Some Things They Don’t Teach Us
About Hiroshima and U.S. Imperialism Today
“A classic of planted disinformation”: Bald-face lies from the New York Times (13 September 1945) after United States A-bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Many are the things we’re not taught about the history and present-day realities of U.S. imperialism – and when the August 1945 atom-bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are mentioned, the topic is typically skimmed over quickly. Today, amidst threats of a new world war, many want to know more.
Below we print excerpts from an essay by Australian journalist John Pilger, who is also a filmmaker whose documentaries include Paying the Price: Killing the Children of Iraq (2000), on the effects of U.S. sanctions, The New Rulers of the World (2002) and The Coming War on China (2018).
Written to mark the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Pilger’s essay was first published under the title “Another Hiroshima Is Coming ... Unless We Stop It Now” (johnpilger.com, 3 August 2020). While Pilger is not a Marxist, he provides a powerful perspective on the devastation wrought at Hiroshima as well as by U.S. nuclear weapons testing in the Marshall Islands, which were part of the U.S. “Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands” for four decades after World War Two.
When I first went to Hiroshima in 1967, the shadow on the steps was still there. It was an almost perfect impression of a human being at ease: legs splayed, back bent, one hand by her side as she sat waiting for a bank to open. At a quarter past eight on the morning of August 6, 1945, she and her silhouette were burned into the granite.
I walked down to the river where the survivors still lived in shanties. I met a man called Yukio, whose chest was etched with the pattern of the shirt he was wearing when the atomic bomb was dropped. He described a huge flash over the city, “a bluish light, something like an electrical short,” after which wind blew like a tornado and black rain fell. “I was thrown on the ground and noticed only the stalks of my flowers were left. Everything was still and quiet, and when I got up, there were people naked, not saying anything. Some of them had no skin or hair. I was certain I was dead.” Nine years later, I returned to look for him and he was dead from leukaemia.
“No Radioactivity in Hiroshima Ruin” said a New York Times headline on September 13, 1945, a classic of planted disinformation. “General Farrell,” reported William H. Lawrence, “denied categorically that [the atomic bomb] produced a dangerous, lingering radioactivity.” The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was an act of premeditated mass murder that unleashed a weapon of intrinsic criminality. It was justified by lies that form the bedrock of America’s war propaganda in the 21st century, casting a new enemy, and target – China.
During the 75 years since Hiroshima, the most enduring lie is that the atomic bomb was dropped to end the war in the Pacific and to save lives. “Even without the atomic bombing attacks,” concluded the United States Strategic Bombing Survey of 1946, "air supremacy over Japan could have exerted sufficient pressure to bring about unconditional surrender and obviate the need for invasion. 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 … Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war [against Japan] and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated.”
The National Archives in Washington contains documented Japanese peace overtures as early as 1943. None was pursued. A cable sent on May 5, 1945 by the German ambassador in Tokyo and intercepted by the U.S. made clear the Japanese were desperate to sue for peace, including "capitulation even if the terms were hard.” Nothing was done.
The U.S. Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, told President Truman he was “fearful” that the U.S. Air Force would have Japan so “bombed out” that the new weapon would not be able “to show its strength.” Stimson later admitted that “no effort was made, and none was seriously considered, to achieve surrender merely in order not to have to use the [atomic] bomb.”
Stimson’s foreign policy colleagues – looking ahead to the post-war era they were then shaping “in our image,” as Cold War planner George Kennan famously put it – made clear they were eager “to browbeat the Russians with the [atomic] bomb held rather ostentatiously on our hip.” General Leslie Groves, director of the Manhattan Project that made the atomic bomb, testified: “There was never any illusion on my part that Russia was our enemy, and that the project was conducted on that basis.”
The day after Hiroshima was obliterated, President Harry Truman voiced his satisfaction with the “overwhelming success” of “the experiment.”
The “experiment” continued long after the war was over. Between 1946 and 1958, the United States exploded 67 nuclear bombs in the Marshall Islands in the Pacific: the equivalent of more than one Hiroshima every day for 12 years.
The human and environmental consequences were catastrophic. During the filming of my documentary The Coming War on China, I chartered a small aircraft and flew to Bikini Atoll in the Marshalls. It was here that the United States exploded the world's first Hydrogen Bomb. It remains poisoned earth. Palm trees stood in unworldly formations. There were no birds.
I trekked through the jungle to the concrete bunker where, at 6:45 on the morning of March 1, 1954, the button was pushed. The sun, which had risen, rose again and vaporised an entire island in the lagoon, leaving a vast black hole, which from the air is a menacing spectacle: a deathly void in a place of beauty. The radioactive fall-out spread quickly and "unexpectedly.” The official history claims "the wind changed suddenly.” It was the first of many lies, as declassified documents and the victims’ testimony reveal.
Gene Curbow, a meteorologist assigned to monitor the test site, said, "They knew where the radioactive fall-out was going to go. Even on the day of the shot, they still had an opportunity to evacuate people, but [people] were not evacuated; I was not evacuated.… The United States needed some guinea pigs to study what the effects of radiation would do.”
Like Hiroshima, the secret of the Marshall Islands was a calculated experiment on the lives of large numbers of people. This was Project 4.1, which began as a scientific study of mice and became an experiment on "human beings exposed to the radiation of a nuclear weapon.”
The Marshall Islanders I met in 2015 – like the survivors of Hiroshima I interviewed in the 1960s and 70s – suffered from a range of cancers, commonly thyroid cancer; thousands had already died. Miscarriages and stillbirths were common; those babies who lived were often deformed horribly. Unlike Bikini, Rongelap Atoll had not been evacuated during the H-Bomb test. [A description of some of the effects on Rongelap’s population follows.] U.S. official archive film refers to the islanders as "amenable savages.” In the wake of the explosion, a U.S. Atomic Energy Agency official is seen boasting that Rongelap "is by far the most contaminated place on earth,” adding, "it will be interesting to get a measure of human uptake when people live in a contaminated environment.”
I have reported from five nuclear "ground zeros” throughout the world – in Japan, the Marshall Islands, Nevada, Polynesia and Maralinga in Australia. Even more than my experience as a war correspondent, this has taught me about the ruthlessness and immorality of great power: that is, imperial power, whose cynicism is the true enemy of humanity. This struck me forcibly when I filmed at Taranaki Ground Zero at Maralinga in the Australian desert. In a dish-like crater was an obelisk on which was inscribed: "A British atomic weapon was test exploded here on 9 October 1957.” On the rim of the crater was this sign:
WARNING: RADIATION HAZARD
Mushroom cloud during U.S. detonation of underwater nuclear bomb at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific, March 1946.
Radiation levels for a few hundred metres around this point may be above those considered safe for permanent occupation.
For as far as the eye could see, and beyond, the ground was irradiated. Raw plutonium lay about, scattered like talcum powder: plutonium is so dangerous to humans that a third of a milligram gives a 50 percent chance of cancer. The only people who might have seen the sign were Indigenous Australians, for whom there was no warning. According to an official account, if they were lucky "they were shooed off like rabbits.”
Today, an unprecedented campaign of propaganda is shooing us all off like rabbits. We are not meant to question the daily torrent of anti-Chinese rhetoric, which is rapidly overtaking the torrent of anti-Russia rhetoric. Anything Chinese is bad, anathema, a threat: Wuhan … Huawei. A virulent racism is the sub-text of this propaganda. The Chinese are the only ethnic group to have been banned by an "exclusion act” from entering the United States, because they were Chinese. Popular culture declared them sinister, untrustworthy, "sneaky,” depraved, diseased, immoral.
The current phase of this campaign began not with Trump but with Barack Obama, who in 2011 flew to Australia to declare the greatest build-up of U.S. naval forces in the Asia-Pacific region since World War Two. Suddenly, China was a "threat.” This was nonsense, of course. What was threatened was America's unchallenged psychopathic view of itself as the richest, the most successful, the most "indispensable” nation. What was never in dispute was its prowess as a bully – with more than 30 members of the United Nations suffering American sanctions of some kind and a trail of the blood running through defenceless countries bombed, their governments overthrown, their elections interfered with, their resources plundered. Obama's declaration became known as the "pivot to Asia.” One of its principal advocates was his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, who, as WikiLeaks revealed, wanted to rename the Pacific Ocean "the American Sea.”
Whereas Clinton never concealed her warmongering, Obama was a maestro of marketing. Obama increased spending on nuclear warheads faster than any president since the end of the Cold War. A "usable” nuclear weapon was developed. Known as the B61 Model 12, it means, according to General James Cartwright, former vice-chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that "going smaller [makes its use] more thinkable.” The target is China. Today, more than 400 American military bases almost encircle China with missiles, bombers, warships and nuclear weapons. From Australia north through the Pacific to South-East Asia, Japan and Korea and across Eurasia to Afghanistan and India, the bases form, as one U.S. strategist told me, "the perfect noose.”
A study by the RAND Corporation – which, since Vietnam, has planned America’s wars – is entitled War with China: Thinking Through the Unthinkable . Commissioned by the U.S. Army, the authors evoke the infamous catch cry of its chief Cold War strategist, Herman Kahn – “thinking the unthinkable.” Kahn’s book, On Thermonuclear War  elaborated a plan for a “winnable” nuclear war.1
[The essay goes on to quote Republican Mike Pompeo, who was then Secretary of State.] “I was CIA director,” he boasted, “We lied, we cheated, we stole. It was like we had entire training courses.” Pompeo’s obsession is China....
P.S. by Revolution: Today, under Biden and the Democrats, U.S. imperialism – the one power that has actually used nuclear weapons – escalates its anti-China war drive, in which the U.S./NATO proxy war against Russia is both a way station and a testing ground on the road to a thermonuclear Third World War. “Another Hiroshima is coming ... unless we stop it now,” Pilger wrote three years ago. But how? Pacifist pleas for imperialism to “disarm” just spread dangerous illusions. The only way to stop it – as the founder of U.S. Trotskyism highlighted in a powerful polemic against reformist illusions at the height of the Cold War – is intransigent class struggle by the workers of the world, which must “culminate in the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of a socialist society” (James P. Cannon, The Road to Peace ). ■
- 1. In 1962 Kahn came out with his better-known sequel, a book titled Thinking About the Unthinkable. (See article on U.S. nuclear war preparations in Revolution No. 19, September 2022.)