at 3 pm. Military police seal the building. Tibbets reveals that they will drop immensely powerful bombs, but the nature of the weapons are not revealed, only that it is “something new in the history of warfare.” When weaponeer Deke Parsons says, “We think it will knock out almost everything within a three-mile radius,” the audience gasps.

Then he tries to show a film clip of the recent Trinity test—but the projector starts shredding the film. Parsons adds, “No one knows exactly what will happen when the bomb is dropped from the air,” and he distributes welder’s glasses for the men to wear. But he does not relate any warnings about radioactivity or order them not to fly through the mushroom cloud.

 —On board the ship Augusta steaming home for the USA after the Potsdam meeting, President Truman relaxes and plays poker with one of the bomb drop’s biggest booster, Secretary of State Jimmy Byrnes. Truman’s order to use the bomb had simply stated that it could be used any time after August 1 so he had nothing to do but watch and wait. The order included the directive to use a second bomb, as well, without a built-in pause to gauge the results of the first and the Japanese response—even though the Japanese were expected, by Truman and others, to push surrender feelers, even without the bomb, with Russia’s entry into the war on August 7.  Hence: assembly-line massacre in Nagasaki.

--Gen. Douglas MacArthur,  who directed the U.S. war in the Pacific, and would soon become the head of our occupation of Japan, had still not been told of the existence and planned use of the new bomb.  Norman Cousins, the famed author and magazine editor, who was an aide to MacArthur, would later reveal:  "MacArthur's views about the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were starkly different from what the general public supposed....When I asked General MacArthur about the decision to drop the bomb, I was surprised to learn he had not even been consulted. What, I asked, would his advice have been? He replied that he saw no military justification for the dropping of the bomb. The war might have ended weeks earlier, he said, if the United States had agreed, as it later did anyway, to the retention of the institution of the emperor."  As we noted earlier, both General Eisenhower and Truman's top aide, Admiral Leahy, both protested the use of the bomb against Japan in advance.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Countdown to Hiroshima: X-Minus 3 Days

Each summer I count down the days to the atomic bombing of Japan (August 6 and August 9, 1945),  marking events from the same day in 1945.  I've been doing it here for more than two weeks now.    I've written  three books on the subject:  Hiroshima in America (with Robert Jay Lifton),  Atomic Cover-Up (on the decades-long suppression of shocking film shot in the atomic cities by the U.S. military),  and Hollywood Bomb  (the wild story of how an MGM 1947 drama was censored by the military and Truman himself).

August 3, 1945

--On Tinian, Little Boy is ready to go, awaiting word on weather, with General LeMay to make the call. Taking off the night of August 5 appears most likely scenario.

--On board the ship Augusta steaming home for USA after Potsdam meeting, President Truman, Joint Chiefs chairman Admiral Leahy, and Secretary of State James F. Byrnes--a strong A-bomb booster--enjoy some poker.   Byrnes aide Walter Brown notes in his diary that "President, Leahy, JFB [Byrnes) agreed Japan looking for peace. (Leahy had another report from Pacific.) President afraid they will sue for peace through Russia instead of some country like Sweden."

--Leahy had questioned the decision to use the bomb, later writing: "[T]he use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender.... [I]n being the first to use it, we...adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children."

 --Our "Magic" intercepts show Japan monitoring the Soviets' military buildup in the Far East (prelude to the declaration of war in four days).  Also, Japanese still searching for way to approach Molotov to pursue possible surrender terms before that happens. Another Magic intercept carried the heading, "Japanese Army's interest in peace negotiations." War Department intel analysts revealed "the first statement to appear in the traffic that the Japanese Army is interested in the effor tto end the war with Soviet assitance." A segment of Prime Minister Togo's message declared: "The Premier and the leaders of the Army are now concentrting all their attention on this one point."

John McCloy, then assistant secretary of war and a well-known "hawk" in his later career, would later reflect, "I have always felt that if, in our ultimatum to the Japanese government issued from Potsdam [in July 1945], we had referred to the retention of the emperor as a constitutional monarch and had made some reference to the reasonable accessibility of raw materials to the future Japanese government, it would have been accepted. Indeed, I believe that even in the form it was delivered, there was some disposition on the part of the Japanese to give it favorable consideration. When the war was over I arrived at this conclusion after talking with a number of Japanese officials who had been closely associated with the decision of the then Japanese government, to reject the ultimatum, as it was presented. I believe we missed the opportunity of effecting a Japanese surrender, completely satisfactory to us, without the necessity of dropping the bombs."

 --Soviet General Vasilevskii reports to Stalin that Soviet forces ready for invasion from August 7 on.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Countdown to Hiroshima: X-Minus 4 Days

Each summer I count down the days to the atomic bombing of Japan (August 6 and August 9, 1945),  marking events from the same day in 1945.  I've been doing it here for more than two weeks now.  Here's yesterday's report.  I've written  three books on the subject:  Hiroshima in America (with Robert Jay Lifton),  Atomic Cover-Up (on the decades-long suppression of shocking film shot in the atomic cities by the U.S. military),  and Hollywood Bomb  (the wild story of how an MGM 1947 drama was censored by the military and Truman himself).

August 2, 1945

—Early today, Paul Tibbets, pilot of the lead plane, the Enola Gay (named after his mom) on the first mission, reported to Gen. Curtis LeMay’s Air Force headquartters on Guam. LeMay told him the “primary” was still Hiroshima. Bombardier Thomas Ferebee pointed on a map what the aiming point for the bomb would be—a distinctive T-shaped bride in the center of the city, not the local army base. “It’s the most perfect aiming I’ve seen in the whole damned war,” Tibbets said. But the main idea was to set the bomb off over the center of the city, which rests in kind of a bowl, so that the surrounding hills would supply a “focusing effect” that would lead to added destruction and loss of life in city mainly filled by women and children.

—By 3 p.m., top secret orders were being circulated for Special Bombing Mission #13, now set for August 6, when the weather would clear. The first alternate to Hiroshima was Kokura. The second, Nagasaki. The order called for only “visual bombing,” not radar, so the weather had to be okay. Six planes would take part. Two would escort the Enola Gay, one would take photos, the other would be a kind of mobile lab, dropping canisters to send back scientific information.

—Meanwhile, three B-29s arrived at Tinian carrying from Los Alamos the bomb assemblies for the second Fat Man device (which would use plutonium, the substance of choice for the future, unlike the uranium bomb meant for Hiroshima). 

 —Japanese cables and other message intercepted by the United States showed that they were still trying to enlist the Soviets' help in presenting surrender terms--they would even send an envoy--but were undecided on just what to propose. The Russians, meanwhile, were just five days from declaring war on Japan.

--Top U.S. officials were on now centering on allowing the Japanese to keep their emperor when they give up.  In his diary Secretary of War Stimson endorses a key report which concludes: "The retention of the Emperor will probably insure the immediate surrender of all Japanese Forces outside the home islands."  Would offering that win a swift Japanese surrender--without the need to use the bomb?  Not considered.

—Six years ago earlier on this day, August 2, 1939, Albert Einstein sent a letter to President Roosevelt stating the Germans were trying to enrich uranium 235—and that this process would allow them to build an atomic bomb. This helped spark FDR’s decision to create the Manhattan Project. 

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Countdown to Hiroshima, X-Minus 5 Days

Each summer I count down the days to the atomic bombing of Japan (August 6 and August 9, 1945),  marking events from the same day in 1945.    I've written  three books on the subject:  Hiroshima in America (with Robert Jay Lifton),  Atomic Cover-Up (on the decades-long suppression of shocking film shot in the atomic cities by the U.S. military),  and Hollywood Bomb  (the wild story of how an MGM 1947 drama was censored by the military and Truman himself).

—Truman wrote a letter to his wife Bess last night talking about the atomic bomb (but without revealing it): “He [Stalin] doesn’t know it but I have an ace in the hole and another one showing—so unless he has threes or two pair (and I know he has not) we are sitting all right.”

And today he gives a letter to Stalin, which confounds the Soviet leader. Earlier, Stalin had promised to declare war on Japan around August 7. Now Truman writes that more consultation is needed. Truman had earlier pushed for the quick entry, writing in his diary "fini Japs" when that occurred, even without use of The Bomb. Now that he has the bomb in his "pocket" he apparently hopes to stall the Soviets.

 --Truman has also approved statement on the use of the bomb, brought to him last night in Germany by a courier, drafted by Secretary of War Stimson and others, and ordered it released after the bomb drop. A line near the start has been added explicitly depicting the vast city of Hiroshima (occupied mainly by women and children) as nothing but a “military base.” The president, and the drafters of the statement, knew was false. An earlier draft described the city of Nagasaki as a “naval base” and nothing more. There would be no reference to radiation effects whatsoever in the statement—it was just a vastly bigger bomb.

—The Potsdam conference ended early this morning, with Truman expected to head back to the US by sea tomorrow.

—The “Little Boy” atomic bomb is now ready for use on the island of Tinian. Under the direction of the lead pilot, Paul Tibbetts, practice runs have been completed, near Iwo Jima, and fake payloads dropped, with success. Truman’s order had given the okay for the first mission later this day and it might have happened if a typhoon was not approaching Japan.

—Stimson writes in his diary about decision today to release to the press, with Truman’s coming statement after  the use of the bomb, a 200-page report on the building of the bomb, revised to not give too much away. Here he explains why they will release it at all: “The aim of the paper is to backfire reckless statements by independent scientists after the demonstration of the bomb. If we could be sure that these could be controlled and avoided, all of us would much prefer not to issue such a paper. But under the circumstances of the entire independence of action of scientists and the certainty that there would be a tremendous amount of excitement and reckless statement, [Gen. Leslie] Groves, who is a very conservative man, had reached the conclusion that the lesser evil would be for us to make a statement carefully prepared so as not to give away anything vital and thus try to take the stage away from the others.”

Friday, July 31, 2015

Countdown to Hiroshima: X-Minus 6 Days


Each summer I count down the days to the atomic bombing of Japan (August 6 and August 9, 1945),  marking events from the same day in 1945.  I've written  three books on the subject:  Hiroshima in America (with Robert Jay Lifton),  Atomic Cover-Up (on the decades-long suppression of shocking film shot in the atomic cities by the U.S. military),  and Hollywood Bomb  (the wild story of how an MGM 1947 drama was censored by the military and Truman himself).

July 31, 1945:

--In Germany, Admiral William D. Leahy, chief of staff to Truman--and the highest-ranking U.S. military officer during the war--continues to privately express doubts about the bomb, that it may not work and is not needed,  in any case. (Gen. Eisenhower had just come out against using the Bomb.)  Leahy would later write in his memoirs: 

"It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons.

"The lethal possibilities of atomic warfare in the future are frightening. My own feeling was that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children."

--The assembly of Little Boy is completed. It is ready for use the next day.  But a  typhoon approaching Japan will likely prevent launching an attack. Several days might be  required for weather to clear.

--Secretary of War Stimson sends semi-final draft of statement for Truman to read when first bomb used and he has to explain its use, and the entire bomb project, to the U.S. and the world, with this cover note: "Attached are two copies of the revised statement which has been prepared for release by you as soon as the new weapon is used. This is the statement about which I cabled you last night.  The reason for the haste is that I was informed only yesterday that, weather permitting, it is likely that the weapon will be used as early as August 1st, Pacific Ocean Time, which as you know is a good many hours ahead of Washington time."
It is an atomic bomb. It is a harnessing of the basic power of the universe. The force from which the sun draws its power has been loosed against those who brought war to the Far East.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Countdown to Hiroshima: X-Minus 7 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 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 three books (including the recent Atomic Cover-Up on the U.S. suppression of film for decades and another on a Hollywood film)  since the early 1980s with a special emphasis on the aftermath of the bombings, and the government and media reactions in the decades after.

July 30, 1945

Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, commander of U.S. troops in Europe, has visited President Truman in Germany, and would recall what happened in his memoir (Mandate for Change): "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...

"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..."

In a Newsweek interview, Ike would add: "...the Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn't necessary to hit them with that awful thing."

-- Stimson, now back at the Pentagon, cabled Truman, that he had drafted a statement for the president that would follow the first use of the new weapon--and Truman must urgently review it because the bomb could be used as early as August 1. Stimson sent one of his aides to Germany with two copies of the statement. The Top Secret, six-page typed statement opened: "____ hours ago an American airplane dropped one bomb on ______ and destroyed its usefulness to the enemy. That bomb has more power than 20,000 tons of TNT.... It is an atomic bomb. It is a harnessing of the basic power of the universe." Later, as we will see, the claim that Hiroshima was merely "a military base" was added to the draft.

--After scientists sifted more data from the July 16 Trinity test of the first weapon, Gen. Leslie R. Groves, military head of the Manhattan Project provided Gen. George Marshall, our top commander, with more detail on the destructive power of atomic weapons. Amazingly, despite the new evidence, Groves recommended that troops could move into the "immediate explosion area" within a half hour" (and, indeed, in future bomb tests soldiers would march under the mushroom clouds and receive harmful doses of radiation). Groves also provided the schedule for the delivery of the weapons: By the end of November more than ten weapons would be available, in the event the war had continued.

--Groves faced a new problem, however. Gen. "Tooey" Spaatz on Guam urgently cabled that sources suggested that there was an Allied prisoner of war camp in Nagasaki just a mile north of the center of the city. Should it remain on the target list?" Groves, who had already dropped Kyoto from the list after Stimson had protested, refused to shift. In another cable Spaatz revealed that there were no POW camps in Hiroshima, or so they believed. This firmed up Groves's position that Hiroshima should "be given top priority," weather permitting. As it turned out, POWs died in both cities from the bombing.

Greg Mitchell, former editor of Nuclear Times and Editor & Publisher, is the author of more than a dozen books, with three on the use of the bomb, including Atomic Cover-Up (on the decades-long suppression of shocking film shot in the atomic cities by the U.S. military) and Hollywood Bomb (the wild story of how an MGM 1947 drama was censored by the military and Truman himself).

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Countdown to Hiroshima: X-Minus 8 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 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 three books (including the recent Atomic Cover-Up on the U.S. suppression of film for decades and another on a Hollywood film)  since the early 1980s with a special emphasis on the aftermath of the bombings, and the government and media reactions in the decades after.

On July 29, 1945: 

—Truman wrote letter to wife Bess from Potsdam on deals there (but does not mention A-bomb discussions with Soviets): “I like Stalin. He is straightforward, knows what he wants and will compromise when he can’t get it. His Foreign Minister isn’t so forthright.“ Truman casually informed Stalin about the atomic bomb but no one is quite certain that the latter understood.

—Japanese sub sinks the U.S.S. Indianapolis, killing over 800 American seamen. If it had happened three days earlier, the atomic bomb the ship was carrying to Tinian would have never made it.

—A Newsweek story observes: “As Allied air and sea attacks hammered the stricken homeland, Japan’s leaders assessed the war situation and found it bordering on the disastrous…. As usual, the nation’s propaganda media spewed out brave double-talk of hope and defiance.” But it adds: “Behind the curtain, Japan had put forward at least one definite offer. Fearing the results of Russian participation in the war, Tokyo transmitted to Generaliissimo Stalin the broad terms on which it professed willingness to settle all scores.”

—Assembling of the first atomic bomb continued at Tinian. It would likely be ready on August 1 and the first use would be dictated by the weather.  The second bomb—the plutonium device—was still back in the States. The target list, with Hiroshima as #1, remained in place, although it was being studied for the presence of POW camps holding Americans in the target cities.

—Secretary of War Stimson began work on the statement on the first use of the bomb that President Truman would record or release in a few days, claiming we merely hit a "military base," assuming the bomb worked.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Countdown to Hiroshima: X-Minus 9 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 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 three books (including the recent Atomic Cover-Up on the U.S. suppression of film for decades and another on a Hollywood film)  since the early 1980s with a special emphasis on the aftermath of the bombings, and the government and media reactions in the decades after.

July 28, 1945

--Two days after receiving it, the Japanese leadership  rejected the Potsdam declaration calling for their "unconditional" surrender, or seemed to. The official word was that it would ignore the demand mokusatsu, or "with silence." Another translation, however, is "to withhold comment." This not-quite-rejection has led some historians to suggest that the U.S. should have pursued the confusing Japanese peace feelers already circulating, especially with suggestions that unconditional terms were the main, or perhaps only, obstacles.

--Secretary of the Navy James V. Forrestal had breakfast with Truman at Potsdam.  He had flown there at least partly to press the president to pursue Japanese peace feelers--especially concerning letting them keep their emperor-- before using the bomb and killing countless civilians.

 --Returning to Washington from Potsdam, Secretary of War Henry Stimson consulted with the top people at Los Alamos about the bomb (or "S-1" as it was then known) and wrote in his diary. "Everything seems to be going well."

 --U.S. Ambassador to Moscow Joseph Davies wrote in his diary that Secretary of State James Byrnes was overly excited by the success of the bomb test vis-a-vis future relations with our allies, the Soviets: "Byrnes' attitude that the atomic bomb assured ultimate success in negotiations disturbed me more than his description of its success amazed me. I told him the threat wouldn't work, and might do irreparable harm." Four days earlier, Byrnes aide Walter Brown had written in his diary that Byrnes' view was that "after atomic bomb Japan will surrender and Russia will not get in so much on the kill." The Soviets were scheduled to enter the war on August 7 (which might have prompted a Japanese surrender, even without use of the Bomb), so there was some urgency.

--A U.S. bombing raid on the small Japanese city of Aomori -- which had little military significance beyond being a transportation hub -- dropped 83,000 incendiaries and destroyed almost the entire city, killing at least 2,000 civilians.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Countdown to Hiroshima: X-Minus 10 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 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 on the U.S. suppression of film for decades)  since the early 1980s with a special emphasis on the aftermath of the bombings, and the government and media reactions in the decades after.

July 27, 1945

Truman continued to meet with Allied leaders in Germany, as the Soviets got ready to declare war on Japan in early August ("fini Japs" when that happened, even without the bomb, Truman had written in his diary this week).

Preparations at Tinian in the Pacific to get the first A-bomb ready for use, possibly within a week (weather permitting) were finalized, with the city of Hiroshima remaining as #1 target. It has been barely touched by Allied bombing so it would serve as the best site to judge the bomb's experimental effects.  Also it is nearly surrounded by hills, promising a "focusing effect" that will likely guarantee killing tens of thousands.

The Japanese government today released an edited version of the "unconditional surrender" Potsdam declaration (which did not mention the atomic bomb) to their press and citizens, but had not yet rejected it. The Domei news agency had already predicted that the surrender demand "would be ignored." The U.S, after use of bomb, would later accept conditional surrender -- with Japan allowed to keep its emperor -- yet call it unconditional.

Eleven days after the first, and quite secret, atomic test at Trinity, which spread wide clouds of radioactive fallout over residents downwind -- livestock had been sickened or killed -- radiation experts had become concerned about the exposure for one family, the shape of things to come.

"A Petition to the President of the United States" organized by famed nuclear scientist Leo Szilard, and signed by sixty-eight of his Los Alamos colleagues -- the only real pre-Hiroshima protests -- urgently urging delay or extreme caution on the use of the new weapon against Japan, continued to be held in limbo and kept from the President's eyes while Truman remained abroad.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Countdown to Hiroshima: X-Minus 11 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 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 on the U.S. suppression of film for decades)  since the early 1980s with a special emphasis on the aftermath of the bombings, and the government and media reactions in the decades after.

July 26, 1945:

Early on July 26, Chief of Staff Gen.George Marshall cabled to Gen. Leslie Groves, military chief of the Manhattan Project back in Washington, DC, his approval of a directive sent by Groves the night before. It read: “1. The 509th Composite Group, Twentieth Air Force, will deliver its first special bomb as soon as weather will permit visual bombing after about 3 August 1945 on one of the targets: Hiroshima, Kokura, Nigata and Nagasaki…. 2. Additional bombs will be delivered on the above targets as soon as made ready by the project staff…..”

This assembly-line approach would have tragic consequences for the city of Nagasaki. (Kyoto had been removed from the target list after the Secretary of War Henry Stimson pleaded that destroying this historic and beautiful city would really turn the Japanese against us in the postwar period.)

In a 1946 letter to Stimson, Truman reminded him that he had ordered the bombs used against cities engaged “exclusively” in war work. Truman would later write in his memoirs, “With this order the the wheels were set in motion for the first use of an atomic weapon against a military target.” Even years after the decision, and all the evidence (largely kept from the American people) that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were only partly “military” targets, Truman still acted otherwise.

--The other major event from this day was equally significant. The Potsdam Declaration was issued in Germany by the United States, Britain and China. (The Soviet Union was still ostensibly not at war with Japan but agreed to enter the conflict around August 7. This has led some to suggest that we used the bombs quickly to try to end the war before the Russians could claim much new territory.) It was Truman’s first key wartime conference with other top leaders.

The declaration ordered Japan to surrender immediately and unconditionally or face a reign of ruin—“prompt and utter destruction”—although the new weapon was not mentioned (such a warning had been considered by Truman but rejected). Much was made of the importance of the “unconditional” aspect but three weeks later, after the use of the new bombs, we accepted a major condition, allowing the Japanese to keep their emperor, and still called the surrender “unconditional.”

Some historians believe that if we had agreed to that condition earlier Japan might have started the surrender process before the use of the atomic bombs. Others believe an explicit warning to the Japanese, or a demonstration of the new weapon offshore in Japan, would have speeded the surrender process. But the Potsdam Declaration set US policy in stone.

Greg Mitchell’s latest book (also out as an e-book) is Atomic Cover-Up: Two U.S. Soldiers, Hiroshima & Nagasaki, and The Greatest Movie Never Made. He also co-authored, with Robert Jay Lifton, Hiroshima in America.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Countdown to Hiroshima: X-Minus 12 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 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 on the U.S. suppression of film for decades)  since the early 1980s with a special emphasis on the aftermath of the bombings, and the government and media reactions in the decades after.

Yesterday's entry.  Today:

July 25:  Still at Potsdam, Truman wrote in his diary this day the following.  Did he know that the U.S. was targeting the center of cities--the vast majority of citizens then living in the target cities were women and children--or was he lying to himself and history?   "We have discovered the most terrible bomb in the history of the world. It may be the fire destruction prophesied in the Euphrates Valley Era, after Noah and his fabulous Ark.  Anyway we ‘think’ we have found the way to cause a disintegration of the atom. An experiment in the New Mexico desert was startling - to put it mildly. ...The explosion was visible for more than 200 miles and audible for 40 miles and more.

"This weapon is to be used against Japan between now and August 10th. I have told the Sec. of War, Mr. Stimson, to use it so that military objectives and soldiers and sailors are the target and not women and children. Even if the Japs are savages, ruthless, merciless and fanatic, we as the leader of the world for the common welfare cannot drop that terrible bomb on the old capital or the new.

"He and I are in accord. The target will be a purely military one and we will issue a warning statement asking the Japs to surrender and save lives. I’m sure they will not do that, but we will have given them the chance. It is certainly a good thing for the world that Hitler’s crowd or Stalin’s did not discover this atomic bomb. It seems to be the most terrible thing ever discovered, but it can be made the most useful."   

Note:  "Military" made up only about 10% of the casualties in Hiroshima (including American POWs), and 1% at most in Nagasaki (including Dutch POWs.).

Friday, July 24, 2015

Countdown to Hiroshima: X-Minus 13 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,  tragic, decisions made by President Truman and his advisers 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 on the U.S. suppression of film for decades)  since the early 1980s with a special emphasis on the aftermath of the bombings, and the government and media reactions in the decades after.

Yesterday's entry.  Today:

July 24:   Truman at Potsdam discloses the existence of the atomic bomb to Stalin (who had possibly already been informed about it by his spies).  In his memoirs, a decade later, Truman would describe it briefly this way:  "On July 24 I casually mentioned to Stalin that we had a new weapon of unusual destructive force. The Russian Premier showed no special interest. All he said was he was glad to hear it and hoped we would make 'good use of it against the Japanese.'" American officials present would assert that Stalin failed to grasp the import of the new weapon in future world affairs.  But a Soviet official with the Stalin party later claimed that Stalin immediately ordered his scientists to speed up work on their own weapon.  See views of Churchill and others who witnessed the telling.

Gen. Groves drafts the directive authorizing the use of the atomic bombs as soon as bomb availability and weather permit. It lists the following targets in order of priority: Hiroshima, Kokura, Niigata, and Nagasaki.  They are all large cities and orders are to drop bombs over center of them, thereby dooming tens of thousands of civilians for death. This directive constitutes final authorization for atomic attack--no further orders are issued.  Indeed, there would never be a separate order, even by Truman, to use the second bomb against Japan--it just rolled off, as if from atomic assembly line. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Countdown to Hiroshima: X-Minus 14 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 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 on the U.S. suppression of film for decades)  since the early 1980s with a special emphasis on the aftermath of the bombings, and the government and media reactions in the decades after. 

Yesterday's entry.  For today: 

 July 23, 1945:  More decoded cables and reports suggest Japanese might very well surrender soon if "unconditional surrender" amended to allow them to retain their Emperor as symbolic leader.  U.S. will rule that out in its upcoming Potsdam Declaration, but then allow it, after using the bomb.

Truman had come to Potsdam mainly to get the Russians to keep their promise of entering war against Japan in early August--and Truman believed that would mean "fini Japs."  But, after Trinity, Stimson writes in diary today, that he and Gen. George Marshall believe "now with our new weapon we would not need the assistance of the Russians to conquer Japan."  So he again presses for info on earliest possible date for use of bomb.  So the bomb would be useful--even if not, perhaps, necessary.

Out in the Pacific, the first bomb unit, without explosives, dropped in a test at Tinian.  Meanwhile, 600 bombers get ready to bomb the hell out of Osaka and Nagoya without conventional weapons.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Countdown to Hiroshima: X-Minus 15 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 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 with a special emphasis on the aftermath of the bombings, and the government and media suppression in the decades after.  

Yesterday's lengthy entry, including Gen. Eisenhower opposing using bomb against Japan. Today:

July 22, 1945:  Still at Potsdam, Secretary of War Stimson meets with Prime Minister Churchill, who says that he was baffled by President Truman's sudden change in getting tough, almost bullying, with Stalin--but after he learned of successful first A-bomb test at Trinity he understood and endorsed it.   Everyone also cheered by "accelerated" timetable for use of bomb against cities--with first weapon ready about August 6, and the second by August 24th.  Stimson in diaries notes that two top officials endorse his striking of Kyoto (which he had visited and loved) off target list.

The U.S. learns through its "Magic" intercepts that Japan is sending a special emissary to the Soviet Union to try to get them to broker a peace with the U.S. as soon as possible (the Japanese don't know the Russians are getting ready to declare war on them in two weeks).

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Countdown to Hiroshima: X-Minus 16 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 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 with a special emphasis on the aftermath of the bombings, and the government and media suppression in the decades after.   Yesterday's entry.  What happened on today's date:

July 21,  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."

Gen. Leslie Groves' dramatic report on the Trinity test lands on Secretary of War Henry Stimson's desk.  Residents of New Mexico and Las Vegas, who witnessed a flash in the desert (some received radiation doses) are still in the dark.

The Interim Committee has settled on a target list (in order):  Hiroshima, Kokura, Nagasaki.  Top priority was they must be among the few large Japanese cities not already devastated by bombardments--so the true effects of the new bomb can be observed.   That's also why the bomb will be dropped over the very center of the cities, which will also maximize civilian casualties.  Hiroshima has the added "benefit" or being surrounding by hills on three sides, providing a "focusing effect" which will bounce the blast back on the city, killing even more.  Kyoto, on the original target list, was dropped after an appeal by Stimson, who loved the historic and beautiful city. 

Stimson in his diary recounts visit with Truman at Potsdam after they've both read Gen. Groves account of the successful Trinity test.  He finds Truman tremendously "pepped up" by it with "new confidence."  This "Trinity power surge" (in Robert Lifton's phrase)helped push Truman to use the new weapon as soon as possible without further reflection,  with the Russians due to enter the war around August 7.  Truman has not yet told Stalin about existence of the bomb.

Note: Groves' lengthy memo generally pooh-poohed radiation effects on nearby populations but did include this:  "Radioactive material in small quantities was located as much as 120 miles away. The measurements are being continued in order to have adequate data with which to protect the Government's interests in case of future claims. For a few hours I was none too comfortable with the situation."

Bombing crews start practicing flights over targets in Japan.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Countdown to Hiroshima: X-Minus 18 Days

As I noted yesteday: 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.

For background, here are three of my postings already this month:  the first, on Leo Szilard's petition  to the President signed by dozens of fellow atomic scientists urging that the U.S. not use the new weapon against Japanese cities or at least stage a demonstration first;  the second, on the first test of The Bomb at Trinity on July 16, 1945; the third, on why this still matters today.

Now, today's entry, going back to July 18-19, 1945.  Read yesterday's entry for more on Truman's view of how Russia's entry in war would mean "fini Japs."

*

At Potsdam, Truman wrote in his diary today:
"P.M. [Churchil] & I ate alone. Discussed Manhattan (it is a success). Decided to tell Stalin about it. Stalin had told P.M. of telegram from Jap Emperor asking for peace. Stalin also read his answer to me. It was satisfactory. Believe the Japs will fold up before Russia comes in. I am sure they will when Manhattan [reference to Manhattan Project] appears over their homeland. I shall inform about it at an opportune time."
So there is a "telegram from Jap Emperor asking for peace."  Of course, we'll never know if peace could have been worked out shortly. One alleged hang-up was that the U.S. was demanding "conditional surrender" while the Japanese wanted to be able to keep their emperor as a figurehead.  Of course, after we dropped the bomb, we allowed this condition.  This, and Truman's view that the Soviet entry into the war, set for around August 8, would provoke a surrender made it vital for him--in the view of some historians--to use the new weapon as soon as possible.

Truman also wrote a letter to his wife Bess, affirming his belief that the Soviet declaration of war--even without the Bomb--would cause an end to the war well before the planned U.S. invasion.
I've gotten what I came for - Stalin goes to war August 15 with no strings on it... I'll say that we'll end the war a year sooner now, and think of the kids who won't be killed! That is the important thing. 
 Truman would use the new weapon anyway, killing at least 50,000 Japanese "kids." 

Friday, July 17, 2015

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.

For background, here are three of my postings already this month:  the first, on Leo Szilard's petition  to the President signed by dozens of fellow atomic scientists urging that the U.S. not use the new weapon against Japanese cities or at least stage a demonstration first;  the second, on the first test of The Bomb at Trinity on July 16, 1945; the third, on why this still matters today.

Now, today's entry, going back to July 17, 1945.
*
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. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

70 Years Ago: 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 70th anniversary will be marked—or mourned, if you will—this Thursday, July 16.

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.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Still a Pawn in Their Game

Bob Dylan, March on Washington, "Only a Pawn in Their Game," and entire song.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Still Gathering No Moss

Exactly 50 years ago today, in mid-June 1965, Bob Dylan recorded in New York City, with Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper and the gang, the final take of what some (not just me) call the greatest single in rock 'n roll history, "Like a Rolling Stone."  It was released one month later, on July 20, reaching #2 on the Billboard chart.  Among other breakthroughs: It was the first six-minute single and DJs played the whole thing for weeks, before breaking off after two verses near the end of its run.   The rarely heard  first take in the studio was slow, almost a waltz, and Bob  on piano.  The Wikipedia entry describes it this way:  "The lack of sheet music meant the song was played by ear. However the essence of the song was discovered in the course of the chaotic session."  Greil Marcus has a whole book on the song.  Bob live in 1966.

And then, a year later, there was Jimi Hendrix's amazing version at Monterey.  I saw Bob do it himself in November 1965, in Buffalo, with The Hawks.  And below that, Bob does the tune for David Letterman's 10th anniversary on the air with, get this, Emmylou, Mavis, Rosanne, Michele Shocked--and Carole King on piano.  But first up, an earlier acoustic take of the song 50 years ago in the studio: