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Monday, July 29, 2013

Countdown to Hiroshima for July 28-29,1945: American POWs in Target Cities?


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.  See my daily reports for the previous two weeks here.  And for past two days here.  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 29, 1945:  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 sites (indeed, several American POWs would be slain by the bomb in Hiroshima).

—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.

--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, assuming the bomb worked.  It would portray Hiroshima as simply a "military base," not even a city.

--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."  He had also written kind words about Stalin in his diary in the past ten days.

-- Joseph Davies, the influential former ambassador to the Soviet Union,  in his diary recounts warning Secretary of State Jimmy Byrnes today that the new bomb has severe "psychological effects" beyond the physical--particularly on the Russians, and not in the positive ways Byrnes was counting on.    Presciently he writes that using and further developing the bomb with no cooperation with our allies, the Russians, will create "hostility" leading to a "race" in the laboratories threatening "annihiliation" of both countries.

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.

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