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It is 65 years this August since the US dropped atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing hundreds of thousands of unarmed Japanese civilians, writes Horace Campbell. Although US history books say that thousands of servicemen were saved as a result of those two bombings, the reality, says Campbell, was different.

On Friday 6 August 2010 the Syracuse Peace Council held a vigil in Syracuse, New York, to commemorate the loss of human life from the bombing of Hiroshima on 6 August 1945. This vigil was one more activity by peace and justice forces in the USA to bring sanity to a society that is in desperate need to be healed from the crimes against humanity that were committed 65 years ago. The dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima on 6 August and Nagasaki on 9 August 1945 were two of the greatest acts of barbarism that killed hundreds of thousands of persons, especially unarmed civilians. The Syracuse Peace Council and peace activists around the world believe that the mass slaughter that took place in 1945 should not be allowed to slip from the memory of humans who want another world. This protest was not only against the dropping of the bombs but also against the mindset of a society that will spend trillions of dollars preparing for nuclear war, a form of warfare that will exterminate humanity. E. P. Thompson properly called this form of warfare 'Exterminism'.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki laid the foundations for a period of militaristic expenditure and the suborning of the scientific community in a nuclear weapons system that consumed trillions of dollars. One of the continuing tragedies of the use of the atomic bomb is the existence of militarists who are now contemplating the use of nuclear weapons again. During the period of the George W. Bush administration, there was a lowering of the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons. Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld were strategic actors from the militarist faction of US rulers that planned perpetual war, regardless of the human costs. As the capitalist depression deepens, the rulers will more and more seek to resolve the political and economic crisis through war. It is our view that while Hiroshima and Nagasaki technologically represented a quantum leap into a new dimension of mass annihilation, psychologically and morally, the forces of peace and justice need Ubuntu now more than ever to repair the planet earth and to retreat from the mindset that continues to justify the use of nuclear weapons. Old ideas about the organisation of peace and justice must be buttressed by new ideas about reparations and healing.


On 6 August 1945, at 8:15 a.m. a US air force bomber plane dropped an atomic bomb over Hiroshima, a Japanese city with an estimated population of 255,000. The atomic bomb that the plane was carrying, ‘Little Boy’, detonated above the city centre, killing 80,000 people – 30 per cent of the population – immediately or within hours of the explosion.

Three days later, on 9 August , a similar aircraft from the US air force carrying a more powerful weapon bombed another Japanese city, Nagasaki, a heavily industrialised city of about 270,000. An estimated 40,000 people were killed outright. This last outrage of the Second World War exposed the full brutality of war and although the US continues to justify the unleashing of this weapon, the barbarism of war continues to plague all of humanity. The people of Japan continue to be in the forefront of the international campaigns for peace and nuclear disarmament.

It is still not known how many persons have perished as a result of these two atomic bombs dropped on Japan in August 1945, but there are estimates as high as 500,000 victims. Apart from the physical killings, there are many cancers of the lung and thyroid that only became apparent ten to twenty years later during the 1950s and 60s. Even in 2010, 65 years later the effects of radiation still claim victims: Cases of leukaemia are ten times more frequent in Hiroshima than in the rest of Japan.

The Second World War is now known as one of the most barbaric wars in history. The carnage of this imperial war is now well known with the widespread knowledge of the Nazi Holocaust and the death camps. What is less well known is the reality of the experiences of the peoples of Japan and the mass killing of innocent persons. As the ‘victors’ of the war, the leaders of the USA claimed that the dropping of the bomb was necessary to save lives. The history books written by those in power in the USA say that thousands of servicemen were saved as a result of those two bombings. The reality was different.

By May 1945, Germany had surrendered and the Japanese were searching for ways to have a peace treaty. Japan, like Germany had been militarily defeated by June 1945 and almost nothing was left of the once mighty imperial navy, and Japan's air force had been all but totally destroyed. Against only token opposition, American warplanes ranged at will over the country, and US bombers rained down devastation on Japanese cities, steadily reducing them to rubble.

There were many in the US high command who were opposed to the dropping of the atomic weapons. We now know that General Dwight Eisenhower was among those who believed that it was not necessary to drop the bombs to save lives. It was Eisenhower who later condemned the growth of the military industrial complex in the USA. The decision by the Truman administration to use atomic weapons against Japan was motivated by the situation at the end of the Second World War where the Soviet army had played a decisive role in the defeat of fascism. Hence with the impending struggles, the political and strategic considerations that inspired the use of the atom bomb laid in the efforts of the political leaders of the USA to establish the undisputed hegemonic position of the United States in the post-war period. This brutal and inhumane act has been covered up by propaganda, disinformation, lies, and the myths of good deeds of the USA in Japan. In fact, the leaders of the USA are so clear about their role in these acts of inhumanity that 65 years after the Second World War, Japan is still an occupied country.


From the moment the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, the more thoughtful understood that a great crime had been committed against humanity. This was because a new low had been reached for humans. Bertrand Russell, the British scientist and philosopher in an essay on ‘The Bomb and Civilization’, noted the new stage in human history. He wrote:

‘The prospect for the human race is sombre beyond all precedent. Mankind are faced with a clear-cut alternative: either we shall all perish, or we shall have to acquire some slight degree of common sense. A great deal of new political thinking will be necessary if utter disaster is to be averted.’

Humans are still trying to avert this disaster. Another British writer, E. P. Thompson also saw the full dangers of the nuclear weapons systems and came up with the term ‘Exterminism’ to designate ‘those characteristics of society – expressed in different degrees, within an economy, its policy and its ideology – which thrust it in a direction whose outcome must be the extermination of multitudes.’

The book ‘Exterminism and Cold War’ edited by E.P. Thompson and others is still worth reading twenty-five years after this book was written to oppose the whole scale investment in weapons to kill millions. Like Bertrand Russell, Thompson had argued that nuclear weapons were so destructive that their use had become irrational for all mankind, regardless of class interest. ‘Exterminism is not a “class issue”: it is a human issue.’ The task, therefore, was not to organise the class struggle so as to eliminate the system which gives rise to war, but to win over all sectors of society, top to bottom, to an ‘alternative logic.’

This mandate of conceiving of a society beyond capitalism is now even more urgent in the midst of this major capitalist depression. In 1998, there was an ‘Atomic Audit’ in the USA that spelt out how the USA had spent over US$5.5 trillion between 1940 and 1998 in the development of nuclear weapons.

In order to develop and maintain the lead in nuclear weapons technology, the US state mobilised all the resources of science and put them at the military’s disposal. Billions of dollars were poured into the university system and nearly every university in the USA was caught up in the funds disbursed by the various agencies spending the trillions of dollars. Directly or indirectly, most of the well-known physicists in the USA were caught in this net of destructive thinking and planning. This gigantic mobilisation of every scientific resource for war expresses a general characteristic of US university system and its integration into the military industrial complex.

What the authors of the ‘Atomic Audit’ did not underscore was the frame of mind that continued to pour billions – if not trillions – into the deployment of nuclear weapons. While the threat of nuclear war prevented the outbreak of full-scale confrontation between those with nuclear weapons (the USA and the USSR as the dominant nuclear powers), this threat did not prevent the expansion of numerous forms of warfare that consumed millions of lives in Africa, Asia and Latin America. During the Cold War, the world came very close to nuclear war in 1962 at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Since the period of the Cold War there are now at least eight states with nuclear weapons (USA, Russia, China, India, Britain, France, Israel, and Pakistan).

In the USA, there is a section of the political and economic leadership who believe that it is possible to win a nuclear war. During the period of the Bush administration, there was a lowering of the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons. Reports in newspapers such as the Washington Post had brought out the new planning for the use of nuclear weapons by the Pentagon. One report noted:

‘Under Bush, however, Pentagon officials appear to have taken a step closer to the possible, limited use of nuclear weapons by pursuing new and more usable ones. A review of nuclear policy completed by defense officials a year ago put added emphasis on developing low-yield nuclear weapons that could be used to burrow deep into the earth and destroy underground complexes, including stores of chemical and biological arms. This has raised questions about whether the administration is lowering the threshold for using nuclear weapons.’

This lowering of the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons was in the pipeline based on the thinking of the war planners in the USA. In the middle of the Cold War after the defeat of the US forces in Vietnam, those who advocated a more aggressive orientation and increased military build-up gained ascendancy in the political system. By the time Ronald Reagan became president in 1981, those who wanted to expand the missile and weapons capabilities of the USA gained ground and Reagan oversaw a renewed arms build-up. This was the period when the USA went all out to gain an offensive nuclear superiority by developing a defensive missile shield (the so-called ‘Star Wars’ programme), something that the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty of 1972 had been designed to prevent. In their warped thinking, a successful defensive shield would allow the US to strike with nuclear weapons first, since it could shoot down any retaliatory action. Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the American militarists decided that the USA would be the world’s superpower based upon pre-emptive war and the unilateral assertion of American interests through military force.


More than four years ago, the reporter Seymour Hersh exposed the plans of the United States to attack Iran. Writing in the New Yorker in April 2006 on ‘The Iran Plans’, Hersh noted:

‘The Bush Administration, while publicly advocating diplomacy in order to stop Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapon, has increased clandestine activities inside Iran and intensified planning for a possible major air attack. Current and former American military and intelligence officials said that Air Force planning groups are drawing up lists of targets, and teams of American combat troops have been ordered into Iran, under cover, to collect targeting data and to establish contact with anti-government ethnic-minority groups.’

This planning by sections of the military has been opposed by the peace movement globally and by other sections of the US military. It is now known that there are deep divisions within the US military and intelligence circles over the outcome of an attack on Iran. Since the election of Obama, these divisions have been exacerbated by the demand by the Israeli leadership for the US to support an Israeli strike against Iran. Nearly every week, there are now statements from sections of the military and intelligence saying that an attack on Iran was now more likely than any time previously. Towards the end of July, former CIA Director, Michael Hayden declared that it was necessary for the USA to attack Iran. This statement should not be taken lightly.


Only last week, Fidel Castro, the former prime minister of Cuba came out of retirement to warn that the world was very close to nuclear war. Castro, who survived many attempts on his life by the CIA, called on President Obama to intervene to stop the impending attack. He said in a speech before the Cuban parliament:

‘Leaders of the world's most powerful countries – allies or adversaries, with the exception of Israel – would agree with me and urge President Obama to avoid the aggression.’ If President Obama gives the order, ‘he would be ordering the immediate deaths of hundreds of millions of people, including an untold number of people in his homeland and the crews of all the U.S. fleet in the waters around Iran…Simultaneously the war would break out in the near and the far East and throughout Eurasia’. Castro also said that the present world order established on the planet would collapse.

These warnings on the new outbreak of nuclear war should not be taken lightly. The most militaristic faction of the US government has embarked on a strategy of perpetual warfare. This faction of the political leadership has embarked upon a trajectory that will, if not stopped, lead to a world historic catastrophe that will make Hiroshima and Nagasaki pale by comparison.


The mindset that committed genocide in the Americas and enslaved millions continues to dominate the thinking of those in power in the West. Samir Amin, in his book ‘The Liberal Virus’ has warned that this mindset is laying the foundations for the genocide of billions of citizens. Capitalism has reached a point where the barbarism of the system is everyday becoming clearer.

It is this clarity that is inspiring a global movement for healing and truth telling about the real reasons for the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Today, the truth about the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is not a matter of mere historical accuracy. With the trillions invested in nuclear weapons and the lowering of the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons, it is urgent that there must be truth about the real reasons for the dropping of the bomb. This truth is necessary to promote the dismantling of nuclear weapons in all parts of the world. It is here worth repeating the warning of Bertrand Russell in 1945:

‘One is tempted to feel that Man is being punished, through the agency of his own evil passions, for impiety in inquiring too closely into the hidden secrets of nature. But such a feeling is unduly defeatist. Science is capable of conferring enormous boons: it can lighten labour, abolish poverty, and enormously diminish disease. But if science is to bring benefits instead of death, we must bring to bear upon social, and especially international, organisation, intelligence of the same high order that has enabled us to discover the structure of the atom. To do this effectively we must free ourselves from the domination of ancient shibboleths, and think freely, fearlessly and rationally about the new and appalling problems with which the human race is confronted by its conquest of scientific power.’

The challenges of reparative justice dictate that we need a new social system. It is only a different mode of thinking and mode of economic organisation that can move our societies to healing and repair in order to create a society that instinctively and spontaneously recoils at the very notion of using an atom bomb on other human beings. This healing and repair is inscribed within the principles of Ubuntu.


* Horace Campbell is a teacher and writer. His latest book is 'Barack Obama and 21st Century Politics: A Revolutionary Moment in the USA', published by Pluto Press.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.