In this exclusive interview, Prof Peter Kuznick speaks of: the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagazaki; US crimes and lies behind the Vietnam war, and what was really behind that inhumane invasion; why the US engaged a Cold War with the Soviet Union, and how that war and the mainstream media influences the world today; the interests behind the assassinations of President Kennedy; US imperialism towards Latin America, during the Cold War and today, under the false premise of War on Terror and War on Drugs.
Edu Montesanti: Professor Peter Kuznick, thank you so very much for granting me this interview. In the book The Untold History of the United States, Oliver Stone and you reveal that the the launch of the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki by President Harry Truman was militarily unnecessary, and the reasons behind it. Would you comment these versions, please?
Peter Kuznick: It is interesting to me that when I speak to people from outside the United States, most think the atomic bombings were unnecessary and unjustifiable, but most Americans still believe that the atomic bombs were actually humane acts because they saved the lives of not only hundreds of thousands of Americans who would have died in an invasion but of millions of Japanese.
That is a comforting illusion that is deeply held by many Americans, especially older ones. It is one of the fundamental myths emanating from World War II. It was deliberately propagated by President Truman, Secretary of War Henry Stimson, and many others who also spread the erroneous information that the atomic bombs forced Japanese surrender. Truman claimed in his memoirs that the atomic bombs saved a half million American lives.
President George H.W. Bush later raised that number to “millions.” The reality is that the atomic bombings neither saved American lives nor did they contribute significantly to the Japanese decision to surrender. They may have actually delayed the end of the war and cost American lives. They certainly cost hundreds of thousands of Japanese lives and injured many more.
As the January 1946 report by the U.S. War Department made clear, there was very little discussion of the atomic bombings by Japanese officials leading up to their decision to surrender. This has recently been acknowledged somewhat stunningly by the official National Museum of the U.S. Navy in Washington, DC, which states, “The vast destruction wreaked by the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the loss of 135,000 people made little impact on the Japanese military.
However, the Soviet invasion of Manchuria…changed their minds.” Few Americans realize that six of America’s seven five star admirals and generals who earned their fifth star during the war are on record as saying that the atomic bombs were either militarily unnecessary or morally reprehensible or both.
That list includes Generals Douglas MacArthur, Dwight Eisenhower, and Henry “Hap” Arnold and Admirals William Leahy, Ernest King, and Chester Nimitz. Leahy, who was chief of staff to presidents Roosevelt and Truman, called the atomic bombings violations of “every Christian ethic I have ever heard of and all of the known laws of war.” He proclaimed that the “Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender…The used of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. In being the first to use it we adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the dark ages.”
Eisenhower agreed that the Japanese were already defeated. MacArthur said that the Japanese would have surrendered months earlier if the U.S. had told them they could keep the emperor, which the U.S. did ultimately allow them to do.
What really happened? By spring 1945, it was clear to most Japanese leaders that victory was impossible. In February 1945, Prince Fumimaro Konoe, former Japanese prime minister, wrote to Emperor Hirohito, “I regret to say that Japan’s defeat is inevitable.”
The same sentiment was expressed by the Supreme War Council in May when it declared that “Soviet entry into the war will deal a death blow to the Empire” and was repeated frequently thereafter by Japanese leaders.
The U.S., which had broken Japanese codes and was intercepting Japanese cables, was fully aware of Japan’s increasing desperation to end the war if the U.S. would ease its demand for “unconditional surrender.” Not only was Japan getting battered militarily,
it’s railroad system was in tatters and its food supply was shrinking. Truman himself referred to the intercepted July 18 cable as “the telegram from the Jap emperor asking for peace.” American leaders also knew that what Japan really dreaded was the possibility of a Soviet invasion, which they maneuvered unsuccessfully to forestall.
The Japanese leaders did not know that at Yalta Stalin had agreed to come into the Pacific War three months after the end of the fighting in Europe. But Truman knew this and understood the significance. As early as April 11, 1945, the Joint Intelligence Staff of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was reporting that “If at any time the USSR should enter the war, all Japanese will realize that absolute defeat is inevitable.”
Yalta Conference 1945
At Potsdam in mid-July, when Truman received Stalin’s confirmation that the Soviets were coming into the war, Truman rejoiced and wrote in his diary, “Fini Japs when that comes about.” The next day he wrote home to his wife, “We’ll end the war a year sooner now, and think of the kids who won’t be killed.”
Potsdam July 1945, Churchill, Truman and Stalin
So there were two ways to expedite the end of the war without dropping atomic bombs. The first was to change the demand for unconditional surrender and inform the Japanese that they could keep the emperor, which most American policymakers wanted to do anyway because they saw the emperor as key to postwar stability. The second was to wait for the Soviet invasion, which began at midnight on August 8.
It was the invasion that proved decisive not the atomic bombs, whose effects took longer to register and were more localized. The Soviet invasion completely discredited Japan’s ketsu-go strategy. The powerful Red Army quickly demolished the Japan’s Kwantung Army. When Prime Minister Kantaro Suzuki was asked why Japan needed to surrender so quickly, he replied that if Japan delayed, “the Soviet Union will take not only Manchuria, Korea, Karafuto, but also Hokkaido.