This anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki finds the world at the highest risk of nuclear war since the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. An extremely dangerous proxy war in Ukraine between the United States/NATO and Russia continues to escalate with no end in sight. A new cold war between the US and Russia and China and the arms race that goes with it are increasing public anxiety about the possibility of a nuclear war.
In the midst of this growing public concern about nuclear war, the summer blockbuster, “Oppenheimer” has been released and is showing in Harrisonburg and across the U.S. The “Oppenheimer ” film is a serious effort to tell the story about the development of the atomic bomb but it strangely avoids confronting the full truth of its first use in Hiroshima and Nagasaki where more than 200,000 men, women and children, almost entirely civilians, were killed.
Most Americans believe what they were told by the Truman administration, at the time, that the atomic bombings were necessary in order to “save lives” by forcing Japan to surrender and avoiding any need for a US invasion of Japan. Most Americans do not know that the US Strategic Bombing Survey concluded that Japan would have surrendered without the atomic bombings and that a long list of US military generals and officials, Generals Eisenhower and MacArthur among them, believed that it was not militarily necessary. The US had long before decoded Japanese communications which indicated that the only real obstacle to the unconditional surrender demanded by the US was the Japanese desire to retain their emperor, a condition the US ultimately agreed to anyway.
The ugly truth is that the bombs were dropped to send a message to the Soviet Union and the world that the United States had this terrible new weapon and was willing to use it. In his book, “The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear Planner”, famed whistle blower Daniel Ellsberg lists the many instances in which the United States used the threat of nuclear war as a tool of US foreign policy. Ellsberg also wrote an article in 1981, entitled “Call to Mutiny” about this. It is available online. Just to give one example: did you know that Eisenhower secretly threatened the Chinese with nuclear war in order to bring an end to the Korean war? There are a shocking number of other examples provided by Ellsberg that conclusively demonstrate that threatening nuclear war is an integral part of US foreign policy.
Most Americans do not realize that the United States does not have a “no first use” of nuclear weapons policy. US nuclear policy includes attacking non-nuclear nations that threaten our or our allies “interests.” The US has spent billions of dollars to develop “first strike” weapons in order to try to make its nuclear threats credible and be able to use them as a tool of its foreign policy.
US withdrawal from key arms control agreements with Russia the INF, ABM and “Open Skies” treaties, the eastward expansion of NATO, the placement of nuclear capable missiles in Poland and Romania and the attempt to bring Ukraine into NATO in order to place nuclear capable missiles there, are all part of an effort to create a US first strike capability that could credibly threaten Russia. Russian anxiety over the threat of a nuclear first strike by the United States is one of the major causes of the war in Ukraine. They do not want to be dominated or anihilated by the US. This has created an extremely dangerous situation that threatens all of humanity with nuclear war and, even worse, nuclear winter.
To truthfully remember Hiroshima is to realize in the depths of our being that what happened to the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki could happen to us all if we do not effectively demand that our government and the other nuclear powers of the world prioritize peace and human survival over war and the threat of war. We must demand that our government seriously pursue nuclear arms control and abandon Cold War policies that recklessly heighten the possibility of nuclear war.
We invite the Harrisonburg community to join us in remembering the lives lost in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and in committing ourselves to a serious confrontation with the truth about the past actions of our government so we can fully commit ourselves to the changes needed to survive and thrive in a peaceful world.
Michael Snell-Feikema taught world history at Mt. Marty College. He is a member of Peace Praxis – the Shenandoah Valley Antiwar Coalition . Hyperlinks with supporting references can be found on the Peace Praxis – Shenandoah Valley Antiwar Coalition Facebook Page or at Peacepraxis.org.