But that joy very quickly turned to fear as people everywhere began to grasp the genocidal potentialities of this weapon, ending a war which had just resulted in genocide against the Jewish people of Europe, the Roma people of Europe, along with unprecedented mass murder in the Soviet Union by German fascism and China by Japanese imperialism.
Why should we remember Hiroshima on July 4? In the long-run, we who are partisans of socialism should always respect the positive accomplishments of nation states to social progress, to "take the flag" away from the chauvinists and reactionaries, as Communists said in the 1930s. But we should also always combine that respect with an understanding of how national divisions and nationalist sentiments are manipulated by ruling classes to repress domestic opposition, launch wars, and commit crimes against humanity.
Just as we honor both the U.S. troops who perished in unjust imperialist wars in Korea, Vietnam, and today, in a different political situation, Iraq, we honor the Koreans, Vietnamese and Iraqis who perished in those conflicts in much greater numbers and seek to eliminate the social and economic causes that produce wars rather than merely honoring its victims.
World War II was certainly a just war against both German led European fascism and its Japanese imperialist Axis allies. But the attacks on the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, given the context in which they too place, were neither just nor necessary.
In the short run, Hiroshima deserves mention today because something truly bizarre has happened in Japan, an event which would be comical if it did not bring back memories of tragic events. The Japanese Defense Minister (now the former defense minister) Fumio Kyuma (who in even another bizarre twist represents Nagasaki in the Japanese parliament) in the right-wing government of Prime Minister Abe, created an enormous firestorm of criticism by saying that the atom bomb attacks were necessary because without them the war would have "dragged on" and the Soviet Union would have ended up occupying Northern Japan. The Abe government has also been widely criticized for supporting "revisionist" interpretations of modern Japanese history omitting and underplaying the crimes of Japanese imperialism in school textbooks.
Establishment scholars and writers of a conservative bent have always defended the use of the atom bomb to end WWII, regardless of the huge amount of evidence amassed indicating that Japanese naval and air power had been destroyed, Japan totally isolated and encircled, and the Japanese government desperately launching peace feelers. (The Truman administration was well aware of all of these factors by the summer of 1945, though, it may have perceived the Japanese as savage fanatics who would fight to theirs and everyone else's death.) Still, the U.S. air forces launched massive firebomb raids against largely defenseless Japanese civilian targets that cost huge numbers of Japanese lives.
The Pearl Harbor attack, the war crimes against U.S. prisoners of war, monstrous crimes against humanity perpetrated by Japanese imperialism against the peoples of China particularly and Asia generally are all real, but they don't justify the Truman administration's use of the bomb as a revenge weapon, certainly one of the factors, albeit an unacknowledged one for the attacks.
The U.S. military had no plans for Soviet involvement in a potential invasion of Japan in 1945. No diplomatic agreement had been made to divide Japan into occupation zones as had been prepared for Korea when the Soviets agreed earlier to enter the war against Japan on the Asian mainland 90 days after the German surrender. The Truman administration denied the Soviet Union any involvement in the occupation of Japan, even though the Red Army had defeated Japanese forces in Manchuria and Korea. Truman's pointing to the Soviets at the time of the a-bomb attacks and the Soviet entry into the war against Japan does get to what was the most important cause of Truman's use of the bomb – the opening salvo of the cold war.
Truman became president in April 1945 as the European war was ending and Japan's air and naval power had been destroyed, along with its merchant shipping. This meant Japan could not import the oil and other raw materials, including food, from the regions its armies still occupied to sustain its industrial base, or even bring these armies back to defend the Japanese home islands.
After VE Day, lend-lease aid to Britain and the Soviet Union was immediately ended (in the case of the Soviets the ships were literally turned back in the middle of the Atlantic). In his first meeting with Soviet Foreign Minister V.M. Molotov, Truman provoked an argument over and made threats about Soviet occupation policies in Eastern Europe. Although there is no evidence to suggest that Truman even understood much less supported Franklin Roosevelt's policy of maintaining Soviet-American cooperation through amicable personal and political relationships, that is understanding Soviet security needs and supporting a generous reparations and loan policy to advance Soviet reconstruction in order to gain Soviet support for developing the UN, Truman's advisers encouraged him to tone down anti-Soviet policies because of the Soviet's military strength and U.S. belief that they would be needed in the war against the Japanese on the Asian mainland.
The successful testing of the atom bomb, which Truman informed Joseph Stalin about at the Potsdam Conference sharply reduced U.S. need for Soviet involvement in the war in Asia. (The Truman administration regarded Soviet aid in Asia as problematical anyway, because of the "dangers" that the Soviets might assist the Chinese Communist Party, which was already the de facto government in regions of Northern China contiguous to where the Soviets would be advancing and whose revolutionary armies had already won the support of a large percentage of the Chinese people because of their heroic resistance to the Japanese imperialists."
Stalin informed Truman that the Japanese government was expressing their willingness to end the war, if they were permitted to retain the emperor. Truman responded by having the Potsdam conference reiterate
the allied declaration calling for an unconditional surrender, a policy which was necessary earlier to prevent Germany from dividing the Ango-American and Soviet Allies, but now with Japan isolated, had no real strategic value in ending the war.
Since the U.S. occupation subsequently retained the emperor as a conservative and nationalist symbol against Japanese Communists and the broad Japanese left, it is a reasonable conclusion that Truman was more interested in showing U.S. strength against the Soviet Union and the world Communist movement at Potsdam than he was in ending the war as soon as possible in order to save lives, the argument he made subsequently to the American people after the bombs were dropped. Like former defense minister Kyuma today, Truman in 1945 believed that any policy was justified to oppose the Soviet Union Union and the revolutionary Communist movement in the world.
At the conference in the emperor's palace at which the decision to surrender was made, there was an extreme militarist Japanese general who argued that the Japanese should continue to fight until the Americans ran out of atom bombs. Previously I considered that the most outrageous statement made from a Japanese source about the atom bomb attacks. Kyuma's comments today rival those comments in 1945.
Americans whom the Bush administration has bombarded with fear propaganda about "weapons of mass destruction" should remember on July 4th that the U.S. government was the only government that has yet used nuclear weapons and that the anti-colonialist tradition of the American revolution has resonance today in fighting for both an end to nuclear proliferation and global nuclear disarmament which is the only answer to the "legacy" of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Japanese people should also show their corporate ruling class that they have learned both to repudiate their militarist history and those who rationalize the use of nuclear weapons against themselves or anyone else by removing the Abe government from office.