IT HAS BEEN observed so often that truth is the first casualty of war that it is now a banal remark rather than an insightful critical comment. However, of greater consequence than the death of truth is the surrender of critical thinking.
Golden anniversaries of crucial events are often used to proclaim the lessons learned from the past. But if history was never truly understood because it was purposefully misrepresented, exactly what lessons have we learned?
Deeply entrenched and culturally significant historical misrepresentations are very difficult to dispel within the lifetime of those responsible for the event. Anniversaries of those events are occasions when critical thinking must occur. Received historical stories must be challenged and held up to thorough critical scrutiny.
Today is one such anniversary. Fifty-seven years ago the first of only two atomic bombs ever used in war was unleashed.
At 8:15 a.m. on Aug. 6, 1945, a 22 kiloton A-bomb was dropped in the commercial heart of a then unknown city: Hiroshima. Fifty thousand people died in the first few moments of the surprise attack; within five years another 150,000 of the survivors were dead from injuries resulting from massive irradiation. A similar event happened three days later in Japan's only centre of Christianity: Nagasaki.
Aside from some resilient trees, a skeletal building or two, and some charred artefacts, these statistics and others (e.g., the heat of the bomb, the force of the blast) are the only objective historical remains in existence from those two days.
Conversely, the history we almost completely rely on to form our evaluations and understandings of the events of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are the subjective stories from both North America and Japan.
However, we have been consistently hampered in our understanding of these apocalyptic events for two reasons: The first is a result of our basic human inability to describe experiences that are so far beyond our everyday reality as to be inexplicable.
Even the hibakusha, or A-bomb survivors, experienced this difficulty.
The second reason for our near universal misunderstanding of the twin nuclear holocausts stems from an equally human, but more socially harmful motivation. We have been collectively blocked from a critical understanding of the A-bombings because of a lack of public criticism in the face of a powerful and purposeful historical misrepresentation that began with President Harry Truman in the years following 1945 and is only ending now, albeit very slowly.
The ongoing declassification of U.S. government documents and officials' diaries have fairly recently revealed evidence that the history lessons that we were taught after the end of the Pacific War were false. To wit:
The Joint Chiefs of Staff and every other high military official, as well as all Truman's key advisers, save one, were against the use of the A-bombs against the Japanese. Many were particularly concerned about the impact to America's moral stature for using bombs that they considered barbaric, especially upon a nation that they knew was beaten. After all, the U.S. military had already gained complete domination of Japanese airspace and waterways. They were simply waiting for the terms of surrender to be formulated between the U.S. and Japanese governments.
Truman repeatedly delayed acceptance of the Japanese government's conditional surrender attempts until after both types of A-bomb had been used.
Truman's physical target for the A-bombs were the Japanese, but the political target was his ally, but ideological opposite, Joseph Stalin.
Hiroshima's city centre was targeted because its high population and building density would maximally display to the Soviets the killing and destructive power of America's new weapon.
The deciding factors for the Japanese government's capitulation were the entry of the Soviet Union into the Pacific War coupled with America's post-bombing acceptance of conditional surrender.
The story of a million American lives (and many more Japanese lives) saved by the A-bombs was a complete fabrication designed to eliminate public criticism of the president's decision.
Thus, the twin destructive forces of "Fat Man" and "Little Boy" were of political, but not military, utility. In other words, the nuclear holocausts were used for the purpose of "atomic diplomacy" with the Soviets rather than to bring a swift end to the war.
This is a completely different - yet more accurate and fully developed - story than the one that we have received for the previous 50 years.
Since we know that truth is a casualty to war, we must understand that our public history lessons are sometimes false.
The lesson of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is that we must all be vigilant regarding the official stories promoted by government leaders and officials, especially during and after times of war.
------------------------------------------------------------------------ Kevin Black is a clinical psychologist who has lived and worked in Hiroshima.
( Source: http://www.thestar.com/NASApp/cs/ContentServer?pagename=thestar/Layout/Article_PrintFriendly&c=Article&cid=1026143933601Aug. 6, 01:00 EDT )
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