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Activists Join Academics in Opposing Enola Gay Exhibit

DC activists are teaming up with prominent academics to oppose the Smithsonian's plans to exhibit the B-29 Enola Gay without referencing the human suffering caused by the atomic bomb this plane dropped on Hiroshima.
An impressive committee of leading intellectuals from around the world has joined forces with veterans, clergy, activists and students to challenge the Smithsonian's plans to exhibit the Enola Gay solely as a "magnificent technological achievement." The planned exhibit, set to open December 15 at the Air and Space Museum's new Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles, is devoid of historical context and a discussion of the ongoing controversy surrounding the bombings, and lacks basic information regarding the number of casualties. The "Committee for a National Discussion of Nuclear History and Current Policy" has formulated a powerful statement of principles, which appears on their website: www.enola-gay.org. The statement has been circulating in the activist and academic communities here and abroad. The statement makes clear that the signatories, who number about 250 now, are not opposed to exhibiting the plane in a fair and responsible manner, but they fear that a "celebratory" exhibit both legitimizes what happened in 1945 and helps build support for the Bush administration's "dangerous new nuclear policies", hence the linkage between past history and current policy. The signers, who include a who's who of the American intellectual left, include Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, famed writers E.L. Doctorow and Kurt Vonnegut, activist Daniel Ellsberg, celebrity Martin Sheen and renowned folk singer Pete Seeger. A list of signers is available on the website.

The Smithsonian recently responded to the statement of principles,  http://www.nasm.si.edu/events/pressroom/releases/110703.htm, and defended it's decision to exhibit the plane by arguing that the text and plaque used to describe the B-29 is exactly the same kind used for other aircraft in the museum. The text of the exhibit follows:
Boeing's B-29 Superfortress was the most sophisticated propeller-driven bomber of World War II, and the first bomber to house its crew in pressurized compartments. Although designed to fight in the European theater, the B-29 found its niche on the other side of the globe. In the Pacific, B-29s delivered a variety of aerial weapons: conventional bombs, incendiary bombs, mines, and two nuclear weapons.
On August 6, 1945, this Martin-built B-29-45-MO dropped the first atomic weapon used in combat on Hiroshima, Japan. Three days later, Bockscar (on display at the U.S. Air Force Museum near Dayton, Ohio) dropped a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan. Enola Gay flew as the advance weather reconnaissance aircraft that day. A third B-29, The Great Artiste, flew as an observation aircraft on both missions.
Transferred from the U.S. Air Force
Wingspan: 43 m (141 ft 3 in)
Length: 30.2 m (99 ft)
Height: 9 m (27 ft 9 in)
Weight, empty: 32,580 kg (71,826 lb)
Weight, gross: 63,504 kg (140,000 lb)
Top speed: 546 km/h (339 mph)
Engines: 4 Wright R-3350-57 Cyclone turbo-supercharged radials, 2,200 hp
Crew: 12 (Hiroshima mission)
Armament: two .50 caliber machine guns
Ordnance: "Little Boy" atomic bomb
Manufacturer: Martin Co., Omaha, Nebr., 1945A19500100000"

The Smithsonian's response indicated that 300,000 man-hours were dedicated toward restoring the aged bomber. The museum notes, "In the end, the Enola Gay played a decisive role in World War II. It helped bring the war to an end in that after the bombing of Nagasaki, shortly after the bombing of Hiroshima, Japan, surrendered unconditionally." This kind of assertion galvanizes the academic opponents who are driven to dispel this deep-seated contention. In fact, military historians point to thousands of historical manuscripts, among them the memoirs of Admiral William D. Leahy, who was Truman's Chief of Staff. Leahy wrote, "The use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender. . . .In being the first to use it, we . . . adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children." Even the famed war hawk General Curtis Lemay, who commanded the Twenty-First Bomber Command, (as reported in THE NEW YORK HERALD TRIBUNE) said flatly that the atomic bomb "had nothing to do with the end of the war."

Many historical figures, including Eisenhower, Macarthur, Nimitz and Halsey were opposed to using the bomb and dispel its contribution toward ending the war. Opponents to the planned exhibit decry the "celebratory fashion" of the Enola Gay exhibit and point to the Air and Space Museum website  http://www.smav.si.edu/ that invites 4,000 aviation veterans on December 9, to a sneak preview of the hangar that will display 200 aircraft and 140 spacecraft. The controversial site displays a photo of the new complex about 25 miles west of Washington and a prominent photo of just one of it's many exhibits, The glistening Enola Gay, parked beneath a huge American flag.

Committee members describe a kind of "arms-length" collaboration with the local Washington activist community. Links on the website www.enola-gay.org describe "Related events sponsored by other organizations."

In fact, several groups in the local activist community have been busy organizing events. Karen O'Keefe, a Washington attorney and volunteer with the D.C. Antiwar Network, www.dawndc.net says about 15 DAWN volunteers are working on opposing the Enola Gay exhibit in a creative, nonviolent fashion. "At this point we are sending emails to editorial writers nationwide, distributing flyers to members of Congress, advertising the website nationally and alerting the embassies to get out the word about this exhibit and to announce plans others are undertaking for a social event honoring the Hibakusha (A & H Bomb survivors), a conference, a liturgy service and demonstration", explained the determined activist.

The D.C. Antiwar Network is working with the local chapter of the Gray Panthers to hold a social event honoring Hibakusha on Friday evening, December 12, in Washington. John Steinbach of the Gray Panthers has arranged for at least five delegations of Japanese survivors of the Hiroshima atomic bombing to come to Washington for a weekend of event, culminating in the demonstration at the Air and Space Museum's complex in Dulles on Monday, Dec 15. The Hibakusha are working with Hidankyo, the Japan Confederation of A & H Bomb survivors.


Thousands of Japanese and people around the world have signed an angry petition demanding that General John Dailey, Director of the Air and Space Museum, rethink the exhibit. The petition states in part, "We cannot repress our deep astonishment and anger. What the Enola Gay wrought was the loss of well over 100,000 lives that were cruelly destroyed by the atomic bomb, and the deep wounds and radiation-induced handicaps that continue to afflict victims of the atomic bomb to this day. Of the 140,000 people estimated to have died in Hiroshima within that year, 65% were women, children and elderly people who had no connection to the war. To exalt this Enola Gay - which caused an unprecedented atrocity that violated all norms of morality and international law - as a testimony to "technological achievement" is completely unacceptable to the atomic bomb victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki."

On Saturday, December the 13th, Committee members are planning to hold a conference in Washington in Kay Chapel at American University. Several renowned scholars, including Paul Boyer, Herbert Bix, Sy Hersh, Larry Wittner, Gar Alperovitz, and Kai Bird, have indicated their willingness to participate. Organizers are deciding whether to hold an evening session featuring Daniel Ellsberg and Jonathan Schell who cannot attend the afternoon conference.

On Sunday, December 14, a special liturgy will be held at the historic New York Avenue Presbyterian Church near the White House.  http://www.enola-gay.org/action/prayer_service.pdf
The service will feature a film showing the devastation caused by the bomb dropped by the Enola Gay. Hibakusha from around the world will share their insight. The hibakusha are radiation victims who were terribly scarred and diseased sufferers of the first atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That is, they are atomic survivors who lived - but infected and sick for a time or for several years - from the effects of the bomb and, as such, are witnesses to its horror, pain and death. For a time they were shunned by their own Japanese compatriots because they reminded the public, through their disfigurement, of losing the war and the shame at their defeat. But after the Bikini Atol test of the Hydrogen bomb and the deaths of Japanese fishermen nearby, the Japanese people began to change that view and today view the hibakusha as respected witnesses of the continuing nuclear threat.

Rev. Phil Wheaton, who is organizing the special liturgy, prefers the opposition to the Enola Gay to focus on the hibakusha. Wheaton embraces the link between an analysis of history and a discussion of American nuclear policies. He explains, "There are thousands of new radiation victims around the world who have become sick from the fallout of other atomic bomb testings, including Americans known as "down-winders," from the fallout of radiation poisoning here in the US and overseas. They too, have come to be called hibakusha." The Episcopal minister continues, " This growing company of atomic radiation victims/sufferers/witnesses are reminders of the grave threat we are still facing." Wheaton said the service will also address U.S. development of tactical nuclear weapons made of depleted uranium (DU). Many US soldiers returning from Iraq have developed serious diseases from that radiation.

The Committee's Statement of Principles, the bantering back and forth with the Air and Space Museum, the social event honoring Hibakusha, along with the academic conference and the solemn liturgy, will lead to a demonstration being organized principally by members of the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker House in Washington. The Catholic Workers, an intense group of activists who merge the nonviolent teachings of Christ with cutting edge activist tactics, plan a solemn, respectful demonstration in front of the Enola Gay at 11:00 a.m. on the day of the museum's opening, Monday, December 15. Kathy Boylan of the Catholic Worker House invoked the words of Roman Catholic Pope Paul VI who described the bombing as "a butchery of untold magnitude." Ms Boylan said the purpose of the demonstration is "to express our outrage at the Enola Gay being displayed without reference to the human suffering inflicted." Plans call for demonstrators to congregate near the plane. Demonstration planners say the Smithsonian won't address the suffering unleashed by the Enola Gay - so they will.

homepage: homepage: http://www.enola-gay.org

No Way 15.Nov.2003 18:50


This is the same bunch that wanted to foist the original version of the exhibit on the American people. That, you may remember, was the one that treated our winning of the war against Japan (which Japan started) as a crime we committed.

The American people weren't having any of that crap. And they're not gonna go for this crap either.

There is NO WAY that Enola Gay exhibit is going to be turned into a left wing "crimes of America" clusterfuck.

Re: No Way 15.Nov.2003 20:55


Luckily, not many Americans are as ignorant as you, little missy. Killing innocent civilians intentionally is a war crime. The scale of the A-bomb attacks, and the fact that they were completely unnecessary to defeat Japan, and primarily dropped in a show of US muscle flexing to the Russians, makes it one of the (two)greatest human atrocities of all time. Only a dangerously deranged person could be aware of the history of this massacre, and view it in a positive light.

Where will you hide when they come for you, ??

Watch and Learn 16.Nov.2003 11:17


Watch and learn, "Way". We slam-dunked that first attempt to besmirch our victory over Japan. We'll slam-dunk this one too. You want to, you're welcome to ride the ball as it goes down through the hoop.

You must be very proud 16.Nov.2003 12:52


Sounds like you are a proud supporter of war crimes and propoganda. Good on you, little missy! At least you can be honest about something.

I hope you have found a good hiding place.

Way Dumb 16.Nov.2003 14:35


> little missy!

You're a moron.

anonymity makes for big talk 16.Nov.2003 17:45


i just love how everyone can talk big here on indymedia. little internet geeks like "Way" can act tough, because computer screens don't fight back...

? is an evasive troll. 16.Nov.2003 17:46


Why don't you respond to the real issue here instead of blabbering nonsensical and irrelevant bullshit. What about the fact that they didn't need to drop those bombs to win the war? What about the fact that they knowingly dropped them on predominantly civilian targets? What about the fact that in 1949 the Geneva Convention decided that that sort of thing constituted war crimes (http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/92.htm -- "Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War"). You have conveniently decided not to respond to these points which are the moral basis for protest against this exhibit. Is it perhaps because you can't deny that it is wrong to knowingly obliterate thousands of children, infirm and/or elderly people, women, pregnant women, hospitals, schools, and other civilian, non-combatant parties whther or not you think it will win the war quickly? I think that is the reason. Shame on you for being so blind to your own bullshit.

GBF isn't paying attention. 16.Nov.2003 17:54


When Way said "I hope you have found a good hiding place", she'he was following up a previous comment, "Where will you hide when they come for you..". This means that Way wasn't threatening "?", she/he was making a rhetorical comment about how the nazi government doesn't care who you are, eventually they will fuck everyone over regardless of political beliefs. I'm not saying I necessarily agree or disagree with this sort of rhetoric, only that I know it isn't a personal threat.
I suspect that you already knew that it wasn't a threat, but you posted what you did anyway to take attention away from the issue about human rights and whether or not it is right or wrong to glorify an instrument of war that caused thousands of casualties to defensless civilians, including pregnant women and three year old little girls.

heheh, now that I think about it... 16.Nov.2003 17:56


Ironically, it seems computer screens do fight back when you start spouting off bullshit.

Those who fail to study history... 16.Nov.2003 18:26

seatac reader

Are doomed to repeat it.

Maybe we should allow the exhibit in order to teach future generations that this should never happen again?

Just a thought

to seatac 16.Nov.2003 18:45


That is the whole point of the protest. You see, the smithsonian institute is putting up the exhibit of this instrument of war without referencing the tens (hundreds?) of thousands of innocent lives it caused to be exterminated. The protestors are against this for specifically that reason--omition of history.

Did Too 16.Nov.2003 20:18


> What about the fact that they didn't need to drop those bombs to win the war?

That's not a fact. 1,000,000 US soldiers might have died if they'd had to invade Japan. Killing the enemy without losing our own soldiers was a much better choice.

A million? 16.Nov.2003 20:45


A million? You really think so? Please, by all means, cite some sources to back up that claim. Also, do you percieve noncombatant civilians who happen to live in an enemy country to be the "enemy" and worthy of the same treatment you would give a soldier with a gun pointed at you? Women, children, handicapped people, elderly, convenience store clerks, bakers, doctors, etc...? Should they have been melted away in an atomic blast? Should I give leukemia and tumors to a just married couple making love in the middle of the morning because their government is at war with me? Should we fail to mention this when talking about the war and the bomb?

oh yeah 16.Nov.2003 20:48


Also, US soldiers "<i>might</i> have died" because they were <i>willing</i> to die. That's why they were there in the first place: they were willing to die for their country. The thousands of Japanese people in Nagasaki and Hiroshima were not combatants, and they were not WILLING to die for their country. The US apparently didn't give a fuck about this glaring detail.

Hind Stight is 20/20 16.Nov.2003 22:39


As far as Hiroshima being a "civilian" target, That isn't even close to true. Those who say so are ignorant. The Japanese Naval headquarters were there. There was a massive shipyard. Mitsubishi had an aircraft plant. In a naval and air war, it doesn't take much strategy to see, these are targets. As far as many more deaths go. 120,000 Japanese civilians had already died in Tokyo with no US invasion. How many more was it going to take.

Now the argument can be made the United States didn't need to bomb Nagasaki. However, Nagasaki was picked because it contained two arms factories, a steel works and the Mitsubishi shipyards.

I continually see on this website posts saying when 1 soldier dies it's a tragedy and wrong. So, it is irrelevant what estimates say (as many as 100,000) "would" have died. The fact is some would have.

Lets not forget Japan was given the chance to surrender before the bomb was dropped with the Potsdam Declaration. But, they chose to ignore it.

Most of the people who made the decision are dead. That said the debate will never stop. Nor should it. We have the benefit of 20/20 hind sight. But come on, it's an airplane in an airplane museum! The debate will keep the tragedy in the public consciousness. The people who will go see the Enola Gay don't care about that anyway.

A few non-anonymous thoughts 17.Nov.2003 01:15

Andrew Seaton

I grew up in Washington DC, and took many classes at the Smithsonian as a kid back in the 60's. I used to roam the museums in the early hours before they opened, because I knew the secret ways in. This was back before the National Air and Space Museum was built on the Mall, when the Air and Space Museum was in a small quonset-style temporary building behind the original Smithsonian Castle.

As a child I used to love to look at and admire the airplanes and rockets and space memorabilia. One thing I now realize is that most of the "cool stuff" I loved were weapons of destruction. All of the planes on display at this new museum could, and should, include a body count of "enemy" dead both civilian and military. Even the "civilian" space program was based on military technology (Mercury and Gemini capsules were launched on converted ICBM's). Even Teflon, widely listed as a "consumer spin-off" of the space program, was first used as gasket material of Uranium isotope separation gas centrifuges at the Manhattan Project's Oak Ridge. The original electro-mechanical computers (which were the direct ancestors of the computer you are using to read this) were built as part of the Manhattan Project to verify the theoretical design of the A-bomb. Boeing used the technology paid for by the military from the "nuclear capable" B-47 and B-52 to build the 707, the first "commercial" jet airliner. The list is endless.

The main reason that Hiroshima was targeted was that it was still intact. It did have a Naval Headquarters, and was the Army Headquarters for Southern Japan. Hiroshima is built on a river delta and is crisscrossed with splitting river channels which acted as natural fire-breaks, making it impossible to get a "good" firestorm started in the city. Most people don't know that more people were killed in the first firebombing in Tokyo (~150,000) than in Hiroshima (~70,000 initially). By August, the US Army Air Corps was literally running out of targets to bomb, but had been told to hold off on four cities for later "special targeting." Kyoto was the first of the four, but was spared for "cultural" reasons. Hiroshima was second and Nagasaki was fourth. I can never remember the third, but it was spared because it was clouded over the day Nagasaki was bombed. Nagasaki was, and still is, the headquarters of Mitsubishi. Nagasaki was partially clouded over, but the bomber "Bock's Car" was running low on fuel (it had to land in Okinawa to refuel on the way back), so they dropped it "close". In Nagasaki ~60,000 were killed even though the bomb was bigger. Another little known fact is the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, was an untested Uranium design (nicknamed Little Boy). It was the only one of it's type ever detonated, even after the war. There is serious "scientific debate" over the actual radiation released by the Hiroshima bomb, because no test data was ever collected on it or any other Uranium based weapon. Recent computer simulations showed that significantly more radiation was produced than was estimated in WWII. This is important because of the epidemiological studies of the victims use the lower WWII dosage estimates. The Nagasaki bomb design (Fat Man) was the one tested in New Mexico in July 1945, and was tested four times after the war.

Those that do not remember the history are doomed to repeat it. The most chilling aspect of the original article is it's quite correct linking of this glorification of the Enola Gay and recent Bush policy to develop "smaller, more usable" nuclear weapons. I don't think Georgie remembers what he had for breakfast.

A poem written on the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima 17.Nov.2003 01:30

Andrew Seaton


50 years ago,
15 years before I was born,
1 man, Thomas Ferebee, killed
70,000 men, women and children.
He was not alone.

Two men armed the bomb for him.
A dozen flew him there.
Hundreds built the plane.
Ten thousand built the bomb.
Millions paid for it.

Yet I fear the day he dies.
When one of the physicists that designed it,
then measured the flash burnt shadow
in a now empty school room,
is no longer here to say,
"Yes, it exploded at the correct altitude."
When none of the politicians are left to say,
"No, that is not why we dropped it."

I fear when no survivor can
lift her sleeve and say
"See where it burned me."
When no mothers are left
who tasted their children's
ashes on the wind.
When the now blinded zealot
is dead who now says
"The Empire was not worth this,"

I fear the day when no one is left
who truly knows what it means to say
"I'd do it again."

PATRIOTIC CORRECTNESS: the Hiroshima cover-up 17.Nov.2003 01:59


previous feature on portland indymedia (original posting): How the media and government have covered up the full story of the U.S. atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, then and since. Drawn from the book, "Hiroshima in America: Fifty Years of Denial". Lessons are applicable to the current "war on terrorism". [i don't know why the pictures aren't showing up, but it's a good read.]

The "million" figure that "?" above uses is bullshit. Squid is also full of crap.

In August, 1945, World War II was drawing to a close. Nazi Germany had been conquered by the Allied Powers (Great Britain, the United States, and the U.S.S.R.), the U.S. had taken over most of Japan's possessions in the Pacific, and Japan itself was "on the verge of collapse"(1).On August 6, the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb over the center of the Japanese city of Hiroshima during the morning rush hour, killing tens of thousands of people and reducing most of the city to rubble instantly. On August 9, the U.S. dropped another bomb over Nagasaki, with similar results. Five days later, Japan surrendered. The debate over whether the U.S. should have used these atomic weapons began then, in August, 1945, and is still ongoing. The full story and actual details of how the decision was made have never fully entered the mainstream American consciousness, and many myths remain to this day. Though much scholarship has been produced on the subject, it has emerged only in bits and pieces because numerous documents relating to the decision were kept classified for decades. Film footage and photographs taken by the Japanese were seized by the U.S. and hidden for years before being returned or released. Over forty years passed before a fairly complete account became clear.

click for larger version
Hiroshima, Japan: August 6th, 1945, 8:15 am: "The mushroom cloud looms over the city and tens of thousands of people are killed instantly." (peacewire.org)

By digging into the barely known history of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki we can discover not only why the U.S. acted as it did then, but also gain insight into how it operates now, for example, in respect to the 'war on terrorism' embarked upon in 2001 after the attacks on the East Coast on September 11. As Robert Jay Lifton and Greg Mitchell put it in their 1995 book, Hiroshima in America: Fifty Years of Denial: "With the decision making process that led to the dropping of the bomb, we encounter nothing less than a set of models for decision making, and for what happened to America, and the world, in what we call the nuclear age"(2) [emphasis added]. These models are not democratic; they function in secrecy (insofar as they are able), are driven by a lust for power, and cloak themselves in propaganda. This essay draws upon Hiroshima in America to reveal these models, how they led to the decision to attack Japan with atomic weapons in 1945 and how the facts were kept hidden.

click for larger version
Nagasaki, Japan: This boy was killed about 700 meters from the hypocenter of the blast. ("A Photo-Essay on the Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki")

The "official narrative"

In describing the two contrasting accounts of history that emerged after Hiroshima, Lifton and Mitchell use the terms "official narrative" and "counter narrative". The official narrative was the justification story that the Truman administration wanted Americans to believe. Others, predominantly veterans, also helped create and disseminate this narrative, but government and military officials were most responsible for its careful crafting. Mainstream media?including the nation's major newspapers and television broadcasting networks?have rarely wavered in their support of the official narrative, and have produced very little investigative reporting about its details or even verity. The counter narrative?which questions whether atomic weapons should have been used?was developed by many of the scientists who were responsible for the bomb's creation, as well as religious leaders, some journalists, and other intellectuals.

The central tenet of the official narrative is that the atomic bomb was the only way to end World War II. Several reasons are supplied, but two are the most often cited: a) the Allied Powers (the U.S., Great Britain, and the U.S.S.R.) would only accept "unconditional surrender" from Japan, and b) a full-scale invasion of Japan would have cost thousands (even "millions") of lives. Additionally, the official narrative depends on giving little attention to the grisly suffering of the victims. The lasting dominance of the narrative is undeniable: Lifton and Mitchell point out that when the Smithsonian announced an exhibit to commemorate the bombings on their fiftieth anniversary in 1995, the curators were pressured by political and popular pressure to make it adhere strictly to the official narrative and leave out any references to the counter narrative.

"General Groves [Director of the Manhattan Project, which built the first atomic bombs] left nothing to chance. Before Hiroshima, he had prepared an order prohibiting U.S. commanders in the field from commenting on the atomic attacks without clearance from the War Department. 'We didn't want [General] MacArthur and others saying the war could have been won without the bomb,' Groves later explained. Indeed, MacArthur and many of the other commanders believed the bomb was not needed to end the war."(3)
The official narrative is, however, almost entirely a fabrication. It is built on false assertions, inaccuracies, and outright lies. It became the narrative only through a coordinated disinformation campaign waged by officials in the Truman administration, including the President himself. Hiroshima in America reveals the untruths in the narrative and how it was created.

Cover-up of the human effects
When the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, its effects were deliberately underplayed by the U.S. government. The War Department press releases on Hiroshima (ghost-written by New York Times journalist, William L. Laurence; see side-bar) did not mention Japanese casulties, "emphasizing instead that the obliterated area housed major industrial targets". In actuality, "less than ten percent of the city's manufacturing, transoportation and storage facilities had been damaged", according to the government's own survey of the damage.(4) From a military stand-point, then, the raid was not a great success.

From a human stand-point, the atomic attacks were brutal. 200,000 people were killed in the two cities, about 20% of those from radiation and heat burns in the days and weeks immediately after the raids. "Tokyo radio called Hiroshima a city of the dead with corpses 'too numerous to be counted'" and observed that one could not "distinguish between men and women."(8)

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Hiroshima: Woman with secondary burns from the atomic attack. The pattern of the dress she was wearing that day was burned into her skin by the intense heat of the explosion. (gensuikin.org)

The American people were not aware of the human effects right away, though. Afraid that issuing casualty estimates would "make us look like barbarians," in the words of Gereral Curtis LeMay(9), the U.S. government worked to conceal the gruesome details, and enjoyed the cooperation of much of the mainstream media in their efforts. When United Press and Associated Press began carrying stories about the high number of casualties, U.S. newspapers countered by vigorously defending the official narrative. The New York Times, for example, accused the Japanese of "trying to establish a propaganda point that the bombings should be stopped".(10)

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Nagasaki: "A mother tries to feed her infant at Michi-no-o Station, 3.6 km from the hypocenter, the day after the atomic bombing." (peacewire.org)

Professional journalist secretly lends talents to the propaganda effort

The foundations of the official narrative were laid months beforehand, and involved a representative of the major media. William L. Laurence, Pulitzer Prize-winning science reporter for the New York Times, wrote "a majority of the reports" that were released by the Pentagon the day after Hiroshima. "The articles disclosed, among other things, the genesis of the bomb project, the story of the first atomic chain reaction, and the test of the new weapon" at Los Alamos, New Mexico.(5) Under the direction of General Leslie R. Groves, Laurence met with the scientists involved in the project, visited the laboratories, witnessed the first test (code-named "Trinity"), and even rode along on the plane that dropped the bomb on Nagasaki. He kept all these experiences secret at the time, even from his employer.

"Mine has been the honor, unique in the history of journalism, of preparing the War Department's official press release for world-wide distribution. No greater honor could have come to any newspaperman, or anyone else for that matter."(6)

?William L. Laurence

In Laurence, the government knew they had someone who would toe the line. He performed his duties happily, was honored to have the position, and showed no perturbation over his key role in shaping the story to reflect only one point of view, that of the government. Certainly not what one would characterize as "objective journalism". Indeed, Laurence was a pro-bomb partisan with a nearly worshipful admiration for modern science, and he never explicitly strayed from the official narrative, even years later when more facts were revealed. "His intense and creative contributions to the emerging narrative powerfully influenced the way Americans came to perceive Hiroshima,"(7)that is, exactly as the government wanted Americans to perceive it.

The first articles about Hiroshima and Nagasaki by mainstream American journalists did not hit the press until September 1945, nearly a month after the attacks. General MacArthur allowed the reporters to visit the shattered cities only with close military accompaniment (if at all) and his occupation government carefully censored much of what was written(11). These measures were not enough by themselves; the State Department made a transparent attempt to help justify the atomic raids by picking the same day to release a report of "more than two hundred atrocities committed by the Japanese during the war"(12).

"In Hiroshima, 30 days after the first atomic bomb destroyed the city and shook the world, people are still dying, mysteriously and horribly? people who awere uninjured in the cataclysm? from an unkown something which I can only describe as the atomic plague.... I write these facts as dispassionately as I can in the hope that they will act as warning to the rest of the world." (13)

?Wilfred Burchett, for the London Daily Express

The effects of radioactive fallout from the use of atomic weapons "was absent in every [War Department] account of the aftermath of the Hiroshima bomb. Of all the secret aspects of the bomb considered too sensitive for public consumption, fallout was perhaps the most sensitive of all."(14) The first article that did mention the effects of radiation appeared on September 5, 1945. Entitled, "The Atomic Plague", it was written by Australian journalist Wilfred Burchett and published in the London Daily Express. In defiance of General MacArthur's orders, Burchett had traveled to Hiroshima and visited one of few hospitals still standing, where he found patients with purple skin hemorrhages, fever, nausea, gangrene, rapid hair loss, and white-cell counts about 1/10 the normal number. The article was reprinted in newspapers around the world, making it "an international sensation".(15) Another maverick was George Weller of the Chicago Daily News, who expressed disgust that his colleagues would be satisfied with guided tours from the military, and slipped off to Nagasaki on his own, before any other American journalists visited. Weller made the mistake of sending his report to MacArthur for clearance first. It never appeared anywhere.

The other journalists who visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki at this time were under military escort, and?though they too visited the hospitals and saw what was happening?did not describe the human effects of the bombs in their articles, leaving Americans in the dark about the full consequences of atomic attacks. These reporters had the opportunity to share the truth but chose to support the government cover-up instead.

The two big myths

As stated previously, the two most popular justifications for the bombing of Hiroshima were that a) the Allied Powers would accept nothing but an "unconditional" surrender from Japan, and b) the atomic attacks were the only way to avoid an invasion that would have cost "millions" of lives. Both reasons, as Lifton and Mitchell show, are groundless.

Japan's "unconditional surrender"

In July, 1945, the Allied Powers issued the Potsdam Declaration, which demanded "unconditional surrender" from Japan. Japan rejected the declaration because it wanted one condition: to keep its Emporer, Hirohito, on the throne. When Japan refused, Truman signed the order authorizing the military to use atomic bombs against Japan.

However, the Japanese surrender accepted by the Allied Powers on August 14?after both bombs had been dropped?allowed Hirohito to remain Emporer. When Truman lied and called it "unconditional" anyway, the press did not refute it.(26) The distinction was overlooked by most Americans in their joy that the war was finally over.

Lifton and Mitchell show that government officials and military advisors alike knew in the Summer of 1945 that Japan was "looking for an excuse to surrender".(27) The U.S. only needed to offer the same conditional terms it ultimately accepted, terms that Japan extended that summer, only to be rebuffed.

The U.S. Stategic Bombing Survey?an impartial group of engineers, doctors, architects and other professionals?concluded that atomic weapons were unnecessary to end the war. Their study?which was done in Japan in the Fall of 1945 at Truman's orders?revealed that the Japanese government "had decided as early as May of 1945 that the war should be ended even if it meant acceptance of defeat on Allied terms." The Survey instead gave credit for the surrender to Japan's defeats in the Pacific, the naval blockade of their home islands, and the entry of Russia into the war.(28)

The bombs were dropped not because Japan refused to surrender unconditionally, but for some other reason(s). Lifton and Mitchell are not alone in suggesting that the attacks were intended to intimidate Russia. In fact, this concept was discussed in-depth in the White House during pre-Hiroshima deliberations. Truman and his advisors were well aware?or at least very hopeful?that demonstrating the immensely destructive power of atomic weapons against populated cities would put the U.S. into a dominant position in world affairs. If the U.S. had accepted conditional surrender of Japan without using atomic weapons, it would have lost the opportunity to swing its big new stick. The cost of this politicking: 200,000+ Japanese lives.

The post-war creation of a million casualties

The more unsubstantiated?but largely uncontested?of the two myths of the official narrative is that the government and/or military estimated that an invasion of Japan would result in a million or more American casulties. The number is often trotted out for anniversary stories in the media without investigation, and is an accepted article of faith in most circles. Lifton and Mitchell show that this number is purely "a post-war creation".(16) The following timeline shows the development of the number.

Summer 1945: 20,000 to 63,000, U.S. military planners.(17)

Summer 1945: 46,000, George Marshall, military chief of staff.(18)

August 1945: "well over 1,200,000 Allied lives, a million of them American", Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of Great Britain.(19)

1945-1952: 200,000 to 250,000, Truman, on various occasions during the remainder of his presidency.(20)

1947: "over a million", from an article about Hiroshima in Harper's magazine by Henry Stimson, Truman's Secretary of War and a respected American statesman.(21)

1953: "five hundred thousand", Truman, claiming erroneously to quote Marshall (see actual Marshall figure, above).(22)

1985 (fortieth anniversary): "up to a million", Life magazine; one million, George Will, well-known syndicated columnist; "hundreds of thousands of lives", Ted Koppel, on Nightline.(23)

1992: a million, David McCullough, in his best-selling biography, Truman. McCullough admitted in 1994 that he was mistaken.(24)

1994: "six million", USA Today.(25)

Lifton and Mitchell suggest that Truman and others used inflated numbers because they wanted to justify use of the bomb, especially after word leaked of its gruesome effects. Perhaps this betrays some guilty feelings on their part. If so, any one of them could have done their consciences and the world a favor by coming clean. The mainstream media has been fully complicit in keeping the mythical numbers alive for over fifty years now, despite evidence to the contrary.

An atrocious history has been hidden from us, and we have been denied the opportunity to learn from it and forbid it from being repeated. We have been told that the atomic attacks on Japan in August 1945 were the only way to end World War II and that they saved "millions" of American lives. Lifton and Mitchell's book, Hiroshima in America: Fifty Years of Denial, makes it clear that this official narrative is a fabrication. My impression after reading their book is that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed mainly for two reasons: 1) to threaten the Russians and guarantee U.S. control of Japan, the region, and its resources, and 2) to satisfy a sick sense of curiosity about the effects of such a horrific weapon on human lives.
click for larger version
Nagasaki: Doctors remove maggots from a boy's burns. (peacewire.org)

The party most responsible for hiding this history from us is the media. One expects the government and military to be secretive, but the press claims to be objective, factual, and free. Far from being independent, though, the corporate media acted as the government's agent in furthering the official narrative, attempted to squash any dissenting facts, and questioned the 'patriotism' of those who raised concerns. This complicity has continued to the present day, not just with the story of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but with many subjects, especially war. Parallels with contemporary corporate coverage of the current "war on terrorism" are easy to find.

The Pacific component of World War II was like many wars before and after it: officially justified as morally imperative and a battle for "freedom", but in actuality corporate driven campaign to control industrial resources. That the effort was funded through taxes collected from regular citizens by the government is an additional layer of injustice. At least two hundred thousand lives?mostly civilians?were brutally snuffed out in Japan in this quest for higher profits, and the price they paid helped not regular citizens?as we have been told?but that small wealthy class that collects the profits.

Some might say that war is always economic; perhaps that's true. What has changed, though, is the destructive power of the weapons used in war. When we discuss technological development and its effects, we must always weigh what we feel might be its benefits against what are undeniably its costs. The ability to kill millions of people in an instant is a serious cost to the safety and well-being of the human race. This danger will be with us as long as even one bomb exists. Herein lies the lesson of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that the Powers-That-Be strive to hide from us: the "advances of science" advance very little aside from the greedy interests of a small few at the expense of the vast majority.

I believe that it would be naive to think the government, military and corporate media are not lying to us now about the current "war against terrorism" in much the same way they lied fifty-six years ago about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Eisenhower warned us in 1960 of what he called "the military-industrial complex". The financial relationships of these institutions are more closely intertwined now than they were then, and, with most of the media in the hands of a half dozen corporations with defense and energy interests, we have a media-military-industrial complex. Yet, sadly, people still believe the corporate media's conceit that its content is "objective", even many who ought to know better. As long as we rely only on institutions such as CNN, FOX, and the New York Times for our news, we will never know what's actually going on. They have proven themselves completely unreliable and we must expose them as often as possible and create new forms of media that are dedicated to truth. The dangers of civilization's present course?of which war is only one?make this task vital to our very survival.

Let's dig up the truth and publish it ourselves. Your turn!

"All we can do is try to convey to the American public the human consequences of our government's repeated use of violence for political and economic gain. When enough of them see and feel what is happening to the people just like us?to families, to children?we may see the beginning of a new movement in this country against militarism and war."

?Howard Zinn, On War

All references from Hiroshima in America: Fifty Years of Denial by Robert J. Lifton and Greg Mitchell (G. P. Putnam's Sons: New York, NY: 1995).
(1) p. 240, quoting General Hap Arnold.
(2) p. 114.
(3) p. 11.
(4) p. 24.
(5) p. 10.
(6) p.p. 16-17.
(7) p. 13.
(8) p. 25.
(9) p. 51.
(10) p. 25.
(11) p. 51.
(12) p. 46-47.
(13) p. 47-48.
(14) p. 44.
(15) p. 47-49.
(16) p. 179.
(17) p. 179.
(18) p. 109.
(19) pp. 179-180.
(20) p. 180.
(21) p. 180.
(22) p. 180.
(23) pp. 268-270.
(24) p. 293.
(25) p. 286.
(26) p. 32.
(27) pp. 140-142.
(28) pp. 82-83.

There are many useful websites with information about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but these are the ones I used in researching this article:

Hand this Eye Witness Account from the Wing of the Enola Gay 17.Nov.2003 04:06

Andy Seaton

This link goes to an Eye Witness account of the Hiroshima bombing. It is from the Manhattan Project report of June 29, 1946 on the bombings. The enitre report is chilling.

Hand this Eye Witness Account from the Wing of the Enola Gay 17.Nov.2003 04:38

Andy Seaton

From the "official" Manhattan Project report on the bombings. This account was written in September 1945. The report was released June 29, 1946. It is 9 pages long, so a link is included,

atomic bombs were a threat to Russia - Japan had already surrendered 17.Nov.2003 16:03


from Michael Zezima's SAVING PRIVATE POWER...

Using techniques gleaned from modern advertising, the U.S. Office of War Information injected anti-Japanese bloodlust and hysteria into the population. When the U.S. killed 672,000 Japanese through indiscriminate bombing, even Secretary of War Henry Stimson wondered why "there has never been a protest over...such extraordinarily heavy loss of life. There is something wrong with a country where no one questions that."