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Hiroshima and today's earthquake



Jonathan Power
TFF Associate since 1991

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March 23, 2011 
We may not know for some time how bad were the nuclear accident and the devastation of the tsunami on the towns and villages of the northeast in Japan, but it has been serious enough to make Japanese wonder ”why us?” “Why us?” when this super organised society had taken such precautions against earthquakes and their consequences? How could it be, to quote West German Chancellor, Angela Merkle, that “the impossible became possible”?
The physical repairing will take a long time. The mental healing perhaps longer.  It is more than many people can take and even more so for a society that only 66 years ago experienced the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. “Why us?” has a deeper resonance than we outsiders can imagine.
Today one can blame nature, but one can also blame the Japanese scientific and political communities for not building nuclear plants that could deal with “the impossible”. Yesterday one can blame the war time leadership of Japan for persisting with the war when the evidence was overpowering that Japan along with Germany had lost World War 2.
But whilst it is clear that with the recent events there was a cause and effect- the damage has been caused by a mixture of terrible nature and home-produced nuclear hubris- the events of yesterday were a mixture of Japanese pig headed militarism and American realpolitik.
The atom bombing of the two cities is always explained by the Americans as a necessary step that was only taken because there remained no other way of forcing capitulation and saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of American troops. But it is simply not true. If we are to understand the impact of all these events we have to be as detached and honest as the geologists and nuclear experts who are now studying how the earthquake and partial nuclear meltdown happened.
The evidence now available suggests that the nuclear bombing was not decisive in persuading Japan to surrender. The Emperor and the war leadership were told about the atomic bombing but it did not affect their will to continue the war. The Soviet invasion did. Without the Soviet entry into the war the Japanese would have continued to fight until quite a few more atomic bombs had been dropped, until there had been a successful US invasion of the home islands and continued aerial bombardment, combined with a naval blockade. President Harry Truman had a workable alternative to using the atom bomb- to cooperate with Stalin, as Roosevelt and Churchill had done on the Western front.
When the Red Army invaded Manchuria the Japanese political leadership were taken by total surprise. The invasion undermined their confidence as well as punching a fatal hole in its strategic plan. Without Japan’s surrender Tokyo knew that the Soviets would occupy Manchuria, southern Sakhalin, the Kuril Islands and a good half of Korea and then move further southward into the mainland. Moreover, it would have compelled Truman to concede Soviet participation in Japan’s post war occupation.
This, not the nuclear bombing, was the key factor. The U.S. conventional bombing attacks on Japanese cities in the spring and summer of 1945 were almost as devastating as Hiroshima. They often caused more damage and even more casualties. Altogether 66 Japanese cities were attacked that summer, and a typical raid of 500 bombers could deliver 5 kilotons of bombs. The Hiroshima bomb was the equivalent of 16 kilotons, only three times bigger than the average conventional raid.

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Yet neither the conventional nor the nuclear bombing turned the heads of Japan’s leaders. Its Supreme Council did not meet until two days after the Hiroshima attack of August 6th. Yet when the Soviets intervened on August 9th word reached Tokyo by 4.30 am and the Supreme Council met by 10.30am. Following Hiroshima, Emperor Hirohito took no action. He merely asked for “more details”. When he heard of the Soviet invasion he immediately summoned Lord Privy Seal Koichi Kido and told him, “In the light of the Soviet entry…. It is all the more urgent to find a means to end the war.”

After the war Kido confessed, “If military leaders could convince themselves they were defeated by the power of science but not by lack of lack of spiritual power or strategic errors, they could save face.” The Americans were only too happy to oblige in this 1945 political spin. If the bomb did it then the US had been the prime instrument in Japan’s defeat. If the bomb did it US prowess would be enhanced throughout the world.

Today’s Japanese want to know exactly why the great nuclear accident occurred. But before the wartime generation shuffle away they should demand that the truth about Hiroshima and Nagasaki should be explained too. It will give a measure of peace to a nation’s troubled mind.


Copyright © 2011 Jonathan Power


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Jonathan Power can be reached by phone +44 7785 351172
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Jonathan Power 2007 Book
Conundrums of Humanity
The Quest for Global Justice

“Conundrums of Humanity” poses eleven questions for our future progress, ranging from “Can we diminish War?” to “How far and fast can we push forward the frontiers of Human Rights?” to “Will China dominate the century?”
The answers to these questions, the author believes, growing out of his long experience as a foreign correspondent and columnist for the International Herald Tribune, are largely positive ones, despite the hurdles yet to be overcome. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, London, 2007.

William Pfaff, September 17, 2007
Jonathan Power's book "Conundrums" - A Review
"His is a powerful and comprehensive statement of ways to make the world better.
Is that worth the Nobel Prize?
I say, why not?"


Jonathan Power's 2001 book

Like Water on Stone
The Story of Amnesty International

Follow this link to read about - and order - Jonathan Power's book written for the 40th Anniversary of Amnesty International



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