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61 Years of living with and lying about the Bomb

August 9, 2011

History is a set of lies agreed upon.”  Napoleon Bonaparte

Any current public discourse on history that deviates from the “official history” is usually seen as revisionist history. New interpretations of history are generally denounced by the government and media pundits. A recent example of this was found in a Grand Rapids Press editorial entitled “History and Heresy.”

In the Press editorial the writer states, “the historical record is comprised of facts and truth that endure for all time. It is not a mass of putty to be turned and twisted to fit what any generation’s captains of political correctness might want.” We beg to differ.

History is not set or static, since it should be made up of multiple points of view and experiences. Therefore, history can be fashioned on an ongoing basis, as long as new voices, analysis and information are brought into the discussion. Failure to allow a diversity of opinion on current or historical events often means that the current structures of power and their apologists fear that acknowledging a pluralistic may mean dismantling the present hegemonic reality.

The official position of the US government as to why it dropped the first generation of nuclear bombs on Hiroshima (Aug. 6) and Nagasaki (Aug. 9) was to prevent the deaths of American soldiers. Never mind the 200,000 Japanese civilians that died instantly and the thousands that died the years following due to radiation exposure. However, a reasonable question to ask at this point would be were the bombings necessary to save the lives of American soldiers?

A survey conducted by the US Department of War, which interviewed hundreds of Japanese civilians and military leaders after their surrender stated: “Based on a detailed investigation of all the facts and supported by the testimony of the surviving Japanese leaders involved, it is the survey’s opinion that certainly prior to December 31, 1945 and in all probability prior to November 1st, 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated.” (Zinn, A People’s History of the US) If this was the case, why then were these deadly weapons used?

General Leslie Grover, head of the Manhattan Project, described President Truman fully committed to using the bomb no matter what. Historian Gar Alperovitz states  that the Soviets had agreed to not enter the war in the Pacific until 90 days after the war in Europe ended. The war in Europe ended on May 8, so the Russians would have entered on August 8. Alperovitz states that on July 28, 1945, “Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal said of Secretary of State James Byrnes that he was most anxious to get the Japanese affair over with before the Russians got us.”

Had the Russians entered the Pacific war before August the Japanese might have surrendered to the Russians alone or to them jointly with the US, thus eliminating a complete US occupation of postwar Japan and subsequent control of its economic future. The Cold War rationale and policy was firmly in place even before the end of WWII. If this dissenting opinion does not seem sufficiently convincing then let’s return to the “official position” and examine it.

Remember, the “official position” was that the US dropped the bomb in order to prevent the loss of American lives. Official historians always try to appeal to the emotional relief that thousands of US servicemen an women might have lost their lives if a conventional war in the Pacific continued. This is a sentimental lie that holds no weight for the thousands of soldiers who have died and continue to die because of Truman’s decision to drop the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Historian Martin Sherman notes that at least 12 US Navy fliers were in the Hiroshima city jail at the time of the bombing. On July 31, nice days before Nagasaki was bombed, the headquarters of the US Army Strategic Air Force in Guam sent a message to the War Department stating that an Allied prisoner of war camp was located just one mile outside of Nagasaki. They asked if the proposed target was to be changed and the reply came back, “Target previously assigned for Operation Centerboard remains unchanged.” Apparently those American lives were not relevant.

Shortly after Hiroshima and Nagasaki were annihilated, 1,000 US troops were sent to assess and clean up the damage. After 43 days of cleaning up the radioactive rubble, the Marines left. Soon after, many of them showed the same symptoms of radiation contamination as those of the bombing survivors.

Upon returning to the US many of them were discharged from the military hoping to lead normal lives. Unfortunately for many of those veterans life was increasingly abnormal. According to numerous studies of these first Atomic Veterans, many of them “died from leukemia, heart disease, lung disease and cancer. Many also suffered from pain in their bones and joints, chronic fatigue and odd skin disorders.” (Wasserman & Solomon, Killing Our Own)

None of these veterans knew of the danger that exposure to radiation posed for them. In fact, they were told by a US military command press release that, “scientists had found no lingering radiation worth worrying about in Nagasaki.” Therefore hundreds of these veterans had their lives shortened because the US government considered them expendable. But this was only the beginning.

Starting in the Pacific in 1946 and in Nevada in 1951, some 300,000 more US soldiers were used as nuclear guinea pigs, exposed to deadly effects of radiation. However, statistics alone don’t convey the disregard for life. It’s important that we hear the voices of those men who were used by the US military. Kenneth Triple, who was on the USS Quartz in the Pacific during the nuclear testing, said at the time he was so sick “with diarrhea and vomited for days. I went from 128 to 70 some pounds. I turned a funny color and lost all the hair on my body. Later I was taken to a hospital and fed intravenously.” (Wasserman & Solomon, Killing Our Own) Ever since severe weight loss plagued him, along with calcium deposits in his eyes impairing his sight and sharp hip pains.

In 1979, the National Association of Atomic Veterans was founded by former Army Sergeant Orville Kelly and his wife Wanda. “I believe I should have been warned about the possible danger of radiation exposure and that medical examinations should have been conducted on a regular basis after my exposure. The truth is that I was never warned nor were examinations ever performed. During all those years I left the Army I was never once told to get a physical because I participated in nuclear weapons testing.”

In November of 1979, Kelly won his claim of negligence against the US government and received some monetary compensation, but then died in April of 1980. Remember, the objective was to prevent the loss of American lives.

This is still only the tip of the iceberg. The US government’s decision to use nuclear weaponry did not prevent the loves of lives or any other lives. In fact, the decision cost an enormous number of Americans their lives. In addition to the Atomic Veterans whose lives were lost or seriously debilitated, thousands of American laborers have been working in nuclear facilities. A December 3, 1989 New York Times article estimates that 600,000 US workers have been exposed to high levels of radiation. This does not include the thousands of Native Americans who have been exposed to the deadly effects of radiation since half of all uranium deposits needed in the production of nuclear weapons are on Native lands.

When mineral companies extract the uranium they usually use Native labor, paying very low wages. They also abandon mining sites that are highly contaminated, most often near main water sources. (Eichstaedt, If You Poison Us) Because of their proximity to these mining operations, Native Americans have a higher rate of leukemia and cancer than any other population in the US. Some Native American even contend that the Nevada test site is legally, by treaty, still on Newe Segobia (Shoshone) land, thus making them the most bombed sovereign nation in the world, since over 650 nuclear bombs have been tested there since 1951.

In 1985, Dr. Rosalie Bertell wrote No Immediate Danger, a book that attempts to give a comprehensive assessment of radiation contamination globally. In it she contends that no one on earth has escaped at least low levels of radiation exposure, since we are all downwind. Nertell estimates that between 10 – 12 million people have died or have been seriously disabled from nuclear weapons testing and production.

So what are we to make of all of this 61 years after the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Clearly it is not a closed case. There is new information that keeps coming to the surface. In 1980, the American public finally had access to 85,000 feet of 16mm film that the US occupation forces used to document the effects of the bombs dropped on Japan. This was information to which we were previously denied and it further puts a human face on the pain and suffering caused from that decision to use the bomb in 1945.

Therefore, we owe it to ourselves and to future generation to not blindly accept what we are taught in school about the 1945 US bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or what the US government still proclaims today. The future of humanity could very well depend on our ability to question authority and official history.

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