Hiroshima bomb may have carried hidden agenda
NewScientist | July 21, 2005
By Rob Edwards
The US decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 was meant to kick-start the Cold War rather than end the Second World War, according to two nuclear historians who say they have new evidence backing the controversial theory.
Causing a fission reaction in several kilograms of uranium and plutonium and killing over 200,000 people 60 years ago was done more to impress the Soviet Union than to cow Japan, they say. And the US President who took the decision, Harry Truman, was culpable, they add.
"He knew he was beginning the process of annihilation of the species," says Peter Kuznick, director of the Nuclear Studies Institute at American University in Washington DC, US. "It was not just a war crime; it was a crime against humanity."
According to the official US version of history, an A-bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on 6 August 1945, and another on Nagasaki three days later, to force Japan to surrender. The destruction was necessary to bring a rapid end to the war without the need for a costly US invasion.
But this is disputed by Kuznick and Mark Selden, a historian from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, US. They are presenting their evidence at a meeting in London on Thursday organised by Greenpeace and others to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the bombings.
Looking for peace
New studies of the US, Japanese and Soviet diplomatic archives suggest that Truman's main motive was to limit Soviet expansion in Asia, Kuznick claims. Japan surrendered because the Soviet Union began an invasion a few days after the Hiroshima bombing, not because of the atomic bombs themselves, he says.
According to an account by Walter Brown, assistant to then-US secretary of state James Byrnes, Truman agreed at a meeting three days before the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima that Japan was "looking for peace". Truman was told by his army generals, Douglas Macarthur and Dwight Eisenhower, and his naval chief of staff, William Leahy, that there was no military need to use the bomb.
"Impressing Russia was more important than ending the war in Japan," says Selden. Truman was also worried that he would be accused of wasting money on the Manhattan Project to build the first nuclear bombs, if the bomb was not used, he adds.
Kuznick and Selden's arguments, however, were dismissed as "discredited" by Lawrence Freedman, a war expert from King's College London, UK. He says that Truman's decision to bomb Hiroshima was "understandable in the circumstances".
Truman's main aim had been to end the war with Japan, Freedman says, but adds that, with the wisdom of hindsight, the bombing may not have been militarily justified. Some people assumed that the US always had "a malicious and nasty motive", he says, "but it ain't necessarily so."