Hiroshima & Nagasaki—The Background

“We take no pride in being able to massacre millions of our fellow human beings, to poison the air, to cripple the children of the future. We find no safety in weapons designed only for wars that nobody can win. . . “


These words from the leaflet announcing the second Aldermaston March, expressed the feeling of the idealistic element of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Heard above the suave evasions of politicians, and the arrogant threats of generals, this call, to those enchanted, seemed the golden echo of truth itself; promising in victory, a finer and happier life for Man.


How and why did this protest arise? What has it achieved? Will it set the foot of Man on the long-sought path of Peace and Happiness?


To answer these questions one must go back to see how it came into being and how it has grown.


On July 16th, 1945, in the New Mexico desert, the Los Alamos scientists successfully exploded the first atomic device. Reports of this were hurried to President Truman at the Potsdam Conference. After consulting his advisers he gave authority to an air force group, in special training since the autumn of 1944, to prepare to use the atomic bombs.


In the early days of August, from a warship in mid-Atlantic, Truman gave the final order to begin the atomic bombing of selected Japanese cities. At the earliest indication of clear weather over Hiroshima, a B-29 was dispatched. A uranium bomb, assembled in the air on the way to the target, was dropped. Hiroshima on the morning of August 6th, 1945, became the first atomic crematorium. The “new weapon of special destructive force” which Truman had casually mentioned to Stalin, was a secret no longer.


The Russian government, fearing a belated American attempt to deprive it of some of the spoils of Yalta, hastened to declare war on Japan. A right to participate in the final share-out of the Far Eastern loot; a desire to safeguard their sphere of influence, these were the main concerns of the Russian rulers. No protest at a sickening outrage. No sorrow expressed at the agonies of the Hiroshima victims, the seared, stunned survivors; the radio-active remnants of what had been men, women and little children! So much for the party of Lenin and Stalin in the glorious fight for Peace!
Truman’s other allies, the British ruling class, their interests now in the care of a Labour Government, watched, from afar, the results of their joint scientific and industrial enterprise. Three days after Hiroshima, Attlee’s representative, Group Captain Cheshire, was present at the bombing of Nagasaki, where a plutonium bomb, operating on a new principle, was used.
Public awareness of the circumstances in which the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan has always been limited by the facile myth that these bombs were necessary to break the back of Japanese resistance, thereby saving Allied lives. Japan was, in fact, on the verge of collapse.


Was the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, towns on a carefully selected list of possible targets, a gruesome experiment? A callous scheme of sections of the American military, designed to discover the respective merits of different kinds of atomic bombs when used against densely-populated industrial centres?


Was the atomic bombing a practical demonstration of American technical superiority in warfare to warn the Russian rulers against expansion which might further encroach upon American spheres of influence?


Whatever answers posterity may yield, however intricate the web of truth, to Socialists, there is no word, no line, to justify this deed. Nothing can excuse the roasting of the newly-born or the incineration of infants at play, the slaughter of thousands.


Whatever may have been the reasons, political, economic, military or personal, that may have moved the principal actors to speak the lines and play the parts they did, to Socialists one thing is the essential point. This war and all its misery and fire, was rooted in capitalism.
It is not the villainy of militarists, the schemings of armament kings, the bellicosity of dictators, the ineptitude of statesmen, that is the cause of war in the modern world. It is not deceptions practised upon honest by dishonest politicians.


It was not the manoeuverings of Roosevelt and Churchill nor the embargo placed upon raw materials for Japan in 1941 and all the machinations on both sides of the Pacific leading up to the “surprise” attack on Pearl Harbour that were the causes of war in the Far East.


Basically, the cause of the war, which led to the bestiality of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, was the conflict between the different national groups of capitalists, each aiming to improve its position in the relentless struggle to maintain or expand its control over markets and sources of raw materials. Little territory or resources, easily exploitable, remained to the nations such as Germany, Italy and Japan which had come late to the table.


To satisfy their growing appetites, arising from industrial and commercial expansion, the senior predators, they thought, must yield to them a large share of the economic fruits of earlier piracy.


The Japanese forces slowly advancing into Indo-China were a menace to American, British, Chinese, and Dutch interests in the islands and archipelagoes of South East Asia, fabulously rich in raw materials. Rubber, tin, nickel, oil and the like were never absent from the calculations of all concerned. The Japanese sought to control the Chinese mainland and to bring all South East Asia under their economic and cultural sway, by force of arms, if necessary.


In the West, if Germany over-ran Europe, the American rulers would find their long-term interests threatened, by a collossus commanding vast technical and industrial resources. A bitter struggle therefore ensued. The bomb and the bayonet became the means to convince where the honeyed modulations of sleek and urbane ambassadors had failed.


The attack on Pearl Harbour, the possibility of which American admirals had been discussing since the early thirties, helped to persuade the ordinary American people, who like people everywhere else, had no desire to become involved in war, that war was necessary in the interest of the nation as a whole. The Pearl Harbour attack roused the American people to a fury; they were in the war before they knew what it was all about. To the American man in the street the atomic bombing was a justified reprisal for the Japanese attack four years earlier. Thus does violence breed violence.


It must not be thought that Russia comes into conflict with the other powers because of ideological reasons; because its social system is alleged to be “Socialist.”


Russia is a capitalist country. All the basic features of capitalism exist there; class monopoly of the means of production, backed-up by a powerful state apparatus, the dominance of commodity production and the profit motive, the subjection of the majority to wage-labour, the “anarchy of production” called “state-planning”; all are there.


All modern nations have these basic attributes. They may have particular features arising from the different national and economic backgrounds from which capitalism developed in each country. Each emerging capitalist class was born into a certain historical situation. The new industrial capitalists of England in the nineteenth century had the world at their feet; the later arrivals to the capitalist jungle, while having advantages in being able to learn and apply the latest techniques, found themselves surrounded by already entrenched rivals.


It is not what men think or say about themselves that is crucial to the analysis of a social system. It is how they are related to other men about the means of production, what role they play in the productive process, what, in fact, they do. In struggling with the traditional capitalist groups of the world, the top-ranking Communist Party bureaucrats, and politicians, the military, and industrial senior executives, in short, representatives of Russian capitalism, are different in no fundamental way. They are all as helpless to prevent war, and all as ruthless in its prosecution when diplomacy has failed.


Socialists want no part of this nightmare world. Socialists are opposed to war, whether nuclear or “conventional” weapons are used.


The solution however, does not lie in the banning of a specific kind of weapon. Weapons are only necessary in a world of capitalist competition. The real enemy is the social system that breeds it. Our task is to keep the issue clear. To insist on the need for a society without privilege, poverty, or war. We take our stand solely for socialism.



Appended at the bottom of this article in the original issue of the Socialist Standard:


Lord Attlee and the Bomb


“He [Mr. Truman] had to take the decision about the atom bomb. It is questioned sometimes. In my view, in the light of the knowledge we had at that time, he was absolutely right.”


Lord Attlee at a Pilgrims’ Dinner (July 21st, 1956) reported in “Daily Telegraph” (July 22nd, 1956).