By Dr. Harry Elmer Barnes
Most Americans are still under the impression that the U.S. military had to drop atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to avoid what would otherwise be the inevitable loss of millions of lives on both sides, Japan and the Allies. But it has been incontrovertibly proved that Japan offered to surrender six months before the atom bombing President Harry Truman defended as “necessary.” The “father of Revisionist history,” our mentor, Harry Elmer Barnes, explains the evidence in this article, which he wrote in 1958.
President Harry S Truman sought to justify the atom bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But something more than his dubious public manners and his lack of sympathetic perspective is at stake in dealing with his statement that: “I think the sacrifice of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was urgent and necessary for the prospective welfare of both Japan and the Allies.” The situation calls for some realistic historical analysis.
Well-informed persons have known for years that the bombing of these Japanese cities was not needed to bring the war to a speedy end and make it unnecessary to launch an assault against the Japanese mainland, which, if actually carried out, would certainly have led to enormous bloodshed on both sides. It has been difficult, however, to get this momentous fact before the American public in any effective manner, even though the relevant information has been published in prominent American newspapers and periodicals, the most complete revelation having actually been made on the Sunday following V-J Day. What are the facts on this situation?
By January 1945, the Japanese had become convinced that they had lost the war; indeed, so thoroughly convinced that they made overtures for peace so extreme that they were almost identical with those accepted in August after months of bloody fighting in the Pacific and the atom bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There is every probability that the war could have been ended in February or March on the basis of the complete surrender of Japan. What factual data are there to support what will seem to most readers an incredible statement?
Two days before President Roosevelt left for the Yalta Conference, he had received from Gen. Douglas MacArthur valid Japanese peace overtures virtually identical with those which were accepted in August as the basis for the Japanese surrender. They were made up of some five separate proposals, two of which came through American channels and three through British. These Japanese peace feelers were not irresponsible, anonymous, fly-by-night proposals but came from responsible Japanese acting for Emperor Hirohito. Gen. MacArthur urged President Roosevelt to start immediate negotiations with the Japanese on the basis of these overtures, and warned against inviting or urging the Russians to enter the war in the Far East.
Roosevelt rejected MacArthur’s advice, and, figuratively, threw MacArthur’s vi tally important information into the wastebasket, with the remark that Mac Arthur “is our greatest general and our poorest politician.” Roosevelt proceeded to Yalta, where he granted the concessions to Russia that made the Soviet Union the dominant power in the Far East and played a crucial role in the later victory of the communists in China. The bloody warfare in the Pacific was allowed to drag on for six more months without any real military necessity.
Specifically, the terms of these Japanese peace overtures of late January 1945 were the following:
1. Full surrender of the Japanese forces on the sea, in the air, at home, on island possessions and in occupied countries.
2. Surrender of all arms and munitions.
3. Occupation of the Japanese homeland and island possessions by Allied troops under American direction.
4. Japanese relinquishment of Manchuria, Korea and Formosa, as well as all territory seized during the war.
5. Regulation of Japanese industry to halt present and future production of implements of war.
6. Surrender of designated war criminals.
7. Release of all prisoners of war and in ternees in Japan proper and in areas under Japanese control.
The government has never made this sensational episode public, so it may fairly be asked how we know the above statement about MacArthur’s communication to Roosevelt to be a fact. It so happens that Mac Arthur’s document passed over the desk of a high-ranking military officer in Washington who was greatly disturbed at what he feared might happen at Yal ta. He wished to get Mac Arthur’s communication on re cord so it could not be de stroyed by Mr. Roosevelt or his associates or hidden away from the public for many years as “top-secret” ma terial. Hence, he called in his friend, Walter Trohan of The Chi cago Tribune, and suggested that Trohan make an exact copy of the Ja panese overtures. But he first bound Trohan to absolute secrecy and confidence until the end of the war. Trohan kept his promise, but on the Sunday after V-J Day (August 19, 1945) Trohan published the material in full in The Chicago Tribune, and The Washington Times-Herald. De spite the very timely and sensational nature of the Trohan article, no prominent newspaper, so far as I know, noticed or republished it either then or at any time since.
The authenticity of the Trohan article was never challenged by the White House or the State Department, and for very good reason. After Gen. MacArthur re turned from Korea in 1951, his neighbor in the Waldorf Towers, former President Herbert Hoover, took the Trohan article to Gen. MacArthur, and the latter confirmed its accuracy in every detail and without qualification.
We have here, then, absolutely accurate and convincing evidence that, before Roosevelt left for Yalta, he knew that the Japanese were ready for peace negotiations based on amazing concessions—so amazing that they were ultimately accepted as the basis for peace with Japan six months later. This completely knocks the bottom out from under Mr. Truman’s statement that the bombing was “urgent and necessary” six months after the Japanese were ready to sue for peace and when they were vastly weaker and far more frantic for peace than they were in January and February.
It was quite evident by early February 1945 that there was no need for further bloody fighting in the Pacific, certainly not until the genuineness of the Japanese peace overtures was tested out by actual negotiations—and we now know that they were genuine. Any military delay in the Pacific due to negotiations at this time would, naturally, have worked to the advantage of the United States, which was daily gaining in strength and morale, while the Japanese power was fading away. But, as we have seen, there was no move for negotiations on the part of Roosevelt. Instead, the needless but extremely lethal battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, together with other costly engagements, followed on the heels of Roosevelt’s contemptuous dismissal of MacArthur’s recommendation of negotiations for peace.
In the meantime, at Yalta, Russia was invited, even bribed, to enter the war against Japan, with the disastrous results we now know all too well, although Russia took no actual part in hostilities against Japan until August 8, two days after the bombing of Hiroshima. She merely waited until the war was over and picked up the Far Eastern booty and spoils that Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill had almost forced on her at Yalta.
But the MacArthur communication to Roosevelt was not the only source of information reaching Washington as to the Japanese desire for peace on the most humiliating terms from January 1945 onward. Adm. Ellis M. Zacharias of the Intelligence Service of the Navy, in his book Secret Missions, and [in] even more sensational articles in Lookmagazine, tells us how Naval Intelligence learned of the desperate condition of the Japanese and their real desire for peace. There were other “leaks,” some of them actually coming through the Russians and Chinese. But all this information had no more apparent effect on President Roosevelt or Truman than did the MacArthur communication to Truman at the end of January 1945.
The facts about the Japanese situation from January to August 1945, and the official American reaction to them, are admirably summarized in Chapter 10 of the scholarly book of Prof. Richard N. Cur rent,Secretary Stimson. They serve to make it crystal clear that there was not the slightest military need of bombing the Japanese cities to bring the war to a speedy close, even in the spring on 1945, and without any necessity whatever of attacking the Japanese mainland.
In reaction to Mr. Truman’s recent declaration, the vital question is whether Mr. Truman knew all of the above facts by, or around, the time he took over the office of president. He obviously implies in his recent pronouncement that he did not. But I have the personal testimony of an American public figure of the greatest eminence and with perhaps the best reputation for unquestionable probity of any leading American statesman since George Washington himself, to the effect that Mr. Truman knew all about the situation by early May 1945 and admitted that further fighting, to say nothing of atomic bombing, was quite unnecessary to win the war and bring an early peace.
This distinguished public figure told me personally, in the presence of a prominent witness, that, having learned the above facts and being shocked by the continuance of needless bloodshed in the Pacific, he went to have a talk with Presi dent Truman. The latter assured him that he was well acquainted with the facts about the Japanese desire for peace, the lack of any need for further military activity, and the good prospect for an immediate negotiated peace.
But he went on to say that he was new on the job and did not feel equal to the formidable task of interfering personally to check the persistent bellicosity of Stimson and the Pentagon hierarchy, who were determined to carry on to the bitter end—as we now know they were ready to try out their new military “toy,” the atom bomb. The bomb was the pet project of Stimson, who had been given general authority over its development. Truman did nothing to arrange an armistice and negotiate, but finally, months later, when Japan had virtually collapsed, approved the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The remaining important question is whether it was the bombing that actually brought the Pacific war to a close and compelled the Japanese to surrender, as Mr. Truman implies. A large volume of expert testimony, much of it official, has been accumulated since the end of the war, and it proves Mr. Truman and other de fenders of the bombing to have been completely wrong on this vital point. The U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey stated, even as early as 1946, that: “The Hiro shima and Nagasaki bombs did not defeat Japan, nor by the testimony of the enemy leaders who ended the war did they persuade Japan to accept unconditional surrender.”
The reason for the surrender of Japan was the collapse of her military power and the full recognition that further resistance would be futile. As the Bomb ing Survey summarizes the matter: “Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bomb had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated.”
Perhaps the most striking fact established by research since the end of the war is that the main purpose in using the atomic bombs on Japan was not military at all, but diplomatic, and that the real target was not Japan but Russia. This was suggested by Norman Cousins and Thomas K. Finletter in an article in The Sunday Review of Literature, June 15, 1946, and was more explicitly confirmed by the British atomic physicist, P.M.S. Blackett. The eminent American publicist and industrialist, the late Robert R. Young, also directly charged that this was the case in his trenchant article in The Saturday Review of Literature, March 8, 1947, but many regarded this allegation as fantastic. Yet it has been supported by subsequent events and revelations, some of them official. As Prof. Current points out, even Stimson’s Memoirs hinted that: “Russia and not Japan was the real target of the atom bomb.” The bomb, so state the Memoirs, would “give democratic diplomacy a badly needed ‘equalizer’ as against the postwar power of the communist colossus.”
Historical study since the Memoirs appeared has confirmed this interpretation. Stalin took this view, and many date the origins of the Cold War from the time he received news of the bombing shortly after the Potsdam Conference.
If this interpretation of the underlying reason for the bombing is correct, then the tens of thousands of Japanese who were roasted at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were sacrificed not to end the war or save American and Japanese lives but to strengthen American diplomacyvis-a-vis Russia. Not only the “humanity” of this procedure but even its political sagacity is open to question. As Prof. Current wryly observes:
If the purpose really was to check the Russians in the Far East, the destruction of their historic enemy in that area must seem, in retrospect, like a peculiar way to go about it. A quick peace with Japan, short of complete humiliation, might have been a more sensible expedient.
Mr. Truman may seek to cite in refutation of my presentation the statements made by Army and Navy experts at Yalta, such as Gen. Marshall, to the effect that Japan could only be brought to her knees by a frontal assault on the Japanese mainland, and that to achieve this victory Russia had to be brought into the war. But we now know that these statements do not prove Mr. Truman right; they only prove how wrong Marshall and the others were at the time of Yalta. Moreover, Roosevelt, having read the MacArthur communication before he left for Yalta, knew that they were mistaken. The assertion by Stimson and American military leaders in the summer of 1945 that Japan could be brought to surrender only by an actual invasion, or by the use of the atom bomb, could readily have been tested by Mr. Truman by starting honest negotiations with Japan based on the MacArthur communication of late January 1945 and the subsequent Japanese overtures with which Mr. Truman was acquainted. The Potsdam peace offer in July 1945 was not a fair test.
Mr. Truman seeks, finally, to defend his action by the statement that:
The need for such a fateful decision [the atomic bombing], of course, would never have arisen had we not been shot in the back by Japan at Pearl Harbor in December of 1941.
Mr. Truman has made no little pretension to an interest in history and some regard for historical facts. We might suggest that there is a vast body of historical material on Pearl Harbor that apparently still awaits his careful scrutiny. They reveal, at the very least, that President Roosevelt kicked Japan in the shins, handcuffed the United States, bared its back and dared the Japanese to shoot.
Even if one were to take the most hostile attitude toward Japan and her Pearl Harbor attack—even President Roosevelt’s “Day of Infamy” rhetoric—the answer of the Hiroshima City Council to Mr. Truman’s blast is utterly devastating:
Had your decision been based on the Imperial Japanese Navy’s surprise attack on your country’s combatants and military facilities [at Pearl Harbor], why could you not choose a military base for the target? You committed the outrage of massacring 200,000 noncombatants as revenge, and you are still trying to justify it.