Hiroshima-Nagasaki: Fifty Years of Deceit and Self-Deception


November 7 to 17, 1995

Some background

It wasn't necesssary to hit them with that awful thing, Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Commander Allied Forces Europe, and later President of The United States.

When the atomic bomb was dropped, President Truman said that it was to make Japan surrender without losing large numbers of American lives in an invasion. This has long been the accepted truth. The release of documents and diaries now shows this story is false. In the months before the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Truman and his senior staff did not believe that it was necessary to drop the bomb to end the war with Japan. They believed that Japan could be brought to surrender without an invasion. Japan was militarily isolated and had no allies. They believed that bombing, blockade, and the entry of the Soviet Union into the war against Japan, would together force Japanese leaders to seek surrender on American terms. Most important, from diplomatic contacts and decoded Japanese wireless transmissions, they knew that the Japanese were seeking surrender. They believed that if they allowed the Japanese to retain the Emperor, as they later agreed to, the Japanese would accept American terms of surrender.

Why then was the bomb dropped? Historical research shows that Truman and his advisors believed that a demonstration of their willijgness to use the bomb would aid them in negotiating with Stalin over the future of Eastern and Central Europe. Other reasons, such as a racist disregard for Japanese life, are also important.

These facts are shocking. They show that the post-war economic and technological order founded by America and its Allies started with an act of injustice to rival, in nature if not in scale, those of Stalin or Hitler. They call into question the moral basis of our society. Fifty years of brazen lying, misinformation, distortion, indirection, and partial or delayed release of documents by the Allied governments has suppressed these facts. In the United States veterans' groups have successfully forced the Smithsonian Institute to remove the text that states them from an exhibition on the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that opened this May.

In order to protest fifty years of government censorship, Science for Peace has set up this exhibition. Much is missing from the story of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Documents are still held back. Those who died from the bomb cannot speak. Considering with the imperative " Never Again" engrave on the granite memorial in Hiroshima, it is high time to discuss what these facts mean for our society.


America's use of the bomb to pressure the Russians helped start the cold war. The Soviet, European and North American peace movements, popular revolt in Eastern Europe, and economic decay coupled with reform from above in the Soviet Union, brought the cold war to an end. The cold war is over, but both cold war institutions and cold war mind-sets live on. To end the cold war we have to rethink the cold war mind-set and institutions. We have to debate critical views that have been frozen out.

The cold war was at least as much about small scale conflicts between bosses and workers, old and young, white and coloured, men and women, gay and straight as it was about large scale conflict between West and East. The idea that there was a frozen war between West and East provided the locally powerful with a resource to crush or coopt dissent. "Total war demands", they argued, "a total mobilization of society to maintain a balance of nuclear terror: Obey Us." Individual and collective dreams were stifled.

The end of the cold war meant that the locally and nationally powerful have had to deploy new pictures of international relations to freeze out change. Frozen nuclear war between East and West has been replaced by the idea that there is a war between capitalist economies. "The alternative to national economic victory", they argue, "is to become a 'basket-case' economy like those in Africa; the alternative to personal economic victory is to become a 'basket case' welfare recipient or to hold a 'McJob'."

Young adults -- especially women -- are paying the price. They face extended family dependency, debt, high unemployment and McJobs (work which is subservient, badly paid, not unionized, insecure, offers no training, often stressful, and has little opportunity for advancement). Entertainment corporations and education bureaucracies identifying them not as workers but as consumers, make them the target of advertisements selling "rebel" or "student" identities. Individuals feel isolated. They try to solve problems on their own, despite the fact that the lack of jobs means even a university degree does not guarantee satisfying employment. Young adults are set against each other as they scramble for grades or jobs. Degraded as economically supernumary people, many are angry. This anger is not being allowed to assume a creative cooperation to transform society. Many turn anger inward, leading to depression. The result has been a sharp rise in suicide. Other, despairing of morality, expend anger in crime. Women and men feel their only option is to "survive." The exploration of relationships and of common action to transforming society is sacrificed.

There is an alternative. To make just one point: there is plenty of money for high quality education for young adults. Canada has no enemy it could defend against, yet vast sums are being expended on the military. At $11.5 billion for 1995-96, Canadian Defence expenditure ranks twelfth in the world. Only $626 million, 6%, is for peacekeeping. Even after cuts, Defence expenditure will still be 11% higher in 1997-98 than it was in 1980-81.

It is time to set a higher value on our dreams than the war makers (economic or military) do. It is time to assert our collective capacity to transform our lives and our society. It is time to take responsibility for changing our situation through collective action. It is time to become informed and organized -- one way to do so is to join Science for Peace.

Further Reading: Mary Kaldor, The Imaginary War, (Blackwell, 1990); James Cote, Generation On Hold, (Stoddart, 1994).


It is important for Canadians, Americans, British and other members of the wartime Alliance to discover the truth about the dropping of the atomic bomb. At the same time, it is important for the Japanese to take responsibility for their actions in Asia. This has not yet happened. The Japanese government, after fifty years, still refuses to apologize clearly for the war crimes and atrocities committed by the Japanese army against Asian people during the Second World War.

The Japanese invasion of China, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam was unimaginably brutal. The Japanese Army is blamed for the deaths of 20 million Chinese in the 1930's and the 1940's, not to mention large numbers of Koreans, Filipinos, and Americans. American, Canadian and British prisoners of war were brutally treated by the Japanese. Many died as a result. In the "Rape of Nanjing" over 300,000 Chinese were tortured and executed en masse in six weeks. The Japanese Army forced 200,000 Asian women into being sex slaves.

The action of Unit 731 in Manchuria is horrifying. It carried out medical experiments on living people. Under the direction of General Shiro Ishii, medical experimenters infected human guinea pigs with diseases like cholera, typhoid, anthrax and plague. Some victims were dissected alive, without anaesthetic. Others were shot, burned, electrocuted, frozen, boiled or sealed into pressure chambers that popped their eyes out of their heads. For years Japanese have been protected from the full story about Unit 731 because the Americans, as they did with German rocket scientists, gave the experimenters salaries and exemption from war-crimes prosecution in exchange for the knowledge they had accumulated on biological warfare. This may be changing as recently over 230,000 Japanese visited a travelling exhibit on the horrors of Unit 731.

It is vitally important today that the Japanese should take responsibility for their nation's past actions. The injustice done to the victims of Japanese aggression demands it. It is also an important step towards reassuring other Asian countries that their security is not threatened by Japan. In particular, it would be an important step in persuading China to stop nuclear testing and to work towards nuclear disarmament.

Further Information: The Alliance In Memory of Victims of the Nanjing Massacre: Esther Chang, (416) 421-2220; Dick Chan, (416) 241-0719 or Amy Go, (416) 469-5211, x. 254.

The film "In the Name of the Emperor" is a one hour documentary about the Nanjing Massacre.


The atomic bomb was not needed to end the war. It was used to burn a memory of Allied scientific and technological superiority into the minds of the communist and non-european worlds. The putative need to maintain that image of scientific and technologica superpower has ensured that military funding continues to be the main source of support for scientific research. Hiroshima made clear that scientists and engineers must take responsibility to ensure that instead research leads to well-being not death. This is the mandate of Science for Peace.

The ideology of pure science prevents us from taking responsibility for the consequences of our research. We believe that it is impossible to take responsibility because science simply maps a given reality. We shift responsibility outwards: from pure scientists to engineers, from engineers to the users of the products of science.

The sociology and history of science have shown the pure science ideology is false. Neither logic nor observation nor experiment tell us directly that a particular hypothesis about the world is true. There are always several alternative hypotheses that fit. In engineering there is always a number of machines that can be built. The establishment of a consensus about what the facts are or which machine can be built always involves the manipulation of social interests to exclude possible alternatives. The path taken by science and technology is never pre-determined by the nature of reality. The path taken is determined by decisions that link science and technology to social interests. Decisions linking science and technology to social interests such as the military or multinational corporations have made a world in which nuclear weapons, high unemployment, environmental destruction and the corporate control of genetic information appear inevitable. By establishing the limits of the possible -- our sense of what facts might be true or false and of what machines we might be able to make -- these decisions have set the limits of our freedom.

Past scientists and engineers, together with others such as laboratory technicians, skilled craftsmen and independent inventors, had alternative hypotheses of what the world to-be-discovered and the world to-be-made might be. These alternatives lost because other scientists and engineers cut off the resources needed to pursue them by being more successful in creating a coalition with powerful social groups. Alternative hypotheses which might have been linked to other social groups were marginalized and forgotten. These alternatives offer us a spark of hope that our ideas about what is possible do not make an iron cage, in which science and technology itself condemn us to accept as fate such things as nuclear weapons, permanent unemployment, ecological destruction, and corporate control over our genes. History shows us that people in power -- whether that power is very local or widespread, quite small or very great -- have acted and will continue to act ruthlessly to crush alternative visions. These alternatives threaten their mastery. Only that scientist and engineer will have the gift of fanning the spark of hope in the past who is firmly convinced that even the memory of the dead, the memory of what might have been, is constantly threatened with absolute extermination by the powerful.

"After the splitting of the atom", Einstein wrote "everything has changed, except our way of thinking." Science cannot heal the wound to its self-image created by Hiroshima by returning to the imagined paradise of pure science which existed before the war. There never was such a paradise. As scientists and engineers we now have to decide whether or not to take responsibility for the products of our research. After Hiroshima, responsibility means understanding that the comforting, conciliatory, and coopting idea that science and technology will inevitably lead to progress is a lie that cuts the sinews of our resistance to injustice. Responsibility means engaging in a reflective science and engineering which re-examines past decisions that have established: the social interests -- military, corporate, state, first world, third world -- that scientists and engineers ally themselves with; the questions that scientists and engineers should address; the power structure in research and teaching; what we now think might be true or false about the world and what might be technologically possible; and relations of gender, age, class and race within science and engineering. Taking responsibility means that scientists -- physicists, geneticists, mathematicians, engineers, computer scientists, doctors -- must come together to investigate their unmasterable past so that they can join with other people to make a just, peaceful and a sustainable world.

Further Reading:


"During his recitation of the relevant facts, I had been conscious of a feeling of deep depression and so I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer necessary to save American lives."
Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander Europe, later President.

"It is very clear that well before atomic weapons were used, both the Japanese and the U.S. governments had arrived at the same understanding of acceptable terms of surrender. Truman knew, moreover,that a change in the surrender terms in favour of the Emperor -- on the best advice available at the time -- was highly likely to end the war without an invasion.

Nor did the President have any fundamental objection to making this alteration: It is impossible to read the evidence of the time in a way that suggests that Truman thought the "unconditional surrender formula" so important that he would stick to it to the end if this meant the United States would have to go through with an invasion."
Gar Alperovits, Atomic Diplomacy, (Pluto, 1994): 30. See also his The Decision To Drop the Bomb, (Knoff, 1995).

Further Information: The Historians' Committee For Open Debate On Hiroshima, 1914 Biltmore St, NW, Washington, DC 20009. Tel: 202-328-9659, Fax: 202-332-4919, E-Mail: kai@apc.org

SCIENCE FOR PEACE is an organization of natural scientists, engineers, social scientists, scholars in the humanities and lay people. It brings together professors, graduate students and first degree students who are concerned about peace, justice and making an environmentally sustainable future.


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Revised November 7, 1995