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The Hiroshima Myth: Will it never die?

A week ago today, the News Tribune published two essays about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. One of the essays was disingenuously headlined by the newspaper, "Did we really have to do it?" Aug. 9 was the 70th anniversary of the Nagasaki ...

A week ago today, the News Tribune published two essays about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. One of the essays was disingenuously headlined by the newspaper, “Did we really have to do it?” Aug. 9 was the 70th anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing.
I say “disingenuously” because the writer’s foregone conclusion was that we really did have to do it, contrary to what unbiased historians have revealed about what really happened back then. The writer argued that the nuclear bombs were necessary, but he seemed to base his conclusion on the 68-year-old Hiroshima Myth that falsely claims that, in the writer’s words, “It would have taken an estimated 1 million American lives and maybe just as many Japanese lives to conquer the Empire of the Sun.” He completed his logic - more accurately, illogic - by concluding that “from a mathematical and militarily expedient view, it seemed like a good trade.”
The writer also used a common propaganda device that powerful entities such as the Pentagon, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the nuclear-weapons industry have been using forever when writing or attempting to rewrite history. One of those devices is the use of the pejorative term, “revisionist,” which gets used when attempts are made to discredit the information that refutes big-lie propaganda.
The world’s ruling elites (the ones who get to write the history) consistently try to discredit truly unbiased scholars and historians when they expose old lies that long have been mistakenly accepted as truth. Propaganda often gets written into history books. Henry Stimson, secretary of war under President Harry Truman and the architect of the Hiroshima Myth, said, “History is often not what actually happened but rather what was recorded as such.” Most of us Americans mislearned our history from such books. I’m sure the writer of last week’s commentary was no different.
Ruling elites benefit from - indeed, prosper from - the orchestrated Big Lie (a.k.a. propaganda). And people who have been tricked into believing a propaganda lie as truth usually can’t bring themselves to admit they were bamboozled. Both the cunning perpetrator of the lie and the true believer/victim of the lie usually are concerned about being exposed either as an evil trickster or as a shameful dupe. And so they often will try to defend their flawed belief system by attacking the truth-teller.
In the months following the crimes against humanity committed at Nagasaki and Hiroshima, there were powerful protests and significant efforts to ban the bomb, including many from the nuclear scientists who thought they were developing the bomb for use against German President Adolf Hitler and not innocent, unarmed Japanese civilians.
No powerful entity, corporate or individual, wants to see its reputation besmirched by unwelcome truth-tellers, so in order to counter the growing anti-nuclear weapons movement, a few of the Manhattan Project’s ruling elites felt they had to put out some propaganda.
The inner circle that pushed for the use of atomic weapons against Japanese civilian targets included James Conant and Harvey Bundy. In 1946, the group commissioned Bundy’s son, McGeorge, to ghost-write an article justifying the use of the bomb. Accepting authorship was (now ex-Secretary of War) Stimson. The article was published in the February 1947 issue of Harper’s Magazine, and it was widely and happily reprinted by any number of patriotic media outlets, ensuring the popularity of the now dominant myth.
Stimson’s ghost-written article proposed the theory, a year and a half after the decision was made to drop the bomb, that, if the bomb wasn’t used, “thousands and perhaps hundreds of thousands of American soldiers might be killed or permanently injured.”
This myth was popular with the military, industrial, media and political elites - and every uber-patriotic American - and it was repeated over and over again until it became established as historical truth.
Those of us who have been led to believe in the myth have been in bad company. There are tens of millions of us who glorify American militarism and think the Pentagon is doing God’s work. We need to read real historians like Gar Alperovitz, who thoroughly documents his findings about the Hiroshima Myth in his 1995 book, “The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb and the Architecture of an American Myth.”

Dr. Gary G. Kohls of Duluth is a longtime peace and justice activist and an auxiliary member of Veterans for Peace Chapter 80.

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