1980s >> 1985 >> no-972-august-1985

Labour and the Atom Bomb

It is sometimes forgotten that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki took place under a Labour government. Attlee was British Prime Minister at the time and was a member of the war cabinet involved with the American government in organising the development and production of the atomic weapon. As Prime Minister he had a representative at the bombing of Nagasaki.

In a speech at a Pilgrim’s Dinner in London on 21 June 1956, referring to the action of President Truman, Attlee declared:

    “He had to take the decision about the atomic bomb. It is questioned sometimes. In my view in the light of the knowledge we had at that time, he was absolutely right.” (Daily Telegraph, 22 June 1956.)

One of the reasons given at the time to justify the atomic bombings was that they were necessary as a means of bringing pressure on Japan to sue for peace. However, in a written answer to the Liberal MP Horabin published in Hansard (Volume 431) on 19 December 1946, before declaring that it was known that “the Japanese leaders had previously been considering means of reaching a settlement more favourable to themselves than unconditional surrender”, Attlee had carefully pointed out that:

    “No overtures for peace were made by Japan to the countries with which she was at war, prior to her acceptance of the terms of the Potsdam Declaration . . . (our emphasis).”

In other words, Attlee admitted that Japan had made peace overtures before the dropping of the atomic bombs. It is also worth recalling that Truman’s decision which Attlee regarded as “absolutely right”, was a deliberate decision to bomb concentrated civilian populations. As an official American government publication on The Effects of Atomic Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, The United States Strategic Bombing Survey, published in 1946, put it:

    “Hiroshima and Nagasaki were chosen as targets because of their concentration of activities and population (p.41, our emphasis).”

No wonder the Attlee Labour government had no qualms about deciding to develop a British atomic bomb and all subsequent Labour government no qualms about keeping it.

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