Saturday, July 23, 2016

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.  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.  
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.

Friday, July 22, 2016

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.   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.  

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 off Kyoto (which he had visited and loved) from the 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).

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Chicago 'Police Riot'

Protests outside this year's GOP convention have drawn little media coverage and one might say they have "fizzled."  And no wonder: police and city officials for conventions for decades have learned to force protesters into "security zones" far from the convention halls and provided overwhelmingly numbers of security forces nearby.  I guess we can blame it all on...1968, and the infamous bloodbath on the streets of Chicago.  I happened to be there at the age of twenty.     Here's a piece I wrote not long along ago about how I witnessed that at close hand.
Forty-eight years ago my trip to Chicago for the Democratic National Convention would culminate in the crushing of Sen. Eugene McCarthy's anti-Vietnam crusade inside the convention hall and the cracking of peacenik skulls by Mayor Richard Daley's police in the streets. Together, this doomed Hubert Humphrey to defeat in November at the hands of Richard Nixon.

I'd been a political-campaign junkie all my life. At the age of 8, I paraded in front of my boyhood home in Niagara Falls, N.Y., waving an "I Like Ike" sign. In 1968 I got to cover my first presidential campaign when one of Sen. McCarthy's nephews came to town, before the state primary, and I interviewed him for the Niagara Falls Gazette, where I worked as a summer reporter during college. I had been chair of the McCarthy campaign at my college. So much for non-biased reporting!

My mentor at the Gazette was a young, irreverent City Hall reporter named John Hanchette. He went on to an illustrious career at other papers, and as a Pulitzer Prize-winning national correspondent for Gannett News Service. Hanchette was in Chicago that week to cover party politics as a Gazette reporter and contributor to the Gannett News Service (GNS). I was to hang out with the young McCarthyites and the anti-war protesters. To get to Chicago I took my first ride on a jetliner.

To make a long story short: On the climactic night of Aug. 28, 1968, Hanchette and I ended up just floors apart in the same building: the Conrad Hilton Hotel in downtown Chicago. I was in McCarthy headquarters and Hanchette was in one of Gannett's makeshift newsrooms.  Just after the peace plank to the DNC platform was defeated,  TV coverage switched to shocking scenes of young folks getting beaten with nightsticks on the streets of Chicago, but we didn't know where.  Then we smelled tear gas and someone  the curtains along a wall of windows and we looked out  to see police savagely attacking protesters with nightsticks at the intersection directly below.

Soon I headed for the streets. By that time, the peak violence had passed, but cops were still pushing reporters and other innocent bystanders through plate glass windows at the front of the hotel, so the danger was still real. I held back in the lobby, where someone had set off a stink bomb. Some Democrats started returning from the convention hall -- after giving Humphrey the nomination even though McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy won most of the primaries -- as protesters inside the Hilton chanted, "You killed the party! You killed the party!"  And: "You killed the country." And, of course, "Dump the Hump!"

Finally, I screwed up my courage and crossed to Grant Park where the angry protest crowd gathered, with troops in jeeps with machine guns pointed at us. And there I stayed all night, as the crowd and chants of "pig" directed at the cops increased. Many in the crowd wore bandages of had fresh blood on their faces. Phil Ochs (later a friend)  arrived and sang, along with other notables, including some of the peacenik delegates and a famous writer or two.  This was Zuccotti Park but with heavily armed soldiers ready to swoop in, not simply NYC cops. Somehow we survived the night. 

When I returned to Niagara Falls that Friday, I wrote a column for that Sunday's paper. I described the eerie feeling of sitting in Grant Park, and thousands around me yelling at the soldiers and the media, "The whole world is watching!" -- and knowing that, for once, it was true.

More than 35 years later, after I had written two books on other infamous political campaigns, I returned to Chicago for a staged performance of a musical based on one of them. As I got out of a cab to make my way to the theater, I had an eerie feeling and, sure enough, looking up the street I noticed Grant Park a block away -- and the very intersection in front of the Hilton where skulls were cracked that night in 1968.

P.S. Norman Mailer's terrific book, Miami and the Siege of Chicago, is still in print.

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.     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.  

July 21,  1945:  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.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

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 19, 2016

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." 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.  

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." 

Good Old Stephen Colbert Returns

In former guise, with a great "Word"--which is "Trumpiness."

Monday, July 18, 2016

Live-Blogging the GOP Convention 2016

God help me, I've live-blogged every GOP hootenanny since 2004, first for Editor & Publisher (where I also served as the editor) and then at The Nation.  I even wrote books about the 2008 and 2012 campaigns.   In 2004, I attended the GOP convention in New York, got kicked off the floor, and also marched in the massive peace march.  So, with nothing much else doing at home tonight, I thought I'd try again tonight, off the TV,  for those with better things to do, updated at the top below.  All times ET.

Tuesday 9:55:  Campaign manager Manafort at presser just now defends speech, says Trump furious about complaints, claims Melania "comfortable" that a few "normal" words she used reflected her feelings.  "When Hillary Clinton threatened by female" she attempts to destroy her, he says.  At first he refuses to take questions, then calls her speech highlight of convention so far.  Indeed, that is true, as it turns out....

Later:  It looks like Melania plagiarized part of speech...from Michelle know, the part on hard work and integrity.  Yikes.   Robert Mackey here.  There's now a delicious theory that a disgruntled speechwriter did this as an act of sabotage.  Some point to the obvious direct "Rick Roll" lines also in speech about Donald not letting you down.

Melania last night claimed she wrote most of speech herself.  After controversy, Trump team put out brief, incoherent statement and suddenly she has large "team of writers."  They try to suggest that Melania was "inspired" by a lot of things, maybe even Michelle speech? But since huge number of Trump backers think she is the devil, that may not wash either....

Now Trump manager blames guess who...Hillary!  And he digs hole deeper by claiming she "knew what she was doing" and the lifted passages contain words that "do not belong" only to the Obamas.

Chris Christie this morning defends her, saying that, actually, 93% of the speech was original!  But Reince Priebus says that if it happened to him he would indeed fire the speech writer (Melania herself?).  

My old friend Lizz Winstead comments:  "BREAKING: Kim Kardashian has the tape of Michelle Obama giving Melania permission to use that speech."  Rep. Alan Grayson tweets new Tru,mp campaign slogan:  "Make America Copy and Paste Again."

11:55  Yes, Jon Stewart  reunited with Stephen Colbert for five minutes or so, in pretty lame skit (he pretends to be a hermit who goes bonkers on learning that Trump is GOP nominee--fortunately, however, Colbert then returns to former blowhard guise and does a Tonight's Word for old times sake, and it's  "Trumpism").

11:30  I suffered all night for you but I gave up with arrival of Joni Ernst.  MSNBC just brought on my old pal Paul Rieckhoff for a reality check on vets community.  

10:55  New York Daily News front page for tomorrow posted. 

10:50  Quote of the night from speaker Flynn: "War is not about bathrooms." Then he agrees with crowd: "Lock her up, that's right." Adds: "Damn right."  And "American exceptionalism is very real.  Our country was built upon Judeo-Christian principles."

10:22:  And Trump is on.  "Oh, we're gonna win, we're gonna win so big." Then repeats it.  Amazingly, says just a few more words before introducing wife.   She claims he is "kind and fair and caring," but admits that others do not always see it.  Otherwise not much to say.  Crowd seemed sleepy until ovation at end. She offered not a single personal anecdote, just declared his goodness without example, probably a first for candidate wife.  And sacrilege of intro with "Brown Eyed Girl."  Have to hope Van sues. 

10:10   Now weighing in -- Samantha Bee with video, see @FullfrontalSamB

10:00  Primetime.  The three networks join coverage.  MSNBC running clip from  impossibly lame interview Matt Lauer just did for Today with Trump and wife on the plane.  Melania:  Don is an "amazing guy." Stop the presses, if any are left....In the hall, the first protest, Code Pink, natch.  Now Rudy G on, still called "America's mayor" today by Jake Tapper.  Ranting like a hysteric.  As Molly Ivins said about a previous GOP confab, "It sounded better in the original German." And three-times married Rudy hailing three-times-married Trump as great family man.

9:45  Sen. Tom Cotton, likely 2020 candidate, on now. Tells troops, "Help is one the way."  Want us to "win wars not just end wars."  What do you think most troops in Afghanistan would prefer?  These GOPers love vets who have gone to war, unless they are on the other ticket, when they get swiftly boated.

9:25  Milwaukee sheriff on now, ready to slam Blacks Lives Matter and Obama.  He lost it with Don Lemon last night. Opens with "Blue lives matter," sparking chants. And brings "good news" of latest acquittal in Baltimore case.   Accuses BLM and Occupy of "anarchy."  Now Don Lemon on and proudly stating that he does not support Black Lives Matter either.

9:00  Underwear model speaking now.  He has said that he Obama is a Muslim.  Jesus told him to do it.   Says he has kids, in case you were thinking they were letting a gay guy speak.   Naked appeal for Trump....And over on Fox, Megyn welcomes...a former Black Panther and a Cleveland cop who claims Obama has "blood on his hands." 

8:45 Controversy over on Fox!  Trump went on O'Reilly taking attention from Benghazi woman!  Even Brit Hume hitting Bill over this.  Bill claims Trump broke news on promising to use Black Lives Matter against Dems.  And so on....Good Steve Schmidt line:  "The weaponization of grief." 

8:25  Delegates may bounce Pence and name Marcus Lutttrell veep.  Not craziest thing they're doing this year....Mother of Benghazi victim says she holds Hllary "personally" responsible.  How many probes and congressional committees have now cleared Hillary on this?  Says, "Hillary for prison--she deserves to be in stripes." Crowd goes crazy. Then they go to Benghazi video.  Don't recall any of thousands of 9/11 family members at DNC convention in 2004 naming Dubya as killer of their spouse or kid...MSNBC brings on congressman, and Richard Engel, to defend Hillary on this. 

8:10  Chris Matthews hailing Trump kids as incredibly great and nice (as if raised by Jackie Kennedy, he adds) and even "genteel," except maybe when shooting rare creatures in Africa, and so on....."Duck Dynasty" star, the "yuppie hillbilly," takes the stage with prayer and American flag headband.  Still recall when Abbie Hoffman got arrested for wearing a flag shirt....Scott Baio now on, claims Hillary wants to be president only "for herself." Trump just acting for USA, closes, "Let's make America, America again."  Shark jumped.

7:35  Preferred Sarah Paulson's Nicolle Wallace to Nicolle Wallace's....Former obnoxious Saturday Night Live bandleader G.E. Smith once again providing the music for the GOP confab, as he has done in past....Elsewhere in the national league, Cornel West today endorsed...Jill Stein.

 7:15  Every four years there are predictions of protests at conventions making a lot of news and causing chaos but when the times comes they rarely have any impact--as the parties and cities learned long ago to restrict them to security zones far from the hall and most of the media.  I guess I am partly to blame, as a attendee at infamous  Chicago convention protests in 1968. 

7:00  A reminder that Jon Stewart re-joins Stephen Colbert at least briefly tonight.  If you missed Stephen taking the GOP stage, watch

6:40  MSNBC interviewing Ohio's Connie Schultz, great columnist and wife of Sherrod Brown, who would be my pick for VP--if that wouldn't cost Dems a Senate seat.  Dana Bash on CNN chats with Rick Perry who says he is backing Trump because of SCOTUS (but she misses chance to ask him for other reasons)...Chris Hayes runs clip of him interviewing folks at Roger Stone and Alex Jones rallies. Brian Williams now in the anchor chair, with Rachel, and Gene Robinson and Steve Schmidt....Rep. Steve King also told Chris that white race (literally) sueprior to others.

6:25  Just kicking this off by noting that I watched the brief anti-Trump (or if you will, "fair rules") rebellion this afternoon, which the two cable channels almost blew with confusing coverage, though they have compensated since.  Question is: Did delegates really withdraw signatures on petition calling for vote, and if so, what pressure produced it?   One might say it's much-ado-about-little, as the effort to "stop Trump" had no chance to succeed though embarrassment was not killed, as the cablers have been going wild about it since.   Highlight for me was former U.S. Senator Gordon Humphrey denouncing the "brown shirt" tactics, linking this to "fascism," and then doubling down by saying it reflected "Trump."   NBC's Kelly O'Donnell later got kicked off the floor, for a bit. We'll see if this goes anywhere later tonight or, as I suspect, the promises of disruptions will go nowhere.

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.  As 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.  

Sunday, July 17, 2016

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.
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. 

Saturday, July 16, 2016

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.

Friday, July 15, 2016

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.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Countdown to Hiroshima: X-Minus 23 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 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.  This post is from the War Department's official release on the lead up to Trinity test of the first weapon, which would occur on July 16.  The release, of course, was not distributed to the public until after Hiroshima.
This phase of the Atomic Bomb Project, which is headed by Major General Leslie R. Groves, was under the direction of Dr. J. R. Oppenheimer, theoretical physicist of the University of California. He is to be credited with achieving the implementation of atomic energy for military purposes.

Tension before the actual detonation was at a tremendous pitch. Failure was an ever-present possibility. Too great a success, envisioned by some of those present, might have meant an uncontrollable, unusable weapon.

Final assembly of the atomic bomb began on the night of July 12 in an old ranch house. As various component assemblies arrived from distant points, tension among the scientists rose to an increasing pitch. Coolest of all was the man charged with the actual assembly of the vital core, Dr. R. F. Bacher, in normal times a professor at Cornell University.

The entire cost of the project, representing the erection of whole cities and radically new plants spread over many miles of countryside, plus unprecedented experimentation, was represented in the pilot bomb and its parts. Here was the focal point of the venture. No other country in the world had been capable of such an outlay in brains and technical effort.

The full significance of these closing moments before the final factual test was not lost on these men of science. They fully knew their position as pioneers into another age. They also knew that one false move would blast them and their entire effort into eternity. Before the assembly started a receipt for the vital matter was signed by Brigadier General Thomas F. Farrell, General Groves' deputy. This signalized the formal transfer of the irreplaceable material from the scientists to the Army.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

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 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.

To the President of the United States: 
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.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

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.  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 covername '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."

National Booker Award

Don't miss new doc up on iTunes and maybe elsewhere, Bayou Maharajah, which could only be about NOLA crazy/genius piano man James Booker.  Sample of his work, live from Montreaux.  Daddy made love to white mama "in front of the KKK."  And "we all better watch out, watch out, for the CIA."

Monday, July 11, 2016

When Szilard Tried to Halt Hiroshima and Nagasaki

 On July 3, 1945, the great atomic scientist Leo Szilard finished a letter that would become the strongest (virtually the only) real attempt at halting President Truman's march to using the atomic bomb--which was two weeks from its first test at Trinity--against Japanese cities.   This partly featured in a new off-Broadway musical (yes) about Szilard, titled Atomic.

Each summer I count down to the days to the tragedy marking events from 1945.  I've written hundreds of articles and  three books on the subject, Hiroshima in America (with Robert Jay Lifton), and more recently Atomic Cover-Up (on decades-long suppression of film shot in the atomic cities by the U.S. military) and Hollywood Bomb  (how an MGM 1947 drama was censored by the military and Truman himself).
It’s well known that as the Truman White House made plans to use the first atomic bombs against Japan in the summer of 1945, a large group of atomic scientists, many of whom had worked on the bomb project, raised their voices, or at least their names, in protest. They were led by the great Leo Szilard. On July 3, he finished a petition to the president for his fellow scientists to consider, which called atomic bombs “a means for the ruthless annihilation of cities.” It asked the president “to rule that the United States shall not, in the present phase of the war, resort to the use of atomic bombs.”

The following day he wrote this cover letter (below). The same day, Leslie Groves, military chief of the Manhattan Project, wrote Winston Churchill’s science advisor seeking advice on how to combat Szilard and his colleagues. The bomb would be tested two weeks later and dropped over Hiroshima on August 6.

July 4, 1945

Dear xxxxxxxxxxxx,

Enclosed is the text of a petition which will be submitted to the President of the United States. As you will see, this petition is based on purely moral considerations.

It may very well be that the decision of the President whether or not to use atomic bombs in the war against Japan will largely be based on considerations of expediency. On the basis of expediency, many arguments could be put forward both for and against our use of atomic bombs against Japan.

Such arguments could be considered only within the framework of a thorough analysis of the situation which will face the United States after this war and it was felt that no useful purpose would be served by considering arguments of expediency in a short petition.

However small the chance might be that our petition may influence the course of events, I personally feel that it would be a matter of importance if a large number of scientists who have worked in this field went clearly and unmistakably on record as to their opposition on moral grounds to the use of these bombs in the present phase of the war.

Many of us are inclined to say that individual Germans share the guilt for the acts which Germany committed during this war because they did not raise their voices in protest against these acts. Their defense that their protest would have been of no avail hardly seems acceptable even though these Germans could not have protests without running risks to life and liberty. We are in a position to raise our voices without incurring any such risks even though we might incur the displeasure of some of those who are at present in charge of controlling the work on “atomic power”.

The fact that the people of the people of the United States are unaware of the choice which faces us increases our responsibility in this matter since those who have worked on “atomic power” represent a sample of the population and they alone are in a position to form an opinion and declare their stand.

Anyone who might wish to go on record by signing the petition ought to have an opportunity to do so and, therefore, it would be appreciated if you could give every member of your group an opportunity for signing.

Leo Szilard
What happened next?  Well, here's a pithy summary from author of bio of Leo Szilard.  As you'll see, the petition gained from than 180 signatures, but was then delayed in getting to President Truman by Gen. Leslie Groves, military head of the Manhattan Project, until the A-bombs were ready to use.  Groves also commissioned a poll of atomic scientists, which found that over 80% favored a demonstration shot only--so he squelched that, too.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Hey, Baby, It's the 4th of July

Getting a bit of a jump on things, here's Robert Earl Keen live with his great version of Dave Alvin's "4th of July."  Below that, Dave himself. Good advice: Whatever happens, I apologize!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

October Surprise?

Well, maybe for most people...that's when my book The Tunnels will be published by Crown.  Click on cover at right or here to learn more or pre-order at discount rate.  And unofficial trailer below (my son, the pro, will do a better one down the road).  Music: Patrick Ffrench (yes, that's two f's).


Sunday, June 5, 2016


Near our front yard at vacation cottage in North Truro, today, before the rain.