I'm making a partial exception to my self-imposed rule of not speaking ill of the dead.
Paul Tibbets, the pilot who dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima, died Nov. 1, unrepentant till the very end.
"I wanted to do everything that I could to subdue Japan. I wanted to kill the bastards. That was the attitude of the United States in those years," he told an interviewer in 1995. "I have been convinced that we saved more lives than we took. It would have been morally wrong if we'd have had that weapon and not used it and let a million more people die."
There was only one problem with his analysis: He was just plain wrong. In the last few decades, there has been a whole slew of studies showing that the dropping of the bomb was-militarily and strategically-completely unnecessary. (Here, I am setting aside the moral arguments, convincing as they are.)
Perhaps the dean among this group of scholars is Professor Gar Alperovitz, who has written a number of books on the subject, including the magisterial "The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb," which in 1995 demolished once and for all the arguments for obliterating Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
In an op-ed two years ago for The Progressive's sister organization, the Progressive Media Project, Alperovitz cited a number of recent studies that further bolstered his case.
"Long before the bombings, top American and British policy-makers were aware that a declaration of war by the Soviet Union, combined with assurances for the Japanese emperor, would likely end the conflict," Alperovitz wrote. "As early as April 29, 1945, for instance, U.S. intelligence advised that entry of the Soviet Union into the war would 'convince most Japanese at once of the inevitability of complete defeat,' and further, that if they were persuaded that unconditional surrender 'did not imply annihilation, surrender might follow fairly quickly.' "
Alperovitz listed several prominent generals as decrying the bomb. (Eisenhower said after the war that "the Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn't necessary to hit them with that awful thing.") The most surprising of this bunch is right-wing extremist (and inspiration for Jack D. Ripper in the movie "Dr. Strangelove") General Curtis LeMay. Even he publicly proclaimed afterward that the war would have been done with in two weeks and that the bomb played no part in hastening its end.
In his recent book, "Empire and the Bomb," Joseph Gerson of the American Friends Service Committee devotes a chapter to knocking down the claim that using the two weapons was necessary.
"Included [in this book] is a detailed explanation of why the A-bombings were not essential to end the war on terms acceptable to the U.S.," Gerson writes. "Most damning is the irrefutable evidence that Truman and his advisors were well aware of this."
So why did Truman drop nuclear weapons on Japan? Bizarre as it may seem, a big part of the reason was to send the Soviets a message. And if you don't believe me, surely you will believe a top scientist who worked on the Manhattan Project that devised the bomb.
"More important was to demonstrate to the world-and particularly to the Soviet Union-the newly acquired might of the United States," Nobel Peace Prize-winner Joseph Rotblat wrote for the Progressive Media Project a few years ago. "I personally happened to find this out, directly from the mouth of General Leslie Groves, the head of the Manhattan Project, who said in a casual conversation in 1944, 'You realize, of course, that the main purpose of the project is to subdue the Russians.' "
Rotblat left the Manhattan Project shortly after in disgust, the only scientist to do so. He dedicated the rest of his life to peace work, and in 1995, received the Nobel Prize for the Pugwash scientists' conferences he helped organize to further nuclear disarmament.
Tibbets may have gone to his deathbed believing that the bomb he incinerated Hiroshima with was justified. It wasn't.
Amitabh Pal is managing editor of The Progressive.
© 2007 The Progressive