The Price

Buencamino does foreign and political affairs analysis for Action for Economic Reforms. This piece was published in the newspaper Today,18 August  2004, page 9.


The 59th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki passed
quietly. Then American President Harry Truman committed one of the
greatest atrocities in human history—yet many accept that he did the
right thing.

This might be a good time to correct that impression and cite the
opinions of some top American leaders who strongly disagreed with what
he did.

Two days after the bombs were dropped, a disgusted Herbert Hoover wrote
to the publisher of the Army and Navy Journal and said, “The use of the
atomic bomb, with its indiscriminate killing of women and children,
revolts my soul.”

Admiral William D. Leahy, who served as Chief of Staff to both Franklin
Roosevelt and Truman, shared Hoover’s revulsion. In his book, I Was
There, he wrote, “It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous
weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our
war against Japan. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and
wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.”

Dwight Eisenhower told Newsweek magazine many years later that “The
Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn’t necessary to hit them
with that awful thing.”

And Brig Gen. Carter Clarke, the military intelligence officer who
prepared Truman’s briefs on intercepted Japanese cables described
Truman’s decision succintly, “…when we didn’t need to do it, and we
knew we didn’t need to do it, and they knew that we knew we didn’t need
to do it, we used them as an experiment for two atomic bombs.”

Yet, Harry S Truman dropped an atomic bomb on
Hiroshima and a plutonium bomb on Nagasaki. Some 100,000 civilians were
instantly vaporized by those bombs, and
in the days and years that followed, tens of thousands more would die from the effects of radiation.

Robert Oppenheimer, Scientific Director of Los Alamos, called on Truman
five months after he resigned from his job in disgust.  He told
Truman “Mr. President, I have blood on my hands.” Truman replied, “It’ll come out in the wash.”

Truman claimed he dropped the bombs in order to save American and
Japanese lives. In August 1945,  he issued a statement to the Los
Alamos scientists saying, “This new weapon will result in saving
thousands of American lives.” By 1959, Truman, realizing that the blood
was not going to wash off so easily, expanded his claim from thousands
to “the dropping of the bombs saved millions of lives.”

There are many theories why Truman killed all those civilians. The most
popular theory is best summed up by his closest policy advisers.
Secretary of War Henry Stimson said ,  “American statesmen were
eager for their country to browbeat the Russians with the bomb held
rather ostentatiously on our hip.” Secretary of State James F.
Byrnes.  Byrnes said, “The demonstration of the bomb might impress
Russia with America’s military might.” Stalin was making his
threatening moves in Europe and something had to be done to prevent
Soviet communism from becoming a real menace to American
capitalism.  In short, the bomb was dropped for demonstration
purposes.

The lesson of Nagasaki and Hiroshima is, it’s not the act but the
“rationale” behind the act. Presidents and statesmen who came after
Truman have taken the lesson to heart: that it is okay to kill as long
as it’s for the American way.

Civilian targets are okay. Johnson bombed dikes and napalmed civilian
targets in Vietnam. Nixon did the same in the secret bombing of
Cambodia. Clinton dropped cluster bombs on civilians in Serbia. And
everyone by now is familiar with Bush’s bombing of Afghanistan and Iraq.

The killing of innocent civilians is not limited to bombings. Clinton’s
Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, was asked by Leslie Stahl on the
CBS show 60 Minutes, “We have heard that a half million children have
died [from the sanctions on Iraq]. I mean, that’s more children than
died in Hiroshima. And —and you know, is the price worth it?” And she
replied, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price —we think
the price is worth it.”

The price.  At the beginning of the American century, the price
was 200,000 Filipino lives. During the “Cold War”, the price was
millions of proxies so that Russia and the US wouldn’t have to shoot at
each other. In the “clash of civilizations”, the final tally is still
being determined.

The price, indeed. As always, it is the innocents who pay.

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