Creation of Armageddon

It has been 60 years since anti-communism devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Eddie Ford remembers

Sixty years ago this week US imperialism committed a heinous atrocity. On August 6, at exactly 8.15am, a B-29 nicknamed Enola Gay dropped a nuclear bomb called 'Little Boy' over the central part of Hiroshima. It exploded 600 metres above the city with a blast equivalent to 13 kilotons of TNT, killing an estimated 80,000 civilians instantaneously - with thousands more dying afterwards from the wounds and illnesses incurred from the blast. This was followed three days later by another nuclear attack, almost as devastating again, this time on Nagasaki.

For communists, as the assaults on Hiroshima and Nagasaki starkly demonstrate, World War II was - contrary to the grandiose myths pumped out on our television/film screens or the solemn lectures delivered in the school room - an ugly and barbaric inter-imperialist war, not a noble 'democratic' crusade against fascism or a heroic struggle to save the Jews from physical liquidation at the hands of evil madmen.

In other words, World War II was essentially a continuation of World War I, and hence genuine communists give absolutely no support or credence to the war aims and methods of the imperialists, be they Winston Churchill or Franklin Roosevelt - nor, for that matter, do we attempt to prettify or act as apologists for the actions and policies of JV Stalin's Soviet Union in this tumultuous period.

It is axiomatic for communists that war is the continuation of politics by other, military, means - and hence, that the subsequent 'peace' after the formal ending of World War II was in fact the very continuation of that same war, albeit under different material circumstances and thus necessitating the deployment of different tactics and means, but in order to secure the same ends: ie, the victory or temporary ascendancy of one imperialist power over another, former 'ally' or not. When we examine World War II, there are two main points to be made.

First, quite self-evidently, that the dropping of atomic bombs on Japan represented a quantitative rather than a qualitative shift when it came to imperialist military tactics - for instance, more than a 100,000 died in the March 9 incendiary attack on Tokyo, and a similar number died during the British bombing of Dresden. To borrow a phrase from the National Front leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the atom bombing of these two Japanese cities was a "mere detail" of the butchery and carnage that raged during World War II.

Perhaps more importantly, the primary purpose of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was not to save Allied soldiers' lives or bring the war to a speedy but triumphant end, but to intimidate the Soviet Union. Thus, communists plainly state that the imperialist war crimes committed against the ordinary people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the opening shot of what quickly came to be dubbed - somewhat inaccurately in many respects, given the actual 'hot' wars and conflicts that broke out around the globe - the 'cold war'.

Logically, but with remorseless inhumanity, World War II was giving birth to World War III - and, to some extent, the two wars were overlapping and intertwining. Of course, many mainstream commentators would vigorously question this viewpoint.

Thus, we had 'Mad' Max Hastings - frustrated armchair general supreme - using the liberal-gilded pages of The Guardian to bemoan how the "occasion will be marked by a torrent of prose from those who regard the destruction of Hiroshima and of Nagasaki three days later as 'war crimes', forever attaching shame to those who ordered them". Hastings then proceeds to "dismiss" the "conspiracy theories" that would have us believe that Hiroshima was the "first shot in the cold war, designed to impress the Soviets". Rather, for Hastings, the atom bombs were simply the "use of a 'total' weapon reflecting the inexorable logic of total war" (July 30).

However, interestingly, Hastings himself goes on to admit, regarding previously unseen war documents and records that have recently come to light, that "intercepts of Japanese diplomatic cables revealed to Washington that Tokyo was soliciting Stalin's good offices to end the war", and that "the Americans were also aware of the Soviets' imminent intention to invade Japanese-occupied China in overwhelming strength".

Perhaps then slightly perturbed by the implication of the new material, Hastings concludes: "In short, the 2005 evidence demonstrates that Japan had no chance of sustaining effective resistance. If America's fleets had merely lingered offshore through autumn 1945, they could have watched the Japanese people, already desperately hungry, starve to death or perish beneath conventional bombing. Oddly enough, Soviet entry into the war on August 8 was more influential than the atomic explosions in convincing Japanese leaders that they must quit" (my emphasis).

Any relatively objective historian would find nothing whatsoever that is 'odd' about this explanation. By the autumn of 1945 Japan was on the verge of surrender and US imperialism was fully aware of this fact, and was worried about it. What if the Soviets, after declaring war on Japan, then swept into China and were supported by a series of nationalist-communist risings that reached down into South East Asia and even over to Japan itself?

Such an appalling scenario, which saw most if not virtually all of Asia going 'red', was foremost in the terrified minds of US political-military strategists and they were determined to prevent it, by any mean necessary. Of course, this represented a formal reversal of the US's previous approach. After Pearl Harbour, American imperialism had constantly urged the Soviet Union to declare war on Japan, but by 1944-45 the USSR had become the main enemy. After all, now that British imperialism was visibly in terminal decline, this - god damn it - was going to be the 'American century' not the pesky 'red century'.

So, the 'war against fascism' became transformed into the war against communism. The starting gun having been fired, a coven of US politicians and generals - like the inveterate militarist, general Paton, and the always enthusiastic warmonger, Winston Churchill - hatched plans to carry on the fighting immediately after the surrender of Japan - only this time against Soviet forces ... and with freedom-bringing nukes. Thankfully, for one reason or another, they were unable to execute their schemes. However, during 1946-48, elaborate and diabolically detailed plans were drawn up for the commencement of World War III, all of which involved nuking the Soviet bloc into the stone age.

This way, civilisation would be saved from 'the reds', even if it meant destroying vast chunks of humanity in the process - oh well, a little bit of 'collateral damage' is always to be expected when it comes to such matters. No doubt, Paton and Churchill thought that history, and god, would absolve them.

This argument - that the US decision to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was in effect the opening shots in the subsequent, anti-Soviet, war - has been affirmed recently by two historians of nuclear technology - Peter Kuznick, director of the Nuclear Studies Institute at the American University in Washington DC, and Mark Selden, a historian from Cornell University in Ithaca. In their damning view, the Hiroshima bomb "was not just a war crime": more "a crime against humanity".

At a recent meeting organised by Greenpeace and others to mark the 60th anniversary of Hiroshima, Kuznick and Seldon presented evidence - drawn from new studies of the US, Japanese and Soviet diplomatic archives - conclusively showing that president Truman's overarching motive was fear of Soviet expansionism in Asia, not ending World War II.

According to Walter Brown, assistant to the then US secretary of state, James Byrnes, Truman agreed at a meeting three days before Hiroshima that Japan was "looking for peace". Truman was also explicitly 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. For Kuznick and Seldon it is clear: "Impressing Russia was more important than ending the war in Japan" (www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn7706).

Kuznick and Seldon's analysis corresponds to all previous evidence and data on the subject. Clearly, with the war against Germany drawing ever nearer its end, the Allies were waging an increasingly effective campaign against Japan. Thus, after the fall of the Mariana Islands to US forces in July 1944, the impending defeat of Japan was becoming increasingly obvious. The Marianas had been a key area within Japan's defence perimeter - once they went under, Japan was easily within range of bombing runs from Pacific Ocean locations, which were far superior to the China bases that had previously been used.

This meant that from November 1944 onward, Japan was the subject of numerous large-scale B-29 (non-nuclear) bombing raids. Tellingly, when air force chief general Hap Arnold, inquired in June 1945 as to when the war was going to end, the commander of the B-29 raids, general Curtis LeMay, promptly told him - by September or October 1945 at the latest, because by then they would have finally run out of industrial targets to bomb (Michael Sherry, The rise of American air power: the creation of Armageddon New York 1987 pp300, 410). Inescapably then, if the US war aims had been merely the military defeat of Japan, there would have been no need to drop the atom bomb - as Dwight Eisenhower later said, "It wasn't necessary to hit them with that awful thing" (Newsweek November 11 1963, p108).

When we look back at the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the war crimes committed by the forces of 'democratic' imperialism are all too apparent. But what communists also recognise, given the sheer bellicosity and reflex aggression of US militarism during the cold war, is that there is only one rational explanation as to why no further nuclear weapons were deployed by imperialism after Nagasaki - namely, the very real existence in turn of the Soviet nuclear arsenal. Naturally this is in no way to assign any progressive intent to the Soviet bureaucracy - far from it. Rather, it is to just recognise an objective fact.

Grotesque though it may be, the doctrine of 'mutually assured destruction' worked. The world is still with us, even if battered and bruised. Chillingly, the nuclear bombs dropped on the Japanese people almost look like peashooters, compared to the size and explosive power of today's nuclear weaponry. Now, millions of human beings could be wiped out in one single explosion - yet the imperialist and sub/proto-imperialist powers have thousands of such weapons in their possession, not to mention the bulging arsenal of non-nuclear weapons technology, which is also capable of annihilating vast numbers in a quick and efficient manner.

Science and technology, in the hands of the capitalists, have not brought us a cosseted world of superabundance and leisure - but instead provided the means to destroy the planet. The brutal crimes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki point to why the working class needs to organise for power - life itself depends on it.